Cowboy Dreams, Long-Ago Brides

Posted August 30th, 2010 by Candice

Friday we took off to that antique mecca, Mechanicsville on Route 301.  This time it was my husband’s idea.  I’m redoing his office and we saw something in Through the Garden Gate a few weeks ago that he decided he wanted for his room after all.  First stop, the Hanover Cafe for lunch.  Slap next door is the historic Hanover Tavern which has a fine restaurant.  But we both prefer funky places the locals frequent, where everybody knows your name and how you like your burger. 

I have always wanted a carousel horse in my house. 

And I’d kill for this 1930s wooden Hoosier cabinet used as a condiment station.  The painted detailing is so Art Deco! 

The specials of the day.  Their banana puddin’ is good but I was in the mood for devil’s food cake with white icing.

My husband always goes for the chicken rice soup, worth the drive for, he says.  

This is inside Through the Garden Gate.  Can you guess what theme my husband’s renovated office will be?  We bought one of these.  The last time we were here, two weeks ago, there was a leather cowgirl vest.  Turns out my sister bought it!

I bought these.  No, I’m not still not getting married again.  These are good luck charms for my next novel. 

at this wedding tiara (lace scarf is mine).  The orange blossoms are made of wax and the whole thing, headband and all, was dipped in wax (why, I don’t know).  Wax tiaras were popular in the 20s and 30s. 

This long-ago wedding–November, 1939–took place in Fredericksburg.  When I got the announcement home, I noticed something odd.  The bride and groom aren’t printed as part of the announcement.  No, the figures were hand-painted around the lettering.  A wedding gift from an artist friend?  [Click on the photo to enlarge it–the hand-painting is amazing.]

This was on the floor of an ephemera booth, crammed back in the corner under a table.  When I pulled it out, opened it, and realized what it was, I clutched it to my heart and said, "Mines!" like my niece Susan used to say.  I love this as much as the 1933 World’s Fair scrapbook I found earlier this year.  Maybe more.  It’s the story of Edna’s marriage to Bill on Sept. 12, 1936, told in cards and one telegram. 

Each shower card was saved and lovingly glued in the pages.  Edna had a slew of showers–kitchen, lingerie, "rags," handkerchief.  When was the last time you attended a handkerchief shower and bridge luncheon?  Some of her friends and workmates wrote (or copied from magazines) little poems.  The shower cards are tiny–2 by 2 inches.  And so precious.  Kittens and Scotties were a big theme in the 30s. 

Next are bridge tallies and the place mat from Mrs. K’s Toll House in Maryland where they had a dinner party.  Then come pages of wedding cards, congratulating the happy couple.  Edna wrote out their honeymoon intinerary, all the hotels from Harrisonburg, PA, through New England, and finally stopping at the Willard Hotel in D.C. on their way home to Richmond.

Then come anniversary cards.  One month.  One year, their "paper" anniversary.  Their second anniversary.  The album ends with a single birthday card from Bill, the envelope addressed to his "sweetest one." 

Oh, how I love this album.  I would have knocked down old ladies and paid double just to have it.  I still don’t understand how such things like the framed wedding announcement and someone’s lovingly-created scrapbook wind up in dusty corners of junk shops.  Surely people’s lives are deserve better treatment.  I’m glad I can rescue them and give them a good home.  If I can beat my sister to them!

Winchester’s Revenge, or How to Pill a Cat

Posted August 24th, 2010 by Candice

For nearly three years, Winchester was the star of my other blog, Ellsworth’s Journal.  He wore funny hats and shirts and had quite a little following for his sarcastic world view.  Then Winchester got sick with a chronic respiratory ailment.  He sleeps a lot and is quiet when he’s awake, very unWinchester-like.  To both our dismay, he must take medication every day for the rest of his (and my) life. 

The vet cheerfuly gave him omega-3 capsules "to pour over his food" every day, a slimy supplement to "smear on his paws" twice a day, and the worst, a dry bitter antihistimine pill once a day.  Our other cat, Persnickety, is also on a daily pill for her thyroid.  Hers is a tiny pill that is crushed and put in her food.  She eats it or not, the way she does everything.  But Winchester lives for his food.  And now at every meal, I’m doing something to his food or to him.

