Can Marriage Be Easy?

The first wedding dress she put on was it. She glowed with the perfection of its fit while the rest of us cheered our approval. It was already the first Saturday in November, not much time before my youngest sister-in-law’s January date, and we all left the store with the happy vibe of a good sign. Plus a quick decision left plenty of time for lunch!

At Blue Lemon my mother-in-law asked a woman sitting nearby to take a picture of us, mentioning the upcoming event. The woman held up the camera and said, “I want you all to think of the love that you feel for each other today!”


A buzzing sensation tickled my ear—the kind that signals fateful interference. Something important was happening. Read more

The Creative Process

the current stage of my creative process: altering scenes and tracking goals

Last week via Twitter I came across an article called “Twelve Things You Were Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking.” While it goes into depth and gives examples of each, the list goes like this:

  1. You are creative.
  2. Creative thinking is work.
  3. You must go through the motions of being creative.
  4. Your brain is not a computer.
  5. There is no one right answer.
  6. Never stop with your first good idea.
  7. Expect the experts to be negative.
  8. Trust your instincts.
  9. There is no such thing as failure.
  10. You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are.
  11. Always approach a problem on its own terms.
  12. Learn to think unconventionally.

These are all so true that I would simply like to say, “Amen!”

But I’d also like to illustrate.

A few weeks ago Hubby and I were talking about my writing, and he mentioned how he feels as though, personality wise, I’m much more analytical than I am creative. Therefore, he said, shouldn’t I pursue analytical writing of some sort (haha, such as these blog posts?) rather than fiction writing?

I agreed with him to a point: I am naturally analytical, and creativity is hard work for me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not good at it once I get there. I noted that he hasn’t read my fiction yet and explained to him that though my characters and stories don’t come easily to me at first, I use my analytical skills to bring them to life one draft at a time.

The conversation made me realize that I’ve decided to be creative, decided to believe that I can be creative, and even decided to believe that I am good at creativity.

I think that’s why I loved the article. I experience those twelve concepts on a regular basis. I have to believe I’m creative; I have to work hard at wrapping my brain around my projects; I have to go through the motions and be open to all kinds of ideas; I have to trust my instincts and pursue the projects and designs I feel inclined toward, trusting that I can achieve the potential I imagine; I have to be willing to think outside the box all the time, questioning “rules” of writing and when to adhere to or break them.

What’s been especially phenomenal the past month and a half is experiencing the height of the creative process. I swore to Hubby and Twitter that I would aim for two goals: (a) to write every day, no matter what, and (b) to revise a chapter a week in order to finish this latest draft by April 1. As I’ve done those two things, I’ve been amazed at the creative output I’ve discovered. I’ve been completing each chapter early every week because the ideas have flowed so freely. I’m so excited to write every day that I can hardly wait to put everything else aside (especially children — since I have to wait for the toddler’s afternoon nap) and open my manuscript again.

Part of the credit goes to the place I am in the process. Since it’s a fifth draft, where I expect to be ready to submit to agents after this round, the characters and story are all in place and I’m simply monkeying with individual scenes, altering and moving and deleting them to enhance the telling of the story and the showing of the characters. It’s a fun stage, juggling and rearranging pieces and having new epiphanies all the time about how to improve them.

But I think most of the credit goes to pushing myself to write every day.

I used to let lesson plans and grading papers encroach on my writing time, but now I’ve decided not to. I’m an adjunct teacher, meaning that it’s a side job. Writing is my main job (besides motherhood), so the writing has to have its regular structured time. The side job has to fit in on the side, where it belongs. So when the toddler naps, I write — no exceptions. And so far I have fit in the planning and grading elsewhere, like when the kids are busy playing with toys.

Writing every day keeps the story and characters fresh in my head. I don’t waste time trying to catch myself up and figure out where I left off. I can dive right back in every day and keep the momentum of the story building as I revise. And my enthusiasm for it grows as well.

As it turns out, when I invest myself in the process I am creative!

What have your experiences with the creative process been like? What points on that list are particularly meaningful to you?

Leave a comment!

To Sunday Afternoons: A Dedication

I’d like to dedicate this post to the one who made it possible. Sunday Afternoons, how I’ve missed you!

A photo from Old House Online that made me think of you. How great you and I would look together in this setting!

