Monday, November 30, 2009

Celebrating Monday

4 lbs. of coffee
Indeterminate bags of flour
3 dozen eggs
14 dozen potato rolls
An entire tub of shortening
11 people for post-Thanksgiving pizza
9 smiling faces packed around my table for birthday lunch

The statistics are as endless as the excess they reflect. I have been reveling in food, family, and fun for a week, and am anything but ready for my Forced Re-entry into the Real World this morning.

So I spent a lot of time last night trying to come up with things I like about Ordinary Days. I resisted the fibers of my being bent on loudly insisting that there’s nothing notable in the normal; that Routine and Usual are just way stations enroute to Better Things.

I pressed myself in my search for reasons to celebrate the standard because I know that life, in all its richness and fullness, plays out on the stage of the everyday and the commonplace.

So I’m heading off to school this morning remembering that there’s life in the scraps and crayons that will roll across my classroom floor. It’s in the books that I want to read, the music I’ll listen to on my commute, the leftovers in my lunch. It’s in the average stories of common experiences we’ll share around the dinner table tonight. It’s in the miles I need to run, the rides I must give, the emails I will answer. And the messy rooms I call home? They are simply teeming with life.

Ordinary may be the heart and soul of the Real World, but it is also the backbone of everything we hold dear. So today I may be up at dawn, bereft of pie, and teaching class, but that doesn't mean I'm not celebrating.

In Other News:
I will post the giveaway winner this evening. With so many busy with things besides blogging, I wanted to give readers a final chance to leave a comment for a chance to win an apple corer/peelerin time for holiday baking!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Review Trailer

In planning for our family’s annual week of Thanksgiving, I completely forgot about Wednesday.

Wednesday is, quite traditionally, the day that nothing goes as planned. It’s the day after the initial euphoria of the vacation mentality has passed, the day before all the elements of the year’s most anticipated meal fall into place, the day devoted to preparations we never fail to underestimate. Simply put, Thanksgiving Wednesday is rough, a fact everyone seems to forget until the clock tells us its late, our bodies say we’re tired, and our recipes indicate that key ingredients are forgotten, missing, or simply not doing their job. Worst of all, Wednesday is the day my sister and I confront our annual nemesis: the pie crust.

I would like to tell you that the “cooking show” my sister and I planned, documenting two-recipe pie crust showdown yielded the elusive supple crust we have always sought; that in the pursuit of same we became an overnight internet sensation as our special blend of humor, commentary, and cooking prowess played out in our planned series of near-real time posts right here in this forum.

I’d like to tell you that family criticism had nothing to do with the sudden cancellation of our cooking show debut, that we were able to sustain the spirit of frivolity that fueled our initial efforts at conquering our traditionally lackluster crust.

And I’d definitely like to tell you that the apple peeler/corer I was asked to try and review worked so flawlessly and saved so much time that all the other setbacks dissolved into irrelevance.

But the truth is that Real Life is a lot messier and more complicated than we want to believe. Real Life is uncertain, prone to mishap, and subject to ill-timed setbacks. In short, Real Life is a lot like Thanksgiving Wednesday. And you what? It’s a whole lot more interesting as a result.

One of the most important things I’ve ever learned about journalism is that the real story is in what Actually Happened. Any story approached from a pre-conceived angle by a reporter fishing for a certain kind of quote or contrived ending will result in a stilted read reflecting a Life Substitute with a chemically engineered Aftertaste. Not at all what we’re about here at Running With Letters.

What Actually Happened was that my sister and I struggled through the making of three pies in a mostly somber state after the sudden scratching of our live-blog cooking show. Our crusts were unmanageable, somewhat stiff, and left behind no scraps for us to slather in rolled layers of butter, sugar and cinnamon. Saddened by the sour reception to our show, we slogged through the assembly of said pies, sure we would be buoyed by the stellar performance of the corer/peeler/slicer.

The bottom line is that the peeler was fun to use and did save us some time. We tested it on no less than six varieties of apples (our pies are nothing if not a celebration of savory flavors and diverse textures) and found that it performed best with apples that leaned more toward the faultless than the flawed. Hard, round, perfectly proportioned apples zipped through the process, whereas the soft, the irregular, and the misproportioned tended to tangle and tear. We were anxious to see how it performed on potatoes, as the package made mention of spud use as a popular secondary application. We gave it a trial run on the potatoes my husband needed for his locally renowned rolls, but found that my niece needed to finish the job with a manual peeler—a fact that steered us away from emergency use of the gadget in a near-disaster on Thanksgiving when, as the turkey emerged from the oven, we realized that we hadn’t even started the mashed potatoes.

A merciful feature of Real Life is that the nitty gritty realities of preparation often have a soft and gracious flip side, in which we’ve been reveling ever since we flipped the calendar to Thursday. Today, we’re eschewing the realities of Black Friday and we’re carving pumpkins instead. Despite my absence from the shopping scene, I do have a deal available for one of my followers: There’s a second corer/peeler that’s waiting to have one of your names pasted on it and shipped to your house in time for Christmas baking. If you’d like to win, just let me know in your comment and I’ll post the winner on Sunday.

I’m off to jump back in to the potpourri of sweet and sour that blends to make that oh-so-savory flavor I call life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

From a Wing to a Prayer

When it comes to Thanksgiving turkey, everyone has a favorite part: for some it’s the drumstick, while others prefer a thigh or breast. But me? I’m all about the feathers.

