Keoka Lake, a YA novel

IMG_6045“Keoka Lake” is a coming-of-age story about a 16-year-old girl named Alice whose parents pull her out of boarding school before the end of the year and tell her she has to take care of her grandmother for the summer. It’s 1985, and Alice is furious about being left at the family compound in the middle of nowhere, Maine. She’d rather be loitering in Nantucket with her wealthy boarding school classmates, but her father tells her they can’t afford to send her back to school unless she helps her grandmother.

Over the course of the summer, Alice grows closer to her grandmother, and discovers family secrets that threaten the future of the family compound. When her grandmother pleads with Alice to help her save the lake, she realizes the importance of things, people, and places that last.

Sending the manuscript off to agents every day. Stay tuned….

Running and Writing

running@kiawah

On the eve of my half marathon I return to the inspiring essay by Joyce Carol Oates, “Running and Writing.” I will re-read it tonight and think of it during the 2.5 hours that I will be running along the streets of Kiawah Island tomorrow, hopefully free from pain.

She writes, “Both running and writing are highly addictive activities; both are, for me, inextricably bound up with consciousness. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t running, and I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t writing.”

Oates grew up in Upstate New York and writes of exploring the woods and how that time developed her storytelling. I grew up in the deep woods of Vermont and spent my afternoons after the school bus dropped me off walking up the dirt road toward home. To entertain myself I told stories in my head. Oates writes “of running or hiking in our pear and apple orchards, through fields of wind-rustling corn towering over my head, along farmers’ lanes and on bluffs above the Tonawanda Creek. Through childhood I hiked, roamed, tirelessly explored the countryside: neighboring farms, a treasure trove of old barns, abandoned houses and forbidden properties of all kinds, some of them presumably dangerous, like cisterns and wells covered with loose boards.” and says that these activities are intimately bound up with storytelling and I wholeheartedly agree.

I will not be alone on those 13.1 miles tomorrow, I will be filled with the stories in my head because like Oates says, “Running is a meditation.”

 

Best Picture Books of 2015

I can’t help but jump on the Best Books bandwagon (every time I use a cliche I can feel my former MFA writing teacher cringing, but sometimes I just can’t help myself!) and this list is for my favorite picture books of the year. I started the tradition of reading to my boys when they were little because that’s what my mom did with me. I have such great memories of lying in bed curled up against my mom as she read stories like the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Little House on the Prairie; books that opened my eyes to an expansive world. How could I not want to continue that tradition with my boys? Plus, according to recent (and obvious) research, having a house filled with books makes your kids smarter 😉

That said, at the end of every hectic day, there is nothing that calms me and gives me more pleasure than reading a good book with my children. My older boys read on their own now (and they love to read I’m proud to say!) but I still get to read with my six year old, named Reid because I tell him, your mom loves to read! So here is my list of favorites from 2015:

Lenny-and-Lucy

Lenny and Lucy by Phillip and Erin Stead

When this married couple writes a book I don’t even look at it before I buy it because I know it will be great (see A Sick Day for Amos McGee). My boys and I like to play the game of ‘what superpower would you choose’ and if I could choose a superpower it would be to be a supergirl-fly-on-the-wall. That way I could travel unseen to places like the Stead’s house. I imagine that they work in some sort of fabulous creative space with a big table that is covered in colored pencils and pieces of paper that are filled with charming characters. I know that their space must be warm and energetic and brilliantly creative. Reading their wonderful children’s books makes me feel like I am spending time with a great friend.

gorillas

Gorillas in our Midst by Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

Reid and I have a thing for gorilla books (If I had a Gorilla by Mercer Mayer, Little Beauty and Gorilla by Anthony Browne, and Little Gorilla by Ruth Bernstein) and the illustrations and subtle humor in Gorillas in our Midst makes me pull it from our crowded bookshelf time and again!

pond

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler

In Beyond the Pond a young boy is bored and dives into a neighboring pond, deeper and deeper, to emerge at last in a magical, parallel world. When he returns home, after his big adventure, he finds it wasn’t quite as he left it. This beautifully illustrated book carries out the simple theme of finding escape in your own back yard. Who doesn’t love to think there are mysteries within reach?

stanley

It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee

Jon Agee is one of the best children’s authors in my opinion. His humor is so understated and he comes up with such fantastical ideas like for example, his latest book, It’s Only Stanley, in which a family is awakened throughout the night by their dog who is busy fixing the tv, the bathtub drain, and  building a rocket ship. Agee says the book is about grown-ups who are not clued into what’s going on, and that the story sat on his shelf for several years because of the rhyming style which is wonderful to read aloud, but challenging to create.

