Issue #14: Love Your Trash
Getting to the final draft of any project--whether it is a book, a poem, a resume, or even a monthly newsletter (ha!)--can be a frustrating and maddening process.
It’s no wonder why people avoid writing as much as possible. And it’s why resources like ChatGPT have exploded. People want proficiency from the get go. They expect their thoughts to flow like a stream coursing peacefully over smooth river stones, pushed along by the power of inspiration from the heavens.
[This would be nice, BUUUUT it’s just not realistic.]
Anything less than perfect is not worth struggling through. Right?
I see this with my students as well--some almost feel paralyzed at the sight of a blank page. “I have to put pen to paper and do what?” they ask with a helpless look in their eyes, losing all trust in their abilities.
Sure, we can opt to wait for inspiration.
[Okay, inspiration….any day now]
But what if it doesn’t come? It can be elusive and distant. And when it doesn’t hit us, that’s a scary moment, for sure. The blank page. The insidious cursor floating on the document, mocking you with each beat.
Henri Matisse once said, “Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while working." And he’s right. We just need to start, embracing the messiness, and take it from there. Every finish needs a starting point.
One way I get them past this hurdle is to follow Matisse’s advice: just write whatever comes to mind about that subject. Some call it freewriting. I set a timer for three or five minutes, and we “sprint” on paper. Grammar, spelling, punctuation--none of that matters (gasp!...I know). We just want to unlock the ideas and get as many of them on paper as possible.
We see the masterful works by the creatives we admire, and wonder how we can ever be as good as them. But the truth is, they also struggle with this process. All creatives do. We just see the final, polished draft, yet they, too, experience a messy process to get there. Unbeknownst to us mortals, they also have to sift through the “junk” of their initial ideas--the good and the bad--and find what’s worth keeping and developing.
We can’t edit a blank page. We just need to let the trash flow, give it time to air out, and then go through rounds of revisions and edits. We have to dispose of what’s not working, and hone in on what is working: that’s how we’ll discover the gem within.
So embrace the messiness of the first draft: the key to getting to that polished piece.
Now, excuse me as I roll up my sleeves, get back to my garbage drafts, and crank out some long-overdue revisions to create something worth treasuring.
Every once in a while, my phone chooses violence and reminds me of a “memory”--in the form of an old photo--from long ago. Rather than share current pet pictures, this is a throwback to our sweet border collie, Ross. He was five when we adopted him, and he was a wonderful dog. This is us at the Bodie State Historic Park (a real life ghost town). At the time this picture was taken, I was expecting our first son, but Ross was our first fur baby, and a wonderful companion and running buddy. He lived 16.5 years, and we miss him so much. I’m thankful for the wonderful years we had together.
Current Read: Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
One of my friends gave me Black Cake, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t heard of this book before. It is a beautifully written story about betrayal and the secrets that tie us together. The novel spans multiple generations, starting with two estranged siblings coming together to learn about their deceased mother’s past. It switches POV, which threw me off at first. However, once you get into it, the various perspectives flow and play off each other seamlessly, revealing the rich depth of Wilkerson’s cast. Though I have been chipping away at it slowly due to my schedule, I find myself haunted by their relationships and conflicts, and I look forward to reading more as I progress through each chapter.
The only writing I’ve been able to do is commenting on student essays (yikes, but also lol). With finals and so many other obligations, this past month was a DOOZY. I really hope to get back on the horse in the next few months and re-work a synopsis for a graphic memoir I started working on this past summer. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
Our lime tree is popping off, so much so that we can’t keep up. So I’ve been giving away limes (and blood oranges) to neighbors who want them. I hate to see great fruit rotting on the ground; I’d prefer sharing the wealth than letting these fruits go to waste.
That's it for January. Stay tuned for some updates next month! :)
Issue #13: Game On
Game nights are underrated. And maybe….just maybe…they are the antidote to the distractions and disconnect we’ve been struggling with during these past few years.
Plus, I love board games with family and friends. But it’s not for the reasons you may suspect.
I couldn’t care less about which game we’re playing.
In truth, it’s all about the experience we have as a group. We ditch the small talk and get into teams (or play for ourselves). It is a change in the predictable routines and long-established roles. We avoid safe topics and get real, really fast. Some of our favorite games lately have been Telestrations, Catan, and our newest one, Klask from Denmark (my husband and 12 year old son are tough to beat in this one). We also enjoy the classics: Uno, Poker, Spoons, and Scrabble.
[me as soon as we sit around the table and open the game box]
This holiday season, I had the chance to play multiple games with people, and I learned so much about them in such a short span of time. I learned who is extra competitive and well….extra.
[It’s me, fam--I’m the problem]
But I also learned who is pensive, who is quiet and sneaky, who is quick to make jokes, who likes to troll, who is earnest and honest. In the game, children and adults are equals. We lovingly roast each other, practice cooperation, and develop strategies. We laugh (a lot), we express our honest emotions, we encourage each other, and best of all, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We create memories and inside jokes and leave us smiling long after the games are put away.
[My face when things start getting real around the table]
Can it get a bit chaotic and a little dicey? Sure. But it’s real. It disrupts the tendency to stay comfortable. Plus, I think more authenticity is good in our world.
So next time you are at a gathering or just home with your family, take a break from your devices and play together. The box you open will also come with great times and golden memories to feed your spirit.
