Thanksgiving Family Photo 2014

Years ago my sister and I settled into a holiday rotation for hosting and being together so both sides of our families get equal shares of each other. We’re together for Thanksgiving one year and Christmas the next and vice versa.

This year we met at my sister’s house for Thanksgiving, including my parents and Mamaw. Per usual, the week went by too quickly but I’m left feeling ever thankful that we had the time at all.
Family photo high resThis is my last week of graduate school. It’s not even going to be a full week since the novel (my capstone project) is due Thursday. I have one remaining assignment for Genre Writing and then I’m officially done. I’ll take a short break to enjoy Christmas and then I’ll start writing query letters (and crossing my fingers, and rubbing a rabbit’s foot, and looking for four-leaf clovers, and picking up pennies when I find them on the street…)

Being December 1 and all, Timmy showed up. I admit that I wasn’t prepared for Timmy to show up so soon, but we made it work. Thanks, Mom, for providing Timmy’s first treat to the boys.

Timmy on December 1

The Wire and Favorite Photos

I’m down to it. The wire. The end of the semester. Everything’s about to be due and I’m feeling the pressure.

In the next three weeks I must complete a synopsis of both my novel and one I’ve read this semester (they are not easy to write), a mock query letter, an essay about the pros and cons of traditional versus self-publishing, a fifteen-page introductory paper for the novel, a mock dust jacket for the novel, and – oh yeah – the novel. Even though the rough draft is finished, it’s not tidy. It’s fraught with misspellings and needs a good going-over.  The errors have mostly to do with fast typing. It’s maddening.

I’ve been a lucky little photographer lately and have enjoyed a smattering of photo sessions with wonderful people. That blessing will continue over the next few weeks and, honestly, I’m grateful because it allows me to be creative in a way that has nothing to do with graduate school. Here are a few of my recent favorites:  Continue reading “The Wire and Favorite Photos”

Insert panic here

Suddenly we’re at the end of October. As I type, my bacon and goat cheese grits aren’t sitting well as my stomach is turning inside itself with worry. I have six weeks left in the semester, which means I have six weeks to finish the novel, edit it, design the front and back matter, write a synopsis, and complete a fifteen-page companion paper to introduce the project, explain my process, and cite sources of influence.

I also have to complete four big assignments for Genre Writing, homeschool the kids, do a few photos shoots, and say hi to Chuck every once in a while.

There’s a temptation to pull back and say no to certain things, but that’s really hard to do when you love everything you’re doing. I mean, when I’m taking photos like this, I don’t want to say no:

DSC_0275 low res w

(By the way, if any of you know to whom this sweet baby belongs, DO NOT talk about this photo to the baby’s grandmother, unless you want to spoil her Christmas present surprise.) Continue reading “Insert panic here”

School update and a book review

We’ve begun our second week of school and if the boys keep at this pace we’ll be finished by March. Not really, but they are zooming through the first few units of math. Things will slow down when we hit fractions and multiplication hard core. Jackson dances around saying, “Multiplication is easy peasy,” but he’s only started with zeros and ones. I’m letting him enjoy the little victories.

As for my school, I’m loving it. Genre writing is the perfect class to take while finishing the novel for my capstone. Right now we’re reading a brainless romance novel, but next on the list is Gone, Baby, Gone. It won’t be a fresh read since I’ve seen the movie, but I expect it to be good.

The Girl You Left BehindSpeaking of books, prior to the start of the fall semester I finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. It was recommended to me a few weeks ago when I asked friends on Facebook to suggest their current favorite reads. The story is a lively mix of historical and contemporary fiction that revolves around the portrait of a French woman, titled appropriately The Girl You Left Behind.

The book begins with Sophie Lefèvre, who runs a hotel in a small French town in 1916 during the German occupation. Her husband, Édouard, is away fighting in the war but has left his wife with a sweet reminder of their love for one another – an informal yet irresistible portrait he painted of her. The painting is all well and good until the German Kommandant takes notice of it. Subsequently, Sophie and the Kommandant become uncomfortably intertwined.

Fast forward nearly one hundred years and The Girl You Left Behind hangs in Liv Halston’s house, a comforting yet cruel reminder of her dead husband who bought the portrait for her as a wedding gift. Liv is in a pit of mourning and complacency when she is threatened with losing the portrait on account of restitution.

Though there’s a bit of predictability with how the book will end, the mystery is all about discovering how the portrait went from hanging on a hotel wall in 1916 France to an unrelated widow’s home in London a century later. There’s also a some suspense when it comes to finding out what happened to Sophie, who disappeared the same time as her portrait.

