Sunday, July 6, 2014

#427 Moxie the Dog

Reason to Be Happy #427:
This Dog's Face
 This is Moxie. Moxie lives with my wonderful veterinarian friend, Dr. Kathy (the same lucky woman who has Humphrey!). Moxie's face makes me happy. Everything about Moxie makes me happy.
 Moxie is a bully, as in she is a Staffordshire terrier and bulldog mix, but she doesn't have a bullying bone in her body. She is sweet and shy and even a wee bit timid at first, but once you pass approval, she's a lovebug. She is sometimes called "hippo" and even "piggy" and, yes, she resembles both a bit (she's about as wide as she is tall). The world is a better place with this gentle soul in it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

#426: Goat's Beard

Reason to Be Happy #426:
Goat's Beard
 Now, here, I'm specifically referring to the plant. Not the beard on an actual goat...although it strikes me that the beards on actual goats are absolutely delightful and would be a very worthy reason to be happy of their own. Hmm. Storing that thought away...
 But, nope, I meant the plant, which I have in my yard and which is in resplendent bloom at the moment (or, well, it was, before three days of monsoon-like rain battered them flat). I really love plants with quirky-but-fitting names like this. Like foxglove (which was Reason to Be Happy #8). Or gooseneck strife. Or hens and chicks.What are some others?
 Anyway...this plant makes me smile.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Gardening/Writing Connection

The Gardening/Writing Connection

How Gardening Connects to Writing Reason #1

When I first started gardening, I did it as I do most things: I plunged in headfirst. I tend not to do things half way. My gardening is a little obsessive…friends tease me I have a problem. I used to worry about the time spent in the garden away from my pages. I felt guilty neglecting my novel in progress. But now I understand that the gardening actually feeds the writing in many ways. The most obvious way my garden enriches my writing is that it gives me something relatively mindless to do with my hands—which is exactly when the ideas flow. If I’m trying to figure out what happens next in the story or how to resolve a problem in a scene, I can’t just sit at the desk and expect the answers to come. The ideas come when I’m driving or running or mowing or washing dishes…or gardening. I never listen to music or the news in my garden. I like my mind open and free, while my hands are engaged. Many a scene has been created in my garden.

But beyond that most crucial gift, the gardening process is, in fact, quite similar to the writing process. Every step of the process in one has a parallel in the other.

The first step is to have an idea, right? It actually makes me laugh a bit when people ask me at signings and readings, “Where do you get your ideas?” (as if they want me to name a website or secret store). I don’t mean to be flippant, but I get my ideas from keeping my eyes open as a human being on this planet. I have so many ideas queued up in my brain (kind of like a Netflix queue, complete with the “move to top” option) that I will never be able to write them all in this lifetime. That is exactly how I feel when I look at seed and garden catalogues (or worse, when I am actually in the store and end up buying everything I want) “I want this, and this, and ooh, look at that! I need two of these, one in every color…”

So, inside, my brain kind of looks like this: 

But then, you have to eventually pick an idea and focus. You have to look at your space and decide which plants will actually thrive in your zone and soil and sun/shade conditions. I don’t have room for every single plant I’d like to grow, so I have to be picky. 

And just like with an idea for a novel, once I choose, I have to commit.

Monday, June 9, 2014

#425: Getting Strawberries Before the Squirrels Do

Reason to Be Happy #425:
Getting Strawberries Before the Squirrels Do
I love picking fresh strawberries from my wonderful garden. They are small and sweet, and such a deep red color all the way through (totally unlike those giant storebought strawberries that are white and flavorless inside). Many of you know I have an ongoing battle with the squirrels in my yard (and occasionally a rabbit and a raccoon). I don't mind sharing, but it kills me to find a perfect berry with one bite gnawed out of it. Gah! (And the raccoons are especially prone to leaving the half-eaten berries all over the yard: on my shed roof, in the bird bath, on top of my mailbox, etc. Little vandalizing jerks!).  Last year, I had an abundance of berries...and discovered a little snake in my strawberry bed. I was grateful to the snake, who no doubt helped keep some of the squirrels and bird away. I haven't seen the snake yet this year, but the animals seem to have the memory of him (or her? how do you sex a snake???) and I am enjoying bowls of berries! Ahh...nothing like walking out there barefoot in the morning and picking breakfast.

Monday, May 5, 2014

#424: The First Trail Ride of the Spring

Reason to Be Happy #424:
The First Trail Ride of the Spring
There's something so lovely about any view from a horse's back. After our brutal, relentless winter, it's so fun to get outside and amble through the fields and woods, hearing hoof beats and the swish of tails, and reveling in the luxurious rocking motion of a relaxed, walking horse. My friend Laura Burris took this photo while riding with her friend Alison. I love how the horses are still shedding their fuzzy winter coats. Early spring rides are usually mighty muddy...but well, well worth it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

#423: Finishing a First Draft!!!

