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Last month went by super fast, and it looked a lot different from January. In January, I read, walked, wrote, and played voraciously. Feverishly, even. In February, I fell into more of a sustainable rhythm, and I think it’s a good one. I didn’t read as much as I wanted to, but I have plotted out some time in the near future to remedy that.

Three Favorite Meals:

  • I made taco spaghetti for my Masterminds writing group gathering, and it was delicious. You can check out the recipe, but basically take all the things you put in a taco shell and throw it on top of pasta. DELICIOUS.
  • My brother-in-law made omelettes and buckwheat pancakes for my sister’s birthday. It was super filling and glorious.
  • I have been craving peanut butter and jelly all month. In related news, I think I ate more bread in February than I ate in the previous three months combined. Not the healthiest choice, but my bank account sure liked it.

Three Favorite Events:

  • My supper club met after a loooong hiatus. We came to my house and had waffles. There may have also been croissants and Nutella. So. Much. Nutella. It was good to hang out with folks.
  • I finally got to see the Communication department’s production of What We Talk About When We Talk About Race. They wrote the production together based on conversations they had over dinner (and many wines). It did not disappoint.
  • My sister turned 40! We spent the day together, eating and shopping and watching The Greatest Showman.

Three Random Favorites:

  • Redken’s No Blow Dry Just Right Cream. It tames my waves without making my hair crunchy, and it makes my head smell like a bouquet of gardenias. I am in love.
  • The blanket I’m knitting (see above). I have been looking for something to put on my bed, and I can’t find anything that I like, so I just decided to make it. A year later, it’s almost finished.
  • Midweek Lenten services. We are using Holden Evening Prayer, which is one of my favorite services of the year. I even got to cantor last week, which was a neat experience.

Three Things I’m Looking Forward To:

  • March is a great month. Not only is it Staff Appreciation Month at UNT (i.e., free food aplenty and lots of events on campus), but it’s also my birth month! Happy!
  • I get a little break starting next week. I’m going to use my days off to go to the old school reunion at the club one weekend and visit my parents the next.
  • I’ve started my final push to finish my Fishbowl manuscript. I’m averaging 1,000 words a day until it’s done. So far, so good!

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Hop over and see what others are into!

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Happy

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Coffee with friends = ❤

It seems like cheating to list happiness as a core value, so I’m not going to do that. While I’m sure that there are some people who don’t value happiness, I think most people probably list “happy” as something they’d like to be or as something they enjoy being. It also seems to be what a large corner of the self-help market tries to help us achieve. I don’t know how good most of us are at getting there without work.

I just finished Gabrielle Union’s audio version of We’re Going to Need More Wine, and a line stood out to me. “When you’re in a place where you don’t know what makes you happy, it’s really easy to be an asshole.” That makes a lot of sense to me. The times it’s easiest to be mean are the times when I’m in a fog or a funk and can’t find a way to get myself out of it. So for those times, I’m just going to leave this list of things that make me happy.

  1. Having dinner with people I love. Whether I’m having friends over or being invited over as a guest or eating with family, I love sharing meals with people. I like cooking for people and seeing them enjoy it. I also like not having to cook. Feeding people and being fed may be one of my love languages.
  2. Reading. That is, most reading. Occasionally, I will trudge my way through a book that tries to eat my soul, but most of the reading I do is relaxing. Even if it’s challenging or outside my typical comfort zone, those challenges energize me.
  3. Fresh, ripe peaches. They save the day during my least favorite season. All the oppressive heat of summer is worth it when I see peaches at the farmers’ market.
  4. Doing laundry. I know it’s weird. But I find it so soothing. I think it’s the sound of the dryer. Sometimes I wait to pop the last load in the dryer until I go to bed, just so I can go to sleep to the sound. I also enjoy that the ratio of effect to effort is larger with laundry than with other chores.
  5. Seeing something beautiful when I walk into my apartment. Whether it is a vase of flowers on the table, the Christmas tree lit up, or just an uncharacteristically neat living room, it immediately puts me at peace.
  6. A wide, open sky. Wine and sunset, coffee and sunrise, country drive or road trip, rain or shine. The sky is my favorite part of nature.
  7. My dad telling stories about his dogs. It’s Dad at his most animated. I think it makes him happy, too.

What would be on your list?