The slimy supplement isn’t too bad.  I just swipe a fingerful on his gums.  As for "smearing it on his paws," I know from experience cats will walk all over the carpet instead of licking it off.  The omega-3 ruined his appetite, even when I poured the fish oil over Wegman’s deluxe duck-flavored cat food.  (I stocked up and now have 50 cans of duck cat food that neither cat will touch.  They are bored with duck!)

But the pill.  Oh, the pill.  Every day Winchester and I wake up filled with dread.  I have tried every way imaginable to get it down him.  I wrapped him in a towel.  One shredded towel and many bleeding fingers later, I gave that up.  I have tried pouncing on him between meals but he can smell my desperation and hides.  I’ve tried wheedling.  I’ve given him treats.  People tuna.  Canned salmon.  I bought the Pill Popper.  It would work fine if I had two more hands–who’s going to push the plunger that’s ten inches from his mouth?

There are several videos on YouTube in which vets demonstrate how to pill a cat.  These invariably show a cat lying in a zen state on the examining table and an equally calm vet efficiently dropping a pill in the cat’s mouth.  Often there is another person holding the cat.  Yes, you can pill a cat once.  Cats carry grudges, you know.

In the end, I have become Cat Wrangler.  I throw Winchester to the floor and sit on him.  With one hand I pull his head back and push down his flailing front paws.  With the other I pry open his steel-trap jaws and throw the pill in.  He spits it out.  I throw it in again.  He pushes it out between his teeth.  I throw, he spits until the pill is a drooly nasty mess.  Some days I win.  Some days I don’t.  Winchester is now wary as a snow leopard.  He doesn’t visit my office.  He doesn’t sit on my lap any more.  He  doesn’t play.

So now I bring him upstairs to my office, the one place he won’t associate with medicine and unpleasantness.  I get out his file box of toys.  The antihistimine makes him dopey so he doesn’t chase after Mousie like he used to.  When the pill wears off, he’s too snuffly to pick up Mousie.  So he lies on the floor and I play Mousie with him.

Seven years ago when Winchester showed up on our porch, thin as a bed slat and bedraggled from a cat fight that nearly cost him his eye, I never thought the Feline Ping-pong Ball would ever settle down.  He did.  Now he’s too subdued.  You can see how bright-eyed he is in the first three photos.  The last three pictures I took yesterday.

I miss the old Winchester, but everyone changes.  Even cats.


Tea for Two

Posted August 23rd, 2010 by Candice

A late birthday celebration is better than none at all.  My husband wasn’t able to come to Hollins this summer for the weekend of my birthday.  So, six weeks later, we went to Pinkadilly, our favorite place to celebrate our Valentine’s Day anniversary and Christmas. 

It was a typical hot summer Friday in Fredericksburg.  The town was filled with tourists, doing tourist-y things.

Pinkadilly was busy, but we had booked our favorite table.  Sometimes we come here just for lunch.  We’ll have Earl Grey creme tea and scones and quiche or a sandwich.  But when it’s time for a big blow-out, only Tea for Two will do.

The second we are seated, I swap teacups from other tables.  All the cups and saucers are different, but sometimes the ones at our reserved table are uninspired.   I make sure I have a vintage cup and saucer from England.  After all, it’s a tea shop!  This time I swapped the sugar bowl too.  My husband is amused by this practice (and maybe a little embarrassed).   Then we are served a pot of hot tea.

Next comes the quiche and soup of the day.  My husband usually opts for the salad they created just for him instead of the soup.  He also is unable to take a normal photograph.

Then comes the tea service.  The scones of the day (we get one of each) were cinnamon raisin and vanilla with individual pots of Devonshire cream and lemon curd.  Usually we fight over the Devonshire cream (never enough) but this time we were quite civilized.  The second tier holds savories:  cucumber cream cheese rounds, spinach-artichoke dip in a teeny tortilla chip, pineapple ham salad in pita, and their signature chicken salad with grapes. 

The top tier–oh! the desserts!  Homemade chocolate truffles (when my husband’s back was turned, I scarfed his), blackberry bruchetta (wonderfully tart and crunchy), strawberry cake with cream cheese icing, and Pinkadilly’s signature Pinkadilly pie (think pink lemonade in a pie crust) layered in a shot glass.