Not the Real Feathers from the Actual Bird, mind you. That would definitely put a damper on my both my culinary and dining experiences. No, the feathers I’m anticipating this Thursday are of the cut-out construction paper variety.

After enjoying our Real Turkey, it is our tradition to push our dishes aside and turn our thoughts to the colorful cut outs mingling among the nuts and mints inside the pumpkin shaped placeholders at our respective spots at the table. With the late afternoon sun bouncing off our wine glasses as it streams down the length of our farmhouse table, we sit in blissful moments of peaceful silence, writing the things that make us thankful over every inch of feather-like real estate.

We linger over the writing for some time. Although we never fail to mention food and family, home and health, we take the time to think beyond the Big Four to recognize the underrated, the overlooked, and the mundane: the wealth of ordinary treasures that enrich our lives. The scratching of pencils and markers punctuated by occasional outbursts of stifled laughter fills the kitchen until every feather is placed into a common pile for a read aloud.

The twist? We guess who wrote the message on each feather. Some are easy. For instance, any feather mentioning underwear or featuring creative spelling will be attributed to my son, hands down. Any feather devoted to the overt praise of baking ingredients or kitchen gadgets will undoubtedly be the work of my daughter, The Baker. If a feather says something along the lines of: “controversy, conspiracy theories, pseudo-science, minto wheels, Stirling engines, perpetual motion and UFOs,” no time will be lost in debate over whether or not my husband wrote it. On the other hand, if one reads anything like, “the sun on my face, the smell of leaves, crunching leaves, nuts, and leaf colors,” it’s pretty much assumed to be my work.

Other times it’s not so easy to guess. Any one of the eight family members around my table could be thankful for a particular dish or any one of a dozen jokes or incidents that transpired in its preparation. And when one feather reads: “pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bars, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spice, pumpkin nog,” and the next says ,“pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pie, pumpkins, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin carving,” all anyone wonders is which feather was mine and which was my sister’s—a feat that could theoretically require handwriting analysis, if it really mattered.

In earlier years, we used to tape the feathers to a cut out turkey, but the plumage became so voluminous that now we just scatter them across the table in a sort of variegated prayer of appreciation for the simple pleasures and intricate treasures that define the life and love we have gathered to celebrate.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pie Before a Pall

Five AM isn’t an hour with which I am well acquainted. The introductions I’ve had with the Crack of Dawn have been brief and often artificially inflated by the specter of travel or adventure. Under normal circumstances, anyone seeking me before, say, six on a go-to-work day, or the more reasonable seven thirty on a work-from-home day, should make a beeline to the master suite in the back of my house and not toward my kitchen at the hub.

If circumstances should find me in the kitchen at that unfamiliar hour, it would be far more likely to find me clinging to a steaming cup of joe like a drowning woman on a life preserver than at the helm of a mixer, as I was one particular holiday-time morning a few years back. On that occasion, I had both my parents and my grandmother under my roof and was scheduled to teach art all day and host a party for upwards of twenty teens and young adults all evening. Instead of taking a reasonable course of action like serving, say Purchased Goods (gasp), I decided on a Traditional Homemade Spread. Hand decorated gingerbread men. Festive Party Punch. And pumpkin pies with hand rolled crust. All of which, needless to say, had be fresh. Very, very fresh.

Which brings me to my 5 AM baking frenzy. Surrounded by spices and the wafting scent of baking crusts I was feeling so on top of my day—so satisfied, so do I dare say, smug? Because, really, if I’m being honest, I was royally Showing Off. I wanted my family to see me as a complete 21st century success: I can work! I can bake! I can decorate cute little gingerbread men with my kids! I can entertain!

Sure, I had to ‘keep moving,” make the most of my time, stay “organized”, and any of a dozen other mantras by which I keep pace. But that was OK, because later that evening I cut those pies into adorable little slivers and passed them around my beautifully decorated home and held my breath as a hush fell over the party and I waited to the satisfied “oohs” and contented “ahs” of my assembled guests.

At that moment, I basked in the glow of Accomplishment—the Gold Medal of the Keep Moving Guild. I had cranked out a day of which I could be proud. I had truly done the “all,” that folks over at the “Do What You Can” Club deemed impossible. Back then, I had no respect for the kind of living the Do-What-You-Canners were hocking. Who could possibly be interested in slow when fast got you so far?

Recent weeks have given me a glimpse into the Do What You Can, Proceed Slowly, “don’t sweat it” Society. During the hours I have spent with my husband over the past few weeks since his injury—which has been most of them—we have done nothing quickly. We’ve stuck to no kind of rigid schedule. We’ve done the things we can, when we can. And what I’ve found is that we have plenty of time—time to talk, to dream, to enjoy little things about each other that we too often miss. We’ve been able to play games, watch movies, and do absolutely nothing other than enjoy each other’s company. And the real shocker? Nothing has fallen apart. The house is still relatively clean. The kids are happy. The bills are paid. And I am more in love with my husband than I have ever been-- an accomplishment way more sweet than any pie I have ever served.