Tonight, after an argument with my 11 year old over his Latin homework, writing this blog post has calmed me. I’d like to thank these authors for their continued brilliance and creativity that brings my family great joy on a nightly basis!

A Work/Life Balance? Does it Exist?

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was the most downloaded article in the history of The Atlantic magazine. It was published the same year Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandburg released her book “Lean-In,” which encourages young women to stay in the working world once they become mothers.

Slaughter has followed up her article with the groundbreaking book “Unfinished Business,” which offers an in-depth look at the status of equality in the workforce and an action plan for change.

In her debut novel “A Window Opens,” Elisabeth Egan illustrates these issues through the character of Alice Pearce, a happily married mother of three whose life is transformed when her husband loses his job and she is forced to find full-time work. Alice’s struggle is an inspiring, painful, funny and familiar account of a contemporary woman trying to maintain a work/family balance.

These books spoke to me and comforted me really during a difficult time in my life. Anne-Marie Slaughter calls it a “Tipping Point” and writes, “A key thing to anticipate is the possibility of a tipping point, a situation in which what was once a manageable and enjoyable work – family balance can no longer be sustained – regardless of ambition, confidence, or even an equal partner.” As a married woman with three healthy boys, I have all those things, and yet I reached a point where I could no longer sustain the life I was leading. My tipping point was being diagnosed with situational depression and anxiety.

Writing has always been healing for me and in an attempt to understand what happened and why I reached that tipping point and how to move forward, I’ve been writing and reading. This is an excerpt of an essay I am working on titled “I Never Wanted to be a Supermom.”

I am a 44-year-old woman with three boys; two dogs who don’t get along, and a husband who works long hours. Until recently, every day was a series of tasks to complete. This was my typical schedule: (Nod your heads if it sounds familiar.)

Make breakfast, get dressed (battle with my six-year-old about whether his shoes are tied the way he likes them!) meet the school bus, race out the door with my lunch and coffee to drive downtown so I can work 8 hours in front of a computer at a non-profit with a rapidly shrinking budget, sit in endless meetings, (check the texts from my babysitter to make sure the kids made it safely home, and that they are doing their homework), race out of the office at 5:00pm to sit in the car and seethe over the traffic, wondering what to make for dinner (if we have food in the house all is fine, but most nights I have to race to the grocery store before the babysitter leaves for the day), feed the boys, hope my husband makes it home in time to drop one or two kids off at sports, walk the dogs, pick up the kids from sports, demand that they shower, get everyone to bed (try to stay awake while reading to my six year old)…and then collapse on the couch next to my husband.

But this is what everyone does. All the moms I know keep calendars to monitor their family’s schedule. My entire office was made up of working mothers and if they could do it, so could I. Right? Wrong.

I’d been struggling with stomachaches for years, but figured I must be allergic to dairy, or gluten, or raw vegetables. So I began eliminating all sorts of food from my diet in an attempt to relieve myself from the stomach pains, but nothing worked. Everything I put in my mouth seemed to cause my stomach to hurt. In January we took a family vacation and I said to hell with it and ate whatever I wanted. I stood by the blue green water with my family and ate fried fish, conch salad, and drank Bahamian beer. I slept late and watched my boys snorkel, and felt great. I felt great not just because I was in a tropical paradise, but because I was free from pain. I was not consumed with the fire in my belly. At the end of the week we packed our bags, climbed onto the plane, and as we got close to home I began thinking about whether we had any food in the fridge for dinner, and how many emails I would have to answer at work the next day, and whether I’d scheduled the babysitter for our return, and my stomach started to hurt. Walking out of the airport I turned to my husband.

“It’s stress,” I announced. “My stomach hurts because I’m stressed out. How could I have missed it all this time?” He nodded his head. I felt stupid for taking so long to figure it out, but knowing didn’t make the pain go away. I couldn’t stay on vacation forever so I gave myself a pep talk and returned to the daily race. What choice did I have?

Related Reading on this topic:

Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family (New York Times)

The Case for Taking Parental Leave When your Kids are Teenagers (New York Magazine)

Overwhelmed, Work, Love, and Play When No one has the Time, by Brigid Schulte