“Every day is a new life to a wise man.”-Dale Carnegie
We all have bad days. We stumble, we get hurt, we make mistakes, we get rejected, and we fail. But it’s never the end. I love this quote because it reminds me that each new day brings new possibilities, and new paths to meet our potential, as long as we don’t give up.
[Lilo celebrated her 1st Birthday on Christmas Eve; Finn and Amelie investigating a worm --yikes!]
Recent Read: Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson
This book is deceptively simple, using the allegory of mice looking for cheese to illustrate humanity’s aversion to change. It’s a quick read--I read it in one day. However, it applies to all aspects of our lives and resonated with me. It cautions against sticking with what is familiar due to fear of the unknown. We never have everything figured out. No matter how old we are, our “cheese” will be moved by forces outside of our control, and we must adapt. There is so much out there, so many possibilities for our lives. We just have to be willing to take risks to discover them. Even if we fail, we learn. So our efforts are never in vain.
My husband (and creative partner) submitted our THREE BEE HONEY Graphic Novel project to Pitchfest, hosted by Kids Comics Unite. Some time had passed between our submission and the awards announcements (plus I’ve been super busy), so I kinda forgot about it. When I saw the runner-up winners, I was in awe of the talent behind all of the entries. To my shock, we won third place! It was definitely an exciting surprise. You can see our pitch here, if you're curious. We get so few wins as writers and creatives, so we have to celebrate them whenever we can.
After years with no fruit or a few tiny offerings, our blood orange tree came through this year with TONS of fruits! I’ve been making fresh orange juice, and Jon made marmalade for our close family and friends. It is delicious. There’s nothing like fresh fruit from a tree!
That's a wrap for 2022, but stay tuned for some updates in January. In the meantime, feel free to reach out and say “hello!” :)
Have a Happy New Year!
Issue #12: Duty Calls
Well, friends. It landed on my front step. I thought I’d laid low long enough to avoid it. But it finally hit me this past month.
The dreaded jury duty summons.
I had just recovered from COVID (and missed nearly a week of work, which is tough for teachers). As much of a pain this was, I knew I’ve gotten lots of these jury duty summons before only to be quickly dismissed. So I expected the same outcome.
I realize that I tempted the fates to mess with me that day. No doubt.
When I reported to the courthouse, I brought papers to grade and a book to read--even a laptop to work on. Ha! Silly, naive me. Within 10 minutes of checking in, my name was called to move to jury room six. Confused, I packed all of my gear, and headed with the 40 or so others who were called. As I entered the small courtroom on the third floor, I remained confident that I’d be dismissed that same day.
Then they assigned us all numbers and called on each of us to answer detailed questions about our lives. And I mean detailed.
I learned a lot about strangers’ lives--fascinating stories about their families, jobs, brushes with the law, and health issues. As much as I had tons of work to catch up on, there was no way I was going to get any grading or reading done in that room.
“Oh man…this is the best part of jury duty,” the big burly man sitting next to me said, giggling excitedly like this was an episode of a favorite show.
The judge had enough that morning and called a lunch break, asking us to return promptly in one hour.
It’s okay, I told myself as I ate my sandwich. I’ll probably get dismissed sometime this afternoon--no problem.
Then we reported back to room six. Before I knew it, the bailiff said, “Juror #137.”
Lugging my heavy teacher bag on my shoulder, I gingerly took my seat. I turned to the judge and attorneys, who were already scribbling notes on their notepads. The room grew quiet, and my face grew warm.
I answered their questions, follow up questions, and more follow up questions. The judge asked, “Do you feel the legal system has treated you fairly in the past?”
I paused. “Yes.”
When he learned that I am an English teacher, he decided to have a little fun at my expense. “Who’s your favorite author?” he asked.
“Toni Morrision,” I immediately replied. She always was an easy pick.
He furrowed his heavy white brows. “I don’t know that name. Who else?”
Crap. “David Sedaris . . . Maya Angelou . . .”
“Um... Robert Frost?” I tried.
“It doesn’t ring a bell,” the judge said, shaking his head.
Was he really going to make me list every author on the planet? Didn’t we have a trial to start?
“Charles Dickens?” I offered in sheer desperation. He had to have known that name!
“Is that because you think I’m old?” he said in mock offense.
“Okay, now I can safely say the legal system hasn’t treated me fairly,” I cracked. The judge and everyone in the courtroom erupted in laughter.
I grimaced, knowing that was when I clinched a spot on the jury.
Sure enough, about an hour later, after they questioned more jurors, the bailiff announced: “Juror #137, please take the seat for juror number one.”
My head was spinning. This couldn’t be! I was too busy. I already missed too much school! Desperate, my mind raced.
Can’t someone else get picked?
Is it too late to plead hardship?
Can I raise my hand and speak up?
No. No. And No. It was too late. They called the rest of the twelve jurors, asked us to raise our right hands, and swore us in. Boom. Done. My face was calm, but my my mind screaming like a petulant toddler:
Then the trial commenced without even a five minute break. The attorneys dove headfirst into their opening arguments.
The second day of this nearly three week (!!!) trial for a complicated medical malpractice case, us jurors had gotten to know each other just a little during our awkward small talk conversations when we waited to be called into the courtroom. Don’t worry--we obeyed the rules and never discussed the trial before deliberations.
