Words dripping out of my head…

The moment when I sit down behind my computer write, something happens to me.  I don’t know what it is.  I mean, I spend all day going, moving, accomplishing…I talk to people, I teach people, I run errands, I check off to-do lists, I pay bills.  I should be able to sit down and just start going.  My issue, really, should be too many ideas.  I should be sitting here, agonizing over which thing I should write about since I can only write one! Is it that pithy conversation I had with the guy who tried to be a jerk to me at the store?  Perhaps an inspirational  snippet of a life-changing moment I got to share with a student?  Or maybe  tales of my latest kitchen misadventure?  I mean, I’m going enough, this should be easy.

But no.

I sit down, ready to go.  I power on my computer, ideas bouncing around my skull.  I open my blog and open a fresh post page and…nothing.

I don’t know what it is!  I am telling you, I sit down, and the words literally drip out of my head.  I suddenly can remember nothing worth writing about!  And before one of you smart, writer-y types suggest it, I in fact have a list of semi-completed drafts I can go to if I’m in a bind, but you know what?  I always think, “But some other day, I’ll be more strapped for time,” or (and this is by far the most frequent) “I don’t feel like writing about that right now.”

I guess this is why singing and music are my primary passions and writing is my hobby.  I make myself sing because I know it’s good for me.  Writing is something to do when I “feel like it.”  (This also may be why all my novels are unfinished…)

But seriously.  Why is that?  I should just be able to sit down and slam one of these babies out–boom!–and move on.  I mean, I’m a busy girl.  I’ve got a rehearsal tonight from 7.00-10:00.  I don’t have time to be wasting!  I need to get this checked off!  And the minute I write this all out, I suddenly know the reason why I can never think of anything.  And it’s so obvious, I’m not quite sure why it ever baffles me.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not the most naturally reflective person.  I’m good at lots of things–and one of the things I’m good at is being “in the moment.”  In the words of Lion King, “You gotta put your past behind ya.”  My college voice teacher told me that it’s live performance.  Mistakes happen.  Beating yourself up about a mistake that already happened, that you can’t fix, is only going to cause you to make half a dozen more mistakes in the meantime, because you know what?  The song didn’t stop.  The music is still going on.  And life is kind of like that, I reckon.  You can’t undo what is done.  You make amends where you can and move on.  It’s really a great quality, and I know this is a gift.  I know I’ve been able to do what I’ve done, and I know who I am because of this.

However, it does mean I tend to never, well…stop.  Life is full.  Analysis is for people who like things like math and build bridges and buildings and stuff.  Analysis is important because you don’t want that skyscraper to collapse in a light breeze.  My life…eh.  I’ll get to it.

Sitting d0wn for these posts is, often, the first time in my day when I actually stop.  I can’t think about what to write, because it’s the first time in the day where I’ve just sat.  Done nothing.  Sifted through the day and separated the proverbial wheat from the chaff.  What did I do today?  What actually matters?  What conversations are worth thinking about, remembering, and (darest I say it?) analyzing?  What happened versus what happened?  

So, you know.  The whole “thoughts emptying out of my head” thing is probably not such a bad deal.  It gives me (forces me?) to think about things.  I have to get serious and analyze what is happening.  I have to focus on those moments in my day that are important–those experiences I have that are shared by so many people.

So, my fellow writers, don’t fear the blank screen!  Let your brain do its thing!  The words will come.  So breathe.  It will happen.  (I mean, look at me!  I seriously just wrote an entire post about not knowing what to write about…it can happen!)

The Ambiance of Reading

 

I am a bibliophile.  I love books–I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember.  At age five, I turned down the Barbie doll suggested by Santa in favor of a bookcase, because “then I won’t have to sleep with all my books under my pillow anymore.”  Yes. I was that kid–the one who had her Book-It goal met in the first seventy-two hours of the month. (It also meant we got to go to Pizza Hut so I could claim my prize of a free personal pan pizza–does it get better than pizza and books?  I submit that it does not.)

I grew up to be an adult who never has less than four books going simultaneously at any one time (the logic is I will always be in the mood for one of them.)  I fantasize about having a library in my house with one of those ladders with the wheels on the bottom that you can roll around the room.  And I know I preach to the choir when I say this, but, let’s be real here–the book is always better than the movie.