We have never seen another man in here, except for the tatooed waiter.  I suppose all that overwhelming pinkness threatens their manhood or something.  Pink walls, pink tablecloths, flowers and delicate china things wherever you look.  Plus all that itty-bitty food.

But they are missing out.  We’re stuffed when we leave this place. 

Full and happy, my husband even takes a normal picture.

Better Than Prozac

Posted August 18th, 2010 by Candice

Lately I’ve been frequenting Goodwill, on the hunt for vintage furniture.  My husband’s office–the worst of our three cluttered upstairs rooms–is last to be made-over.  Because his office is tiny, I’m on the lookout for small pieces of furniture with drawers.  While at the Hollins Goodwill this summer, I found a 1950s Bassett desk for $30.  Yesterday at our local Goodwill I nabbed a same-style nightstand for $3.50! 

I was also looking for a used wedding dress.  Hold the phone, am I getting married again?  No.  Then why on earth would I want a wedding dress?  For my well-being, of course!

One of my friends at Hollins–a Goodwill junkie–scored a gorgeous wedding gown for a mere $60 (we figured the gown originally cost between  $1500 and $2000).  In her apartment back on campus, I helped her climb into it.  You’ve never seen such a dress:  miles of tulle, a slipper satin overskirt, a wicked tight sweetheart bodice with re-embroidered lace and sequins.  My friend is tall and willowy and the dress, a size 2 or 3, fit her like a dream.  I struggled to attach the separate cathedral train, more clouds of tulle.  The dress and train must have weighed 20 pounds.  We were both sweating and laughing by the time she was well and truly in the gown.  She ran out of her room to look at herself in the hall mirror, hair straggling, barefoot.  Then she jumped up and down with glee.  She looked beautiful. She felt wonderful!

The truth:  my friend isn’t getting married.  At least not in the immediate future.  Although she doesn’t look it, she is in her early 50s, an age when one should tie the knot in something more sedate.  Sedate, heck.  Why should young brides have all the glory wearing fabulous wedding dresses?  In fact, we should all–young and old, married and unmarried–have a fabulous wedding dress!  (Not your own wedding dress–you want one you can wear around the house).  Something to slip into when we’re feeling down. 

We could throw away our Prozac and quit seeing our therapists.  I guarantee you that swishing around your house once a week in a wedding dress will make you feel like Cinderella. 

So that’s why I was pawing through the dress racks at Goodwill yesterday.  I’ll keep looking.  Maybe I’ll stumble on a vintage debutante gown.  Or one like that delectable 1950s pink wedding ensemble pictured above.  And when I find the perfect dress (any one that fits), I’ll bring it home and tell my husband the dress is the latest prescription for mental health.   

New Book, First Look

Posted August 16th, 2010 by Candice

The Twelve Days of Christmas in Washington, D.C. is part of the "Twelve Days of Christmas in America" series.  This book was a lot of fun to write–a guidebook of the nation’s capital during it’s best season!

Sarah Hollander, an Alexandria illustrator, did the briliant illustrations. 

The book will be out in October, in time for the holiday season, but Sarah and I received our "first look" copies last week.

Only 131 days until Christmas!

Gold Stars for Writing?

Posted August 13th, 2010 by Candice

Everybody loves rewards.  People sign up for credit cards that offer cash back.  They use their frequent-flyer miles.  They check in hotels with hot cookies in the lobby and only-read-once books that previous guests pass along.  Dogs get treats for obeying commands like "sit" and "stay."  Cats get treats, well, because they’re cats (which reminds me, this morning I heard Winchester hacking up his before-breakfast-treats and I know I’ll find the mess on one of our busy-patterned  "Oriental" rugs, usually by stepping in it). 

Kids, of course, get gold stars.  Their charts fill up for lining up quickly-no-talking.  For erasing the board (black? green? white? so Smart it erases itself?).  For helping another student with their times tables, without being asked.  All day long they have opportunities to fill a whole galaxy with gold stars.

Why shouldn’t writers?  Should we give ourselves a gold star for doing what we’re supposed to be doing?  After all, writing is our job.  No one gives my husband a gold star for going to work every day.  And no one gave me a gold star for showing up at my computer nearly every day for nearly 30 years.  Why start now?

