Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

The kids wanted to do a quick survey of the neighborhood in order to plan their trick-or-treating. First house on the list is one they refer to as 'Island of the Devils'

I'm not sure about devils, but the lighting on the sidewalk is definitely going to make this one creepy tonight. Not to mention their super cool pumpkins.

We walk by this house on the way to school every day. As soon as the cemetary goes in, our trip takes about five minutes longer. If you look carefully you can see some scary bones decomposing in front of a couple of tombstones.

This house gets wilder every year. Child #1 loves it when people jump out of the bushes. Child #2 is convinced this will be the year he goes up to the door by himself.

Of course, no one's Halloween decor is complete without a blood-filled bathtub.

Across the street, lives the mythical man-eating spider. I think it's got a little snack all wrapped for Halloween night.

Speaking of mythical creatures, we saw the mythical white squirrel, long rumored to live in our neighborhood. Now we have  photographic evidence that it really exists.

May your Halloween be filled with all your favorite mythical creatures and your treat bags full.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: Lessons from a Refrigerator

Someone even printed it on a t-shirt!
A big thank you to everyone who stopped by this week, left comments and reveled in my newly clean and organized fridge. Because this is The Fulfillment Project I need to assess how the refrigerator helps push me in the right direction. What does it do to make my pretty, darn good life, a little bit better?

While I'm not particularly religious, I've often heard the phrase, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." My interpretation of that phrase is, we all have a basic human need to be clean. We also have a basic need to eat. There's something soothing (dare I say fulfilling?) about the two needs being met in an unlikely spot like the refrigerator.

But is it sustainable?

Is there a point when my efforts to keep the refrigerator organized will outweigh the pleasing effect of having it perfectly organized? So far, keeping in mind I'm only five days in, it seems sustainable. Mostly because Rachel and I gave a lot of thought to how my family lives and organized the refrigerator around our lifestyle. My son likes syrup on his pancakes. But when he pours it, the syrup drips down the side of the bottle and leaves a sticky mess on the bottom which results in sticky refrigerator messes.  Solution, put a folded up paper towel underneath the bottle (which is now always put back in the same place). When the towel gets messy, replace it.

Clear fridge bin
Similarly, all the clear boxes contain food grime to a limited sphere. If my cheese box gets disgusting, all I have to do is pull out the box, stick it in the dishwasher and I'm good to go. And truthfully, I'm much more likely to go the dishwasher option than I am to go the full refrigerator clean out option. 

The second piece I looked at was the affordability issue. What's the price tag on all those clear boxes? All told, they were just under the $50 mark at Storables. My guess is it will take me about two months to recoup that $50. Here's why.

The newly organized refrigerator is visual. I can take a quick glance inside and see whether I'm running low on eggs, fruit, veggies or milk. At the grocery story that translates to more targeted purchases. I have a feeling I won't be buying extra packages of cream cheese, bunches of grapes or mustard anymore. Hopefully, the new system will help eliminate a lot of the slimy food waste which is synonomous (in my mind) with careless money waste.

Eliminating careless money waste goes a long way towards making me feel more fulfilled. It's also a huge incentive for my husband to respect the food zones and not undo my organizational work. It all plays into the goal of making our pretty good lives, slightly better.

Guess what's for dinner tonight? Leftovers! Because I can see them and I know exactly how much I have. Guess what else? It honestly makes me happy to know that food won't go to waste and I didn't over-buy yesterday at the grocery store.

Next week, The Fulfillment Project searches for ways to deal with those itty bitty, teeny tiny annoyances that don't quite rise to the level of a full grievance.  I know what mine are, and I'm putting a plan into place as of today.  The problems, plan and results will be discussed and analyzed to see whether they meet The Fulfillment Project's goals.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: Refrigerator Reveal

Before I reveal my newly fabulous refrigerator, I need to talk about the organizational process. Believe it or not, a refrigerator that leads to fulfillment is more process driven than you might think.  Remember yesterday, when Rach made me separate everything into use frequency groups? Immediately after we were done she gave me some great words of wisdom.

"You're going to have to think of your refrigerator in zones.  We're going to have the beverage zone, the cheese zone, the egg zone and the lunch meat zone.  Everything needs to be separated."

Rach's snack drawer: fruit leathers arranged by flavor.
Even though Rach is a master organizer (and no, this isn't what she does for a living) my refrigerator usage needs were tricky for two reasons.  The first reason is because I like to cook so there are almost always leftovers.  The second reason is also due to our lifestyle.  Because I like to cook different things I have, unwittingly, trained my family to expect an endless bounty of variety. 

