My writer friend Dana is not only an awesome writer but a self-promotion goddess. I’m told that to be a successful author, it’s useful to have this skill, but when it comes to shouting from the rooftops about my writing, I’ve always been more of a whisperer.

Until now. Dunh-dunh-dunh.

Thanks to Dana’s not-so-gentle prodding, I’m on twitter as my writer self, I have a facebook author page, and I started my very own writer blog, where I’ll be writing about writing (and probably over-sharing, as usual).

So if you old-house-loving folks want to follow, or like, or whatever me over on one or all of those places, I would greatly appreciate it. I write historical fiction, y’all! There are old houses in it!

posted by K | filed under Ooh, Pretty!, Writing | Leave a Comment

Introducing Rosemary, my second girl, my second R, my second blue-eyed, long-lashed beauty. This one has red hair. Maybe my payment for waiting so long to have babies is that I got my wish – a curly-haired girl and a redhead. Both are perfect.

Rosemary Newborn

Rosemary reminds me of all the things I forgot from the sleep-deprived haze that was Ruby’s babyhood. The softness and sweet smell of their identically fuzzy heads. The feel of their fingers around mine. The grunty zombie-esque sounds they make. That one leg kicking out like they are trying to start a motorcycle.

It makes me a little sad this is my last one, a little sad I’ll forget this, too. That in just two years, I won’t remember how my babies felt in my arms. I understand now why mothers always want to hold other people’s newborns. It’s to capture again for a moment that precious lost time when their babies, too, were small.

Ruby vs. Rosemary - 3 months

That said, I am tired. I have a 2.75-year-old, a 3-month-old, a novel I’m querying agents about, a novel I’m editing for a friend, an exercise routine to lose my last two pounds of pregnancy weight (plus 39 more), seven tons of laundry, and oh yeah – my day job at Candy Apple Costumes. I’m trying to maintain some semblance of a social life as well, and remember to kiss my husband and thank him for being less Neanderthal than a lot of men around these parts. We have a weekly date to watch The Walking Dead or Homeland or True Blood, depending on the season, and the rest of the time the TV is tuned to Caillou and Super Why.

Probably the hardest part is that Ruby, while adoring her sister to the point of trying to squish her to death with hugs a la Elmyra, is also taking it pretty hard that she has to share Mama and Daddy. She falls out in the floor crying every time the slightest thing doesn’t go her way, refuses to potty train, talks in an unintelligible whine half the time, and starts slapping at us and yelling “Hol’ me! Hol’ me!” every time someone picks up the baby.

Ruby & Ro

At first this made me sob with guilt on a daily basis. I felt so terrible that I couldn’t give her everything she needed anymore. So terrible that my exhaustion and crazy hormones made me snap at her instead of just sitting down and cuddling with her, which is all she really wanted when she acted up.

Now things have evened out a bit. We take her on fun outings, spend special alone time with her, and read her umpteen zillion books a day (her favorite thing to do besides try on clothes). I’m guessing the only thing that will really help is time. She’s only had three months to adjust to her world turning upside down. In the mean time, wish me luck.

posted by K | filed under Family, Pregnancy, Ruby | 8 Comments

The last time I posted, I was wondering whether we should leave our 1902 Victorian and move to “a new McMansion, surrounded by fabulous closets and walls that meet at 90-degree angles.” I wondered if I could be happier in town, or at least have an easier, simpler life, less stress, more grocery stores in close proximity.

Now I know the answer to that question. We moved last Thanksgiving, almost a year ago, to a house built in 1992. It’s all brick and walk-in closets and gloriously excessive cabinetry. It’s not beautiful or mysterious, but it’s nice. And life IS easier, simpler, less stressful. We live two minutes from a Publix. Ruby just started at a wonderful pre-school 12 minutes away. I know where she’ll go to school when she’s older. D’s drive to work is only 20 minutes instead of 50. I miss my old friends in Eutaw, but we still see them some, and I’ve made new ones here, too.