 

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What im into

What I’m always into

I’ve had a productive January. Even by my typical January standards. What I’m mostly into this month is how well my point system I set up to help me meet goals is working (perhaps more on that later this month – I’m pretty nerdily excited about it). I set my resolutions, and they’ve been going well so far:

  1. Reading – I’ve read 9 books toward my 100-book goal. I may be imagining it, but Goodreads seems shocked that I’m one book ahead of schedule. My month did include my second round of participation in the 24in48 Readathon, but I would have been on schedule even without it. My favorite two were The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence. I now need to read every book in this list.
  2. Reading long books – I am starting Don Quixote again this weekend. I’m going to try to finish a long book every four months this year. I may have to rewatch The Newsroom while I read this one.
  3. Finishing Fishbowl manuscript – My Fishbowl draft is trudging along, somewhat aimlessly at this point but at least steadily. I am consistently moving in random directions, which I suppose is pretty fitting, given its narrator.
  4. Editing Epic Meal Planning – I have added a few pins to my Epic Meal Planning board, and this month, I am testing some of the recipes on the board. Next month (March), I want to start testing my own recipes on friends.
  5. Learning Spanish – I have tired of Duolingo (perhaps I just need a break), and I have started going through my old Spanish textbooks. I find taking the old route to work through exercises methodically helpful.
  6. Taking a solitary writing retreat – I have looked into rental beach cottages and train trips. Vaguely. I will be more excited about it once I have enough saved up to take the trip. Or if I find a really good deal. Or if I just decide I’m going to hole up in a hotel room and write for a weekend.
  7. Visiting coffee shops/wine bars – Oddly enough, this is the one that got away from me this month. Double down in February? I think so.
  8. Building up emergency fund and paying off debt – I’m ahead of schedule here, too. I like the momentum. If I keep up this rate, I may get to add another goal before year’s end.
  9. Improving my health (specifically, my gym attendance) – I have teamed up with a friend to go to the gym 3 times a week. Consequently, I have been to the gym more times this month than I went last year altogether.
  10. Trying new recipes – I made jambalaya from scratch for the first time this month. If I had known how easy it was and how much better it is than anything I’ve made from a box, I would have done this years ago.

Aside from resolutions, the thing I’ve been into most is saving time.

  • My friend Michelle introduced me to Instacart, and it’s fantastic. Basically, someone does your grocery shopping for you at your local store and brings it to your house. If you want to try it, I think my code for $10 off and free delivery with your first order is still good – click here or use code STERRY1EB1CF.
  • I also am loving Grove. I set up delivery of home products, and they come to my door. What I appreciate is that it gives me a heads-up email so that there are no surprises when I inevitably forget it’s time, and I can skip delivery any time. If you want to try it and also want $10 off your first order, click here.
  • Speaking of home products (my apartment is so dusty and I’m over that – can you tell?), I am super excited to receive my first Norwex order. I had a party, and I scored quite a bit of free loot, even though my orders only reached the lowest level. I think I’m most excited about the Envirowand. Beware, dust! My friend Brenda is a consultant, and she loves doing online parties. You can peruse the catalog here – contact her if you have questions!

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – come share what you’re into!

 

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Friday Five3

Since our last Friday Five, I have been intrigued by people doing things right. Some of them are serious and some less so, but either way, we don’t always hear these stories, so I thought I’d share. Enjoy!

  1. The geniuses at Girlxoxo are my heroes. Here is a master list of reading challenges for the year. Click on that, and come back. Are you back? Did you see?!?!?! I KNOW, RIGHT?!?! This is the best.
  2. I imagine that there are several issues on which Sarah Silverman and I would disagree, but this is absolutely the nicest way I’ve ever heard of handling someone who called you something terrible.
  3. A compilation of writing advice from 27 successful writers.  I particularly enjoy James Altucher’s advice to drink coffee + read and read and read + write and John Avlon’s description of writing for the ear.
  4. Danielle Henderson via Shondaland teaches us how to gym for non-gym people. *raises hand*
  5. How to apologize, the master class. The podcast linked within the article is long-ish (well, not for a podcast, I guess, but I’m having attention span issues today) but worth the listen.

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THE BEST DAY!!!

New Year’s Day is easily one of my top ten favorite days of the year. Maybe even top five. I love setting new goals or revising old ones. I love – if even for just a day – looking forward and being intentionally cheerful about what the year might bring. I looooove breaking in my new planner – saying my official goodbye and thank you to last year’s calendar with its scuffs and battle scars and breaking out the shiny new one.

My word for the year is “core.” I have a pretty strong sense of what is important to me and what traits I want to cultivate the most, but this year is devoted to saying those things out loud (or at least on the internet). I am going to talk more about this later this week, but by the end of the year, I want to see a marked improvement in how my core values shape my goals, commitments, and strength.

