Thursday, May 29, 2014


This morning my husband and son went to play golf near Tacoma. My daughter and I carefully researched a number of historical and cultural activities. Then we got pedicures and took a taxi to a bookstore.

The bookstore was Elliot Bay Book Company, and it's the biggest independent bookstore I've seen for a long, long time. I was extremely judicious in my selection because I don't want my luggage to weigh too much on the trip home.

Yesterday we went to the Space Needle, because tourists. Then we went next door to the Chihuly Garden and Galley, which was astonishing, really amazing. This afternoon, post bookstore, my daughter and I took a glassblowing class, and it made us appreciate Chihuly all the more. Glassblowing is not easy. Also, it's really warm. We didn't burn ourselves or anyone else but our creations will have to be shipped to us. It'll take two days for them to properly cool (slowly, In an annealing kiln) and tomorrow we're off to Vancouver.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Taking Business With Me

I don't usually work on vacation, except for the usual, which is that it's a writer's job to always pay attention. Once in awhile we schedule trips to coincide with research I need to do, but that's about it.

Here in Seattle my work has inexplicably followed me. When we landed early yesterday afternoon, I turned my phone on while still on board the plane, and got two messages. (Well, actually, I got about 20, but most were from or the Gap.)

The first was an email reminding me that I had a book review due Sunday. The good news is that I have the book with me. The bad news is that I would have missed my deadline entirely without the email, because I never checked the due date written inside the book. It's a replacement-last week I returned a book I'd been sent due to a conflict of interest, and, well, I'd just assumed this one would be due later. No biggie. I'll get it done.

The second message was a voicemail from the President of Dial Books, my primary publisher. I've known Lauri for years-she edited my first published book, Ruthie's Gift-but she's moved up in the world and I mostly deal now with very good editors who work for her. So that was intriguing. I've got a novel ready to launch next March, and another I'm working on.

What Lauri had to tell me-ask me-I can't announce yet. God will be in the details, and the details will be written down into contracts, and until the contracts are signed this thing officially does not exist. But it's both intriguing and a great opportunity, so I'm thrilled. It also potentially involves some pretty sketchy travel so the rest of my family is worried.

I'm not. That's all in the details, and the details are adjustable. But now I'm going to put this out of my mind for the rest of my vacation, and I advise you all to do the same.

P.S. if you want to know how sexy my husband can be: yesterday afternoon we wre walking through Pike Street Market, and he said, "Wait a minute, I think we just accidentally bypassed a yarn store," and went back. Damn. That's hot.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Seattle's Got A Plan For Me

A few years ago I reduced my teenagers to hysterics by singing along to the radio. "Don't you worry, don't you worry, child. Seattle's got a plan for you."

Apparently the correct lyrics are, "See, heaven's got a plan for you." My children wanted to know why I thought Seattle would have a plan for anyone. I told them that there are far stupider lyrics on the radio every single day, but they didn't seem to agree. It became a family joke--hey, Mom, don't forget. Seattle's got a plan for you.

Well, I hope so. I'm going to Seattle tomorrow morning, and I haven't got a plan of my own.

I like to plan. My husband, also, likes to plan. As a result we often plan our vacations so stringently that we carry written itineraries with us. We don't really do vacations at the beach. I can lay on a beach chair with a stack of books and an umbrella drink brought to my by Juan the pool boy quite happily. So can my husband. For half an hour. Per year, tops. We explore on our vacations. We see stuff and do things.

One year we forced ourselves to take an "unplanned" vacation. We got into our car and drove, and other than 2 nights with reservations in Manhattan and tickets to a Broadway play (Mary Poppins) and a Yankees game (last season in the old stadium) we winged it. It turned out pretty cool. We ended up spending two days in Cooperstown, New York, just because we liked it so much; they had a farming museum and I got to milk a cow. So that was good, but really, it's not how we roll.

Usually I do fairly extensive preplanning. I like to know the history of the place I'm going, and something about the main attractions. If there are tickets to be had I want them ahead of time. (If you think this is crazy, you try showing up in Rome and standing in the line for the Sistine Chapel.) I like to have a few restaurant reservations and a pretty good idea of how I'm going to spend each day. When the children were smaller I prepped them, too. I read them books about the history of Boston, and the most important people involved in the American Revolution. I played Spanish, French, and Italian language tapes in the car while I drove them to school. I gave them internet challenges--questions about our destination that they'd have to look up the answer to. I really think this helped them appreciate our trips. But now--well, I can take them to Egypt, but I can't make them study it beforehand. And since we travel with smartphones, if we don't understand something we look it up on the spot.

