Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!!

We had a good Christmas. The week before was a frenzy--shopping, wrapping, baking, laundry, packing--but everything got finished. Everything, that is, except the afghan I am knitting for my brother. It is red. Maybe it will be ready for Valentine's Day? (Sorry, Eric!)

Anyway, Casey and Nathan opened their gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve, then Nathan and I got up early on Christmas morning and drove to Mt. Carmel, Illinois to spend a couple of days with Mom and Dad and Eric and SeDonna. Casey came up separately and arrived much later. But by midnight, we were all together, eating cookies and candy and drinking coffee and eggnog and opening presents. We missed Greg, but enjoyed each other.

This is what Christmas looked like in Mt. Carmel.

A small--and not totally representative--sample of all the goodies we consumed.

Happy, the cat, pretending to be just another holiday decoration.

SNOW!!

The snow arrived as Nathan and I headed towards home on Sunday afternoon. It was wet and fluffy and fun. We drove out of it about the time we left Kentucky. Traffic started getting heavy in Nashville, and we heard rumors that it was even worse up ahead. I was already tired, so we stopped and spent the night at the Super 8 in Franklin, Tennessee. That was a good call; I was asleep by 10 and didn't wake up until 8 the next morning. We arrived back mid-afternoon Monday. I wasn't worth much by the time we got here, but it felt good to be home.

I have spent the past couple of days alternately playing Bejeweled on my iPhone and Cafe World on Facebook and catching up on some television and watching movies - and sorting and organizing and cleaning and pondering New Year's Resolutions. I know some people don't believe in them, and I recognize things don't always turn out according to our plans, the year 2009 being a case in point for me - but even though I don't always live up to my own expectations, I do a lot better when I set goals for myself. It keeps me focused on what I really want to accomplish, and leaves me less time for regret and self-pity.

I don't think I made any resolutions last year. Everything was up in the air with my fiance and his children over the holidays, and by the time they arrived in January, I was so consumed with meeting their needs that I failed to take care of myself. During the first seven months of 2009, I gained ten pounds, stopped exercising, and ran up several thousand dollars of credit card debt (after nearly paying those cards off in 2008). Things have improved a lot since school started in August; the depression has lifted, the energy in my home is much better, and I am proud that I am really, truly WRITING. But I want more - and Bejeweled and Cafe World aren't going to get me there.

I thought about all this I was writing my morning pages today - the one good habit I have made and maintained faithfully for several years - and this is what I came up with.

DAILY GOALS
Consume 1200 healthy calories.
Do 3o minutes of exercise.
Write 1200 words.
Do 30 minutes of reading.
Do something creative (even if it's just a row of knitting, or stringing three beads on a wire, or choosing photos for one scrapbook page).

WEEKLY GOALS
List 10 books for sale on eBay.
List 2-3 articles of jewelry for sale on etsy.
Post 2-3 times to my blog.

GENERAL GOALS
Stop buying stuff. (I don't need anything. I have enough books, music, yarn, and beading and scrapbooking supplies to keep me busy for the next ten years; and after I lose a few pounds, I will be able to fit back into some of the cute clothes that are already hanging in my closet.)
Get $1000 in the bank.
Pay off credit cards as quickly as possible -hopefully by the end of the year.
Finish Novel #1 and have it ready to pitch in time for the M&M Conference in October.

Ambitious? Maybe. But I am betting that I will be able to do all this and STILL have time for Bejeweled and Cafe World. Just not as MUCH time.

And now I'm off to do a thing or two to get ready for tomorrow. Nathan and I are going get memberships at the local Fitness 19, I've got to figure out how to set up an etsy account, and I need to stock the refrigerator with fruits, veggies, beans and grains. Eric and Donna are coming over to help us bring in the New Year, and I'm actually going to vacuum and dust before they get here.

And I'm going to make myself a sticker chart, and give myself a shiny gold star or a neon happy face every time I meet one of my daily or weekly goals. It's the little things, you know?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Holiday Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

2009 is almost over. I don't know how you feel about it, but I am glad to see it go.

You may recall from my holiday letter last December that I had big plans for my personal life this year. Well, nothing worked out the way it was supposed to. You remember that guy I met on the cruise in 2007? The single dad with custody of his four children? The one I was engaged to marry? Well, there were no wedding bells for us; to make a long story short, our Brady Bunch experiment ended in disaster. If we had had Alice, or if he had had a job -- or if he had actually been divorced -- everything might have turned out differently. As it is, the boys and I are simply relieved to be on our own again, and I have adopted this as my motto: "If he is stupid enough to walk away, be smart enough to let him go." Still, most days I find myself scratching my head at some point, wondering exactly where it all went wrong and whether anyone else will ever be able to fill the void this man left in my heart.

