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Key Lime High

17 Nov

Travel Notes of My 40th Birthday Retreat with the 4 Chicks

As I write this, my four-year-old son is screaming for me to get the stuffed Christmas toys down from the attic, trying to break down my bedroom door behind which I am stealthily typing. It’s quite the contrast to two weeks ago today. On that morning, I woke up to silence and strolled around my second-floor balcony, imbibing views of Florida’s tranquil gulf below, stretching out to the horizon before me like a deep blue path of possibility.

Originally, I thought I might want to ring in my big birthday with a party. I envisioned a grand “40’s Forever” theme with lots of great 1940’s music and dancing on a tented outdoor dance floor. But when my writing class was keeping me so busy, I just didn’t have time to plan it. And having moved just over a year ago, I wasn’t sure who would actually come. My husband, Michael, stayed quiet.

When I showed up at Eva’s house for our regularly scheduled Chicks meeting the day before my birthday, I could tell something was off; Peggy and Vivi were both there before me–without coffee. Michael had told me I had to hurry and get back home so we could leave on our trip, some mysterious getaway sans kids to some unknown destination, just the two of us. He had only told me about it after learning I had accepted a freelance job that was to have started the same time, which he insisted I postpone. So my crammed suitcase, which held everything from my winter coat to my bathing suit, waited for my return.

The Chicks sang “Happy Birthday,” and I blew out my birthday cupcake. Then, as I prepared to get down to the day’s business quickly, Michael walked in the door. It was then that I learned the extent of his cover-up. He was sending me and the Chicks away together. They had been in on the secret, too, but none of us knew where we were headed. Michael rushed us into my minivan. Inside, a card included the address of our first way point: a Starbucks about an hour west on I-4. A CD mix of 1940’s music played in the radio. (I think the last mix he made for me was in college. On a cassette.)

After Starbucks, we were given our next address which took us further west and turned us south. We imagined Michael at “mission control,” calling us from a cockpit surrounded by dials, tracking our every mile. He seemed concerned about our timing, saying we had to be somewhere by a certain time. But we Chicks were enjoying the journey, talking and laughing so much that we missed a critical turn and our intended lunch stop, causing Michael some distress. Insisting we had to make up lost time, he gave us our next way point to navigate us back onto our path. Peggy Googled the address. He was sending us to a Publix parking lot.

Just as we pulled into said grocery lot, Michael called again. “You better not be giving us a grocery list,” I told him, only half joking. But that’s exactly what he was doing. He told us we had no more than thirty minutes to get breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days. Getting four women to agree on food was no small feat, but we managed. Michael’s voice was emphatic as we loaded the food into the empty cooler he had left in the trunk. “You MUST LEAVE NOW!”

Giving us the final address, he told us we were 15 minutes away from another parking lot, where a shuttle would take us to a ferry that would in turn take us to our final destination. If we missed the shuttle, we would miss the ferry and would have to pay for another one much later. He directed us to paperwork underneath the passenger seat. We were going to North Captiva Island, where the pirate Gaspar held his concubine women captive.

We boarded the shuttle just in time. After checking-in on the island, we received our own golf cart for transportation and eventually found the private house that would be our accommodations. Walking through the three-story wonderland of comfort and recreation that was called Key Lime High, I marveled at my husband’s creativity, thoughtfulness, and generosity to plan and pull off such a surprise for me and my Chicks. We were four happy captives for four perfect days. It was the best 40th I could have ever asked for, yet something I could not have imagined beforehand. “Trust me,” he had said leading up to the weekend, deflecting my hundreds of demanding questions. “Sometimes you just have to let go of feeling like you have to control everything.”

My son has stopped screaming now and is quietly constructing a Lego tower. I want to keep building, too. To start, I close my eyes and go back to that happy retreat with Eva, Peggy, and Vivi–my dear Chicks who know every painful, exhilarating chapter of my creative triumphs and tragedies–and our shared Key Lime High continues.

Confession of an Acts Murderer

15 Aug

This is one of about 529 similar photos my son sends to my phone photo album from the Elmo app. Maybe that’s me, lurking with a fro in the sunflowers, waiting to strike.