Overall the book was an enjoyable read and it was the first I’ve read from Jojo Moyes. Her writing is fluid and descriptive, and even though a few of things I suspected early on came true, my attention was kept until the final page because the unfolding of the portrait’s story was so interesting.

In other news, is it autumn yet?


 

First Day of School

The day started with pancakes and avoidance.

Jackson starts 3rd grade

After a modest amount of pouting, I showed the boys their curriculum and we got to work. Major and Salem joined us, per usual.

Major on the first day of school

Salem on the first day of schoolAttitudes were mostly good, and as I’ve learned from previous years, attitude is everything, mine included.

This will be my last semester of graduate school, but also the most exciting. In addition to a genre writing course, I’m working on my capstone project – the novel. The semester will be difficult but I’m not worried. For some strange reason, my anxiety is at bay and I’m not fretting. It’s not even a medically-induced calm. I just feel good about it all.

However, I totally reserve the right to freak out and get anxious if I want to.

Cheers to a great year! ♥

Headaches, bathroom breaks, and reading for pleasure

I would love to tell you this weekend was positively perfect since I finished my genre paper a day early and therefore started my week-long school break Friday afternoon, but I am going on Day 3 of a headache and I quite literally want to punch myself in the face, just to see if that will help it go away.

Also, Chuck fought a stomach bug nearly all of Saturday and most of Sunday, so that wasn’t particularly pleasant either. We took his father to Tupelo Honey Cafe last night for a birthday dinner (Happy Birthday, Bill!) and Chuck wasn’t able to enjoy the food like usual for fear that the bug would resurface.

To top it off, my insomnia came back to visit me Saturday night. It was like the insomnia of 2011 when I’d lay away for four hours, doze for 20 minutes, then lay awake until giving up on sleep altogether.

The weird part is that I wasn’t even fretting Saturday night. I genuinely have no imminent worries that keep me in limbo or in a state of potential catastrophe. Life, in general, is good. But my brain refuses to shut off because it prefers to think about what might happen on Season 5 of Downton Abbey, what clothes I should donate to Goodwill, and whether or not I’ll ever lose ten pounds. Stupid nonsense nothingness that should not keep a person awake at night.

See, I stopped taking Ambien in May. My prescription ran out and I thought it would be good to wean myself off the drug and save whatever memory I have left. (Have you taken ? Has it wrecked your memory or made you do weird stuff?) I’ve been sleeping mostly well all summer, taking the occasional Melatonin or Advil PM if I wanted to ensure myself a few good hours of shut-eye.

But Saturday night scares me. Insomnia is no good. It wrecks my mood and mental capacity, and with another semester starting next Monday, I’m not willing to risk it.

BeautifulRuins_small-330The only good that came out of not sleeping is that I finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. That’s right. I read for pleasure. It didn’t matter that I was reading for pleasure at three in the morning. It wasn’t theory or philosophical drivel or some book I had to read for class. It was a thoughtful, well-crafted story of a wishful love affair between a young Italian man and an almost-movie star. Jess Walter takes you from the coast of Italy in 1962 to present day Hollywood through a series of mistakes, lies, and starry-eyed daydreams. His writing is impeccable.

It’s a book I wish I’d purchased instead of borrowed from the library.

Yesterday I started The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes, and after that, it’s likely I’ll finally get to The Signature of All Things by Liz Gilbert. However, if I don’t get to that it’s because I’ll be full swing into my novel again.

Y’all, my stomach is all jittery just thinking about it.


 

It’s still summer.

My favorite thing about homeschooling is having the freedom to do what we want to, and that includes deciding when we begin and end the school year. By law, we are required to “do school” a certain number of days for a certain number of hours per day, but when and how we accomplish that is at our discretion. That being said, our first day of school will be August 25, which corresponds with the first day of my last semester of graduate school. It will be a momentous occasion, one that will likely require a pancake breakfast.

We decided to go back to the homeschool co-op this year after taking a year and a half off from participating. The boys were thrilled when I told them, so that confirmed the decision. Also, Jackson will continue with private swim instruction and Jeremy should start soccer later this month. It won’t be long until we’re back to busy-ness and the lazy days of lounging in pajamas and taking afternoon naps will be over.

Today starts my last week of the summer semester and the mushiness of my brain is a good indicator that completing my final genre paper won’t be easy. It’s due Saturday, and even though I have tons of research and outlines and sticky notes that I’ve collected over the last 14 weeks, I haven’t written anything yet. I’m not overly worried since I write best under deadline. It’s quite likely that I won’t start typing the 10-page paper until Friday morning. I need to feel the rush and fear of potential failure to really crank out something good.