Dishing out my pumpkin pie that December evening, I had no inkling that I was missing out on anything. Intent as I was at “keeping things moving,” it didn’t occur to me that the hush that fell over the room was actually a pall. The fact that the one thing I missed that day was the sweet goodness on which everything hinged eluded me until I shoveled a big bit of pie into my own mouth and realized that in my haste to pop those pies into the oven, I had forgotten the sugar.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One Line Wednesday: The So Late It's Early Edition

The variegated wig was the most notable feature of the stiff form splayed on the roadside sofa.

It was the neutral sleeve with the subtle stripe that first flashed into my peripheral vision midway through my morning run. I had been noting, in a vague sort of way, the plethora of roadside bulk refuse that the city--no doubt hampered by an unusual volume of post-storm rubbish-- had neglected to pick up on Tuesday, our neighborhood's usual garbage day. The assortment of worn furniture, rusty lamps and typical basement fare was unremarkable--then the stiff sleeve caught my attention and I missed a step in my evenly-paced sprint.

The khaki-esque trousers registered next, heightening the level of my concern enough that I pulled to a complete stop and noted the pile of primary colors arranged atop the pate determined, to my great relief, that it was merely a well-dressed effigy about to meet its fate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Line Wednesday

The variegated wig was the most notable feature of the stiff form splayed on the roadside sofa.

New to One Line Wednesday? Get caught up and join the fun!

I'll be back tonight with the back story on today's line, and can't wait to read your lines in the meantime!

Monday, November 16, 2009

An Appealing Proposition

File this post under: atypical.

I don’t typically devote entire posts to kitchen gadgets.

And staging a photo shoot with my trash before I toss it? Again, not generally how I roll.

So a post about how I’m throwing away an old apple peeler isn’t the norm here at Running With Letters.

But it seems that’s exactly what you’re reading. So what’s really at the core of today’s temporary lapse in format?

Simply put, it’s Thanksgiving and there’s no shortage of things about which to celebrate. As part of the festivities and general frivolity that I will be hosting in both my online and structural homes, I am sharing with my readers the opportunity to join me in a purging of the inadequate apple peelers certain to be lurking in many of your drawers because one of you is about to win this top of the line apple peeler and corer.

How can I be so certain of the plethora of sub-par peelers out there? Because of the oh-so many with which I have struggled during marathon peeling events with my kids, post-orchard visit or pre-Thanksgiving. Ranging from hopelessly gnarled to downright rusty, my peelers have generally been flimsy facsimiles incapable of withstanding more than a half dozen pies or a few quarts of applesauce.

I was going line them all up for a group shot—a sort of who’s who of bad cutlery—but it seems the sole specimen pictured at the top of the page was the last one standing. I was originally going to toss it in with a huge collection of items headed off the Youth Challenge Thrift store later this week, but closer examination revealed a suspicious substance harboring in a hard to reach crevice, so I don’t think there’s another Thanksgiving in this one.

So let’s just start fresh, shall we? I’m expecting my new gadget any day now. I’ll run it through the some stringent Thanksgiving rigors, let you know how it performs, and then give you the chance to have one shipped straight to your house if you like what you see.

Sound appealing? I thought so. Tomorrow we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Appealing Preview and Giveaway Winners

It’s almost here.

Around our house, the conversation seems to wrap in concentric circles around a singular topic: Thanksgiving.

The celebration of appreciation and bounty is traditionally the annual high-water mark in our home. Eight people, a tall stack of board games, and countless rounds of whatever beverage the cup in your hand is designed to hold. There are pumpkins to carve, movies to watch, and stories to tell. We’ll go through bags of flour, pounds of butter, gallons of coffee, and sinkfuls of dishes.

Over the years, we’ve perfected a menu of sheer culinary bliss. My husband pops potato biscuits out of the oven with a quality and consistency capable of consigning the Dough Boy into an embarrassing early retirement. And my sister’s pumpkin cheesecake? Ginger and cinnamon, cream cheese and pumpkin mixed and mingled in harmony—-perfection by the forkful. My son loves working with his dad on an Alton Brown-style turkey they begin prepping a full 24 hours before it goes in the oven. I’m all over everything apple—a simmering pot of homemade applesauce, two big pies, and fragrant mulled cider.

For us, you see, Thanksgiving is all about the cooking. No short cuts here. Although I’ll be the first to admit to ordering a Boston Market Christmas every year, at Thanksgiving that’s just not the way we roll. At Thanksgiving we’re all about the slow cooking and savoring the experience.

But just because we embrace the cooking process doesn’t mean we always have the best culinary tools. Over the years we’ve upgraded from metal pie tins to deep red ceramic ones. We’ve ditched our cracked plastic dough rolling disk for a sleek silicone sheet. We’ve bought a few extra bread pans and some sharp knives. But we’re still making do with some pretty rudimentary tools in a key area or two. That’s why I was thrilled when the folks at asked me to select something from their line of cookware sets to help us prepare for our big day.

Although you can consider this whole post a little preview of some of the little bits of Thanksgiving goodness I’ll be sharing over the next week or two—I’ll be passing along some recipes, photos, and generally sharing the fun—I’m really thrilled that I am also able to share my selected cookware item with one of my readers, as will ship a matching item to one of my readers in the continental US.

So what did I choose? Stay tuned next week to find out (hint: think apples!)

Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to New Follower Roccio and Not-so-New Follower Erin who have both won autographed sets of my YA novels in last week's giveaway!

