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.

Friday, February 06, 2015

January Reads

One of my goals for 2015 is to read at least 35 books. Currently, I'm consuming books at a very fast rate (averaging a book a week!) and if I keep this up, smashing that goal will be easy. (What can I say? It is winter, I love books, and finally getting a library card was the best thing that ever happened to me.) Instead of reviewing books one by one, I thought it might be easier to round my reads up in a monthly post. (Longer reviews are posted on Goodreads, which I'm getting better at using - feel free to add me!)

Here's monthly reading recap number one, otherwise known as January.

Euphoria, by Lily King

I actually started this book on New Year's Eve and finished it on New Year's Day, but I'm still counting it for 2015, as it was the perfect way to kick off the year. The novel is a fictionalized account of Margaret Mead's life, of which I know very little, so that tidbit didn't mean much to me. My ignorance didn't affect my reading of the book, since I ended up loving it so much. It follows three anthropologists in the early 1930s who are studying tribes along a river in New Guinea. Of course there is a love triangle, but there's also a lot about human nature, desire, ego, the role of the anthropologist, etc. It's mostly told from the POV of Bankson, an anthropologist who has been living with a tribe for over a year and is on the brink of suicide, until Nell Stone and her husband Fen come along, looking for their own tribe to study. This sets the triangle - and all kinds of tragedy - in motion. According to my spreadsheet, I gave this book 4/5 stars. 

The Bees, by Laline Paul 

I heard about this book last year and couldn't wait to read it. It takes place IN A HIVE and the main character is a worker bee named Flora, who is different from her sisters in a world where differences are seen as mutations, anomalies, things that must be stamped out. While some of the plot points were predictable, the ending took me by surprise, in a good way. I loved seeing the world from Flora's point of view. Entering the hive and exploring the tunnels of comb, seeing how the author, Laline Paull, created a complex world and society that springs from the actual world of a hive, was fascinating and really, really fun. That said, as a beekeeper, some of the details were a little hard to swallow. Yet even in the moments where I paused in my reading and thought, "Wait a minute... That can't... But what about..." I still kept going, caught up in the story. At times it felt like one of those epic fantasy books, with battles and quests, which isn't entirely my cup of tea but was fun to read regardless. If you love bees, it's a must read. 3/5 stars. 

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankin

Despite my best intentions, I don't read a lot of poetry. I was compelled to pick this up by two things: the current state of race relations in America, and my dear friend Erica's gorgeous review. I felt like it was my duty to read this book, and I'm glad I did. Meditative, difficult, sad, angry, and really, truly beautiful, it does an amazing job of illuminating the reality that minorities face in our country. From the everyday inconveniences to deadly repercussions, Rankin doesn't shy away from anything, and why should she? I didn't feel better after reading Citizen, but I did feel wiser. 4/5 stars. 

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

There were many things to love about this book, but I'll start with the sentences. They were so perfect, so lovely, so rich and detailed, and managed to open the story wide in unexpected ways. There were certain paragraphs I read three times in a row, just because I'd never seen something so beautiful. This is important, because the actual story the sentences are telling - the lives of two characters, running parallel to one another in the years leading up to and through WW2 in France and Germany - is as dark and sad as you'd expect. Speaking of those characters, I loved Marie-Laure and Werner so much, but I also loved the secondary characters. They were all so rich and complicated, and so very human. I never thought I would feel tenderness for a Nazi, and yet I did. That's because Doerr is a great writer, able to make the reader see the struggles we each face, how we don't always get to choose the decisions we make or the life we lead. It took Doerr 10 years to write this book, and I'm not surprised. It's just about perfect. 4.5/5 stars. 