Did I mention we just had Girls Weekend? Love these ladies ♥

Girls Weekend August 2014

Finally, I don’t remember if I shared the fan letters Jeremy and Jackson wrote to George Lucas and Joss Whedon (respectively) this spring as part of a letter writing lesson. Anyway, we mailed them in March and last week Jeremy got a return letter from Skywalker Ranch. He nearly exploded from anticipation holding the envelope in his hand, but I regret to say that we were all a little disappointed with what was inside. I’ll share more of that later this week once I take the photos.

I should be reading Dune, but…

I’m making videos with my dog instead.

Sleepyhead

I filmed him the other day when I was off for a run.

We’re about to wrap up science fiction in my genre class and all I can say is IT’S ABOUT TIME. Once I finish reading Dune and find something intelligent to say about power, religion, and the state in sci-fi, I can piece my brain back together and move on to more enjoyable books and films.

Speaking of graduate school, it looks like I’ll graduate in December. Hurray! Fall registration is in two weeks and, according to my curriculum sheet, I have one more class to take plus the capstone. It’s not widely recommended to take a class while working on your capstone project, but I have secret super human powers that make me feel like I can tackle it.

Remind me of this in October.

 

Sherlock Holmes, minus Benedict Cumberbatch

In preparation for my Genre Studies class that starts Monday, I’m working ahead on assigned reading. We have to read several books from a variety of genres. Some I’m excited about (crime fiction) and some I’m not (science fiction). For the first time ever, I’m reading Arthur Conan Doyle – i.e., Sherlock Holmes. It’s been a fun ride since I’m able to picture these guys:

Sherlock and Watson

Could these two be any more perfect?

Writing-wise, Sherlock isn’t exactly how I imagined it would be. It’s a bit – should I say – elementary? I’m not sure why I expected the style to be more complex, but nevertheless, it isn’t. Both The Sign of Four and A Study in Scarlet have been quick, delightful reads.

Speaking of, Major loves it when I read on the patio.

Living the dream

Happy Friday, Internet. May the sun shine warmly on your face. And other parts.

 

Pining for Summer

This family is ready for summer, as in no school, lots of sun, extra sleep, and some sort of liquid. Ocean? Pool? Sprinkler? Patio cocktails? Yes to all.

Jackson has finished all of the curriculum I had planned for him, so he’s doing a Summer Bridge book to complete the semester. Jeremy has a final test in math this week, which leaves only Zoology on the To Do List for him. They ask me every day how much longer they have until summer break, which is a funny question since they are pretty much able to dictate that time frame themselves. Work harder and faster, I tell them. You’ll be done sooner. It’s that easy. Realistically, it’s not easy, because working harder and faster is hard.

Speaking of harder and faster, I start another summer semester of graduate school on Monday. This marks one full year that I’ve been chipping away at a Masters degree. If I continue this pace, I should graduate in December. More importantly, the novel will be finished since I’m using it as my capstone. Even though I’m not working on it as fervently as I was last semester, I think about my characters every day. I imagine what they’re doing, wondering if they are waiting for me to return. It’s that schizophrenic parallel I told you about a few months ago. Not sure how to explain it any other way. Put simply, I miss them when we’re apart for too long.

In conclusion, that blob of black fur on the boys’ desk is Salem enjoying a sun ray. I suppose he’s ready for summer too.

Sunbathing

Journey On

I stood in the kitchen late last night eating my stress with a spoon and container of Nutella. It was really good. As I took the last spoonful into my mouth, I realized that I’m in over my head. The trio of graduate school, writing a novel, and homeschooling has been an outrageous challenge, and it’s affected my attention span for Lent Reading. I’m still reading, but the progress is slower than I’d prefer. And here we are in the middle of Holy Week and I feel entirely disconnected.

Alive

The challenge, then, is to find God in everything – in the errands, in the assignments, in the tasks. He’s there, like always, in some way or another.  I get so distracted by everyday things, to the point that I think I’ve left God on the nightstand in the book I’m reading, or that I’ll see Him next time I’m at church. It’s awfully naïve to think that God stays where I put Him.

My daily mantra is still Everything Forward. It has to be, because as Pope Francis says something is wrong if I stop. (And I believe him.)

