Thursday, December 31, 2015

Gratitude for the win in 2015

2015 is going on record as one of my happiest years yet.

I don't know if I can call this an accomplishment, but it's certainly a milestone. Milestone? It's something.

Let's look at some of the things that made it great, shall we?

1. It's the first full year of my adulthood that I've spent properly medicated.

I think my medication contributes fairly significantly to my body's new choice to hold onto extra weight, but other than that, it's perfecto.

I am the most even keel I have been in all my adult years. Which is something I wished for for a long time. I used to hope for a mate who would help me feel even keel. While my mate does certainly help me feel calm and peaceful, I also feel that way independent of him.

Celexa and Abilify, we salute you.

My Halloween costume this year: Joy from "Inside Out"

2. I'm finally traveling.

For as much time as I spent hoping for steady emotions, I have spent about an equal amount being jealous of others' travels.

I used to hide people from my Facebook news feed who were any of the following: overly happy, in love, or in Europe.

It was a simple system, and it helped maintain my envy to a degree, but I'm fairly close to abolishing it.

In 2015, I saw: San Francisco, Des Moines, Milwaukee, San Diego, Kansas City, Denver, Buffalo, Monterey, Maui, Tucson, and Niagara Falls.

Pardon my French, but that's a damn good bit of traveling.

I have finally put aside my belief that I couldn't go anywhere, ever, due to money, fear, or this idea that in order to travel, the circumstances must first be perfect. Furthermore, I have traded in my feeling that I have to be in Europe or someplace else overseas for my vacation to feel significant. That is far out the window. I don't care if I'm two hours outside of LA. If I'm sleeping on the couch of someone I love, that's now enough for me.


(Also, as a side note, I've started going to more concerts. This goes along with my new attitude of "just do it" -- want to see someone in concert? Have the money? Get a ticket! Done. Enjoy.)

3. I fell in love.

This handsome mug has made my days of 2015 pretty great.


4. I got myself a living pal.

I thought I loved living alone. And it's true, I did.

But I never thought living with another would bring me so much joy.

And I never thought that I wouldn't miss life on my own.

I'm accepting that I'm more extroverted than I once did. Or I'm becoming less selfish with my "need" to be completely alone for X number of hours each day. Maybe both.

While I probably lean pretty heavily toward the extrovert category of life, I'm a pretty 50/50 girl; I need lots of time to recharge, and I need to be around people to keep my spirits up. It's kind of amazing, actually, how I begin to droop after a certain amount of time being simply alone. It's like the need for food or water; I just need people. We all do, but that's another chat for another time.

Anyway, I've discovered that more so than strictly needing time alone, it turns out I just need time to do my own thing, and it doesn't matter if people are nearby. In fact, I kind of enjoy it when someone is around.

I once saw Tom Hanks be asked in an interview what his favorite sound is, and he answered immediately with this: "The sound of family in the next room."

I've never forgotten that, and almost got goosebumps typing it just now.

I grew up with a large, (loud) family, so I think that the presence of other life around me is something I inherently expect. I also grew up retreating to my own quarters relatively often, to, on my own, read or craft or watch TV -- much the same activities I do now for a meditative reboot.

2015 was a time that I realized, loud and clear: I no longer mind if someone else is in the same room during these activities. In six months of living with Abby, I have only very seldom felt the desire to be truly away from her, and even then the desire is usually not that strong. It was more often out of not wanting to do much talking at the moment, or needing to quietly rest.

So. Roommate, good. I like it...err, her.

Plus, we have, like, tons of fun together.


5. I had visitors.

This coming February will be the third time running that my beautiful college gal pal, Laura, has come westward ho to visit me. I can't believe I'm so fortunate to have a grown up tradition that allows me to spend time with someone I love to pieces, in various regions. Together, we have explored San Francisco, LA, Vegas, and Disneyland. In two quick months, we'll be sailing the ocean blue together, with our boos and her parents, to see Catalina Island and Mexico.


Other notable visitors to Cali this year were: bestie Michelle, Tommy in town for work, my surrogate dad, Tim, and, for a whole Thanksgiving week, my parents!


For a long while, I thought no one would come to see me out here on the west coast, and my heart just bursts with happiness when another guest crosses the threshold to my mismatched (but full of blankies and pillows) home. For those considering a future visit, door's always open, folks. Seriously, would love to have you.

6. I sat my butt down and got some writing done (and some of it was published).

My writing plan is simple, but (apparently) effective.

Every three days, I get a Google calendar reminder in my inbox: "write."

I don't rigidly hold myself to writing exactly every three days, but I can't delete the reminder email until I do what it tells me to.

A unit of writing can be any of the following: writing a blog post, working on a freelance piece, writing an essay, editing something for a friend, or writing or editing a chunk of my book.

Once I've done one of those things, I can delete the email.

Here I sit on December 31st, and while I have two emails nagging me to return a library DVD and pay off my Target credit card, there are no flashing "writes" among them. I count this a (huge) win. While before I was willy nilly about when I would write, today I can confidently say I do it regularly.

And as some of you know, I started a book. I have 20,000 of an aimed for 50,000 words written. And a plan in place to finish up Draft One by the end of January.

It feels good to do what Anne Lamott calls "butt in chair." Like, real good.

7. I learned to embrace gratitude.

I came across a quote today. OK, fine, it was a quote meant to be cross stitched, and I found it while I was prowling the Internet for more stitch projects that I don't need, but give me a round of applause for at least not purchasing it...yet.

It says this: "Gratitude turns what we have into enough."

I love that.

Up there with my jealousy of others' world travels was, for a long time, a lot of thinking in my head that I didn't have enough.

I felt I had enough material things, but not enough vacations, experiences, times with friends that met up to sitcom standards. Not enough boyfriend. Not enough happy.

I feel, nearly daily, that my cup runneth over, Y'all.

I feel regularly spoiled, with unexpected material gifts from family and friends, as well as with laughs, contentment in my job and with my finances, happiness with my living situation. The nicest boyfriend, who calls me Baby, which I love.

When I'm having an off day, I've picked up the habit of making a gratitude list, or as I sometimes like to call it, counting my sacks of sugar. I count small things like this:
  • I'm not groggy today. One cup of coffee is cutting it.
  • I wanted to make paper penguins, and a coworker randomly gave me black paper -- what fortune!
  • I am still enjoying Celine's Let's Talk About Love album, 12 years after receiving it. Because, well, Celine.
  • The office is ordering us pizza today, and we'll be singing karaoke while we eat! Yesssssss.
  • I'm not sad, but looking forward to spending this New Year's Eve night with my kitty, quietly at home.

So, I'm more grateful in general, and I'm training myself to redirect my mind from pessimism to counting my blessings. Which sounds corny and like something your kitschy aunt might do, but it's more helpful than you might think (the research even says so).

8. I (sort of) learned to speak up.

I know what you're thinking: Bailey? Chatty Cathy? Trouble speaking up?

No.

But yes.

I'm still working on this one a lot, but I'm learning, on some (still relatively timid) level, to let people know when I'm unhappy with their actions. And I'm realizing that being angry or resentful or privately annoyed is like having your panties in a bunch -- not comfortable and not worth it.

9. I kept busy, but also kicked my feet up -- a lot.

When I'm not stitching with the cat at my feet, my feet are hitting the pavement. Sometimes I wear myself out, I tell ya.

Having a boyfriend has almost doubled my social life, too, since he is an active party-attender himself and often invites me along.

I find that it's helpful to my happiness to remind myself that I am lucky to have some time now when I can enjoy my mate and my many friends, and I don't have kids to worry about.

Meanwhile, as your loving therapist will tell you, it's all about the balance. I take lots of time to stitch, drink a beer, watch a movie, talk to Abby, read, tidy my environment to make it more peaceful. It may seem selfish, but I believe it makes us live longer when we take some time to boost our spirits. (On the other side of this token, I've found that I love to shower people with gifts, so there's a lot to be said for outward giving and one's happiness).

So get yo'self out the house, yo, but make sure you spend some time in it, too.


10. And finally, I found a new church.

Not, like, a new religion. But I found a new physical church in my neck of the woods.

I was extremely lucky to be invited to a church my very first weekend in LA three years ago, one that had one of the best preachers I have ever been privy to hear. His messages were enough to buoy me for a while, and then I started to feel lonely and lost in the huge population there.

Joining a small group helped a bit, and starting to greet once a month helped me make some new friends (not so much with the people I was greeting, but with the people who I was greeting with), but eventually I got tired of the commute across town to get there and continually meeting the same people who didn't remember me from the crowd. I sometimes wanted to shout, honestly, "I've met you three times and you don't remember my name or face?!"

When Abby and I moved in together, I noticed a church nearby our new place and decided to give it a try. Not only do I really like the pastor and his messages and genuine way of speaking and interacting with the congregation, but it has got to be one of the most welcoming churches I've ever encountered.

While my previous church served a purpose in my life and continues to be a great ministry to so many in this city, I find that what I need right now is something with a smaller community. And I found one, and I love, love, love it.

So grateful. So happy. Hoping and praying for the same for the rest of you in 2016.

It's been a great year, and I can't thank you all enough, again, for continuing to visit this blog. It means so much.

Xox,
The Daily Bailey

Monday, December 28, 2015

A desert Christmas


A desert Christmas looks like rainbow sunsets.

Cacti as far as the eye can see.

A flood of gifts, pooling out from under the tree.

A room full of toys, acting as a bedroom.

Plastic bugs, held by tiny niece and nephew hands, glowing in a dark pantry.

