Monday, August 25, 2014

Life gave me lemons. And then it gave me flowers.

You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don't help. 
― Bill Watterson


Friday was one of those days. I have been experiencing lower back pain since the first of April. Initially, I was diagnosed with a kidney infection. Antibiotics provided relief, but then the symptoms returned. Convinced I have a kidney stone, my primary care physician ordered a CT scan. It took almost two weeks, but finally the scheduling department called; my appointment was at 7:30 last Friday. Armed with the address provided to me and my trusty GPS, I headed out bright and early Friday morning.

Except the address landed me in the middle of nowhere. So I entered it on Google Maps and ended up somewhere else - but still not where I was meant to be. And the scheduling department wasn't answering the phone. And they hadn't bothered to mention the name of the facility where I was headed.

At some point in my frantic driving, I happened upon a large medical building. The second time I passed it, my intuition said, "Stop here." I parked my car, walked inside, and found the Suite 190 I was looking for. I was thirty minutes late for my appointment, but apparently that is commonplace there. "You can't find this place with a GPS," the cheerful receptionist informed me. Too bad the scheduling department hadn't apprised me of that fact.

My next stop was with the billing department. The representative there was pleasant enough, but she couldn't seem to remember where I worked or what I did for a living - even after she shared her personal experience with piano lessons as a young child. Then she dropped the bomb that while the cost of the procedure is almost $4000, after insurance, I was immediately responsible for $1400. There's another tidbit I wish the scheduling department had mentioned to me. My heart told me to walk right out the door. Instead, I pulled out my Bank of America credit card. Pain is a powerful motivator.

The procedure itself was neither painful nor invasive and took less than ten minutes. But by the time I got dressed and back home, I found myself in the throes of a full-blown migraine - can you say "stress"? - and spent the rest of the day in bed. No scrapbooking with Jennifer. No Zentangles and Sky Juice with Natalie. Just lying still with a cold rag draped across my forehead and my faithful dog Karma - himself recovering from eye surgery last week that set me back another cool $1000 - lying by my side.

And then the most miraculous thing happened. My doorbell rang. And the delivery man handed me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers. There was no signature, just this note:

You're a gifted, talented woman, beautiful inside and out. You touch so many lives. You are loved and admired by many and the world is a better place because you are in it. I hope these flowers brighten your day.

Well, they did. But I desperately wanted to know who the sender was. I called the florist, but the wouldn't/couldn't tell me; I posted a picture on Facebook, too, but no one owned up to the deed. As I said there, the timing couldn't have been better. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Now I wait for my doctor to call me with the results. What will be, will be. In the meantime, I am grateful for friends who are still waiting for me for scrapbooking and Zentangles and Sky Juice. And I am oh so grateful for Anonymous. Whoever you are, you touched my life in a way I will never, ever forget.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Don't miss it!

Psst!

Penguin (@PenguinPbk) will be hosting a killer Twitter chat between two wonderfully talented British suspense/mystery authors—Sarah Hilary (@sarah_hilary) and Alex Marwood (@AlexMarwood1)—which will take place on Wednesday, August 20th from 12-1 pm EST, under #killerfiction. Don’t miss your chance to ask questions to these up-and-coming authors in the genre!


PRAISE FOR SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN

“Award-winning short story writer Sarah Hilary has crafted a tight, nasty mystery… gripping and full of graphic details about the lives and psychology of her characters, both abusers and their victims.”
—Eileen Brady, Mystery Scene Magazine

“If this first entry is anything to go by, Hilary's sense of plot and subtle character building will make the DI Marnie Rome series one to watch.”
Shelf-Awareness

“Promising…[Hilary] skillfully interweaves multiple viewpoints on the way to the mystery’s unsettling conclusion.”
Publishers Weekly

“Fans of Val McDermid and Ian Rankin will love this tremendous debut. Someone Else’s Skin puts Sarah Hilary and DI Marnie Rome squarely on the map. A gripping, disturbing examination of domestic violence with gravitas in spades, this book haunts you well after its finish.
—Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days


ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE KILLER NEXT DOOR

“If you read Alex Marwood's The Wicked Girls, her new one—THE KILLER NEXT DOOR—is even better. Scary as hell. Great characters.”
—Stephen King

“A taut, fascinating tale that's not for the weak of stomach… [Alex Marwood] not only creates a cast of memorable characters, but also ratchets up the suspense, leaving readers to dread what might be around the next corner. Many writers shine at characterization or at creating tension; the trick is in successfully combining the two. In this case, readers will care what happens to Collette and the rest of the boarders while simultaneously waiting for the literary axe to fall. Marwood…proves she's got staying power in this addictive tale.”
Kirkus, Starred Review

“If the author’s first book explored how poverty and abuse can make monsters of men, then this new novel will have readers peering suspiciously at the neighbors and wondering just what’s behind their closed doors. This tightly plotted story grabs readers from the opening paragraphs and will keep them up far too late at night. Highly recommended for fans of Laura Lippman, Tana French, and Gillian Flynn.”
Library Journal, Starred Review

Monday, August 11, 2014

To write or not to write?

