A Hiatus

Hello!

You’ve probably noticed that it has been a WHILE since I’ve posted anything here.  Don’t worry, I’m not dead.  Life has just gotten a little unmanageable at the moment, and the blog was one of the things that gave.  It seemed like it happened overnight, too.

I’m expecting things to stay busy for at least another 6 weeks or so, and maybe for several months.  This is notice that I probably won’t be blogging all that much in that time, or maybe even at all.  It seems to be that I can do regular writing or blog writing and not both right now, and I’m prioritizing the fiction.

I’m on Tumblr and Instagram the most, if you find you miss me.  Otherwise I’ll see you when I get back.

With much love to you all,

~Casey

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Blue Bird

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The area we live in is rural.  It seems like it shouldn’t be because the Trader Joe’s is less than two miles from the house, and the nearest Target only ten minutes by car.  There is a Starbucks down the street.  But our neighborhood is bordered to the south by a fancy drainage ditch dug in the 1820s called the Mill Creek Zanja that is rimmed with eucalyptus.  There’s an empty field beyond.  To the west, we’re bordered by the orange grove side of the University of Redlands campus.  Add that to the manicured but still wild hiking trail, and it’s prime territory for critters.

We had gophers in the yard all last summer until I put chicken wire under the raised beds.  There is a hawk that makes his home in one of the eucalyptus trees nearby.  We had a family of doves try to nest in our tree last spring until they decided they didn’t like how often we used the front door.  Birds both brown and blue hop on our backyard fence. The hiking trail is forever littered with berry-filled coyote scat, and occasionally a white-tailed bunny will hop ahead of you into a bush.  House cats roam the streets. Occasionally you can hear the coyotes hunting one.

When I went out to go to work on Friday, I noticed a feather near the grapevine in our yard.  It was vibrant blue.  In fact, there was a stack of them, a pile of tiny down underneath.  No body, but obviously something got caught and torn to pieces in our yard – a bluebird.

I don’t know if it was a cat or the hawk, and there was no actual body to contend with nor any blood or gore.  But what struck me was how beautiful it was, that blue, blue pile of feathers.  The tips were striped black, and the ridge in the middle was pristine white.  They fluttered just a little in the breeze, scattering out of their neat pile and moving into hieroglyphics across the cement walkway, exposing the gray fluff underneath.

The detritus is still there.  I don’t have the heart to pick it up, and some small part of me likes to see the blue feathers, cheerful and not at the same time.  It makes me realize that even a small and unknown bird can leave something behind after it’s personal end of all things.

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A Bad Week

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This week has been a hard one, and I’m not even quite sure why except for the obvious.  The things that are happening in this country make me sad and worried.

 

Social media isn’t making it any better.  I keep waiting for the world to implode into WWIII or Civil War Part II, and my feed just confirms it all.  Whatever it is you worry about, it’s right there happening.  There are glimmers of hope of course, but not enough of them.

Couple that with my Jury Duty experience, and the world seems extra-bleak right now.

Yup, I had Jury Duty that started last Thursday and went through to today, my first time having to appear at the courthouse. I was placed on a trial almost immediately after arriving with 100 other jurors.  about 40 were excused post-haste since the trial was supposed to last until mid-March and they had conflicts or their work wouldn’t pay that long.  I found out yesterday that it was a double shooting murder charge.  The defendant wasn’t trying to claim he didn’t shoot the guy, either.  He was just claiming it was self-defense.  I ultimately was excused after jury selection was finished – I wasn’t even questioned.  That means I can talk about it.

It was an experience unlike anything else, and very interesting.  The thing I keep thinking about is this:

The prosecutor kept asking the jury panel if they felt sympathy for the defendant, who was sitting right there.  She pointed at him.  He was young and might have been handsome if you could think of him as anything but a giant accusation, in a thick mans-man way.  He had a buzzed haircut and deep bags under his eyes. He wore the same thing all 3 days of the trial, too – khaki pants and a khaki dress shirt, green tie.  And I just kept thinking that the entire panel must have been lying whenever anyone coldly said “no” to her question.

Maybe I didn’t feel sympathy, exactly, but I felt compassion.  This had to be one of the worst days of that guy’s life, and I think it’s maybe even needful that we acknowledge that he’s a human and so were the people who died before we set all that aside and make a cold determination of fault based only on laws and evidence.