And so, Seattle. I have no itinerary. No reservations--well, other than tickets to a Mariners game. I did look it up on a map, which is good since it wasn't quite where I thought it was. I'm feeling zen about this particular trip. I've always known Seattle had a plan for me.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Scribe at E

The first thing I did today was fall backwards out of the judge's booth.

I had just sat down on a plastic folding chair. I scooted it back six inches but only had five inches of floor left behind me, and I went down in a graceful arc, smooshing my last remaining decent white polo into the newly irrigated all-weather footing. I wasn't hurt, just grateful I hadn't done it during someone's dressage test. You don't get do-overs in dressage, not even if your judge's scribe is an asshole.

Scribing is my favorite of all possible eventing volunteer jobs. Basically, the judge watches the test, and dictates both the score for each movement and her comments, and the scribe writes them down. You learn a lot from watching 40 tests paired with expert commentary, and heaven knows I need all the dressage education I can get.

I've learned that every test seems to have a movement that 90 percent of the riders will screw up. In the FEI one-star test today, it was the trot lengthening in which the rider is supposed to visibly loop the rein while crossing x. A lot of the one-star juniors rode like they were waterskiing, and hardly anyone gave with their reins at all. In the two-star test, it was the 10 meter half-circles, which nearly everyone turned into 13-meter oblongs.

My girl Lauren Kieffer, riding Landmark's Monte Carlo (I think that's the name; our judge's sheet cut it off at Landmark's Mo) rode the 10 meter circles right. "Finally!" The judge said. I was supposed to write down everything she said, but I left that comment off.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Penny. Penny. Penny. Penny.

I'm heading up to the Virginia Horse Trials tomorrow to put a little Eventing Karma in my tank.

Religious karma may or may not be a real thing. Eventing Karma is not only real, it's something you ignore it at your very certain peril. Go ahead. Be the rider that complains that a jump on your cross country course is "too easy." That'll be the one your horse throws you over. At the Olympics. Be the person who won't loan your stuff in the stabling. At your next event you'll find 3" nails sticking out at eye level inside your horse's stall, while you wail ineffectually, "Doesn't anybody have a hammer?" Be the jerk who sniggers when a BNR takes a splash. Your horse will buck you off in warmup so that you land at the BNR's feet.

Oh, yeah. I've had my horse escape his stall and gallop loose and free over the cross-country course, causing a 20-minute hold, only to be caught by a World Champion. That was fun. (I fired my imaginary groom.) But I've had many more moments of grace, and over time no one has given me as many karmic gifts as Penny Ross.

Penny and her husband Brian run the Virginia Horse Trials, spring and fall, as well as the starter trials that are also my region's pony club rally. Penny and I exchange emails like this:

Me: Penny, you didn't list my ride times!
Penny: Kim, you didn't enter!
Me: Oh. (It was the stress of all those pony club forms. Surely I'd filled out my own, too?)
Penny: I'll work you in.
Me: thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Or this:

Me: Penny, my daughter forgot her USEA medical card but has her USPC medical card. Does that count?

Me: Penny, my horse is funky. Can I switch divisions?

Me: Penny, my mare tried to buck me off in dressage. Is this bit legal for cross-country?

Penny. Penny. Penny. Penny.

A few years ago I gave her a nice bottle of white wine, but this year I came up with an even better way to pay Penny back for all she's done for me, and my pony clubbers, and my eventing tribe. My mare's ankle has healed but she's not fit yet, and my daughter has only had a few weeks back riding after the whirlwind of high school tennis. So we're heading up to the Virginia Horse Trials in my ancient minivan, without our horses, our breeches, our boots.

We're bringing sunscreen and working shoes. We're giving Penny 3 full days of our volunteer labor to tip the karma a little bit back onto the other side. It's the only think I could think of to save me from getting dumped into the water jump the next time I leave the box.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Hard and Simple Truth

A man came to Faith in Action last week. He was a white man about fifty or sixty years old, with grey hair down to his shoulders. He came to the window so upset he was nearly crying, and his hands shook while he talked.

