Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sneak Peek

I've been working on a novel off and on for the past several years, so the highlight of my 2017 definitely came in December when I FINALLY FINISHED IT (Can you tell I'm excited). Of course, it needs some major editing, and this year I'm planning to dive head first into that exercise in humility known as: trying to find an agent (or publisher). I've got a new creative project I'm itching to start, but in the meantime, I thought I'd celebrate the finish by putting a chapter here. Hope you enjoy it! Happy New Year!

The phone was ringing when I walked in the door. Mama was in the garden, Dad wasn’t home from work yet, and I figured the boys were out in the woods so I threw my keys on the hall table and hurried to the kitchen, hoping it hadn’t been ringing long. And hoping that a certain blue-eyed someone was on the other end.
“Hello,” I said, breathless.
“Hey there.”
My skin tingled. “Hey,” I said, still breathless, but not from the sprint, “what’s up?”
“I’m taking smoke break. What are you up to?”
I set my purse on the kitchen table and leaned one hip against it.
“Just got home from the Wallace’s.”
“The who?” I heard him take a deep breath, and could picture him sitting on Jim and Ruth’s back porch with his cigarette in his mouth and the phone cord stretched as far as it would reach.
I laughed. “The Wallaces. My standard summer gig. Mr. Wallace manages the gas station and Mrs. Wallace works part time doing filing at the doctor’s office so they need someone to watch their kids in the mornings during the summer.”
“Sounds fun.”
I couldn’t quite tell if he was mocking me, but I chose to believe he was making genuine conversation.
“It is. They’re good kids, so it feels like easy money.” I wound the long phone cord around my finger.
“Saving up for your around-the-world ticket.”
I laughed, “You know it.”
We chatted for another minute, then George said he had to get back to work. He asked if I was busy after supper.
“Nope,” I said. “Want to do something?” My hands felt shaky as I said this, completely shocking myself with the bold words coming out of my mouth. Betty would be proud – my mother would be horrified.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Want to just head to the diner for some coffee.”
“And pie?”
“Goes without saying.”
I laughed again. George asked if I had a curfew in the summer, and I said 11 p.m., so he said he’d pick me up at 8 p.m. I think I managed to keep my cool long enough for us both to hang up the phone. But then I proceeded to dance and leap around the kitchen, pumping my arms in the air. I called Betty. She squealed, excited as only a best friend can be, and we discussed what I should wear and all the reasons George was so hot. She told me about the latest sweet thing Phillip said to her, and I took my turn listening. We’d been talking for a while when my mom came in, her face shaded with her big straw hat. She’d left her gardening gloves in the mud room, but she still had a few smears of dirt on her face and arms.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she said, smiling. She pulled a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water. “How was your morning?”
“Great,” I said. “We went to the library and the pool for a bit.” I leaned against the counter and pulled an apple from the fruit bowl. “I’m going to go get coffee with George tonight,” I said.
She raised one eyebrow at me and just stared. I caved.
“If that’s all right with you,” I said. Mom was old fashioned, and I found it was better to just roll with it. Fighting Mom just made her dig in.
“Of course,” she said, proving my point. “You’ll be home for supper then?”
“Yeah,” I said. “He’s coming by at 8 p.m. I told him I needed to be home by 11 pm.”
I went upstairs to tear apart my closet before it was time to help mom fix supper. I was pretty distracted all evening, and I know mom picked up on it. Daddy may have noticed, but he tended to ignore my “moods”, even though I’m pretty sure I didn’t have all that many. I tried to eat, but only managed a few bite of potatoes and half a glass of milk before I was nervously tapping my finger on the table and trying to join in on the dinner conversation. Even with the talking – the boys were full of stories today – I could hear the kitchen clock ticking, like a countdown in my head. Once everyone else was done eating, Mom was quick to remind the boys that it was their turn to wash dishes. They were still groaning and making a racket when I gave mom a quick kiss on the cheek of thanks and tore off up the stairs to get ready.
This time, I was trying to go for a casual “I didn’t really try” cool-girl look. I settled on my favorite jeans, a Willie Nelson tee-shirt, and my red espadrilles. I freshened up my hair and makeup with a quick go at the curling iron and a little more mascara and lip gloss. Mom would probably shake her head at my date attire, but she still thought it was a shame people didn’t still leave the house wearing gloves and a hat. I’d just grabbed my purse when the doorbell rang. I took a deep breath and grinned. There was a crazy good-looking guy downstairs. A college guy. A smart guy. And he was waiting for me. 
When I got downstairs, George was sitting and talking with my dad and brothers about the St. Louis Cardinals. My mom wasn’t around, but I could hear her knocking around in the kitchen. I walked into the living room and stood by the door, waiting for Dad to finish his comments on the Cardinals pitching staff.
“Ready?” I asked, as soon as there was a pause in the conversation.
“If you are,” he said with a smile, standing up off the plaid couch.
“You guys have fun,” Dad said, standing up to shake George’s hand. “See you at 11.”
“Sure thing, Dad,” I said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Bye, Mom!” I hollered toward the back of the house.
