Author Archives: caseykins

Comfort Reads

I am feeling overwhelmed by the world right now. It feels to me like everything is slowly dismantling itself and there’s nothing I can do about it. I have been turning to comfort reads this entire pandemic, but it feels this week as if it’s all I want – familiar worlds and people with big problems that are solved in ways that might be complicated, but are always right and just. A happily ever after (or mostly so) on the horizon. I thought I’d share what those are with everyone just in case you’re looking for reading material. Or maybe want to know a little more about my psyche and what I find comforting. I have five for you:

  1. The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery – Valancy Sterling, meek old maid under the thumb of her large family, finds out that she has a terminal illness. She is determined to throw off their yoke and fully live whatever time she has left, and does so with gusto, hilarity, and consequences that change everything. Not only is it delightful, but I have done a read-along with two different Montgomery enthusiast groups. It seems to be a favorite right now.
  2. Chalice by Robin McKinley – Mirasol and her fellow Circle members lost their Master and the former Chalice in a horrible fire that weakened the land they hold together. Now they must accept a new Master who is part fire-demon, hope the land and the people will accept him, and hope they can play politics long enough for everything to work out. But seriously, this book is full of pastoral peacefulness and makes me want to move to a forest and keep bees with my lover. If only Brian weren’t deathly afraid of bees…
  3. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley – While we’re on the subject of McKinley, you basically can’t go wrong with anything she’s written. This one has Harry Crewe stolen by hill people to lead an army against a foe that’s not quite human. Her road is hard, but her successes are rewarding. Most importantly, it carries the message that evil can be fought.
  4. Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones – Another who you can’t go wrong with. Charmed Life is about two orphan children who end up living in the house of the nine-lived enchanter called Chrestomanci. Much magical hilarity ensues, and it’s wonderful.
  5. Thornyhold by Mary Steward – Young woman inherits the house of a great aunt, who was known as the local witch, and has to deal with a nosy neighbor who might also have a sort of magic she’s not very careful about. It’s a love story, though, and a pastoral settling into a home of one’s own.

Happy reading. Or happy something… whatever you can muster in the coming weeks amid chaos and viruses that isolate us.

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Easterbay Prologue

I have been extraordinarily bad at keeping to my resolutions so far, but that’s no reason to not at least do some of it, right? We team teach at my school, and this week it is my turn to do the lesson (I’ve done the last two weeks, too). Being overloaded with lesson plans is my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Pilgrims and revolutionaries, is my section. And I’m glad of it.

I have been working on Easterbay again, and changing it dramatically AGAIN. The ending has never worked – I think I may need the World Tree. But we’ll see how it goes this time around. We’re at the draft unknown stage, there have been so many of them. If I bring in the World Tree instead of the creepy skeleton mech with the bullet belt, then I have to cut my prologue. The prologue foreshadows the skeleton, and I’m quite fond of it. Therefore, I’m posting it here for posterity. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted any of my fiction on the blog, so it seemed like time. Especially since America seems to be dismantling itself piecemeal and we all need a little escapism.

Easterbay Prologue (probably doomed to the guillotine):

I have had the dream all my life, but tonight it seems more vivid.  I can taste the musty earth lying in my mouth, feel it between the sockets of my eyes.  I don’t know why I’m not terrified by the sensation, but I only feel a sense of rightness.  I feel full with it in a way I haven’t since I’ve had a body to wrap around the bones that are all that is left of this dream me.  The weight of the bullets in the sash on my chest press heavy where my heart used to be.  The bones of my fingers clank against the bronze shield where the flesh used to grasp it.

There is magic in the air tonight.  My living body doesn’t believe in magic, but this skeleton thing that I am in my dream does.  Or perhaps not so much believes as tastes.  The molasses zip of electricity and ozone mingles with the dirt in my mouth and I can feel my purpose inside stirring.  I want to rise into the sun and fight.  I want it to be the day I was made for.  I lay in the dust, feeling the earth packing into my cavities, and I almost feel alive again. The magic courses through the loam I live in. 