I didn’t think up the Star Chart.  Credit goes to Heather Sellers who blogged about it a few years ago.  She says, "I am supposed to write every day.  It’s good training.  I like to have a system.  I like to know where I am in the little scheme of things."  So do I.  But often, in the little scheme of things I let work slide. 

So I created a calendar just for my gold stars.  I got the idea for a "prettified planner" from the new issue of Somerset Life.  Yesterday I went to Office Depot and bought this cheap school calendar.  (Right now you can buy calendars from July 2010 to July 2011.)  And in the teacher’s section, I picked up a packet of gold stars.  It felt so good to hold in my hand–all those gold stars to dispense at will!

Last night, while I was watching "CSI: Miami," I cut out squares of scrapbook paper and glued them on the August calendar page.  Then I doodled and colored (using sparkle gel pens and Copic markers–sometimes you just wanna play!).  You can cut up magazines or even add little photographs to your Star Chart.  You can even put birthdays and appointments on yours, but I’m keeping mine strictly for writing.

And not just any writing.  No blog writing, no journaling, no note-taking, no research trips.  I only get a gold star if I do two hours of from-the-gut-original writing.  Two hours.  And then I get a gold star.  I suspect the Star Chart will reveal that I don’t spend as many days doing as much of that hard original writing as I think.  Yesterday I did and got a gold star.  Today, I’m off on a research trip.  No gold star.  I doubt I’ll like seeing that one gold star floating on my chart and will probably get cracking this weekend. 

It’s all about the work.  However we get it done.  And why shouldn’t we get a little reward at the end of the day? 

Fixin’ to Get Ready: Next Book Project

Posted August 12th, 2010 by Candice

My chapter book workshop for the SCBWI Carolinas conference next month is in the bag.  Yesterday I finished the group exercise and handouts.  After a summer of critiquing and talking about picture books, I feel putting together this workshop is the writing equivalent of easing into the Chesapeake Bay.  In May, the water is on the nippy side.  By August (especially this summer), the Bay is like a bathtub, warm and inviting. 

The sequel to my chapter book Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World is due in November.  It’s called Iva Honeysuckle Discovers Her Match and is set in a beach town along the Chesapeake Bay where Iva and her family spend a one-week vacation.   My vintage blackboard announces to all who walk into my office what book project I am working on.  That’s the first step in my fixin’-to-get-ready process.

Back when I was writing between four and six books a year (not that long ago), I would finish a book, straighten my office, then start the next contractual project by turning on my computer and typing, "Chapter One.  The…"  I’m over-simplifying my process, of course, but aside from outlines and research, I did very little up-front work. 

Nowadays I spend six months or more planning a book.  This is either because I’m older and slower or the books I’m writing now require me to build a sturdier keel.  So what do I do in those six months?  Write notes on the plot, the story, the character’s situation.  I create the setting, make maps and a town history.  I write lengthy character sketches.  And I wait for my main character’s voice.  Sometimes I try to coax her voice and she’ll answer or she won’t.  

After a while I have too many files on my computer in the book’s folder.  So I print off that material and put it in a notebook with a clear plastic insert on the cover.  Here’s where the scrapbooker takes over:  I create a collage to slide into that insert.  Each notebook has the name of the main character and each collage relates to the background of the story.  Here is the notebook for IVA 2.  Gaudy, isn’t it?  It’s bright, even a little sunburnt.  The cover is like those tee-shirts you buy at the beach that say funny, off-color things that are fine on the boardwalk but you’d never wear at home.  It makes me smile.

Next, I gather totems.  These are objects I keep on my desk to remind me of my book when I’m not working on it.  My book totems are always vintage and always specific to the project. 

Here are two very old National Geographic magazines, from 1925 and 1928.  Iva has inherited her great-grandfather Ludwell’s collection.  She cherishes these magazines because she plans to be a great discoverer.  Of course, she takes her magazines to the beach.  The Vacation Church School certificate is mine.  It says that on "June 1957 Candice Ferris [last name misspelled, usually it’s my first name] of Manassas has regularly attended the sessions of Vacation Church School . . ."  Yes, the word "regularly" is crossed out.  Like me, Iva is a vacation Bible school drop-out,, but she’s all over a real vacation.  The charm bracelet is mine, too.  My father sent it to me on one of his trips to Key West.  I never wore it.  But Iva’s almost-the-exact-same-age cousin will covet a bracelet just like this in a boardwalk gift shop.