This Space Reserved for Friday's Post

There will be a post today. This just isn't it. So grab a gingerbread latte, catch up on some other blogs--hey, if you're feeling ambitious, go get some work done. Linger an hour or two and then stop back on by. There's something special in the works that you won't want to miss. Plus, if you entered last week's giveaway you'll want to stop by to see who won!

This message comes to you as a public service form Running With Letters. Statements contained therein may not be suitable for any purpose.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Real Life

Real Life. It's messy; imperfect; unedited--and it's this week's You Capture photo challenge over at I Should Be Folding Laundry.

Going in, I knew that capturing Real Life was going to involve the shooting of some pretty gritty scenes. I knew a Real Life photo shoot was no place for the carefully composed, specifically selected photos I typically post.

What I didn't know was that the weather would offer it's own brand of rough, Real Life conditions, shrouding my world in heavy cloud cover that forced me to shoot with a flash. I've used a flash in probably less than 5% of the pictures I post--it's just not how I like to shoot. But this week? It was my reality. So I embraced it, along with everything else in the mixed bag of happenings in which I reside.

So here's a dose of my reality, through my lens:

Remember I said messy? I work amidst a mosaic of found objects, mixed media, and private collections:

At home, it's pretty much the same:

Remember I said imperfect? Mr. RW Letters can tell you all about that:

Remember I said unedited? People don't always tell you that Real Life sometimes leaves you wet out in the cold. Good thing for warm towels.

Thanks for sharing this little dose of reality with me.

Reminder: Today is the last day to enter my giveaway! Remember, if we top 40 followers today (three more as of post time!) I will give away a second set of books!

One Line Wednesday: Late Edition

So this morning I told you I would return to explain the origin of today's One Line Wednesday line. Let me just say up front that this will be a short post. The only story behind today's line is that there really isn't one. I started fretting sometime late yesterday about the fact that I had nothing--no tidbit, no nugget, no nuance or turn of phrase. I figured it would hit me overnight, or failing that, in the shower, where the good lines just flow like so much running water. Too bad most of them end up running right down the drain with the bathwater.

But today? No amount of running water, memories or musings seemed to do the trick. So, at 8:51, I turned to my amazing husband (who made me breakfast this morning despite being in a full leg brace and on crutches--did I marry a winner, or what? You can meet him here, as he just posted his first blog in over a year...)and said, "Well, it's 8:51 and I have no other option than to just come clean and admit that I have no line."

To which he replied, "There it is--just go with that. Just try to make it a little more epic."

So I added the bit about the well, hoping that most of my readers aren't from Southeastern Virgina where entire institutions are shuttering their doors against driving rain and gale force winds, and maybe you'd all just picture me in some sort of drought-inspired Little House-esque episode where I drew the last gallon of water to boil for bath night (Ingalls reference added just for you, Willoughby)

So that's it, really. I'm sorry I don't have a better story this time. But on the bright side, we picked up four new Followers: the aforementioned Willoughby, Julie, Lee, and Tiffany. Thanks a million, Polly, for putting the word out!

Will we make it to 40--or 50? Tune in tomorrow and let's find out together!

P.S. if you're new to One Line Wednesdays, it all started like this...

One Line Wednesday and Upping My Game

Before we delve into the verbal vortex that is One Line Wednesday, I'm going to break in here with a Running With Letters Public Service announcement. Since tomorrow is the last day to enter my giveaway, I am going to up the game just a bit. Sweeten the pot, if you prefer. As of this posting, the Follower Count was hovering at 33. Here's what I'm thinking: how about if we hit forty followers by midnight tomorrow (Thursday)I throw in another set of books? That would make two sets of winners from the New Follower category--pretty sweet, huh? But that's not all. Let's just suppose for a moment--in our wildest fantasies--that somehow 17 New Followers materialized and there were 50 beautiful faces pictured over there, to your left. That would be clear grounds for celebration, don't you think? If that should happen--I think I can see my way clear to scrounging up a third set--3 lucky New Follower winners (plus the set that will be heading off to one of my long time followers). So if you haven't Followed yet, it's your day! Pull up a chair, we'll make room!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

At 8:51 it became painfully obvious that I had no other option than to just come clean and admit that the well was dry.

That's all. For now.

If this were a typical post, I’d have to, you know, elaborate. A normal post require an detailing of what, exactly, occurred at 8:51, and why I was so bereft of options And, perhaps most importantly, what, exactly, was I trying to hide earlier, say, at 8:49?

But not today, at least not yet. On One Line Wednesday, vagueness, brevity, and misdirection are the order of the day--at least for a few hours.

If you're new to One Line Wednesday, here’s the lowdown: Each week, I’ll get things started with the single most intriguing line I’ve managed to craft in the intervening seven days. Each week there’ll also be some attempt at a "Linky" widget (I think we've decided to stick with "Mc") so you'll have the opportunity to link to your one line post. Even though my readers now demand that I explain my line, you need not feel any pressure of further explanation. There's no need to worry if your words are “going anywhere.” No of the tricky transitions or epic endings one might expect in traditional prose. Your line can be about anything, as clear or cryptic as you’d like, and who knows—maybe even be true!

If you have no blog, feel free to participate by just commenting as you would for a normal post. If you do have a blog, however, please mention that you are participating in One Line Wednesday, and add a hyperlink to this post. Feel free, also, to copy the official One Line Wednesday image at the opening of this post to illustrate yours, but that’s optional. Several of my readers have been using One line Wednesday as an opportunity to give their readers a "preview" of an upcoming post, a creative and enjoyable interpretation of the game.