It’s probably a good thing I wasn’t questioned…

But it all seems death and destruction right now, between murder and mayhem.  It also seems impossible to pick things up and go to work tomorrow like normal, though I’m sure I’ll find comfort in the routine of it when it arrives.  I would just like something to hope for, I think.  Something that is entirely pure and gleeful, and not the lesser of two bad options.

I’ll just have to keep looking until I find it, I guess.

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Courage

I do not know what it is exactly, but in the 2 work days since Trump officially took office it feels like Facebook is burning down with politics and horribleness.  I know we expected this, but I didn’t expect it so soon, guys.  I had planned to write a blog post about the women’s march, but I feel like people are fighting over even that these days.  And that, to be honest, was more fun, communal, and inspiring than the militantly hostile or revolutionary event non-supporters seem to think it was.

So I will spare you the politics and plan to write about the march another time.

Then I thought I would just put a photo gallery up of some nice things I saw last year, to soothe.  But I realized that I didn’t post much on Instagram last year or even take many photos at all.  The photos I take with my good camera are so much better than the crap I get from my cell phone that I was feeling like I shouldn’t post unless they were the awesome and fancy ones.  I know… I’ve cured myself of that.  I cured myself by realizing the thing I like most about my Instagram feed is that it’s a little record of all the positive stuff that has happened in the year.  So I’m trying not to care about quality and just going for affection.  Quality is bonus.  But most of the nice things that happened last year? Undocumented.

I cannot tell you exactly why I feel this way, but this year seems to be one that is gearing up for a lot of change, and not just in the government.  Nothing definitive has happened yet, but I feel it in the air… the pause before the thunder, the crouch before the jump.  I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown in the new year, and I came across this quote of hers, below.  I intend to take it as a motto for this year.  And in this time of tribulation, I especially recommend Rising Strong if you’re looking for some Neosporin for those political wounds.  I read Brene and my path, in life in general, seems a lot easier to bear.

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I’m Marching Tomorrow

In case you haven’t guessed it yet, this is a fairly political blog post.  You can skip if you’re not into that kind of thing.  Also contains rampant feminism.

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I am marching in Los Angeles tomorrow.  I don’t own any feminist t-shirts or anything, so I plan to wear my Suffragette white with the purple and green pin I made for election day.  I have a banner, too, if I ever manage to finish it.  It will say “No woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex,” in as close a copy as I can get to the 1920s picture.  It will be fabric, too, for easy transport on the train.

I have had a lot of – well, not exactly fights.  Heated discussions? – with Trump supporters who claim that there was a HUGE backlash against him when he said he wouldn’t accept the results of the election, and now those same people won’t accept the results of the election themselves.  And that it’s stupid to go and protest.  What are we even protesting?

So I thought, since I think better with my fingers than my mouth, that I would explain why I’m marching tomorrow.  And that’s the first thing I want to emphasize.  I’m not protesting anything.  I’m marching in solidarity with the women in my community.

The reason is this:

Humans of New York went to Detroit and talked to a bunch of people there after the election.  The one that struck me the most was posted on November 20, with a woman in a green anorak looking out at a river.  The quote above the picture was this: “I’ve had friends reach out to me. They’ve told me: ‘I understand the reasons that you’re upset. But those aren’t the reasons I voted for him.’ And I’m just starting to understand that. I’m realizing that a lot of people wanted change more than they wanted kids not to cry. We all have our own code of ethics. My bottom line happened to be tolerance. Their bottom line was abortion. Or the Supreme Court. I guess we all have the right to choose our own bottom line.”

I was desperately aggrieved when Trump won, and part of it is because of what that lady in the green jacket said.  My right as a woman to exist safely in a public place was not the bottom line for many people.  The fact that Trump assaulted women and then bragged about it was not enough to disqualify him for them. They wanted change more than they wanted women to not be molested. That’s certainly their right to choose.  I don’t dispute that.  But the fact that my safety comes second to anything at all, and that there are a LOT of people who feel that way, feels like a death.  A death of progress, a death of protection from indecency, a death of the esteem I held for those people who I believed better of.

At the heart of it, that’s really why I’m marching.  I’m marching with women who are my friends and relatives to show them that I value their safety as MY bottom line. that we will stubbornly value each other together.  And I’m marching to say to Trump and everyone in his new administration that comments they have made in the past are unacceptable.  If they try and take my safety away from me or those in my community (regardless of gender, orientation, or color),  this is the polite version of what they can expect the future to look like.