"I need help, I need some kind of help," he said to the receptionist. He held out the paper he was holding. "My brother moved out, he moved out of our trailer, and I got this, and I give it to my neighbor to read for me and he says it's a bill and they're going to cut my power off."

It was an electric bill. Our receptionist said he'd need to make an appointment for help and gave him a form to fill out. The man said he couldn't--he couldn't read or write.

The receptionist took back the form. She asked the man his name. He told her, then carefully spelled it for her. "Miss Leela taught me that," he said. "Took me a month to learn."

Eventually I sat beside the man and made him an appointment for the next day. I got his address off the electric bill and, after reading the bill, assured the man that his power wouldn't be cut off before we could help him. After I said that his hands quit shaking a little. He asked if we had food. I gave him cereal, peanut butter, crackers, soup. He was pleased with the soup, beef vegetable, as he could take out the pieces of beef and feed them to his cat.

So often when I talk about the work we do at Faith in Action, people respond by telling me that our clients should just "get a job." That sounds super--everyone would work, everyone would pull their weight. But the realities of social justice are murkier than that. What job can we give an 80-year-old widow on home oxygen, so that she can afford the adult diapers she needs, which cost $90 a month, or 10% of her social security income? What job will you give the high school dropout with a six-month-old, whose baby daddy is in prison? Something above minimum wage, so she can afford day care? Yeah, it'd be great if she finished high school and didn't have a child--but in the real world what will she do? What job do we give the addicts, the incurably mentally ill, the people with missing teeth and bad body odor?

What job do we give this gentle man with the shaking hands, who can't read, who will never be able to read because he simply isn't smart enough, but who feeds half his soup to his cat?

Some people need to be taken care of. And when they have no one else, they need us.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Bride Wore Khaki Shorts

Bert and Ernie got married.

I'm calling them Bert and Ernie, these friends of mine, only because that's what I called them when I wrote about them before. Their names are neither Bert nor Ernie, and last time they blew away my attempt at giving them anonymity by reposting my blog to all their friends, with the caption ,"Look what Kim wrote about us!"

They'd still like to know who I'm calling Bert and who I'm calling Ernie. And I'm not telling.

Though it should be obvious.

Anyhow, Bert and Ernie got married, on Friday, at a courthouse in California. They stood in a plain white-walled room beneath a silly artifical archway trimmed with silk flowers, looking completely themselves in polo shirts and shorts. They each carried a handful of zinnias. They were united in matrimony by an obese Hispanic woman wearing an astonishing number of shades of pink, who read the short service with warmth and solemnity.

I wasn't there. One of their relatives videoed the ceremony and put it on Facebook. I watched it. It was the usual--do you, Bert, take you, Ernie--punctuated by laughter, the sort of laughter that is uncontained joy. I'd call it giggling if I thought Bert were capable of giggling. "I do" (laughter) "I do" (more laughter). It was splendid, gorgeous, as the best weddings always are, and by the end of it I realized two things. One:

Marriage equality really is a civil-rights issue, not a religious one.

I happen to know, because I know them, that Bert and Ernie are both Christians who regularly attend church. But you wouldn't know it by watching their wedding. This was a civil ceremony. Their beliefs made no difference to the outcome. Since the United States was founded on religious freedom and tolerance, not any one particular brand of Christianity, we ought to be moving on. And two:

We are. That ship has sailed.

The fight for marriage equality may not be over, but the battle has been won. We are not going to be able to turn back the clock. We are not going to be able to stop this. Nor should we want to. Bert and Ernie's happy wedding isn't the future. It's the present. The messy, glorious, uncontained present, where commitment and family are open to all. Alleluia.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The White Pony

When I graduated from college, lo, a quarter-century ago, my parents threw a small backyard barbeque in celebration (I was getting married in 6 weeks so we didn't want a big party.). Most of the guests were relatives, but some were old family friends, including my Grandma and Grandpa Ford.

They weren't actual kin to me. When I was born prematurely, my doctor told my mother I couldn't possibly be put into group day care until I was a year old. A friend who worked with my mom suggested that her mother, who was nearly finished raising something like eight children, might be willing to watch me for a little while. That little while turned out to be every day for four years, until my brother was born; I loved them wholeheartedly, and they loved me, to the extent that I used to go camping with them, and visited them regularly for years. I last spent the night in their farmhouse when I was a senior in high school.