And as for me? Although One Line Wednesday is a simple celebration of the single good line, I have to play by slightly different rules. I used to just post my line and leave my readers permanently hanging, but my husband and Jen cried foul, and insisted that I have to come back at the end of the day and explain the origin of my cryptic prose. My husband claims I'm robbing my readers of the opportunity to see how I take something mundane and make it sound epic, which he claims is one of my mad skills, but the bottom line is that he can't handle the curiosity. Jen says the whole thing would serve as a sort of writer's workshop for her.

So I will post a simple explanation of the events inspiring my line this evening.

OK--let's have some one line fun!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Break Time at the Nurses's Station

“So can I pick you up?”

“Yes!” is what my friend, Lisa, heard--what she missed seeing was my diving lunge across the front porch and violent pounce on the phone I’d positioned on a nearby perch for fear of missing it ring.

Sunday afternoon was a picture perfect November day here in Southeastern Virginia. The kind of day for trail walks, apple picking, or just raking leaves in the yard. The kind of day that just begs you to get out and play in it.

A morning of nursing duties kept me mercifully unaware of just how terrific it really was out there in the great outdoors. A chronic overachiever, I was focused on my duties—not merely content to provide adequate attention to my husband, I was probably running the risk of smothering him when Lisa first called to suggest that we drop by an open house our painting teacher was hosting that afternoon. I expressed that I “hoped” I could go, if everything was absolutely positively perfect-- I mean, stable-- and asked her to call me back when it was “closer to the time.” Three o’clock was mentioned, in a ball park sort of way.

By mid-afternoon I’d become aware of the 70 degree temperatures and the abundant sunshine streaming in through the windows. I hope none of my readers will misunderstand if I confess that cracks began to appear the all-positive-all-the time format I had adopted. It wasn’t that my husband was difficult—not for a moment. It wasn’t that I’d grown tired of caring for him—I hadn’t. it was just, simply, that I’m and outdoors-loving, solar powered kind of girl that thrives on living as many moments as I can under big blue skies . And Sunday was the kind of day I wait for all year long but it was after 2:00 before I even made it to the front porch to notice that the air had just the right amount of snap, the sky was crystal clear—and suddenly, I was the one smothering.

I had to get out.

When 3:00 came and went without hearing back from Lisa, I began to panic—was I too vague? Did we have a misunderstanding? Did I miss my only chance to get out of the house, and, if so, just how long before my upbeat demeanor simply slipped away?
When the phone finally rang—it was all of 3:10—I grabbed the receiver like it was a life preserver. And in a small way, it was.

About ten minutes later, my son was on the couch watching football with his dad, and my daughter and I climbed into the car with Lisa and her daughter and we drove off.
If I’d grabbed my camera, I could have shown you the most beautiful pictures of what unfolded next. I’d show you the table of exotic foods that greeted us as we walked through the door. I’d get some close-ups of the wonderful seascapes displayed in every nook and cranny of the most charming late-nineteenth century home you have ever seen. I’d show you’re the beautifully battered floor boards, the wonderfully worn rugs, and the hand painted faux tile we walked across in our travels through our teacher’s home, graciously opened like unfolded journal pages.

And I’d have lots of shots of the bright little corner the four of us found in a cozy sunroom. Completely surrounded by glass, we sat on a well-worn sofa as the late afternoon sun flooded across the floor, across our faces, and straight into that little part of my heart that needed its cheery warmth. We sipped beverages, swapped stories, and stared at the red leaves of a nearby tree, burning with filtered golden sunshine. We soaked in every detail of the art and artistry with which we were surrounded.

We laughed. We admired. We recharged. And then, suddenly, we knew it was over. When we checked the time, we were surprised to see that just an hour had passed. But it was an hour that turned my whole day around.

Walking back through my front door, a feeling of gratitude flooded over me: to Lisa, for pulling me out of my reality just long enough to help me jump right back into it in better form than when I left, and for those moments of grace and beauty that come exactly when they are most needed: to revive, to restore, to rebuild your resolve.

For more stories about moments of rest and peace in simple pleasures, head on over to Tuesdays Unwrapped, where each week is a celebration of the overlooked and underrated gifts better known as life.

Don't Forget!
There's still time to enter my giveaway commenting over at this post by or Following!

Monday, November 09, 2009


The calendar still says November and the falling pine needles in my front yard and crisp snap in the air feel just about right for Southeastern Virginia—but that didn’t stop Friday from feeling an awful lot like Punxsutawney in early February.

Friday was knee surgery day—not for me, but for Mr. RW Letters, who some of you may recall was injured in a soccer accident on October Eve. After five weeks of not being able to straighten his leg, he was scheduled for surgery that he was fully expected to walk away from with just a couple of band aids and a day or two on pain meds. In a pre-op consult, however, the surgeon informed us of the slight possibility that depending on what he “saw when he got in there,” he may actually be able to fix the torn miniscal tissue, which ultimately would be better than a removal, but would result in my husband being on crutches for six weeks followed by an undetermined amount of physical therapy.