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng 

I know it's only January, but I'm pretty sure this book will make my personal "best of" list for 2015. It opens with the death of 16-year-old Lydia Lee, and follows the effect her tragic death has on the rest of her family - mother, father, older brother, and younger sister. Neither her family (or the reader) knows if Lydia's death was an accident or a suicide, but as the book goes on, we get to piece her last weeks together, thanks to flashbacks that let us inside Lydia's mind. We also get to see the struggles faced by a multicultural family in 1970s Ohio (Lydia's father is Chinese, her mother white, and "mixed marriages" were very uncommon) and how being different affects each member of the family. This is one of those books where the shifting POV (close third on each family member, at different times) really, truly works. No one is perfect - in fact, everyone makes a ton of mistakes, and not small ones, either - but I was in love with each of them anyway. This was one of those reading experiences where I wished the book was three times longer - I couldn't put it down, and didn't want to. 4.5/5 stars. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A Week in Illinois

Last week Nathan and I trekked to the midwest, to spend a week in southern Illinois with his family. His parents own a small, picturesque farm, the kind you picture when you think "small, picturesque farm." Not only does it include a lovely and comfortable house, but there is also a red barn, a herd of cows, a bunch of sheep, and an incredible vegetable garden. (Empty now, since it is winter, but we enjoyed its bounty thanks to a deep freezer and the miracle of canning.) 

Roo guards the sheep; the cows are pretty laid back. 

We were in Illinois for about six days, during which time many things happened. I drank roughly 100 cups of coffee, went thrift shopping, and played an epic, three hour game of Guesstures (I was surprisingly good at it, until I spilled a glass of wine on the carpet). We also toured the Budweiser brewery in St. Louis with Nathan's brother and his girlfriend (they live near the farm, just one town over) and that was fun. Even as a devoted craft beer snob, I was able to appreciate and admire just how massive the Budweiser empire is. While lagers are not my cup of tea (I tend to like really dark, flavorful beers, like porters, stouts, and anything that resembles coffee) I enjoyed everything I sampled and had a great time.

The highlight of the trip, however, was that while we were in town one of the sheep gave birth to twin lambs and I GOT TO BOTTLE FEED A LAMB IN FRONT OF THE FIRE WHILE IT WORE A DIAPER. No big deal. 

Just kidding. It was a huge deal. And not actually an ideal situation - it was a difficult birth (they boys were breached) and when they finally emerged, the second lamb (which I named Romeo) was small and weak. He wouldn't nurse and one of his back legs seemed to be dislocated or strained - he could barely stand on it. Nathan's mom decided to intervene and we spent a few hours bottle feeding him with some milk from his mama, and keeping him warm in the house. My job was Official Cuddle Buddy, which I'm pretty sure is my true calling. Romeo ended up recovering enough to rejoin his family in their pen (but not before putting on a wool sweater!) and he's been gaining strength steadily ever since. I was very relieved. While I know the realities of a farm can be harsh, I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to Romeo. Honestly, can you blame me? 

Although we flew to Illinois, we drove back - it's a long story, but we're now a two car family, at least for a little while, and I am humbled by the generosity of our family, as usual. The drive takes about 15 hours and we decided to split it over two days. For once, we didn't have the dogs with us, and it just so happened that we'd be driving through Asheville around hour 10 anyway. We've been wanting to visit Asheville since we arrived in North Carolina, and this seemed as good an excuse as any. 

We were only in town for one night, but it was long enough to drink many beers at Wicked Weed Brewery, ogle the mountains, and promise one another that when we're finally able to buy a house, it will be in Asheville. All in all, a productive evening and a wonderful trip. 

While we were in Illinois, I did the math and realized I hadn't visited in over four years, which is just shameful - especially since I truly love my in-laws, and visiting the farm is such a treat. But now Nathan and I are both done with school, I work from home, and Nathan's schedule is pretty flexible. We finally have the time and resources to see the people that matter, and this makes me very happy. Especially since I have a little lamb named Romeo to keep tabs on. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Scenes from My Freelance Life

When I started freelancing full time, I had grand plans to document the whole process, including my income, because there's nothing I like more than over-sharing. But then I realized how much ghost-writing I was doing, which I can't exactly share. And money is strange and complicated and different for everyone, and my rates seem like an Ace best kept in the hole. 