So, suffice it to say, reading matters to me.  Ambiance also matters to me.  This is why I am offended by people whose homes don’t have any sort of personality.  To modify the words of animal rights activists–Rooms Are People, Too.  And I believe strongly in creating rooms that are a haven against the crazy, busy, never-slow-down-y world out there.

Occasionally, I go on these Pinterest binges in which I create extensive boards of rooms and houses and decorating I love (but will never be able to afford.) There are a lot of idyllic, romantic reading nooks on these boards, if we’re being honest.  They usually involve bay windows and soft, muslin curtains and masses of pillows…or roaring fire places and top end, hand-knitted Merino wool blankets and steaming mugs of Fill-In-Hot-Beverage-of-Your-Choice-Here…and books.  Lots of books.  Lots of old, hardbound books.  Lots of old, hardvound books that smell of that peculiar blend of wood and vanilla.

Ah, it’s all beautiful, I tell you.  And when I get around to marrying a rich man and get my manor in the English countryside, I will get right on all of this.  I will have a million book nooks in all the places.

But back on Planet Earth, where I work for a living and call a little one-bedroom apartment home, it’s not quite that simple.  I do have the advantage of at least living in a building built in the 1920’s, so I have arched doorways and a real, old-fashioned party line phone on the wall, so I do have some of that old-fashioned charm.  But there aren’t a lot of “nooks” to speak of.  I don’t really have enough space to have nooks.  Nor do I have a bay window.  And a fireplace is right out.

IMG_1153But as of yesterday, I officially have a real reading corner–it’s not hidden away in a secret corner (superior, naturally, for its obvious Gothic novel overtones), and I didn’t “discover it.”  My reading corner has been evolving over the past several months.  It had a lot going for it from the start–the big window, the hand-me-down wing back chair, its proximity to the bust of Persephone on my bookcase (all very Grecian and classical–clearly English manor-worthy.)  But I’ve been adding to it.  I recently got into the joys of candles.  (Thanks, Hygge…) The lamp behind the chair was a big find–an impulse stop at Goodwill that gave me with that warm, buttery glow which masks how much light it actually produces.  (Eat your heart out, Design on a Dime.)  Then only yesterday, I finished crocheting and stuffing that poof on the floor. It may look funny to you, but that, my friend, is a 100% homemade, made-to-match ottoman–it is impossible to have a reading nook, as any sensible person will tell you, with your feet on the floor.  They have to be curled under you, or flung carelessly over the arm of a chair, or up on a footrest.  It is a reading nook must.

For the maiden voyage of my reading corner, I had to pick something appropriately lengthy and classic and beloved.  Hardbound binding is an unspoken requirement.  (I mean, if you’re going to go for it, you have to really go for it.)  You can’t tell from the photo, but the book resting on the chair is, in fact, Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring–it fits the whole “wing-back chair, English country manor” motif, I think.

There will of course be other, shorter, and probably more inconsequential books read on that chair, ones that are fluffy, ones that have great voice, and ones that won’t.  There will be ones I don’t like.  But I’ll tell you what.  That reading nook is the kind of place where great books get read.  Can’t you just see someone finishing War and Peace in that chair?  (Not me.  Someone else.  I can’t even get through the book jacket synopsis of that book without losing interest…) But great things can happen in a corner like that.  Great ideas for books yet unwritten can happen in a spot like that–I’m telling you, it could happen.

Like I said, I’m a big one for ambiance.  And books.  All the books.

DIY Spa Night

This week was long.  And tough.  And stressful.  And next week is going to be worse. And by the end of the day…well, let’s just say I was not exactly a sunshine beam of joy and the kind of person who would inspire other people to become teachers.

So I was driving home after work, feeling sorry for myself, and feeling irritated that I was, (because how lame is that–sitting in your car, moping?) when genius struck.  I may not be able to afford a day at a spa, but I have acquired enough random ingredients used in natural beauty care (thanks, homemade Christmas), that I have enough stuff to concoct a decent DIY spa night for myself.