They lived on a farm, but Grandpa had years back leased his land for cattle and gone to work at the International Harvester factory in town. Sometimes Grandma would take me to the barns to look at the cows. Every day we walked the length of the front pasture, empty except for the apple tree on the corner, to pick up her mail at the end of the drive. They hung a tire swing for me on the tree in their front yard, and taught me to slide down their bannister, and, on nights when I stayed over, took me down to shower in the old-fashioned cellar, where salamanders lived under rocks.

At my graduation party I was surprised by how much they'd aged. Grandpa was almost entirely deaf, and even Grandma moved slowly. After four years at a women's college on the east coast I felt like a different person than the girl that had stayed so often with them; I wanted them to know the new me, but couldn't figure out how to convey how much I'd changed. (That I'd thought I'd changed, and that I thought it was important, shows how very young I was.) Finally I said, "I learned to ride horses in college. I learned to really ride." It had been the greatest joy of my life so far. I'd always dreamed of riding horses--always--and had never had the opportunity. The college I'd attended had had its own barn, and good instruction, and I'd spent all my extra hours learning to clean stalls and sweep the aisle and make hot bran mash like I'd read about in books.

I thought they'd express polite interest, but Grandma just grinned. "That don't surprise us none," she said, "Does it, Grandpa?"

"EH?" said Grandpa.


Grandpa's face creased into an angelic grin.  "Oh, no," he said, slowly. "No, it don't. I'd forgotten. All those years ago. That white pony."

"What wh--" but then I, too, remembered.

It had been a magical summer. Looking back it had to have been the summer before my brother was born, which means that it was the summer I turned three at the end of June. All summer long the Fords loaned out their front pasture to the neighbor's white pony.

He must have had a name, but I never knew it. He stood contentedly in the knee-high grass, chewing, and I brushed his legs--all I could reach--with an old wooden brush Grandma gave me. I held the brush in both hands. Sometimes Grandma picked me up so I could brush his long smooth back, and once a day--no more, no matter how much I begged--she would put me on his back and lead me around the pasture while I held his mane.

Every day after lunch, Grandma would set down with me in her big rocking chair and read to me from a book of poems by James Whitcomb Riley. Then she would tuck me into her bed in the first-floor bedroom, across the landing from the family room. I didn't have to sleep but I had to stay in the bed and quiet while she watched her "show,"  As The World Turns. As soon as that was over the afternoon was mine, to be with the pony until my mother drove up the drive.

Grandma sat on the porch step while I brushed. Brush, brush, brush. The pony stopped chewing sometimes to look me in the eye, and I patted his nose even though Grandma said he didn't like that. While I brushed him I pushed his legs sideways, closer and closer to the fence. I had an idea that if he would stand right against the fence, I could climb it and then swing aboard the pony and ride him without Grandma leading him. It never worked, because the pony was too clever. He'd move closer and closer to the fence, and then, when I went to climb it, quickly sidestep away.

Once when I wanted to switch sides I went right under him. Grandma saw and levitated off the porch stop, hollering, "Kimmy! Don't you do that! Don't you ever do that again! The pony's liable to kick you in the head!"

I knew the pony would never kick me, but after that I checked first to see whether Grandma was looking before I ducked beneath him.

Years later I found myself saying to my own young son, "When you're finished brushing him on the one side, I want you to walk around his front to go to the other side. Do not go underneath him. I don't care how much easier it looks, I don't want you doing it."
My son gave me a mulish look. "I am onto you, boy," I said. "I catch you ducking under that pony and you'll owe me two weeks cleaning stalls before you ride him again."

"How do you know?" my son asked.

I tried to tell him, about the magical summer with the small white pony, but at the time he was too young to understand.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


My daughter is going to be confirmed in the Catholic Church this weekend. (My son was confirmed three years ago.) It's traditional for teens approaching the sacrament of Confirmation to chose an adult sponsor, a Catholic but usually not a family member, to pray for them on their journey and stand with them as they receive the sacrament.

With both of my children, I made a few extremely helpful suggestions about who they might chose as Confirmation sponsor, and they rolled their eyes and told me they could handle it. And then, both times, I was surprised and pleased by whom they chose. Clearly my kids were paying close attention to the adults around them.