I am, however, freelancing full time, paying my rent every month, and not starving, which sort of makes me feel like a rock star. (I'm also not paying off my debts in any noticeable way, but that piece will fall into place one day. I hope.) And I have to say: this is the best job I've ever had. I work a lot, but my hours are flexible, I'm almost always wearing slippers, and I can take breaks whenever I want to walk the dogs, make a snack, or go to yoga. The dream, my friends: I am living it. 

To show you just how dreamy things are, here are a  few scenes from my life as a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. 

My Giant Dry Erase Board

This was pretty much the only thing I wanted for Christmas, and Santa delivered. Because I have multiple clients with rotating deadlines, being able to see everything in one place has been a game changer. I list all my projects, put a line through them when they're in progress, and then erase them completely once they're submitted. It is seriously the greatest thing ever. 

My First Cover Story 

I started cold-calling the editors of all the local area magazines over the summer, and it's finally starting to pay off! I recently wrote a profile of a local business woman for one magazine, and scored my first cover story with another - see photo above! The print magazines pay slightly better than the online writing I've been doing, and I like that they're focused on local stuff, so I get to interview people in person, see free theater, and stay involved with Wilmington community. 

Divide and Conquer 

Photo Credit (and first Google image result for "empire.")

Remember that beer and wine tech startup I was blogging for? The app is doing well, but they're cutting the blog (for now? forever? who knows!) which was sad for two reasons. The first was that I enjoyed writing that blog, as it was fun and easy and all about booze. The second was that the gig provided roughly half my monthly income, so losing it was a substantial hit. I'm bouncing back already, but it was a good reminder to diversify. A proper freelance empire can't lean too heavily on one client, no matter how tempting that may be/how much free wine they give you. 

Freelance Teacher 

I started teaching again last week! Just like last semester, I'm teaching one section of First Year Seminar, AKA Welcome to College, AKA How to be a Person. The class is required for all students in their first semester at the university, which means nobody actually wants to be there. I, however, really enjoy teaching it and plan to win most of them over. (My evals from last semester were unanimous in that all my students loved me despite the fact that I was teaching a "boring, pointless, useless class," which I consider a major success.) Also, while I love working from home, it is good to go out into the world twice a week, to put on pants, and to interact with other humans. I am learning how to be a person, too. 

The Best Office Ever 

One of the greatest things about our new-to-us house is that I have my very own office. This makes working from home feasible, and - despite the very causal dress code - helps me feel like I am actually Going To Work. Speaking of which, it's Friday and I have miles to go before the weekend. Better get started! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Half Marathon Training in 2015

After a few weeks of hemming and hawing, I finally decided to sign up for the Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon. 

The main reason I wasn't going to sign up was the same reason that stops me from doing pretty much everything - money. We are serious about paying off some debt this year, and skipping this race would have been an extra credit card payment or a week's worth of groceries. But then I thought about how much I love this race, and how much fun I had running it in 2013 and then again in 2014. It's pretty much the only race I run these days, and it's local so I don't have to spend any money on travel. Plus training for a race is a great way to stay motivated and keep my feet moving. Or, as Kate so eloquently put it, create "the feeling that all my miles are adding up to something." And so: I'm registered. I'm relieved. And I can't wait to race!

As far as training goes, I'm planning to run three times a week. One long run, one day of speedwork, and then a short, fast run, tempo-style. I even splurged on a new pair of running shoes. (And by "splurged" I mean "replaced my old shoes that had holes in them." Also I saved $20 by purchasing the ugliest color in my size. Shame: I do not have any.) 

Actually, the purple/pink/neon green combo is growing on me.

As far as goals go, I'm setting a lofty one - at least for me. In 2013, my time was 1:59:31. In 2014, I finished in 2:00:20. This year, I would love to run a 1:55. (My personal record for the half is 1:58:21, which I set way back in 2009, so 1:55 will be a new PR by a lot. Go big or go home, right?)

Will I achieve this goal? I have no idea. Will I eat a giant brunch at the Dixie Grill immediately following the race? You better believe it.