I’m not protesting the election.  I’m not trying to say that Trump is not my president.  I’m trying to acknowledge that he IS the president, for better or worse, and that we now have to strive every day to hold him to the standards we expect of someone in that office, no matter how difficult or impossible that seems.

I’m marching because it gives me something to do with this grief, and it gives me hope that we are a people who are, collectively, better than our current government.

To everyone else who is going tomorrow: I look forward to seeing you there.

And to those of you who feel you must skip out: I respect that, and I hope that if things get harrier you will consider standing with us next time.

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Piano Lessons

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There are pictures of me in every album, at every age: fluffy white-blonde hair sprayed into submission, floral dress over white tights or frilly socks and black mary janes, smiling at the camera with the black and white keys of a piano stretching to my left.  In some, I bow with my knees locked straight.  In others, my face is in profile while my hands lay static on the keys.  Sometimes there’s a patient smile on my face as I look up from the bench, that my song has been interrupted by someone I’m fond of for pictures.

Piano was a religion for me.  3 hours a day, waking up in the mornings before school to sit and force my muscles to remember that tight, fast fingering on the right hand in in Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turka; or stretch my left palm a little farther to get a cleaner octave in Joplin’s Entertainer.  I spent hours poring over theory books and listening to intervals.

It centered me.

And then I was doing it less.  And then I wasn’t doing it at all anymore, my fingers putting up a revolt when I tried to pick up a piece after six, maybe eight months absence.

I missed it less than I thought I would, though I still missed it.

“Do you remember?” Brian asked me about a month ago.  “You once showed me a few chords on the piano.  It seemed like it made sense.  It seemed easy.”

It is both easy and hard.

“Would you teach me?” he asked.

I remembered, fifteen years ago, when I was thinking of giving lessons for extra cash.  “Just get a book,” Christine, who had been teaching me since I was 4, said.  “Work through it in order.  Someone who wanted to be a serious musician would eventually need more, yeah, but you could definitely start someone off.  And a lot of experienced teachers don’t take anyone who can’t read music.  You’d be a great in-between.”

So I said “Sure,” to Brian.

We walked to a practice room at the college where Brian works.  The music building is one of their oldest.  It’s at the end of a tree-lined lawn, frescoes in the eaves of violins and flowers in a vase.  Inside a tiny room on the second floor was a beat-up Steinway upright that was still mostly black.  A grimy window looked out onto the quad beyond, the fronds of an evergreen brushing the panes.  There was no place for a teacher to sit.

I stood.

Our lesson went so quickly, I couldn’t believe it had been more than an hour.

I have never seen myself in someone I wasn’t related to.  But last night it struck me with a vengeance, the way Brian gravitates towards foreign pianos even in public places now, wanting to feel the slick white keys under his fingers, to fool around with the notes for just a moment.  The way he taps his hands on the table, a look of concentration on his face, both hands crossing at different times like they should.  “I had a bad day, but I practiced tonight and I feel fine again,” he said last week.

I don’t know what changed, but I watched him sit there, the negative of the image I used to be: long denim-clad legs tucked over the pedals, the cowlick in his dark brown hair standing tall, the black and white keyboard stretching before him, look of concentration on his face.  Somehow the universe seemed to re-orient itself into new tiers of importance.  This was at the top.  Not Brian, exactly, or even the piano, but the knowledge, the sharing we give to each other as we move through existence.

I grinned.

“What are you smiling about?” Brian asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

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Winter Reading List 2017

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Finally a blog entry, right?  Work has gotten insane on me.  One of our own went out on disability to get her knee replaced (surgery went well, and recovery is too – yay!), but we’re all doing a little backfilling to pitch in. Couple that with all the beginning of the year crazy and the cold Brian shared that just won’t go away, and it’s a miracle I’ve been able to write at all.

Which is to say that blog entries might be sparser (once a week and irregular?) until March.  We’ll see how it goes.

It’s more than time for the winter reading list. The students came back last Monday and I’m officially late.  So, here’s all the things I’ve read since the fall, and what I thought of them.  I know… I did say there would be less book reviews in the new year.  I’m still mostly holding to that.  But I also said the Reading List was something that would stay.  This one wins the award for most books ever (if that’s an actual award) with 53.

