Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Flower Girls

Well, we did it again. I couldn't resist the siren peep of baby chicks and just like that, we doubled our flock. Hello, sweet girls. Welcome to the family.

Okay, so it wasn't quite that spontaneous. We actually discussed whether or not this was a good time to get more chickens, and came to the conclusion that yes, it most definitely is. (Hey, I didn't say it was a long discussion...) Here are the facts: I just started a new job and have no vacation time for  the first three months, so we're not taking any big trips. Our coop is very large and can easily hold up to 15 chickens, and we only have six in there right now (RIP, Alice and Georgia). And it's time to add some spring chickens to the mix, as our existing chickens are two-three years old, and egg production will eventually begin to slow. Plus: CUTE BABY CHICKS!

I consider my chickens pets (though not on the same level as the dogs, whom I consider family members) so naturally they all have names. I can tell the chickens apart, but Nathan can't, which is fine with me. It means I get to name them whatever I want. Previously, I'd been giving my chicken old-fashioned names - Hattie, Ruby, Louise, Olga, and Polly are scratching in their run as I type this. To differentiate between the two groups of chickens, the older hens will henceforth be known as the Old Ladies (due to their names, and because they are old). The new chicks will henceforth be known as the Flower Girls, and each one will be named after a bloom. I already picked out the names but I haven't yet figured out who's who - the chicks will have to let me know as they develop their personalities. (So far, only Violet has claimed her name - Daisy, Lilly, Clover, Poppy, and Iris have yet to be determined.)

Since the chicks are still brand new and all haven't grown their feathers yet, they have to live inside, under a lamp, in my office. We've also rolled the space heater in here, so it's nice and toasty. While I don't mind sharing my office, I will be excited to move them into the coop. Since the weather is getting pretty warm in Wilmington, I'm hoping they'll be able to go into a cordoned off section of the run by the first week of May. (We can't fully integrate the flock until they're full grown - chickens are pretty vicious and the Old Ladies will likely attack the Flower Girls, so I easing them into a shared space will be a slow and necessary process - more on that later!) 

All in all, this has been a pretty exciting spring, and it's only just begun! Next month we're beginning a new adventure in top bar beekeeping, our garden is beginning to gain some ground, and the weather is warming up. I hate winter so desperately and love summer so much that sometimes I forget the sweet, albeit short, spring season. This year we seem to be lingering in it, and for that I am grateful. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

March Reads

I only managed to read three books in March, and almost all of them were read in the first half of the month. This is because I started my new job half way through the month and WOW a full time job will really cut into your reading-for-pleasure time! Now that I'm settled in and used to my new schedule, I hope to get back into the habit of reading every day. I've missed giving myself that precious time.  

That said, the three books I did manage to read last month were pretty good and very different from one another. Here are my reviews (longer versions are on Goodreads, as usual!). 

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

I fell into this book and wasn't able to look up until I finished. Even then, I found myself still lost in the pages, thinking about the characters I'd grown to love, wistful that I'd reached the end and there weren't more chapters to spend with them. So, yes, I really, really, really liked this book. 

In Americanah, Adichie tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who leaves her home country (and Obinze, her college boyfriend and her first love) to finish college in America. Obinze is supposed to follow her but after 9/11, he can't get a visa. Ifemelu has a harder time adjusting to America than she thought, becomes depressed, and cuts off contact with Obinze, even though she still loves him deeply. When the book opens, we learn that Ifemelu has just closed her very successful blog, about race in American from a Non American Black's perspective, and is returning to Nigeria - and, of course, to Obinze, with whom she hasn't spoken in 13 years. 

In a lesser writer's hands, this book would not work as well. I loved it, but there were moments where I worried that the conversations were going on too long, that some of the characters were caricatures, representatives of ideologies instead of individuals. If you don't like thinking or reading about race, then this book might bore you and also you should check your privilege, as they say. I, for one, thought the conversations were fascinating, and especially loved that Americanah looks at race in America from an outsider's perspective. Mostly, though, I cared so much about Ifemelu, was so invested in her life and relationships, and was happy to read as she talked, blogged, ate, loved, and discovered things about America and Nigeria and, of course, herself. I was anchored in this book in the best way and reading it reminded me what a powerful pleasure a great book can be. 