Otherwise, I really can't complain. The economy has been challenging, but I am blessed that my business has not suffered for it. My piano studio remains full, and my students have made me proud in many ways, participating in festivals and concerts and winning competitions and trophies and cash awards and performing for senior citizens at area assisted living centers. I especially enjoy teaching during the month of December, listening to forty-eleven renditions of "Jingle Bells" and "Good King What's-His-Name," although I usually stop my budding musicians somewhere around the seventh day of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Josh has one quarter left at Portfolio Center in Buckhead. He's not sure where he's headed after that -- New York or Los Angeles -- but he is excited about embarking on his career as a fashion photographer. Casey is a joint enrolled senior at Georgia Gwinnett College; Nathan is a public schooled eighth grader at Osborne Middle School. The transition from home school to a traditional classroom was a bit bumpy for both of them, but they were ready to make the change and have adapted well.

Once I was no longer responsible for my children's educations, I saw the way clear to finally make my foray into the world of writing. I just started my third online writing class, and am completing a novel I started over the summer. I also participated in National Novel Writing Month and completed a 50,000 word manuscript -- the roughest of rough drafts, mind you --during the month of November. And I joined Georgia Romance Writers -- the local chapter of Romance Writers of America -- and attended their annual writers conference in October. I have enjoyed meeting others who share my passion for the written word, and I am hoping that by this time next year I will be a published author. As Phyllis Diller said, "Aim high and you won't shoot your foot off." I recognize that I have much to learn and a lot of hard work ahead, but I am finding the process both stimulating and therapeutic.

And now the holidays are upon us. Casey, Nathan and I are looking forward to spending Christmas weekend in southern Illinois with Mom and Dad and Eric and SeDonna. I wish you all the best of luck, the truest of love, and the fulfillment of all your hopes and dreams in the New Year!

Love,
Pam
pam.asberry@gmail.com
http://pamasberry.com

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Last week was crazy, with my students doing holiday concerts on Tuesday and Thursday and Nathan getting sick towards the end of the week. So we didn't get around to decorating the Christmas tree until Sunday. It was a big job. I had forgotten how many ornaments I have. Two or three of them date back to my childhood; there are a few from my college years. Many were gifts from friends and family members and piano students; my boys made some of them, and I picked up others on trips and vacations. They are all very dear to me.

Over the weekend, I also finished the scarf I was working on for the Red Scarf Project. I love the way it turned out.

I boxed and mailed it this morning, along with a couple of holiday packages for far-away friends and family. And I surprised myself by actually remembering to get Christmas stamps while I was at the post office. I am hoping to get my cards written tonight and in the mail tomorrow. And then I need to get serious about finishing the handful of Christmas gifts I have started for people whose names I cannot mention because they read this blog. But you can be sure I will tell you all about them after December 25th has come and gone.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Concerts

This week my piano students performed holiday music at area assisted living centers.

12/08/09
Courtyard Gardens Assisted Living Center
Lawrenceville, GA

12/08/09
Sunrise at Webb Ginn Assisted Living Center
Snellville, GA

12/10/09
Brookside Assisted Living Community
Buford, GA

12/10/09
Brookside Assisted Living Community
Buford, GA
(Notice I'm with SANTA CLAUS and MRS. SANTA CLAUS--and they are CELEBRITIES!)

Aren't my piano students an unusually handsome bunch? And I can assure you they played as pretty as they looked.

Monday, December 7, 2009

O Christmas Tree

As soon as Nathan got home from school today, we headed to a local Christmas tree lot in search of the perfect tree. It ended up being the first one we looked at. "This seems too easy," I said. But I never found the catch. We paid for our prize and the nice men at the lot trimmed its trunk, put it into a mesh bag, and tied it to the top of my car. The drive home was, thankfully, without incident; then, I watched as my determined thirteen year old hoisted that big tree onto his shoulder into the house and onto the stand; afterwards, he patiently worked with me until the trunk was straight and the best "side" of the tree was facing forward.

Next, we went to Target and bought a new treetop star and four hundred new lights. On my own, I probably would have come home with simple white lights, but my boys have always loved the multicolored variety. Knowing this might be Casey's last Christmas at home, and that Nathan will be grown and gone in the blink of an eye, too, I think I made the right choice.