Reason to Be Happy #423:

Ahhh...The first draft of a novel always feels to me like luring a feral creature into a corral. It's tricky, tenuous work that requires consistency, diligence, and trust. Happy to report that yesterday I shut the gate on the corral. That feral creature has been caught. Now, the work begins to tame it...but first some celebration of the milestone and some time away from it to give objectivity. I thought about tidying up my space to take a nice, cleaned up "just printed" picture, but thought, "Nah." This is what it really looks like: Notes everywhere. Ghirardelli chocolate egg wrappers. Coffee cup. Messy house. Plants that need watered.

You can always make it better later. First you have to make it exist. Making it exist feels really, really good and the feeling never gets old (because the process never feels certain).

Doing a little happy dance!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

#422: Writing in Hotel Rooms

Reason to Be Happy #422:
Writing in Hotel Rooms

 I don't know why, but I write like crazy in hotel rooms. I feel inspired and I get a lot of words on the page. Maybe it's because I don't have to worry about anything else—I'm not at home where other tasks might distract me, and no matter how lovely a hotel room is, it's essentially just a room. I don't question it—I just embrace it. When my fella had to be out of town for a work conference and invited me along, I jumped at the chance to spend some days in a hotel room alone while he was at the conference. I told the front desk not to service our room, I fired up the coffee maker, and I got SO. MUCH. DONE. I'm really nearing the end of this draft and it feels so good!

 Perhaps the only thing that makes writing in a hotel room better, is getting to eat cake straight out of the box while I'm doing it. This beautiful cake came from the wonderful women at Thurber House where I spent the month of October, and where I began the draft of this same novel (which seems very fitting). I took a writing break Friday and left the hotel (gasp!) to go visit them. Left feeling inspired (but in a food coma). They sent the leftover cake for me to share with my fella.
Well, they even included little plates and forks, so we could eat it in a civilized manner, but I forgot to include a knife, so in a plot twist frenzy, needing sugar, I had to resort to eating the cake with a fork right out of the box. I highly recommend this the next time you're in a writing marathon. I made huge progress on the draft and now safely report that I will finish this draft by the end of the month (and, yes, I know that's less than a week away. It's gonna happen). I'm telling you: cake.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

#421: The Saguaro Cactus

Reason to Be Happy #421:
The Saguaro Cactus
I was recently lucky enough to leave the bitter, brutally long Ohio winter and spend some sunny days in Arizona. I became quite a fan of the Saguaro.
 Known as one of "the defining plants of the Sonoran Desert," it is found only there—in Arizona, and the parts of California and Mexico that the Sonoran Desert touches. They can live to be 150-200 years old, and can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall.
 They have one main tap root that goes down a couple feet, but the majority of their roots spread out like a maze (as wide as the plant is tall) only about 3 inches deep, in order to get as much rainwater as they can. Can you tell I totally geeked out about these cool old guys? If you're geeking out, too, check out Science Friday's cool blog,
 "11 Things You Didn't Know about Saguaro Cacti."
 Here's my goofy fella bonding with his new century-old buddy. Aren't they both cute?
 The Saguaro has gorgeous white flowers in the spring and red fruit in the winter. I took all the photos except for the red fruit one (above). That comes from a really cool Kuriositas blog you should check out called "The Saguaro Cactus and Its Greedy Guests." It's chock full of amazing photos of birds, bats, owls, and other creatures making use of the Saguaro.

This last photo is of a giant Saguaro for sale at a garden center we visited. It was only $6,500. Um…I'll take two! I'm known for being out of control with my garden…
but, alas, I doubt it would thrive in Ohio.
The world is just so full of cool stuff.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

#420: That Cheerful Drip Drip Drip of Icicles

Reason to Be Happy #420:
The Cheerful Drip Drip Drip of Icicles
Sure, it's a happy enough sound. But their pitter patter means winter is thawing...
 ...and that spring will come.
The first photo was taken by the talented Carol Tierney. The second is from my back porch, featuring my neighbor's leaning pine (that tree top touched the ground in 2012's ice storm, but it's resilient and stood back up. I always say it wants to be in my garden, and is trying to sneak over).