The first option sounded more immediately rewarding—a near instant fix. My husband imagined a walk around the neighborhood before the weekend was out—not to mention the ability to revel in some glorious full-extension stretches. The thought of a speedy return to normal activity had him about as excited as a freshman the first day of spring break.

The second option was vague and remote, and not one upon which Mr.RW Letters wished to dwell. Although less immediately satisfying, the repair surgery provided potentially better long term results—I mean, really, how many of our body parts are really, truly expendable? Although my husband may not miss some tattered tissue today, chances are he’d sorely miss it some future tomorrow if arthritis snagged the opportunity to settle in the uncushioned joint.

Even though we had a pretty good idea how the surgery was expected to play out, it was hard for me to think about the near future beyond the surgery in concrete terms. I found myself, not unlike the good folks of Punxsutawney on Ground Hog Day, in a state of waiting. Would things simply just go back to normal, or were we in for a six weeks more long weeks of uncertainty? And what was really best to hope for, anyway? Heading to the hospital, Mr. RWL was upbeat and pretty positive that he was looking ahead at some pretty sunny skies. But as nice as that sounded for a 10-day outlook, I was looking further down the calendar. After a happenchance conversation with a neighbor married to a relatively grumpy and increasingly reclusive man with arthritic knees, I was about as split as the severed tissue on what I thought was best.

It was easy to want to resume our walks around the neighborhood. With the holidays upon us, it was natural to want to enjoy festivities with my best friend at my side. But a single glance at the walker on the porch of the overgrown house next door always got my praying for a better outcome. Even if it meant another six weeks of metaphoric winter.

So on surgery day I just sat in the waiting room and waited for someone—anyone-- to poke their head out of the OR and give me the forecast.

It’s winter, folks. A long, six weeks of trudging through some pretty stiff conditions, pretty much literally. My husband woke up to find his leg in an enormous, cage-like brace running from calf to ankle, which seems to weigh about a fourth of his body weight,but really doesn't. It’s apparently a permanent fixture for the next six weeks, a fact that's promoted me to the position of full-time nurse. And the real kicker is that the surgery only has a 50% chance of working—if it doesn’t, he’ll have that “instant fix´ surgery anyway.

So I’ve spent the weekend trying to remember things I like about winter. Mostly, what I’ve come up with is that it’s a time to snuggle in close to someone you love, to shield each other from the harsh edge of the cold. It’s an opportunity to invent your own fun when conditions don’t naturally suggest frivolity. It’s a season of making your own warmth, embracing daylight all the more for its brevity, and clinging to the hope of impending spring.

It may be an early winter, but I choose to embrace it for the opportunities embedded within its chill. I choose not to live within the shadow, but rather to seek the sunbeams. And above all else, I choose to believe that an early winter means an even earlier spring.

Don't Forget!

There's still time to enter my giveaway by commenting over at this post or Following!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Feeling Superior!

Many titles are currently mine to claim: I can accurately describe myself as a wife, a mother, an art teacher, a youth worker, and, for the foreseeable future, a nurse (more about that in tomorrow's post.)

But today, I can claim a title that reflects the spirit of my wildest dreams and dearest aspirations. Thanks to my new friend Polly of 5th Sister, today, I am a Superior Scribbler.

Yes Readers, it is true: I am a Scribe Extraordinaire, a Journalist of Distinction, a Wordsmith of Wonder--and Blogger brimming with gratitude to Polly for allowing me to feel so accomplished. If you haven't met Polly (a Superior Scribbler in her own right), then click on over to her place for the daily treat of being greeted with open arms into a space that never fails to feel like the cozy living room of a treasured friend.

With the accolades comes the duty and privilege of passing distinction along to other deserving bloggers and posting the official rules of the award, which are as follows:

1. Each Superior Scribbler I name today must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving bloggy friends.
2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog.
4. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

I would like to pass along the Super Scribbler award and all the rights and privileges contained therein to five of my favorite scribblers:

Holly at 504 Main is a classy lady who devotes her space to helping us add a touch of style and splash of elegance into the composition that is is daily life.

Erin at The Mother Load is a blogger with a genuine love for the written word. Erin enjoys exploring thoughts and ideas but also has a penchant for spinning a good old fashioned yarn.

I always enjoy stopping by to see what's up each day at Joy's place. Joy to the Blog is that little hangout you frequent just to enjoy the ambiance and character of the place--Joy offers stories, pictures, frequent giveaways, and a dash of humor all in her own unique voice.

Rare is a day that I don't stop by for a visit with Charisse and Holly. At their place, Life, Laugh, Latte, you're more likely to find footage than footnotes as they specialize in adding to the daily conversation of cyberspace through video segments that bring their readers (?) right into their living room. When they do share a written post though, it is sure to be, well, Superior!

Kathleen is a fellow blogger who is fast becoming a true friend. I enjoy the perspective and humor that I always find at her place, Treasured Chapters, and the encouraging comments she always leaves at mine. Her blog is a place where you'll find friendship, photos, and frugal tips and insightful observations.

Take some time to visit these Superior Scribblers. I'll be back tomorrow--in the meantime, there's still time to enter my giveaway by commenting over at this post or Following!

Friday, November 06, 2009

A Giveaway and a Seasonal Tale

What do you say we rip a page from Christmas morning and tear right into the gifts first thing?