Juror #126 turned with a grin and asked, “You enjoying some time off?”
“It’s nice to have a little break, right?” Juror #102 added.
“Right.” I grumbled. They had no idea that my workload had DOUBLED. I was going into my classroom to prepare for the sub at 6am every morning. Then I’d go home after a long day to catch up on grading, emails, etc. I’d been going to bed much later just to keep up with sub plans and everything else on my plate.
[Me each morning]
But then, despite my resistance to this summons and desire to give up from sheer exhaustion, my overachiever and curious tendencies jumped into overdrive. Determined to learn and listen closely to each testimony, each cross-examination, each piece of evidence, I furiously wrote down every detail that I could. I cried after witnesses shared their hardships. I questioned contradictions. My finger joints screamed. My hand muscles burned. But I ignored the pain and remained resolute in my efforts to take this task seriously.
I ended up writing 96 pages of notes. Front and back.
That’s basically a novel, right?
Once we finished deliberations--over two days of thoughtful and meticulous discussion, we finished deliberations and came to a verdict.
I asked the bailiff if I could keep my notes. You know, as a souvenir? He shut that down faster than Ticketmaster shut down Taylor Swift concert ticket sales.
So I completed my civic duty with care, thought, and attention. My only souvenir? My experience, the lessons I learned--and the loads of knowledge I gained about the spinal cord.
Upon returning to work from being out for nearly three weeks, one of my students asked, “Would you do it again if asked?”
I thought about it for a moment. “Yes,” I replied, surprising myself. “But only if the legal system allows a few years to pass before summoning me again.”
Alexander Pope once said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.”
Don’t we all know someone who read one article, served on one jury (ahem), or heard one podcast and was suddenly a self-proclaimed expert on the topic? Yeah, it’s pretty annoying. Don’t feel bad--I’ve been that person at times.
Let’s do each other a favor and resolve to avoid shallow knowledge when it comes to a topic. Learn deeply, read lots of books. Talk to experts. Then you can sound off of Twitter (or TikTok, or whatever social media is around at this time) without being insufferable.
Recent Read: Hey, Kiddo by Jared Krosoczka; How to Be a Person and What Can I Say? by Catherine Newman
Since I've been exploring the graphic Memoir genre of books, I decided to reread Hey Kiddo, a graphic memoir about Jared Krosoczka’s experiences growing up while his mom struggled with substance abuse, forcing his grandparents to step in and raise him. It was a difficult situation since his mom was not the only absentee parent: his dad is not part of his life either. However, Jared did have caring grandparents who did their best to make sure he had a good upbringing while supporting his artistic endeavors. His story resonated with me because it didn’t shy away from the pain, but it also had heartwarming moments and lighthearted moments. It was real. It was authentic. It was complex. From the opening pages, you’ll get pulled into Jared’s story, rooting for him through his ups and downs. I highly recommend it!
I also wanted to highlight a couple books I bought for my sons, which also have a graphic novel format. How to Be a Person and What Can I Say? both deal with growing up, how to navigate awkward social situations, and how to do the essential tasks to feel more independent. The illustrations are super engaging, and the text is easy for upper elementary (9 and up) and middle schoolers to digest. If you have any older kids, these would be great nonfiction titles for them!
Lilo had some puppy training recently, so now she’s a more polite and proper pup! While there is still more room for improvement, the cats are happy about her newfound self-control.
I’ve been so busy that I’ve just had time to revise last month’s short story, “Pork on the Pali” and develop concepts for other stories I’m working on. But even when I’m not sitting at my desk and typing, I’m always thinking of the stories, letting ideas marinate and swirl around in my mind. That counts, right?
Our persimmons have come in for the fall, although they are smaller this year (maybe due to the heat). We’re excited to make some persimmon cookies once they ripen. We just have to make sure the squirrels don’t get to them first.
That's all for November. In the meantime, feel free to reach out and say “hello!” I’ll catch you again next month. :)
Issue #10 Hope, Is That YOU?
When I was a kid, I always imagined the future would look a lot like the one portrayed in Back to the Future: clean technology in every town, hovering cars buzzing in the sky above, and lots of holograms.
Welp. At least we got the holograms right.
What I didn’t envision was a future with droughts, famine, mass extinctions, and rising sea levels. The petty political battles, which have crippled regulatory policies and allowed further desecration of our planet, have been beyond maddening.
Mother Nature Be Like:
To be honest, I was starting to lose hope, feeling despair about the future of our planet and of human life as we know it. I tried to push these anxieties out of my mind whenever those thoughts creep in, but at 2 in the morning, it's hard to distract yourself when the existential dread hits.
What about the kids? I’d wonder. I was scared for what the future has in store for the next generations. It just feels so… unfair.
Then lo and behold: Congress recently passed the Inflation Reduction Act. Among other investments, it contains measures to fight climate change, the most substantial measures ever in the history of our country.
Now, it's not enough to offset all the damage. It's not perfect, but it's a damn good start and a long overdue one at that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this bill will set off a chain of action in other nations and that we continue to build off of this momentum.
Me discovering hope like the lost boys discovered Peter in Hook.
I’m not a lobbyist or a political insider: I’m merely someone who has been desperate for progress. We are finally seeing it, and this movement gives me an optimism I haven't felt for a very long time.
