Less Than 24 Hours Until February Is Over

It is a grand day, everyone. The last day of another February. Tomorrow it will be March. Let that sink in for a moment.

While you shiver on this sunny, 0°F morning; while my arctic dog is rolling around in the snow like an idiot; while we shuffle through yet another day that feels like a science experiment gone awry–all that time we are moving closer, moment by moment, to March.

Yes, it will be largely a symbolic victory. The battle against seasonal affective disorder will continue and we still can’t see the grass, but we shall overcome the snow in the end.

The birds are already starting to sing the victory song. Can you hear them?

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Frost on the Thaw

I know that our glorious three-day warm up is done and freezing temps are back, but the incredible wind today puts me in mind of this hopeful poem from Robert Frost…

To the Thawing Wind

Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snow-bank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do to-night,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.

My new writing goal is to finish the first draft by the first day of spring, March 20th. Think of it–we are just one month away from the equinox. Not that will mean anything for the weather…

Author Susie Finkbeiner on the Origin of a Novel

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Today I’m happy to introduce you to Susie Finkbeiner, a West Michigan writer to watch. We’ve traded blogs for the day, so after you read this, head on over to Susie’s blog for my apologetic for the most depressing month of the year.

Susie has a quick wit and a quirky sense of humor, but she’s not afraid to tackle difficult, emotional subjects. Her latest book, My Mother’s Chamomile, is available for purchase for both Kindle and paperback readers. And I love the story of how she came about the idea, which she’s going to share with you below.

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The first time I heard reference to chamomile tea, I was a little girl, listening to my mom read Peter Rabbit. After his wild romp through Mr. McGregor’s garden, Peter had an upset tummy and his mother gave him a dose of chamomile tea.

I thought for sure it was punishment for losing his jacket and shoes.

“One tablespoon to be taken at bedtime.”

That sounded like something I wanted to avoid. I would have preferred the bread and milk and blackberries that Peter’s sister got.

Years passed (I won’t tell you how many), and I still had a prejudice against chamomile. A few people told me that it was “nasty”. Based on my childhood imaginings, I believed them.

Chamomile seemed like the kind of thing die hard tea drinkers sipped with pinky fingers pointing to the heavens. And, I truly believed, that they only imbibed it because they thought they had to prove how die hard they were about herbs.

You know those herbal people. They are a rough and tumble crowd.

Then, a couple years ago, I started work on my second novel. Somehow, my characters were tea drinkers. Throughout the writing, I discovered that, not only did they drink it, they grew it.

They had a big old garden full of chamomile plants.

I’m sure Erin would concur, characters in novels often catch the author off guard.

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I decided that I might as well learn as much as I could about chamomile. Part of that was steeping a cup and taking a sip.

Much to my surprise, it had a pleasant aroma, much like sweet apples. And the flavor wasn’t as terrible as I’d expected. In fact, I rather liked it.

I sipped and read about the plant. While I researched, I found that the flower has been used for nearly 2,000 years to wash wounds, reduce inflammation, calm upset stomachs. It is, however, mostly used to comfort its drinkers, helping them to rest.

A lightbulb popped on over my head. In addition to being tea growing and sipping people, my characters were also a family of funeral directors. They made it their business to comfort their community in their worst moments.

Like chamomile, they served to soothe and calm.

These days, when I read Peter Rabbit to my kids, I smile at the mother giving her son a tablespoon of chamomile tea. Instead of punishment, it turned out to be merciful. A remedy for his overactive little body and sour stomach.

I wonder if she drank what was left over to soothe her nerves from having such a rambunctious bunny.

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Susie Finkbeiner is a wife and mother living in the beauty of West Michigan. When she’s not busy writing, she enjoys playing Scrabble with her husband, zoo trips with her kids, coffee dates with good friends, and quiet moments to read. Susie is the author of Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile, both published by WhiteFire Publishing. She blogs at susiefinkbeiner.wordpress.com.

The Creative Momentum of Concentrated Time

I wrote this post just a little over a year ago. Since that big writing weekend at Gun Lake, I’ve taken a few blocks of concentrated time off of work in order to write. The first week of this year I did this and managed to write over 13,000 words and the first five chapters of a new novel. And I felt pretty swell about that.

I managed to write here and there in the weeks following, ending up with twelve chapters and nearly 28,000 words by the first week of February. At this rate I thought maybe I could be done by Easter.

Then this past week I took another writing vacation that was capped with another weekend at Gun Lake. Two weeks of vacation already used up in February?! Why would I do such a thing? How foolish!

Actually, it’s not a big problem. One of the perks of staying with one company for twelve years is accumulated paid time off. So I’m not worried about needing more vacation time later in the year.

And you know what? I wrote more than 36,000 words this week and am now on chapter 29. That’s called momentum. Almost 65,000 words into a novel that I started just six weeks ago.

How did I manage it? I took control of my time. I directed my life instead of letting it direct me. And everyone, everyone can do that.

