the family renaissance man

All I wanted my first 12 years of life was a baby sister. Granted I had my brother Nathan, a virtual mini me who didn’t eat unless I was hungry and who hung on my every word and command. But he grew tired of my dressing him up in my clothes. In an assertion of independence, he got a haircut. I could no longer play with his golden locks. My brother refused to pretend he was my sister.

Then when I was 12 years old my mom got pregnant. This was it! The baby sister I’d longed for. I was sure she was carrying a girl. Life would not be so cruel as to saddle me with a second brother.

I took Lamaze classes with my mom, intent on being present in the delivery room. I wanted to buy pink baby linens and clothes but Mom would only consent to gender neutral yellow and green. It was a torturous nine months waiting for her to arrive.

When my mom went into labor, I was in bed with a fever of 101. There was no way the doctor was going to let me greet my baby sister into the world. Those many hours when my mom was at the hospital, in the dark days before text, cell phones the Internet, my brother and I waited patiently. Time dragged. Which flavor sibling would we get?

Alas, I didn’t get what I wanted. Really? Another boy? But then my mom brought him home, and he was pretty darn cute. I quickly forgave him his Y chromosome. Early on he had a killer sense of humor. We gave him a nickname I won’t publicize. He was a favorite among my friends, making a cameo appearance in my Senior project, a film on the Children’s Crusade. Did I give him the acting bug? Maybe.

He followed his dream, majored in drama and after college made a name for himself in the Seattle theater scene. Once he mastered the stage, he picked up the banjo and a few months later was touring with an alt-rock band. He forges iron. (I have a nice fire tool to prove it.) He recently discovered a hidden talent: math. My little brother is a calculus genius. It didn’t surprise me. He excels at everything he tries.

I don’t get to see our family renaissance man nearly often enough and mostly catch glimpses of his life on Facebook. (His updates are hilarious.) I’m only disappointed that he doesn’t live closer. I wish Jack and Collin had more regular interactions with their sarcastic, smart, sensitive Uncle Banty, who just completed another turn around the sun.


When I was in high school, I planned to major in drama when I went I college. But then I didn’t get the lead role – or any role for that matter – in the senior play, crushing my Broadway dreams. I went to the other extreme: I decided to major in pre-law.

My step-mother talked me out of it. “Do you really want to be a lawyer?” she asked. “You’re too diplomatic for that.”

Diplomacy wasn’t a major so I went with International Relations. “What kind of job are you going to get as an IR major,” the adults around me asked. I didn’t really know. I figured I’d travel the world and eventually become a diplomat.

Senior year, the need for a respectable job looming, I took the Foreign Service exam.

(As an aside, my creative writing instructor encouraged me to become a writer. “You’re talented. You should really consider this writing thing.” His words still ring through my brain on a loop.)

On the Foreign Service exam, I scored one point lower than the cut-off for an interview. (14 years later, pregnant with Colin, I was offered that interview as part of the settlement of a class action lawsuit, but I wasn’t really in a position to take a post in a third world country, as amazing as that sounds to me now.)

I wanted to go abroad, mostly because I was in love with a foreigner. I applied for the Peace Corps. Got an interview. Was told my liberal arts degree didn’t arm me with any applicable skills. “I want to volunteer,” I pleaded. “I can teach English as a Second Language.” I needed experience to prove it.

So I applied to a program to teach English in the Czech Republic for a summer. It was a fabulous experience. This was the answer. I’d go home, get a Master’s degree in Education, travel the world teaching English.

I got a job teaching ESL in Boston and went to school at night. But three days after graduating with my M.Ed., I had an epiphany: my lifelong dream was to work on Capitol Hill.

I didn’t know the first thing about how to get a job on Capitol Hill. I flew to DC. Walked unscheduled into Senator Susan Collins’ office.

“Hi, I’m from Maine. I’ve always wanted to work on Capitol Hill and was wondering if someone could talk to me about the process.” That “talk” ended with a job offer.

I moved, driving solo in a U-Haul truck with all my worldly belongings to a city where I knew two people. I made friends. I figured out what “recess” meant and how to get to the Senate floor. At some point I was given the responsibility of writing letters on environmental issues, which led to a job on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

A moderate republican environmentalist was born. The rest is on my LinkedIn page.

Everything opportunity I’ve had in DC happened by accident. I’m some weird poster child for being in the right place at the right time. But were all these career moves right?