I hope you find something to like in this batch.

 

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah MacLean – I’m basically in love with this woman and consider her books to be the best thing ever.  I have never seen Informed Consent in a romance novel, and not only does MacLean do it, she does it so it’s SUPER hot.  Basic rule for all the MacLean books that follow?  READ THEM NOW.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – Beautifully written, but I just couldn’t get into it.  For some reason, I just felt like I had read this book before.  It didn’t offer me anything new.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater – Again, a very pretty book with not a lot of exciting things to offer.  I decided not to continue with the series after this one.

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean – A runaway in the wrong (or right, if you like super hot guys) carriage trope, only this one is done remarkably well.

A Scot In The Dark by Sarah MacLean – It’s like if the naked celebrity selfie problem went 17th century on us.  Crazy well done.  And who doesn’t love a lady who ultimately saves herself?

A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean – A marriage of convenience novel in an illicit gaming hell.  He’s trying to keep her “pure.” Sign me up, please!

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean – Another in the gaming hell series, and just as good as the first.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean – This one might actually be my favorite of all the Lord of Scoundrels series.  The lady the duke supposedly killed turns up alive, and of course sparks fly.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery – A comfort read that I’ve memorized parts of, and don’t read often.  It’s such a gem of a book, and I think I got more from it this time than I did as a teen.  She’s saying important things about women and relationships in this one.

Never Judge A Lady By Her Cover by Sarah MacLean – OH so good.  I love the secret that is the premise of this book, though I won’t spoil it for those who are planning to read the others.  And who doesn’t like a newspaperman hero?  I ALWAYS do.  My FAVORITE of the Lord of Scoundrels.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I’m probably a horrible person, but I just couldn’t get into it.  I think it’s because Kvothe annoyed the CRAP out of me, and I didn’t want to spend any time with him.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede – I don’t know why I keep returning to this book, because it really isn’t my favorite – it’s too long a timeline and too rambling to be About anything.  But Wrede’s world and alt-history is SO fascinating.  That’s what I go back for, I guess.

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – This hilarious book is all letters back and forth as the two girls confront separate problems in the country and in town that ultimately end up being related.  Combines Wrede’s awesome alt-history world with regency romance and is perfection.  Bonus points?  It reads like it was fun to write.

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan – I think this book is for people who aren’t history-buffs and totally crazy about the Regency.  I learned a little bit, but not as much as someone else might have.  Also, I felt kinda “meh” about it.  I struggled to get through it, though ultimately was glad I did.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare – A couple of mystery lovers tryst in a room that both the Hero and Heroine happen to also be in, and they’re blamed.  Now they have to get married, which seems like a hardship but really isn’t after all.  It was definitely a solid novel, but not a favorite or anything.

That Scandalous Summer by Meredith Duran – It’s a marriage of convenience novel, where the hero needs the heroine’s money to keep a hospital he runs open.  I read it all the way through, but ultimately didn’t feel it was great.

Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas – I actually hated this book.  It was basically the plot of “Splash” in 18th century form, but it got a little rapey and awful in there.  I wouldn’t recommend.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase – Oh, so great.  The heroine is trying to pry her brother away from the hero’s terrible influence.  She’s super-smart, he’s fairly oblivious, and things are basically perfect.  I would 100% recommend this novel.

Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase – Love this novel, too. It’s an already betrothed but fell for someone else totally unsuitable trope, where the hero falls for his fiancé’s dressmaker.  Unique, though, because there’s genuine affection between the hero and his fiancé, just not romantic love.  So great, I kept picking up her books.

Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase – Dressmakers #2, and it features a delightful heroine who sneaks into all the Ton parties to report on the latest fashions.  So great.  Would recommend.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese O’Neil – Totally hilarious and disgusting (in a good way) in every way.  Ever wanted to be a romance heroine?  This will cure you.  And leave you laughing.

The Young Blood by Erin Satie – I loved this book a bunch.  It was well written, and the murder scene was horrifying while still serving the story.  It lost a few points for me for deus ex machina balloon rides, but all in all I would recommend.

Lady Sophia’s Lover by Lisa Kleypas – I was out of stuff to read, and so I DID go back to the Bow Street series, despite my reservations.  This one was better than the last, but still not that great.