I’m hopeful that we can still have a healthy planet so that animals and plants can thrive. I’m hopeful that our kids and grandkids to have a good life with enough food and water.
So yeah--even though 2022 doesn’t look much like my childhood fantasies, I’ll settle for this humble bit of progress that feeds my sense of hope for our planet: the only home we have.
I’ll leave you with this important reminder by Chief Seattle: “The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth.”
And if you’re still struggling with existential dread, here is a video that I found very helpful. While we absolutely cannot sit back, wait, or become complacent, we have to remember that we are not alone and many smart and talented people are jumping into the fight to save our planet.
Wherever you are on the political spectrum, I encourage you to pay attention and push for policies that will keep our planet viable for future generations.
Lilo is recovering from getting spayed. Thankfully, she’s cone free now! Amelie and Finn napping together (as usual)--I love their tight bond.
Current Read: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
I read This One Summer a few years ago, but I wanted to re-read it in my effort to research graphic novels for older audiences. It follows the journey of Rose, a tween only child, living in the summer vacation home her family has visited since she was little. But the trip feels different this year. This time, Rose is caught in the storm of her parent’s constant fighting, and she is witness to the heartbreaking drama unfolding in the lives of other young locals. I loved the quiet beauty of the artwork and the minute details that capture the ups and downs of an unforgettable summer: like a close up of seashells or a bike leaning against a fence, for instance. My oldest son, a middle schooler who is reluctant to sit down and read, read this book in two sittings. I think that is a pretty solid endorsement!
I’ve been working on a few different projects, including some freelancing side gigs. I’m also doing some research on the graphic memoir genre and working on some ideas for that. I’m still brainstorming revision ideas for In the Middle of the Sea. There is so much on my plate that it’s hard to devote a ton of time to one project, so I find myself slowly carving away at each one.
It’s apple season time! Our Gala apples are coming in, and they are crisp and sweet. The kids enjoy slices of these apples with their meals. We just have to make sure to nab these before the squirrels get to them first.
So I’m curious: what gives you hope these days? Do you have any podcasts, books, speeches, poems, songs, or other media that inspires you and keeps you motivated?
That's all for this month. Until next time! :)
Issue #9 My Love Language
I was recently talking with a colleague about charcuterie boards. We were discussing their appeal and why people make them. Aside from them basically being lunchables for grown ups, there seems to be a deeper, perhaps symbolic reason charcuterie boards have become so popular. “Food is a love language,” my colleague asserted. That idea stuck with me.
But it’s not just making the food--it’s the way we present it. In other words, arranging it in an aesthetically pleasing way that tells your loved ones that you care.
Before I go on, let’s review the concept of “Love Languages” with tacos:
Simply put, Love Languages are ways that we express our love to others. These can be overlooked by someone looking for more traditional cues--such as verbal expressions of one’s affection or physical touch--so it’s helpful in any relationship to pay attention and recognize when someone is making the effort to be kind and loving in a meaningful way.
That made me reflect on the ways I express my love to others. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a crappy gift-giver. I hate shopping, so I default to gift cards. Boring, I know. And I am not one to dish out a lot of compliments or words of affection, so I can seem cold at times. I’m trying to improve on my words of affection, but it’s a work in progress.
But then I thought about my love of food and how I share that with others. I think about what will taste good together, what extra flavors and nutrients I can add to make the most of it, and how to make it look appealing. I can’t just slop the food on a plate. It has to look inviting. We’re visual creatures, after all.
Eggs en Cocotte, a French dish that my kids love.
Homemade Poke bowls: a special treat for everyone.
So how do I display my love? It instinctively comes through service, hands down. I will gladly spend my time in the kitchen, creating something special that will make my loved ones feel nourished, adding my own small touches in what I make to show others that I care. Whenever my friends or family eat something I make--whether it’s a burrito, a charcuterie board, or a salad, they can rest assured that I put my heart into that meal.
“Always be a little kinder than necessary.”--James M. Barrie
We never know what struggles people are going through. Despite our efforts to be “fine” and smile when we’re supposed to, people are grappling with some very difficult situations. Everyone is fighting their own battles. This isn’t the grief Olympics--we are not competing for who is suffering more than others--but it’s important to treat all people with compassion.
Amelie and Finn showing off their symmetry. Lilo enjoying her daily belly rubs in the sun (her happy place) .
Current Read: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Noelle Stevenson’s graphic novel, Nimona, was such a rad book. It’s a fantastical adventure story about a shapeshifter and a misunderstood villain teaming together to fight the truly evil forces in their world. I loved the humor, and Nimona is such a fun, lovable protagonist despite her flaws. It has a Stranger Things meets grown up Adventure Time vibe in a Medieval/Sci Fi setting. It’s super random, but it really works!
Whenever I’m stuck on a given project, I’ve found it helpful to switch to another creative task or even another activity altogether. It also has been very challenging to find time to write at all as a parent. My kids definitely keep me busy, so I find myself working around their schedule and stealing time (even if it’s just 5 or 10 minutes) whenever I can. I thought I’d have more time for things as they got older, but I was very wrong (silly, naive me). However, I’ve gotten better at accepting the fact that this is a very chaotic time in my life. *shrugs* Sorry not sorry, universe. I’m doing the best that I can.