Yesterday I had occasion to speak with my daughter's sponsor, a man we've known for years. He told me how much he was enjoying being my daughter's sponsor, and how impressed he was by the people my children have become.

"You know, you're lucky," he said. "I'm not saying you guys weren't good parents, I know you were. But a lot more than that, you were lucky."

I know few people who will understand that as fully as this man. I don't remember meeting his very disabled daughter, who died just about the time I moved to Bristol, but I've heard the story of her life many times--how, while never able to sit independently, feed herself, or speak, she nonetheless loved everyone she met and was, to her family, a source of true and lasting joy.

Yet of course she was also a source of constant labor--never able to care for herself in the smallest of ways. She was a genuine gift, and a very difficult one.

I conceived my children easily, which I've never forgotten to be thankful for. They're smart and healthy and strong; they have tender hearts and empathetic souls. They're not perfect (they're teenagers) but they have the capacity to grow up into fantastic adults, and much as I'd like to take full credit for that, I know the truth.

I'm lucky.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Catching Up with the Details, and Serah

I wasn't kidding about the Page 80 Thing. Yesterday, safely past Page 80, I wrote a wonderful and completely pivotal scene. Of course, it's complete shite. (That's the Irish way of spelling the word, pronounced with a long 'i.' More genteel, ain't it?) But pivotal, baby. Because all of a sudden the whole story fell into place, like tumblers on a lock you've been trying to pick, bam bam bam bam bam. Unfortuntely yesterday's scene now belongs at the very end of the story, and I've got to go back to page 40 or so, cut a bunch of stuff out, write a bunch more, rinse, repeat, but that's what writing is. If we got it all right the first time where would be the challenge?

Meanwhile I can now tell you that in World War 2, tractors dug up the potato fields. Children and women followed with buckets, rooting the potatoes out of the loosened earth. When their buckets were full they dumped them into wagons. Children were paid 2 shillings a day for their work plus as many potatoes as they could carry home.

Messerschmitts could carry either 1 or 2 people, depending on the type.

In other news, our senile incontinent terrier spent 10 minutes playing an enthusiastic game of fetch with his boy, who's home from college for the summer. It's the first time he's had enough energy to play in several months. Afterward, he fell into a deep happy sleep on his boy's lap.

I made my mare do dressage and she wasn't happy.

According to all reports, Gully and Hot Wheels, our two retirees on restricted rations, somehow broke their way out of their paddock and are now in the front field eating grass as fast as they possibly can. "Somehow" most likely involves my mare, though reports say she's wearing a very innocent expression.

You have of course heard about the high school girls kidnapped in Nigeria. I saw a website that listed all the girls' names, and asked people to chose one girl and pray for her release and her safety. Mine is Serah Samuel. Please pray for her.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Page Eighty Snuck Up on Me

Yesterday I had the darnedest trouble with my manuscript. I'm working on the sequel to The War That Saved My Life (available March, 2015, at bookstores near you!) and everything had been going swimmingly for quite some time, until yesterday, when I sat at my computer and the whole story went to mush. Leaden prose. Pouty characters. No clear action, no sense of direction, and a whole lot of [XXX], which are the marks I put in when I need to know a historical fact but don't.

I'll be honest, I know a LOT of historical facts about World War II on England's homefront these. Enough so that when reviewing a novel for Kirkus the other day, I found myself thinking, "Oh, for Pete's sake. Of course you couldn't rip the stamps out of your ration booklet. That's just inviting the black market, that is." But yesterday stumped me. When do you dig potatoes? I know when to dig them in east Tennessee, but in Kent? And if you have a whole field of them, do you use a tractor? Put them into bushel baskets, or burlap bags, or just heave 'em into a wagon? Also, how many Germans in a Messerschmidt? Which I should know, sheesh. It was that kind of day.

Anyway, try as I might--and I did--I couldn't write anything worthwhile. I doubt if a single word from yesterday ever makes it into the final book. It wasn't until I was cooking dinner that I suddenly understood the problem.

Page eighty. Yesterday I hit page eighty.

Now, first of all, this is not a Writer Thing. This is my own personal Thing. It is, however, inviolate: as I approach page eighty of any first draft, no matter how long the resulting manuscript will be (in other words, whether it's page 80 of 300 or page 80 of 100), the whole thing mires itself into a muck of mediocrity. Every word becomes a painful slog. Then, once page eighty has been achieved, is now part of the recent painful past, the story picks up again and everything is rosy.