I listen hard for the words, for the voice of the woman who will say them, who will let them travel on the ozone current to my brittle bones.  I will hear them clearly as they course through the land, even six feet down as I am.

The words never come. 

I have been dreaming as long as I can remember, and the words have never been spoken. Sometimes I think I wait for nothing.

The dream usually shifts now for the me who is alive and dreaming, becoming some other landscape until another night when I dream I am a skeleton, of the taste of magic again.  I wait for it. But tonight nothing changes.  I wait, anticipating, until I awake in my Boston apartment with the sun streaming in the window of the shade Elizabeth left open, the taste of magic still lingering in my mouth. 

I’m Gemini again, myself in a human body, and I wonder if I dreamed so vivid because the armistice was signed and we’re no longer at war with Germany, though that was days ago.  And then from the living room I hear the telephone buzz its tinny ring. I get up and put on a dressing gown, and then I go to answer it.

“Hello,” I say, holding the receiver to my ear, talking carefully into the bell on the box.

“May I speak to Gemini Byrd?” says a man’s voice on the other end.

“This is she.”

“Miss Byrd, I am a lawyer with Harney and Sons and I perhaps have sad news for you.  Your grandmother has passed away, and she has left you an inheritance.”

I don’t know what to say.  I didn’t know I had a grandmother still, only that she and Mom had fought something fierce and never mended it.  The unsettling feeling I had in the dream lingers, but all I know is that I have to take it, whatever this inheritance is.  The magic I can still taste tells me this. I have to take it and hold it, the only one left of my family. 

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Some Goals

I feel like real life has hit again, after several years of things not being real.  Like, stay at home momming is GREAT.  I love it a lot.  But it’s hard to stay at home mom while getting a Master’s degree and supporting a husband who is getting a Master’s degree (and working full time).  It kind of ate our life.  And now that we’re out of school and in careers and stuff, life is feeling a little more real. 

Which is to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about the writing.  I’ve managed to shoehorn days in every once in a while, but I haven’t had a regular writing practice in over three years.  Not to mention, I really miss it.  I want a regular writing practice again.  I want books I wrote and introspection and words upon words that all mean something grand.  The question is… what does that look like in a new reality?  I still have a lot of obligations.  I still have a child who needs things, and a husband who is working two jobs.

I’m not sure, but I have some ideas.  I usually do a post around the new year with goals for myself, so I want to set up a few right now to stand in for my yearly goals.  Because let’s be honest, I need an experiment.  Will my usual 20 days of each month for writing work anymore?  No idea.  Can I manage a blog post a week?  Also unknown.  What about longer form writing like this novel I’ve been trying to get through for two years now?  Your guess is as good as mine. 

Here’s what I’m proposing:

  1. I will “be a writer” 20 days out of each month.  That includes posting to writerly social media accounts, drafting, submitting, and configuring books or other writings, or anything else that helps advance that career (you know, in addition to actually… writing).  
  2. I will post at least one blog a week.
  3. I will participate in (and try to win) NaNoWriMo.

So hopefully that means I’ll be on here a bit more, and we’ll do a recap in January to see how I did on these goals. See you soon!

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New Normal

Wrapping my mind around starting to blog again is a difficult thing.  I feel like I have so much to say, and so much has been left unsaid, and we’re all in this strange world where nothing is right and I’m White so how much should I really be saying anyway? 

But I find myself wanting to blog, so maybe the way to do that is to just go forward and leave the other stuff unaddressed. 

We are approaching six months of quarantine on September 13th.  In California it was March 13, a Friday, that the world shut down.  After living a life that was totally NOT normal in every way, we are finally carving out what is going to be our new normal for a while.  Brian is still working both his jobs from home.  I have co-opted the back bedroom to teach English via an online charter school.  Asher is back at his own school, on site, five days a week. 

This new normal is not a bad one.  I wake at the crack of dawn, make Asher’s lunch, attach a mask to his backpack, and start work before anyone else is up.  I listen to Brian and Asher being silly downstairs.  At some point, they leave for school.  Asher takes a different toy each day, and daycare staff are sure to check its temperature when they take Asher’s before letting him inside – at Asher’s request. 