Mermaids in Paradise, by Lydia Millet 

In this book, Deb and Chip get married and go on a tropical honeymoon, where wild and crazy things happen. Deb is a great narrator - she's funny and sarcastic, and the whole first half of this book seems like a fun and silly romp, light hearted, with many reasons to laugh out loud. (Which I did. And I hardly ever laugh out loud while reading books!) Then they discover a pod of real, live mermaids swimming near their vacation resort, and that's when things get dark. There's a murder mystery, an evil corporation, a minor conspiracy, and a mostly-happy ending. 

And that's all I can say, due to something happening at the very end (like, in the last three pages) that would ruin everything for the reader if I even hinted at it. (In fact, I may have said too much already.) If you have read this, let's go to the comments and express our feelings there. 

Family Life, by Akhil Sharma 

For some reason, I was under the impression that this book was going to be full of "dark humor," which I love. Instead it was just really, really dark. 

In it, a family - Mom, Dad, and their two sons - moves from India to America, hoping to better their lives. Instead, shortly after their arrival, the older brother, Birju, has an accident in a swimming pool that leaves him brain damaged. The book is narrated by the younger brother, Ajay, and this is where most of the humor begins and end. Ajay is about ten when the accident happens and his voice and observations are funny, sad, strange, and often unexpected. He's not very likable, which the reader forgives because he's young and his life has taken a very bad turn. When it becomes clear that Birju will never recover, never walk or talk again, the family falls apart. Mom becomes Birju's caretaker, focusing all her energy on him and neglecting Ajay. Dad becomes an alcoholic who can't deal with the terrible way all his dreams have been crushed. And Ajay is adrift, torn between loving his brother and hating him, a sad boy who grows up to be a sad man, incapable of true happiness. 

In the end, this isn't a book about redemption or acceptance or anything even remotely resembling optimism. It doesn't have to be, of course. I don't read books because I want a happy ending or a Lifetime moment. But it's rare for a book to feel quite so devoid of hope as this one does. Even An Untamed State, arguably the most horrifying book in recent years, was more uplifting that this quiet tale of a family fallen apart. While there were lovely moments and the writing was beautiful at times, the ending felt incomplete, as if the book had been building toward something but never quite reached it.

And now, for some awesome things you can read right now, written by people that I know and love! 

Tonight the Stars Are Strung Up Like Elegies and Khepri, by Sally J. Johnson
Gorgeous and beautiful and perfect and painful - but would you expect anything less from Sally?  No, you wouldn't.

Choreography for Brief Flight, by Hannah de la Cruz Abrams
This piece is so weird in the most lovely way. I have read it six times now and it gets better each time. 

Home Sonnet, by Kathleen Jones
Shakespeare is totally jealous right now. Also: what a perfect portrait on love and relationships and anger and hope. 

Speaking in Tongues, by Kerry Headley
This essay is sharp and funny and sad and necessary. But mostly it is pure Kerry, and that's why I love it. 

Happy reading! 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Sunday Food Prep

I've been working full time for a week now (I know, big deal, but humor me here) and so far, I appear to be surviving. I'm still trying to settle into a routine that includes working AND writing AND exercising AND eating decent meals. On Monday I was able to hit the holy trinity by writing 1,000 words in the morning, working from 8AM to 5PM, and going to yoga in the evening. I felt unstoppable and on top of the world, but I haven't been able to do it again since. Baby steps. 

Because there is so much to do during the week, I decided to try the whole "Sunday Food Prep" thing over the weekend. I went to Trader Joe's on Saturday (and promptly thought to myself, "Where did all these people come from?!" as I am used to grocery shopping on, say, a Tuesday afternoon). On Sunday, I spent about three or four hours in the kitchen, chopping, cooking, mixing, and freezing various snacks and meals for the week. 