So I ran to the Dollar Tree, picked up some Epsom salts and a random pedicure set, and have returned home, determined to defeat the Sorry-For-Me, Mid-Winter Blues.  I’m wearing my super comfy leggings and my ugly, old, secondhand sweatshirt (these three adjectives combined, by the way, guarantee that it is basically my favorite, and anytime I don’t have to be professional and the temperature is below 60, I am probably wearing it…)

I poured myself a glass of wine.  I turned on my Partridge Family Pandora station.  (I know, I know, you’re probably laughing at me, but I’m not kidding.  How can you feel mopey when you’re listening to “Come On, Get Happy”?  I mean, seriously?)  Then, I sat down at my kitchen table-turned-command post and drew up my game plan.

I Pinterest-ed it up, and have a thorough itinerary that very well my carry me into tomorrow morning.  I found a DIY foot soak and then a lavender foot cream.  There’s a mega-easy hand scrub.  I have five different face masks to choose from. I can finally use that sugar scrub my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas.  I’ve picked the colors I’m going to use for my toenails and fingernails.   I even found a hair mask for curly hair.  I am determined to do this up right.  And I am excited about it.

Sometimes, I think people who have the money and never have to DIY anything miss out.  There is something so fun and satisfying about putting together things from what you’ve got in the house (or things you order off of Amazon, because the struggle is real…) If it works, it’s like this great Christmas surprise, and if it doesn’t, it fails in a spectacular fashion that is hilarious once you’ve cleaned up the mess and apologized to your neighbors about the fire alarm.  Plus, for a frugal girl like me, there is that intrinsic victory I feel whenever I’m like “Ha-ha! I am defeating over-spending in America! Look at how much fun I had and what I made and how little I spent!”

Even before I’ve started it (I’m going to pour the foot soak once I post this…) my DIY Spa Night is already a success.  I’m gleefully plotting all my little recipes and rooting around in my cabinets, trying to find the vinegar, and the stress and frustration of the week are fading into perspective. The world loses its bleakness.  Or, in the words of the Beatles song that’s playing on Pandora right now,

“Here comes the sun, and I say–It’s alright.”

Because it is.  It’s alright.

When Frankenstein Makes You Cry…

I love Christmas.  Let’s get that out in the open right from the get-go.

Now, to be clear, I am a militant adversary of pre-Thanksgiving Christmas anything–a stance I will defend ad nauseam on the grounds of over inundation makes the season less magical and special.  (I live in the north.  How on earth can you get excited about Christmas trees when you’re still running your air conditioner?)  But, let me tell you.  The minute the clock tolls midnight, ushering in the Day After Thanksgiving, I am on the ready for a month-long bacchanalia of Glad Tidings of Great Joy.

I am also a fan of old-fashioned Christmas. I know it’s not the in-thing right now, but I don’t care.  I lived in a place that didn’t celebrate Christmas for four years, and so darn it, I’m going to make up for lost time.  I believe in Red and Green, big evergreens covered in lights, manger scenes, and wishing a “Merry Christmas” to basically anything that moves that last week leading up to the twenty-fifth.  So when the beginning of Apple’s holiday ad popped onto the screen the day after Thanksgiving, I was underwhelmed by the sight of Frankenstein.  This is not Halloween.  We did that already.  I know.  I dressed up as Mrs. White from Clue in honor of the occasion.  Get on the train, already, Apple.

The last thing I expected was to be sitting on the sofa, frantically blinking away tears like a soppy mess two minutes later.  And what’s worse, it happens every single time I see that commercial.  It’s terrible.  I think I’d gone all weepy at it three or four times before I could see clearly enough through the tears to realize that Frankenstein is crying at the end of the commercial, too.  Yup.  Me and Frankenstein, going all watery over people singing There’s No Place like Home for the Holidays (a song I don’t even like) and his red and green, Christmas light antennae.  (Incidentally, if you haven’t seen this commercial, you should definitely watch it now.)

I’m not a crier as a rule, so this has really been bothering me.  Especially since I’ve told other people (not about the every, single time, thing, but about generally being a bit misty..) and apparently, I’m the only one.  So I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m such a wreck about a stupid commercial, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.