A desert Christmas sounds like a nephew's giddy laughter, thrilled by an otter in a tank.

A Keurig machine, gurgling and spitting coffee into mugs.

A toy mixer steadily whirring, the button held in place by a three-year-old thumb.

Newsboys, Schuyler, and Mariah, crooning inside a Corolla racing along the 10 freeway.

Gravel crunching underfoot, then falling to silence, as someone says, "Look!" and we stop to take in the mountain view.

Tom Petty in the car's speakers, driving to the store after a canyon hike.

Small voices at bedtime -- voices that already know the Lord's Prayer.

A desert Christmas smells like macadamia oil shampoo.

Sunscreen, from a complimentary pump in the zoo (that is masquerading as a "museum") bathroom.

...nothing, really. The desert is just kind of dusty and scentless.

Kids' sweet heads, covered with soft, baby fine hair.


Ground beef grilling, in the "museum" dining hall.

A desert Christmas tastes like homemade mac 'n cheese.

Birthday cake for Jesus.

Guacamole for dinner, made by a loving brother.

Grand Canyon beer, to wash down the smooth guac.

French silk pie and pancakes in the same meal, because vacation.

Coffee Rio candies, sucked and then chewed during family outings.

Baileys in Bailey's Christmas morning coffee.

Microwaved frozen pizza after a long, night time drive, worth it to reach family at the end.

A desert Christmas feels like carsickness on the windy, up-and-down roads.

Boxes landing on my previously sleeping self, as a grown brother and his kids wish me a "Happy Boxing Day!"

An aching back, from a car ride too long.

Just barely sore legs, after two hikes in one day.

Shared laughter, after a grown brother learned his lesson about kicking a cactus.


A desert Christmas feels like hugs from bodies big and small.

Hands held in church, and grasped around the table for prayer.

A desert Christmas feels like love.

100 writing prompts / ice breakers!

If you know me but at all, you know that I love ice breakers. I love using them even with -- actually, especially with -- people I already know well, and I could ask and answer them for hours.

I also know how hard it can be to come up with a writing prompt, either for a fresh blog post or just to get those writing juices flowing.

So if you either a) love ice breakers or b) struggle to come up with writing topics, it's your lucky day! Because I've come up with 100 prompts/talking topics below. You'll find that some of them are probably too private for anything beyond your journal, but most of them are group chat-friendly. Feel free to enjoy!

1. Describe what it's like to be in a car wash.

2. Describe what it's like to watch ocean waves come in and out of tide. What is your unique experience like, when you stand at the shore? Describe it physically and emotionally.

3. What was one of your favorite toys as a child, and why?

It could be something simple -- in fact that could be more interesting. Just explain what about it captivated you.

4. What's a book that you would want everyone to read, and why?

5. Who is your favorite comedian and why? What is it about their humor that gets you? Be specific.

6. What was your first kiss like? Fun, awkward, nerve wracking? Did you feel a spark? Did you wish -- at the time -- that it was with someone else?

7. What's something within your religion (or lack of religion) that you struggle with believing/understanding?

8. Would you rather be rich or influential? Why?

9. What friendship in your life surprised you? What do you think made you change your mind about the person?

10. What is your favorite sad song to listen to? Does it make you sad? Do you listen to it when you're sad?

11. What is a song that always gets you smiling/gets your toes tapping?

12. What's one of the weirdest locations you've ever made out in? Were you uncomfortable or did you think it was fun and exhilarating?

13. Tell the tale of one of the most romantic dances you can remember. Where were you? Who were you dancing with? What music was playing, if any?

14. Have you ever received flowers unexpectedly? Describe it. Were they from someone you wanted to receive flowers from, or was it awkward? Were they apology flowers? Courting flowers? Something else?

15. What is your stance regarding PDAs? Does your opinion change when it applies to you versus someone else? Why?

16. Who is your favorite immediate family member? What about more distant relatives? What about them appeals to you, or gives you a special connection?

17. Name a celebrity that for some unknown reason just doesn't appeal to you. Try and pinpoint what it is about him or her that prevents you from particularly caring about them. Do you find that it's rational? Silly? Something else entirely?

18. If you were a teacher/professor, what age would you want to teach, and why? What subject(s)? Would you want to also coach a sports team or oversee a club? If so, which one(s)?

19. What's one of the most unexpected music venues you stumbled upon that really made you happy? Perhaps a concert a friend dragged you to, or some unknown musician in an abandoned coffee house.

20. Is there anything really terrible or dishonest you've said to someone in the past that you would take back? What is it? Or, is there something you wish you would have said that you didn't?

21. Describe an occasion in which you were extremely nervous -- riding a roller coaster, a nail-biting job interview, asking your crush out in high school...what went through your mind and body as you went through it, and what was the result?

22. What's the most fun you've ever had at a wedding (it's OK if you describe a wedding other than your own)? Describe it -- location, number of guests, relation to the person getting married, your date, your outfit.

23. Describe the nicest hotel room you've ever stayed in. Who paid for it? Did you do anything especially luxurious, like order room service or wear the bathrobe?

24. What's the most rigorous hike or longest race you've ever completed? Talk about the details -- the preparation (or lack thereof), the exercise itself, breaks, snacks, how you felt when you finished...one day later, one week later?

25. What's the farthest distance you've ever driven solo? Where did you go and why were you alone? Would you have preferred company or did you enjoy the time to yourself?

26. Do you have a favorite kind of donut or pastry? Is it from a specific location, or can it be generically purchased? Do you eat it often, or once in a while? Was it at a café in France to which you may never return?

27. Describe an occasion in which you were offered a job but didn't take it. Why did you turn it down? Do you ever regret it, or wonder how your life would be different if you had accepted the offer?

28. If someone gave you the afternoon off today, what would you do? Run errands, get a mani pedi, go back to bed, create something?

29. If you could get on a plane to anywhere, today, but you had to be back in 48 hours, where would you go? Don't necessarily select some place far away (unless that's where you'd prefer to go); if you would go somewhere relatively non-exotic but that's where you feel like being right now, then choose that place. Just be honest, and explain your choice.

30. What's the most extreme weather you've ever encountered? Were you safe at home, in a car, out in the elements? Were you scared, excited, both?

31. Describe a time you were extremely ill.

32. Talk about one of your all time favorite teachers.

33. Have you ever paid a giant library fine? About how much was it? Was it worth it?

34. Has anyone ever given you life-altering advice? Who gave it to you and what was the advice? Did you think it was significant at the time it was given to you?

35. Are you a dog person, cat person, or no animal person? Why?

36. Who were you most jealous of in your high school? Why? Was it someone you were friends with, or not?

37. Have you ever been to Disneyland or Disney World? If not, do you have a desire to go?

38. Have you ever cut your hair extremely short, or gone bald? Ever grown your hair very long? Was it by choice? Under the direction of a parent? Medically related?

39. Did you ever ditch school? Was it nerve wracking? Exhilarating? Not as fun as you thought? Worth it?

40. Describe your worst break up, divorce, or end of a friendship. It's OK if you feel the end of a friendship was more significant than the end of a romantic one; just be honest and explore the feelings.

41. Have you ever kept something to yourself for a very long time (maybe you're still holding on to it) because you felt no one would understand? What is it. Would you tell a therapist? Why or why not?

42. Have you ever lost a pet? What was the experience like?

43. Have you ever lost someone close to you? Was it an expected death? Did you find out about the death years after it happened, or maybe indirectly?

44. Were you in any sports teams or clubs in high school? Are there any you wish you had participated in?

45. If you were dropped back into high school today, what would you do differently? How would your confidence level compare to that of when you were a teenager, if any different at all?

46. Do you like your name (first, last, or both)? Do you secretly hate (or love) your married name? Would you change it?

47. Have you ever waited in line overnight for something? What was it for -- movie screening, new book release, an iPhone, year supply of Chick-fil-A?

48. What was one of your favorite Christmases? What made it special -- a destination, special guest, great gift, or maybe a lack of all the gift-buying craziness?

49. Describe your least favorite Christmas. What made it so difficult or disappointing?

50. Are there any items you continue to buy, even though you have plenty on hand? School/office/craft supplies, pet toys, stationery, kitchen gadgets, dishes, gifts for grandkids?

51. Would you say you're a penny pincher, a shopaholic, or somewhere in between? What do you think shaped your spending habits? Do you wish they were different? Why or why not?

52. What's your favorite fast food joint? Why? What's your favorite menu item? Do you always order the same thing? Are you a drive-thru user?

53. What's your favorite Starbucks/Caribou/Coffee Bean/Peet's beverage? What about it appeals to you? How often do you purchase it?

54. Do you enjoy setting up camp at a coffee shop? Why or why not? Do you work or do something for pleasure while you sit? Do you prefer to have company or fly solo? Are you pals with your local coffee shop baristas?

55. What's the most frustrating thing about your pet?

56. Describe a task in your job that you hate. Describe one you love.

57. Do you love your job? Like it? Hate it? Explain. Would you look for another one? Why or why not?

58. Pick a holiday you celebrate, and describe your traditions surrounding it. If you observe it but don't have a lot of traditions surrounding it, why is that so? Do you wish you had more or fewer traditions?

59. Which amusement park is your favorite? What makes it special to you? If you had the option to go today, would you?

60. Is there a rabbi or pastor who is your favorite? Is it someone who is broadcast on the radio, or your every-Sabbath parishioner? Is it a family member, or your spouse? What is it about his or her messages and personality that captivate you?

61. What about your longtime partner or spouse first attracted you to him or her? Were you attracted to him or her right away (physically or personality wise)?