By the time we got back, we were tired from the day and all our efforts, so we decided to save the egg nog and tree trimming for another evening, and watch some television instead. Which reminds me, I never showed you a picture of the new set-up in our living room.

Again, Nathan deserves most of the credit here. He did the research and price comparisons, and selected a thirty-two inch flat panel television--to replace our very old twenty-seven inch tube television--and a new receiver--to replace the dead one that was a part of the surround sound system I bought back in 2002. (Yes, I realize the subwoofer and the speakers from the old sound systems are a different color from everything else; that doesn't bother me in the least.) I picked out the stand. Nathan loaded the boxes into the car, lugged them in when we got home, unpacked and assembled everything, and figured out where ALL THOSE WIRES were supposed to go. I was impressed.

I am looking forward to many more holiday adventures in the days ahead.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Scrapbooking Retreat

I spent the weekend at a scrapbooking retreat in the mountains of Ellijay, Georgia. For the uninformed, scrapbooking is "a method for preserving a legacy of written history in the form of photographs, printed media, and memorabilia contained in decorated albums, or scrapbooks" (this according to Wikipedia). To be honest, I have long been a scrapbooker wanna-be, meaning I have purchased all the necessary supplies for scrapbooking (albums, pages, decorative paper, cutting implements, stickers, etc.) but have spent very little time actually scrapbooking (arranging the photos in the albums and journaling their stories). But if a person is going to scrapbook, this cabin is THE PLACE to do it.

Jennifer waving hello from the front porch,

There were nine of us splitting the cost of the rental; my portion was less than $100 for the entire weekend. We each brought snacks to share and signed up to provide a meal, paper products, or bottled water. I left my house Friday about two o'clock, with my trunk full of my scrapbooking stuff, a small suitcase, two dozen chocolate chip cookies, and ingredients to make lasagna, a Caesar salad, and garlic bread for Saturday dinner. It was a beautiful afternoon and I had a very pleasant drive, sipping yet another Starbucks eggnog latte, listening to Christmas music, and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

There were deer everywhere!

I was the sixth to arrive; the first five ladies were already set up and hard at work in this room.

Tables, chairs, and good lighting.

I unloaded my car, set up my supplies in the adjoining room, similarly equipped, dropped off my suitcase in my assigned bedroom (I had two roommates) and put away my food. Soon, I was joined by friends Marcy, Lisa and Jennifer. That's when the party really started for me.

Marcy, Lisa and Jennifer

I can't tell you all the details of what happened, because there are rules governing these matters.

But I can tell you this: we talked, we laughed, we ate, we stayed up late, and there were margaritas involved. We even did a little bit of scrapbooking.

Marcy, Me, Jennifer. The cats who swallowed the canaries.

The weekend was just what I needed: some time away from work and worry, an opportunity to fully relax and just be with friends. It was my first scrapbooking retreat, but it won't be my last.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

And the winner is...

DEBBIE BECHT!!!

Congratulations! :)

Please e-mail me your address and I will get your autographed copy of Kate Jacobs' Comfort Food in the mail asap!

Thanks to everyone who commented and/or became a follower of my blog last week, and for your support as I finished the last leg of NaNoWriMo. I couldn't have done it without you!

Now, I am playing catch-up--doing all the cleaning, laundry, paperwork and other assorted chores that piled up while I was busy writing. But I have exciting plans for this week-end. Details tomorrow. And I am really looking forward to Christmas. Not that you can tell by the autumn leaves and pilgrims still on display in my house.

One thing at a time...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Moving On

Finally, I'm moving on.

I've tried online dating before, with reasonable success; last weekend, I joined eHarmony.com, which was recently described to me as "the best of a bad bunch." I think "bad" might be a bit harsh, but the dating sites certainly do have a number of shortcomings.

Anyway, I was inspired to take the plunge again by a quote I ran across on a friend's Facebook page.

"A boy who makes you cry isn't worth your tears. And a boy who is worth your tears would never make you cry."

I decided it was time to see if I can find a boy who won't make me cry. Maybe that will help me forget about several who have.

I spent several days completing my profile and sifting through the dozens of "matches" I received. Finally, I reached the point of open communication with a couple of guys. So I had to make a hard decision. Because, despite a handful of arduous phone conversations and a couple of less than satisfactory face to face meetings, I have been holding on to the tiniest shred of hope for reconciliation with a certain someone. Despite the odds for the future. And I didn't want to jeopardize that possibility by muddying the waters with another relationship. Then I read this.