On the menu: vegan three bean chili and cornbread (frozen for dinners); salt and vinegar roasted chickpeas (for snacking); and mac, cheeze, and peas, made with leftover Noochy Sauce from Veganomicon (for lunches). Obviously this isn't all we're eating this week, but it was a good head start. 

While I certainly like having ready-to-go meals in my fridge and freezer, I'm not sure how I feel about spending the bulk of my Sunday in the kitchen. I think getting into the habit of maybe cooking double batches of everything and freezing half might be a better system for me. Sure, it would be a little more work in the moment, but I could slowly build up a store of extra meals instead of trying to do it all at once. I will certainly keep you updated on this most fascinating struggle. 

In the meantime, if you have any favorite vegetarian or almost-vegan meals that travel well, let me know. I prefer to bring my lunch from home because $$$, and a human being can only eat so much mac and cheeze. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Another New Beginning

This photo is relevant, I swear.

Last week I interviewed for, and was offered, a full time job. After a week of weighing the pros and cons, doing more math in one day than in the last decade combined, and making many hard decisions, I decided to take the job. I started on Wednesday and any fears or reservations I had disappeared - this, I quickly realized, is where I'm supposed to be. Thus, it's official: I'm no longer a freelance writer. 

I realize this may come as a surprise to some of my readers. When I wrote about freelancing on the blog, I was usually upbeat, enthusiastic, and positive. This wasn't a lie, exactly. I loved nearly everything about freelancing. The variety of work, my wonderful clients, the freedom of making my own schedule, the joy of working from home, the pride of owning my own tiny business. I felt good about freelancing, even when I alluded to its ups and downs, irregular paychecks, and ridiculous tax burdens. So why am I giving it up? 

In the end, it came down to money. I simply wasn't making enough. I had some really good months, which buoyed me and gave me hope, but those months were few and far between. Most of the time, I made a pretty great part time salary. The only problem was, thanks to five years of graduate school, crushing student loan debt, and a tenacious credit card balance, part time wasn't cutting it. And so I started looking for full time work in my field, which, I'd decided, despite having no degrees or credentials, was content marketing. I recognize that my greatest strength is my writing, and content marketing is a way to use that skill and get paid pretty well for it. (Hardly anyone, it turns out, pays very well for fiction. C'est la vie.) Since I was still freelancing, I didn't rush my job search. I waited for the right position to come along. And then it did. 

My new title is "Content Marketing Specialist," and I'm working at a digital marketing agency in Wilmington, in an office full of smart, creative, and friendly people. While I'm giving up some of my freelancer freedoms (not wearing pants is the main one) I'm also gaining some pretty neat stuff, like a bigger paycheck, health benefits, and a team of talented folks that I'm excited to work alongside. I feel really lucky to have landed this job. As far as marketing goes, I'm self-taught and I know I have a ton to learn. I'm excited that my weird assortment of skills (writing, research, communication, and the Internet) have finally come together in a career that makes sense. And I can't wait to go to the dentist. Seriously. It's been over five years. 

The thing I was (and am) most worried about is acclimating to a 40 hour work week, and still having the time and energy to write. The last time I worked in an office I barely wrote, and quit to go get an MFA. Now, I am telling myself, things are different. I just spent three years in an MFA program. I've already finished writing one book. I've sunk a lot of time and energy into this writing thing, and I know how to prioritize it. Also, if I don't keep writing, I have a number of great friends and a supportive husband who will yell at me until I start again. And so I will start again, and again, and again. 

I spent ten months supporting myself as a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Even though it wasn't a sustainable career, it was an amazing experience. I learned so much about myself, what I want to do, and how to work really, really hard. I chased down leads, got over my fear of talking on the phone, cold-called editors and businesses, never missed a deadline, put together an impressive portfolio, and paid my bills. All of those self-taught skills helped me land this job, and I'm excited to see how far I can take this career, especially now that I have the support and guidance of an actual agency.