On the upside, I’ve survived the first four weeks of the Writer’s Digest Writing Your Novel Scene by Scene  online workshop and have written a handful of new scenes that I feel pretty good about. The bad news? Well, I’ve become a serial scene killer.

See, I had written six chapters in the past that I thought were pretty good, too. But now, I can see more in them that I want to change than keep. For example, I’ve learned that adverbs are the devil, at least in dialogue tags. Tab-ewwww. Now I know.

Last week I took on a freelance project that took up almost all of my daytime hours. As a result, I didn’t have time to develop the second scene that was due as assignment by Sunday night, midnight. So what did I do at 11:55pm? I decided to send one of the old scenes with the new one I had completed, explaining to my teacher what I was doing.

My and my new BFF at McD’s. Love me my sausage egg McGriddles and Diet Coke.

When his review came back Monday, I realized I had been ‘caught.’ But in a good way. He was good with the new scene but pointed out valid problems with the other. Rereading the old scene, I was pretty horrified at what I had once thought was passable. But then, I realized that what pursuingthemuse had recently told me was true. It’s a good sign to hate what you wrote in the past. It means you’re getting better!

No more old scenes, I promised my professor (and myself). Not unless I had seriously butchered them first and reassembled better. That’s what writers do, I guess: Create. Kill. Recreate. Learn More. Kill Again. Create. All part of the process of honing this craft of words. Speaking of which, WriteOnCon started today. If you missed it, here’s a great feature on the Importance of Craft.

Vivi’s Got an Agent…and a Theme Song!

12 Jun

The Muse gave us these fun t-shirts in honor of our one-year blog anniversary.

Vivi ROCKS! And while this isn’t news to those who know her, Vivi getting an agent has given each of us Chicks exciting new inspiration and motivation.

In the spirit of the blog, we want to celebrate this victory with you, too. I mean, really, Vivi is one of us; she’s a “normal”, hard-working mom of three who’s demonstrated remarkable faith, hard-work and perseverance to make her dreams come true. How encouraging it is for the rest of us to know the secret formula is so simple!

Since Vivi’s announcement was music to everyone’s ears, I figured what better way for us all to congratulate tickling the muse than with a fun little ditty. I hope you’ll sing along, even as you continue down your own path to creative fulfillment.

A Salute to Home CREATORS

14 May

Happy Mother’s Day to All!

Life as a stay-at-home mom can feel a lot like, well, you see the visual. This is how my son’s room in our new house looked before we moved in.

Homemaker. The very word has a somewhat embarrassing connotation nowadays. But why?

My mom was a homemaker most of my childhood. I loved it. Many of my favorite memories were birthed during unfettered hours at home. Whether I was playing Legos, writing little poems, or cutting out paper animals all afternoon, my mom was always nearby with warm hugs and encouraging words.

Getting a college education was instilled in both me and my sister from an early age by our mom. And after both her daughters had graduated from University of Florida, my mom went back to school and finished her own bachelor’s degree, 25 years after she had first begun. I was so proud watching her walk across that stage to receive her diploma. She showed me it’s never too late to pick up your dreams where you left off.

My mom’s story is that of women’s lib. She transitioned from full-time mom to full-time employee, sometime when I was in middle school. Years later, she went on to become the first mayor of Southwest Ranches, the town she helped to form in Broward County, FL, and I’m so proud of her for always doing WHATEVER is before her with passion and creativity.

My generation seems to be doing things in reverse. I focused on my career and worked full time in my twenties and early thirties, and now I’m a homemaker a stay-at-home mom not working full time. I do freelance part-time, so I have that to preserve some dignity. But really, even if I didn’t, I’m out to rebrand those of us who…do this and love it.

Here it is, girls: We. Are. Home Creators! True, make and create are synonyms, but there’s an important distinction. While homemaker implies rote repetition and drudgery akin to a factory assembly worker–which is, in fact, a strikingly accurate assessment of our daily duties–home creator extends to include CREATIVITY. And celebrating this aspect of our unpaid personas gives us the greatest dignity of all.

My son’s happy “blue room” and the Lego train tower we built together today.