"If he is stupid enough to walk away, be smart enough to let him go."

I know, I know--it's been obvious to you all along. But I've been doing my thinking with my heart. Now I'm ready to be a smart girl. Start thinking with my head. And I realize it's time to let go. Once and for all.

So, Round 4,279 of my dating adventures has begun.

It started at 9:30 this morning with a face to face meeting at Starbucks (and a tall eggnog latte) with a handsome stranger I "met" on eHarmony. We will definitely see each other again, maybe for dinner next time.

Next, while I drove to Alpharetta to pick Nathan up from his dad's house, where he had been since Thanksgiving evening, I had a stimulating phone conversation with another fellow from eHarmony. We were hoping to chat further tonight, but I am bogged down with writing (details below). So we will touch base again tomorrow.

Josh was in Alpharetta, too, and he sweet talked me into driving him home so he wouldn't have to use public transportation. By the time we got there, my stomach was growling--an eggnog latte isn't really breakfast--so we went to Firehouse and he and Nathan watched me wolf down a veggie sub. I even sprung for a soft drink because they have the most amazing drink machine at Firehouse. I was wishing I had my camera so I could take a picture of it. Next time.

Unfortunately, by the time Nathan and I got home, I had a migraine. I know better than to skip breakfast! But I took an Imitrex and chased it with a nap and woke up pain free a couple of hours later.

That made it about six o'clock by the time I started writing. Four hours later, I have only about 2000 words under my belt. But as soon as I finish this post, I am going to switch from my laptop to my Neo--I am much more productive when I don't have the internet to distract me--and get serious. I am actually thinking about pulling an all nighter and finishing this &$%# thing so that I can relax and enjoy the last day of the holiday weekend. I hope I don't wake any of you up with my screams when I make it to 50,000 words.

Check back in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion to my NaNoWriMo adventure!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

For the record, there is absolutely NOTHING I want badly enough to stand in line for at the crack of dawn on the day after Thanksgiving.

Well, maybe a Nissan 370Z. Or a Bosendorfer grand piano. But I didn't see any special sale prices on those items anywhere today.

So, I stayed home this morning.

I did a bit of shopping online. To be honest, I don't have a whole lot of shopping to do. I have made my list and checked it twice:

(1) Nathan
(2) Casey
(3) Josh
(4) Mom
(5) Dad
(6) Eric
(7) SeDonna
(8) Cassie (my brother Greg's daughter)
(9) Greg, Jr. (my brother Greg's son)
(10) Cindy & Ron (best friends since Peoria days--and that's a LONG time)
(11) Nathan's music teachers (are you supposed to give gifts to the classroom teachers, too?)

That's it. Some people have a posse of friends and a doting lover to buy gifts for. I don't. And, since I am a planner, most of my shopping is already done.

So, over the course of the day, I sat in my room, cuddling my laptop, with my dog for company, and added an additional 5,012 words to my NaNoWriMo novel. My back is aching and my posterior is numb. But my total word count is now 40,017. 5,000 words tomorrow and 5,000 words on Sunday and I will be finished.

I may not get a Christmas tree decorated. (I really want a fresh cut tree this year. But I can't figure out how to transport a tree to my house. I don't have a luggage rack on my car. And I don't like to impose on people. After all, I am an ASBERRY.) And I may eat nothing but leftovers from Thanksgiving between now and Monday night.

But at midnight on November 30th, I will be able to say that I HAVE WRITTEN A NOVEL.

Granted, it will be the roughest of rough drafts. But it will be finished.

And how many people can honestly say THAT?!?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

It was a wonderful Thanksgiving.

2:30
You can't see us, but Donna and I are working our fingers to the bone in the kitchen. Meanwhile, the guys are busy holding down the furniture, surfing the internet and playing video games.

5:00
Everything is finally ready.
Nathan can't wait!

5:01
Taking a picture of Eric taking a picture of the table.

5:02
Taking a picture of Donna taking a picture of the table.

It took us less than thirty minutes to completely stuff ourselves, after which ghe guys adjourned to the living room while Donna and I cleared the table, put away the food, and washed the dishes. Yes, our Thanksgiving celebration was traditional in more ways than one. Sigh.