Secrets from the Eating Lab by Tracy Mann – Such a cathartic and helpful read.  I’ve read a ton of books and evidence about how diets don’t help, but Mann takes it farther and tells you how to live healthfully at any size.  Finally a course of action that won’t kill me!

Romancing the Beat, Story Structure for Romance by Gwen Hayes – Very helpful as I was planning my Nano novel this year, which was a romance.  And a quick read, which was also nice.

The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman – Oh, I love this man so much.  I got a little bogged down in the section that’s all commentary on comics and things because I don’t read that genre, but otherwise it was magical to read his thoughts on things.

Red Rose by Mary Balogh –   I hated this book completely, was 100% turned off by the way she treated her disabled heroine, and didn’t finish it.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – I loved this book so much that I started my own project this year.  I’ve almost totally dropped it 3 months in, but I did change several significant things that seem to be really helping me feel better about myself.

Geoducks are for Lovers by Daisy Prescott – I mean, it was the usual contemporary beach house romance, complete with wishy-washy reason for the couple to stay apart.  But it was well written, at least.

The Rogue by Katharine Ashe – While I really loved the tension between the hero and heroine, I also felt like the book was missing something.  Maybe because it’s #4 and they’re not as stand-alone as everyone hoped?

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt – The plot was pretty great, really, as was the hero and heroine traveling through the slums after a secret.  I think I can’t give it full marks, though, because of a needless almost-rape.

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander – Uh, no.  This book annoyed the CRAP out of me because there seemed to be no reason at all for the two not to at least schtup each other, and they didn’t.  And it was repetitive.  I read about 75% of the way through before I gave up in disgust.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig  – Maybe the best Christmas book I read this year.  An intrigue with puddings, silly and not too smart but still drool-worthy men, and much Christmas goodness.  Hot, but no sex.

Oh Horrid Night edited by Amber Newburry – This is the book I’m in!  I had a fun time reading everyone else’s stuff, which was oh so creative and very creepy.

All I Want for Christmas is You by Nora Roberts – it was fine, but nothing to write home about.  The kids were cute, the romance just fine.  I have nothing to criticize.  But, I also have nothing to praise, really.

Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams – I actually liked this book quite a lot.  The fellow in the relationship was a pastor, and so I thought it might be sickly religious.  Not so, though.  And very solid, with plenty of hotness and a story line that seemed natural.

A Christmas Kiss by Elizabeth Mansfield – A sweet holiday romance in which the spunky and awesome heroine falls for the father of the house, who’s mad at himself because he thinks she’s engaged to his son.  Sweet.

A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams – It was written well, but I felt like this missed the mark for me.  They were both missionaries, and for some reason I didn’t feel like I really identified with them, though the writing and story were both solid.

Twas The Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries – A cute and steamy novel about a man and his estranged mother.  The guy falls for his mother’s companion after she tricks them into reconciling.  He was a little too creepy at first, but I ended up liking it.

What A Lady Needs for Christmas by Grace Burrowes – This was one of my FAVORITE Christmas novels this year. It features a Scot, a train escape, an awesome wardrobe, and a precocious daughter.  I didn’t want it to end.

Three Nights Before Christmas by Kat Latham – The heroine is an ex-con and a train engineer, and watching her story unfold was great.  Especially because her brother and the hero are such funny guys.  Plenty of Christmas goodness, too.  Also, the ugliest sweater EVER.

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan – A VERY cute tale that made me want to at least explore reading the rest of the series.  Plenty of skiing and coziness, along with a mean mother and a teen to adore.

The Duke and Miss Christmas by Amelia Grey – I got REALLY angry with the hero in the first chapter and refused to read the rest of it.  The verdict is a resounding No.

Wallbanger by Alice Clayton – Oh, I love this book so much.  I was skeptical because of the title, but the hero and heroine are both so quippy, and they both have a hilarious posse of friends, and it’s hot all the way through.  Yes please.

Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Lecia Cornwall – Another one of my favorites this year.  The villagers are such well-written characters, and I loved the Lady and Lord, and the way gossip traveled.  They both stubbornly held to marrying others beyond the point of reason, but I still think it worked.  Would recommend.

The Undervalued Self by Elaine Aron – This was an interesting read, and I think it was good for me.  The difference between ranking and linking situations, and how we rank when we should link sometimes, has been very helpful.