When the stars align and I have a good chunk of quiet time, I brainstorm other stories and write ideas down for them. It’s nothing super structured: I set a timer and list dialogue and thoughts and images as they come, which I will organize later. I just need to mine the raw material from my mind first in a writing “sprint.”. When I get stuck at the keyboard, it really helps to go for a walk or a run (a very slow one, haha). That seems to unclog my writers’ block. I highly recommend switching gears if you’re struggling with a writing task.
The fig trees have come through with a ton of fruit! Yay! We all LOVE figs, so we’re excited to eat them. Also, the grapes are ripe now and very sweet. I’m glad we have some healthy fruit to snack on all day.
That's all for now, but stay tuned for next month's updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out and say “hello!” :)
Issue #8: The Magic of Music
Hey, everyone! I know it’s been a few months since you’ve heard from me. Life got extremely stressful a few months ago, and I needed to step back a bit to focus on my health and my family.
Glad to come back now that all is well with the world. Right?.....RIGHT?
Speaking of chaos, I am now a parent of a pre-teen. I have worked with teens and adolescents for over 20 years (16 as a teacher, and 4+ years in parks and recreation). Before I go on, I want to make something clear: I love my children dearly. They are great kids with big hearts, and they work hard for their goals. They have made me proud on many occasions.
*Ahem* But being a parent of a tween/teen? Nothing--and I mean NOTHING--could have prepared me for this rollercoaster.
So a few months ago, my oldest son was in one of his moods because I had set limits on his screen time. I know….the audacity, mom!
After trying to bait me into an argument, he stewed in his anger, sullen with his arms crossed in the passenger seat. I’d try to make casual conversation, but he stared ahead in cold silence. Ouch.
I gripped the steering wheel and my thinning patience, willing myself to follow my therapists’ advice to take deep breaths and back off before I made things worse.
I’m not a religious person, but I find myself praying for a sense of calm a LOT more these days.
Anywho, a song came on: ”Walk” by Foo Fighters. The speakers played Dave Grohl’s words quietly as we sat at the long red light. I bobbed my head to the beat, but I didn’t dare say a word or turn up the dial to hear it better. It suddenly felt like a weird game of chicken. Who was going to break character and turn up the volume? Finally, my son went for it. He couldn’t resist this song.
With quiet, unsure voices, we sang along with the lyrics. I hesitated to look at my son, but I could hear him. Gradually, our voices rose until we sang loudly over the music, letting our frustrations melt away from the car and unite in our affinity for great music. Then another beloved song played, and we belted those lyrics like the scene from Wayne’s World.
I could feel our anger dissipate with every lyric. For these fleeting moments, there was no judgment. No button-pushing. Just sweet catharsis through a stranger’s poetry. Even though these years will be tough and require a ton of patience, I’m comforted to know that music can help us stay connected. Despite the angst and turmoil, we can still find a way to understand each other.
Nowadays, when he gets in the car, after telling him how happy I am to see him, I always ask, “What song would you like to hear today?”
Some of our Favorite Songs:
"Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”--Alphonse de Lamartine
This quote echoes my story beautifully. I have special songs for many loved ones in my life (and some people from my past). Oftentimes, when I think of someone, their song will happen to play on the radio or on a store speaker if I’m running errands. This happens more times than I can count, and it’s definitely bittersweet. Music will always be my way of connecting with others and my memories with them.
Amelie and Finn napping together, and Lilo enjoying the grass on a sunny day.
Current Read: Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Glennon Doyle’s memoir, Untamed, came in just at the right time in my life. Doyle recounts her journey overcoming her own demons and abandoning society’s limiting expectations for her as a woman, mother, and wife. She advocates for all of us to recognize when we feel unsatisfied and stuck. When we feel unhappy, Doyle urges us to be courageous and follow our true instincts. It is a call to action to live our lives in the truest way possible, embracing the messiness and opening ourselves up to what the world has to offer. This book was hard to put down. It is eye-opening, inspiring, and deeply emotional. I give it 5/5 stars and strongly recommend it!
I shared a recent draft of In The Middle of the Sea with my agent, and she had some extensive (but very helpful) editing notes. When I got those notes, however, life became extremely hectic. Frankly, my brain went on survival mode, and I did not have the time or energy to do much writing at all. However, now that summer has begun and I can breathe again, I am forcing myself to get back into the workflow each morning. One exercise that is helping me find my way back into the story is doing short freewriting “sprints” (by hand) in a notebook, getting into my MC’s head, and recounting her memories, fears, hopes, etc. I am not worrying about plot--I’m just trying to reach her on a deeper, emotional level.
After Ross (our beloved border collie) passed away, we planted a fig tree in our backyard to honor his memory. He loved being outside, and we wanted to have a place to sit and think of him. The figs represent his sweet nature. We miss Ross dearly, but we’re happy to have a way to remember him.
That's all for now, but stay tuned for next month's updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out and say “hello!” :)
Issue #6: Back to the Basics
Now that Thanksgiving is over, we are officially in the holiday season. I must admit: I love seeing the lights up on houses. Walking around the neighborhood at night with a warm cup of hot chocolate or cider? Awesome. And daydreaming about resting over the holiday break? Even more awesome sauce.
But then the inevitable question arises:
“What do you want for Christmas?”