Seriously, I'm not complaining. I love cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Casey and Nathan fend for themselves for the most part, so I was happy to have the opportunity to put together a special holiday meal for them. And I was thrilled that Eric and Donna were able to come and be with us. That really made it a party!

We observed a couple of our quirky family traditions. Right after dinner, we listened to the A Chipmunk Christmas; then we watched Scrooged with Bill Murray. Carol Kane is the ultimate Ghost of Christmas Present. I love that stuff.

It has been good to take some time to reflect on all my blessings this week. I've already mentioned family and friends. I am also thankful for my piano students and their families--I have the best job in the whole world--and for my cozy little home and all my creature comforts. I have everything I need and most of what I want. Like everybody else, I have regrets and I have experienced loss, and sometimes the pain all that that is a lot to bear. Choosing to focus on what I have instead of what I am missing definitely takes the edge off.

I hope your Thanksgiving was satisfying, spiritually and physically. I would love to hear about it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chocolate Chip Pecan Pie--and the Giveaway continues!!


I have the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. Eric and Donna will join Casey, Nathan and me for the mostly traditional feast. Donna is bringing a couple of appetizers along with company potato casserole and broccoli salad; I will make turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole, green beans, cranberry sauce, and yeast rolls. For dessert, I am making two pies--one pumpkin, one pecan. Make that CHOCOLATE CHIP pecan--because almost anything is better with chocolate!

Here's the recipe.

CHOCOLATE CHIP PECAN PIE

3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecans, halves or pieces

Beat eggs slightly with fork. Stir in syrup, sugar and vanilla until blended. Add chocolate pieces and pecans. Mix well. Pour into unbaked pie shell (I use Pillsbury!) and bake at 375 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes or until knife comes out clean.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

P.S. Don't forget--to enter the giveaway for an autographed copy of Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs, all you have to do is post a comment or become a follower of this blog. Details in yesterday's post!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Week of Thanksgiving, Part 2--and a GIVEAWAY!!

I am thankful for my three healthy, smart, creative, talented, entertaining sons.

Josh with his significant other, Kristy

Casey on his 18th birthday

Gangsta Nathan

I am thankful for my parents.

Carley and Jim

I am thankful for my dog, Karma.

Good Karma

And now, for the

GIVEAWAY!!

I am thankful for my friends and readers.

As a token of my appreciation, I am giving away an autographed copy of Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs. Comfort Food celebrates the power of food to bring friends and family together--and the joys of savoring every bite of life. It would make a wonderful holiday gift for someone special--or for yourself!

There are two ways to enter.

(1) Add a comment to any of my blog posts this week. You can start with yesterday's post. You will receive one entry every day you comment. If you commented yesterday, you already have one entry!

(2) Became a follower of my blog. You will receive five entries for becoming a follower. If you are already a follower, you already have five entries!

The last day to enter is Monday, November 30th. Please remember to include your email address with your comment so I will know how to get in touch with you if you are the winner.

And remember to come back tomorrow for more Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Week of Thanksgiving, Part 1

I am thankful for Eric and Donna.

Saturday was my brother Eric's birthday. We celebrated at my house with pizza, cake and ice cream and presents. Here are a few snapshots.

Eric's wife Donna lighting the candles

Eric listening to the sweet strains of "Happy Birthday To You"
(Is that pain or pleasure on his face?)

If he had remembered to make a wish, it would have come true...

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here is a video from ThinkGeek featuring one of the amazing gifts I got for Eric, the Electronic Rolling Laughing Monkey.


Monday, November 16, 2009

CROCK POT 16 BEAN SOUP


The crock pot makes it possible to write all morning and teach all afternoon and still have something healthy to eat when the work is done. And there's nothing like a bowl of hot soup at the end of a crisp autumn day.

This is my version of 16 Bean Soup. I bought a bag of 16 bean soup mix at the grocery store but tossed the spice packet included with it into the garbage--too many words I couldn't pronounce!--and adapted a recipe I found on the internet.

16-BEAN SOUP

1 package 16-bean soup mix
1 quart vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you don't like the hot stuff)
Additional water to cover

1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 small potatoes, diced
2 cans stewed or diced tomatoes

Salt to taste (optional; I used 1 teaspoon)

Pick over and rinse beans; soak overnight. Drain and rinse.

Combine beans with broth and seasonings in crock pot; add water to cover by an inch or two. Cook on high for two hours. Add vegetables and canned tomatoes; shift cooker to low and cook for an additional three hours. Stir in salt just before serving.