In that quirk of Mormondom, the yearly rotating schedule, it felt like ages since I’ve had you to myself. The 1pm church time — lasting until 4pm! — made me rush past you with barely a chance for a wistful glance, as I had a strict appointment with Dinner Prep right afterward (for our exercise routine, set to the rhythm of chopping and sizzling and boiling).

But now! Now that it’s our congregation’s turn to conclude at noon, three weeks in a row I’ve had the pleasure of your company again, the gift of your lavish hospitality. You are the sort of friend everyone needs: so generous and undemanding. Last week’s sweater you helped me crochet turned out well! And the book I had today: excellent. I’m indebted to you for the hours to relax with it. How good that felt!

(Incidentally, I should introduce you sometime. You and the book would get along. If you come across John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, please say hello!)

In the tumultuous busyness enforced by the totalitarianism of Other Days, there’s rarely a scrap of time for savoring words and ideas. Each is pushed out by the next more pressing one. But you, Sunday Afternoon — you understand that relaxation is an oft-neglected task, a necessary indulgence, a luxury as mandatory as breathing. You, like a shelter, provide the space for reclaiming lost thoughts: searching them out and gathering them up and finding a spot for them and pausing over each one to see how it is doing and what attention it needs. You give me freedom to choose words at my leisure rather than rushing to settle on the first that will do. Other Days may boast of their activity, their capacity, their productivity, their exclusivity, but you deserve praise for your charity.

Thank you, kind friend, for being here for me when I need you. It was hard to be without you so long.

Words for Summer

Summer is swimming. It’s zucchini growing huge, tomatoes turning red. Bushels of peaches and pints of blackberries. Lazing on the patio. Boating on the lake. Vacations. Ice cream. Long days. Bright flowers. Camping. Barbecuing. Thunder storms. Beaches. Sunglasses. Shorts.

It’s interesting to me how we have sets of words for every season — the things that make us appreciate this time of year before it drifts into the next. How there are certain markers we watch and wait for, anticipating the full sensory experience behind a word like peaches.

Today the farmers market pulled me into summer with the peaches and the blackberries. I’ve been waiting since Christmas time to try a peach-blackberry crisp suggested in a book I got over the holidays, and now the season is here!

I thought I’d make homemade vanilla ice cream to go with it, but I ended up with so much fruit that now the ice cream that’s hardening in my freezer is peach instead. Maybe it’ll be a peach overdose, but the season is so short that we might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

It also interests me how, even without a photo to go along, just the words of a recipe can win me over — how the words translate into flavors in my head and my brain can imagine the flavors melding and estimate the final result and judge based on nothing but words whether or not I’ll like it.

I figured that even though this is a blog about reading, writing, and teaching, I could stretch it a bit to share a taste of summer with you: two recipes that I’m preparing tonight while a lovely, booming summer rainstorm gathers outside.

Peach Ice Cream

Makes 1/2 gallon

5 peaches, peeled and pitted
3/4–1 cup honey (depending on how sweet you want it)
3 eggs*
3 cups cream
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat the eggs with the honey. Puree the peaches and add to egg mixture. Stir in cream, vanilla and salt. Pour into ice cream maker and let it do its thing.

(Or, if you’re like me and ice cream maker–less, pour into a 9×13 pan, set in the freezer, and stir every 15 minutes for 2–3 hours. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze several more hours until solid enough to scoop.)

*If you’re nervous about raw eggs, you can cook them with the honey and cream on the stove, simmering and stirring until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, before combining with the peaches. Just make sure it never boils. I’ve tried making ice cream either way (raw or cooked) and love both types.

Variations: Substitute other fruit purees, equaling roughly 2 1/2–3 cups, for the peaches. For chocolate ice cream, omit peaches, increase to 4 eggs and 4 cups cream, and add 1/4 cup cocoa powder.

Peach Blackberry Crisp

sliced peaches
honey or maple syrup
melted butter

Fill any size casserole dish (I prefer a 9×13 so there are plenty of leftovers) with desired amount of peach slices and blackberries. Dust with flour and pour honey or maple syrup all over, then stir to coat fruit. Cover with granola. Drizzle butter over granola. Bake at 350 for 30–35 minutes.

What are the words you associate with summer? What are the sights, tastes, sounds, smells or textures that bring the season into focus for you?

Leave a comment!

