Friday, June 21, 2024

Style Details

 When I was at the beach last month, I had an unexpectedly fun afternoon in one of the downtown shops, essentially playing dress-up. I wandered into a store I hadn't been in for quite some time and, because it wasn't crowded, I became the center of attention. 

This is not always something I enjoy, but a variety of factors converged to make it enjoyable. First, I'd been working on defining my style, trying things out, keeping what worked and throwing out out what didn't. Unfortunately, a good bit of what was in my suitcase fit that final category, and so I was ripe for an encounter with a kind salesclerk who was happy to provide me with what I was looking for, and who seemed to enjoy it almost as much as I did.

Sometimes, style is a piece that stands out. Other times, it's a piece that uniquely suits the wearer, or an accessory that adds the final detail. And sometimes, finding those perfect pieces involves a combination of listening to your own instincts along with the advice of someone who sees you in ways you don't necessarily see yourself.

And, if we do it right, it can be a lot of fun as well.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Happy Anniversary, Tilly!

 Around this time last year, I was teaching my daughter to drive a stick shift and, shortly thereafter, browsing at my local car dealership. The very car that had served me well for 17 years — the only new car I’d ever purchased — was in need of some expensive repairs.

It was time. But it was hard.

Over the past year, I’ve come to love my new car and all her bells and whistles (and yes, naming her helped). The name we finally agreed on? Tilly. 

Tilly is a lease, so in two years, I’ll be back at the dealership, debating another decision. But, if history is any indication, Tilly will be sticking around for a while.

In the meantime, I still feel a twinge of mixed emotions when I pass a white Scion on the road. Silly? Perhaps. But emotions don’t have to make sense. Besides, I prefer to believe that an attachment to an object that served me well means I made the right decision to spend the money in the first place.

🚗... 🚗...  🚗...  🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 🚗... 

Last week, I said good-bye to an old friend, trading in my 17-year-old Scion XA for a subcompact SUV. Despite being the base model of its group, the new car (a VW Taos) has lots of bells and whistles -- then again, anything would, by comparison to my 2006 vehicle. I did a test drive on Memorial Day and, excited by such 21st century features as a back-up camera and Apple Car Play, I made up my mind.

Sort of.

My Scion is a 5-speed, and I'd spent some time over the weekend helping my daughter to hone her skills driving a stick shift. It had been fun, and her skills were coming along nicely, despite a few of the to-be-expected rough stops/starts in a neighborhood full of hills.

I'd always thought I'd teach my daughter to drive a stick shift on this car and, having not finished the job, I was reluctant to get rid of the car. 

Yeah. That's what it was. 

When the "check engine" light came on and the mechanic told me the necessary repairs would cost more than the first month's payment on the Taos, I took that to be a sign that it was time for us to part ways. 

Logical. Clear cut. It was time.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had a little gray Celica. It had been a post-break-up purchase that I referred to as my "declaration of independence" car and I loved it. The only trouble was, there was no way to fit a car seat into that vehicle. 

So I traded it in. And I cried when I did so.

That, as it turns out, was a lukewarm dress rehearsal for parting with a car -- my first new car -- that I'd driven for 17 years. I mean, they literally don't make them like her anymore! I did every mental manipulation and mathematical calculation possible to figure out a logical way to have my Scion and the Taos too but, in the end, it just didn't make sense.

So I cleared out my Scion and traded it in.

And cried pretty much every step of the way. In fact, I'm crying as I type this.

It's not that I don't know I'm being ridiculous, nor has the embarrassment of being this attached to a thing been sufficient to dissipate the emotional clouds under which my beautiful new vehicle sits (not to be confused with the actual haze of the Canadian wildfires). My Taos should be getting all of my attention, and the gratitude that I feel at having the ability to make this trade should be sufficient to nudge me into adulting in a more gracious manner.

Blah, blah, blah.