While I balance consulting for myself with writing my novel, more and more of my passion flows toward the latter. Just have coffee, lunch, a drink with me and time how many minutes I spend talking about the book versus talking about lobbying. I don’t picture myself pounding the marble halls of Congress forever. In an ideal world, I don’t picture myself pounding the halls of Congress next year. I know how dangerous it is to put that in writing; some future employer or client could use it against me. “She’s not dedicated enough to policy. She just wants to write her book.”

But that’s far from true. I’m still passionate about my issues, and as long as working on them helps me sustain this dream of being published, I’ll continue to pursue energy work with gusto. It’s admittedly hard. This isn’t a town that embraces the unconventional. By my own invention, I don’t fit the norm.

But for now I’ll wear the label of wacky lobbyist-slash-aspiring-writer and hope that my professional luck continues. Maybe someday, that long ago writing instructor will see my published book and remember my name.

tales of a music festival

I just spent the weekend at Coachella. I significantly underestimated how cool I would feel just saying that. I might never be the same.

I must admit that reaction was mixed when I announced to friends that I was going.

YOU are going to Coachella?

What the hell is Coachella?

For those who don’t know, it’s a 3-day music festival in Palm Springs, California. Tickets go on sale a year in advance and move quickly. Luckily for me, I have a friend who was on the ball and bought two tickets last May. And even luckier, the friend she was supposed to go with bailed at the last minute, giving me the opportunity to slip in and take her coveted wristband.

I spent hours going over the lineup. I consider myself to know a fair amount about music but I was shocked at the number of musicians whose names I didn’t recognize. But that was fine. I was eager to discover my next new favorite band.

I also spent an absurd amount of time trying to figure out what to wear. Music festivals are not runways but the fashion is certainly a sight to behold. I consulted my friend Allie at Wardrobe Oxygen who is not only a fashion blogger but an experienced music festival-ite. She wrote a nice post on what to wear to Coachella that I only clicked on approximately 25,000 times as I surveyed my utterly unhip wardrobe.

In spite of my eager cramming for Coachella, no articles or playlists could have prepared me for what we encountered. I’m going to be talking for some time about the pervasiveness of bralets as tops. I only hope the trend of wearing your denim shorts unbuttoned and folded down to reveal underwear is contained to the desert. Many skimpy bikinis were on display, not my first choice of what to wear to sit in the dusty grass. Hell, it’s not my first choice of what to wear to the beach.

While the style was interesting the music was phenomenal. I still have a medley of Broken Bells songs stuck in my head. They were a favorite before the festival but earned my deeper adoration with their live performance. I discovered a new favorite: Future Islands. Sadly I missed the much-written about Beyoncé appearance on her sister’s stage because, frankly, I didn’t know Solange was her sister. I am to be forgiven for that because I got close enough to Jared Leto to run my fingers through his ombréd mane, though of course I resisted such temptation.

I discovered a new skill. I’m an adept crowd pusher. (Now I know how rough it is to be salmon.) I’m still working the dust out of my eyes from Saturday’s sand storm. (Weekend two attendees: bring swim goggles.) Six pairs of shoes turned out to be way too many but three hats was just the right number.

This year has been about doing things I haven’t done before. You know, like writing a book. Coachella fit neatly into the “experience I’ve never had” box. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to attend. I wasn’t even the oldest one there, as some so-called friends might have suggested I would be. And who knows, maybe next year I’ll rock the bralet.


the drafting table

Given that I have already crushed my January, February and March writing goals, it’s clear to me now that finding the right words is no longer my problem. In fact, I’m starting to work in the other direction.

It can be hard to edit your own work, at least for me. I typically fall in love with the way I phrased a sentence or set a scene. But I have taken some pleasure the last few days out of deleting words, sentences, paragraphs (okay, I never delete entire paragraphs but I do rework them) and improving the flow of my story.

But I need help.

I contacted the instructor of the writing class that started this whole “I’m going to write a novel” craziness. She is not only a published author but also a professional manuscript editor. So the new goal is to get her my completed work by March 1st. This deadline feels more pressing than my noting the daily word count on a calendar. It means I’m taking the next step toward publishing my work.

But… before I get to that point, I need a few volunteers. Much like I straighten up the house before the cleaning lady comes, I want my draft to be as perfect as can be before placing it in the hands of a professional. I’m looking for readers. The qualifications are: you like to read; you have a good sense of story; you aren’t afraid to tell something doesn’t work; and you have time.