I don't know why this is, but I've written enough novels to know it's true.

So now you're wondering why it took me until dinner to realize I was on page 80. (Or, you're not wondering. You're so bored by my navel-gazing and weird habits that you've gone off to see what's on eBay.) It's this: I'm not writing in Courier anymore.

It's a brave new world. I straddle the divide between new writing and old. I adapted easily and quickly to word processing, but wrote my first novel on a cheap electric typewriter. (In a borrowed apartment with no air-conditioning, during one of the hottest summers New England ever had. I couldn't aim a fan at myself because the paper would flap.) Typewriters mostly used Courier, a mono-spaced font.

It looks like this. All the letters take up the same space.  To me, Courier looks the way manuscripts are supposed to look.  I also love the double-space after the period.  Whap-whap.  My husband always said, back in the typewriter days (yes, I was married then. I married at twelve.), that he could tell how well things were going by how hard I beat the space bar with my thumb.  WHAP-WHAP.  That was really good.

Anyway, my editors are now younger than me, and they hate Courier. They also beg me to stop double-spacing, because, since the manuscripts are now sent electronically even to the typesetter, they have to remove every double-space themselves, by hand.

For the last few manuscripts, in which all corrections, even copy-editing, has been done back and forth via the magic internet, I've sent them the thing in Courier. They've immediately changed it all to Times New-Roman. Upon recieving it in Times New-Roman, I immediately switched it back. This time, however, I decided to boldly grasp the future. If I can blog in Times New-Roman I can probably write novels in Times New-Roman, too.

But you can see the difference, can't you? Because, above, I never changed the font size. Times New-Roman is a proportional font. It takes up less space. And therefore, page 80 happens at page 65. And that's exactly where I was yesterday.

So this morning I will approach my novel with a light heart. It's all dormie from here.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Mom With the Saddle

I don't remember exactly who said this or why. We were down at the ballpark's lower fields, so it had to be when my son was at least ten years old. I'd said something to another mom about my horse. "Oh," the woman said, her eyes widening, then narrowing, "I've heard of you. You're the mom with the saddle."

The Mom with the Saddle.

I grinned, taking it as the complement she didn't mean it to be. I've heard of you. Once, three years or more before that, I'd cleaned all my tack during a Little League baseball game. I'd had a clinic the next day, so my tack needed to be spotless, and, believe me, there is nothing about watching seven-year-olds play baseball that requires such intense concentration that you can't clean a bridle at the same time.

The woman clearly thought it strange that I had an interest of my own more absorbing than my son's potentially big-league baseball career. I, on the other hand, thought it strange that she thought that her son, or mine, or any of the other kids on the field, had a potentially big-league baseball career. They were good boys who played hard. The end.

Once one of the Little League mothers got so incensed screaming at her son and the team as a whole that my son, playing second base, screamed back. "We're trying!" he said. "Quit yelling at us!"

I never yelled. I showed up and cleaned my tack, or I knit. Meanwhile my children also showed up for me. "So, what happened at the second canter transition?" my seven-year-old son asked after the dressage at my first-ever event. "I thought you were going to go out of the ring." He thought about it, then added, "That would have made you eliminated."

"I know." Which was exactly what happened at the transition, inconveniently placed at A. Gully saw the exit and figured it was time to leave. I lost a stirrup but convinced him to both stay in the ring and to canter, which made it a success. Of sorts. It wasn't exactly dressage, but then, neither was anything else I did in those days.

My gift to my children is that I have let them see me fail.They saw me fall off over the first fence in show jumping. Twice. Saw me bite back obscenities and then say them anyway. Saw me eliminated at the water. Saw me move up to Novice, then Training. Saw me galloping over the finish line at the AECs. They saw me do well and do poorly, and keep trying, and work through difficulties and withdraw when my horse didn't feel quite right and kick on when it was raining and I was scared. I think, I hope, it's been good for them. I can't yell when they make mistakes, having made far too many of my own. They know that sometimes success is a relative term.

It's been years since my son played Little League. My daughter plays high school tennis now. Last week I kept a previous commitment instead of going to her second day of sectionals. She was playing one of the best girls in the state and could not possibly win. She called me when the match was over. "Mom!" she said, "on my serve I took her to deuce twice!"