It was a perfect hazy and purple late June evening, the air cooling as the sun set. Fireflies were winking under the oak trees and over the vegetable garden, and I could hear frogs singing in our neighbor’s pond. I took a deep breath as I walked to George’s car, smelling the heavy scents of the lilac bushes by the front porch and the honeysuckle that ran along the back fence. We drove the short distance to the diner with the windows down, talking idly about music and our favorite radio stations. There wasn’t much to choose from in Carlton. We only picked up a few Springfield stations and one AM Christian station run out of the basement of the Baptist church. I confessed that I liked the country station best.
“Ah,” George said, grinning and flashing his dimple at me. “So you’re a country girl. Boots and broken hearts and all that.”
I shrugged. “Might as well stay true to my roots, right?” I said.
“Never pegged you for a rhinestone girl,” he said.
“Well, I prefer the more folksy stuff – banjos and mandolins and haunting harmonies.”
“Oh, you mean hippie music.”
I smacked his arm, but laughed at the same time. “Come on, it’s good stuff! And you have to admit, folk and country music have some of the best songwriters around. I mean…some of those songs really tell a story, you know?”
George shrugged. “I’ll have to take your word for it. I’m more of a rock-and-roll guy.”
“Well,” I said. “Challenge accepted.”
George raised his eyebrows. “I’m ready,” he said.
He pulled into the parking lot at the diner, and I thought about how much FUN it was to talk with George. I’d mentioned that to Betty when I’d called her earlier today, and she laughed over the phone.
“It’s called flirting, you goose.”
I thought about that as we slid into the same red vinyl booth we’d sat in last weekend and wondered if Betty was right. I guess I’d never really flirted before. I’d known most of the boys in Carlton since we were in grade school. When I talked to my friends and acquaintances who were boys it was just relaxed and easy conversation – but nothing to write home about. Not memorable. But with George…I felt fully engaged in the converstion. He made me feel funny and interesting and witty. Was that flirting? From the outside, when I’d watched other girls flirt, it had seemed either fake or forced or like at least someone involved was nervous. I didn’t feel at all nervous with George. Well, maybe a little.
“Coffee?” the waitress walked up with her glass pot and winked at me.
“Yes please,” we turned our mugs over on their saucers.
“Anything to eat?” she asked as she poured the steamy, fragrant drink into our cups.
“I’d like a slice of lemon merrangue pie,” George said. He looked at me and smiled. “Rosalee?”
“Umm… any strawberry pie today?”
“Sure thing, honey.” She walked off to get our pies and we looked at each other. We picked up our conversation about music. I told him about some of my favorite musicians, and he told me about concerts he’d been to. I asked him if he worked on Saturdays, and when he said no I invited him to come over Saturday afternoon to let me expand his musical education. Our conversation moved on to more stories of his year at college. He told me about some of his classes, and how everyone wanted to philosophize during class discussions.
“So far,” he said, swallowing a bite of his lemon merrangue pie. “I’ve managed to avoid it in my Algebra class. But one of my buddies says stay out of any of the advanced math classes, because a lot of them get into theory too…which of course leads to some joker wanting to talk about the meaning of life or something. Or you know…Vietnam. It always ends up there.”
We were both quiet. Talk of Vietnam had a tendency to halt any conversation because everyone either had an opinion or a story or both – it was part of everyone’s life. And I read the newspaper pretty regularly, so I could only imagine it’s presence on a college campus. I thought about what to say to fill this particular silence. I didn’t want to blow off the serious topic if it was something he wanted to talk about, but didn’t want to push it either.
“I think people in general just like to hear themselves talk,” George said eventually. “Especially in college. Everyone thinks their ideas are the most important.”
I tilted my head. “And do you enjoy big deep college discussions?”
He shrugged. “Not really. I’m there to learn and get a degree that will help me get a good job.”
He grinned and leaned across the table, lowering his voice. “Well…I’m also there to…socialize.”
I mirrored his movement and lowered my own voice. “You mean…party?” I asked with my own grin.
He laughed this time. “You know Rosalee, I can’t quite figure you out, but I like it. We should definitely keep hanging out.”
Would he still say that if he knew that half of it was pure bravado, that I was forcing myself to act relaxed and nonchalant and…well, cool?
“You know, it’s all an act.” Did I just say that!?
He raised an eyebrow and stretched his arms across the back of the booth.
“What do you mean?” he replied, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
“This…casualness.” I waved my hand in the air as though I were trying to illustrate the word. “I’m not experienced with guys.” Again, why was I playing true confession again? Did I WANT him to stop hanging out with me? I picked up my coffee spoon and put it back down again, my eyes focused on a crumb from my pie.
“Rosalee,” George said, reaching out and touching my hand briefly, causing me look up. He was smiling, but in a friendly way. Not mocking like I was afraid it might be.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You’re not interviewing for a job here. No experience necessary.”
I laughed.
“You’re pretty, and funny, and I was intrigued by the wholesome small-town girl vibe you’ve got going on”
Was that a compliment?
He put his hand on mine again, lightly, “I’m still intrigued because like I said, I can’t fit you in a neat little box. I like talking to you. You have real conversations and actually share your real opinions. You’re not fake, and that’s pretty awesome. I’m sorry if I made you nervous.”
I blushed. “Well…thanks.”
He leaned back again, leaving my hand bereft and cold. “Now,” he said, shifting the conversation. “We have 45 minutes and unlimited coffee. I need some background before you start subjecting me to his hippie music of yours. Tell me about your top three favorite singers.”
I smiled.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Thursday before Christmas list...