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. 
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

My new teaching year started last week. I teach forty-one piano lessons Monday through Thursday, practice a minimum of two hours a day, and have ensemble rehearsals Monday evenings and Thursday mornings. My duo partner and I have four performances scheduled over the next few months, and the annual Redeemer Piano Ensemble concert will take place in November. My students are motivated and thriving and I am playing better than I have ever played in my life. Where music is concerned, things couldn't be better.

I wish I could say the same thing about writing.

Last year, I went to RWA Nationals in Atlanta, I was a finalist in the Unpublished Maggie Awards for Excellence, and accepted my Honorable Mention at the Moonlight & Magnolias conference, where I received two requests for the full manuscript. Poised for success, I nearly stopped writing altogether.

Why didn't I finish the novel and submit it? Why have I done virtually nothing with my writing in the past twelve months? Well, teaching plays the bills, and from the day I took my very first piano lesson, at the ripe old age of seven years old, I knew wanted to be a piano teacher. Furthermore, my philosophy is "those who teach, play." Keeping up my own music study makes me a better teacher and gives me credibility as a professional. But I am a woman of many passions. While teaching and playing are a huge part of my identity, I also feel compelled to make things with my hands and to write. And just as I believe my students and I mustn't keep our music to ourselves, I want to share my writing with the world. I dream of being a published novelist and having readers who love my work just as much as I love reading the books of my favorite authors.

I began writing fiction five years ago, and even though I have read many books on the craft of writing, attended numerous workshops and conferences, and joined a couple of professional organizations, I still feel like I am staggering blindly through the darkness as a writer. I don't know what I am doing or where I am going and no one seems to have any concrete or specific advice for me other than to keep writing. And lately I have been tempted to give up the dream. There would be one less thing to try to fit into my busy days, one less reason to feel a failure. Besides, if I ever were to be published, not only would I need to continue to find time to write, I would also need to make time for branding and promotion. How in the world would I manage all that?

Well, I personally know many women who are successfully juggling writing careers full-time jobs and families. And even though it is a blow every time a submission is rejected, I know deep inside that my writing isn't good enough - yet - to be selected for publication. But I also believe that perhaps I do have what it takes to succeed, provided I persevere. After all, I don't remember a time when I didn't know how play the piano; I have definitely put in my ten thousand hours at the instrument. Recognizing that helps put my experience as a writer into perspective.

So I'm holding onto my dream and renewing my commitment to writing every day, along with submitting to an agent or an editor and entering a contest at least once each month. After all, the worst thing that can happen is that I will never be published. But I will have the satisfaction of knowing I gave it my best shot. And there is no shame or cause for regret in that.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What I Did Over Summer Vacation

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about my summer home improvements projects and promised to share more photos. As the paint dried and all the dust settled, it took me hours to finish putting things away and get pictures and artwork back on up on the walls. Finally, here are the photos.
Sky blue kitchen, with new vinyl plank flooring (Allure Alpine Elm) and new stainless steel appliances.
Coral dining room. But do you see the yellow on the closest wall? I love that I can stand just about anywhere in my house and take in at least two or three bright colors.
Pink (Behr Southern Beauty) bedroom.
This pillow makes me very happy.
So does this fillable lamp I found at Target. I had fun stuffing it with shells, rocks and coral I have picked up at various beaches over the years.
Aqua (Behr Jamaica Bay) craft room. Yes, the tabletop is cluttered now. That's work in progress. I haven't hung pictures in here yet either. Maybe over the weekend.
Bright lime (Behr Sweet Midori) studio waiting room. It won't be complete until the new sofa I ordered from La-Z-Boy arrives. I can hardly wait.
Pale lime (Behr Carolina Parakeet) studio bathroom. Yes, those are piano keys on the shower curtain.
While I am proud of all that I organized and accomplished, I still have a long list of things to buy and things to do. I guess that's just part of being a homeowner; the work is never really finished. But this afternoon I returned to full-time piano teaching so my priorities are necessarily elsewhere, and that's okay. Yes, another summer has come and gone but I have practically a whole new house to show for it. A home that is neat, clean and calm as well as cheerful, colorful and stimulating. 

A home that feels like ME.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Creating a Home I Love

Follow your inner voice to create a home you love.
~ Maggie Reyes

Summer vacation? Ha! While it's true that I have had, for the most part, a break from my teaching routine, I have been keeping myself very busy.