In case you weren't around yesterday, I'm giving away away two autographed sets of my YA novels, The Chrysalis and Drink the Rain. The first set will go to the winner of a random drawing of New/Future Followers who come aboard during the week that began yesterday and continues through next Thursday. So if you're not yet a Follower, here's your opportunity.

If you've already been following, don't fret. I've got a second set of books for one of you! For a chance to win, all you have to do is comment to this post and just like that, you're entered into the giveaway. These books sets would make ideal gifts for the young adult reader in your life. Or you can just keep them for yourself--you decide! I will be happy to sign them with the inscription of your choice. I'll announce the winner one wwek from today.

So to re-cap: if you don't follow already, then let's remedy that. Viola--you're entered. If your "followership" began prior to yesterday, your comment here will be your entry. Let the fun begin!

Just Like Your Favorite Infomerical--That's Not All!

There's a lot of seasonal action underway these days, and I'm not just referring to the hasty pounce retailers have made on the Christmas season.

Stray jack-o'-lanterns and the occasional roadside dum-dum serve as daily reminders that Halloween hasn't even fully exited the social arena--and with Thanksgiving waiting a mere two weeks in the wings, one can stand on virtually any street corner in America and witness pilgrims cavorting recklessly with elves and reindeer under the watchful gaze of a tardy grim reaper.

It's unsettling, really, this wanton intermingling of frivolity. Personally, I'm for strict regulation of inter-holiday commerce. Costumes and candies should enjoy a grace period into early November, handing the show over to the pilgrims and Indians around mid-month. As suggested by the format of the traditional Macy's parade, the North Pole should be ushered in on Tom Turkey's tail feathers.

Which means I'm a little conflicted by the fact that I'm about to add to the multi-holiday chaos. See, I've got a little something for my readers that it just doesn't seem right to withhold. Sort of like the Santa socks you receive on New Year's Eve, or the ornament you open on January 1st, this is the kind of thing you should be enjoying all season long. And I want you to share it, too, and knowing that it can take awhile for things to circulate around cyberspace, I think we'd better get started.

The following link is to a short story I wrote as a Christmas gift to my readers. It is not a part of either of my novels, but it is a stand alone story set in the world of the books that serves as a good introduction to my protagonist, Christina and the gang at Camp Edson, where the entirety of the first book and some of the second plays out. What's even better is that it's a story that should get your thoughts moving in the right direction this holiday season--no matter which one you're currently celebrating.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Pictures, Previews, and Preview Pictures

There's a "you choose, anything goes" theme afoot for this week's You Capture photography challenge--which suits this chaotic little post just fine. I figure we'd start with this pair of begonia shots from my patio.

This next picture is a Late Edition entry of today's wardrobe, in honor of last night's Victory in the Bronx. I've waited a long time to wear this with the proper amount of Yankee pride.

At this point, I'm going to interrupt the random photography segment to let you know that, right here and now I'm beginning the First Ever Running With Letters Giveaway! Here's what's happening. I know that, if you're not already, you really, really want to follow this blog. The right opportunity just hasn't presented itself. I get that. But you know what? This is your week!

Just in time for potential Christmas gift-giving, I will be giving away two autographed sets of my YA novels, The Chrysalis and Drink the Rain. The first set will go to the winner of a random drawing of Future Followers who come aboard between now and next Thursday.

Already a Follower and want in on the fun? Don't fret. The other set will go to one of you! All you'll need to do is "enter" by commenting on tomorrow's post, wherein you'll find more details and a have a chance to meet my protagonist.

Between now and then? If you're not a Follower--Follow! Viola! You're entered--it's as simple as that!

Now back to the pictures. The next three are also in the "preview" category.

You'll be seeing this fabric again soon on an upcoming DIY makeover post.

No guarantees whether or not you'll be seeing more of the Striped One. My guess is yes--she has a way of getting her paw into whatever happens to be in progress.

I can't think of a better way to end this multi-layered post than a good, old fashioned Sweet Ending:

See you tomorrow--Follow in the meantime!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

One Line Wednesday: Night Time Edition

This morning, I promised to return to tell you the origin of today's line. It's true, Kathleen. I do have government issued paper with lots of zeros. Ten crisp bills, with a collective total of a hundred and forty--count 'em one-hundred-forty--zeros. But, no, Holly, Ed McMahon in any incarnation is not responsible. I said government issued, but I didn't say whichgovernment. The ten, mint one hundred trillion notes--that's one quadrillion total, for anyone who might be counting--were issued by the government of Zimbabwe. You know, they of the epic economic crash. So basically, I might be able to buy a stick of gum, if I could find a Zimbabwean vendor still taking their own currency.

And the forgotten publishing house? About seven months ago, I sent my books along to an editor I met at a writers' conference, as I've been keeping my eyes open for a new house to reprint/represent the two titles. Of course, seven months is long enough that I kind of picked up on the possibility that this particular house wasn't The One. I figured the whole thing just sort of disappeared into the proverbial slush pile of which we writers are so aware. But what I got was a handwritten card, wherin the editor told me how much she enjoyed reading the books. How she shared them with the entire editorial staff. But also, how in the final analysis they were, unfortunately, just a bit beyond the age range of their target market. But you know what? It was the nicest rejection I ever received.

The One Line Wednesday bottom line? I'm only a quadrillionaire on a technicality. And my books are still looking for a new publishing home. But considering the unexpected mail I received today, I think I had a pretty good deal...(no further explanation on today's delivery.)