No, I spend my Christmas seasons decorating my house and then setting a timer so that I can come home to lights.  I watch Christmas movies alone while drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows.  I drive around and look at Christmas lights on my way home from work.  My house isn’t shiny, beautiful, magazine-glossy Christmas.  My decorations are a hodge-podge of vintage paraphernalia collected from secondhand stores and charity shops and homemade ornaments and decorations I’ve made.  I believe my tree is the prettiest tree in the whole city–and I spend the month of December with my house in a state of semi-darkness just so I can admire how pretty it is all the time.

I love the ornaments I hang on my tree–little memories from a decade of my life, testaments that I was here, even though the people with whom I’ve shared it are scattered to the four winds.

I love my Christmas.  It isn’t something out of a Hallmark movie, and no one will put it on the magazine, but it is beautiful to me.   And I think, ultimately, that is why I resonate so strongly with the monster in that Apple ad.  I am the piece that doesn’t fit. Now, don’t get me wrong.  I have friends and family that love me.  I know that.  But I am also in my thirties, but I don’t have children to make cookies with, or a husband to cuddle up with in front of a fire, or even a significant other to kiss under mistletoe or drag to the obligatory work Christmas party against his will.

Franky's Holiday.jpgI feel like, most of the time, I am like Frankenstein.  Staggering into a town full of people with the “right” life–with the kids and nice houses and Santas and Christmas lights, holding my little, tattered box of Christmas traditions, homemade and makeshirt, things I have worked so hard to build and keep safe–traditions that are special and beautiful to me. Like Frankenstein, I feel compelled to try to be part of the people around me.  And I am afraid that I will open up the special box of my traditions that I have worked so hard to make special, and, like Frankenstein, be met with only silence.  I am so afraid that people will not see the beauty in the ceramic light-up tree that reminds me of my grandma, or the ornaments that remind me of China.

And that’s why I cry at the end of the commercial.  In my life, all of the people I know with the “right kind of Christmas” thoughtfully recognize that I’m part of their lives and don’t want to neglect me.  So they invite me over for their traditions and food and holiday cheer.  But (generally) everyone is always too busy when I want to share my traditions with them. I desperately long for people to love my Christmas as much as I do.  I long to have people sing along with my Christmas song.  I, like everyone else, want to belong.  But when you’re standing next to the village tree with your little raggedy box
, that’s scary.

So look out for the Frankensteins in your life.  Don’t just try to make them part of your traditions.  Let yourself be made part of theirs.  We might share a memory with you that will create a little magic for everyone. Franky and I will thank you.

An Ode to my Puffy Vest

So I haven’t sat down to write one of these in literal months.  I’m sure you teachers know how it is–first you’re busy trying to finish up the school year, and then you’re busy trying to cram as much living into the (relatively) free months of summer, and then you’re off to the races starting a new school year.

And suddenly it’s October.  And you’re not even a hundred percent sure you remember the name of your blog…But, here we are! I’m back, and making a new start!  I won’t belabor what happening in the past six months of my (wildly interesting) life, because this morning I went for a run.  And it really felt like proper autumn.

I love autumn (as I stubbornly insist on referring to it, because why would you pass up so pretty an English word for its blasé American counterpart ‘fall’?)  I love it when the air takes on that tang, and the wind starts to sound chilly.  The world is suddenly awash with a God-made treasure trove of gold and scarlet, and I will maintain until the day I die that the sky is bluest in October.  It’s all one last chance to remember what color is before we settle into the long, dark, monochrome months of winter.

I also love pulling out sweaters and jackets and being excited about it.  (I also love putting them away in spring with equal enthusiasm…)  One of my favorite autumn-wear items is this old puffy vest I got as a hand-me-down from my aunt in late high school.  This thing is awesomely authentic vintage–a first-gen R.E.I. vest stuffed with goose down that makes you feel like you zipped yourself into a comforter and called it clothing.  It is also burnt orange.

This vest came into my possession in the early 2000’s, when adjectives like second-hand, free, and retro were definitely a way to guarantee a thing was not cool, and people hadn’t even heard of anything called a “hipster.” But, since I had what educators call a “strong sense of self,” I wore it anyway.  Because it was free. And warm. Really warm.  And I subscribe strongly to the idea that people should just get to know the real me right away, because pretending to be someone else (i.e. a much cooler person) is just so much work.