In Rach's house she always stocks cucumbers and pears (hence the labeled boxes for cucumbers and pears).  Before my dreams of a perfectly organized fridge could evaporate, Rach saved the day by coming up with the idea of rotating zones.  Or, another way of putting it is organization with less specificity.  Instead of the grape compartment, I have the fresh fruit to be packed in lunches compartment.

The second, even more important concept, was marketing. "As soon as you bring the food home, you have to market it to yourself," she told me. Marketing it to myself means making it visible.  She removed all my exotic condiments, aka seldom use items, from their home in the fridge door and arranged them along the back of my fridge.  "You're sacrificing valuable real estate for things you use once a month," she reminded me.  "And this way you can't shove things to the back and forget about them.  Remember, market to yourself."

Infrequent use items populate the back row formerly reserved for slimy stuff.
She grouped my cheeses, including the three cream cheeses.  "You need a box for these," she told me. Rach loves the clear refrigerator boxes at Storables.  Her emphasis was on clear so you can see what's inside because, "if you can't see it, you won't eat it." She also urged me to take my eggs out of their space-sucking carton and load them into an egg container.  "Pull from the front, load from the back," she told me when I asked how she made sure some eggs weren't left to go bad. 

Empty fruit box on top, clear cheese box on right middle
 We struggled with where to place my tortillas.  They're awkward and bulky, but eventually we decided it made sense to put them underneath the cheese container.  It's a logical placement.  I hardly ever use tortillas without cheese so it keeps things separated while simultaneously maximizing my cooking efficiency.  Another example of logical placement was storing the peanut butter next to the jelly.  Genius!  No more time spent searching for the jelly or multiple jars of open jelly.

Finally, there were the leftovers.  How would we deal with the leftovers or large pots and pans that require refrigeration during dinner parties or holiday meals?  Rach whipped out a tape measure.  "We can turn the pot lids upside down and still have room to slide your big pot into the bottom shelf," she showed me.  The bottom shelf, left hand side was dedicated to leftovers and precut fruit.  It's going to become the go-to spot for my foraging husband and children.

Tomorrow, a break down and price assessment of the refrigerator remodel.  And, more importantly for purposes of my blog, how does having a streamlined, super-efficient refrigerator make my life more fulfilled.  But before I leave I need to show you with one more picture.  It's the beverage zone.  So easy, so simple, everything all grouped together in the door.  Opening my refrigerator still isn't like a day at the spa, but I have to admit I get a certain amount of pleasure every time I look at my beverage zone.  Look, it's all right there at the tip of my fingers!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Tackles the Refrigerator

I know you were probably expecting horseback riding pics today...and those will come.  However, I want to get back to my happiness cookbook, aka Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  In one of the early chapters of The Happiness Project Gretchen describes cleaning out her closets.  Her apartment is cluttered and tackling that clutter brings her a certain amount of happiness. 

It looks so tidy...until you open those white built-in cabinets.
 As I walked through my house I knew that clearing the surface clutter wasn't an option.  Mostly, because there is no surface clutter.  My husband hates clutter and so I've become a closet clutterer.  Out of sight, out of mind, right.  My house is well-equipped with LOTS of closets and every single one of them is full.  I tuck things away and years later discover the emergency flashlight in the basement bathroom vanity drawer or a ziplocked baggie of confetti in my overflow storage.  I considered devoting the weekend to just the living room cupboards but then I remembered my friend Rachel's refrigerator.

Rach's refrigerator is pristine.  It's a thing of beauty.  She freely admits that if she feels stressed out, all she needs to do is open her refrigerator door.  The labeled bins, everything in its proper place, it's the Rach equivalent to a day at the spa.
Note Rach's empty top shelf....for leftovers!

 Because she's a good friend, and finds her joy in organizing, she agreed to spend a few hours reorganizing my fridge (and when I say agreed, I actually mean jumped at the chance).  Here's what we started with at the Garth household. 
Luckily you can't see the slimy section hidden at the back.


And this!

I count 2 pickle jars in this picture alone.
What the pictures, thankfully, don't show is the build up of grime and the back row of forgotten items.  I am theoretically anti-food waste.  I make an effort to menu plan and use up all the food we buy.  However, often things don't go as planned.  We grab a quick pizza.  Someone invites us to dinner.  Vacations, soccer games and holidays, they all conspire to make sure the food I buy doesn't get eaten.  My way of coping with this is to ignore it.  I let the ignored food get pushed to the deep, dark regions of the fridge until they're unrecognizable and slimy.  Only when my organic tomatoes have turned to slush do I then feel free to toss them out, guilt free. 

