Saturday Six #3: Table For Two

For this week’s edition of Saturday Six, I have a list of six famous people (living or dead) whom I’d love to have dinner with.

I use the term “have dinner with” pretty loosely. It’s my experience, when I do these kinds of things, that I just sit at the same table, basking in the presence of someone of moderate fame. I may straddle the line with a slight lean towards being an extrovert, but I’m also shy, which makes new social situations pretty interesting. Sometimes I’d really prefer the antiquated practice of not being able to speak to someone until receiving a formal introduction. Otherwise, I’m far too meek to reach out and ask questions.

Anyhow, here’s my list!

Jane Austen. This is probably almost cliché, but to share a table with this accomplished and beloved writer would be surreal. Also, I bet the conversation would be delightful from someone who wrote with such wit and insight. And she must wear clothing from her own lifetime. And bring a dress for me to wear, too.

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. I am in awe of this woman who essentially lived two lifetimes, endured tragedy and heartbreak, in turn adored and hated and reconciled with the love of her life, made innumerable accomplishments (especially for a woman of her time), lived through and witnessed firsthand the American Revolution, and saw the United States grow through its infancy and reach its crisis of identity by the 1850s. Can you even imagine? (If she fascinates you, too, check out My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, a stunning fictional account of Eliza’s life.)

Dr. Ted Fujita. In high school, I was very seriously considering a career in meteorology, to the point that I was looking into schools that offered both meteorology and creative writing as majors. Specifically, I wanted to chase storms; more specifically, I wanted to chase tornadoes. I’m not sure why tornadoes have always fascinated me, but I can still remember the chills I got, at age 13, when a funnel cloud tore out a huge tree three houses down but left my brother’s batting helmet unmoved on top of our pop-up camper. I’d love to listen to Dr. Fujita talk about his research and field studies and what he found so captivating about tornadoes.

Nancy Covert Smith. It might be a stretch to call her famous, but she published multiple novels, and that’s enough to count in my book! This would probably be more of a conversation. You can read my post from a few months ago discussing the Apple Valley series that she wrote, and I would love to sit down and share with her how much those books and characters have meant to me since I was 12 years old. I recently reread them again, and they are truly my go-to for comfort reading.

Ben & Erin Napier. I’m cheating and including two people because it would still just be one dinner (sneaky sneaky). I love these two and their HGTV show, Hometown, so much. I’d love to sit and talk about small town life, the south, house renovations, her perfect design style (seriously, she has never done anything I didn’t like), being parents, being an artist…I could go on because I feel like we might never run out of things to talk about (if we were formally introduced, first, of course).

And finally, Michael Collins. Astronaut of Apollo 11 fame, the indispensable guy who flew the command module around the moon while his crewmates did their lunar exploring. What a strange pick, you’re thinking, but here’s the story. Through my husband’s work as an air & space museum director, I’ve had the pleasure of having lunch with the late Neil Armstrong and dinner with Buzz Aldrin. Silly though it seems, I feel I ought to complete the trifecta and have breakfast with Mike Collins.

I’d love to see your list of dinner guests! Please share them in the comments.

Saturday Six #2: Great Lakes Memories

I am currently on a weekend trip with three of my closest friends from high school. We’re staying in a house just across from Grand Traverse Bay, on the northernmost tippy-top of the Leelanau Peninsula in lower Michigan. It’s an amazing spot, and I love these girls, so I’m a happy lady right now.

In honor of our weekend destination, I thought I’d share six memories from the Great Lakes because they are so dear to my heart. Do you remember HOMES, the mnemonic device you learned to remember the names of the lakes? Let’s go in that order!

Lake Huron. This is the hardest one because I have SO MANY memories here. I’m guessing it was my first Great Lake, since there are pictures of me at Oscoda Beach when I was less than two years old. But in terms of a favorite, it has to be a tie between camping multiple times every summer at Lakeport State Park, and visiting my aunt and uncle at their house on the lake, north of Port Huron. For me, Lake Huron is all about the people I’ve shared it with.

Lake Ontario. On the flip side, I’ve only been to Lake Ontario once. For my 13th birthday, some dear family friends/surrogate grandparents took me on a train trip to Toronto to see The Phantom of the Opera, and while we were there, we stopped at a little park so I could get out and see the lake. It was a lovely day trip.

Lake Michigan. I HATE canoeing. It’s not exactly an irrational fear—there WAS a canoe trip on a river that was higher and faster than it had been in twelve years, and we capsized four times and eventually had to abandon our canoe because it was stuck beneath a fallen tree. But I braved my fears a decade later and went on a canoe trip where we paddled our boats right out into Lake Michigan, and that was a pretty neat experience.