1. The gifts are wrapped, parties have been attended, lights viewed, movies watched, and music played. Laundry is done (as much as it ever is). The suitcases still need to be packed, but there's time for that.

2. I have a bit of a scratchy throat and runny nose situation today. I'm currently blaming it on the wet leaves and pine needles covering our backyard (where I spent an hour or so yesterday afternoon), but whatever it is, that plus too many late nights is making me brain dead today.

3. I've discovered a quite enjoyable new fantasy series through the book reviews that I'm getting paid to do. The first is called In the Darkness Visible, by Ted Niall. I've read the first two and really enjoyed them. They're quick, action-filled reads, with compelling characters. Like I said, I got paid to review them, but I genuinely did like the first two in the series.

4. A podcast I listen to occasionally called The Art of Simple has had a mini series recently called "What's Saving My Life." The co-hosts basically talked about simple, everyday things making life just a little better or more manageable. Things from a great pair of jeans to good t.v. shows during a family illness, to a new haircut to everyday smoothies. It's been a fun reminder that sometimes the simplest pleasures are the sweetest.

5. I recently watched the 2007 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion (thanks to the loan from my pal Stephanie!), and oh my word, it is amazing. Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel and, in my opinion, the most heartbreakingly romantic. This adaptation wasn't very long -- of course, it's the shortest of Austen's work as well -- but I thought they did an excellent job of condensing the story and portraying the heart and soul. And the actors! I was captivated. Like all of Austen's work Persuasion is nuanced and subtle, and it takes skill to bring out passion and life and depth in the story, which the actors did very well.

I hope the next week or so is full of peace and joy and comfort. For some it's a season of fun and happiness, for others this holiday can be kind of intense and tinged with sadness. I pray that your days are full of of exactly what you need.

"Mountains would have bowed down. Seas would have roared. Trees would have clapped their hands. But the earth held its breath. As silent as snow falling, he came in. And when no one was looking, in the darkness, he came."      
- from The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Loyd-Jones, quote adapted from Luke 1-2

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Wednesday list...

1. Walmart is really coming through for me lately when it comes to running clothes. I've always had trouble finding shirts I like to run in. Eighty percent of the time I'm just doing easy runs in bone-melting heat and humidity, so I want a tank top that fits in my shoulders, isn't tight around my middle, and is in a comfortably thin (but not see through) tech fabric. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, yes.  So when I found the PERFECT tank for me at Walmart this summer I bought five. A few weeks ago, I also decided having another pair of pants/tights might be nice. I have one pair of tights from Old Navy that I like okay, but they're...just okay. Then last week I found the most comfortable and perfect (for me) pants! They're a jogger style, but more tight fitting than a pair of lounge pants, and made of a nice medium weight tech fabric (let's be honest, I don't need anything super heavy in Houston). They are sooo comfortable. I like that they're not skin tight, but slim fitting enough to be comfortable running in, and the jogger style means it doesn't matter how short my legs are. Unfortunately, I can't find a link to either of these things online, but if you're planning to continue or start exercising anytime soon and are in need of fresh athletic wear, you might find a gem at your local Walmart.