In my mind, Iva’s family is staying in the beach house my family rented in Ocean City when I was 11.  Last night I was rooting around in my mother’s things and found two postcards showing that very same house.  On the back, my mother wrote the rates–$35 a night!  I took that uninspiring gray beach scene photograph in Ocean City with my very first camera (my photography skills haven’t improved much). I found another postcard from our last all-girl (my mother, my sister, my nieces, and me) trip to Rehoboth Beach, 1980.  My sister gave me the egg timer with the seahorse, a souvenir of her trip to Virginia Beach.  And the tiny purse made from a mollusk shell is a flea market find.  I imagine it was a souvenir from some girl’s long-ago vacation, maybe to Jamestown where she also bought that tiny little plate.

It’s time to fill the notebook, arrange the totems on my desk.  Time to imagine the taste of Dolly’s saltwater taffy, feel strong August sun burning my shoulders and hot sand beneath my bare toes, hear the crash of waves and wheek-wheek of gulls overhead. 

Iva, grab the sand pail.  Let’s go.

Farmstand Goodness

Posted August 9th, 2010 by Candice

On Saturday mornings, I go to our farmer’s market, a half a mile from my house.  I buy corn, beets, new potatoes, string beans, yellow squash, zucchini, purple and sweet onions, tomatoes.  From the Mennonites’, I buy good wheat bread, rolls, whoopie pies, and sometimes oatmeal cookies.  From the dealer at the very end, I buy Cut-and-Come-Again zinnias and other field-grown flowers, three big bunches at a dollar each. 

The farmer’s market makes me feel happy.  I spend money in nearly every booth, spreading my "wealth," but getting back far greater riches.  I listen to the farmers talk about their growing season.  This year, very dry and hot.  I understand their struggle every week to us bring beautiful tomatoes, earthy-tasting beets, corn so sweet it could be served for dessert.  I understand because I was once a farmstand kid.

When I grew up, my mother and stepfather raised a huge garden that covered three sides of our property.  All summer we ate what they grew.  In July and August, my mother canned tomatoes, beans, pole limas in a sweltering kitchen, and made tomato juice, ketchup, grape jelly for winter suppers when the garden was under snow.  But they sold most of the vegetables to pay real estate taxes.  We didn’t have an actual farmstand.  Instead people called in their orders and came to our house to pick them up.  Friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives.  The prices were low and the vegetables were handed over clean and wrapped.  Sometimes the corn was husked and the limas were hulled–a tedious job I despised. 

As a kid who preferred indoor sports like reading, it’s no surprise I hated working in the garden.  It had nothing to recommend it.  Hot, buggy, itchy.  Even walking through the corn patches made my skin break out.  To me, the garden represented a lot of work for very little return.  Seed catalogs arrived in February.  I did enjoy poring over those with my stepfather after supper.  I’d pick out outlandish things like Giant Max pumpkins (I longed to raise a 500-pound pumpkin) while my stepfather mulled over the virtues of Big Boy over Early Girl tomatoes.  My mother raised tomatoes and peppers in the house, moving the seedlings from window to window to catch the warm sun.  In March, if the soil was dry enough, my stepfather cranked up his tractor.  I’d ride with him when he plowed.  He planted by the signs.  I studied the almanac, too, trying to fathom why he planted potatoes in the dark of the moon.  Then came a spring trip to a man who grew cabbage and onion sets in coldframes. 

My parents lived by the weather.  Too much rain would wash the seeds out or cause them to rot.  Too little and we’d have to carry water to the baby plants.  A thunderstorm could flatten an entire corn crop.  Tomatoes would burst.  Potatoes got black spot.  The only thing that grew regardless of the weather was cucumbers.  We picked them by the carload.  Squash was pretty hardy, too.  My parents grew white patty pan squash.  In later years, they grew yellow crookneck which "made" faster than pattypan. 