The day after I signed the papers, I had to make a trip back to the dealership. As I left, I couldn't help but search the lot for my Scion and, indeed, there she was, sitting all alone, waiting for the attention she'd get from someone willing to restore her to the condition from which she'd long since deteriorated. She looked so lonely, and I felt sad all over again.

But the deed was done. The title transferred, new keys in hand, it was time to transition.

Over the weekend, I decided that I need to name the new car. I've never done that (imagine if!) and, given my history of irrational emotional attachment to vehicles, I'm not sure it's the best idea I've ever had, but I'm going to give it a try.

After much deliberation, I settled on Sabine but, when I got into the car and used that name, it just didn't feel right. Apparently, we still need to get used to each other.

Meanwhile, it's a good thing she's an SUV because she has big wheels to fill. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Vacation Eve

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

 When I was a kid in New Jersey, school started after Labor Day and summer vacation started in mid-June. Then, when I began working as an educator, I (grudgingly) got used to a pre-Labor Day start-time, which afforded the bonus of summer vacation starting in early June, or even late May. 

That was my schedule for most of my adult life.

More than a few summers ago, I started teaching a summer class. When I taught in person, we met four days a week, with Fridays off, a schedule that felt sort of like an extension of the semester. This meant that although things slowed down in June, my actual vacation didn't start until July. Work was work and vacation was vacation.

Then, I moved to teaching my summer class online. For the most part, I like that quite a bit as it gives me a great deal of control over my schedule. With no classes to attend, I can pretend I'm on vacation when, in reality, there's still content to prepare and papers to grade.

A summer vacation teaser, if you will. 

To be honest, I'm not sure whether getting a taste of vacation is a good thing or a bad thing. My brain is half in work mode (and that's probably an overestimate) and half in vacation mode. The days are mine to divvy up as I please, but not all of the activities are what I'd call pleasing. I enjoy the creative aspects of teaching, so the content prep doesn't feel much like work. I also enjoy interacting with my students, which is harder to do in the summer, so I probably talk too much (even more than usual, if you can imagine that) when I actually get a chance to interact with my students on video calls. 

Grading is the part of the job that reminds me I'm not really on vacation yet. That little number on the learning management system app -- the one that tells me how many assignments are waiting for me -- unites with the little voice in the back of my head. Together, they gang upon me to remind me of my responsibilities, nudging me out of leisure pursuits with a dose of guilt that sends me back to work.

This week is the last week of classes, which puts me squarely in the vacation countdown zone. My primary goal is to make the little number on the app disappear so I can put that annoying little voice on mute. 

Wish me luck as I keep my eyes on the prize. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Morning, Noon, or Night?

 This post was written during a winter break four years ago. Although I'm a lot closer to coming to terms with my internal clock, I still waste a lot of time feeling a bit embarrassed that it more closely resembles that of a college student than that of a grown-up. Maybe it's the company I'm keeping :-) 


I've spent a lot of time during this break beating myself up about not being able to get started. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I get up early (a relative term if there ever was one) or much too late, even by my night owl standards. I don’t seem to be able to kick myself into gear until late morning.

And I do mean late morning.

I have applied all sorts of adjectives to this. Tired. Overwhelmed. Unmotivated. Lazy. Procrastinator.

Do you hear that? The sound of judgment permeating this post? It’s ugly, isn’t it?

Needless to say, that didn’t help. And, if I'd laid finger pointing and blame out as a plan for myself (and a ridiculous one at that), I could have told you it wouldn’t work. I would never say those words to someone else (well, maybe tired and overwhelmed). In fact, if someone came to me with this "can't get started" concern, I would seek to analyze and create a plan -- a helpful one, not one based on hurtful criticism -- yet my first response to myself is to chide.

At 81, my dad is unapologetically not a morning person. Though he would help someone he loves at any hour of the day or night, he doesn’t schedule appointments until after lunch unless it’s completely unavoidable. His sleep schedule is more in line with the norm than mine is, but he still gets up hours later than my lark of a husband. And, for his part, my husband is asleep on the sofa before my dad turns in and long before I turn out the light and call it a day.