Lake Erie. Cedar Point amusement park is on the shores of Lake Erie, and I’ve probably been there more than a dozen times. Those were always incredible days spent with friends and family, and watching the sun shimmer off the lake from the top of a roller coaster is breathtaking…right before the first drop takes your breath away!

Lake Superior. The largest, coldest, and deepest of the Great Lakes is where I chose, at age 15, to be full-immersion baptized while on a youth group trip. Yes, it was freezing!

Lake St. Clair. Shout-out to Lake St. Clair, that little body of water between Huron and Erie, connected by the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers, sometimes called the sixth Great Lake. My favorite memory here was going to the metro park along its shores with my parents and brother. We’d bring a blanket and a picnic dinner and sit along the canal, watching boats go out and come in from the lake. And across the water from where we sat, there was a house with a giant octopus on its roof. Those were good days.

BONUS: As you read this post, I am currently making even more memories on the Great Lakes!

Do you have any cherished Great Lakes memories?

Saturday Six #1: Firsts

Welcome to a new series on my blog where, every Saturday, I’ll choose a theme and ramble–perhaps coherently–about six different but related topics.

Since today is the first installment, I’ll start with Six Firsts, listed in chronological order:

First Airplane Ride: When I was 18 months old, my mom and I flew from Detroit to San Diego for my uncle’s wedding. I don’t know if being so young has anything to do with it, but I still love flying to this day. Especially takeoff.

Tiny chubby me on an airplane in 1983.

First Book I Ever Wrote: A sweet little story called “Ten Little Bunnies” that I wrote and illustrated in Mrs. Brown’s first grade class. Very fancy with a laminated cover and plastic spiral binding. I’ve come a long way with my writing since then, but sadly, not with my illustrating.

First…of many, I hope.

First Date: I was sixteen and a junior in high school. Yep, sixteen, and the date was to dinner and the Homecoming dance. I was painfully shy and super awkward around boys, so this night was only memorable because of how pathetic I was. I’m (mostly) able to look back and laugh about it now.

First Car: It was a white Chevrolet Cavalier, model year circa the late 80s, that my parents bought for cheap from my grandma’s hairdresser for my senior year of high school. The ceiling foam was exposed, in which we scratched messages, and it had a decal on the back window for Ski-Doo that said, “Snow, Ice, or Grass: I’ll still kick your ***.” I was embarrassed by the last word and scraped it off, but we still affectionately called that car The Ski-Doo.

I dug up this picture specifically for this blog entry, and TBH, it’s worse than I remembered it!

First Drink: I was twenty-three (#latebloomer again on this one) when I shared a Key Lime Pie martini with a good friend at a hotel bar in St. Louis. She was my plus-one for a weekend trip paid for by the insurance agent I worked for at the time. The martini was good, but the company was better. The best part of our trip was seeing The Compleat Works of Wm. Shakespeare, Abridged.

First Time out of the Country: Let me start by saying I grew up half an hour’s drive from Canada, in the days before a passport was required, so I’m not counting Canada on this one. In 2006, I went on a two-week mission trip to Hungary with my church. As we took off from JFK, I saw a row of yellow DHL trucks, and it made me feel very apprehensive and prematurely homesick about going into such new territory. But you know what I saw in a parking lot adjacent to the airport when we landed in Budapest? Yellow DHL trucks, and it was exactly the comforting sight I needed. Definitely not a coincidence.

Drop any of your first memories of these six categories in the comments…I’d love to hear your stories!

A New Kind of October

October is here, and it’s feeling pretty anticlimactic.

October is the month I desperately look forward to each year. For more than a decade, Octobers have been a carefully planned and meticulously executed string of events, carrying us from one weekend to the next until suddenly, it’s All Saints Day. It’s a whirlwind of orange and apples and pumpkins and car rides and carnival rides and food and fun, and I LOVE IT.

But this October is going to be different. All the events I look forward to each year are cancelled because, as my 6-year-old says, COVID-19 cut in line. It sure did. It cut, and it’s elbowing its way into a lot of things we love. No one likes a cutter.

The biggest loss of all for me is the Circleville Pumpkin Show in Ohio. I may live twice as far away now, but even with moving, it remained a non-negotiable when it came to October adventures. This year there will be no rides, no quilt show with a pumpkin category, no elementary art projects, no pumpkin burgers or pumpkin chili or mini donuts with pumpkin cream. There will be no Andean flute music or parade of (marching) bands or pictures with the Pumpkin Man. There will be no pumpkin and gourd display, glowing in the overhead lights. My heart is BROKEN about this. It was how we marked time, more than first days of school or school pictures or birthdays or Christmas or last days of school. 2020 is going to have a big, gaping hole.