On Wednesday I’ll be guest blogging over at author Susie Finkbeiner’s blog. I’ll be talking about time. If you’re having trouble finding the time to create, whether you’re writing or quilting or painting or making music, I encourage you to check it out.

You’ve got 24 hours today. Are you going to set aside a few of them to do what you love?

Photo of a Small Boy in a Pin-Striped Suit…Need I Say More?

Hello there! It’s been a few days since I’ve had a moment to blog. No, I’m not lost in a shelf-induced reverie (though, would you blame me if I was?). I’ve been writing. My husband and I have taken the week off work to write and already it has been very productive. But I wanted to take a moment to let you know I was still here and share this with you:

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And this:

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One of my son’s Christmas gifts was a little pin-striped suit (a request that came straight from him). I finally hemmed the pants and the boys dressed alike on Sunday for church. We’ve enjoyed a few very sunny days here where the snow has been blindingly white. But we don’t don sunglasses. It’s too novel a phenomenon to block out with shaded plastic.

In other news, while Zach and I have been building worlds, Calvin has been building an army:

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They are set to invade any minute. So watch your back.

My Beautiful, Functional, Economical Shelf

Can I justify a second blog post about a shelf?

Yes I can.

Because I love this thing.

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All my patterns ORGANIZED.

All my quilting books SHELVED.

All my writing books ACCESSIBLE.

All my Detroit/Civil War/Civil Rights books for novel research TOGETHER.

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All my yarn CONTAINED.

All my camera bags STOWED.

And just look how neat this organizational wonder makes my sewing area.

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Honestly, it’s like a whole new room.

This is the sort of thing February is for.

The Picture of Confidence

I’m eleven chapters and 27,000 words into the novel and feeling a bit like this…

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The boy got his orange belt last week. In January, the word of the month at the dojo was goal-setting. This month, it’s confidence. 

Reaching your goals does wonders for your confidence. So what are you hoping for? What are you striving for? How will you achieve your goals? How will you surmount the obstacles in your way?

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In late March, the boy should earn his green belt. Round about that time I hope to be in the home stretch of my book. We’ll both face obstacles along the way. But we’re both committed to overcoming them.

How about you? Are you going to let your circumstances stop you? Or are you going to have confidence in your ability to persevere?

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Remember–the only thing all published authors have in common is a finished book. The paintings that hang in museums are finished paintings. The quilts that people sleep under are finished quilts.

So be confident, work hard, and go out there and finish something!

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To Rearrange a Room

I used to be an obsessive rearranger of furniture. In my bedroom growing up I tried every possible configuration, moving dressers and shelves alone by bracing my back against them and pushing against the walls with my feet. I somehow avoided serious injury or destruction of property.

Nowadays, I rarely rearrange, largely because so few of our rooms would work any other way. One exception is the office. It is a hodgepodge of random secondhand furniture and must accommodate so many odd items: three sets of file drawers, fabric and yarn and thread, sewing machine, computer, two desks, printer, scads of books, and an ever-changing assortment of boxes and bags with nowhere else to go. In short, it’s often (usually?) a disaster.

As is fairly common this time of year for me, I got the organizing bug this week. “Something simply must be done about all this fabric,” I said to myself. And this yarn and the patterns and the stacks of papers and all these quilting books (thanks a lot to my enabling mother-in-law). So I jumped online to see what Ikea or Target or Home Depot might have to offer. And I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that someone thought that particle board and laminate should cost more than $50 (sometimes as much as $500!). I didn’t like that nothing was real. I didn’t like that I wouldn’t see it in person before committing to it.

So instead I took my prize money for my short story award and headed down to a secondhand furniture store in town called April’s Antiques. I think I’ve only been in there twice and both times I’ve left with furniture! It’s where I bought our awesome mid-century modern dresser and night stands a couple years ago (for a song).

I wasn’t disappointed. I found a lovely, large, real wood shelving unit with cabinets at the bottom for just over one hundred bucks. On Wednesday my new shelving unit will be delivered and I shall fill it with books and patterns and fabric and yarn galore. And I’ll be sure to take a picture.

And now I must make way for my lovely new shelves.

Making Peace with February

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAh, February. You’ve brought with you several more inches of snow. How embarrassing for you. Didn’t anyone tell you that’s what January brought too? In fact, she brought so much that front loaders have been spied filling dump trucks with the stuff to cart it off to wherever such things get carted off to. I do wish you’d instead decided to bring some sunshine. Though, admittedly, the warmer temperature has been pleasant. So thanks for that.

Friends, February has historically been my least favorite month (and I’m sure if you are from snowy regions, it’s your least favorite as well). Winter marches on so gray and dreary. We are at our most vitamin D deficient. Our pale, dry, chapped skin ages us so severely.

But in recent years I’ve worked on making peace with it. Honestly, the fresh snow helps. The days that are reaching for just a little more light each evening. The birds that are starting to sing a little louder.

And one more week off to write, capped with a three-day writing retreat for me and my husband at our friend’s house on Gun Lake. No Internet, no TV, no restaurants, no laundry, no kid. Just a fireplace, two laptops, and nothing but wide open time.

I can’t wait.