A Bad Boy for Christmas by Jessica Lemon – I was not really a fan of this one.  Eventually things get kinda sweet, but the hero in the beginning is a little creepy about his need to “protect” the heroine and it never quite recovered enough for me.

How A Lady Weds a Rogue by Katharine Ashe – This book had all the good parts of an amazing novel, but it somehow didn’t grip me.  I found my attention wandering even as I enjoyed it.  I recommend?  I gave it 4 stars on Amazon.

Seducing Mr. Knightley by Maya Rodale – downtrodden and shy advice columnist known as Dear Abigail reverses things and asks her readers for advice on how to seduce her crush.  Which happens to be her boss.  Nothing to do with Jane Austen (closer to Never Been Kissed, the movie), but features a newspaperman.  Yum.

Grin and Beard it by Penny Reid – It’s the 2nd book in the series, but it’s OH so good and can stand alone.  National Park ranger and movie star fall in love.  She has an amazing career, is Latina, and also a size 14 and totally sexy.  So is he, bear-trapping and all.  It sounds cheesy, but it’s really not.  It’s perfection.

Beauty and the Mustache by Penny Reid – I read the book above and HAD to read the entire series.  This one is technically part of the “Knitting In The City” series, but it features their sister and is also considered Winston Brothers 0.5.  A sad book since it features the death of the MC’s mother, but also a beautiful love story.  And you HAVE to love that gaggle of friends.

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid – The 2nd book in the series.  Two hometown haters fall in love when the girl mistakes the guy for his twin and things get hot.  Full of sassiness, too.  I almost said this one was my favorite so far, but I don’t think I can, really.  It’s impossible to pick.

Beard Science by Penny Reid – I was worried about this one because I don’t really think of Cletus as being romantic.  But he definitely is.  And this book may be the funniest yet because the heroine is so great.  She’s smart but sheltered, so it’s an interesting combination with Cletus’ slyness.

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A Change, and a Vignette

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I’m all off this week because of the holiday.  Mondays off always throw me for a loop – not that I’m complaining.  But the Thursday blog entry is now a Friday blog entry since everything is a day removed.

Speaking of which… I’ve had some time to review this year in blogging and have decided to make a change and post book reviews here MUCH less in the new year.  Caseykins.com was always meant to be an author site, and I feel like it’s getting away from its purpose if all I do is post about books that often aren’t even in the genre I’m writing in.  So… I started another blog for the reviews.  I’ll likely still post the quarterly reading list here, and blog anything I totally fall head over heels for.  But in general I’m trying to keep all things novel to Book Dragon.  And that way if you like the book reviews, you can get that almost exclusively.  And if you like these little writing process and slice of life things, you can get that almost exclusively too.  This year was the first year I didn’t see a dramatic growth in people visiting the site, and I feel like the confused image might be some of the problem…

One of my tasks for the New Year was to incorporate more practice into my writing.  I’ll most likely be trying to substitute the book posts with these little vignettes.  I wrote this after visiting the Santa Monica Pier with Brian on the 1st.  It was crazy-busy down there, but still a good trip:

 

Brian and I sat on a concrete bench on the busy, bright pier for quite a while, just watching the waves crash on the thick barnacled supports beneath us.

A family came soon after we sat and took the other end of the bench.  They weren’t speaking English. I don’t know if it was French or what (I don’t think it was French really), but they were all older people, the men with close-cropped hair and the women wearing bright floral scarves tied under their throats. One of the men was pushing an empty stroller, and in the arms of the other man was a small girl with the curliest and reddest of hair. She was wearing a pink fuzzy coat with yellow butterflies clipped all over it. Their crepe wings fluttered in the ocean breeze. The family sat down next to us, and she threw herself backward in the arms of her father? Grandfather? And squealed every time the orange roller coaster swooped past with a rattle.

Eventually she started to fuss a bit, and the man started to sing to her. I didn’t recognize all of it, but one of the verses seemed to be a question about kilometers. And then he sang her Frere Jaques. That was her favorite, because she sang it back, her little voice not making all the syllables. She squirmed to get down, and continued singing while yanking herself backward on the steel pier railings, her little feet, in white tights, still on the wood deck.

It was sweet, and it made me smile.

The family took a selfie with the waves in the background, the shoreline stretching like a crescent behind them into oblivion.  And then they bundled their things and strolled away again towards the food booths.  The little girl was probably too young to remember her trip to California. Not through anything other than pictures of herself.  But I’ll remember her now.