In those days the rhythm of summers, which seemed gloriously long, rose and fell by the garden.  Someone phoned in an order for corn and beans–my mother went to the garden to pick them.  My stepfather came home from his job and went straight to the garden to hoe weeds in the bush limas or haul buckets of water to the tomatoes.  If anyone asked where somebody was, the standard answer, "In the garden." 

The summer I was eleven I quit the garden.  I declared I didn’t eat anything from the garden–a bald-faced lie–and I shouldn’t have to work in it.  In truth, I kept my mother chained to the stove every single Friday night fixing fried squash.  This delicacy is something like fried green tomatoes, only much better.  Though we had fried squash during the week, on Fridays I was allowed to eat nothing but fried squash.  My mother stood over her iron skillet, frying thin slices of squash that had been dipped in milk then dredged in cornmeal.  I ate plate after plate, like our hogs who feasted on the squash peelings. 

White pattypan squash is best for frying.  Yellow squash is too watery.  When I stumbled on some at the farmer’s market Saturday, I knew I was gonna fry me some squash Sunday night.  The best way to make fried squash (or fried anything) is in a seasoned iron skillet using Crisco.  Peel your squash and slice thin.  Soak the slices in milk, then dredge in cornmeal and drop into the hot skillet.  Sprinkle with salt.  Turn once until crispy and brown.  Drain on paper bags.  I had to make do with a Teflon skillet, vegetable oil, skim milk, and paper towels.   I was also making corn-on-the-cob and trying to peel cooked beets without giving myself third degree burns, set the table, and pour iced tea.  How did my mother do it?

My husband politely ate one slice of my fried squash (he’s a Yankee, what can you expect?) but that left more for me.  My squash didn’t taste as good as my mama’s, but it was good enough.  I could almost hear her slam out the back door, wearing an old shirt of my stepfather’s, calling, "I’ll be in the garden." 

Wait for me.  This time, I’ll come, too.

Sisters Are Forever

Posted August 6th, 2010 by Candice

On Wednesday of this week I went to my sister’s in Richmond to get my hair done.  My sister has been my hairdresser, on and off, much of my life.  Even before she became a professional, she gave me a "Vidal Sassoon" haircut that I tore myself to have, only she didn’t have real scissors or training and my hair is naturally curly so when my cut didn’t look exactly like Twiggy’s, I pitched a royal fit and kicked the footboard off our mother’s bed.  I was 14.  Patricia was 20.   Amazingly enough, she still does my hair.

I usually get my hair cut and colored while I’m at Hollins because it’s a long stretch between visits to my sister.  I didn’t this time.  My sister met me at the door when I pulled up in her driveway, declaring she could see my white roots shining clear to Fredericksburg.  Sometimes when I go to have my hair done, we go junkin’.

We both love to go junkin’, even if we don’t have any money.  The top photo is of my sister taking a picture of me while I’m taking a picture of her.  We’d been antiquin’ that whole live long day.  Antiquin’ with my sister is often quite an experience.  If we go to an antique mall or a huge flea market, the first thing Pat will latch onto is a table or a heavy chair.  And we have to lug it around the entire trip.  Pat is the type to examine every teeny little thing in a booth, while I tend to rip through them (missing most of the good stuff).  We have the same taste and even collect the same things, but we never squabble over finds.  Almost never. 

But this time we just stayed put at her house.  Her dogs, Sugar and Spike (remember that comic book?), swam around underfoot like goldfish.  She caught me up on the doins’ of her daughters, Susan and Stephanie, and their kids, Taylor, Sherri, Ashley, and Alex.  Then, as always, talk turned to the old days when we were kids.  We try to recreate the good parts of our childhoods and piece together the puzzle of the bad parts. 

We sat in her den and watched "I Love Lucy" and she talked about the second house our father built, the big brick one in Manassas on Sudley Road.  Although I was born in that house (not literally), I don’t remember it all.  Pat described the house room by room–the three TVs, including one in our parents’ bedroom and a built-inTV in the paneled rec room in the basement, the leather bar, the hearth that went across one end of the rec room, the Duncan Phyfe furniture in the dining room, the screened-in porches with gliders, the patio and big brick barbeque.  A house made for parties and entertaining.  My sister’s words rose and fell, like listening to a fairy tale.