I moved into my current home in the fall of 2001. It was shiny new at the time but has been well used during the thirteen years I have spent in it. My three children grew into adults here. We have raised numerous pets here. I teach piano lessons here; every week, forty students and various family members walk in and out the front door. It's all been good, but it has taken its toll.

I may not be able to live at the beach but my dream has long been to paint the walls of my house in the bright colors I love. I started three years ago, when I painted my piano studio purple. This spring, my ex-fiance surprised me by having my kitchen, dining room, living room and hallways, and master bathroom painted in other colors I had chosen: sky blue, coral, yellow, and flamingo pink. I am forever grateful to him for that. This summer, I finished the project.

I covered the dull brown walls in my studio waiting room with the color of the outside of a lime; I painted the adjoining bathroom the color of the inside of the lime. I painted my bedroom the pale pink of the inside of a conch shell. And I painted the third bedroom a lovely shade of aqua; it is now my craft room. Here are a few pictures showing that process.
BEFORE 1. Boxes and bins filled with whatnot.
BEFORE 2. More boxes and bins filled with whatnot. 
All the boxes and bins sorted, organized and stowed in the closet.
The painting begins. It took two coats to cover the dark green with the aqua.
AFTER 1. A cheerful beading nook.
AFTER 2. A happy sewing corner.
After almost fifty-five years of life on this planet, I finally have a room of my own where I can sew, bead and scrapbook to my heart's content. A couple of days ago, I sat in this sunny space and created something beautiful.


Yep. It was a dream come true.

Since then, I have had new vinyl plank flooring installed in my kitchen, foyers and master bathroom, and tomorrow I am looking forward to the delivery of a new refrigerator to replace my twenty-year old leaking side-by side and a new range with a double oven to replace the builder-grade range that came with my house. I will post more pictures later. In the meantime, I have a couple of questions for you.

What is it that your heart desires? What can you do to make your dreams come true?

For me - at least this summer - all I needed was a few gallons of paint and a lot of elbow grease. I'm glad I stopped waiting for the perfect time.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Six Months


Someday you're gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You'll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing...
~ Elizabeth Gilbert

When I pulled out my journal Wednesday morning, I noticed the date on the first entry - February 3, 2014. It gave me pause to realize that little composition notebook chronicled the bulk of my relationship with my ex, from a few days before we became engaged through the demise of the relationship and beyond. I spent a few moments pondering that, allowed my mind to wander back through everything that has happened since I broke up with my previous fiance' and - well, I didn't like what I saw. This is what I wrote afterwards.

I refuse to allow history to repeat itself again. For the next six months, at least, I hereby declare a moratorium on dating. I'm going to spruce up the house, practice the piano, finish my novels in progress, start another one. I'm going to eat and drink healthy and exercise regularly and lose the rest of the twenty pounds I have been carrying around since menopause had its way with me. I'm going to put together a family cookbook and stitch memory quilts and hit the beach as often as I can. Then, after Christmas, I will open my heart up again - not with expectation, but to possibility - while continuing to do the things I love to do and spend time with the people I cherish.

Then I set my journal aside, made a pot of coffee, and checked in on Facebook. To my delight, one of the first things I saw was a post from Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she re-posted an essay from last year "about how important it is for women to learn how to be lonely." Liz had had met a young woman who had just broken up with her boyfriend of four years because he didn't treat her right and become concerned when the woman proclaimed, "I gotta go out there right now and get myself somebody BETTER." This was Liz's response.

Once you learn what is good for you, you settle for nothing less. And you can't learn what is good for you until you spend some time getting to know yourself. So six months, I made that girl promise. At LEAST six months alone, I made her swear. We shook on it. And it was sort of comic - here I was, a perfect stranger, and she was agreeing to my demand that she commit to celibacy for half a year...AT LEAST half a year. But that's, I believe, what even she knew she needed. To be lonely until it didn't scare her anymore. Until she wasn't just throwing herself at the next warm body that came along, out of panic and fear of her own being. 

Click HERE to read the entire essay. Liz's words are so much more powerful than my own. But I found it serendipitous that she had come to the same conclusion I did - validating my thinking in a comforting and relieving sort of way. 

And so I begin six-months of life-changing aloneness. May I come out better on the other side.

Friday, June 27, 2014

A Pop-Musical Tonic

The day after my break-up, a colleague who lives in a faraway place shared a link with me. He referred to it is a "pop-musical tonic' - his girlfriend's favorite song - and sent his best wishes along with it.


I clicked on the link, broke into an ear-to-ear grin, and listened to the song at least a dozen times back to back. Now Ingrid Michaelson is my new favorite artist - I bought the entire album - and I will forever think of this as the quintessential break-up song.

All you need is love? Sometimes all you need is a song.