Delicious!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Five Things That Make Me Smile

If my experiences of the last two weeks are any indication, the life of a writer is not a glamorous one. I have become a slave to my NaNoWriMo daily word count goals; there is little time for anything besides writing, piano teaching, housekeeping, and chores related to meal preparation. I miss my hobbies and opportunities to connect with friends (and make new ones); I spend every possible moment locked in my bedroom, hunched over my laptop, wearing yoga pants and sloppy sweatshirts and wondering how I will find time to take a shower. This, too, shall pass; the month of November is already half over. But I believe I am establishing good writing habits that will serve me well during the weeks and months ahead, and that one day I will look back with the knowledge that the sacrifice was all worthwhile.

But just to prove I DO have a life (stop laughing!), I am going to tell you about few things having absolutely nothing to with writing that have made me smile in the last 48 hours.

(1) My first eggnog latte of the season at Starbucks on Friday. Mm, mm!

(2) The receipt of a large box containing baking supplies from King Arthur Flour. Yes, I have big plans for holiday baking this year. For me, baking is just another word for therapy--especially holiday baking. And I love, love, love getting things in the mail.

(3) The news that one of my students won a cash award in a piano competition yesterday. She worked hard and deserved to win, and it is always a wonderful surprise when people actually get what they deserve. Her reaction when I called her with the good news also made me smile. (Although I am still having a bit of trouble hearing out of my right ear.)

(4) Comments from family and friends in support of my writing. (Oops, there's that "W" word again. Bear with me.) Not only do they make me smile, they make me believe that anything is
possible. And remind me that I am not alone.

(5) This song. I first heard it when I was newly in love a couple of years ago; I thought it totally captured the essence of how I felt. I had forgotten about it until yesterday, when I found a copy of a mix CD I made for the then-object of my affection and discovered the song all over again. I listened to it at least a dozen times yesterday and smiled every time. The video quality here is poor, but you need to listen to the lyrics; such a perfect little song. I wonder if I will ever fall in love again?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Learning the Ropes

Chris Baty said it would happen. He pointed out, in his humorous way, that there would come a point in the novel writing project that the momentum would wane and the process would become more challenging. Except he said it would happen on the third or fourth day of Week 2. It happened to me at the end of Week 1.

I read all about it in Chris's book, No Plot, No Problem. And I believe his method has merit. Obviously, it works for HIM. Probably for lots of other people, too. And it's a fact that if it weren't for his brainchild, NaNoWriMo, there's NO WAY I would be attempting to write an entire book in my "free" time this month. But I finally had to admit that, for me, "no plot" had become a serious problem. And I wasn't sure how to solve it.

Just a little something I put together one day when I SHOULD have been writing.

Granted, the honeymoon period was fun. For a few days, I hummed along--enjoying the ride, unconcerned with the destination--introducing my characters, settings, and their basic conflicts. Then I got stuck. I tried to keep writing anyway. Because, frankly, I didn't think I had time to stop and make decisions. It was all I could do to get my 1667 words done every day. So I started doing social experiments with my characters, placing them in random situations and describing what happened, doing whatever it took to meet my word count goal for the day, regardless of whether or not the prose was interesting or actually moved my story forward, completely ignoring the derision expressed by my "inner editor."

But after a couple of days, I simply couldn't go on like that. I felt like I was wasting my time, even though I was being "productive." That's when I hit the wall. But rather than face up to what was really happening, I found ways to distract myself from it. I went shopping online. I went to the mall. I cleaned. I cooked. I baked. I read. I knitted.

By Monday night, I had fallen several thousand words behind my word count goal. So about ten o'clock, after I had met all my responsibilities for the day , I forced myself to sit with my laptop, vowing not to sleep until I completed 2000 words. I should have just turned out the light and gone to bed, because not only did I not write another word, I didn't accomplish anything else, either. I literally sat and stared at the screen for hours. (Okay, I did take breaks to check email, facebook, twitter, and the like. But I was utterly powerless to write.)

It was 4AM by the time I finally admitted defeat. And since I had promised Nathan I would help him with homework at 7:30, I couldn't even sleep in. Which made yesterday a veeery long day. I did manage a few hundred words after he left for school. I even employed a "trick" suggested in No Plot, No Problem. Using the "Replace" feature in Microsoft Word, I changed my main character's name to from "Hilda" to "Hilda Sue" and her son's name from simply "Robby" to "Robby Bob," which also increased my word count slightly (and provided me with a much-needed laugh). But deep inside, I felt like a fraud.