In the afternoon, I pick Asher up.  They hand him off to me, and then I have to convince him that he does, in fact, want to go home.  “Can we stay?” he asks me most afternoons. 

“No, Love, Dad is waiting for us at home.”

“I’m not a Love, I’m Amber the Brave Ambulance,” he says.

We ride home, snuggle on the couch while watching Robo Car Poli, and eventually I make dinner.  Potty training goes well.  Asher climbs on Brian while he’s working, or watches Buster The Bus on Brian’s second monitor while he’s checking spreadsheets.  Or Asher makes a construction site in the Kinetic Sand, then asks me if he can mash the potatoes.  He blissfully refuses to eat dinner but will sit at the table with us.  After dinner is over, he steals an apple from the fruit basket. 

Most nights Brian goes up to the back bedroom to see clients and I put Asher to sleep, wrangling pajamas onto a body that’s jumping on the bed, negotiating exactly how many books we get to read (I can usually be convinced to read four… it’s at five that I draw the line).  He sleeps with his ceiling stars on.  I go downstairs and flake out on the couch with a peanut butter cup or maybe some Moscato.  We do it all again the next day.

There are brighter spots – meeting family in the park on the weekends; an impromptu dinner on the lawn at the University of Redlands; a trip to hike somewhere.  It’s not bad at all. 

Until I see the pictures that come up in my Timehop and remember how very together we all used to be back then, last year, a lifetime ago. 

It’s then that I know how much I’m looking forward to a newer normal.  I hope it gets here soon. 

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Mothering in a Time of Pandemic

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With the world in a tailspin, it’s been hard to do anything but tread water – hasn’t it?  Brian has recently started to try and give me a little time in the day, every day, to myself.  It feels like such a luxury.  It’s stirring my creativity again.  A creativity mixed with anxiety, but that’s probably to be expected.  I am working on an art journal to chronicle our Pandemic experience.  I have time to write a blog.

In some ways, our life has only changed for the better.  Brian is home more, and we actually get to see him.  I have time for a garden and for perfecting my Strawberry Shortcake recipe.  Asher and I have time for busy Montessori-style work and craft projects.  In some ways it’s better. Just some.

Still, it feels like a horrible slog through most days.  Asher doesn’t understand why Dad is in the house, but unavailable to him.  He keeps asking me if he can go to school, or to see Amma, or to the park.  It breaks my heart to tell him no.

“Remember, honey?  We need to keep the Coronavirus from traveling to see anybody.  Right?” I told him the other day.

“I WANT the Coronavirus to come.” he said with a classic pouty mouth and a stamp of his feet.

“You don’t really,” I said.  “Coronavirus makes everyone feel yucky.  We don’t want that.”

“Humpf,” was the reply.

We each have a Covid Freak Out Day (TM) about once a week.  I’ve tried to make them less traumatic by just accepting that it’s going to happen and preparing for it.  Still, it doesn’t make them feel any better when they do come around.  I’m starting to track what’s happening the day of and the day before freak outs to see if we can interrupt the cycle.  I’m pretty sure mine are triggered by watching Asher cry at the office door when Brian is in an important meeting and he can’t go in.  He won’t be moved or distracted. I’ve tried.  And then I hold him on the floor of the hallway while he sobs and I feel so powerless…

In the mean time, I’m running a small Montessori Home School over here with the help of Asher’s teachers.  As a teacher myself, stuck in a virtual system, I KNOW how hard his teacher is working to provide individualized lesson plans for all of the students.  And I know that teaching virtually is about three times as much work as teaching in a classroom.  But as a teacher, I also know that lesson planning is about 1/3 of the job.  Delivering the lesson and classroom management are HUGE parts of teaching that I am taking on with little help and no formal training (my training is for teens in English – not preschool Montessori).  I’m mostly doing well.  We’re a few days behind the schedule the school has given us, though, because sometimes I need to get materials for the activities.  This has necessitated absorbing some lesson planning duties on my part as well.