Upward and onward!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon

Yesterday I ran the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon for the third year in a row. A local race that starts less than ten miles from my front door, it offers a full and a half option, but I've always opted for the half. (And will continue to do so, since the full course seems repetitive). The race begins at the beach, includes two bridges that you cross during sunrise, and ends along a busy road (cordoned off for the race, of course) lined with spectators, funny signs, and plenty of dogs. (Nathan counted 51 spectating dogs during the race; I lost count after the first eight because I was too busy trying to maintain my pace). 

As usual, our training for this race was sub-par. Every year I swear that I will run at least three times a week, do speedwork and tempo runs, and smash my PR. Every year I run maybe twice a week, do a little bit of speedwork, and cross my fingers. I used to race and run a lot more, in my mid-twenties. I'm not sure if my desire to do things other than run (such as a drink an afternoon beer, read a book on the back porch, and watch Netflix) is a sign that I am too busy for all that running, or just too lazy. Either way, the idea of running a marathon these days seems insane. You can phone in the training on 13.1, but 26.2 is not so forgiving. 

Though maybe it's me who needs to be more forgiving, because - spoiler alert - I managed to PR yesterday! I suspect this is because, even though I am not running as much as I did when I was 26, 27, or 28, I cross train pretty much all the time. Tons of yoga, lots of kettlebell, and at least ten miles of dog walking each week. It all adds up, as this race proves. 

As for the race itself, I ran it with Nathan and Katie. We'd trained together for the last few months, meeting every Sunday for a long run around Greenfield Lake. Last year, Katie and I ran the race side by side until mile 11, when I pulled ahead and finished a minute or so before her. This year, we split up at mile 3 because she was running a faster race than me and I knew I couldn't keep up. Nathan did the same, because he's always faster than me. So I made sure the two hour pace group was behind me (breaking two hours is always my secret goal) and settled in. 

At around mile 7, Nathan suddenly appeared beside me. He'd had some stomach issues and took a detour in a port-a-potty. We ran together for a few miles, then he pulled away. At around mile 10, I saw Katie up ahead, but she was holding steady and I decided not to try catching up. I was having a hard enough time holding on to my pace - I'd been averaging sub 9 minute miles the whole time, much to my own surprise, and knew that if I could just keep it going until the end, I would break my personal record. I ended up crossing the finish line 11 seconds after Katie, and two minutes after Nathan, for an official time of 1:56:28, an average pace of 8:54, and a new PR. Not bad for a Sunday morning. 

After the race we went home, showered, and then met up at the Dixie Grill for our traditional post-race breakfast. I always order the Dixie Benedict, which is a biscuit, topped with a fried green tomato, covered in scrambled eggs, and smothered in Vidalia gravy. I want another one right now just thinking about it. Later that day I took a nap, drank porch beers with friends, and went to bed early. In other words: a perfect day. 

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

This part of the post is for running nerds who like stats. I set my previous half marathon record FIVE YEARS AGO, in 2010, at the Davy Crockett Beach Chase, with a 1:58:21. (Which is still one of my favorite races.) As for the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon, last year I finished in 2:00:20, and the year before that in 1:59:31, so a 1:56 finish is a pretty big improvement! 

I wasn't sure I could maintain a sub 9 minute mile pace for so long. In training, I can usually bang out three miles at that pace, but it's never easy. I think the difference during a race is that I have an extra dose of adrenaline, I taper so my legs are well rested, and I take GUs, which I rarely use in training. The extra shot of energy (I took a GU at miles 5, 9, and 11) made a huge difference. In the end, I kept it steady around 8:50, and my pace was consistent throughout. Here's my mile-by-mile breakdown, according to my Garmin: 

Mile 1: 8:57 (crowded at the start, so we were slowed down) 
Mile 2: 8:37 (trying to keep up with Katie) 
Mile 3: 8:48 (came to my senses and settled in) 
Mile 4: 8:50 (goodbye, beach!) 
Mile 5: 8:47 (ogling many dogs) 
Mile 6: 8:59 (waiting for GU to kick in) 
Mile 7: 8:49 (miles 5-10 are through a fancy gated community, which is sort of dull) 
Mile 8: 8:47 (hi, Nathan!) 
Mile 9: 8:53 (bye, Nathan!) 
Mile 10: 8:56 (get me out of this rich neighborhood!) 
Mile 11: 8:58 (free at last!) 
Mile 12: 8:50 (so close...) 
Mile 13: 8:50 (so close...) 
Mile .1: 7:29 (sprint to the finish!) 