But these days, my puffy vest is something to be envied because it is the “real-deal.” This isn’t some Target knock-off.  Oh, no.  This thing is 40 years old, and still going strong. And the orange makes it cooler.

Today, I’m going to head out to the spot which is, hands down, the best place in these parts to take in the autumn foliage.  And I am pulling out my puffy vest for its maiden voyage of the season to mark the occasion.  I. Am. Stoked.

So stoked, in fact, that I was literally wandering around my house this morning, singing a self-composed commercial jingle about said-vest.  The lyrics of this jingle, which I am positive will get me nominated for a Grammy, went something like, “My puffy vest is the beeeeest.”   All you can say to that is, “Look out, Beyoncé.”  I mean, seriously.  Pure genius.

And I realized, in the midst of this, that I was really, truly giddy, and how great it is to have little moments.  In case you don’t know already, I live the Frugal-Girl life.  I don’t spend lots of money (and don’t have money to spend, even if I wanted to), but sometimes, I think that is a really great way to be.  I am elated about wearing an old vest (free) to go and look at autumn leaves (also free.)  I might buy a couple apples at the apple stand near there, but that’s it.  I love that my life is like this–that it is uncluttered enough that I can find profound joy in little things.  A crispy, autumn breeze. A warm cup of fresh-brewed coffee. An old vest. Getting a real letter in the mail.

I feel like in America, we are on this constant spiral of always wanting “more” and “new,” but More and New is just stuff.  And one day, it will be Junk and Old.  But the leaves will still be the color of gold in autumn.  The sky will still be its bluest in October.

And I will probably still be wearing my puffy vest.

Pi(e) Day Stories

Today is Pi Day–the day when math teachers everywhere get their geek on, sport their favorite pi t-shirt, and a big math party all day long.  For those of you unschooled, it is 3.14..something something something…I don’t know.  I’m a music teacher by trade.  All I know is that the number pi is non-repeating and super important to lots of math (especially as it involves circles, I’m told.)

I think math teachers have got the right idea–not only is it a big excuse to have a party in the middle of March (3-14, get it?  Get it?) when everyone is starting to climb the walls ahead of spring break, it goes right along that someone thought it would be a good idea to eat pie. 

Whenever I think of pie (the yummy kind, not the numbers kind) I always think of my grandmother.  Thanksgiving and Christmas as my Mema’s house would not be complete without about a million pies.  I think she does the math, and it comes out to like 1.5 pies a person, (pies mind, not pieces of pie.  Not Scotch, is my grandmother) which is insane as most of us are only in town for three or so days…

When I was little, I remember helping her make pie after pie after pie coming up tot he holidays.  She’d get the whole operation going and had an assembly line approach to the whole thing.  I liked rolling out dough with the rolling pin.  I didn’t like sifting flour with the old sifter that you had to squeeze because it hurt my little girl hands. (I have one that has a turning wheel now, as an adult.)  I loved helping with pies. I think it was more because I liked being with my grandmother, and any excuse was good enough–especially one that led to dessert at the end.

Pies also make me think of my father.  My dad loves cherry  pie–we come from good Northern stock, and you will see nary a chess or sweet potato pie in the lot; fruit pies are the thing.  Anyway, my father lives for cherry pie–I once brought a 5 pound tub of frozen tart cherries home from a vacation just for him.  My dad is mad for cherry pie.  Unfortunately for him, all of his six children feel similarly.

In my family, if somebody cuts the cherry pie, you had best eat a piece immediately.  It doesn’t matter if you think you may explode.  It is eat or miss your chance, because that pie will be gone in approximately twenty minutes…maybe…if half the family doesn’t realize someone brought the cherry pie in.

I love pie, but I don’t have it very often.  Getting the crust flaking and light is tricky and also makes a mess.  Usually, I go in for something quicker and less involved, like brownies or cake, if I have a dessert to make.  But pie is something special.  To me, it symbolizes memories and families and important occasions.  It makes me think of Christmas and standing around rehashing bygone days.  It is about fighting for the last piece of cherry.  Lamenting that nobody made apple.  It is about sharing the history.

Happy Pi(e) Day.