Living near the University of Redlands has been a huge boon for us, though, because when it all gets to be horrible and we all have been in the living room too long, we go through a drive-through and find a vacant lawn to have dinner on.  We smell the roses and listen to the birds.  Asher runs.  Everyone feels better.

I don’t have a point, really, except to say that this is hard.  My family is doing this, in some ways, under the BEST possible conditions.  And it still feels impossible but oh-so important.  We’re hanging in there.  We’re learning new skills.

I’m going to post some activities as a closer.  If you’re wondering what I’ve been doing with Asher, or maybe looking for ideas for your own toddler, here are some of the activities he’s loved:

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In the rainbow rice bin.  You can see his construction trucks around the edge.

Rainbow Rice! We used the method of pouring craft paint into the rice and mushing it around.  Asher helped mush the color with me, so it was a double activity.  Good things to put in the rice have included cups and funky spoons for pouring (ice cream scoop!), a hinged tea ball, and some small construction trucks.

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License plate in the mouth, putting flowers in the vase.

Flower Arranging.   I do it a little differently than the linked post.  Asher isn’t really strong enough to use scissors yet (he can’t get them back open after closing them), so I pre-cut the stems to size before he arranges the flowers.  Also, he arranges in a dry vase which I fill with water afterwards.

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Water pouring.  That look of concentration on his face is a huge aim of Montessori learning.

Water Pouring.  We use a small tea pot and a glass canning jar.

Asher stirred the batter and mashed the strawberries for my Mother’s Day breakfast.

Cooking and Baking: Asher does a lot of the prep work with me when I’m in the kitchen.  He stirs mixes, peels oranges and bananas, mushes strawberries with the potato masher, cuts soft things with his wavy chopper, and salts and peppers veggies to go in the oven.  He has even moved on to stirring hot pots on the stove (with plenty of supervision and a long spoon, of course).  We usually “take turns” with this stuff so it really gets done, since most of his efforts are brief and incomplete.  He’s only 2 1/2, so he gets a pass.

 

 

 

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Just An Update – and Blue Gentian is Free

This has been a strange few weeks, I’ll tell you.  We went from being very excited that we all had a week of Spring Break off together, to being thrown into this crazy world where no one knows what’s happening.  It’s been raining every time I plan an outing, too, so there’s that.  And by outing, I mean the social distancing kind – a hiking trail or even a walk around the block.

Asher is not pleased to be so cooped up in the house.  He wants to go out in the 60-degree weather and play with his water table.  He wants to chalk up the sidewalk in the rain.  He does not know why Mom is such a kill-joy and won’t let him.

Also, I officially have THE WORST luck with Student Teaching.  We won’t know fully until tomorrow, but it’s looking like they (maybe?) have some band-aid solutions for us.  Brian is able to work.  We were planning on me not working until September.  Probably we’ll be okay.

That being said, I know a lot of people are cooped up at home with no income or massive insecurity.  My favorite thing for hard times is escaping into a book.   In the spirit of helping, Blue Gentian is free starting tomorrow until the 24th.  That’s as long as I could do it and still remain a member of KDP.

Also, if you’ve ever wanted to write a novel yourself, April is Camp Nanowrimo.   You have time and a story inside you, what have you got to lose?

 

 

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Domesticity

I have been home for a month now with few responsibilities beyond being a mother and keeping house.   If only it could always be this way,  I think.

The house is mostly put together.  I have been cleaning like a madwoman, and finally have the downstairs in a state that meets my cleanliness standards.  It’s been at least two years since this has happened.  The upstairs is also mostly fine, though my bedroom is still a travesty.   My mother and I have been making the backyard safe enough for a small boy to run around in while I tend Tomatoes this summer.  It’s like I have my home back, with things to look forward to.