You may be wondering why this question isn’t so awesome. Frankly, it gives me anxiety, and up to this point, I wasn’t totally sure why. But today, lucky readers, I’d like to explore the reasons a bit more, if I may.
Reason #1: I don’t need anything, really.
Well, that’s not totally true. I need a LOT of time. I need sleep. I need a strong, well-functioning democracy. I need humanity to stop being so selfish. I need someone to grade my students’ work (LOL). I don’t need clothes, shoes, or kitchen gadgets. I don’t need socks or even (GASP) books. I already feel like I have too much stuff, and I have been trying to clean out my house and donate items to goodwill, which is truly a Sisyphean task. Yet, we are inundated with messages urging us to rush around and buy stuff people don’t need to keep the wheels of the economy moving.
[Like me, Finn wants to hibernate over the holidays. But capitalism....]
Reason #2: Let’s consider the climate crisis, please.
We are in danger of damaging our planet beyond repair. I know I sound like a huge joykill, but the fact is that the act of manufacturing products does leave a carbon footprint. When I see my own kids opening up plastic toys, I can’t help but imagine how many of these toys end up in landfills each year (after breaking or collecting dust), and I cringe. We live in a society that values excess, and it is so wasteful. Am I the only crazy person seeing this and feeling such existential dread? I don’t think I’m alone. To clarify: I am not anti-gift giving, but I would love to see people being more mindful about the products they buy.
Simply put: planet Earth doesn’t vibe with this rush to buy stuff just to buy stuff.
Reason #3: I just want connection.
These past two years were super isolating, frightening, and frankly, very taxing on our collective mental health. It made me realize how vital it is to have meaningful connections with other people. How important it is to have people to talk to and share ideas with. I love the idea of hiking with family and friends, hosting game nights, or having a meal with loved ones, sharing jokes and laughs in the warmth of good company. Most of all, I want to feel seen and valued, to feel like someone out there is interested in what I have to say and really sees me, despite my many flaws. I’d venture to guess many others would benefit from this priceless gift of simple connection and acceptance.
For me, the holidays are bittersweet. They are a time to get some MUCH needed “rest,” and at the same time, it comes with many stressors and conflicting messages. Nevertheless, I will try my best to go back to the basics and practice what I preach with my own family, giving them gifts that are truly priceless: connection, quality time, and lifelong memories.
“Rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -Lao Tzu
Speaking of changing our perspective, this quote is saved on my phone notes, and it reminds me of my angst about gifting. I feel that if we put more energy into focusing on being grateful for what we have instead of focusing on what we lack, we’d be a lot better off.
Current Read: The Stepping Off Place by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum
This book follows a high school senior’s life after she learns that her best friend died by suicide. Reid, the main character, takes us on her quest to find answers: which signs did she miss? What secrets did her best friend keep from her? This story pulled me in from the very first pages with the vivid emotions conveyed and compelling details, and it was so hard to put down. I laughed and cried along with Reid. I was haunted by the questions she raised about her friend. I walked with Reid through her process of grief, reflecting on my own journey and fears along the way.
In case any movie producers are reading this: I would LOVE to see this as a movie.
I received some very helpful feedback on my current middle grade manuscript, In the Middle of the Sea, and I am working on revisions. First, I am adding more details in the early chapters so that readers would know what life was like for Malia (my main character) before her life fell apart. I also want to add more details about the setting, now that the characters are developed. Even though my experience as a writer is more limited, I have learned some valuable lessons about revisions: I can’t fix everything in one round. Rather, I have to focus on different elements during each stage. For instance, my very first draft just focused on plot and characters. The writing was rough, but I had to get the “beats” of the story down. Then on the second round of revisions, I focused on fleshing out the characters more, making them more vivid and complex with details and believable dialogue. Now, I am working on enriching the setting of the story (time and place). Realizing this takes a lot of pressure off and frees me to prioritize during each revision, keeping it from being too overwhelming. While I think many other writers would agree with this practice, it is most important for each writer to find their own best “fit” in terms of workflow and process.
Our persimmon tree gave us lots of fruit (yay!). Since these are the Hachiya variety (the astringent kind), we cannot eat them raw, like many other fruits that grow on trees. However, once they ripen and soften, these are great for baking. My son helped me bake persimmon bread this past week, and my husband also makes delicious persimmon cookies.
That's all for now, but stay tuned for more updates in January after some much needed hibernation.
In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and/or comment on this post. I love hearing from you all! :)
Issue #5: It's Spooky Season!
October is here, and the gross heat is finally breaking. People started stretching spider webs across their fences and yards, settling lopsided pumpkins in porches and walkways, and sticking silly, pun-filled tombstones around their yards. Seeing these decorations go up as I drive home has got me feeling like:
As much as I love the decorations, my absolute favorite activity this month is dressing up for Halloween. I cannot emphasize this enough: I LIVE for this.
When I was a teenager, I made a promise to myself: always dress up for Halloween. Even when I’m 95 years old and unable to walk, I still want to slap something on myself--even just a headband with bunny ears, if nothing else.
This promise wasn’t about winning a prize or gaining clout on social media (which didn’t exist when I was a teenager--thank goodness).
This promise was about having fun, first and foremost. And what better way to have fun than to put on a silly costume and pretend you’re some other character for one day?
And when I became a mom, I took this commitment to the next level: we upgraded to FAMILY costumes.