And yet, a lot of October things haven’t been cancelled. I can make pumpkin burgers and chili at home, and without such a hectic schedule, I can try even more delicious pumpkin recipes, like the pumpkin chocolate chip bundt cake with chocolate ganache sitting in the kitchen. I have also resurrected #31daysoforange, where I wear orange – conveniently my favorite color – every day of the month and post a hopelessly un-artsy picture to social media.  (Check it out on my Instagram account, @algauthor!)

And maybe this is the year for me to just enjoy October itself. I can stop and take in the fiery maple leaves against a clear blue sky and enjoy crisp mountain walks. I can find new places to go that are a bit closer and a bit quieter. I can help the kids make “leaf houses” and listen to the rain. Maybe I’ll actually carve a pumpkin this year. And best of all, I can take the time to relive and cherish old memories without the chaos of making new ones.

This year, instead of managing October, I’m going to let it lead me.

A quiet October can be as beautiful as a loud one.

Dream a Little Dream

Do you have dreams?

Not middle-of-the-night visions, but goals for your life?

If you’re reading this, you probably know that my biggest goal is to be a traditionally published historical novelist. There’s a lot that I can do to make this dream come true. I can write; obviously, I won’t be published if I don’t write anything. I can revise and edit and make my novel the absolute best it can be. And then I can query agents, as I’m doing now, and wait until just the right one comes along to take my work and whisk it off to a publisher.

Of course, that “right one” might never come along, which might be utterly out of my control. I could do everything humanly possible and still never see my book on a shelf at a library or store.

Does that mean I’m foolish to have this dream?

I’ve known people who don’t cling to dreams because it would be too heartbreaking if they didn’t come true. I’ve also known people who don’t dream because they believe it breeds discontent with what you have at present.

But not me. Let me dream. Dreaming is good for the soul.

Perhaps dreaming does breed discontent, but discontent is what pushes us for more. And dreaming breeds hope.

Hope drives me every day to write another query letter. I believe that one of them is going to bring back a positive response and that my book will be published. It has happened for thousands of people, so why not me?

And even if dreams don’t breed hope, even if they are a little foolish, they breed connection. On rare occasions when the jackpot got stupidly high, my dad would buy a lottery ticket, and then we’d all sit around the dinner table dreaming of what we’d do if we won. My dad knew the chances of winning were miniscule, but he always said the dollar he spent on the ticket was well worth that dinner conversation. Those winning-ticket dreams weren’t built on the hope that we would actually win, but they drew us together and gave us a reason to talk and connect.

My dad also said that the most intimate thing you can do with a person is to share your hopes and dreams with them. It fosters connection, and maybe even gives you a common goal. Dreaming together is even better than dreaming alone.

So I’ll ask again. Do you have dreams? Have you been afraid to dream? I hope not.

Dreams are seeds, and gardens are beautiful.

Mitten State Love

I was born and raised in Michigan and lived there (mostly) until I was 24. Then I moved just south to Ohio, where I lived for 13 years. I have a big place in my heart for these two Midwestern states, and writing my book, which is set in both, as well as on the Great Lakes, really made me fall in love with them even more. Especially my home state.

My mom asked me recently if I would ever move back to Michigan if given the chance. It’s highly unlikely that I would ever be given the chance, and I love my current (dream) job so much, it would have to be a really good chance. But yes, I would absolutely move back to Michigan, and here’s why (in no particular order):

Picking apples in Michigan with my oldest daughter in 2013

Apple Orchards and Cider Mills. It’s September, so this is foremost in my mind! For years, we would make at least one annual trip to Blake’s Orchard and Cider Mill in Armada, MI, but usually two or more trips. Labor Day weekend meant picking Macintosh apples to make applesauce, which we froze in Tupperware containers to be eaten all year. Then, later in October, we’d go back for the rest of the experience: hayrides, watching the cider press in action, cinnamon sugar donuts warm from the fryer, caramel apples…my mouth is watering and my heart is hurting right now, y’all! (I live in Virignia now. I’m allowed to say y’all.) Even when we were in Ohio, we could still find an excuse to make the 3-hour trip north to Blake’s every year. I don’t have that easy-ish access anymore, and we’ve yet to find a comparable local experience. I’m still on the hunt, though!

The view from my aunt & uncle’s house. Can you tell why they call it the Blue Water region?