More than anything, I think what’s made us happier is not living surrounded by constant projects we never had time to finish. Everywhere we look, there’s not something needing to be done, something making us feel guilty or just “not enough.” It’s easier to keep this house clean. It’s easier to REST here. And before we moved, I went on a major decluttering spree and only brought things into this new house that we actually want/need, so there’s less STUFF annoying me.

That said, we were very happy at the 1902 Victorian, too. So happy that we can’t quite let it go, partly because we’ve been working on finishing up projects to get it ready to put on the market, partly because every time we go back we don’t WANT to put it on the market. We still love it. I still have the dream of my children running down the halls and playing hide and seek in the Harry Potter closet. We are surviving monetarily better than we thought, so resolving it isn’t as urgent as we expected, and making a decision keeps getting kicked down the road.

We will probably sell it eventually. My fantasy of keeping it as a weekend place where we go and don’t watch TV and putter around with projects and let the kids explore really works better if said kids are older. There’s only so much freedom I can give to a reckless 2.5-year-old obsessed with staircases.

And then there’s the other kid. All this relaxing (and the fact that I lost 50 pounds last year) led to an unexpected addition, another girl due next week. We always planned to try for another baby someday, but I was decidedly NOT ready to deal with fertility treatments again. I was going around telling people we were going to wait till Ruby was 3 to try.

Then I woke up one fine March morning in a panic, convinced I was pregnant. It took three weeks of taking pregnancy tests for one to come back positive. Though I didn’t think I was ready for it, when I saw that positive test, I had the same reaction as when I found out I was pregnant with Ruby – a lightness in my chest, a smile that wouldn’t quit, tears, awe, amazement. I hugged Ruby and told her she was going to be a big sister, and we called D at work, and he was thrilled, too.

Of course, it hasn’t been all sunshine. This has been a rough pregnancy. Right before I got pregnant, I was at my lowest weight in 10 years; I was running and loving it; and I hadn’t felt so awesome and confident and happy maybe in my whole life. But all that was immediately replaced with utter exhaustion, irritability, vomiting, headaches, backaches, and outright fear. I’ve had regular moments of panic – How on earth am I going to manage TWO kids? How is Ruby going to handle sharing Mama with a new baby? I think I cried every day of the first and second trimesters, to the point that Ruby learned to put her hands on my cheeks and sweetly say, “Be okay, Mama?” She is still a mama’s girl, and holding and carrying and fighting her tooth and nail just to get her diaper changed a million times a day has taken a toll me.

Now that we’re quickly approaching the end (though not quickly enough, in my opinion), most of my anxiety about having a new baby has disappeared, replaced with determined, obsessive eagerness to meet her AND to be done being pregnant forever! I want to get back to losing weight and having the energy and ability to get in the floor and play with my child. I feel like I’ve spent the past nine months being a shadow of myself and a shadow of Ruby’s mom, and I can’t wait to be my whole self again, for me, for D, for my girls.

We had our final ultrasound yesterday to check the baby’s size, and she’s an estimated 8 lbs. 12 oz. at 38 weeks gestation – on track to be Ruby’s size or a little bigger at birth. We scheduled an induction for one week from today, though I’m still holding out hope the new baby will decide to make her appearance before then.

I can still hardly believe I’m thisclose to being a mom of two, just the way I always imagined it. I think I won’t really believe it until I meet her. All the 4D ultrasound photos in the world can’t even hint at the miracle of seeing my baby in person for the first time. And this time Ruby will get to meet her little sister for the first time, the beginning of a lifetime friendship and rivalry forged in one moment. I can’t wait!

posted by K | filed under Family, House, Pregnancy, Simplify | 7 Comments

You know that fantasy? The one that goes, “My life would be so much better if …”? I’ve often fallen victim to this fantasy over the years, in many different incarnations.