Shopping for My Characters

As a mom, shopping is part of my job description. Not that it is for every mom, since I know some husbands who are in charge of groceries, etc, but in our family I corner the market. I’m the one on the receiving end of, “Hey, next time you’re out, will you get me a _________?”

Yesterday, for example, I had to shop for our upcoming trip (string cheese, raisins, tortilla chips, fruit leather), shop for an upcoming birthday party (eye patches, gold coins, treasure map, red-and-white-striped bandanas), shop for a bike helmet for my almost four-year-old . . .

. . . and shop for a camera for Wendy.

“Wendy who?” you might be asking.

Um, well . . . my main character. The fictional teenager who lives only in my manuscript.

She needs a camera. An awesome camera. A digital SLR. The sort of camera that you cradle, the fingers of your right hand curled around the side, hugging it, index finger crook’d and ready to pounce, while your left palm sinks under the fantastic weight of the removable lens. The sort of camera that once you’ve held it and felt it fit in your hands, you don’t want to surrender it.

That level of appreciation is currently missing from my manuscript, and if I shop for a particular camera and fall in love with a particular camera and give that camera to Wendy, I’m hoping I can give her an emotional connection to the camera and the reader an emotional connection to both the camera and Wendy. See the brilliance of the plan?

With of course the technicality that in this case shopping does not equal buying — as much as I would love one of these for myself (*cough* Christmas???).

It’s funny how, despite that technicality, many of my usual shopping parameters still apply. Even though this is fiction and the sky should be the limit (seeing as how I’m not spending real money), I can’t buy Wendy even a mid-level SLR with the twisty LCD screen — because it’s $800, and Wendy is not a rich-girl character. She’s a regular-girl character. She got the camera for Christmas, from her dad, and while her dad spoils her a tad, he doesn’t go overboard. So I have to take that into consideration and not go overboard in my selection. I have to be practical and go with an entry-level model. I have to think what is practical for Wendy, even if practical is slightly less fun.

Yesterday I combed the photos and descriptions online, but I need to do better than that. I need to hold some SLRs and get a literal feel for Wendy’s connection to her camera, for the loving way she holds it and babies it and tucks it into its case. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the $800 model. She is in love with the camera because it’s hers.

That is, once I get her one.

I guess moms aren’t the only ones with the shopper hat. Sometimes writers have to shop around for their characters, too. And like it sometimes takes me a while to catch on that Hubby is serious when he asks for a certain type of milk, etc, it took me a while to catch on to the importance of the camera for Wendy. I threw it into the story a couple drafts ago but didn’t give it the attention it deserved — until the camera solved a major character dilemma for me.

See, I could not figure Wendy out. She was so elusive to me. How would she react to seeing the fairy that stalks her in the novel? No idea. And for my manuscript, that’s a fairly critical thing to know.

Finally I realized that I needed to change the question into something I could wrap my head around: How would Wendy react to seeing a spider?

Answer: She’d grab her camera, get close, and zoom in until all its tiny hairs were in focus.

Answer: Wendy would be fascinated.

That kind of insight proves to me that the camera deserves a little more attention. So while fitting in shopping for produce at the farmers market and other real and mandatory errands this weekend, I’ll also be fitting in the task of nestling a few cameras into my hands, pondering their size and weight and feel, and deciding which one to give my character.

Ever shopped for someone imaginary? Any tips on selecting a great entry-level camera for a dad to give his teenage daughter for Christmas? 

Leave a comment!

How to Play Favorites

I’ve often heard writers say that their books are like their children. Oh, how true that can be!

As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird, “Your child and your work hold you hostage, suck you dry, ruin your sleep, mess with your head, treat you like dirt, and then you discover they’ve given you that gold nugget you were looking for all along.”

Everyone knows you’re not supposed to have a favorite child, but I’ve been thinking recently that playing favorites in a different way can actually be a good thing. After all, many professional writers will tell you that the secret to being a writer is to love writing. Similarly, I’d argue the secret to being a parent is to love your kids.

And the secret to loving either one might be picking out your favorite parts. 

1. Notice

First of all, remember that instead of having a favorite (singular), you’re looking for favorites (plural). The only catch is to pay attention and figure out what you love to love.

My kids and I often make an impromptu game of this when we go outside this time of year. “Ooh, Mom! Look! This flower is opening up!” or “The seeds are growing!” or “The vines are climbing so high!” I don’t remember how we started this tradition, but I’ve become so fond of it, and I hope that it’s teaching my kids to notice and appreciate nature.