I share this not because one of us is right and the others are wrong, but because I want to be more like my dad -- unapologetically not a morning person. I’ve got 4/5 of that down pat. It’s the unapologetically part that I struggle with.

I don’t know why it took me so much time and mental anguish to figure it out but, even if my hours aren’t in sync with the regular business world, I put in a full day. So, besides the crushing guilt over being in bed too long after “everyone else” is up, why does it matter what time my day starts?

It doesn’t. At least not now. Now, I am still on break, yet still working, too -- on class prep, an online course and the writing it’s become so challenging to squeeze into the semester. Oh, and there are all those little things around the house that fall to the bottom of the list during fall and spring semesters. Some days, I work in spurts but, most days, I work consistently during the day and, often, again in the evening after some afternoon down time.

In two weeks, I will need to conform (slightly) again. I’ll need to set an alarm which, admittedly, will be for a time when most people are already up and at work. I’ll then need to show up on time and ready to teach. And I will do this willingly, in part because I have set a schedule that does not include early morning classes, but also because I enjoy my work and recognize that a schedule is necessary in order to make it happen

Meanwhile, as long  as my work day is flexible, you’re more likely to find me working on a syllabus or blog post at 11 pm than 8 am because that’s the way my body clock is set. I don’t jump into the day, I ease into it. And, at night, I don’t embrace the end of the day. I extend it, savoring the quiet time when I wind down much too slowly and go to bed much too late.

There it is again. That judgment, ever so sneakily stinking up the place. 

Image by Cristhian Adame from Pixabay
I am who I am, and, in the big picture, I get a LOT done. Some days I’m amazingly productive and
other days, I leave an imprint on the sofa -- y’know, kinda like everyone else. I wear many hats and, some days, I’m too tired to decide which one to put on first, so I take my time figuring it out.

My dad has the right idea. And, I’m learning that the only thing standing between me and that same unapologetic attitude is those judgy labels I stick to myself. And, I certainly don’t want to wait until I’m 81 to toss them in the trash, so maybe today is the day I shrug and say, 
“That’s just the way I am.”

And that’s okay.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Dressing My Characters

 Two days ago, I finished the first stage of the full revision of my latest novel. There is still polishing to do, but I'm inching closer and closer to getting ready to send it out, getting to know my characters better and better at each stage of the process.

For the most part, I don't launch into lengthy descriptions of my characters' outfits and wardrobes in my books. But that doesn't mean I don't have an idea of what they will and won't wear. In the past, I've done Pinterest boards with ideas for my characters' clothing, along with the occasional (okay, rare) post here. 

For this book, I took the process offline, pasting outfits to large pieces of paper to create a visual that inspired me to consider my characters from the outside in. It was a lot of fun.

The creative process is rarely linear, and is often influenced by a wide variety of factors. Some of these are surprising, and can even seem silly. But, as long as they spark new ideas or inspire a deeper understanding of something I'm working on, I have no intention of abandoning them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Who Are These People?

Writing about my characters' visits to the porch swing in yesterday's post made me want to feature them again, so today, I'm sharing a "who's who" of the major players in what I call "The MAC Books" (MAC = Marita, Angel and Charli). When I first shared this, I had no idea that Casting the First Stone would be only the first volume in their story. 

The Mercers:

Marita Mercer: At sixteen, a rebellious Marita and her best friend Bets crashed a fraternity party at a local college. Though neither the party nor the guy she hooked up with were memorable, the daughter that resulted from her encounter certainly is.

Charlotte Mercer Alessio ("Charli"): Daughter of Marita Mercer and former frat boy Jim Alessio, Charli is 12 at the start of these stories. Bright and well-adjusted, Charli has had a good upbringing thanks to her mother and her grandparents, and is happy with her life the way it is.  