As a chubby, awkward, straggly-haired middle schooler with a penchant for oversize T-shirts tucked into high-waisted denim shorts, I believed that if I lost 23 pounds over the summer break, my entire personality and lifestyle would transform. I would no longer be a shy bookworm; I would be cool and confident. Boys would like me. I would dress like Cher Horowitz from Clueless, complete with thigh highs.

I wish I’d known then that I would never lose that 23 pounds. I wished I’d known that it wouldn’t have worked anyway, despite what teen dream makeover movies would have you believe. And that one day, somehow, I would become more confident anyway. One day, boys would like me, and I wouldn’t have to hide in tent-like plaid flannel shirts (well, it was the 90s). I would dress how I wanted, though thigh highs are still out of the question.

In my 20s, my fantasy changed to, “If only I had a baby, my life would be so much better.” If I had a baby, well-meaning nosy people wouldn’t ask me all the time, “When are you going to have kids?” I would have a baby shower and get to choose a baby name and decorate a nursery, like normal people. I wouldn’t have to pretend I didn’t want kids – even to myself sometimes – and I wouldn’t have to view my body as a malfunctioning traitor. The future wouldn’t always be tinged with worry.

I wish I’d known then that it would happen, that I would get my little girl one day. I wish I’d spent those years enjoying my carefree, child-free existence instead of wondering all the time when, when, if, if, and fighting with D about adoption and crying into my pillow. I wish I hadn’t taken so many pregnancy tests. I wish I’d known the long wait would be virtually erased from my mind the moment she got here.

Lately, I have a new fantasy. “My life would be so much better if … we moved to town.” If we moved, we’d be closer to our families/babysitters, so I could take more time to work and write. We’d be closer to Ruby’s pediatrician, and my favorite hair salon, and the mall, and Publix. D wouldn’t have to commute as far, so Ruby and I would see him more. We’d spend a lot less money on gas. I wouldn’t have to wonder what to do about school for Ruby. I could put her in pre-school a day or two a week when she’s older. We could live in a low-maintenance house with no renovation projects looming over our heads.

I don’t know the outcome of this one yet. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that it’s impossible to know which is the best path until you can look back from the top of the hill. That doesn’t stop me from trying to see it, though. In a few years, will I look back on this as a phase? Will I still be happily living in my beautiful home that I love, home-schooling Ruby, walking across the street to the park or to have dinner with friends, not minding the long drive to town?

Or will I be happily ensconced in a new McMansion, surrounded by fabulous closets and walls that meet at 90-degree angles? Will I be happy walking down the street to the neighborhood duck pond with Ruby, waving to the neighbors we don’t know by name, not minding having to get Ruby to school by 7:30 a.m., watching her in the school play, taking her to dance lessons and soccer, going to the birthday parties of her little friends, making inane chitchat with other soccer moms?

Honestly, seeing it all spelled out like that brought tears to my eyes. Because I think this time, my fantasy might be right. I don’t know that my life would be quantifiably “better” if we moved to town. It doesn’t even resemble the life I thought I wanted. I have loved my life in this small town, this old house. This is the life I used to fantasize about having, and I want to cry at the mere thought of leaving it.

But the thing is Ruby changed my fantasy. I wanted her to grow up in an old house, like I always daydreamed of doing when I was a kid. Now I’m starting to see the house doesn’t much matter. She will be happy wherever we live; she will be loved; she will learn. And if Ruby had a mom who didn’t have to work, she could have everything and still live here. But she has me. I don’t have time to home school. I’m too lazy to drive her all the way to town multiple times weekly for sports practices and games. This mama can only do so much, and this daddy, too.

On top of it all, neither of us has time for constant home renovation anymore. The waiting projects keep piling up, even after we hired several of them done this spring.

I guess in the future, building the best Ruby will be our project.

posted by K | filed under Debates, Eutaw, Family, Mr. and Mrs., Ruby, Simplify, Wishing | Leave a Comment

Everyone says about their kids, “I didn’t know I could love someone this much.” I expected to feel that way, too, and I did the moment I looked into Ruby’s eyes on the day she was born.