62. What is your all time favorite TV show? Why do you love it? Be specific. Is there anyone in your life who you really wish would watch it? What do you think they would gain from it?

63. Do you have a Netflix account? Cable? No television whatsoever? Why? How often do you watch, and what kind of things do you watch -- mostly cartoons for your kids, documentaries, crime dramas?

64. Do you like sitcoms, or do you find them to be predictable and corny? Explain.

65. If you could only see one of the following genres in movie theaters (you're free to watch what you want at home) for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Drama, comedy, romance, horror, adventure/fantasy, children's/animation, indie/documentary. Why did you make the selection you did?

66. What aggravates you more -- rising gas prices, or the rise of movie theater ticket price? Are you indifferent to both? Why?

67. Describe what you would do if dropped at the mall, by yourself, for five hours. Would you buy a pretzel, get a manicure, shop for clothes, shop for gadgets, walk, sit? Would you enjoy it or hate it?

68. How would your answer to the above question change if you were with someone? Who would you choose to take with you?

69. Do you prefer perfectly posed or candid photographs? Why? Assuming you had a professional photographer, what kind of photo would you prefer for your wedding? Your child's bar/bat mitzvah/quinceanera? A wedding anniversary or child's birthday party?

70. Air out all your thoughts regarding salad. Be honest.

71. What is an irrational fear of yours? How intense is it, and what triggers it?

72. Do you prefer fruits or vegetables? Why?

73. Do you have a craft that you're in to? What is it? Do you prefer to work on it by yourself or with others?

74. Do you like to work with your hands? Why or why not?

75. Do you like to write or do you hate it? If you write for a living, do you like it, or do you just feel you're good at it? Describe the different emotions you go through when writing a book, freelance piece, news article, blog post, letter, or journal entry.

76. Do you keep a journal? How often do you write in it? What do you write about? Describe the physical nature of the journal. Do you use pen or pencil to write?

77. Do you have a pen pal? Do you email or hand write? Do you send small items with your letters?

78. If you had $20, who in your family would you send a care package to? What would you fill it with? Assume postage is no cost to you.

79. Do you wear make up? Why or why not? If you do, do you wish you didn't? If you don't, do you wish you did?

80. How long do you take to get ready? For work? School? Going out with friends? A first date? Second date? Date with your longtime partner/spouse? Do you ever wish that you spent more or less time getting ready? Do you wish your partner spent more or less time getting ready?

81. Would you say you're a very patient, somewhat patient, or very impatient person? Why do you think you are that way? Have you always been that way? Do you think you could change? Would you want to change?

82. What do you like to eat for breakfast? At home, at your desk at work, and at a restaurant?

83. How are you with naps? Can you take one pretty much any time? Do you struggle to fall asleep?

84. Describe your bedtime routine. Do you wash your face? Read? Floss? Wear a retainer?

85. Does your pet sleep with you? Do you wish he/she did or didn't sleep with you?

86. Do you prefer scented or unscented lotion?

87. Do you wear perfume? What scent? Do you wear it to attract others, or because you enjoy smelling it on yourself?

88. Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? Do you prefer to sing it, or listen to someone else sing it? Do you like Christmas music? What about it attracts or irks you?

89. Do you have a recurrent or chronic injury/illness/ailment? What is the most worrisome, aggravating, or unfair thing about it? Are there any secret perks (extra attention, handicapped parking, skipping line rides)?

90. Is there something about your physical appearance that you feel causes people to look at you differently? Are you in a wheelchair? Are you missing a limb? Do you have a limp, or use a cane? Is your hair an unnatural color? Do you have a lot of piercings or tattoos? How does it feel when people stare at you? Do you like it, hate it, or are you numb to it?

91. Do you have an accent? Do you like that you have it? Do people comment on it a lot?

92. Do you ever feel judged, mistreated, or misunderstood because of your age? How does it make you feel?

93. Describe what you think makes you intelligent. Are you good with spatial thinking? Musically inclined? Do you simply read a lot? Know a lot of trivia? Do you think you're particularly smart in one area/expertise, or do you think you're generally smart without a firm grasp of any one field/practice?

94. Do you think you're good at your job? Money aside, do you wish you could try another profession?

95. Do you prefer to spend your lunch hour alone or with people? Do you focus on eating during that time or doing something?

96. Do you prefer to walk or run? Why?

97. Do you sell handmade items? What kind of things do you make? Do you make a fair amount of profit?

98. If you didn't have to earn a salary, what would you want to do with your time 40 hours a week? Do you think anyone's feelings would get hurt, or that people would judge you for your decision (for example, if you want to be a stay at home parent, or if you don't want to be a stay at home parent)? Is it such hurt feelings and judgment that are stopping you from making a change? Money? Something else?

99. Would you consider having a nanny for your children? Why? What is your argument for or against the service? What about daycare?

100. What do you order at a sushi restaurant? Do you like to share, or keep your dish to yourself?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thrilled for her desert drive

They tell me I'm hyper this morning.

Well, I'm EXCITED.

I've got a car loaded with STUFF, and I'm ready to drive my little tush (actually not so little these days) nearly eight hours across the desert to spend the holidays with family yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!

About two (?) weeks ago, I was out to dinner with Alex, and I realized that I could, without taking any time off work, manage a trip to Tucson, arriving in time for Christmas day to spend with my brother, his wife, kids, and in-laws.

So I'm doin' it!

Here's the best part -- the kiddoes don't know I'm coming.

YAY!!!!!

My family's big into surprises.

I myself have traveled cross country at least three times to surprise one or more family members of my arrival: once to Indiana, once to Chicago, once to L.A., in a quick offhand count; there may have been other occasions. Oh, and every time I surprised my dad specifically.

When I was in high school, my big brother Kelly surprised us by showing up at the door for Easter. Another time he drove all night long to spend 10 minutes tee-peeing my parents' bedroom for their anniversary, only to pile again into a car with his college friends to get back to campus and take a test.

I once got on a train with Kelly, deciding I wanted to spend the weekend with him. This was before we had cell phones, and I didn't ask or tell my parents that I was going with him. When I phoned them later, Mom didn't seem to care; Dad was less amused.

We love to surprise and, I think, be surprised.

And it seems that Kelly and I do most of the surprising. Anyway.

I'm curious to see what kind of audience my 3 and 5 year old nephew and niece will be, though, for this weekend's surprise. Alex joked that they may just be as kids are sometimes, not all that taken aback by my sudden presence.

I'm obviously hoping for more of a response. My other brother's son is too young to probably know who I am, but Pat's kids are old enough -- and Skype with me enough -- that I think they'll realize who I am without being prompted by their parents.

Anyway, we'll see.

Did I mention I'm excited?!?!?

I got a little over zealous -- and haphazard -- in packing. It went a little something like this:
  • Carry the crap ton of presents for the kids to the car.
  • Bring in things like the crock pot that's been sitting there since Saturday in from the car.
  • Pick things up off my cluttered bedspread. If staying, shove it somewhere in the bedroom. If going, shove it into a tote bag for the car ride.
  • Take clothes out of laundry basket -- that's full of clean items that have been sitting there since Saturday -- and put them all in suitcase. (It will be an interesting weekend, wardrobially speaking, but with me, when is it not?)
  • Wash all but a few blankets in the household. Forget to use dryer sheets, yelp a little as I pull apart staticky fleece throws and sparks fly. Fold blankets and shove in now-empty laundry basket. (Eight people will be crammed in a house this weekend, so I'm doing my part in providing sleeptime warmth for the crowd).
  • This morning, take all three vases of my anniversary flowers from Alex, place them in a box with a T-shirt for padding. Carry to car.
I even tried to stop at the drugstore before work -- to get a memory card for the camera Alex bought me! -- but they were closed. Which just proves that the rest of the world should be hyper when I am. Can that be arranged? Great.

See y'all in the desert! Feliz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Blog roulette

I was busy watching paint dry, so I asked several friends to text me some blogging topics. Here they are below, in the order in which they were received! Thanks, Friends! Hope you enjoy the answers!

1. What do you like most and least about the Christmas season?

Most: Hmmmmmmmmmmm. I'm not sure I can pick one. So I'm going to make a list of several things I love!

1. (Good!) Christmas music -- Sarah McLachlan, Hanson, N*SYNC, Nutcracker. Julie. Andrews.
2. Christmas movies -- THE SANTA CLAUSE, The Family Stone, Muppet Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street
3. The smell of a Christmas tree
4. Stockings
5. The fact that, after several Christmases spent in depression and anxiety, I can now genuinely enjoy the holiday
6. People's reactions to a gift I gave them that they love
7. My office's annual holiday party
8. Making Christmas decorations with Abby
9. Being surprised by gifts from people whom I didn't expect to receive from
10. Something that is giving me more meditative pause as I experience more Christmases, is the poetic choice of God to come to earth as a gentle babe.

Least:

1. Bad Christmas music
2. The stress about spending so much money
3. Tension surrounding planning travel with my family

2. If you were an animal, which would you be and why?

I interpret this question two ways, so I will answer it both ways:

1, is which animal would I be based on my personality?

I think I would be a combo of a cat and a dog. Cat, because I love to be all snuggly and warm and express my happiness (e.g. purring); and, I am independent and like to select when I have my people time. Dog, because I love people, and I'm pretty happy.

2, the other way I interpret this question, is if I had a choice, which one would I choose to be?

And I have no idea how to answer this question...

Giraffe? Because I could see over the tops of trees, and that would be awesome.
Cat, because no one would ask me to go to work, and I could just snuggle up in the blankies for as long as I want.
Dog, because I'd get sooooo much attention from people.
And fish, because I love to be under water.