Is anyone else training for a race this spring and/or hoping to set any PRs? It's been a while since I've written or really thought much about running, and I'm excited to get back into it. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Required Writing, Required Reading

Required Writing

I'm hard at work on the first draft of a new book, and by "hard at work" I mean it doesn't yet have a title or a middle or an ending. It does, however, contain over 12,000 words, thanks to a certain productivity trick. It's called "Don't Break the Chain" and the Internet credits Jerry Seinfeld with its creation, though I'm sure he can't be the first person to ever do this. Basically, you begin by setting a goal - for example, my current goal is "write 1,000 words a day." Each day your goal is achieved, you get to cross that day off on a calendar. This adds to your "chain," which you want to make as long as possible. If you miss a day you have to start over, at which point you will inevitably try to beat your previous record, because goals and numbers are the greatest thing in the world. (You can see why this method works well for me.) 

A behind the scenes look at my writing process. Fancy!

This system is great for first drafts, at least the way I write. It encourages me to get the words down and worry about the story later. Right now, I'm still trying to figure out what the story is, and each day a bit more emerges. When it comes time to revise, I'll probably have to find a new method (wine? despair? hiding under my bed?) but for now I'm feeling pretty good about my progress. 

And if a paper calendar is too antiquated for you, there's also a handy website where you can cross off your accomplishments virtually.

Required Reading

In addition to writing every day, I've also been reading a lot. I suspect this is partly why I've been able to write so much - the two activities are inextricably linked. It's only the second week of January, and I've already finished two novels. I've also been enjoying some amazing writing on the 'net, which I am happy to share with you. 

Here are some things I've read recently and loved, written by my friends: 

And here are some things I read and really enjoyed, even though I don't know the people who wrote them: 

And finally, I have no words of my own yet for this latest tragedy, only my condolences, sadness, and horror. I don't want to politicize a terrible event (though that is inevitable), but I hope it shows that reading and writing are still and always will be important, revolutionary, and life-changing tools. 

Monday, January 05, 2015

Year in Review: 2014

Perhaps you thought (hoped?) I was done talking about 2014, that I had finally moved on to the greener grass of the present year. Almost, but not quite. I was reminded by the illustrious Kate that I forgot to post my favorite "Year in Review" survey. And since I've done this survey for the last three years, it didn't seem right to suddenly skip it. I promise, after this, I will let 2014 rest. For now, here's one last look back. 

1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before? 
I finished my novel, defended my thesis, and earned my MFA. I also visited Seattle for the first time for the AWP conference, and became self-employed without going broke. Kind of a big year, I guess. 

2. Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 

Remember how I was going to make 12 monthly challenges? Yeah, me neither. This year I have some goals, all of which currently feel attainable. Check in with me again in May. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? 

My MFA friend had a very cute baby named Graham, which I think is a lovely name. Otherwise it was a slow year for babies. 

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, and for that I'm grateful. I did lose two of my chickens, but those were minor tragedies, all things considered. 

5. What places did you visit? 
Not too many travels in 2014, thanks to ongoing attempts to live within our means, pay off debt, and finally create a savings account. I did make it to Seattle for AWP, to Long Island to see my parents, and to Rhode Island to visit dear friends. Otherwise we were all Wilmington, all the way. 

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014? 
Once again, I would like more money and a semblance of financial stability.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched in your memory, and why? 
May 10th:
MFA graduation day. So bittersweet! 
December 1st: Personal reasons (good). 
December 30th: Personal reasons (not so good). 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? 

Earning my MFA, finishing my first novel, and launching my freelance career - a list that looks a whole lot like my answer to question number one. Still, I was and remain proud of all those things. 

9. What was your biggest failure? 

I was not very social in 2014, especially in the latter half. I would like to be less of a hermit in 2015. 

10: Did you suffer illness or injury?
I actually made it through all of 2014 without so much as a head cold! (Hangovers are self-inflicted and don't count.) I also stayed pretty active. While I took a step back from running, yoga and weight lifting filled in the gaps nicely. 

11. What was the best thing you bought? 
A new laptop! God, I love my MacBook Pro. And even though we didn't actually buy it, choosing to rent a different house was a game-changer. 