"Awesome!" I said, and meant it, and she knew I did.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Mother's Day Post: I Am a Writer Because of My Mother

Mother's Day is a pretty quiet holiday at our house. This year I'll be seeing my own mother in just a week, so I'm saving her gift to give to her in person. I like giving her gifts. As for my own celebration, after Mass and a quick trip to Sam's Club (we're out of cat food), we're going to go to a Mother's Day Brunch. Then we'll go home and I'll ride my horse, and, if I'm lucky, talk the children into doing all the barn chores. I might get a card. Might not. It's a nice day, but I don't hang a lot of expectations onto it: I know it's a difficult day for several people I very deeply love, who have lost their mothers too early, or never quite had them at all, or who longed to be mothers themselves and aren't. I wrote last year about how I'm conscious of the pain that sometimes surrounds Mother's Day. This year I thought I'd write about the biggest gift my own mother gave me:  I am a writer because of my mother.

Now, writers often have a lot of strange characteristics in common: we tend to be introverts, to be prone to depression. Many writers have suffered tragedies. We tend to be the quiet ones at the party, sitting in the corner taking mental notes, and while certain things like an MFA from Iowa or an aunt who works for Random House can help a person become a writer, the truth is that all writers, every single one I have ever met or ever heard about, have one and only one thing in absolute common: we read like crazy. We read constantly, indiscriminately, deeply, fully. We read all the time.

Because of my mother, I grew up in a house full of books.

I'd like to mention that my father is also a prodigious reader. Every evening of my childhood he read his way through two local daily newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, and a stack of magazines. At our house we subscribed to Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Golf Somethingorother, Good Housekeeping, and a whole bunch more, and whenever he ran out of reading material my Dad wandered down to the local bookstore and picked up People Magazine. My mother, though, was the one who read. Not that I noticed it. With a child's blinkers I assumed that the life I lived was mostly the same as everyone else's, and therefore, my mother didn't read more than normal. She was my norm.

When I was small it was the stack of picture books by the black-and-white rocking chair. The Little Golden Books she bought me every week at the supermarket.  The beautiful books that were gifts on Christmas and my birthday. The trips by bicycle--my blue bike with the training wheels, my brother perched in the carrier on Mom's bike's back wheel--to the Tecumseh Branch Library, which was, miracle of miracles, air-conditioned, and in the summer felt like a cool, inviting cave. Riding bikes to the library was fun but it limited our checkout to what would fit in our bike baskets.

A few years later we moved, and rejoiced in the larger (but still air-conditioned) Georgetown Branch Library. We drove there in my mom's car now. The library let each card-holder check out 8 books at any one time. I would browse the stacks, running my finger over the spines, pulling books out as I went. When my pile grew heavy I'd stop to count. Nine books. Or ten. Or, horrors, a dozen. I'd look at my treasures in dismay, completely unable to give any up. So I'd slope off to the adult section, where often as not my mother would be pausing to count the stack of books in her own arms.

Can I check some out on your card? I'd ask. No, she'd say, I have too many too. So we'd go pester my brother into taking some of our extra books.

Every week. We almost never had overdue fines. I read and reread and it was simply normal. I think I was twenty-six years old before it occurred to me that my mother loved to read. I remember my husband laughing in surprise. "Your mother reads all the time," he said.

Well, yes. I knew that. But didn't almost everyone?

Turns out, probably not. It also turns out that being raised by someone who didn't question how many books I brought on a family vacation*, or how much time I spent with my nose in a novel on the living room couch, or whether I read in bed past my bedtime, was exactly right for me. I never had to fight to be a reader; years later I had the background to fight to be a writer.

When my mom comes to visit now, she often makes herself comfortable on my couch with the loose pages of my newest manuscript. She reads with absorption. "Oh," she says at the end, "I think this is your best so far."

Thank you, Mom. For everything, but especially the books.

*or the time when, in frustration when we were on a ski vacation, I went to the Telluride town library, applied for a library card, and checked out a big stack.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Camp Camp Camp Camp

Well, color me joyful. I just signed up for summer camp.

Not just any camp: O'Connor event camp, my happy place in the world. After two years' absence--one caused by both O'Connors spending the entire summer in England leading up to the 2012 Games, the next because Karen was still recovering from her very scary accident--it's back. Even better, it's moving to the Sandy River Equestrian Center in Axton, Virginia.