2. Jeremy and I finally finished Stranger Things 2 last week. So good! Sequels are hard -- you can't please everyone, especially when everyone now has expectations/wishes for your show. I, for one, am very satisfied. Was it perfect? No, but nothing is. Here are my top three things I liked about season two (SPOILERS AHEAD): 1. Eleven and Hopper. I liked their dynamic, I liked the fact that Hop isn't a perfect parent, but tried really hard. I liked the reality of seeing what it'd be like to have a hormonal teenage girl with super powers, a history of physical and psychological abuse, and little to no moral training or grounding. 2. Steve and Dustin. I loved everything about this pairing. I loved that the creators surprised me with the tragectory of Steve's character, while still making it a believable (to me) arc. 3. Bob Newman, superhero. So unexpected. When the show started, I didn't trust you -- I kept wondering when the other shoe was going to drop...but it turns out, you were just what everyone needed. Honorable mention to the actors -- these kids (well, the adults too, but that's more expected) are really outstanding, and did such a great job with their characters.

3. I was reminded today that there are 12 days until Christmas. There's a tiny part of me that feels like I should be more stressed. Isn't that silly? We've become so conditioned to look at this time of year as a busy, stressful one, and I've tried the past few years to really intentionally approach the Christmas season with a quiet, mindful, joyful spirit so I think maybe I shouldn't be too surprised that it seems to be working. That said, I really do need to set aside a couple of evenings to address Christmas cards.

4. My parents got us an Amazon Echo Show for Christmas. It's our first Echo, and as expected I am loving the play music feature. We've also used it to call my parents (who also have an Echo Show...this is the main reason for the gift. So grandkids can video chat easily with Oma and Papa) and set timers and check the score of the Houston Rockets game. I'm sure there are a lot of other features I'll enjoy using in the future, but for now it's definitely a fun new toy.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Wednesday list

1. It's rainy and cold here today. I don't even mind the rain too much since it brought with it some cooler temperatures. Of course, that also means that as soon as I finished brewing our typical 1/2 pot of coffee this morning I thought to myself...probably should have brewed the whole pot.

2. Thank goodness for public libraries. I have always been and always will be a public library fan, and while the one closest to us is closed for post-flooding repairs, the one we've been going to in the meantime has a fantastic children's department. One library-related thing saving my sanity these days is the plethora of book recommendations from the staff. In my head I spend lots of time at home perusing books and reading reviews and requesting the perfect list. But in reality, I rely on the once-a-week email recommendations I get based on the kids' ages and theme preferences, and on the display books at the library. I love the display books because I can browse and be spontaneous without digging through the stacks. Three cheers for librarians!

3. I'm finally giving in this week and shopping for a new pair or two of running shorts. I love the ones I have, three out of five pair don't have a draw string waist band, and the elastic is super stretched out, which makes for too much tugging during a run. I didn't feel like shopping at a store, so I bought some online and we'll see how they work.

4. Got my Christmas morning cinnamon rolls in the freezer yesterday Mmmm..... It's become one of those things that really makes me get in the Christmas spirit. I use The Pioneer Woman's recipe (minus her glaze/frosting) with just a couple of tweaks, and it hasn't let me down yet.

5. I read these verses this morning and they've really got me thinking today:
"I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of the world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds." II Corinthians 10:3-5
 A perk of my chronological Bible plan is that I end up reading large chunks of the Bible at once, entire letters, for example. I'm struck in Corinthians (the second letter, in particular) about how as Christians we are to be separate from the world -- not physically, but in our hearts and in the overflow of our hearts (our actions and behavior). I think Christians often interpret this in outward ways, but the above passage is, in my opinion, a strong example of how our separateness is about way more than how we dress, what media we consume, what we do or do not eat or drink. It's about our worldview, the very foundation of who we are, about what's in our hearts. THAT is what's really going to set us apart from the world (see: I Corinthians 13). While that applies in so many ways, this example of essentially how we fight/disagree really seems appropriate right now. "We do not wage war as the world does" -- leveraging hate and human power and anger and discord -- our weapons "have divine power to demolish strongholds." Our we fighting the right enemy? Are we speaking in gentleness and humility and compassion (not to be confused with weakness). Are we recognizing spiritual battles for what they are?  Food for thought.

Cheers! (It's the rainy English weather talking)