3. Best gift you ever gave! (Tangible? Intangible? Up to you!)

Answering superlatives sometimes stresses me out, so I will just think of some gifts I gave that took some extra time or thought, or that were especially well received.

Funny thing is, everything that is coming to mind are things I gave to my mom:

In high school, I used my time in sewing class to work on a T-shirt quilt for Mom. I took all the Kansas Jayhawk shirts from our home (which was a risky move...), each different, some autographed, several handed down, and cut them into squares, ironed, stitched, cut, ironed, stitched. The quilt front is finished, but the full quilt remains to this day unfinished. Maybe someday I'll finalize it as another gift.

Last year I gave her a necklace that I bought in Mexico. Inside the outline of the cross is a silhouette of Jesus' face. She loved it, said it was her new favorite cross necklace.

And, another year, I gave her a statue of a silhouetted family of six from Africa. Our nuclear family adds up to six, so she loved it.

4. Best you ever received!

I have been overly spoiled over the years, I will admit.

Some highlights:

In 2002, after being misdiagnosed with a horrible disease by one doctor, another doctor (an expert in the disease who assured us it only occurs in Turkish women) gave me a clean bill of health during my Dec. 24 office visit. THAT was a gift, indeed.

The year that my brother Patrick received a CD player for Christmas, he was privy to the knowledge. Whether he had a private chat with Santa Claus or was just uber confident that Mom and Dad were getting him one, he spent Christmas Eve preparing his tape player for me. Late into the night, he dubbed me several tapes -- some of his favorite albums, and some original mixes. My parents still have my cassette tapes at their home, but I won't let them get rid of them until I can give a proper goodbye, because -- especially those ones from Pat -- they're very special to me.

My parents know that I love to cross stitch, and my late aunt used to love to stitch as well. One year they gave me a sampler she had done, filled with colorful Bible verses. It's now hanging in our apartment, looking over the living room. Abby once told me that she likes that the words "With God all things are possible" are in the biggest font of them all.

5. How about the lack of Christmas lights in LA?

This thoughtful question was submitted by my boy toy, who just sent me beautiful flowers AND a teddy bear AND chocolates for our anniversary. Sweetie pie!

Anyway, he thought I was getting sassy with him this weekend -- whereas I was simply observing! -- when he mentioned that not a lot of Angelenos had decorated their homes for Christmas this year. I told him that he said that last year.

I was just being sentimental, because I remembered he said that on our second date. Anyway.

I've only been here for three years, so I don't know that I can empirically comment with any authority just yet on the number of Christmas lights this year versus another given year.

However, I will say that while I grew up associating outdoor Christmas lights with, yes, the Christmas season, but also with winter weather, I don't mind that people here in California hang lights during our relative "winter" season. I love the color against the dark backdrop of night sky.

What I do think is weird, though, is when people in LA decorate with snow-related items. Snowmen. Signs that say "Let it snow." Shirts with snowflakes on them.

What???

Guys, it's not gonna snow. And you know it. So. Um. Stop?

6. Or the fact that Del Taco shouldn't be able to offer 39 cent tacos? I mean, what sort of weird food products are in those things?!

Another fine question submitted by my honey sweet. I'm not sure how to answer this, except that I would eat a 39 cent taco. And have. My dad introduced our family to Del Taco, after discovering the joint during his first year of seminary studies. I had to break the news to him when, years later, I visited St. Louis and found that original location of his to be closed.

Also, I think that maybe it's a good thing they're so cheap, because homeless people can afford them.

7. Ummmmmmmm New Years resolutions

See here for more details on this subject, but a little review of (some of) my resolutions are as follows:

No fast food for the year (delivery pizza is allowed).
Exercise three times a week.
Complete a draft of my book.
Work on a broken relationship of mine.
Finish several cross stitch projects.

8. Oooooor family at Christmas

I recently met someone at a party who said that his family, each year, buys a Christmas tree and then, a la Elf, takes turns running and jumping at it. I think that's awesomely hilarious.

My family doesn't do that, but I do tend to get a phone call from Patrick each year on Dec. 24. He likes to receipt a piece of "art" my mom has displayed in her house, that I wrote up on tablet paper when I was six. It says:

"One day jesus [sic] made a holiday, and he named it Christmas Eve."

That was the first thing that came to me on this subject.

We also send about a thousand emails back and forth trying to coordinate travel that will land us in the same city for 24 hours. This seldom works out, and always makes me tear my hair out.

9. Ooooooor Ralph the tree

Abs and I got a tree! We named him Ralph, and decorated him with many pink and purple ball ornaments. He is in touch with his feminine side, and we love him. I especially like him when most of the lights are off, except his twinkly (girly) ones.

10. Learning how to poo in the right place

This suggestion for a blog topic came from someone I know training a puppy. In case you're wondering about the wackiness of it.

Ummm, all I have to say about this is that, growing up, my family had a copy of the book "Once Upon a Potty" but not of "Everybody Poops." Am I missing out?

11. Sick and vacation time in the US versus other countries, which get so much more, and have higher levels of productivity overall.

Word. I remember reading a book in college -- and we'll see if the title comes to me as I type this -- that suggested four hour work days, and I may or may not have written an impassioned essay about my support for this idea.

I am one who needs a lot of breaks. I know that I work better if I can get up, pee, get some water, have a five minute chat, several times a day. And we should absolutely have more vacation time in the U.S.

12. Fave Christmas memory!

One of my fave memories was with Patrick, two years ago.

I couldn't sleep, and after going to the bathroom, I was deciding whether or not to try and sleep again when Patrick asked me, "When does Friday Night Lights start?"

I had requested that we watch it as a family, but didn't think I'd get any bites. So he made us some old fashioned cocktails, and as we pressed play on Season 1, Episode 1, we clinked our glasses, said "Merry Christmas," then looked at the clock and realized it was midnight, then turned back to each other and said, "Hey!" in excitement.

After watching the show, we carried a play kitchen upstairs. Pat had refurbished it for his kids as a surprise and had been hiding it in the basement. With much giggling, we got it into the living room, wrapped it, and then covered it with a ton of bows. Precious memory for me.

13. Fave Christmas movie as a kid and how you feel when you watch it as an adult!

The Santa Clause. Then, I thought it was so creative and funny. Today, still do.

"All Neil told him was that Santa was more of a feeling. More of a state of mind than an actual person."
"Kind of like Neil."

Gets me every time.

14. Fave charitable act to do around the holidays!

Oooooh...I'm not so good at this. I think I've done the soup kitchen thing once, and I don't know that it was around the holidays, and it was a very long time ago.

I need to be better at being less selfish. Like, a lot better.

I've been more generous this year, with gifts. But I don't give a lot of my time to people, especially the marginalized.

Also, I need to give blood. Thanks for the reminder, kind friend who texted me!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The dog of December 15th

Something of note -- and often surprising -- seems to happen to me on Dec. 15ths.

Yes. 15ths. Plural. I make the grammar rules around here.

On Dec. 15, 2005, I arrived home from Africa. And who would have ever thought I'd travel halfway around the world?

A year later, I turned in my last ever undergraduate paper, and finished college life as I knew it. I believe the paper was for my children's literature class, about Peter Pan.

Dec. 15 laid dormant for the next several years, but in 2013 on Dec. 15, I ran my first half marathon.

In 2014 on the fateful date, I went on my first date with Alex.

This year, I learned what it is to be married.

No, I didn't get married. Mom, Dad, you can breathe again.

***

My roommate and very good friend, Abby, who you've come to know via this blog in recent months, and I always joke that we're married.

When we find ourselves saying things to each other like, (with raised eyebrows) "I'm actually not going to have beer tonight," or: "Did you forget to take your pills?" we find ourselves next chuckling at our ridiculous closeness.

Thank God we don't bicker like a married couple, because that's annoying.

But we enjoy a lot of the bliss of marital life, and with each passing day we get to know each other better and better. We can read emotions, predict behaviors, just like we would that of a spouse. And it's nice.

On Dec. 15, 2015, a dog came into our household. You can probably guess this was not my doing, and it certainly followed the Dec. 15th pattern of being both noteworthy and surprising.

I don't love dogs. Never have. I've come a long way, in going from flat out hating them to actually seeing some of their charm. But they're not my favorite, and may never be. I didn't think I would necessarily have to ever challenge this stance, unless I married someone who just had to have a dog (or, alternately, married someone so allergic to cats that a dog was our only fluffy alternative). And I certainly didn't see a challenge coming toward my stance on this most recent Dec. 15.

Now, this isn't a story of instant animal love, in which the dog of Dec. 15 turned me forever into a tried and true canine lover, never looking back.

Rather, it made me adjust. Not just in my opinion of dogs, but in how I conducted and looked at myself as a person in relationship with another human.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, the thought of living with a dog is more than just that: a thought. To me, it's an entire paradigm shift.

I don't know which detail is more important in explaining this: the fact that I grew up with cats or the fact that I grew up with zero dogs.

To me, life with a dog is an activity reserved for "other." Other people. Other homes. Other lives. A life with a dog has never been one that I thought would apply to me (unless, in the case of marriage -- see above).

So you can imagine, when a puppy crossed our threshold, some emotions set in for me. Honestly, since me and Abby had discussed it a little beforehand, my first thought wasn't one of utter shock or fury. But it was kind of flatlined.

I was taking a nap, because I was sick, and I heard jingle bells. I assumed Abby was decorating our Christmas tree. When I turned my head and saw a dog in the living room, I was too out of it to realize that I was hearing his collar, but I later put it together. I noted in my grogginess that I didn't feel anything of an extreme nature, counted that a good thing, and collapsed my head on the pillow once more.