For me as a parent, having the right attitude for this on a regular basis requires me to take deep breaths and stop and really look at my kids rather than impatiently rushing on to my next task (which I’m often guilty of).

This week, when I remembered to notice, I was treated with so many gold nuggets, like spying my six-year-old lying on his back, hands behind his head, elbows out, pondering the universe; catching the very first attempts at a clap our nine-month-old made before mastering the milestone; and seeing the three-year-old don every kind of amusing combination of spy glasses, pirate patch, pirate hat, crown, Home Depot apron-turned-cape, pirate hook, pirate sword, etc.

With writing, I try to find aspects I enjoy at every stage of the process. Right now I appreciate that the story is in place and that my characters are rounding out so nicely; I notice how fun it is to tweak sentences and add cool details. I watch to see what are my favorite aspects of each phase.

2. Enjoy

It’s one thing to say, “Oh, hey. Looks like the baby learned to clap,” and another to stop what you are doing and enjoy the moment.

One night as I was cooking dinner, Baby started doing a peculiar dance around the kitchen floor: crawl three feet, sit on bum, clap twice; crawl, sit, clap; crawl, sit, clap; over and over. It was hilarious, and the six-year-old and I were busting up laughing.

Making dinner can often be a stressful time, especially if I’ve got hunger-grumpy family members whining at me to hurry, but enjoying that moment with the kindergartener and the babe wiped out all the frustration of the dinner chore.

Enjoying favorites helps to keep me from feeling overwhelmed in writing, too. When I focus on how much better this one particular paragraph is getting and how much fun I’m having tweaking it, I’m not letting myself stress about the thousands of other paragraphs I still need to work on.

Maybe it’s the secret to living in the moment.

3. Remember

Earlier today, my three-year-old yelled at the six-year-old, “I DON’T APPROCERATE IT!”

This was in the middle of a heated argument between the two of them, but the strange word paused it all. The six-year-old and I looked at each other and then at the preschooler. “What?”


We couldn’t help laughing.

“You mean you don’t appreciate it?” I asked.

I happened to be working on this post at the time, and I typed “approcerate” onto the screen to help me remember. So often I’ll start to tell people, “Kids are hilarious! They’re always mixing up their words and doing the funniest things,” and then they’ll want an example, and most of the time I can’t think of one. How sad!

But more important than bragging rights is that remembering my favorite things cycles me back to noticing them more.

When I keep lists of my kids’ funny words, I listen for more words to add. When I remember how much I love the way my three-year-old dresses, I stop to look at him every time he comes up from the basement with another piece to his wardrobe ensemble. 

I remember that I love the eight-to-ten-months age with my babies, so now that I have a third one in that stage, I’m eating it up, enjoying those chubby thighs scoot scoot scooting his knees across the floor, those grabby hands reaching for everything so he can explore all five senses of his world (especially taste, whether dirt or Play Doh or toys or food), those wobbly legs that narrow to tiny feet struggling to balance as he pulls himself up on the nearest furniture.

And it’s the same when I get to certain stages of writing. I used to hate the first draft, but now that I’ve written two full manuscripts, I tell myself to remember the good things about a first draft, like the fun of piecing the story together as you go, not even knowing what the next scene will be until an idea for it lands in your head and you start typing.

By remembering that I enjoyed that process, I can look forward to doing it again and not feel so terrified by the blank page.

And then, there are the things that help you remember to remember, like writing. These lines from a poem I read years ago in The New Yorker remind me to watch for “the merry clap-clap” of my babies, enjoy it, and treasure the memory:

Two children astride me
in rumpled bed this A.M.,
and when she petted his
baby head, crooning a word
almost his name,
his eyes hooked her face,
his hands discovered applause
in halting pace:

clap (pause) clap clap!
Their mingled laughter,
the nickname again,
the merry clap-clap,
the jerking bright giggles

so free I dropped through time

(from “Dad, You Returned to Me This Morning” by Deborah Garrison)

I’m not perfect at this game of playing favorites, but when I do all three steps they make a huge difference for me. I love the things I notice, enjoy, and remember.

What have been your favorite parts of the past week/month/year/whatever? What are your favorite things about what you do? How do you notice, enjoy, and remember when you play favorites?

Leave a comment!