Thank You and You and You and You and You…

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It’s not the things we have and don’t have that make us who we are. It’s the people who we love and who love us.

I am so thankful for my family, my friends and for all the people who have come in and out of my life. Thank you for making this life such a wonderful journey.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

xoxo,

Val

Lyla’s Shopping List

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I need to go to the supermarket today and do some pre-Thankgiving food shopping so this morning I decided to put together a list. While doing so, my 3-yr-old daughter, Lyla, approached and asked me what I was doing.

I told her I was making a list of food and groceries to get at the supermarket and she replied that she wanted to make one, too. So, mostly humoring her, I asked her what needed to be on the list, though I’m not sure why I bother humoring her when it’s becoming clear that she’s smarter than me.

Anyway, (without any prompting and in the order she mentioned each item) the following is exactly what she told me to put on her list:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Bologna
  • Milk
  • Apple Juicey
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Rectangle Crackers (AKA: Graham Crackers)
  • Sour Creamy
  • Colored Cereal
  • Charm Cereal
  • More veggies for dipping
  • Yo-grut (this is spelled incorrectly on purpose per her pronunciation)
  • Ranch Dressing

Not a bad list. I’ll need to add a few items of my own and maybe remove at least one (or perhaps both) of those sugary cereals she seems to love so much but all in all it’s a pretty decent shopping list… especially for a 3-yr-old.

I’m actually kind of surprised she didn’t include ice cream (Va-lil-la is her fave). I think I’ll go ahead and add that one in anyway!

 

 

 

For the Birds

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Iowa is great for bird watching!

In fact, though I’ve always loved birds (especially ducks — they’re my all-time favorite animal), I had no idea how much I loved them until we moved here.

Birds are amazing. I love to watch them fly and land, peck, hop, run and more than anything I love to listen to them sing. It’s so beautiful waking up to their joyful song amidst the morning breeze and rustling of the trees.

My husband and I have really embraced our new aviary friends and even purchased a bird feeder (then another soon after) so that we can appreciate the birds even more. Now we get to watch them from our front window! And since spring has sprung, it seems we have become a bird haven. It’s awesome.

I even started appreciating some more than others. I love this one particular red bird best who visits us. Jason says it’s a cardinal. I don’t really care what he is; I just know I love him. He’s a brilliant reddish orange. And I adore this group of small black birds who fly by every day and land in the field across the street. They’re not just black; they look like they’re wearing black, red and yellow striped tuxedo jackets — so stylish! And when they extend their wings, it’s majestic. I also love these cute little bright yellow finches. They are so cute and happy. Jason really likes these cool looking blue ones, though I forget what he called them. And orioles… we’ve seen a lot of those and he and I both like those, too.

Anyway, we’ve been getting curious about which birds have been visiting us most and in learning more about them. So we started researching. In doing so, we’ve learned a lot of neat local bird factoids.

But of everything I’ve learned on the topic, the names have to be my favorite. Some seem pretty standard and I’ve certainly heard, if not seen, most of them before. But others… well, others are FAR more interesting. And by “interesting” I mean hilarious.

Seriously, whoever came up with these names was either high at the time, had their minds in the gutter or simply had a sick sense of humor.

Either way, I appreciate the outcome.

Here’s a list of my favorite funny bird names, some new and others newly appreciated now that I’m thinking about it:

  • Dickcissel
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Swallow
  • Chickadee
  • Killdeer
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Loon
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Coot
  • Magpie
  • Wood Thrush
  • Red Faced Booby
  • Grosbeak
  • Zitting Cisticola
  • Scrub Jay
  • Clark’s Nutcracker
  • Northern Screamer
  • Brown Trembler
  • Fluffy Backed Tit Babbler
  • Cuckoo
  • Shag
  • Thicknees
  • Agile Tit-tyrant
  • Morepork
  • Wild Turkey
  • Turdus
  • Cock-of-the-rock
  • Penduline Tits
  • Wrentit

Seriously. Who comes up with this stuff?!?!

“L” is for Lyla

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Every time we pass a big yellow school bus on the street, my 2-yr-old daughter, Lyla, gets thrilled and says, “Mommy, look a schoo bus!” Sometimes she even waves to it and says “hi, schoo bus!” or “bye, schoo bus!” She leaves off the “L” at the end and, to me, that makes it even cuter.

Lyla is my inspiration for going back to school to get my MFA in Creative Writing.

I want her to believe me when I tell her again and again that she can do whatever she sets her mind to and she can become anything she wants to be. That’s what my mom used to tell me. In fact, she still tells me that and I still have no reason to doubt her. So I will teach Lyla the same. I want her to be confident and proud of herself and of her talents, skills and achievements. I want her to understand that no challenge is too big when commitment and hard work are involved. I will tell her that when all else fails, it’s OK to try harder or to try something else. But never stop trying! And most importantly, never stop believing in yourself. We are only limited by our desire to dream and our willingness to believe in ourselves.