What followed was many emotions. Emotions that I kept to myself, and whether I imagined them or not, unspoken emotions between me and Abby as a result. Whereas we usually pranced about in our giddy togetherness, it seemed to me we were now anxiously circling each other, like Max the cat and Jack the new dog. Our general elation had been let out of our tires, and I, at least, was feeling it.

I finally opened my mouth -- or, email -- and tapped out a message that I reread approximately 10 times before sending. I told her I was a coward for emailing rather than talking directly, and then laid out everything I was feeling, from the warranted to the perhaps ridiculous. I assured her I loved her and that her happiness was important to me and if having a dog helped that happiness then I understood.

Once I put my feelings out in the open, there was no turning back. But within the hour, I felt better. I regained some of my sanity; I didn't feel like I was hiding from my "wife" anymore.

Even before we reached our final decision, we hit road bumps. But, as I love about us, we were respectful and loving in all our discourse.

I apologized for being grumpy with the dog, explaining that I didn't want to show any affection for the admittedly cute puppy, because I didn't want to send mixed signals.

She admitted she was frustrated that I hadn't been expressing my more-than-obvious reactions to the dog.

Through tears she asked if she thought I could adjust to Jack.

I told her yes.

When we moved in together, we agreed that this would be good practice for both of our future marriages; we thought shared space and occasional compromises would act like training wheels for life with a spouse. I'm sure some of you are shaking your heads at our ignorance, to which I say: give us a break. We can't pretend to understand married life, and it's out of our control that neither of us are there in our journey yet. But I think we give it a pretty good go, even when things get hard for us.

During our back-and-forth about our feelings regarding the dog, Abby texted me: "Maybe this is another reason we're living together, to learn how to be open with difficult feelings."

I thumbed back: "Right? That sneaky God, making us grow."

As it stands, it remains to be determined if the dog will remain with us long term. A few kinks have to be worked out before we can make a final decision.

But I'm sure of this: our friendship will stand the test of time. Because when faced with a disagreement that threatens our "marital" bliss, we care utmost about each other.

(And don't tell anyone, but I don't hate the dog.)


Sunday, December 13, 2015

A thoughtful Sabbath

You know how people (well, writer peoples anyway) do things to avoid writing?

Well sometimes I write to avoid doing things.

The current activity I'm avoiding is making soup.

And going to the store to get things to make the making of a soup possible.

I gave one of my coworkers a ride this week, and during our short drive we got to talking about the Sabbath. For her it's Shabbat, as she's an observant Jew.

We had a surprisingly nice conversation (I say this because we've seen each other every weekday for two years and this was the first time we actually talked) about how our world is messed up and we need to start being nicer to each other, etc. etc.

But the conversation that kicked things off -- and I can't even remember how we started on this note -- was about taking a Sabbath.

She told me how she uses a hot plate that turns on with a timer, so she doesn't have to ignite a flame on Saturdays. How she often takes a nap. How when the darkness of Friday night settles in, she kind of forgets the world and its woes. Its oh so many terrible woes.

This woman is in a very successful position in our company, one she's held for many years. She said to me this week, "I don't know how I would have made it this long without taking a Sabbath."

I've often wondered, in recent years, if there's more I could do (or, as it were, not do) on Sundays to make them more restful. I don't know honestly if my aim is to be more honorable to God in slowing down, but I do wonder selfishly if I could benefit from doing less, one day a week.

I'm reading Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath, in which she discusses, as a converted Christian, some of the spiritual disciplines and values from her former Jewish faith that she sometimes aches for. As the title advertises, in one chapter she digs into the intricacies of observing Shabbat.

(I discovered Lauren via her memoir, Girl Meets God, and fell oh so in love. Then later I got to interview her and I was very much a swooning reader fan person. But I kept my cool. I think.)

One thing I took away from Winner's discussion regarding Shabbat is that one is not, according to Jewish law, supposed to create on the Sabbath.

This is hard for me.

I am one more likely to take a break on Sundays from the rearrangement of furniture, from raucous sport, large social gatherings...from noise, essentially?, than to go on a creating hiatus. I love to create.

Creating to me is a quiet, and therefore acceptable activity to be conducted on my moderately observant Sundays.

Meditatively tying knots in a string bracelet, quietly stitching on a canvas, absorbed in thought as I tap out a blog post about my musings.

These things to me seem restful, even if cognitively active. Wholesome. Calm. Amish.

So when I read in Mudhouse that writing poetry or composing a song (two things that happen a lot in our household, between me the writer and my roommate the musician) were off limits when observing a day of rest, it gave me pause. Apparently this rule of not creating comes from the fact that on the seventh day God took a break from creating, so in observing this action we must follow suit.

Now. I'm not an observant Jew, so I'm not losing sleep over the fact that I'm blogging right now and the calendar says Sunday.

But I did refrain from vacuuming just a bit ago, after I removed some of my belongings from the cluttered living room. I decided it was courteous to tidy up for Abby's sake, but then decided to stop short as I reached for the Dirt Devil. That said, I can't promise I won't clean up some stuff in my room later today. One thing that gives me peace on Sundays is to see my environment become more peaceful. A still, made bed, rather than one heaped with the week's discarded clothes, piles of books in the corner by my pillows. So sometimes I take the time to clean on Sundays, since the rest of the week I ignore the urge to dust and polish.

***

So back to the soup, which I am avoiding.

I'm going to make the soup today. Like I said, I'm not a practicing Jew, so it's OK within my faith to ignite the stove and chop veggies and stir broth. But I also need to make it today, because I signed up for our company potluck tomorrow and if I don't make it today then I need to wake up early. Which could be peaceful, but I'm not sure I'm up for it on a Monday.

I do wish I could skip the soup, though. I have a social gathering I'm invited to today, and I need to buy a crock pot to keep the soup warm tomorrow. I'd like to avoid all these things.

I don't want to go to the store(s). I don't want to schmooze. I want to sit. I want to stay in.

Sometimes I'm jealous when I hear of people who take observance of the Sabbath a little more seriously than I do. As a Christian, I'm grateful that I'm not tied to hundreds of laws not only during the weekend but throughout each week. But I find myself hungering for a break, for a sincere slowing down, and I'm not sure how to go about it.

I hope that today's soup-making can be centering, that I can easily move through the peeling and dicing and measuring with thoughts of domestic care taking. I hope that I can focus on the people who will eat it tomorrow, who slurped it up last year with gusto and who got excited when I told them that I would make it again this year.

Maybe I can reflect, as I stir, on the fact that a year ago I was casually Facebook messaging with this guy, and how now that once-casual lad is my serious boyfriend. Focus on God's provisions for me, with the love He gave me in human form. Focus on how He sent us a Christmas babe, perfect LOVE in human form.

If I decide to attend tonight's party, put on by the shelter from where I got Max, I hope that I can reflect on God's provision for me through that community. I hope I can give thanks, as I sip and chat, for the many volunteers at the party, who tube fed my once-feral and violent feline baby. I hope I can give thanks for the people around me who prepared a cat for me while I prepared him a home.

Max cat is snoozing on the doormat know. You would never know he was once on the streets, save for a clipped ear on his right side. I wonder if he remembers. Thanks to the people hosting and attending tonight's party, he doesn't have to remember. He can forget his scary past, as he romps and runs and scratches and sleeps in his happy home.

I don't know just yet how to conduct my Sabbaths. I'd like to do less on Sundays. I'd like to feel more peace. But for today, since I've already committed to activity, I hope I can find peace and rest in my soup. If I must create, I am glad it can be in the shape of writing, loving a cat, and feeding His children.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Gratitude Gills

I'm a Grumpy Gills this morning.

Have been all week.

Seriously, everything bothers me. Even nothing irks me. Nothing of grumpy significance could be happening, and I've just been a little whiner growler grr grr grr.

My lower back has been hurting for a couple of weeks.

I don't know if I can blame PMS for this grumpiness, and that in itself makes me grumpy.

I've lost what seemed to be my can't-stop-it train of Christmas cheer.

I'm not thrilled that it's Saturday, and I'm usually thrilled for the weekend.

My space is a mess, and I'm too cranky and tired to do anything about it.

My previously scheduled 4 miles on the treadmill would do me a world of good, but truth be told, I don't think I'm going to don a sports bra today.

The only thing I know to do now (except avoid people so I don't leak my angst into their vulnerable, unmarred pores) is make a list. You know the kind. A gratitude list. So that I can maybe become a Gratitude Gills this morning and not waste the day tending to a bad mood.

So here we go.

1. The Bengay is working on my back.
2. The cat and I have run of the apartment for a few hours.
3. When I was stifled in my bad moodiness last night, Alex tickled me and then bought me a sandwich, then patiently sifted through the bottles of Chardonnay at the party we attended to get me the drink I wanted.
4. Alex thinks I'm funny (though, separate issue: he thinks he's funnier).
5. The coffee Abby made smells of wintry spices.
6. I got to spend three hours last night with six toddling babes, each ridiculously charming in their own right. (I have selected my fave, but so as not to make the other babies and parents feel bad, I won't name him -- err, I mean her -- here).
7. Though my back and knee and foot have issues, I am still able to walk, and run.
8. I love my new church.
9. That church is a mere mile from my home, making it much less tempting to sleep in and miss the happiness on Sunday morns.
10. While my room is a mess, if I look at it from the right angle, I have a great canvas to work with, if cleaning is my aim. And oh how good a clean room feels. Frees the spirit, doesn't it?
11. Pandora continues to introduce me to great tunes and artists.