My home with some additions, as a result of a big subtraction…

My grandfather passed over the holidays.  I assume that sometime I will write about it, but it feels like too much right now.  How is it possible to memorialize someone who was a weekly part of your life (at least) for the entirety of it?  I’m not sure it is.  Still, the family went through his things, and my grandmother’s too (who passed, oh, 7 years ago?  I purposefully didn’t remember the date or year), which was cathartic and wonderful.  And now my house is peppered with little remembrances of them.  I had time to reorganize the knick-knacks and rehang the pictures on the walls to fit them in.

I even had a little time for some historical cooking, which I realized that I missed horribly when I was watching them make Figgy Pudding at Jamestown over an open hearth.  I made a Carolina Snowball – a desert “pudding” (not at all like we think of modern puddings, by the way) that consists of rice cooked in milk surrounding a spice-baked apple in a butter/wine/sugar sauce.  It was CRAZY good, and the first time I made a recipe with dubious instructions and no measurements.  Swell the rice in warm milk, it said.  Boil until Enough, add a Glass of wine… But it turned out and not only was it edible it was darn good!  The butter/wine sauce might be one of the best things I’ve ever had ever, even.

I am starting student teaching again next Monday, which feels a little like the end of the party after how hard I worked at it all last semester.  The beginning of work, the end of cozy homeyness.

Still, I do think it will be different this time.  I have notice about what and where I will be teaching.  I am not taking any companion classes to fill my nights with panic and my weekends with homework in addition to lesson planning and grading for my own students.  I have reliable child care.  I have a (mostly) clean house.

I’m ready for the chaos, and determined to cling to the domesticity in the middle of the rapid stream of work to follow.  If only because I need more of that butter/wine sauce in my life.  Yum.

 

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Throwing It Open

I have had a few weeks of no responsibility (you know, besides the parenting ones which are mostly fun) over the holidays.  This last year of school was intense, and I’m glad to be moving into a time when things will be less crazy.  I will only have to student teach, and student teaching will look a lot like my official job (when I get one).

This means that I get to branch out into the things I’d LIKE to do, and not just the things that are enriching my life but not necessarily enjoyable.  Which means, I’d really like to blog more.

This seems to be a theme recently, doesn’t it?  I’m always resolving to blog more.  I have also been thinking long and hard about why it hasn’t been working for me, and I think it’s because I’ve put too many rules on myself about it.

I used to blog about my entire life.  Sometimes there was writing stuff on here, but mostly it was just little essays about how life was going and some of the things I was doing.  Experimental poetry, polished stories, weird stuff.  Sometimes there were book reviews.  Sometimes there were crafts and recipes.  It just depended on what I was doing.  As I moved my career more professional, I felt like there wasn’t a place here for anything that wasn’t either about being a writer or that was literary.  Which means I have very little to blog about and post, even though I have SO MUCH to blog about.  I’m continually feeling frustrated about it.

So this is official notice that I’m throwing all of that out the window.  There’s really no reason to keep this to one subject, except for professionalism.  And frankly, I’d rather be me than professional.  All the posts you like will probably still appear, they will just appear among the other things.  Blog posts will (hopefully) be more frequent.  And expect some teaching stuff, too, I would imagine.

Cheers to the new year!

 

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The Resolution Post 2020

I didn’t do a resolution post last year.  I’m not sure why, except that I was probably feeling both overwhelmed and defeated – I have been so busy that it’s been VERY hard to fit any writing in.  2020 promises to be a tiny smidge less busy, and I am already feeling a bit of creativity creeping in with the dust as it settles during my Christmas vacation.  I hope it sticks around, as I always do.  We’ll see.

My year looks like this so far:

  • January – a short break
  • February-April – more student teaching, with lots of Great Gatsby.  Also, CAL Teacher Performance Assessments.
  • May – an epic job hunt
  • June-August – a summer that may include an epic job hunt, but is guaranteed to have lots of Small Boy in it.  Therefore it will mostly be good.
  • September-December – If all works out, it will be my first classroom.

Not too shabby.  And very busy, but no classes shoehorned into all my other responsibilities.  A little breathing room, a little creating room.