Judge William Mercer: Marita's father. Conservative, in-charge and willing to provide help to Marita...with strings attached.

Rosemarie Mercer: Marita's father. Disapproving, dramatic and still punishing Marita for her indiscretions.

The Alessios:

Jim Alessio: No longer a nineteen-year-old frat boy, Charli's father is a successful businessman. Married and ready to be a father, Jim claims he is seeking full custody of Charli because he feels he and his wife will be better role models for his pre-teen daughter.

Angel Spencer Alessio: Jim's wife. Eight years Jim's junior, Angel is delighted to play the role of his wife, and is ready to have a child of her own. Angel loves Charli, and although she'd love to spend more time with her stepdaughter, she is unconvinced that taking Charli away from her mother is in anyone's best interests. She and Marita share their points of view in Casting the First Stone. Charli joins in the storytelling in Chasing a Second Chance and Courting Peace.

Carmella Alessio: Jim's mother. She maintains that there's no proof that Charli is Jim's daughter, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that she thinks her son's pursuit of custody is a bad idea. She has never had anything to do with her granddaughter and doesn't plan to start now.

James Alessio Sr.: Jim's father. Owner of Alessio's Pizza, he taught Jim valuable lessons about business, but stands with Jim's mother when it comes to Charli. Like Carmella, he convinced Jim to walk away when Marita told Jim she was pregnant.

Other key players:

Bets: Marita's partner in crime since first grade. Marita is closer to her than she is to her own family, and she certainly likes her a whole lot more than she likes Jim. 

Gregory: Bets introduces Marita to Gregory, an attorney, in the hopes that he'll help Marita fight the custody battle Jim is waging.

Lukas: The youth minister at the church Marita's parents (and Jim and Angel) attend. The church is also affiliated with the school Marita and Bets attended, at least until Marita became pregnant with Charli.

Trevor: A bartender who takes a shine to Bets.

I think this summer might be a good time for me to invite a few of the ladies in the group for some "conversations." 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Still Swinging


One of my favorite off-shoots of this blog
 is this beautiful visual created by Rachel DeMasi.

Last week marked 21 years since I started this blog. My daughter was still small -- kindergarten or first grade -- and I think I remember sitting on the porch swing at my brother- and sister-in-law's house with her. I know that's where this idea was hatched, and named.

In those two decades, this blog has had multiple homes, multiple schedules, and multiple themes. It hatched an offshoot, Organizing by STYLE, after I realized that my posts here about organization weren't just a phase, and those posts became the foundation for my third non-fiction book.

In the early days, I was proud of myself for simply figuring out how to publish a post. I look back on those short, words-only entries and realize how far I've come. Not only did I not know how to create hyperlinks and add visuals, it never occurred to me to do so. Now, I can't imagine posting something without a visual, often one I've created on Canva to make a recurring feature recognizable at a glance.

My daughter grew up here, in a sense, as she was frequently the inspiration for my posts. My characters spent time here, too, with Marita, Bets, Angel, and Charli answering questions in the way I imagined they would. Their voices were -- and are -- so clear that it was like having a conversation among friends.

Sometimes, it was hard to know what to write about; sometimes it still is. Often, I wondered if anyone was reading anything I posted, or if I was simply shouting into cyberspace, my voice echoed back only  to me. Occasionally, I wondered if this little experiment had run its course but, Jersey girl that I am, I'm too stubborn to walk away.

This blog has taught me a lot. It has strengthened not just my tech skills, but my writing skills as well, enabling me to create content more quickly. It has made me think about what I want to share and what I don't. I I hope that what I've decided to shared has reached others who might be grappling with same things I am, whether that's parenting, kids, work, or life itself.

Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I'm now at an age where I refuse to do the math to see whether or not I have another 21 years in me, but the current plan is to stick around for the foreseeable future.

I hope you'll join me.