By the time I finished teaching that night, I was too tired to do writing. It didn't matter. My tires were spinning in the mud. I was sitting still at a crossroads trying to figure out which road to take. Choose your metaphor; I was getting nowhere with my novel and the clock just kept ticking. Night owl that I usually am, I was asleep before ten o'clock. But as I drifted off to sleep, my muse gently prodded me: "You need an outline... You need an outline..."

So this morning I pulled out my pad of sticky notes and wrote a sentence summing up each of the major scenes of my story so far. Then I brainstormed future possibilities. Finally, I took all the sticky notes and arranged them in a logical sequence. (Thanks to the ladies from Petit Fours and Hot Tamales for sharing this storyboard technique at the M & M Conference in October!) In the process, I found a few holes and I changed my mind about some of the chronology of some of the previously written sections. But what is important is that NOW I KNOW WHERE MY STORY IS HEADED. I saw places where there were problems, figured out ways to solve those problems, and came up with possibilities about how the story might end.

Not exactly a detailed outline. But just what I needed.

Finally, I was ready to write. I started by changing "Hilda Sue" back to "Hilda" and "Robby Bob" back to "Robby." My conscience clear, I set to work. I had only about an hour left until I started teaching. But I managed about 1200 words, almost effortlessly. I don't know how good they are, and I might change my mind half a dozen times about some of the details I decided today. But at least I am moving forward again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Good News and Bad News

The past few days have been amazing.
(1) I started--and finished--a great knitted wool cap (click here).

(2) I met the fabulous Kate Jacobs; she tweeted our picture AND posted it on her blog (click here).

(3) I won a contest sponsored by the group blog Petit Fours and Hot Tamales; my name appeared in big orange letters (click here) on their site.

(4) I had special time with two of my boys. Saturday night, Casey and I had dinner out together; Sunday afternoon, Nathan and I hit the mall. My hard-to-please 13 year old found clothes and shoes that we both like, and I even bought myself a few things--a great chocolate brown pin stripe pant suit, three tops, and a cardigan.

(5) I got a fabulous new hairstyle at Shenanigans Hair Studio (click here--thanks, Jody!)

New life, new me

(6) I started National Novel Writing Month (click here).

The good news is that, over the course of the past eight days, I have completed approximately 10,000 words of a brand-new book, which approximately equals the combined total of all my fiction writing to date. The bad news is that, at this rate, I will not achieve my goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. By now, my word count should be 13, 336. I was under the weather on Friday, and had a busy weekend. That's all it took to put me behind.

But, although I have failed, I am not defeated. It is not too late; if my math is correct, 2143 words per day between now and Sunday will get me to 25,000 words by November 15th, the halfway point. I CAN DO THIS.

So I'd better get my weary bones to bed so I can get a bright and early start tomorrow.

Words of encouragement and/or advice are welcome! Post them here!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

An Evening with Kate Jacobs

Last night, I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting New York Times best-selling author Kate Jacobs. Here's the proof.

And here's more proof (click here).

Most of the people in the audience were middle-aged women, and I'm guessing that many of them were knitters. A couple of them even had works in progress--one woman was stitching away on what appeared to be a blue baby afghan; another was creating a furry, brown shawl or cape. But Kate Jacobs' books are about much more than knitting. They are about family, and friendship, and community. Read on.

This event, held in the auditorium of the Decatur Public Library, was sponsored by the Georgia Center for the Book. Following her introduction by our host, Kate gave a "lecture" in which she summarized the first two books in the knitting series (The Friday Night Knitting Club and Knit Two), discussed how their main characters have developed throughout, and gave a few hints of what to expect in the third volume, Knit the Season, released November 3rd. She described these characters as "friends who live inside her head." I could relate to that! Then, after reading a passage from Knit the Season, Kate fielded a question/answer session, during which we learned a little bit more about her personal life and her journey as a writer.

Here are a few important thoughts I took away from the evening.

(1) Most of us have regrets about certain aspects of our lives, and while we cannot change the past, we can accept responsibility for our actions, learn from our errors, and move forward in more positive directions. Knitting is a metaphor for life; when we make mistakes, it leaves holes in the work; but you can rip out the bad stuff, all the way back to that last perfect stitch, and continue anew.

(2) What matters most in this life is relationships with family and friends. In our modern world, we are busy to a fault; nothing is more important than making time for the people we love. (We also tend to be very isolated; group knitting is one way women seek to build community.)