Pope Francis

I have two projects due – one this week, one next – and then the summer semester starts May 5. The boys are nearly finished with their work (hallelujah) and we’ve got a trip planned to visit the setting of my novel (double hallelujah). We are moving forward. We are on a journey.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus was on a journey – to the cross, to redemption, to eternal life. If all I do this week is remember His journey while I’m making dinner,  folding laundry, writing a short film, editing my final short story, explaining fractions, then I’m still on the journey, too.

For what it’s worth, I’m ready for a summer slow-down. Can I get an amen?

 

Short Story 2: Tuesday

Yay Fiction

I felt it fitting to post my second short story, Tuesday, on a Tuesday. Corny, I know.

Like my first story, The Prep Room, I pulled from Chuck’s life experiences to write Tuesday.  My quiet, unsuspecting husband is more interesting than he lets on.

Feel free to offer feedback.  Also, there’s profanity, just in case you’re sensitive to that sort of thing.

Tuesday

The weekend is in sight

How’s your Thursday going so far? I have high hopes for today because my Wednesday started like this:

In addition to waking up grouchy, I had a ton of unfinished work due for my screenwriting class. I intended to finish it before noon, but that plan was a wash after we spent three hours in the doctor’s office to make sure Jackson didn’t have a broken foot. According to the boys, they were “strength training” in the basement Tuesday night when Jack threw a kick that missed the punching bag (and his brother) and hit a pole instead. The poor guy limped around all morning, so we decided to get it checked out. It turns out that his foot is not broken but is actually quite bruised.

The day went on to unravel when we got home and no one wanted to do his or her school work.  We ate chocolate cake to make ourselves feel better.

That was Wednesday morning.

Then Wednesday afternoon arrived and things turned around. Happy Hour with church friends,  a surprise dinner with Amy, and an A on my first short story made it all better.  Plus, the forecasted snow never arrived and the sun is shining. It’s still cold, but I swear to goodness Spring is about have its way with Old Man Winter and I have ringside seats.

Are you gearing up for Mad Men like I am?

Short Story 1: The Prep Room


Yay Fiction

Below is the first short story I submitted for class. It’s just shy of 5,000 words. The content will be familiar to some of you. Though it’s based on actual events, the primary work is fiction.

You should be able to click on the link below and read the story as a PDF.  Let me know if it doesn’t work.

A warning: There’s colorful language in it. Hope it doesn’t offend. If it does, then you might not want to read my future work. I say things.

Enjoy.

The Prep Room by Jennie Miller

The Monday Morning Report

So you’re in the loop:

Major ate a plastic spatula Thursday night. It’s finally coming out. Of both ends.

Jeremy has cornered the market on world news  now that he listens to the Christian radio station each morning. As I pour my first cup of coffee, he gives me all the updates. Today I was told we shouldn’t buy beef from California, Texas, Illinois, or Arkansas because the meat has a disease in it. Now you all know.

My first short story is due today. I’m all kinds of nervous about submitting it.

It’s supposed to snow this week. Old Man Winter can suck it.

Chuck gets home this week after a long time of being away. Words cannot express.

I’ve tried watching some of the Olympics in the evenings, but I’m distracted by Sochi’s overpopulation of stray dogs and Bob Costas’ pink eye. The is the first time in my life that the Olympics are on and I’m like, “Eh.”

And finally, I discovered that two of my photos from Charleston and the Isle of Palms have been shared more than 700 times on Pinterest. Neato!

Marina

Always Worth It

My Favorite Scene – and a poll!

Our first assignment for Performance Writing was to transcribe in proper format our favorite scene from a movie. As soon as I read the instructions, I knew what scene I’d choose. It was a no-brainer.

It took about forty-five minutes for me to type out a two-minute scene from Stranger Than Fiction and I’m confident that it’s fraught with errors. I’ve already posted it to the online classroom and it’s currently being ripped to shreds. I’m not offended in the least. I don’t know squat about screenwriting, so it’s only through trial and error that I’ll learn.

Favorite sceneI’m also in the middle of writing my first short story of the semester. Depending on how it turns out, I might post it here. Of course, I need to know if anyone would be interested in reading it.

[polldaddy poll=7777267]

Salem appreciates your feedback.

My nighttime lap buddy

Jennie the Movie Maker

First, let me preface this post by shouting from the rooftops:

There is no philosophy to read this semester. No theory, no gibberish, no drivel, no scholarly writing. Let’s dance a happy jig, shall we? I’ll start.

Carlton dancing

Short Story is gonna be great. I can feel it. The ideas are swirling and confidence is up.