We are storytellers. We are clothes stylists. We are personal shoppers. We are procurement officers. We are painters. We are singers. We are pantry-organizers. We are interior designers. We are memory builders. We are seamstresses. We are quarter-mistresses, in charge of all ships’ quarters and resolvers of all on-board disputes. We are CEOs, Chief Engineers of Operations who keep plumbing running smoothly (most of the time) and weeds in check (some of the time), and we are CFO’s, Chief Fun Officers who keep crewmembers not only minimally fed, periodically bathed and occasionally well-rested, but entertained to boot!

No, we are not perfect. But we are still creating, still evolving every day–growing our families, our homes and ourselves into something better with each rushed morning and drawn-out bedtime. Even every load of laundry and recycled cereal box is another beautiful stroke in the modern abstract masterpiece of our chaotic domestic lives.

So Happy Mother’s Day, my fellow compatriots. I salute us, one and all, those working “outside the home” full-time, part-time or no-time. We may not be paid in dollars, but we are infinitely valuable. For we…are…The HOME CREATORS!

Creativity = Recycling

22 Apr

And Recycling = Creativity: Happy Earth Day!

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

One oft-repeated verity among artists of every walk–from writers and musicians to dancers and especially those accomplished artists in the field of advertising–is that CREATIVITY IS RECYCLING.

You might argue that there hasn’t been anything truly, completely new since the world’s first seven days. There are only creations made by recycling existing elements and ideas in uniquely different combinations. These wonderfully re-formed products are the products of the built-in recycling center within each of us. It’s called our imagination.

Go ahead, call me trashy. I don't mind. 🙂

But the inverse is also true. I believe the mere act of sorting plastics and cans from junk mail and cereal boxes can connect us back to the Great Creator. By doing so, we affirm that while the resources of the earth are both valuable and finite, our potential to re-create is not.

So to celebrate Earth Day this year, consider this: recycling is fuel for your creativity. What a non-artist might carelessly toss into the trash without second thought, an artist recognizes as having future potential. Recognition is the first step to learning how to reduce, reuse and recycle. In fact, our best rubbish in life is often our best inspiration as well.


16 Apr

Me and Eva: the light in me sees the light in her.

Whether or not you’re a yoga bear, try sharing this respectful Indian greeting with those who share your creative soul. The meaning of namasté goes beyond its translation of “I bow to you.” It speaks to a recognition of the spark of divinity, the light within each of us. For us aspiring writers and other artists, you might substitute the word creativity for divinity, as they are in fact one and the same.

Julia Cameron calls them believing mirrors, these rare people placed in our lives by a greater hand to help us make sense of our unique journeys. The more I doubt myself, the more I cherish my believing mirrors. They each know just who they are, and I am grateful. They include my sister, my lifelong friend from childhood, the other 4 Chicks, and most recently, the supportive congregation of other sojourners down the path of children’s books, those bravely committed to write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months in 2012.

To all these and more, I tip my creative visor to you and say:

Namaste. The spark of creativity in me bows to the spark of creativity in you.

Monday’s Metaphor: Train for Your Goals

9 Jan

Eva finished her first full marathon at Disney yesterday!

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with metaphors. So how could I not be inspired by my dear Chick’s 26-mile, 5+ hour accomplishment? It’s the perfect start to what I plan to make a regular Monday post, a brief observation of a living metaphor around me that week.

So fellow writers, dancers, quilters, mothers and other humans, take note! We can learn a lot from those who call themselves runners.

The thing is, Eva only claimed this new title a couple of years ago. She was a true beginner. With no credentials. No experience. No promise of success. But she did have a goal: to complete her first triathlon.

In this regard, I think runners and athletes have a distinct advantage over writers. They have clear deadlines. If they sign up for a race, they have to train for it, consistently and in ever-larger increments throughout the time leading up to an impending fixed event.

Chick Peggy recently lured me into a literary equivalent. She and I both accepted the 12 x 12 in 2012 writing challenge, committing along with 250 other aspiring and experienced authors alike to draft one new young children’s picture book each month this year.

Like the other runners encouraging each other along Eva’s marathon route weaving through the various Walt Disney World theme parks yesterday, I’m looking forward to the support and positive peer pressure of other children’s authors. There is strength in the support of those who share your goals. That is, after all, the purpose for this blog. And while we all want to do our best, at the end of the race, we’re really only competing against ourselves.