(I took a break to look at Facebook, and the rampant opinions got me feeling feisty again, but I will soldier on with this list!)

12. Did I mention I have run of the apartment right now? I love my roomie, but I'm not good company right now, so for her sake and mine, I think this solo arrangement is good for the moment.
13. I got the cutest Christmas sign decoration thing, for one whole dollar.
14. Maybe I'll go to Panera for lunch. Mmmmm
15. My brother has begun making his annual batch of Christmas cookies.
16. Last night's party was more fun than I expected it to be, and the people I talked to were especially pleasant.
17. I also got to have an in-depth conversation with the party's hostess about various types of craft glue, and if you know me, this kind of thing is my jam.
18. Mmm, jam. Grateful for jam, I am.
19. I can send my bestie Nick angsty texts and sarcastic emails when I'm not wanting to interact with the world.
20. This week I had the courage to sing in front of my entire company (approx. 500 people) and I won $100 for it. (The applause and the experience were the true prize).
21. I have some pretty baller Christmas gifts to hand out this year, and I'm excited to see the recipients' faces when I distribute them.
22. I GET TO SEE MY NIECE AND NEPHEW FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!!
23. AND IT'S A SURPRISE, WHICH MAKES IT EXTRA FUN AND EXCITING!!!!
24. Grateful for my sister-in-law's parents, who robustly welcome me into their home for the holidays, while most of my nuclear family is 2,000 miles away.
25. DIY stuff. Crafty stuff. Crafting.

OK, I'm feeling a little better. I don't know if I'm going to craft, or clean, or drag myself to the gym, but we'll see.

Thanks for listening to Grumpy Gills. Here's hoping for a more Gratitude Gills day.

Love,
Me

Friday, December 11, 2015

I broke 100! Plus a new way to subscribe to the Daily Bailey!

Hi All!

Just wanted to do a little song and dance because I realized that for the first time since 2012!, I have posted more than 100 posts in a year's time (using the Jan - Dec calendar).

So yay for that. Writing productivity is our friend, and I have you, audience, in no small part to thank for motivating me to keep my busy fingers typing!
Also. I just added a lil' somethin' to the blog here, right over there in the margin à

Well, over in the margin and up a little bit. At the top of the right margin. See it? Yay!

I do my best to share most of my blog posts via Facebook and Twitter, but I know some of us (ahem, Moi) are glued to our email constantly. So in case you'd like to receive updates every time I post, rather than having to catch them on social media or visit this site directly, go ahead and subscribe via email, so as to never miss a Daily Bailey beat!

That's all! Back to your lives now! Hugs.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A meditation and a wish

I want to be in bed, with a pile of children's books.

Cat at my feet, purring and grooming. Then he will settle in and slumber.

I want a big cup of water by my side, which will promptly make me have to pee just minutes after I begin to read.

I want to take a fake nap, squirming down under the covers and closing my eyes for five minutes, no more.

Then I will rise and read once again.

Change my pants and pull on long, thick socks.

Eventually I will regain steam and pull on my sports bra and shorts.

I will trade my long socks for athletic versions.

One sock, two sock, left foot, right foot.

I will dilly. I will dally. I always dally and dilly before heading to the gym. I am not one to break tradition.

I want to fill my water bottle from the kitchen tap.

Shuffle to the door to don my shoes. Tie them up, knot, knot. Slowly get to my feet. Turn the knob. Shuffle, shuffle to the car.

I will be sleepy during my drive. The speakers will release a blanket of music, wrapping me as I dreamily rouse.

The lights at the gym will be harsh, the beep too loud as my ID card scans.

I want to carry on.

I will lace my ergonomic headphones around the backs of my ears, silicone on pinnae. I will slip the button to "On."

Celine, or Mr. McGraw, or some Indian artist I can't name will begin to croon, or play the sitar, or both.

I will let my germs join with those on the treadmill keypad. "Manual," I will press. "Weight," "Incline," "Speed."

"Begin Workout," it will communicate back, red letters on black.

The belt will shift. One step, two step, left foot, right foot.

Soon I will be walking.

Brisk.

The world will seem oppressive. I will still be sleepy, the foundation beneath me demanding motion. Quick. Brisk.

I won't want to walk.

But I will.

I will daydream about the pile of children's books, the pile to which I will return, later drowsy and energized, ready to sleep but craving words to cross my vision before I do.

I want to walk. I want to read.

And I will. Through this pattern I will pass, again and again. Words and motion. Rest and revival.

Monday, December 7, 2015

It's OK if you're not happy this holiday season, but I hope you find joy

"Startin' the crack early today, huh?" So Abigail said to Bailey this past Saturday morning, catching me stitching in bed.

Her first words to me actually were: "Do you wanna build a snowman?," but that's a different story altogether.

First you must know that we have a joke in our home, in which we refer to my obsession for cross stitching habit as my tendency to do "crack," as it consumes much of my time and is often my default activity.

Second you must know that we are very anti-drug in our home, and we only use the crack nickname in jest.

All that said.

Though I did in fact begin the stitching early this Saturday morn, I quickly abandoned my purple elephant baby-bib-in-progress once Abs presented me with a mug of coffee atopped* with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.

[*Actual word? The Internet is being unclear.]

I headed promptly to the living room, because we had crafting to do.

Holiday music playing, pipe cleaners and paint and embroidery floss in front of us, moments later we were hard at work.

Hard at play, I should say.

In a matter of hours, we cranked out a string-wrapped poinsettia vase, a beer cap snowman, a tissue paper luminary, a popsicle stick wreath, and a very adorable reindeer upcycled from a dead lightbulb, giving new, ironic meaning to the beloved lyric, "Rudolph with his nose so bright."

We took a break for mimosas and eggs, to keep up our crafting strength, and continued valiantly on.

That night Abby bought Christmas lights and I went to a holiday party with Alex. Festive fun abounded.

On Sunday morning, in his effort to keep up our holiday cheer, Santa Claus came to visit us for St. Nicholas Day, leaving a number of dollar store -- I mean, elf-made -- Christmas decorations for our apartment.

We admired our gifts from the North Pole, then headed to church, where we sang "O Come all Ye Faithful" and one of our favorite worship songs, "Oceans." We listened to a message on Mary's joyful song of praise and chattered about the service on our quick drive home.

Abby made us poached eggs and ramen while I drove a nail in the wall to hang up a decoration. We popped in a Christmas movie, and continued forward in our festive ways, slurping up our noodles drenched in hot sauce.

***

Enter 3 p.m.

Abby and I confessed that we were each feeling gloomy, glum, blah.

Old college pal Samantha and I had a Skype conversation, but then I had fallen to halfheartedly tying knots in a friendship bracelet. I could hear Abby hammering nails in her room, stringing her colorful lights, but I found her reclined in her bed, happy about the lights but not exactly elated about life.

I headed to the gym. Abby went to Trader Joe's to get us salad nutrients.

We revived a little, eating our greens and watching "The Santa Clause." We decided to go to our favorite spot for shooting pool, and played several games with each other and later with Alex. We danced to the quirky playlist and reveled in how much joy we got for our 50-cents-a-game buck.

We went to bed happy.

But we didn't forget the part in the day where we lost our steam. What happened?

Well, life did.

The Sunday blues crept in, laundry beckoned to be washed, we slowly remembered our email inboxes at the office.

Life attempted to steal our joy.

But during our chats throughout the day, Abs and I discussed the message we had heard at church that morning -- it was all about being surprised by joy. Our pastor, Rustin, talked about how Mary, faced with an incredibly hard predicament of being pregnant, with God's child, out of wedlock, chose to sing with joy. 

***

For many years I loved Christmastime, as evidenced by my extra large collection of Christmas CDs and movies. Then for many years I hated it.

I was single, I was broke. I was anxious. Depressed. Fighting so many demons it was unfair, pushed down in fear that I couldn't talk to anyone about them; I thought no one would understand. I watched my siblings cuddle close with their new spouses, nursing cups of tea, enthusiastically passing around their gifts, picked out together for each of us.

I came empty and idle handed. Grad school left me with no money to buy gifts, and I didn't have a boyfriend's hand to hold. The gray skies kept me imprisoned in a state of inner mustiness, and I ached for spring.

When people say they hate the holidays, I do understand.

Probably no time is more difficult to be happy than when you feel like you must be happy, because the circumstances around you supposedly warrant it.

I'm sure I seem like a downer when I continually encourage people to talk about their sadness, but it's because I know that being dishonest just makes it worse. I'm a veteran of depression, and I've experienced victory of renewed happiness, so I simply preach what I know worked for me. Telling the truth got me out of the pit. The pit where I believed no one would understand. The pit where I thought I had to put on a happy face at Christmas, even though I wasn't feeling the Christmas spirit.

***

This weekend I didn't have to fake my joy. But it was a reminder, with my brief emotional intermission on Sunday afternoon, that joy may not always be permanent.

When I was in the throes of my depression and anxiety filled days, I remember finding how quickly I could be renewed by something as simple as 30 seconds of chatter with a friendly grocery cashier.

Surprised by joy.

My story is a long one of hiding my fears and later slowly revealing them, going to therapy, taking psychotropic drugs, and reaching out to my family, friends, and faith community. I'll be honest, I had a harder time reaching out directly to God. But I have tried -- and still try -- to hope that He hasn't cut off the phone line, given my failure to pick up and dial.

After years of struggle, I find myself now in a place of joy. A place where I not only feel the Christmas spirit in December, but actively pursue it, getting my fingers sticky with craft glue to deck the halls with homemade boughs of holly.