The Lakes. I’m definitely partial to the Great Lakes over the thousands of inland lakes, but that’s because it’s where I spent more time. Many, many weekend family camping trips were spent at Lakeport State Park on Lake Huron. Beach days, campfires, writing in my journal late into the night by flashlight…I never tire of reliving those memories. When I was in high school, my aunt and uncle purchased property on Lake Huron, so even though we were camping a lot less by then, we still spent time near the water. We visited Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan. I spent numerous weeks at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s property, Cedar Campus, on the northern shores of Lake Huron. I looked over what seemed like the whole of Lake Erie from the top of roller coasters at Cedar Point. I biked with my youth group around the perimeter of the Upper Peninsula, and on that trip I was baptized in Lake Superior (full immersion…brrrrr!). I miss the lakes so much. Also, no sharks. I would say no hurricanes either, but that’s not entirely true…teaser about my novel!

My Family. We’re pretty scattered across the U.S., from Maryland to California, Florida to Michigan, and a few other places in between. But Michigan is our most tried-and-true meeting point. And the energy and revitalization I get from those extended family gatherings is unbeatable. They don’t happen very often, but when they do, I always leave feeling more myself, more loved, more known than any other time, except for maybe when I get together with my friends from high school, who also happen to be in Michigan. Now that I’ve mentioned them, I thought about going back to change the header of this section to “My Family and Friends,” but there’s no need. Those girls are family, too. To be in closer proximity to all of them would be incredible.

The Snow. Yep. I love snow. Fight me on this one. If winter is going to be cold and dreary and colorless and otherwise miserable, it might as well be blanketed with a sparkling layer of magic, i.e. snow. I love taking walks in the snow, especially at night, when the world is pure and peaceful. There was never enough snow in Ohio, and my first winter in Virginia yielded virtually none. Everyone insists it was a very unusual. We’ll test the theory this year.

It’s Gorgeous. Growing up, I was never particularly proud of my home state, but that has changed tremendously. The Upper Peninsula alone is practically a mystical realm, with Tahquamenon Falls, the Pictured Rocks, the Keweenaw Peninsula, mile-high pine trees on limestone bluffs, and so much more. I’ve already mentioned the inland lakes, Grand Traverse Bay is breathtaking, and of course there’s the magical, frozen-in-time Mackinac Island. Michigan is one of the most incredible places for natural beauty, and I’m smart enough now to take immense pride in being from there.

I’ll go ahead and wrap up my gushing about Michigan. There’s more to say, but I’ll leave it for another time. If you’ve never been to The Mitten, think about going. And if you don’t want to (or can’t) go, I hope you’ll soon be able to pick up a copy of my book and visit through its pages.

Professional Distancing

I read an article recently about the pandemic, and how because of our greatly increased bandwidth, employers everywhere have realized that it’s just not that important for employees to be in the office. Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms have taken the place of in-person meetings, and office buildings, especially in New York City, could very well remain largely unoccupied, even after COVID-19 is under control.

I think many of us have gotten pretty used to this view lately.

I really hope this isn’t the case.

See, I’m that strange person who loves meetings. I love gathering over food and drinks and combining professional relationships with business pursuits. I do my best brainstorming when I’m working directly with others. Of course, I’ve also been blessed with amazing coworkers at my past few jobs, and I’ll admit, working with people you don’t like does make meetings a lot less tolerable. But yeah, you’ll never see me post the meme complaining about meetings that could have been accomplished in a 2-line email.

Give me a meeting, and I’ll probably bake some pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to share with everyone.

No matter how great our bandwidth, no matter how much can be accomplished virtually, computer screens will never take the place of actual human interaction. Ask any traditional teacher right now, and I’m sure they’ll tell you the same thing about working with kids. Even those who are introverts (or, like me, just occasional introverts) need face-to-face contact.

And you don’t have to wear blue-light glasses at actual meetings, either, so there’s that.

I know we still have a long way to go before we’re on the other side of this thing. I’m all for good things coming out of this pandemic. But continued isolation, particularly as employees, sure isn’t one of them. 

This is definitely more like it!

Truth in Art

I’ma talk Hamilton for just a millisecond.

Across the front of my monitor stand at work, I have a line of rainbow-colored sticky notes on which I’ve penned, in some very basic hand-lettering styles, eight quotes from the play. I love the story that Hamilton tells, even amongst the historical liberties that Lin-Manuel Miranda (admittedly) took for the sake of plot. It’s okay. All artists do the same thing, and I think it’s all right as long as it’s not excessive and we’re up-front about it. The Author’s Note in my novel, when it’s published, will explain some of the plot-over-history choices that I made, too.