Once again, Eva crossed another finish line she set for herself. Here’s hoping we writers can live out the metaphor this year with our own goals, not sprinting, but training, encouraging, supporting, pacing and enduring through the process of preparing for and completing our own marathon.

New Year’s Playfulutions

1 Jan

I don’t believe in resolutions. If Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way books have taught me anything, it’s that trying to impose more discipline and work to any endeavor–artistic or otherwise–is far less effective than learning to PLAY.

Resolve involves being determined, taking a lofty goal seriously, and working hard to achieve it. It also sets us up for all-or-nothing thinking that sabotages our real, day-to-day would-be progress. The stoic martyr sacrifices to reach what end? Their own.

No, this year, I’m determined to take myself and all I do far less seriously. Acting resolute ultimately brings self-disappointment, frustration, and guilt–even if they’re well masked by success. Yet acting playful allows me the freedom to be a beginner, to try something new, to learn, to experiment, to risk, and to have greater compassion on myself and others when things don’t go according to plan.

That said, I do believe in the power of articulating our deepest wishes. A goal sounds scary and is usually followed by its thugs, the shoulds and the should nots. Sometimes a list of goals is more a reflection of our fears than anything else. But a wish is a recognition of what truly lies within our hearts. Great achievements are always driven by passion, a symptom of deep love, capable of overcoming our self-bullying doubts, unconscious pot shots and–worst of all–expectations.

So what are your deepest wishes for the coming year? Forget about all the things you should and shouldn’t do. What do you want to do? What do you love to do? What do you longingly dream of doing when you’re all alone? And how can you take a little step today to do a little more of it? If you’re still hesitant, check out Chick Vivi’s What’s Waiting for YOU? for a healthy dose of positive thinking.

When our theme song video (and details for winning the Kindle!) comes out tomorrow, it will be clear that the 4 of us had a lot of fun making it. Yes, there was plenty of planning, collaboration and time involved, but it certainly never felt like work. Now, to apply that model to the rest of my life and go clean up the strawberry muffin my son proudly mashed into the carpet. It’s okay. It’s just part of this funny game I’m playing called my life.

What’s Your Block?

29 Dec

I'm somewhere under this monstrous pile, sewing the joining seams on my Mom's quilt in 2009.

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Three)

In the past, the assembly of a quilt has been by far the most difficult for me. It seems easy enough in theory to join together the three layers: pieced top, backing and middle batting. But in practice, I’ve tried sprays and pins each time but ultimately been forced to manual basting–sewing loose lines–as the only effective way to prepare the layers for actual quilting.

Quilting connects us to women throughout the centuries before. Jen and I go way back, but not quite that far.

Additionally, for these final connecting seams, I’ve always selected patterns that allowed me to stitch in the ditch. (That means you simply sew the three layers together along your top seam lines.) While perfectly effective, this limits your joining pattern to simple squares and rectangles. The only alternative would be to hand-sew a decorative pattern one taut quilt hoop at a time, the way my Great Aunt Jo and women throughout the ages used to do.

I, however, have an irrational fear of this level of hand-sewing and the incredible additional work it must involve. I salute those who have done it this way, much as I admire women past and present who have been able to give birth naturally. Nevertheless, the process involved even to machine sew for this last phase in the past has proved traumatic enough to prevent me from enthusiastically taking on a new quilt. In short, assembly had become my block (pun intended), that is, until last fall.

After recently moving to a new city, while on a paint run to Sherwin Williams, I stumbled upon an unassuming quilt shop window. Something beckoned me to look inside. When I did, the first thing that caught my eye was a giant machine humming busily in one quadrant of the store. I instantly recognized its purpose and nearly shrieked at the nearest shop employee, “You can assemble quilts!” I was so excited at this discovery that I resolved to make my dear friend Jennifer a quilt in that very moment.

Call me lazy. Maybe this IS a big cheat. But back to the birth analogy, I had two C-sections; does that make me less of a mother? And while I happened to breast-feed, if it hadn’t worked out, would I have starved my child? No, of course not. If I had needed to bottle-feed, whether by choice or necessity, that would have been okay, too. What’s important is ensuring your baby gets the nutrition and sustenance it needs, right?

The completed quilt top!

Creative babies are no different. The important thing is to keep them alive. Might a modern Michelangelo have used computers to assist his Sistine Chapel paintings? Verily!