I have listed a lot of goals and dreams for the year in my 52 Lists journal, and I won’t bog you down with all of them. But here are the key ones:

  1. Read 100 books. That’s just two a week with a couple of weeks off. That’s how much I read when I am reading consistently. Reading grounds and calms me. I fall out of the habit when I over-commit to other things that leave me drained and stressed, so ideally this goal will help me do more reading and less stressing this year.
  2. Make some of these books really long ones. Specifically, I want to read Don Quixote, Infinite Jest, and Anna Karenina.
  3. Finish the first draft of Fishbowl. My hard deadline for this is June 15, so the year’s end may even find me in revision mode. But the first step is just to finish.
  4. Finish Epic Meal Planning edits. Possibly even publish?
  5. Continue learning Spanish and read at least one book in Spanish (with minimal dictionary usage) by the end of the year.
  6. Take a solitary writing retreat. Criteria: 1) outside Denton, 2) two days minimum, and 3) no Internet.
  7. Go to a coffee shop or wine bar at least once a month. Write more about coffee shops.
  8. Build up my emergency fund and get back in the habit of paying off credit cards fully every month. I’ve lapsed a little, and I don’t like it.
  9. Financial/health combo goal – actually use my gym membership regularly or cancel it. Paying for something I don’t use is ridiculous. So is being sedentary.
  10. Try at least one new recipe a month. My meal planning is in a rut. I need new ideas. Feel free to post your favorites in the comments section.

What do you want your 2018 to look like?

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Wild streak

It seemed fitting to end the year of wild with a little heat in my hair.

Other than cosmetically, however, I am not sure how wild the year was. It had its moments. We road-tripped to Virginia and made no real plans for the trip there and back. I ran alone sometimes. I tried new things and spoke out a little more about things that are important to me. I also discovered I’m wilder than I suspected, which is equal parts exciting and scary.

A significant part of the year seemed to be tangled up in trying to balance the wild with safety. This post from my 31 Days series sums up that struggle nicely. Wild is not safe. But wild can be free. It just needs a little room to run. I seem to love (and by “love,” I do mean “thrive in”) the chaos of the wild. I wouldn’t have guessed that.

I’m not through unpacking all of it yet, but that’s okay. The word doesn’t have to end its influence just because the year does.

In other resolution news, I’ve managed to meet at least a little of each one.

  1. Read 100 books. I read 63 books (or, at least, I kept up with 63. A few seem to be missing). I really loved a lot of them. The ones that stand out are Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, Meagan Spooner’s Hunted, Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland series, and all the Fredrik Backman books.
  2. Learn conversational Spanish. I took a Spanish class at work. We only got to things like simple directions around campus, but it’s a start.
  3. Continue to make my home a place that is welcoming and does not hinder the life I create. My office is a madhouse. Everything that is still unpacked is in there, and it’s a lot. I think I met this goal in a way that I didn’t intend, though. Even though there are pockets of mess all around, I still had people over more often. I meant to keep my home in a way that was not a hindrance to hospitality, but what seems to have happened is that I just decided that it wasn’t going to be a hindrance and lived my life anyway. Acceptable.
  4. Continue to improve my health and well-being. This is another goal that morphed. My health is better. My blood pressure is staying down, and my focus has improved. Anxiety is still afoot, but it is the monster in the back of my mind instead of the one staring me down when I open my eyes, so that’s better. I haven’t lost the weight like I intended, but I haven’t gained either, which is something, considering that I didn’t pay much attention to it at all.
  5. Finish at least one manuscript and publish a 2018 calendar. I did not finish a manuscript. But I worked on one more consistently than I did the previous year, so…progress? I didn’t publish a calendar like I meant to, but I did make my own calendar of coffee pictures (currently hanging in my kitchen, and it’s sooo cute). I think I just needed to prove to myself that the printing of the calendar was the easy part if I would just get the pictures together.
  6. Run a 5K. Running is so much harder now than it was 20 years ago. I think I finally accepted that this year. This is a doable goal; it’s just not a quickly doable goal. I have a vague hope that I will run consistently one day, but this is not that day. And tomorrow’s not that day, either. Don’t hold your breath.
  7. Go on a writing retreat. Yay! I did! I went to Andi’s retreat, and I have to finish my Fishbowl rough draft by the time the 2018 retreat rolls around. I may have to insert some solitary retreats in there this year to get this done.
  8. Get paid for writing in some way. I totally did this. I make enough in writing to cover my grocery budget, and my Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify subscriptions. SEO writing is not my calling, but it’s a writing job, and I am happy to have it.
  9. Continue/establish beloved traditions. My traditions that have stuck are my Advent/Christmas rituals and my Hemingway party, and they’re both the newest ones. It seems like each home has its own traditions. The cooking/baking weekends all happened when I had a great kitchen (and Maggie to help). But parties with lots of people and space for a full-sized Christmas tree? That I can do here. I look forward to seeing what else this space might hold for me this year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Love-Letters-to-Writers_screen_72dpi

Andi’s book is launching on November 14, and I’M SO EXCITED!!! As a member of her online writing community, I have benefited from Andi’s wisdom through my inbox every week, so it’s thrilling to see her letters compiled in a volume that I can share with the writers in my life. I interviewed Andi about the Love Letters to Writers, and I hope you enjoy it!