I’ve divided my story into three main parts, so I’m not asking any one person to read the entire story. Each section is between 75-125 pages. I’m hoping to recruit six volunteers. I will need comments/edits by February 15th.

Email me directly if you are interested. (Sorry, strangers, this offer is limited to people I know.) If you live locally, I will reward you with a wine night.

Ready, set, go.


the drafting table

Okay, now that I’ve found my higher purpose, blah, blah, blah, it’s time to achieve it.

I have become one of those people who measures document length by word count, not pages. It finally makes sense to my brain. I think back to all the college papers where I used a large font size and wide margins in order to meet a certain page-based length requirement. Word counts can’t be manipulated. Well, I guess you could add bunch of superfluous words but that’s not my point.

So while apparently the answer to “how long should a novel be?” is “as long as it needs to be” the research I have done yielded the answer: 80,000-100,000 words for my genre.

It’s hard to measure art in quantitative terms, but I need benchmarks to move me beyond “write another chapter.”

After my intention setting classes, I decided to set a word count goal for my novel. I started New Year’s Day with approximately 40,000 words. The January goal is to get to 53,000. The February goal is to reach 66,000 and by the end of March, 80,000. From there I’ll assess whether the story is complete and then undertake the review and editing process. The point is to get the words out of my head and on paper.

As of tonight, I’ve written 56,500 words. I crushed the January goal. By the time I get to February, I might have to recalibrate the goals. There’s a higher purpose but there’s also a process. I might be making it up along the way but at least I’m on the road.

the best of intentions

I’ve called them resolutions. I’ve called them goals. I’ve constructed “goal boards” where I pasted images pulled from magazines of how I want my life to look and feel.

Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t, though I don’t like to use the word fail here. As I wrote in my review of the 13 in ’13, goals can evolve and be replaced by other laudable intentions.

Intentions. A yoga class on intention setting in the new year caught my eye, so now I’m taking it at two different studios. I mean, the reinforcement can’t hurt right? So in advance of all that bendy self reflection, I came up with a few intentions for 2014.

Just say no to jobs that make your face grow numb from stress and relationships that aren’t fulfilling. Drink less bottled water. Play more board games with the kids. Finish writing my novel. Experiment more. Complain less. Be better.

Happy New Year!

making lemonade

It’s a little cold for lemonade, so this afternoon I made cassoulet.

And when I say this afternoon, I mean for the last three and a half weeks, I’ve researched recipes. I plotted approaches. I consulted a chef.

I decided to try cassoulet as prepared by Mark Bittman because while Julia Child can do no food wrong, I preferred a version with duck confit.

The duck. I ordered one from Union Market. I wanted a whole duck but frankly I didn’t want to dismember it myself. Red Apron agreed to deconstruct it for me and give me the entire bird (“except feathers and guts,” the butcher clarified) because I needed the carcass for stock.

I special ordered authentic French beans but ended up buying Goya brand Great Northerns when the fancy bag arrived light on the amount I expected to get for $14.99. I also ordered ventrèche (French pancetta, not as smoky as our usual stateside bacon offering) and garlicky sausage. Hey, I didn’t want lack of the right ingredients to mess with my dish.

On Friday, I marinated the duck legs in garlic, shallots and thyme. On Saturday I roasted the carcass (and all parts not leg or breast) and made a delicious stock that filled my house with a lovely scent. It turns out I should have flipped those tasks but hey, a multi-day recipe takes time to master.

Duck confit. Sausage. Lamb shoulder. Beans. Mind you, this is a dish normally prepared with what the French have in their refrigerators. (Someday maybe I will have extra duck confit laying around.) I took some liberties with Bittman’s recipe. For example, I deglazed the lamb and onions with port before adding the confit.

Cassoulet preparation was supposed to be a cooking date, but sometimes things don’t play out as you envision. Holidays come along, toying with emotions and nostalgia. People get back together with exes. I have no hard feelings. But I knew I’d be angry, at him and myself, if I didn’t follow through with our/my cassoulet plans. And with a fantastic array of aromas filling my house, I’m glad that instead of feeling tragic, I’m left empowered by my kitchen prowess. Not that there haven’t been tears, but I acknowledge my disappointment with grace.

And Pinot Noir.