Shortly after I was born, the party ended and my father lost that house.  We moved to a small white house behind it.  And then a little later, to my aunt’s and uncle’s house next door after my father left us. 

Through it all my sister and I have remained close.  As the youngest, I’ve always wanted to be just like her:  tough, kind, creative, and a good cook (I’ve fallen down in a few departments).  Wednesday she painted my toenails–a wicked dark green OPI shade like hers.  I put my foot up on her knee and flashed back to the days when she would lie on her back in the yard and I would stand on her knees and grip her hands and she’d raise her legs so I’d be up in the air, one of the "tricks" we did together.

Then we watched Lucy and Ricky and Ethel and Fred going to California.  We’ve been watching "I Love Lucy" together for about 45 years.  It’s our favorite show and it still makes us laugh. 

I’m lucky to have a sister who remembers things I don’t.  Who understands the siren call of antiques and agrees that yes, I should buy that vintage child’s booster seat even though I have no place for it.   Who I can trust with childhood secrets, with problems, with my hair.  Even if she can’t give me a Sassoon cut.

Working Small

Posted August 5th, 2010 by Candice

Whenever I come back from a Hollins summer, I suffer from re-entry into the real world.  My house hasn’t been cleaned in six weeks (my husband does vacuum and sweep), at least one cat is sick, and I have the feeling I need to be someplace important but I’m staring at the wrong bus schedule. 

The same is true this summer.  My house is straight, but names scrawled in the dust on the furniture can be viewed from Landsat.  Winchester had to go to the vet for a chronic respiratory ailment which involves new medications he’ll be on the rest of his life–and a lot of subterfuge on the part of mine.  And I need to re-enter my work zone of major projects.  What to do first?  The memoir?  The current novel?  The novel I put off to start the current novel?  The novel that’s due in November that I insanely believe I can write in six weeks?   Or maybe I should start working on the workshop for next month’s conference?  Or what about that idea for a paper for next year’s Children’s Literature Association conference?  Or . . .?

Two days ago I was in our new Joseph-Beth bookstore, meeting with the marketing person about an upcoming event.  I couldn’t remember her name (or mine) and was so tired I felt stupid.  All I wanted to do was lie down on the comfy sofa by the waterwall and take a little nap.  I had only been home three days.  I wasn’t ready to be my public self.  Not yet.

I have learned the hard way it does me no good to beat myself up.  If I frantically throw myself into trying to clean the whole house in a weekend, I get cranky, Winchester ducks under the ottoman (no easy feat considering he gained a pound this summer), and my husband starts looking at the classifieds for vacations for one.  If I tell myself, "Today I must scrub all the bathrooms, go to Wegman’s, write chapter one of the novel and research the paper idea and outline my workshop," most likely I will read a Dorothea Benton Frank novel and eat Cool Ranch Doritoes and then be grumpy because I didn’t do anything on my list.

Instead I will Work Small. 

Working small means going to a funky little diner instead of a swanky restaurant where you are ushered to a table with too many forks and presented with a wine list and the waiter rattles off fifteen specials of the day.  Working small means taking a stool at the counter.  It means ignoring the long menu (though the fried bologna sandwich is tempting) and ordering one small thing, like a piece of pie.

Today I will edit the "musts" and "shoulds" to a very small list.  I will work on one writing project and not all day.  This morning I will write for fifteen minutes.  No longer.  This afternoon I’ll write another fifteen minutes.  Then I’ll take notes on the book. 

But first I will bake a yellow cake, before it gets too hot.  After my fifteen minutes of morning writing, I’ll go to the library.  Then I’ll go back to the Joseph-Beth bookstore, but I won’t talk to anyone.  I’m still not ready to be my public self.  I won’t browse the whole store either.  Instead I’ll pick out two magazines and curl up in a chair in a corner and look at them.  I’ll buy one of them.

I won’t go to the big fancy grocery store either.  Too many people, too many choices.  Instead I may go to our version of the funky little diner and order one thing, a piece of pie.  Because it’s a funky little place, they will be out of everything but coconut cream and lemon meringue. 

Lemon meringue, definitely.  I’ll eat the pointy part first and make a wish.