Friday, February 14, 2014

#419: When My Cat Sits Like This

Reason to Be Happy #419:
When My Cat Sits Like This

No further explanation is really necessary.
 Happy Friday!
 He's my Sexy Valentine!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

#418: Fixing Your Mistakes

Reason to be Happy #418:
Fixing Your Mistakes

Anyone who has ever waited tables will appreciate this one.
So, a little backstory first: A couple weeks back, my talented writer friend and Capricorn sister Sharon Short and I went to The Wine Loft to celebrate our birthdays. We had a lovely dinner, festive cocktails, and decadent desserts—all brought to us by a fun, attentive server. When I paid my bill with a credit card, I made sure I left her a nice tip.

We left. The week got busy. It was over a week later when I was dealing with the receipts that had accumulated in my wallet. Imagine my mortification when I realized that the night of our birthday dinner, I had accidentally taken both the customer copy and the store copy of my credit card bill. I mentioned my horror to a friend. She said, "They swiped it. You got charged. Don't worry." "But, no," I protested. "The server has no idea I gave her a tip. As far as she's concerned, I totally stiffed her." This bugged me. Bigtime. Now, sure, I heard immediately that tiny little voice in my head suggesting that "Oh, well. No big deal. That's just a little bonus for you," but I slapped that little voice quiet. It was not okay. As soon as I could, I drove over to the Wine Loft. My server was not there (fortunately, her name was on the receipt), so I left a card with a note explaining what had happened. I included her tip (plus interest) in the card. The other servers listened to my story and kept saying, "That is so nice of you." Sure, it's nice, but it was also right. I made a mistake. It felt important to me to fix it.

Later that night, I received an email from the server thanking me and telling me "You made my day." She remembered me and my friend. (See? I would've been remembered for the wrong reasons!) And here's the deal: the tip wasn't all that much. It wasn't like I'd had a $100 dinner or anything…but it felt so good to do the right thing. I probably felt better making it right than she did receiving the tip. That's important to remember. Fixing your mistakes isn't just the right thing to do; it can actually make you feel happy.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

#417: The Color Red in Winter

Reason to Be Happy #417:
The Color Red in Winter
Ah, winter in Ohio...  The landscape can be gray and bleak, and folks get prone to the blues and put on their cranky pants. Even though the cold has been relentless, you have to admit the snow is beautiful (and the landscape much prettier with it). And there's nothing more dramatic and stunning than the color red against the snow (and that is not the start to some gory horror story, I promise). Many of my friends are talented photographers, so I gathered some of their shots of gorgeous flashes of red. I hope they cheer you as much as they do me.
 This gorgeous shot is by Scott Ross.
 The next three were taken by my talented writer friend, Erin Gross. (And that's her son, aka Tank, who is among my favorite children on the planet).

 The wreath above, and the final two, were taken by Carol Tierney, whose photos never fail to brighten my days! Thanks, everyone! Please post your own in the comments—I'd love to see more!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

#416: Uninterrupted Time to Write

Reason to Be Happy #416:
Uninterrupted Time to Write
This is truly the greatest gift you can give a writer! Back in October, I was so honored to be the John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence at the wonderful Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. A whole month to immerse myself in my current work-in-progress....ahh...
The wonderful Thurber House.
 I had a great time and was incredibly productive there! And they let me bring Joey Cat with me!
to get details about the staff, what I worked on, and, of course, the ghosts.
The steps up to my attic apartment.
My "office" on nice autumn days.
My office in the wee hours and late at night.

Joey kept watch.
Joey wandered the halls with his ghost friends.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

#415: The way fresh snow crunches under your boots

Reason to Be Happy #415:
The Way Fresh Snow Crunches 
Under Your Boots

Winter comes with a bunch of cool sounds. This one was pointed out on Facebook by my observant friend Cherie Cooper-Darragh and I immediately stole it! There's even that Styrofoam squeak of the snow when it's super duper cold, like it is right now.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

#414: Snow Laden Pine Trees

Reason to Be Happy #414:
Snow Laden Pine Trees

 I recently asked folks on my Facebook Author Page to list their favorite winter-specific reasons to be happy and I received so many wonderful, beautiful comments! One that really spoke to me was this one from Eva Makstutis.

Snow laden pine trees are a winter sight I never tire of. Snow highlighting the branches of any tree skeleton is gorgeous, but something about that sugar coating on the evergreen boughs is especially striking. These beautiful photos were taken by the talented Carol Tierney. Thanks, Carol!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

#413: The way snow sits atop dead coneflowers like those furry Russian hats

Reason to Be Happy #413:
The way snow sits atop dead coneflowers
 like those furry Russian hats
I never prune my perennials until spring. I like to give all the wild creatures a bit of habitat and shelter, plus I love the interesting sculptures the snow makes of them.