To my delight, we were all in during those early years. Well, actually, my kids were too little to say “no” or protest, but they seemed equally excited about the idea of dressing up as a family. We’d collaborate on costume ideas: sharing our favorite movies, shows, and characters, whittling ideas down to the most “do-able” options.
For instance, our kids discovered Star Wars, so we had a family Star Wars costume. And when we got into Adventure Time, we each chose our favorite alter-ego from that show.
For a long time, I felt like the “cool” mom, strolling around the neighborhood in our awesome, unified, homemade costumes.
But now that my kids are older, they want to assert their independence. Establish their own style and interests. Totally understandable, right?
But their first act of independence was swift and brutal: they wanted to shed the family costume.
I balked at first, more stung by the idea that they didn’t want to associate so closely with me, their parent. But I had to put my own ego aside and recognize that they were right: it was bound to happen, and it came sooner than I expected.
Another life lesson: the “cool mom” to “cringe mom” pipeline is real, folks.
Of course, I respected my kids’ wishes and let them choose their own costume, even if it was a mass produced “Scream” costume we bought at Target (no bitterness here, I swear!).
Regardless of my new “embarrassing” mom status, I will embrace my cringe-y ways and put on my beloved Minnie Mouse ears.
Time to go back to having fun this Halloween!
"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living”--Marcus Cicero
In addition to celebrating Halloween, we also celebrate Dia de los Muertos as a way to honor family members who have passed. This is a bittersweet event because we miss those who have died, and we always feel the pangs of grief that will never go away. This year, I will honor my dad on our altar. I never had the chance to say goodbye or to heal our broken relationship, which hurts me deeply. I'm still gutted by the shock of his death. Nevertheless, I am also grateful for the chance to reflect on the positive memories and wish him well in the spiritual realm. For all of our family members who have passed on: we remember you and keep you in our hearts.
Current Read: Honolulu, by Alan Brennert
This is a lush story with rich imagery that transported me to Honolulu during the early 20th century. It features a Korean woman named Jin, a former picture bride, who immigrated to Hawaii and must find her way through this foreign and exotic land. Brennert loaded his narrative with research about life in Korea, in addition to intertwining Jin’s journey with real Hawaiian history and cultural references. Honolulu’s immersive details kept me grounded in the story. Brennert also wrote Moloka’i, and I would LOVE to see one of his books adapted into a film.
Writing Update: I attended the SCBWI SoCal Chapter Fall Conference on Saturday, October 2, and learned so much about how to improve my writing craft. We listened to engaging presentations from agents, editors, and published authors, who all took the time to answer our questions afterwards. Moreover, I was able to follow along with live critiques of our talented fellow members’ first pages, learning a lot about what makes a first page grab a reader’s interest. If you have aspirations to write children’s books, I highly recommend joining SCBWI and attending events like these.
Garden Update: We planted this Asian pear tree years ago. Even though it never bore fruit, we’d water it in the hopes that we’d be fortunate enough to get homegrown pears some day. I’m excited to say that that time has finally come! I was watering this week, and discovered some little pears on our tree. Yay!
Phew! That's all for now, but stay tuned for more stories and updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and/or comment on this post. I truly appreciate hearing from you! :)
Issue #4: Wipe Out
Fun fact: I learned how to surf in Costa Rica. My husband and I stayed in a (literal) treehouse on a remote beach, and a local instructor offered surfing lessons. Of course, I took him up on his offer.
(One of the treehouses in Ojo Del Mar, an EcoLodge in Costa Rica)
I thought I was so cool. Gently pushed forward by the warm waters and calm, consistent waves, I stood on the longboard with pride and panache. It was like I was born to surf: a true natural. I even let myself pretend I looked like Duke Kahanamoku, the legendary Hawaiian surfer.
But then I returned home and attempted to surf at Newport Beach. If the waves could speak, they would have said, “Gurrrl, please. LOL.”
I was NO Duke Kahanamoku. First of all, the cold water (even in the summer) shocked my body and tightened my muscles. The waves barreled at me, one after the other, and kept knocking me off the board. Then, when I managed to stand, the shorebreak thrashed me against the sand. Humbled by the unforgiving California waves, I carried my foam board back to shore on my throbbing, moppy head, feeling defeated and foolish.
I have since recovered from that episode. However, that feeling of defeat--of wiping out--has recently crept up inside me, but in a different context. When I began teaching, I quickly learned as much as I could and fell in love with the profession, hitting my stride, getting positive feedback and results, and even mentoring several amazing student teachers. I challenged myself to keep learning and level up my skills. Maybe I’m good at this, I’d let myself believe.
Then 2020 hit. And then 2021. Now, the classroom climate feels very different. Teachers are exhausted, discouraged by so much constant bad news and division, and overwhelmed by so much thrown on our plates. For many of us, teaching nowadays feels more like trying to surf on the cold, rough California waves instead of the warm, welcoming waters of Costa Rica. The once familiar landscape of our classrooms and schools often seems more like a fun-house version of itself, which is jarring.
(Teaching in 2021)
Getting pummeled by waves--whether the ones in the ocean or the ones in our psyche--sucks. It’s painful. But it reminds me that learning is never a “one and done” deal. Even when we feel like we’ve mastered a skill and start to feel comfortable, we have to constantly evolve and adapt in order to keep growing and surfing through the ups and downs of life.