Surprised by joy.

After Mary found out she was carrying the Son of God in her womb, she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth. Elizabeth previously believed she was barren, too old to gestate, but by the time Mary came to see her she was pregnant herself. As Mary crossed the threshold of her home, the babe in Liz's tummy literally leapt in recognition of the one inside Mary's belly.

That leaping babe was John, who would later baptize Mary's son, Jesus.

As Bible stories go, I find this one to be slammin'. A fetus recognizing his cousin, prenatally??? Awesome.

And perhaps I wasn't paying attention, but I feel like my Sunday School classes of yore glossed over this story. I grew up understanding the significance of John the Baptist's role of baptizing the one true King, but I don't think I ever realized they were kin, and especially not that they were acquainted before birth.

I felt a little cheated when I first took notice of this story. Why hadn't I known it before?

The point is I know now. Surprised by the joy of a story that's been before me my whole life and I didn't know it. Like discovering a precious heirloom in a dusty attic, after its owner has passed.

***

I haven't always been joyful at Christmas, and I haven't always been joyful in general.

Now that I am, most of the time, pretty darn happy, I try to acknowledge that all the gifts in my life are from God. But in general I don't feel like a "great" Christian the large majority of the time. I don't feel like I talk about God enough, pray to Him enough, read His stories enough.

I don't sing enough to Him, like Mary did, when she visited Elizabeth.

In light of recent events, Rustin didn't pretend like the world isn't a scary mess. But he said we have a lot to be joyful for.

While I struggle in my faith, I can't help but regularly be reminded that God provides for me. With food and shelter, yes, and also countless friends and supportive family. A roommate who is a sister more than one to split a rent check with. A boyfriend who slow dances with me by the pool table in a bar. A cat who is the cutest, snuggliest little munch.

When I was having a harder time in life, I found provisions in smaller things, things that I honestly had a hard time always being grateful for, as they seemed meager. But I felt their power, if for an instant. The friendly grocery cashier, a warm, healing breeze, a song that chipped at the ice inside me.

I know that faith is hard, and religion is a hot button issue in our beyond-broken world, especially as it seems to be something that divides us further. Why do you think I'm so terrified to talk about it with those around me?

But all I can say is that I don't think it's an accident, in my life, that I can become giddy in the face of glitter and glue, in a season that before was dim. Dim and dark for a long time.

Yes, I've been given the right concoction of prescribed meds and I've moved to a place of sunshine, etc. etc., but I prefer to believe that I've been led to those things.

My hope for you is that, one, you'll find peace in this season. I know that we can't fast forward our lives to a season of happiness, even if the calendar says December and we're not ready to dust off the holiday greenery.

And two, I hope that you find yourself surprised by joy. The world is dark, I won't lie about that.

But I believe that "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." -- John 1:5

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The 1,000 List, Installment #6!

You asked for it! (Or maybe you didn't.) 100 more things I'm grateful for in this precious life we're given. Happy holiday season, y'all!

501. The term "sheet cake"
502. The word "rung," as in the rung of a ladder
503. The adorable kitchen that Abby and I decorated in our apartment! I love the conglomeration of our various collected dishes, cookbooks. Her mouse sugar jar with my cat spoon rest. Two lives brought together in love and happiness. (No we're not married but yes it sounds like it).
504. The organization and decorating possibilities when moving into a new place
505. The feeling of a wet paintbrush across my face -- when getting my face painted
506. The waxy texture of pumpkin seeds between my teeth
507. Tiki bars
508. Ballet skirts
509. Sleeping in on Saturdays (I mean duh)
510. HOT DOGS WITH ONIONS.
511. Putting on dry clothes after a swim
512. The Berenstain Bears books
513. Sitting on the patio with Abby after work, slingin' beers, catchin' up. Sometimes about serious stuff, mostly fun.
514. Busy work -- I know most people hate it, but I find it to be very zen.
515. Making friendship bracelets
516. When Alex calls me "Sweetie Pie" in his Polish (Russian?) accent
517. Massaging the lemon in my glass of water with a straw
518. Interlacing fingers and leaning in to Alex during a sad or heartfelt part of a movie
519. From the parking lot of an amusement park, hearing people scream as they go down a drop of a roller coaster
520. Musical mash ups
521. Medleys
522. Taylor Swift tunes
523. Seeing "5:23" on a clock and thinking about my birthday
524. Going to the bar where Alex and I had our first date
525. Writing dates with Alex
526. Corn dogs
527. When the screenplay of a movie I really love was written by a woman
528. Tater tots
529. (Sometimes) working with spreadsheets
530. Homemade vegetable soup. In the fall.
531. When people get excited and happy that I cooked for them
532. Dressing hippie-ish
533. A "good day" at church
534. An available parking space at Trader Joe's
535. Shopping at Fresh & Easy (which sadly closed!!)
536. Getting all prepared for a training at work. Printing handouts, gathering highlighters and Post-Its, etc.
537. The Stepmom soundtrack
538. Laying out by the pool until it's too hot to handle, jumping in the pool, getting out and drying in the sun, then doing it all over again
539. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe soundtrack
540. Ordering a bunch of entrees and sharing them, round robin
541. Licking batter off of beaters
542. Abed from Community
543. Ch- ch- ch- chia seeds!
544. Chia pets. Duh.
545. Yelling "Opa!" when things happen
546. Counting train cars
547. Trains
548. Typing on a typewriter
549. Dancing at weddings
550. When my dad pretends to still believe in Santa Claus
551. Chickens
552. Shooting pool (especially with my mom, who kicks my a**)
553. Reunions
554. Shirley from Community
555. Watching tennis. They make it look so easy.
556. Bachelorette parties
557. Colorful pennant bunting
558. Getting "girlified" (i.e. doing makeup and hair, borrowing jewelry and dresses while listening to poppy music) with Abby
559. Party favors
560. Pulled pork and cole slaw sandwiches
561. Lemon poppy seed muffins
562. The infamous line (well, infamous to me and about three of my college friends and my dad) in the movie Hair: "You MISSED it!"
563. When you're looking for something and you're able to shout: "Found it!"
564. When you're typing things into an online form, and the cursor automatically moves from one field to the next once you've filled in the necessary information. So, for example, when you're typing in a phone number, you type in the area code, the cursor then jumps to the next box for you to start typing the rest of the phone number (rather than having you tab to the next field).
565. Bowling
566. Building a layered casserole and seeing it come out of the oven all bubbly
567. Care packages from Mommy!
568. Crankin' out a new blog post
569. That tantalizing, magical, beautiful happening in one's mouth when she eats candy and popcorn in rapid succession and washes them down with soda
570. Bookstores
571. Straight leg jeans
572. Libraries
573. The song "Silver Bells"
574. "The Santa Clause"
575. Shooting pool with Abby, or Mom
576. Julia Roberts' flouncy ponytails in "Mona Lisa Smile"
577. Putting together a care package or card or other little something for the mail and then receiving the excitement from the person you sent it to
578. Christmas stockings
579. St. Nicholas Day
580. Going on a cruise with friends
581. When the cat is lying in bed with me and the weight of his body is smashed against me, kind of sideways smushing my leg
582. Knockin' out another chapter in my book!!
583. I'm not a huge fan of Lindor truffles themselves, but I love crumpling their wrappers when I'm done eating one. Because they are part plastic, one would expect them to crinkle only to re-expand once you loosen your grip. But because they are reinforced with foil, they stay nice and tightly bound. :) It's the little things, People. That's what these lists are all about: counting the little and realizing how much it counts for.
584. Patty Griffin's music
585. Brandi Carlile's VOICE! For crying out loud.
586. Sometimes cinnamon gum can be very refreshing.
587. Cross stitching or reading in my car during my lunch breaks at work
588. Talking to nice people on the phone!
589. Etsy
590. Coloring books
591. A fresh box of crayons, with perfect tips on each one
592. Doing anything with Abby. Shooting pool, shooting the breeze, talking in the kitchen, driving in the car. Love her.
593. Jigsaw puzzles
594. Tater tots
595. When me and a friend are equally hyper at the same moment
596. Laughing so hard that patch behind your ear hurts
597. Laughing at work! Thank God we can sometimes laugh at work!
598. Carol of the Bells
599. A walk. I usually don't anticipate a walk to be anything special, but often I find them uplifting. Brightening. They shake the dust off ya and get your brain firing and your heart pumping again.
600. Twinkly lights

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Goals -- if we can see them, then we can do them, friends

I feel perhaps the most type A I have ever felt in my life.

Except for when I fold my underwear. I seldom do so, and it always makes me feel weird when I do. So I usually don't.

I did not fold any undergarments today, but I did just spend an hour writing up individual goals for each month of 2016.

How did this process go?

Well,

I began by listing my overarching goals for the year.

I followed with things that I will do all year long to achieve these goals. (No fast food, work out three times a week, etc.)

I then wrote up, month by month, what specialized item I would like to focus on, one at a time.

And then! I added bullet points of steps I will take to achieve each month's goal.

I even designated some "ramp up" tasks for December of this year -- so I can start getting in the mindset of my goals for next year.

What is happening to me? I am supposed to be a slob, a go-with-the-flow creative type, a person Martha Stewart would never be seen in public with.

...

That said, it feels pretty good to have drafted up that list.

If I'm being honest.

I can't wait to copy it down on a motivational, vision board-y poster -- in pretty rainbow marker, of course. (I may be turning into a type A adult, but I'm still a small child inside who loves to color whenever she gets the chance.)