1. I am a to-do list person. One thing your letters (and your online writing group) have encouraged me to do is slow down and pay attention. Why is this important for artists in general and for writers in particular?

Oh, I’m a to-do list person, too. I like to feel like I’ve gotten a lot done, but I’ve learned that as a writer that product cannot be the end-all-be-all. Process is crucial, and part of the process for an artist is that we have to notice and bear witness to what happens around us. For writers, this means that sometimes our work is to take note rather than to shape things.  So sometimes we do a lot of writing that no one else will ever see.  We have to pay attention to our senses, to our bodies, and to our emotions. We have to slow down to try to see the Why? behind things . . . because it’s in that why that the life of a story lives.

2. You often write in your letters about the physical spaces you create to support the habits of your writing life. What common elements do you find necessary for such spaces?

For me, the space needs to be quiet. It needs to be filled with things I love but that don’t require my attention – pieces of art, books I know, objects that people I love have given me.  I really need to love the wall color (My office is painted in “Macaroni and Cheese.”).  I also need my writing space to be comfortable in terms of a chair and desk.

But that’s what I need. Every writer needs different things. Some people need to work in coffee shops for the gentle distraction of other people and their chatter, and others love to have music going all the time. Some people prefer a pristine, streamlined environment, and others find that the dining room table is ideal for them.

The key is for each writer to determine what works best for them and then to create the space they need. I recommend a dedicated space for writing – even if it’s that the dining room table becomes writing space after dinner – because when we return to the same space again and again to write, it creates a sort of mental memory of what we do there.  That can be a powerful tool for starting that day’s writing.

3. You are so gentle – in your letters, in your work, and in person. Have you found this gentleness to be useful in the work you do? Why or why not?

What a kind thing to say, Suzanne. Thank you.  In the work I do with writers, yeah, most of the time I think gentleness is key. We’ve all been scolded about our writing selves – either by teachers or blogs or by those voices that live in our own minds.  Most of us need to be spoken to with gentle directness, I think.

On occasion, my clients could probably use a more assertive coach who demands more of them, but then, the clients who work with me know who I am, so perhaps they don’t expect that.

In my writing life, well, I often wish I wasn’t so gentle. When I’m not working with writers, I research and write about the history and legacy of slavery, and I’m learning to make my voice more steely because American needs to hear the truth about this part of our American history.  I’m still gentle on the inside, though, so sometimes, it’s quite challenging to continue to speak strong on something that feels so obviously needed to me.

4. Great writers are often great readers. What is the best book you’ve read this year, and what did it teach you?

This is always a tough question, but I’ll just go with the first book that came to mind: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.  I read this book just after I miscarried this year because it’s about McCracken’s own experience of losing her son before he was even born.  It taught me to write raw about the pain I’ve lived, even if I’m not ready to share that rawness yet, and it taught me that you can recall the details and emotions of an experience even after it happens and even if you don’t journal the whole time. Sometimes, I feel like since I don’t journal my days I’m missing out on books I could write later, but McCracken’s memoir reminded me that those experiences still live in me – I just have to work to find them again.

5. What are your favorite moments when working with writers?

Oh, many.  My all-time favorite is when a writer decides to take herself seriously as a writer, when she decides to commit the time, when she decides to do the work because she WANTS to do it . . . even if there’s no recognition or paycheck coming. I love those moments because they are the moments I know that a writer is in and will keep going no matter what.  They aren’t that common, but when they come, I’m exhilarated.

I also love the moments when writers find that their own egos are not the best judges of their work, when they can put aside their intentions and what they thought a work was and hear the perspective of someone – a friend, a reader, an editor – who does not find the work flawless.  Those moments are the ones that make us better writers, and while they are painful, they are crucial.

I also love launch days for writers I know.  They aren’t always – or often – spectacular successes, but the joy of putting something out into the world, something built with hard effort and love, well, that’s a glorious thing.

Love Letters to Writers is available for pre-order now. Treat yourself to this gem of a book.

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Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, four dogs, four cats, six goats, three rabbits, and thirty-six chickens. She writes regularly at andilit.com

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