All in all, a fun and successful race. I'd love to hang up my medal and my running shoes and rest on my laurels, except we accidentally signed up for another half marathon, on April 18th. I don't know if I can PR twice in one season, but if this race has taught me anything, it's that you never know. Also that the post-race brunch is worth almost any distance. 

Until next race! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday High Five

Every once in a while, I post a list of five things currently making me smile. This is the latest installment. For past High Fives, click here.

1. Revising like a motherfucker. It's a long story (pun intended) but I'm in the middle of revising my novel-forever-in-progress for the ninth time. I got new feedback from some brilliant people and finally saw the holes I knew lurked beneath the surface. I took the book apart and put it back together, moving scenes from the end to the beginning, adding some stuff in the middle, and I'm currently feeling really good about this draft. Yesterday was particularly productive, and not just because I wrote for three hours in a brewery while drinking delicious, local red ales. (Though that might have helped.) Someone once said being a writer means having homework for the rest of your life, and if there is one thing I believe to be true about the writing life, it is this. Good thing I like homework. 

2. Daylight Saving Time. I know all my parent-friends hate the changing of the clocks, but I am child-free for a reason. One of those reasons? So I can celebrate things like getting an extra hour of sunlight at the end of the day. Let the record show that I LOVE DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME. 

3. Spring Break! Since I am no longer a student and am only teaching one class, this has been an admittedly low-key Spring Break. ("Shouldn't you be in Cancun?" the guy at the coffee shop asked. "I graduated," I replied mournfully.) On the bright side, I didn't have to teach my class all week, caught on grading, enjoyed the lack of traffic in Wilmington, and soaked up plenty of warm, sunny weather right here in my backyard. Growing up isn't all bad. 

4. Toggl. For the last few weeks, I've been using Toggl to see how much time I spend on various tasks. It's been great for me because, like many freelancers, I have a bunch of different clients. Keeping track of minutes spent on each project helps me stay on task, but it also helps me make sure that I'm being paid adequately for the work I'm doing. If, for example, I realize that a project took me three times as long as I thought it would, I can use that information to negotiate a better price next time. (I have yet to do this, but it sounds good in theory.) It's also really easy to use, pretty, and free which is always a plus. Now if only the Internet would tell me where it's been hiding all those missing vowels... 

5. Filing my taxes. This might seem like an odd thing to be excited about, but allow me to explain: I knew my taxes would be a mess this year, so I hired someone to prepare them for me. I'd been dutifully saving 30% from every check I received, since I'd been working mostly as an independent contractor, and filing away a few receipts. With the help of my tax lady and a nice pile of deductions, I only had to pay half of what I'd saved. Which means I got to give myself a refund... which I immediately sent to my credit card. Still, it was very exciting and if you need a tax person in Wilmington, let me know! 

That's it for me. What are five good things happening in your world?  

Monday, March 09, 2015

February Reads

Here are the books I read in February, links to some great writing you can read right now, and my latest publication. (For longer reviews and to see what I'm currently reading at any given moment add me on Goodreads.) Reading is the best!

The Mermaid of Brooklyn, by Amy Shearn 

I've been a fan of Amy Shearn for years and had been meaning to read this book since it came out. I'm so glad I finally did! It's smart, funny, raw, and mystical, which is my favorite combination. When the book opens, Jenny Lipkin's husband, Harry, has disappeared/run off/abandoned the family, leaving Jenny alone in their Park Slope apartment with a toddler and a baby. As if this wasn't bad enough, Jenny also suffers from depression (postpartum and otherwise) and she is in the midst of hottest summer ever, which could drive anyone crazy. One day, when it's all too much, she accidentally jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge, but instead of meeting a watery death, she's rescued by a mermaid, who proceeds to take up residence inside her body. It's not clear if the mermaid is making Jenny do and say very un-Jenny-like things, or if Jenny has simply found an unconventional way to cope with her life. The particulars don't really matter, however. What matters is that Jenny copes (mostly), finding strength and purpose in Harry's absence, rediscovering the self she lost in marriage and motherhood, and eventually realizing that everyone she loves carries their own dark secrets. 

The Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill 

I picked this book up because so many people were recommending it on "best of 2014" lists, and I love a good "best of" list. It was not what I expected at all, but in a good way. I will admit - I took me about 40 pages to get into it. I actually started it three times, because I would begin it right before bed and lose the thread when I tried to pick it up again the next day. This is because in the beginning, the thread is not very clear. The structure is different, the story told in short paragraphs and chapters, with a lot of white space, a lot of jumping around. The beginning feels impressionistic, creating a sense of character and situation, more like poetry than a novel. The conflict is brewing, but doesn't crystallize until mid-way through, which I found a bit frustrating at first. (I'm more of a traditionalist than I like to admit.) 

However, the writing was beautiful and the observations were sharp and funny and sad, so I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did - the payoff was worth it, and by the end I couldn't stop reading. I love that the narrator was a writing professor (obviously) and I love books about marriages (especially ones that are in trouble). Half way through, the book shifts from first person to third, and that's where I became really immersed - I read the last 2/3 in one sitting. I'm so glad I stuck with it! 

On Immunity, by Eula Biss 

From reading this book, I learned so much about the history of vaccinations, how and why the anti-vaccine movement gained legs, and the history of health and wellness - not just in America, but globally. The most important thing I took from this book, however, is that the idea that, when it comes to vaccinations, there's a very small risk, yes. But it's a risk we should be willing to take, a sacrifice we should be willing to make, in exchange for the privilege of being a part of the human race. Biss shows over and over, through facts and metaphors, that we are all connected and no person - or body, or immune system - can ever be truly independent. 

And yet, even though she is clearly pro-vaccination, the idea for this book came to her in the wake of her son's birth, when she was a brand new mother who desperately wanted to do what was best for her son. Because of this perspective, she shies away from shaming people, understands their impulses, and sympathizes with the difficult decisions that parents face. Plus she's a brilliant writer, which also helps. That combination has resulted in such a unique point of view, and such an exquisite book. 

My Salinger Year, by Joanna Rakoff 

Two nonfiction books in one month?! Yes, it's true! I occasionally read something other than novels - and thank goodness, because this memoir was great. Joanna Rakoff is 23 years old when she's hired as a literary assistant in NYC. Her boss is a relic of the past, as is the Agency itself, and they're both struggling for footing in what is quickly becoming a strange new world of publishing. Rakoff, too, is at a crossroads in her personal life, which mirrors (perhaps too neatly) the struggles of the Agency. Who is she? What does she want in life? Who should she love? Will she ever be a writer herself? Why is everything around her changing? Why is growing up so hard? It's a coming of age story, a Bildungsroman, a memoir about beginning and endings, all of which I personally enjoy. I love that time period in a person's life, probably because I've been stuck in it for, oh, thirteen or so years. 

This type of memoir is fairly common, I think, but what sets My Salinger Year apart is the setting in which it unfolds. New York City, the late 90s, the publishing industry, the hallowed halls of a legendary literary agency. I was fascinated by this book for the glimpse it offers into that world. And Rakoff herself is so relatable - a word I hate, but I'm using it here anyway, because that's how much I mean it. Her love for books, the way she connects to the characters and stories around her, the motivation and solace she finds in the written page, her desire to be a part of the world of literature, was so familiar that I couldn't help but fall a little bit in love with her. 

Other things you should read online right now, written by some friends of mine: 

Blackbird, by Joe Worthen (via Bodega) 

I remember reading this in workshop a thousand years ago (or was it last spring? Same difference) and I love it, still. Joe's voice is so precise and funny - I'd recognize it anywhere. 