20200814_081123

For my office décor, I chose quotes from Hamilton that mean something to me right now. For one reason or another, each sticky note inspires me in some way, be it simple or profound. I’ve also recently been browsing art featuring Hamilton quotes and in the process have run across many, many Hamilton tattoos, both design ideas and photographs of actual ink on people’s bodies.

So Hamilton must, regardless of its popularity or the story it tells or whether or not someone is the slightest bit interested in American history, tell universal truths through its story and lyrics, and that is what makes good art.

I went through a time years ago during which many songs from Rent were my anthem. I can’t identify personally with anyone living through the AIDS epidemic or using intravenous drugs or really much else that those characters experienced. But they are all human beings, and there are truths in their lives and in the art created to tell their stores that we can all cling to.

I only made sticky notes, but if people are paying for wall art and for artists to permanently tattoo their skin with quotes from Hamilton, then it really must mean something. And it means something different to every person who listens to it or watches it. When I look at my pink sticky note that says, “Wait for It,” it won’t evoke the same response in me that it does in the next person. But it evokes a response, and that’s what’s important. And beautiful. And exactly what we need to connect with our emotions and process the things that are happening in our lives.camus

Albert Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” But maybe we could also say, “All art is an expression through which we tell the truth.”

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go purchase and download that Hamilton .png so I can hang it on my wall.

The End of the Quest

I have a confession to make. I’m not really an art person.

But in the summer of 1998, while vacationing with most of our extended family on my dad’s side, I saw a print of a 1921 painting, and I fell in love. We were at a shop somewhere in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, browsing and killing time on a rainy day when we couldn’t go to the beach. And there it was: The End of the Quest by Sir Frank Dicksee.

Dicksee
The End of the Quest by Sir Frank Dicksee (completed 1921)

Doesn’t this painting tell a delightful story?

We know from the title that there was a quest, so this man has probably been away for a long time. Initially, I thought he was on some sort of war campaign or religious crusade, but now I like to imagine he was gone for the sake of science: discovering new places, new species, new landmarks. It was most likely incredibly dangerous, too…I mean, look. He has a sword at his side! I’ll bet she cried a lot of tears when he left.

But now he is back. He has brought her to a quiet place, away from the celebration of his return, and taken her hands in his. He’s asking her a question…except…wait. If you look at her face, you can tell he hasn’t quite asked her yet. Her expression of joyful expectation is almost too much to bear. He is about to ask her something.

I love this painting because it captures a moment balancing on the precipice of jubilation. And sometimes, isn’t the anticipation of something wonderful almost better than the thing itself?

Still, she is very near to breaking into a full smile, falling into his arms, and saying yes. And then they will surely share a kiss. It will be their second kiss. Their first kiss was before he left, brief and chaste, but full of longing for the next time they’d see one another. Their second kiss, ninety seconds after the moment portrayed in this painting, isn’t going to be chaste at all.

In fact, I think they’ll be at the altar tomorrow.

I saw so much in this painting the day I discovered it, and my aunt was wonderful enough to purchase the print for me as a 16th birthday present. Though the frame has since broken, I still have the poster, and the image continues to inspire me in countless ways.

And if you didn’t already think I was a hopeless romantic, well, now you know.

From Writing…to Sending

I’m getting really close to finishing.

Tomorrow marks 21 months since I sat down and wrote the first words of my novel, and it is almost ready for agent queries. I have 59 agents on my list, and crafting a unique letter for each one of them feels almost as daunting as writing the novel itself!

But I’m beyond excited.

I have believed in this story from Day One, and I am ready to start sharing it. I might be rejected a hundred times or more, but I’m not worried about that. Amy March said in Little Women, “You don’t need scores of suitors. You only need one, if he’s the right one.” I don’t know why this story came to me when it did, but it did, and I have felt the burden of writing it for the past nearly two years.

Thanks to COVID-19 and being furloughed from my job for 12 weeks, I had a lot of extra time not only to polish my novel, but also to prepare my initial list of agents, read a few novels, and select comp titles…a really complicated process of finding other novels that are similar in genre, structure, and length…oh, and they also have to be commercially successful and written by authors who are in a similar stage of their career as I am. As you can see, it was a very time-consuming task! But I love looking at books, talking about books, and recommending books almost as much as I love reading and writing them, so it really wasn’t a bummer to spend a ton of time on Goodreads and Amazon.

My goal was to begin querying agents by January 2021, but with that gift of extra time, I’ll be querying in August 2020 instead. So here I am, about to buckle up for this next leg of the journey…wish me luck!

typing
Not me…but with that orange pen and fingernails, it could be!