 

Photo credit to Brian.  Thanks, dear!

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An Old New Year

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Well, it is a new year.  The one thing I like about new years is that they are, even if only for a second, completely perfect in every way.  I have a feeling that 2017 is going to be a hard one, so I was intending to savor the goodness for as long as possible.  We made it longer in perfection than we usually do.  I achieved it for a day and a half before I forgot to do my daily writing and then got into an inane fight with Brian over bookshelves.  I think that’s pretty good.

We celebrated New Year the old person way at my friend Emily’s house – by calling up the ball drop in real time, cheering, toasting, and singing at 9:00.  And then Emily, Brian, and I got to talking and accidentally also celebrated the real New Years at midnight.  It was fun, scrambling for sparkling cider in her kitchen filled with the detritus of the tasty pizza and carrot cake we had just eaten, clinking glasses and singing Auld Lang Syne lustily, but at a volume that wouldn’t wake the children (or Joey who had work early the next day).

It made me think of all the other new years Emily and I spent together.

Especially the one where four of my best high school friends and I went to Knotts Berry Farm with Liz’s youth group.  There was some sort of major Christian rock concert going, which was great with us.  No one was in line for the rides, so we gallivanted across the park riding everything.  In the days before security checkpoints, Emily snuck a bottle of Martinelli’s through the gates in her backpack. She forgot the churchkey.  We struggled valiantly to open the thing without making any headway before we finally managed to borrow a pair of scissors from a vendor.  With much brute strength and (miraculously) no blood, Becca eventually stabbed the metal lid through.  There was cider everywhere, frothing from the jagged opening, covering our hands in stickiness.  We toasted and drank in the night, the lights of the carousel shining over us, the rollercoaster rattling past, midnight come and gone.

And then months later when we all graduated, they presented the bottle to me as a present.  It was mostly cleaned up but the lid still held tight, the jagged scissor opening gaping.  It’s lost to time now. Gone in one of the many moves I made in the mysterious way that happens.  But I remembered it still as we sang in Emily’s golden kitchen this year.  We were, all four of us, such different people back then.  And now we are scattered to the winds; happy, still in touch, still thinking of each other, but hardly in the same city and most of us not even in the same state.

The year rolls forward, though, and so does the changing of ourselves and our worlds.  I know that 2017 will bring bad things.  I just hope it brings plenty of good along with it.

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Christmas Wrap

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I am ALMOST ready for Christmas.  Jams are done (by the skin of my teeth they all sealed properly), shopping is done, and now all that’s left is the mountain of wrapping and packaging to do.

We’re crazy in my family about the wrapping.  Everyone has a theme each year, and it’s possible to tell who gave you the gift without looking at the card at all.  My aunt goes for funky, natural, and shiny, in browns and blacks for the main bits, but with the strangest and most delightful ribbons attached, everything from lacy glitter orange to natural stuff printed with reindeer.  She hand-makes her tags, too. My sister usually sticks with white craft paper, but goes CRAZY on the bows.  She also usually has some sort of natural topper wedged between.  Last year was maroon, the year before was blue and sparkly.  My mom goes all out festival with novelty prints of which no two are the same, and large tags that give you a clue as to what’s inside, if you can figure out who it’s from (a drill from “Norm,” a cookbook from “Julia”).  I am usually a craft paper girl like my sister, but the colors change.  Last year was white paper, and brown ribbon printed with “Merry Christmas” in red.  The year before was red paper, black baker’s twine, and mini clothespins with trees attached.  The year before that was brown paper with red and white bows.  I usually have the wrapping before I have the presents.

Not so this year.  I have no wrapping paper yet, and I’m not sure what everything will end up looking like.  This is the first time ever that I’m so late.  I’ll be heading out tonight to figure out what I can find.  Whatever else happens, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up with gigantic red bows, though.  In velvet, if possible.

In other news, I have been doing this thing called 750 words where you write 750 words a day and it gives you prizes and puts your writing through an analyzer just for fun when you’ve finished.  I’ve been noticing that I clock major introvert when I’m writing about life.  But when I write fiction, it tracks as extroverted.  I don’t know what that says about me or my work.  It probably says something, though.  Anyway, I thought it worth noting.

I hope your Christmas is shaping up to be as good as mine seems to be.

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