The Egg and I, by Katie O'Reilly (via The James Franco Review)

Katie is my running buddy and we spend a lot of time talking about works-in-progress while making slow loops around the lake. I can't wait to read her whole memoir about being an egg donor; this essay is sneak peek of what's to come. 

Copse, by Rachel Richardson (via Wyvern Lit)

Rachel read this at her thesis reading last year and it's haunted me since. So happy to see it in print, and relieve the horror whenever I want.

And finally: one of my short stories is in the latest issue of Heavy Feather Review

I submitted a short story to their Vacancies-themed issue last year, and it's finally available for purchase. Not only does it contain my weird story about a man who lives inside the walls of a woman's house, but it also contains work by two other people from my MFA cohort: poetry by Kathleen Jones, and nonfiction by Sally Johnson. What a deal! You should obviously rush out and buy a copy right now

In the meantime, tell me: what are you reading right now? 

Friday, March 06, 2015

Turning a Corner

Sometimes, when reviewing my own Instagram or Twitter feed (we all do this periodically, right? To relive last week and also ensure that we did not post anything too embarrassing while drinking wine and binge watching House of Cards?) I come to the realization that most of my photos and tweets are about eating and drinking. Coffee, beer, wine. Tempeh, mason jar salads, cake. In other words: thanks for following me, despite such shortcomings. 

That said, this past weekend - which seems like a thousand years ago, because somehow it is already Friday - was a great one. In fact, the whole week has been pretty great, which fills me with hope because it means we're turning a corner. As you all know by now, it's been a long, cold, and lonely winter, a fact I'm lamented again and again. During the last few months I've missed my MFA cohort, struggled to acclimate to the ups and downs of freelancing, stopped exercising because the YMCA burned down (no one was hurt, but it was still very upsetting), and stayed indoors because it was too cold to leave my house. Since I work from home, this was a very bad habit indeed. 

Then, this past weekend, life began to thaw. Part of it was the fact that the calendar turned to March and even though the weather is still miserable and manic (yesterday it was 77; today, 39) I can see the spring-like light at the end of the tunnel. I met a new friend and reconnected with some old ones. I made my peace with running and ran 12 non-miserable miles around Greenfield Lake, which means I probably won't die during the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. Another new brewery opened in Wilmington and I drank all their brown ales. Good news, all of it. 

I also fell in love with a new yoga teacher at the studio I've been attending for the last few months. She teaches Jivamukti Yoga, a style that balances a physical, spiritual, and ethical practice. There's chanting and singing and music, and a lot of talk in the beginning of the five tenets of Jivamukti, which I will get into some other time, as I'm still new to it all.  For now, I will say that even though I've been practicing yoga for over ten years, I approach it with complicated feelings. Is it a spiritual thing? Or just exercise? Am I co-opting a culture that isn't mine? Why do all yoga teachers use the same cliches and platitudes when they speak? Etc, etc. And so, when I went to this new instructor's class and found myself grinning through the whole thing even though it was very hard, feeling peaceful and full of love and deeply connected to the world in a rare and beautiful way, it was as if my yoga practice slid across some invisible threshold I didn't even know was there. I'm really excited to keep practicing with this instructor and to see how my practice evolves under her guidance. 

In other words, happiness is on the horizon. In many ways, it's been here the whole time, waiting to come in. I just needed to shake off winter's grip and open the door. 

(PS: Here's an old love letter I wrote to yoga, which remains relevant.) 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Celebrations & Happy News

First things first: I was named a 2015 Aspen Summer Words Fellow

What does this mean? That I get to attend the Aspen Words program for five days in Colorado this June, study with famous authors, soak in the brilliance of editors, and hang out with other writers. Excuse me, I mean NETWORK. (I'm pretty sure that's what adults call hanging out.) At any rate, I'm excited and grateful for this opportunity, and am already counting down the days. Such happy, welcome news in this writer's life. 

But enough about me - especially since last week was Nathan's birthday and the surprise I planned for him was a success! The day began with homemade chocolate cake and Shiner's Birthday Beer (their best one yet!). 