Since I didn’t make actual resolutions last year, I can’t say if I completed them.  However, I read 109 books this year, and am SO CLOSE to finishing Easterbay.  I can’t figure out the ending, but the rest of it is looking all edited up and really good.  My Master’s Thesis was also on teaching creative writing to 9th graders, so I brushed up on some of my own best advice for Steering the Craft (to borrow a book title from Ursula K. LeGuin).  That’s not nothing.

Reading Goals:

In 2020, I’d like to try and read 140 books.  I almost completed that many in 2018 when things were less nutty, and I like to stretch on goals.  100 clearly isn’t a stretch.  Also, I want to read one book a month that isn’t a romance novel or a parenting how-to book.  That’s basically all I read anymore.

Writing Goals:

I’d like to finish Easterbay, so that’s a HUGE one for me.  I learned a long time ago not to make goals about publication that I have no control over, but instead to make goals about content.  Even if I finish Easterbay, I’ll need Brian to Alpha read, and then I’ll need Beta Readers, and then I’ll need to format it and stuff… so that won’t be a firm commitment on publication, just on finishing.  I’ll also commit to writing 10 days each month and participating in Nanowrimo with a new novel (not a rewrite of an old one).

Optional writing goals that I hope to complete but won’t hate myself if I don’t are to publish Easterbay, and to start editing my first romance novel.

Personal Goals: 

Lastly, I don’t usually do personal goals but wanted to set two out this year for posterity.  One is to figure out how to enjoy mothering more.  It’s not that I totally don’t enjoy it, but I find that a lot of my time is spent being anxious about myself and him and whether or not he’s really getting what he needs.  Even in the fun moments, that stuff is lurking back there to smush my good time.  I’m hoping that I can figure out how to be fully present for the good stuff a little more often.  Second, I hope to improve my classroom management skills.  I probably won’t be actively good, but I am definitely going for better this next semester.

Well, that’s it for the Resolution post.  I’m excited that it’s going to be the 20’s again, so I’ll be rouge-ing my knees and looking for a speakeasy.  Also, pass the ERA already, President Wilson!

 

 

 

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Things that are Brown in October

I have been working hard on my Master’s thesis, which it turns out will be 9 weeks of lesson plans on creative writing.   After much research, I’m now on the “writing lesson plans,” portion. It’s been good for me to delve into the writer’s process again.  I think I know this stuff because I am a writer, but there is always more to learn (or sometimes to re-remember).

Two things that have struck me in my reading: one is that we know how important modeling can be for students in the classroom.  In order to have a writing classroom, you also have to be writing and sharing your work, suggests one of the books I’m reading.

I’m editing, but I’m not really writing.  I haven’t been in a while, because it feels rusty and wrong.  The stuff I write isn’t much good these days.  Although who knows how much of my writing was good before, I was just producing so much of it that plenty of good stuff came out with the bad…

On to the second thing.  Which stems from the old writing cliche that stories come like water from a faucet.  When you have turned on the faucet after a long time of disuse,  I found in a quote, you need to get all the rusty crap out of the line before good writing starts to flow again.  It takes a minute to get back into clear waters.

And so in the interest of clear waters, I’m doing some list making.  After all, it’s in a lesson plan I’ve made for 14 year olds.  What’s good for the goose and all…

This one is of Things that are Brown in October.  And other times too, some of them, but they are things that are around and that matter.

  1. The California Buckwheat in Caroline Park
  2. Starbucks bags
  3. The seat of Asher’s pants when he forgets to have careful feet at the park
  4. the fake trees in the Halloween village
  5. Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Coco powder
  6. plain wooden cars that go “around, faster and faster Mumma.”
  7. The wig of my Princess Leia costume
  8. The wooden box that holds a beloved cat’s ashes
  9. A cinnamon broom from Trader Joe’s
  10. Teabags in a canning jar
  11. The Sweet Pea Hedge that died in the summer heat
  12. Morla’s mulch
  13. Many kinds of Halloween candy
  14. The hills in the distance off the 210 freeway
  15. Brian’s hair
  16. McDonald’s hamburgers, even when the playplace is closed
  17. Bunnies with white tails that disappear into the buckwheat when a small boy speaks

 

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