With that said, my arms may be tired, but it’s time to get back on that board.
"Smooth seas make poor sailors”--Nautical Proverb
Since I’m talking a lot about the ocean, surfing, etc., I thought this was a fitting quote. It reminds me to embrace reasonable challenges as a chance to learn about myself. Sweet little Amelie, on the other hand, doesn’t seem concerned about being a poor sailor (or taking over my writing chair).
Current Read: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
My husband read this graphic novel (which was originally a popular webcomic) and loved it, so I thought I’d check it out. Don’t let the child-like drawings fool you: Solutions and Other Problems is a GN for mature audiences. With a series of short, illustrated stories, Brosh tells readers about her childhood and struggles in witty and, often hilarious, honesty. And when I least expected it, Brosh dove into some heavy stuff revolving around mental health, gut-punching me with emotions I didn’t expect to experience. I appreciated that, actually, and felt the ups and downs gave this story so much complexity.
I worked on revisions for the middle grade story I mentioned last month. The working title is In The Middle of the Sea, and it is set mostly in Maui. However, the time setting is not in 2020/2021. Based on the hint below, can you guess approximately when this story takes place?
Now that apple season is here, our Gala apple tree has sprouted a bunch of little apples. It took years to get this tree to bear fruit, but ever since we established our beehive, our fruit trees have become much more productive. Thanks for all of your help, bees!
That's all for today, but stay tuned for next month's updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and/or comment on this post. I love hearing from you all! :)
Issue #3: Try Everything
We hoped that this summer would bear some semblance of the summer of 2019, but--alas--science had to flex HARD on us naive humans.
I don’t want to go down that black hole of despair, so I’ll promise to keep this upbeat. :)
Even though we had to still be cautious with unvaccinated children, we were determined to make some happy family memories. So we stayed in a cottage on a farm in Carmel Valley for a few days. It was so remote that we had to drive hours up a windy road--a road not even wide enough for two cars--on the side of a mountain. Totally relaxing, right? Nevertheless, we pushed our loaded car slowly up that mountain for the sake of adventure.
With so much going on in the world that makes us feel powerless, like we have no control, I’ve realized that it’s even more important to fight for moments of peace amidst chaos. But in order to reclaim our sense of agency, we had to distance ourselves from the source of that powerlessness: the news, the screens, the doomscrolling. Moreover, we have to open up to new experiences. My husband and I are both adventurous and, lucky for us, our kids were game to join us for the ride.
The kids tried their first afternoon tea, and they loved feeling sophisticated and grown up (that only lasted for about five minutes until the situation devolved into a nuggie fight). We tried hiking new trails after waking up at 4am to the roosters’ proud crows. We tried riding bikes along Monterey Bay and eating new foods. We tried all we could to fill our cups and heal our hearts--just a little.
It’s not like one short getaway will automatically change lives, but venturing outside our comfort zone was a nice change and built up some of that inner muscle that seemed to atrophy in all of us. When my kids tried something new (even if it was a flop), the mere fact that they did it boosted their confidence. More importantly, I realized that we don’t need getaways to achieve this; we’re surrounded by opportunities for new experiences. We can try a new bike or walking path around our neighborhood or strike up a conversation with a new neighbor. We can try reading a new genre of books or cook a new recipe. Here’s one I made recently: vegan spring rolls with peanut sauce.
As comforting as predictability can be for us, it’s also great to move away from the routine--at least for a little bit--to help us remember how courageous and capable we really are.
Inspirational Quote and Writing Update: Isak Dinesen once said, “All sorrows can be borne if you can put them into a story.” I heard this quote on a podcast (Throughline on NPR), and I felt it deeply.
As far as telling “a story” about our sorrows in order to bear them, I am working on a middle grade story about a girl’s quest to reconnect with her broken family. I was scared at first about the idea of channeling the confusion, anger, and loss I’ve experienced in my own family. This story, however, offers the characters a sense of hope amid loss and a chance for redemption. Although there was no redemption in my “real” life, I feel that this story will help me with some much-needed healing.
This story also incorporates one of my favorite hobbies. Here's a clue:
Also, I am glad to have sweet Finn in my writing critique group. He'll surely help me get through this.
Current Read: Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
I recently read Ghost World, and let me tell you: this book doesn’t hold back! I’ll admit that the story felt a bit dreary at first. However, the thinly-veiled vulnerability of the two friends (Enid and Rebecca) pulled me in the more I read. I also appreciated the Daria vibes I got from Enid as well as the brutal honesty that Clowes’ flawed and complex characters brought to the page. It also felt reminiscent of the way my friends and I would interact. If you are looking for a real and bittersweet coming of age story between two close friends, you’ll enjoy this!
Garden Update: Each year, the Orange County Fair hosts competitions, where participants can enter vegetables, breads, wines, animals, cookies, photography, honey, and even table settings for judges to rank. Following the desire to try new experiences, we entered the honey we harvested from our beehive for the first time ever. There were over 25 beekeepers in the contest for our category (Amber Honey). To our surprise, our honey won SECOND place!!
So what are some new endeavors--big or small-that you’ve tried lately?
Stay tuned for next month's updates. In the meantime, feel free to reach out, share this with friends, and let me know about your latest adventures. :)
Some updates, musings, and sharing of inspirations.