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

My dear friend Amy from Nacogdoches. Over the summer she set a goal to spend the month of December studying yoga in India, and is just now returning from that adventure. Following her journey was really inspiring, and I'm so proud of her for making it happen. 

13. Where did most of your money go?
Debt. Those student loans are serious business, kids! Proceed with caution. 

14. What did you get really excited about?

Writing and reading. I don't know how people who don't enjoy books get through life.  

15. What song will always remind you of 2014?
Probably "Shake It Off" by the one and only T. Swift. It came out right as my sisters visited Wilmington and we rocked out to it about 3,000 times over the course of four days. 

16. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a. happier or sadder? Sadder. I miss all my friends who moved away.  
b. thinner or fatter? About the same. 
c. richer or poorer? Hard to say. We have a tiny savings account now, but did not make as much progress on our debt as I'd hoped. So I guess about the same, which, thanks to interest, is just a nice way of saying poorer. 

17. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Spent more time with friends. Paid off more debt. Visited our families. 

18. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Looking at my iPhone. 

19. How did you spend Christmas?
At home, alone, while Nathan worked. In the evening I went to my favorite bar and had a few drinks with my friend W. and the owner of the bar, who is also a good friend. (Nathan and I celebrated Christmas the day before, and drank mimosas and opened presents and drove all over town in the pouring rain to take care of various animals. It was not a banner Christmas.) 

20. Did you fall in love in 2014?
Again, as always: I fell more in love with the same person. (Aw...)  

21. What was your favorite TV program?

I really like New Girl, which I watch on Netflix. I also started rewatching Gilmore Girls, a series I never actually finished, and it's fine. Oh, and House of Cards! I really like that show. Basically whatever is cool on Netflix, I watch. 

22. What was the best book you read?

I devoted a whole post to this, but it was a tie between Roxane Gay's An Untamed State and George Saunders Tenth of December

23. What music did you get excited about?
Last year I wrote: "This question is terrible for me, because I'm so bad about music. I mostly listen to Pandora, and mostly to the Avant Garde Jazz station. It's my favorite writing music." I am still listening to that same Pandora station, though now I alternate between it and the Explosions in the Sky station. I rest my case.  

24. What did you want and get? 
A literary agent. (Wait, what? Yes, it's true, and I'm burying that news in the middle of this very long survey because I'm afraid I might jinx it so shhhhhh.) 

25. What did you want and not get?
Honestly, I want for very little and all of my needs are met. I really can't complain. 

26. What was your favorite film of this year? 
I have no idea.

27. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? 
I turned 32 and wrote a time capsule. Nathan and I hosted a combination birthday/housewarming party, because we had just moved into our new place. It was a big, fun party, and almost everyone who came brought me a bottle of wine as a gift, because I am a wino and that's okay. 

28. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013? 
Skinny jeans, cardigans, and bright colors. I have worked hard to simplify my wardrobe and now stick to classic, simple outfits. I like the way I look most day, which feels like a true victory. 

29. What kept you sane? 
Yoga. Wine. Seamus and Calvin. (Dog snuggles make everything better.) 

30. What political issue stirred you the most? 

Racism and police brutality. It was unavoidable, but in a good way. These issues are too important to be avoided, and even though they were sad and tragic and uncomfortable, I'm glad the discussion and the fight for equality continues.  

31. Whom did you miss? 
Every single MFA friend who moved away after graduation. Come back! 

32. Who was the best new person you met? 
I didn't really meet anyone knew in 2014. Hopefully 2015 will be different! 

33. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014. 

Nothing is certain and everything is temporary, so you might as well enjoy yourself. 

(Survey results from years past: 2013, 2012, and 2011.) 

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Auld Lang Salad

A brief and unofficial survey of my Facebook feed reveals that pretty much no one is sad about saying goodbye to 2014. I can relate. While a few good things happened it was, overall, an underwhelming year. Outside of my small circle, the world at large didn't appear to have that great a time, either. I haven't written much about everything going on in America these last few months, but I've been deeply affected by the violence, brutality, and racism in this country, even though I'm grateful to see tough conversations taking place. Someone referred to 2014 as a building year, a time not for celebration or accomplishment but growth, the kind of year that is necessary for solid foundations and actual change. I hope this proves true and that, looking back, 2014 will be remembered as necessary, if not particularly fun. 