But what I didn’t expect was to say, 14 months later, “I didn’t know someone could love me this much.” Somehow, in all that time I longed for a child to love, even in all this time I’ve had one, it didn’t occur to me that I would be the center of her universe, too.

Even during our 10 months of breastfeeding, when Ruby got Mama-clingy, I’d wryly say, “She wants the lunch truck again.” Somehow I mostly convinced myself (in part to spare others’ feelings, I think) that Ruby only wanted to be with me because I was her primary source of food. Certainly, that was a factor, especially when she was very young.

But now that she’s almost 15 months old, she’s gotten very adept at communicating her wants and needs, and I’ve realized that I am often what she wants and needs. Not what I have to give her – food, book-reading, pressing the button on the ball popper – just me. My attention, my affection.

Nothing pleases her more than if I sit on the couch instead of at my desk. She’ll climb up beside me, preferably in the little nook between me and the end of the couch, and just sit happily there, petting my arm. I’ve figured out that she only starts acting naughty – pressing the buttons on the DVR, pulling out my work papers – if she wants me to hold her and talk to her a little while. When we’re at the grocery store, she’ll only ride in the cart if I stay directly in front of her at all times, preferably singing “Victor Vito.”

If we’re with family and people reach for her, she holds on tight to me like a monkey (at least until she warms up). If Daddy tries to get her to follow him to the kitchen, she’ll hover in the doorway to the living room, looking back at me, until I get up to come with them. If D is holding her, she’ll cry and wriggle toward me every time I come near (especially if she’s getting tired). At bedtime, she again clings to me like a monkey and won’t even so much as let Daddy kiss her goodnight because she’s afraid he’ll take her from me. She wants me to be the one to put her to bed, and I finally gave in and took over doing it most nights, because when D tried, it took forever and lots of screaming. Then, if she wakes up in the night, it does no good for D to go in to soothe her; only Mama will do.

This is not to say she doesn’t love other people, because she does. She adores her daddy (clings to him plenty, too, and cries if he tries to put her back down too soon after he gets home from work), and loves her grandparents, Aunt Kelly, and all her other aunts, uncles and cousins. She smiles at strangers, too, and wanders up to random girls at Barnes and Noble to look at their toenail polish.

And sometimes she couldn’t care less about me, like when I drop her off to stay with my parents. Every time, she ignores my goodbyes because Pop is holding her and she wants him to take her outside. (In fact, “outside” trumps Mama nearly every time.)

Most of the time, though, it’s utterly clear I’m numero uno. And there’s a lot of responsibility at the top. After a long day of just me and Ruby, I’m ready to hand her off to Daddy for a while, but she still brings me books to read or tries to climb in my lap while I’m trying to get some work done. Even if I sometimes get a little tired of her touching me, she never seems the least bit tired of me touching her.

Still, I don’t mind too much always being the go-to parent. I’m acutely aware this Mama’s girl behavior may be a phase, and even if it isn’t, it will likely end with a bang at puberty.

Either way, it’s fleeting, and like all fleeting things, so very precious. When I say, “Mama loves you, Punky. Do you love Mama?” she lays her head down on my shoulder and squeezes me with both arms. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

posted by K | filed under Family, Ruby | 5 Comments

I’ve been on an unannounced, unintended hiatus. But don’t worry, there’s nothing bad going on to distract me. It’s just that for the past few months, all my writing mojo has been expended in the service of my manuscript.

My goal was to finish my novel (set in Alabama during the Civil War) by my 30th birthday. I am proud to say I met that goal with two hours to spare! (My other goal, to lose all my pre-pregnancy weight by my birthday, was not entirely successful, but I was only 4 pounds away at the time and now 3 pounds away … not too bad.)