She is looking forward to someday being big enough to ride together with the other kids on the schoo bus to the big kids’ schoo where I’m sure she’ll probably learn all about that missing “L.” I’ve been warned that I might cry when that day comes. Maybe so but for now, I plan to simply cherish my time with her as I try my best to teach her whatever I can and help her learn and grow and believe in herself.

To do that effectively, I must continue to learn and grow and believe in myself, too.

So I’m back in schoo.

And even though I don’t get to ride the wondrous yellow bus, I couldn’t be more excited about the journey. So far I’m absolutely loving every second of it.

From time to time, I plan to post some of my projects here on the blog. That way we can share the experience and you can let me know your thoughts on how I’m doing! You can even grade me if you like. Now doesn’t that sound fun?

xoxo

Monty

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My husband and I planted our first tree today in our backyard.

In fairness, my husband did most of (read: all) the hard work of lugging and digging and scooping and planting while I played with our daughter and took pictures.

What a wonderful feeling to have planted our own tree. Another first for us. And certainly a first for me. Growing up in the city, I never had the pleasure of doing something so naturistic (is that a word?) until now.

I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful husband and child. We love each other so much and that love grows stronger each day. Isn’t that what life is all about? We are building such a beautiful life here together in Iowa in our new home. Everyday life has its ups and downs and we do our best to savor the highs while working together to get through the lows. Things aren’t always easy and breezy and, like you, we have our challenges. Some days are harder than others but having each other makes it all worthwhile.

Today is a good day.

We planted a tree.

He’s a Montmorency Cherry tree but since that’s a mouthful, we’ve decided to name him Monty. I’m looking forward to watching him grow and perhaps planting more. He will make a nice addition to our family and our home.

My (Other) First Born

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In addition to several other projects I’m simultaneously working on at the moment, I’ve also been overhauling my first novel… again.

Let’s just say the third time wasn’t so charming but it’s getting there.

It’s a work in progress and while the progress keeps progressing, it also somehow keeps starting over at page one. I’m getting dizzy.

Still, I tell myself that every edit, revision, chopped sentence and tossed page brings me and my manuscript(s) closer to the ultimate goal but the process is challenging. I’m learning and growing so much and I know that that’s evident in my writing. It’s also evident that I’ve been working my ass off.

In the past month alone, I’ve cut over 30,000 words in this particular novel. Gone but not forgotten but buh-bye. I’ve replaced those words with 30,000 different words (there may have been a few repeats). Compared to the first draft (the one I finished writing, or thought I’d finished writing, four years ago), it’s a totally different story. My other novels have been changing, too, as have I.

I’ve killed characters, created new ones, changed the plot, the themes, the pace and the point. The term chop-chop means something entirely different to me these days. A close friend of mine who is also a writer recently asked me if all the chopping hurts. “Isn’t it painful?” she said. Nope, not any more. If it’s not right, then it’s not right. Every change brings me  another step closer. If I truly believe that, then time spent wallowing over chopped words is wasted time.

I’m so close… I can taste it.

And, yet, I’m only about halfway there… give or take a few thousand words.

At times, it has seemed like I’m in a foreign country, climbing a huge mountain without a guide. Will I ever get to appreciate the view from the top? I hope so but I won’t know for sure until I get there… if/when I get there. But one thing that I know for sure is that I can’t stop now. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I can feel it in every aspect of my being. This is my mountain to climb.

While I’ve never considered giving up, I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been moments when I’ve found myself procrastinating and making excuses to do anything else…

I’m a full time mom and writer. Believe me; I have plenty of other things to do and other projects to work on. But everything else leads me back.

I eat, sleep, breathe my writing and this one project in particular owns me… for now. It’s an all-consuming, mind altering, life changing, soul destroying beast that I love with all my heart. I have other manuscripts, both completed and in progress, but this one was/is my first. You know how that goes.

Sometimes I wonder if this is what drug addicts feel like.

People often compare writing a novel to giving birth. Having done both, I can certainly feel the correlation. So, going with the same analogy, the process of overhauling a novel must be like raising that child… over and over again…

Like I said, this is my fourth overhaul of my first manuscript. This time around has been the hardest but also the most rewarding.

Even though I’m in the heart of it now, I’m certain it’s my best writing thus far. The beginning and the end changed organically. All of it just flowed out of me, no epidural needed. But now I’m writing the middle and the middle has been like a toddler having a never-ending tantrum in a supermarket… the spine chilling, stomach curdling kind that tends to get passively blamed on the terrible twos when the culprit is far more likely three sixes and a pound of sugar.

I’m trying to juggle ideas and character nuances while keeping the story and timeline straight. I’m fighting the confusion, even though I’m easily on my fourth (or is it my fifth?) beginning and ending and the middle, well, this must be at least my tenth middle my now.

The word count goes up and down while my manuscript continues to transform and my brain vomits sentences into a pile of paragraphs which somehow manifest themselves into consecutive pages.

There are times when this feels like it’s taking forever and other times when I lament that my (other) first born is growing so fast. Where has the time gone?

I promise to hang in there and keep giving it my all but God help me if this one takes 18 years to move out of the house.

Check that. God help my husband.