Nevertheless, my personal guilt was not alleviated until I learned of the long queue of quilts awaiting their turn at the long-arm Gammill Statler quilting machine. Not to stereotype, but I’m pretty sure most of them were put there by far more veteran quilters– women (and some men!) who were savvy enough to utilize the latest technology while freeing up significant chunks of their time and creative energies.

The finished quilt should be ready in 6 weeks.

When I ventured back to Cornerstone Quilt Shop, the girls there (as their emails are signed) reminded me of Designing Women, interspersed at their stations in the shop. To get a photo, I had to explain how I had been blogging about the process. One beautiful white-bobbed sewer looked up from her machine, seeming amused. “Welcome to the club,” her warm smile said.

“You’ve done well,” the lovely woman who was walking me through arrangements reassured. After picking out the joining thread and stitching pattern, I asked my helper’s name (partly to be sure in whose hands I was leaving my baby). “Jenny.” The name of my lifelong friend, the quilt’s soon-to-be recipient.

So it is that the quilter’s hoop has come full circle. This final, painful phase has been turned over to experienced midwives. And I now need only wait for our shared baby to be fully delivered.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One) and Pieces of Us (Part Two).

Pieces of Us

21 Dec

Making a Quilt for My BFF (Part Two)

My 17th birthday. Jen shared in my excitement over my OWN cordless phone.

Selection, cutting, piecing and assembly. These are the four main phases in the fabrication of a quilt. Or a friendship. Over the long course of each, great care (and luck) with the first two phases affect the rest.

These pairs of strips were cut to form the smallest "stair" blocks of the pattern.

I’m always reassured when I still love my chosen fabrics throughout and beyond the tedious process of working with them. Some become favorites, like the most cherished characteristics of a longtime friend. Others serve to bring harmony and balance–in color, pattern and scale. I like a mix of each.

For this quilt, my fabric selection included red as base (and backing). This is the primary color of both the elementary/middle and high schools to which my friend Jennifer and I attended together, which despite such extended exposure, remains the dominant hue in both of our home interior color schemes. The shimmered gold sun fabric was an exciting find, which I opted to employ as the “stairs” in the pattern. It reminds me of our coinciding faith in a saving God, who has always been and remains our ultimate shared fire escape.

A quilter's tools: rotary mat, cutter and edged ruler.

Precise cutting is critical. As I plodded through this repetitive phase with my handy-dandy quilting tools, the numbered inches on my rotary mat took me back to well-grooved positions in the timeline of my and Jen’s lives.

  • 2: We, the inseparable pair in high school. Two siblings in each of our families. Our marriages. We each have two kids.
  • 6-1/2: The age we first knew each other. Carvel ice cream parties. Our well-loved first-grade teacher, Miss Highland.
  • 12-1/2: Middle school drama. Bible confirmation. Our well-loved eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Marsh, who taught us both how to write.
  • 18-1/2: College roomies first semester. Jen made me a neat-freak. We part ways to attend different schools.
  • 26: Jen has her first son, and I become a godmother. We’ll switch roles two years later.

The piecing stage takes the longest, although in my opinion, it’s the easiest. If you’ve cut right, sewing pieces together is pretty straightforward. If you watch this video, you’ll get the picture of how it goes. And goes.

Iron out the wrinkles and lay seams flat as you go along.

Right sides together, always.

As with any sewing, most everything in a quilt happens behind the seams. The pretty fronts that the world sees are placed together, face to face, and pinned at intervals along straight edges.

So, too, of a deep friendship. The real action takes place over hundreds of points of connection–those humorous, awkward, painful, inspiring stories behind the stories–conversations and confidences known only to you.

Preparing for the final seam, joining together the two sides.

For ease of sewing my 10 pieced columns, I decided to first attach the lengths within the two groups of five before combining the resulting two big pieces. I realized, in doing so, one more eloquent attribute of this pattern. The quilt can be divided in half, with the vertical patterns of the left repeating, though in opposite order, on the right.

I smiled again at the fortuitous symbolism. Jen and I: two halves of one enduring friendship.

Look for The Big Reveal next week in Part Three.

See also Who’s Your Fire Escape? (Part One).

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