(3) There is no secret to getting your writing published; you just have to keep working at it, one sentence at a time, one day at a time. Kate recommends silencing your "inner critic" and getting your story on paper, knowing you will edit it LATER. (The same advice our NaNoWriMo gurus give us!) She also shared that the manuscript for The Friday Night Knitting Club was rejected ten or twelve times before it was finally accepted by a publisher. That was encouraging.

Kate was very humble and down to earth. When asked how her life has changed since becoming a best-selling novelist, she said it really hasn't, pointing out she still has the same husband, the same family, the same friends, the same house, even the same car, as before. Knowing that The Friday Night Knitting Club is being made into a motion picture starring none other than Julia Roberts, I found this very surprising--and impressive!

Towards the end of the discussion, a member of the audience stood and shared that, although she really hadn't looked forward to coming to the event, she was very glad she did. It turned out that her attendance was a requirement for a public speaking class she is taking, and while she was expecting a boring lecture on knitting, she had experienced something completely different.

Indeed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fast and Furious

So far this week, I've managed to teach a full load of students, keep the house reasonably tidy, meet my daily word count goal for NaNoWriMo (6670 as of midnight last night), AND knit a cap. Here it is.
I am quite pleased with the way it turned out. I am such a beginner that I still get a kick out of using circular/double pointed needles and knitting in the round. I used Patons Classic Wool in Dark Grey mix, and added two randomly placed stripes in contrasting colors from my personal yarn stash, as directed in the Vickie Howell pattern (click here). One stripe symbolizes me, the knitter, and the other the hat's recipient, to remind him that he is not alone. I like that.

This is my donation to the Warming Families project (click here), whose goal is to collect 25,000 hand knit caps for the homeless, mentioned in an earlier blog post. I am going to drop it off at the Kate Jacobs book signing in Decatur this evening. She is one of my favorite authors and I am extremely excited about meeting her. I had resigned myself to not going, as I usually teach straight through from 1 until 9:30PM on Wednesdays, and it seemed too complicated to try to reschedule such a large number of students. But then I had one family cancel due to a conflict and another person call in sick, and I was able to shuffle all but two of those remaining. So I am giving my last two students of the day a rain check, and will head over to Decatur as soon as I finish up this afternoon. I can hardly wait to get my very own, personally autographed copy of Kate's newest release, Knit the Season (click here), which came out just yesterday. Check in later for a full report!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Day 3

I'm doing it!

With my shiny new AlphaSmart Neo in hand, and my cozy new NaNoWriMo hoodie on my person, I showed up at American Pizza in Sandy Springs promptly at 11:30 PM on Saturday night for the NaNoLanta midnight write-in, where I was warmly greeted by municipal liaison Shawn and a handful of other people as crazy as myself. At precisely 12:01, we all started typing. It was almost spiritual. We drank coffee, we ate chocolate desserts (thanks, Alondo, for sharing your tiramisu!), we commiserated. Mostly, we worked. By the time I left for home, about 2:30 AM, I had completed 2095 words. I was on my way!

Since then, life has slowed me down. I have a feeling that's going to be a persistent issue as the month wears on. But I am determined. By the end of Day 1, I had completed 3314 words; at the end of Day 2, I was up to 4622. As of this moment in time, my word count is 5039. I just visited the NaNoWriMo website, and was grateful to be reminded that this is not the time to edit--or delete. The instruction is to italicize--or change the font color to white--any paragraph or chapter you decide you don't like, and to decide what to do with it in DECEMBER. The perfectionist in me has a hard time with that. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that if I am actually going to complete this task, the perfectionist in me is going to have to take a nap in the back seat of this careening automobile.

Writing 1667 words a day will get me to my goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. I am trying to stay at least one day ahead, in anticipation of Thanksgiving Day, which I plan to take off so that I can bake a turkey for tradition's sake and a chocolate pecan pie for my brother. Maybe a couple of side dishes, too. That means I need a total of 6,668 words by today's end. I am planning to attend another write-in tonight at the local Taco Mac. Hopefully, that will help.

One unfortunate side effect of this fiction writing is that I am finding it more difficult than ever to find time to blog--and my narrow focus right now seems to be limiting my choice of topic. However, I might have one or two interesting stories to share that have absolutely nothing to do with writing, and I will try to squeeze them in during the days ahead.

In the meantime, I have 1629 words to write and a cap to finish knitting. TODAY.

Look for an update sometime during the wee hours of tomorrow morning.