Some of the months are fun. In September I'll be finishing up cross stitch projects that are nearly complete.

In August, I'll revise my book. Editing doesn't sound like fun to you? Well, to this nerd it's like Candyland.

Some months are zero fun:

No beer in July.

Moment of silence, please.

Gynecologist visit in May. Blegh.

Other months are purely productive. In April, I'm getting my car squared away -- oil change, new license plates, etc.

Throughout the year I'm focusing on getting healthy and making hearty progress in my book. I'm also going to try and get -- and REMAIN! -- organized.

Might I encourage you to make your own list?

I found this activity of making a list (of lists...of more lists) to be...freeing? It made me feel confident, let's say that. In breaking things down into separate goals, rather than telling myself: "You will do 12 different things every day, all day, January through December," I feel like I can achieve these things, one at a time. Reasonably.

So if I drink beer in September, I don't have to beat up on myself for it so long as I'm working on a cross stitch project that month.

As always, I will do my best to give myself grace throughout the year. If I entirely flub one month, then so be it.

I'm just hoping that, with this current plan, one month's struggle won't have me giving up for the rest of the year. Instead I'll just wipe the slate clean and begin with the new goal on the first of the following month.

So what are your goals? Start with your main things: what's bothering you the most right now? Your weight? Clutter? Unfinished projects? Want to get in touch with an old friend? Save for a vacation? Write these things down, then pinpoint further to realistic goals and steps to tackle them.

Wow, I really sound like a motivational speaker right now. I'm scaring myself. But I'm on a roll here, so I'll keep going:

Maybe do a quarter system. Pick four goals and switch up your focus every three months.

Or don't listen to me at all. I can only speak for myself. All I know is this exercise made me feel good, and I'm hoping for you to feel good, also. Many blessings to you next year, and the next and the next!

-- The Daily Bailey

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Some notes on writing fiction and writing for kids

"I think it'd be really funny if you became known for writing fiction," Alex told me Friday, as we lapped up our delicious Thai food, catching up after a week of busy schedules that had kept us apart.

He wasn't being mean, as if he had meant to say, "It would shock me if you became a famous writer."

He just knows how deep my love for nonfiction -- both reading and writing -- goes, and this recent turn in my writing goals has been a surprise to all of us, perhaps most of all to moi.

For those of you who are just joining us at the Daily Bailey, there are two things you should know:

1. I'm obsessed with memoirs, and have planned to write my own for quite some time.
2. I recently abandoned my memoir draft to work on a young adult novel instead.

If you're curious how the switch came about, I hope you're not on the edge of your seat expecting a dramatic tale of my change of heart. Here's what happened, in all it's glory:

I was driving to lunch.

I know. You were expecting more, weren't you? But that's all. I was driving to lunch, and it hit me. I should write a young adult novel.

It's a little more complicated than that, but mostly it's just that.

In addition to my memoir love, I do also quite enjoy young adult fiction, if for no other reason than it offers my brain a break. I love to think analytically, as memoirs and other adult books allow me to do, but sometimes I just want to sit back and read about why Amanda and Leo are fighting in 11 Birthdays (great book, check it out).

I also have known for a very long time that I want (need) to write about mental health.

So during my drive-to-lunch-for-a-tuna-sandwich epiphany, I suddenly put the two together: why not write a young adult novel about anxiety? Bam.

And from there, I'm happy to say it's been by and large a fun journey, and I am loving stitching together a life of my Morgan.

But why am I bringing this all up? Because I've had some thoughts about this fiction writing business, as well as writing for young people in particular, and I'd like to share them with you, get your thoughts in the comments, etc.

So let's move ahead, shall we?, with some things I've discovered in my fiction writing journey:

1. I used to think I couldn't create story out of thin air, and I'm realizing that's because it doesn't come from thin air. It comes from life.

Alex makes fun of me incessantly, because I'm all like, "I'm a writer I'm a writer I'm a writer!" but then I say things like, "I hate plot, and character, and setting."

What I mean when I say that is that books (and movies) like Lord of the Rings are not for me. I can't pay attention. In those stories, you're supposed to be so wrapped up in who the characters are, who their enemies are, what their environment looks and feels like, and, oh yeah, what happens in the story.

This is very hard to explain -- and in 11 months with Alex I haven't been able to successfully do so -- so bear with me here.

When I read a memoir, say, I could care less (usually) what the writer of the story looks like. I only care if she grew up in the Midwest if it affects her personality in a profound way. I only want to know about the people in her life who say key things to her at key moments. I don't care about every last night they spent together at the club throughout their twenties.

When I read fiction, I often think it's just a lot of filler. What the character is wearing, how the fly is buzzing around his head while he waits for his friend, where he sets his suitcase when he comes home from vacation.

Call me crass, but, um, I don't usually care about those details. Unless they're important.

There is an exception, and that's if the person writing the details is a freaking poet. In that case, I'm all ears (eyes?) for his well crafted words.

In a memoir, I feel like it's all about the analysis. The story is laid out for us in pages one through three, then the rest of the book is "This is how I felt about it, this is the wisdom I gained, etc. etc." This is more my style. When I see a movie, it's more about the little, poignant moments between characters for me than it is about the whole story itself.

I don't know if I'm making any sense, or just losing you here. Let's put it this way: I don't tend to care about what happens, I care about how everyone's feeling about it.

Now that I am reading more -- and writing! -- fiction, I am seeing the value in character and setting details in a story. I still struggle with plot. A friend asked me yesterday what the climax of my novel is, and I couldn't answer him. This might become a problem, but we will deal with that when publishers start rejecting me.

ALL THIS TO SAY.

I used to think I just didn't have a good imagination, particularly for creating a story arc. I still think this is true of me. I think I'm better at telling you something that actually happened to me and how I processed it than I am at coming up with a bedtime story for my babysitting charges. And my novel has more to do with a girl fighting her emotions than it does her fighting with her environment, which I feel is (maybe?) uncommon.

What I am realizing, though, is that coming up with all those details that make a character who she is, is easier than I thought. Because it draws directly from life.

Whether it's something big (Morgan's brother draws from the personalities of my three brothers) or something small (her dad makes popcorn on the stove -- in real life, Alex does this), a lot of my narrative is coming from my life, past and present.

I consistently find myself surprised by the senses of humor that pop up in my characters -- they're an amalgamation of my humor, my dad's, my friends'.

Simply the way a parent puts a hand around a shoulder of Morgan is a drawing from how my parent would do the same.

Namely, I'm realizing I don't have to go to Morgan's school, live in her house, have her family, etc. to write her life about them. Because I have gone to a school, I have lived in a house, and I have a loving family to draw from for realistic and relatable inspiration.

2. Dialogue is easier than I thought it would be.

That said, I don't know yet if my dialogue's any good.

In the same vein as the discussion above, however, I'm finding that dialogue is easier to write than I previously thought.

I'm not a big dialogue person, as a writer or a reader.

As a talker, I'm big on dialogue. Real big.

:)

In the same way that I can draw from my own life to craft Morgan's, I am finding that to write dialogue you simply have to do one of two things:

a) Think of what you would say in a particular moment, or
b) How you would expect someone to respond to what you've just said.

Again, I never [spoiler alert] went to a therapist during middle school, so I don't know what a therapist would say to me or I to her at that age.

But. I can remember how I felt in middle school. I can imagine what I would ask a middle schooler if one were plopped in front of me. I can imagine how my middle school self would reply: shy, but once opened up, excitable, fun. Honest.

That's the key. Honesty.

If you're -- hopefully -- crafting a book that tells the truth, just be true to the truth. Be true to the emotions you have felt in your life.

You've -- hopefully -- never been in a burning building, but you've been frightened.

You've never been the president faced with a global crisis, but you've been in situations where you didn't know what to do.

You've maybe never had an eating disorder, but you've looked in the mirror with a frown and wondered how you could change.

What I'm finding is it's all there inside of us, as cliché or nauseating that may sound.

Want to evoke rage in your reader? What would the character say to your protagonist to infuriate him? Need to evoke rage in a younger audience? What kind of phrases made your blood boil when you were a kid? (I bet we can each think of at least one choice phrase our parents used that to this day irks us).

You can write dialogue. Just take it slow and listen to your feelings. Again, cliché and nauseating, but true.

3. The line that determines what's appropriate for children and what's not is a tricky one.

Finally, I'm finding that perhaps the most difficult piece of writing this book (other than deciding what my climactic moment will be...) has been deciding where the Line of Appropriateness lies.

A recent op-ed by a Parisian brought up some interesting, varying viewpoints on what we should expose our children to and what we should shelter them from.

I don't have any easy answers to this conundrum, but I have noticed that a lot of children's books don't shy away from real struggle, real heartbreak, real muck. Divorce, death, illness -- I've seen it all in the last year or so that I've really dove into children's literature.

It seems children can -- or at least we think they can -- handle more than one might expect. And if we've been putting it on the pages of their books, then maybe it's not all bad; perhaps it's even beneficial to them in some way.

In seeing such grit on the pages of books meant for innocent eyes, I find myself sometimes giving myself a free pass. Why not expose Morgan to really tough emotions, since other writers are doing it?

But then I think: but she's young, and I don't want to scare my readers. I want this book to be a reprieve for them, not another thing to worry about. I'm exposing my protagonist to some major roadblocks, and she's going to have a challenging sixth grade year of school, for sure, but I want her to walk out stronger yet relatively unscathed.

So I have no advice for you on that topic, just sharing some thoughts I've had. Would love to hear your thoughts on any of this.

Thanks for reading through all this babble! Back to the book!

Xo
Bailey