I will always love the Virgnia Horse Center, where all previous camps I've attended have been held. Whenever we turn off I-81 and see House Mountain in the distance my daughter and I sigh. We're home. But VHC is dusty and hot as heck in the summer, and though Axton, VA, is not likely to be any cooler it's at least got tons of trees. And a swimming pool! And a cross country course I've never jumped before. I know the layout of Sandy River because I went to a clinic there last January, but the weather was lousy so we stayed in the indoor, grateful we had walls to block the Arctic wind. I saw the cross-country course in the distance. It looked amazing. Can't wait.

I first went to camp in 2006. I loved it. First of all, I knew next to nothing about eventing, which hadn't at all stopped me from doing it, and the week of good instruction completely flooded my brain, in a good way. I went from careening out of control over jumps--"When I tell you to slow down," KOC bellowed on day one, "I at least want to see your shoulders move!" --to actually being able to balance my horse cross-country. I learned so much about how much I didn't know. It was awesome.

Also, Karen O'Connor let me ride in her cross-country saddle. Because my own was part of my problem. And that was really cool.

Also, I loved camp and camping as a girl, and I still do. I was one of those kids who'd belly-flop into the lake every single morning before breakfast, who enthusiastically sang all the camp songs. I've never minded sweat, bugs, dirt. I like to play outside. A week with my horse? Fabulous! My horse thought so, too.

I couldn't go to camp in 2007 due to my brother's wedding, but I didn't miss a year between 2008 and 2011. Eventually my daughter and her horse started coming, too. My daughter got a new horse in 2012 and has been mourning the fact that dear Mickey's never gotten to go to camp. We're fixing that.

Here's the lineup of instructors: Karen O'Connor. David O'Connor (oh, yeah, I think I've heard of him). Cathy Wieschhoff, who's a veteran camp instructor, and such a fabulous teacher that I've ridden with her as much as possible since 2006 and am paying her to teach my beloved pony clubbers in June. Clark Montgomery. You might have heard that he's leading Badminton after dressage, but he also taught back in 2006 and I remember him for his patient expertise. Clark's wife, Jess Montgomery, will teach stable management.

Let's see. It's May 9. Six weeks 'til camp begins. Better start the trot sets, and begin cleaning up my tack...

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Giving Away The Store

The Ancient Egyptians believed that at the entrance to the underworld, after a person died, their heart was removed and weighed against the Feather of the Truth. Only if their heart were lighter than the feather were they allowed through. A jackal stood nearby to devour the heavy-hearted.

I've been working all week at Bristol Faith in Action. Toni Nohre, our program director, is on vacation, and now that she's been gone a week those of us attempting to do her job think she deserves a big raise. It's been a hopping place here this week, and yet, admit the chaos and desperation, I've found unexpected dollops of joy.

This week I've broken all sorts of rules and given away money with wild abandon--because I had to. Also because we had enough money that I could. And so we were able to get the electricity turned back on for a widow who was on home oxygen and had gone the weekend without it. We were able to help a young mother get her two children away from an abuser. We kept a family with an infant and a medical crisis from being evicted from their home.

I don't tell you all this because I want praise. After all, it's not like I'm giving away my own money. Our income comes from our member churches and local donors. I've telling you this because it's a privilege to be able to do this work. It's a privilege to connect with the people of my town. I feel grateful that I'm here this week, and my heart is growing so light I feel I could fly.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Great and Terrible Things about Writing

The great thing about Candy Crush Saga is that it only lets you play for a little while before a screen pops up saying, "No more lives until you've worked on your novel, slacker!"

The terrible thing about being a novelist is that it means you are expected to occasionally write a novel.

The great thing about writing a novel is that you sometimes get fantastic ideas, or awesome bits of dialogue, or wonderful character insights, when you are grocery shopping at Food City.

The terrible thing about getting fantastic ideas when you are grocery shopping at Food City is that you never have a pen that works, or any decent paper, and so you promise yourself that this time you'll remember, because the ideas are just that freaking good.

The great thing is about ideas that are just that freaking good is that you can remember them even though you got them while grocery shopping at Food City.

And the terrible thing about remembering the freaking good ideas you got while shopping at Food City is that you still have to write the suckers down, and you've got to quit playing Candy Crush Saga and do it.