In the evening, we picked up our friends K and D and headed to the Top Secret location I'd warned Nathan about. He doesn't like surprises, but I got around that rule by telling him there would be a surprise so he could adequately prepare himself. Obviously he tried to figure out what the surprise was and came up with many creative possibilities - except for the one I'd planned. Defy Gravity, Wilmington's brand new trampoline park. SUCCESS. 

Once Nathan got over his shock and congratulated me on my successful surprise, we spent the rest of the night jumping, flipping, flopping, falling, and crashing into the 100 or so 10 year olds jumping around us. (Suffice to say we were the only ones there celebrating a 34th birthday party.) We signed up for an hour of jumping, without realizing quite how exhausting trampolining can be. Still, it was a great time and I'd like to go back, but maybe for Club Gravity, which is later in the evening and limited to people 15 and older. 

Thanks to Dory for this photo of Nathan mid flip!

Besides becoming a Fellow and celebrating Nathan's birth, things have been pretty quiet in our corner of the world. Wilmington received its annual ice storm and my class was canceled on Tuesday, so that was nice. It was the push I needed to dive into another revision of my book (what can I say? I love revising) and rearrange our house. We moved our bedroom into the smaller guest room, since all we do in there is sleep. This allowed us to turn our larger bedroom into the dual office/guest room/TV room, which is so far working our very nicely. I guess ice is good for something. 

I hope your corner of the world is quiet, warm, happy, and productive. Speaking of productive, I better get back to work. More soon!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Best Gifts

This past weekend, some good friends came to visit us in Wilmington. Well, they didn't come just to visit us. I sort of kidnapped them. You see, my friend Allie (who was a bridesmaid in our wedding and is pretty much my oldest friend of all time - we met when we were twelve!) was running her first half marathon in Myrtle Beach on Valentine's Day. She lives about 5 hours from Myrtle Beach; we live just 90 minutes away. Thus I invited her and her boyfriend (also a high school friend) to stay with us. In exchange, we promised to wake with her at the ungodly hour of 3:45AM, drive her to the race, and cheer her on. It all worked out perfectly and she finished her first 13.1 with a huge smile on her face.

In addition to the race, we were able to have a really fun weekend that included mini-golf, a backyard frittata, wild dog hijinks (they brought their two pups), and a Valentine's Day magic show with a scary good mentalist. All in all, a fun and social weekend. And then, seconds after our friends went home, Nathan and I immediately retreated to our separate offices to be alone with our laptops. Being social is thrilling but exhausting, said the work-from-home introvert. 

In other news, everything else is the pretty much the same, which is probably why I haven't been writing much here. It's been very cold, but I really shouldn't complain since it's been much colder in other places. For example, here is a snippet of this week's forecast. 

Yeah. I'm done complaining now. Also: is it Sunday yet? 

The other biggest thing that happened is an annual classroom occurrence that will never get old. (Pun intended - you'll see why in a second.) I'm teaching First Year Seminar this semester, and yesterday my class got into a discussion about online dating. (Don't ask...) I mentioned that I never had to think about online dating, since I met my husband before the Internet was really a thing. We're talking pre-Myspace here. My students started doing the math. 

"How old were you when you met your husband?" one student asked. 
"Twenty," I said. 
Another student appeared confused. "How old are you now?" she asked.
"Thirty-two," I said. 

At which point my students began howling with disbelief. It appears they thought I was 25, fresh out of grad school (which is true, but to be fair it was my second rodeo). One student even said he thought I was 22, at which point I gave him an A+ for the whole semester. Listen: I am proud of my age and all the years behind me. I'll tell anyone who asks how old I am. But when you discover that a group of 18 year olds you've known for two months assumed you were six to ten years younger than you actually are, it's kind of nice. It's especially nice when you have just recently begun noticing wiry gray hairs and researching the best under eye creams. 

Speaking of aging gracefully, today is my dear husband's 34th birthday. He hates his birthday (something about not wanting to be the center of attention - I wonder what that's like?) so it will be a low key day. (Thought I do have a small surprise planned for this weekend...) In the meantime: happy birthday Nathan! I'm so glad we're growing old together.