And even though nothing has really changed this morning, except for the fact that I will have to learn to write "2015" on my rent check instead of "2014" (good thing I just ordered more checks) the symbolism of a new year makes me feel hopeful that better things are on the way. So: Happy New Year. Let's make it a good one. 

And that is a really awkward segue into a recent revelation that I would like to share with you, which is perhaps the best thing that happened in 2014. I finally discovered mason jar salads. 

Now, I'm not the first to make a salad and put it in a mason jar. I'm sure I won't be the last. If you've visited Pinterest at any point in the last five years, you're likely well acquainted with this phenomenon and you're probably rolling your eyes at my "discovery." I get it. I used to roll my eyes, too. 

Then I realized I was a vegetarian who hardly ever ate vegetables, and if I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of telling people I had scurvy, something had to change. So I made salads, put them in mason jars, and my life was instantly improved. 

As far as I can tell, there are three main benefits to putting your salad in a mason jar. 1. You have single serving salads ready to eat at a moments notice. 2. You layer the salads in the mason jars so the dressing is at the bottom, and the most delicate things are at the top, which means nothing gets soggy. 3. You can finally rationalize all those mason jars you've been hoarding in your hipster closet. 

I like to layer mine with a homemade dressing, followed by cut up veggies (cucumbers, red bell peppers, onion), then chickpeas, then quinoa, and finally some greens. They last about a week in the refrigerator and each one has been delicious, crisp, and fresh. If you've never made a mason jar salad before, I hope 2015 is the year it happens. 

Here's to a new beginnings, fresh starts, and all the salad you can eat. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Goals for 2015

For the last few years, I've been choosing a word to serve as my guide in the New Year, which I have found to a be a surprisingly helpful exercise. It makes me conscious of my actions and sets a tone for how I want my life to feel, which seems like a holistic way to approach existence. Last year, the word I chose was Risk. It was a good word for a tumultuous year, and I thought about the concept of risk often, mostly related to my career. I became a full time freelancer. I cold-called companies and sent pitches to slush piles everywhere. I took on assignments, even though I had no idea what I was doing. I sent my book out into the world with crossed fingers. While there were some failures in there (risk is always, well, a risk) overall I'm happy with the chances I took. I'm ending 2014 in a good place, personally and professionally, despite periods of loneliness and depression (mostly related to my bank account). 2014 was not an easy year, but I'm grateful for all it taught me. 

This year I'd like to continue the path I'm on, but now that I've got some stability beneath me, I want to work hard, push myself, and take root. Thus my word for 2015 is Dig.

photo credit

How will I use this word to guide me through 2015? Well, for starters: 
  • I want to dig into my fiction: writing another book, submit my work to magazines and contests, read more literary journals and books, and stay connected to a community artists.
  • I want to dig in to this strange new career: hustling for freelance assignments, expanding my skills, paying down debt, and reaching for dream publications. 
  • I want to dig into Wilmington: we're staying here for a few more years, at least, and I want to take advantage of all this small city has to offer. Go to events, make friends, host parties, etc.
  • I want to dig, literally: we had no garden to speak of in 2014 and this year I want to grow food and herbs and flowers, get my hands dirty, and eat from my own backyard. 

As for other assorted goals and resolutions: 
  • Write book #2 (or at least finish a promising draft.) 
  • Blog twice a week (aiming for Mondays and Thursdays.) 
  • Practice yoga twice a week, preferably three (headstand in 2015? Maybe!) 
  • Travel and go on more adventures (camping, kayaking, and visiting family count.) 
  • Read 35 books (and log them in my spreadsheet.) 

Mostly though, I want to be productive, kind, thoughtful, industrious, connected to the people around me, and in touch with those far away. I want 2015 to be a good year, part of the journey that leads to a good life. I don't know what the next twelve months will hold, but I'm going to do my best to make them count.