I got the idea for the novel three years ago after I quit my 9 to 5 job to work from home. Somehow, I stumbled across an obscure historical incident that was really interesting and decided if I tweaked it a bit it would make a good story. I wrote an outline and 15,000 words or so.

Then what always happens to me when I try to to write historical fiction happened. I got bogged down in the research. I wanted everything to be as accurate as possible, as close to the truth as possible, and I froze.

Another major factor in my procrastination: this coincided with the time when we decided to adopt a child. I focused my energy on doing research for that, preparing our profiles, getting the house ready for the home study. Oh yeah, and obsessing and worrying myself to a frazzle every second of the day and night. That kind of thing takes up a lot of time.

Then this spring after the April 27 tornado, I reconnected on facebook with two of my closest college friends, who moved to California years ago to get in the movie biz. Turned out the two of them are still friends and also writing partners. They’d written a young adult novel (and were working on the sequel), and they had an agent. They were looking for beta readers for their current work, so I eagerly signed up and threw myself into it with gusto. I hadn’t realized I missed editing until I was doing it again. For other people, editing probably sounds like torture. For me, it is like bliss.

I recently took a Meyer Brigg personality quiz and determined I am an INTJ, which really, really values logic and problem-solving. I think that’s the reason editing is so appealing to me. Whenever I rapturously describe the joy of editing (while my audience’s eyes glaze over), I always say it’s like a puzzle, and you’re trying to find the perfect word and order to make it fit together.

Anyway, while happily working on my friends’ books, I admit I also felt jealous. My dream since childhood was to write books (literally, I thought I was going to be like S.E. Hinton, the author of The Outsiders, and write a book by the time I was 16), and I wasn’t doing anything to make it happen. But they were. One of these friends and I had been Creative Writing minors together, had classes together, were on the staff of the Marr’s Field Journal together; we were of similar talent, and here she was doing what she’d dreamed, and I wasn’t.

It lit a fire under me. I buzzed back to my chock-full “Writing” file on my desktop … chock full of half-finished stories and novels and half-formed ideas, that is. The first one I revisited was this story about a prisoner of war camp in Alabama and the women who helped make it bearable, because it had been the best formed and felt to me like it had the best potential.

I started working. I stayed up late after Ruby went to bed, writing like a fiend. I wrote while she was at Granny’s, I wrote between working on adding products to the website. I formatted the manuscript for my Kindle and took one of my old reporter’s notebooks on vacation to the beach and jotted notes, because I couldn’t stand to be away from my book for that many days.

I did research as I went along, but I tried not to get bogged down in making everything perfectly, exactly like the past. The first-person accounts of that time and place (and there are many) all differed slightly, and I realized the truth itself was elusive.

I sought advice and support from my friends, who had done it, actually finished their book and polished it and found an agent. They said, “This is the first draft. Just keep writing. Just get it down.”

And I did. The book grew and grew, sometimes in 500-word sputters, other times in 7,000-word bursts. It got big enough that knew I would finish this time. I set the goal of finishing by my birthday.

The night before I turned 30, I had only a couple of pages left to write. D and Ruby went to bed, and I stayed up alone to nail down the final paragraphs in the blissful silence of the dark house. The words flowed easily because I already knew what would happen. And then I was done with my first draft. I’d gone from 15,000 words to 106,764 in just over two months, and I went to bed glowing with the pride of accomplishment.

Of course, a first draft is only that. There is much editing to do (my favorite part!), and then I’ll send it, with equal parts terror and eagerness, to my own beta readers to get their opinions on whether my time has been well spent.

It’s so hard to get distance from my own work that I am at least half-convinced it’s terrible and will never be published. But there’s that other half that says, “Edit, edit, edit. Of course, it’s terrible now. But it won’t be.” That half is holding out hope that one day I might see a book, this book, on a shelf with my name on the cover.

So wish me luck. I said I was going to wait a couple of weeks to start editing, but I only made it three days. Let the puzzle-solving commence!

posted by K | filed under Extracurricular, Wishing, Writing | 6 Comments