Performance Writing is another story. The ideas are there, but screenwriting as a technical ability is a new critter altogether. The format alone is unlike anything I’ve ever done, not to mention the pressure to portray accurate body language. Instead of tabs and margins, there are lines for parentheticals, transitions, and shots. This is not a complaint, mind you, but I’m in class with other creatives who have a lot of film experience. They’ve written treatments before and know the jargon. Not me, man. I’m am a student of screenwriting one hundred percent.

Our final assignment of the class is to write a short film. I laughed out loud when I read that. What a riot!

In other news, what’s up with the adult acne? I’ve probably had ten pimples in my entire life and now I have four on my face at one time. I turned 35 and my face blew up. It’s so unusual and obvious that Jackson asked me the other day if I had the chicken pox. Yeah, thanks for that kid.

A Prayer for the Second Semester

Dear Lord,

I’m grouchy today, and so are the kids. We’ve been spoiled by two weeks of indulgence and now we have to get back to our school work. Silent letters, telling time, triple-digit division, novel writing…  The children are already on my nerves and I’ve only had one cup of coffee. Why don’t they love school like I do? They are whiny, and so am I. Have mercy on us. I even had to muzzle the dog.

Lord, I pray that I don’t lose my cool and run from the house screaming. I pray the children do their best instead of throwing toddler fits on the floor over one more assignment. And when they throw their toddler fits, Lord, help me not to snatch them up by their ears and throw them over my knee, because we’re better than that, even when they act like fools.

Give me a kind voice and a patient spirit when they complain, for even I must refrain from toddler fits and thrashing around on the floor.

And when we reach spring break and lose all composure, grant us a second wind to carry on through May.

From the heart of a homeschooling mom in graduate school –

Amen.

 

New Year, Same Book

My novel is still where I left it on December 18, when the fall semester ended and I had not yet finished my Christmas shopping. I hit 102,000 words, then stepped away from the computer for a mental break. As it stands, the book is about 400 pages. That’s a lot to ask of a reader when the author is not yet established. Stephen King can write a 1,000-page book and millions will read it. If No Name Author writes a 600-page book, bookstore browsers will think she’s too ambitious and long-winded. It’s a risk.

Needless to say, the book isn’t finished. I’m well past the halfway mark but not nearly to the resolution. My attempt to finish by New Years Eve was not only unrealistic but also unnecessary. If I rush, the reader will know. And worse, I would know.

Life after death

So I press onward and go back to writing today. Everything forward.

 

Hot Air Balloon ornament

 

Waving the white flag with long division

Single-digit division was a snap. Double-digit division was a breeze. Triple-digit division with remainders has left Jeremy in the pit of all that is wrong with math. He gets caught up in the process, forgetting where he is in the multiplication and subtraction, forgetting to add back the remainder when he checks his work, forgetting his multiples of seven and eight, and so on.

We nearly didn’t survive yesterday, so today I’m declaring that triple-digit division is on hold until January. Did you hear that squealing? That was Jeremy. He’s thrilled. He loves me again.

Jackson, on the other hand, cannot be held back. He zoomed through an entire math unit in one day and got a hundred on his test. Wait until you have to do long division, says Jeremy.

I’m floating along in a stupor this month unable to fully devote myself to any one thing. I can’t believe we are a week away from Christmas. I must have blinked. (If you haven’t received a Christmas card from us it’s because I didn’t write one.)

We’ll be boarding Major next week while my family is here, which has me both relieved and sad. I’ve never excluded our pets from Christmas morning rituals, but our blue tick hound would lose his ever-loving mind in all the commotion of unwrapping presents. He would try to steal the turkey off the dinner table and he’d probably knock down my grandmother in an attempt to lick her face. In the last 24 hours, Major has stolen Jackson’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich off his lunch plate, chewed the computer mouse from the boys’ school desk, destroyed a piece of mail, and nearly swallowed a Lego. That is in addition to three new holes dug in the backyard and waking me up at 6:30 three mornings in a row.

I swear. If I didn’t love running with this dog…

Do I sound like a Scrooge? I promise you I’m not there yet. However, Chuck finished reading my novel yesterday (what I’ve written thus far) and gently told me last night that he doesn’t think it’s realistic to finish by New Years. He knows the general direction the story is going, and based on what he knows, he thinks I’d be rushing myself unnecessarily to meet some sort of faux deadline. I conceded that he was right. I’m not sure why I’m rushing, aside from blaming one of my distorted perfectionist flaws. Technically, since this book is my capstone project to complete the master’s program, I don’t have to finish it until next December. I have a solid year to write and edit it.

Speaking of Chuck, I’ll end this post with his contribution to this year’s Elf on the Shelf:

Everybody poops