Thanks for playing! It was fun!

One Line Wednesday

An unexpected delivery of government-issued tender with a staggering number of zeros and favorable correspondence from a forgotten publishing house barely registered on my radar last week.

At that, I'm going to leave you hanging. For now.

If this were a typical post, I’d have to give an immediate accounting of all those zeros. A normal post would, likewise, require an detailing of what, exactly, I received from the publishing house, and why were they forgotten, anyway? And, perhaps most importantly, how could deliveries of such magnitude fail to register on my radar?

But not today, at least not yet. On One Line Wednesday, vagueness, brevity, and misdirection are the order of the day--at least for a few hours.

If you're new to One Line Wednesday, here’s the lowdown: Each week, I’ll get things started with the single most intriguing line I’ve managed to craft in the intervening seven days. Each week there’ll also be some attempt at a "Linky" widget so you'll have the opportunity to link to your one line post, if you have one. (We've had a bit of trouble locating a free, uncomplicated linky--trying something new today, that I won't actually get to see until it posts--adventure!) Even though my readers now demand that I explain my line, you need not feel any pressure of further explanation. There's no need to worry if your words are “going anywhere.” No of the tricky transitions or epic endings one might expect in traditional prose. Your line can be about anything, as clear or cryptic as you’d like, and who knows—maybe even be true!

If you have no blog, feel free to participate by just commenting as you would for a normal post. If you do have a blog, however, please mention that you are participating in One Line Wednesday, and add a hyperlink to this post. Feel free, also, to copy the official One Line Wednesday image at the opening of this post to illustrate yours, but that’s optional.

Although One Line Wednesday is a simple celebration of the single good line, the rules, as I mentioned above, are a little different for me. I used to just post my line and leave my readers permanently hanging, but my husband and Jen cried foul, and insist that i have to come back at the end of the day and explain the origin of my cryptic prose. My husband claims I'm robbing my readers of the opportunity to see how I take something mundane and make it sound epic, which he claims is one of my mad skills, but the bottom line is that he can't handle the curiosity. Jen says the whole thing would serve as a sort of writer's workshop for her.

So I will post a simple explanation of the events inspiring my line this evening.

OK--let's have some one line fun!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Brimming With Anticipation

"We’re hanging on because we know it’s coming,” my sister confided yesterday, in a conversation outlining a great deal of slogging through events I’d rate just south of mundane.

I know the feeling. At our house, we’re counting down as well. As of this posting, we’re three weeks out from our annual week of high-spirited Thanksgiving festivities: four adults, four kids, stacks of board games, countless rounds of whatever beverage your current cup is designed to hold. There are pumpkins to carve, movies to watch, and stories to tell. We’ll go through bags of flour, pounds of butter, gallons of coffee, and sinkfuls of dishes.

And did I mention the pumpkin cheesecake?

For my family, Thanksgiving week is typically the culminating event in a jam-packed season of healthy activities. In fact, it was just over a month ago that I posted right here in this forum that October was “a blockbuster hit I’ve been waiting for all year: warm fires on the patio, trips to the apple orchard, and a World Series destined to play out in the Bronx.” Back then I didn’t know I was standing on the threshold of a month we’d end up renaming “Doc-tober,” as a knee injury, impending surgery, mono, and two random viruses number among our collective family incidents. At that earlier writing, I had no idea that the handful of days we’d all be healthy enough for patio flame, it would invariably be raining. From the albeit cheerier vantage point of earlier days, I couldn’t possibly have predicted that the only offering the local orchard would have would be the cryptic message that there are “no apples this year.” And although I’m happy to report that the World Series has been playing out rather happily in the Bronx, aforementioned circumstances have caused us to sleep through a disappointing number of innings. There were some good moments, to be sure, but in general, October has simply made Thanksgiving Week live all the larger in my mind.

Anticipation is a powerful gift. It’s that little boost that keeps us going through dry spells, rough patches, and sticky spots. It’s the fuel we put in our emotional tanks on those days when we’d otherwise be running on empty. Anticipation reminds us that ordinary is just temporary, and that life is meant to be a lot fuller than our everyday schedules. And whether or not the things we anticipate unfold as we hope, in the act of looking forward to them, we have already experienced much of the pleasure.

If history is any indication, it is unlikely that our actual holiday will disappoint. But for the moment, anticipation is a gift I’m choosing to savor for the next twenty-one days.

For more stories from the bright side of life’s unexpected, head on over to Tuesdays Unwrapped, where each week is a celebration of the overlooked and underrated gifts better known as life.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

NaNoWri NO ...for Me Anyway

This is SO not the post where I tell you that I've signed up for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWiMo, as it's affectionately known. No, the annual, epic write-a-thon where participants aim to pen a complete novel from zero to 50,000 words in 30 November days is a feat on which I must pass.

Attention issues and perfectionism aside, I'd have to apply for a complete renaming of the event to National Novel Writing Three Weeks--a moniker, I might add, that does not work itself into any kind of catchy abbreviation--due to our family's annual week of Thanksgiving, during which my house becomes wonderfully full and gloriously busy.

But enough about me--I know that some of you out there HAVE chosen to tackle this challenge, and I love to hear about it. What led you to take the plunge? What are you hoping to take from the experience? Will you be blogging about it? Please, do tell...I'd love to be inspired by your experiences.


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