Rachel sized my fridge up with a practiced eye.  "The first thing we're going to do is take everything out."  And so we did.  Everything!  We lined it up on my counter and she made me sort things into use groups.  If I used something every day it went into the often group.  Twice a week was seldom and less than once a week items went straight to the rarely used.  We discovered that I have four jars of pickles, three jars of dijon mustard and three containers of cream cheese.  There was no judgment about my jars of excess condiments, but when it came to the cream cheese she said, "You've got to promise me you'll stop buying cream cheese until you use these three packages."  I promised.  It was the least I could do for someone who gave up two hours of her Saturday to hang out with me and my slimy vegetables.  

Tomorrow we get into the nitty gritty of how we reclaimed my refrigerator.  I've got the after pictures and, even better, some amazing Rachel advice for how to avoid the slimy food syndrome.  It's a whole new way of conceptualizing refrigerator space.   


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: What Brings You Joy

It turns out the easiest part of following Gretchen's happiness recipe was figuring out what I didn't like.  My friends and I had a great time discussing what gave us the Internal Shudders or, as one friend named it, our Guilty Unpleasures.  But then they went home and I had to get back to the meat and potatoes of this project.  What makes me happy and leaves me feeling fulfilled?

I was stuck.  Again, I turned to my Happiness Bible (aka The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin) but it didn't help.  She talks about the process of putting together books filled with pictures and ideas.  This was her happy space.  To me, that sounded perilously close to scrapbooking.  Since scrapbooking is basically Arts & Crafts for grown-ups I was certain notebooking wouldn't work for me. 

But what would?

The first thing that came to mind was horseback riding.  I grew up on a farm that was adjacent to public timber land, so I spent a large portion of my childhood riding bareback and unchaperoned through the mountains.  I'm a good rider, someone who has the kind of skill that can only be gained from hours of riding bareback (and sometimes barefoot).  When we lived in New York City I'd started to ride again, but then my fancy black velvet riding helmet had to be shoved to the back of the closet to make way for maternity clothes. 

What would it mean to (literally) get back into the saddle?

My first reaction was a groan because I know exactly what it would mean.  It would mean time.  Not weekend time but school day time.  School day time is my most precious commodity.  It's my writing time.  Would horseback riding really let me tap into my inner joy if it meant I had to give up writing time?

The second obstacle was practicality.  Did it make sense?  I was going to have to drive at least twenty-five minutes to get to the closest horse farm.  Even when I got there, I was fairly certain I wouldn't be given a horse and free reign...which is kind of what I wanted.  It would be a lesson or a trail ride.  It might not live up to my expectations.

These thoughts had all been enough to dissuade me in the past, but in keeping iwth The Fulfillment Project, I decided to rethink my objections. 

What did I have to lose? 

At the most, one day would cost me 2000 words on my work in progress.  It wouldn't be the end of the world.  The second objection was trickier, but I finally hit on something I always tell my kids.  My kids are good swimmers and so they hate it when I suggest swim lessons intended to hone their skills.  Every time they object I tell them, "just because you're good at something, doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement." 

The same holds true for me.  I could take a lesson.  I was a good rider twenty years ago.  Skills get old and rusty.  On top of that, I never learned how to post properly.  Maybe I should carve out the time, suck up the objections and take one little lesson.  If nothing else it would be the chance to dig my riding helmet out of retirement.  Next up, back to the Happiness Bible and a different kind of joy.
Turns out I'm a sucker for accessories.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fulfillment Project Responds to You

The first week of The Fulfillment Project has been amazing.  There have been so many thoughts and ideas posted on my blog and emailed directly to me that I wanted to devote a day just to you.

First off, I got to meet Shelly. Shelly was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and decided she needed a way to focus on everything wonderful about life (I hope I've paraphrased that accurately Shelly).  This desire fueled her Big Life Project.  What inspired me most about Shelly was the way she has taken something difficult and turned it into a focus on joy.  I think that kind of focus will play an important role in The Fulfillment Project, and even though I haven't gotten to it will come.

cropped pic from Shelly's website
CP at Large on G+ recommended I read Flourish by Martin Seligman.  You can check out her blog here:  Even though I promised you this blog would be, the not very well researched account of one woman's search for fulfillment, I have trouble resisting a good book recommendation.  Flourish is now on my holds list at the library.  I have the feeling it'll be filled with some irresistible quotes. 

I also loved a comment by Hart at  She brought up the blessing of having enough, not so much that you don't appreciate the good things in life, but enough so you aren't miserable.  I love this idea, which is essentially about balance.  I'm quite certain balance is going to play an essential role in The Fulfillment Project.

Finally, the two comments made by almost every guy I know, including my husband are as follows:
1.  You seem pretty happy; and
2.  Why are you doing things you don't like (in response to my Internal Shudder post).

At first I was tempted to frame this as a Mars/Venus response, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that was too simple.  The first comment is valid.  Why should I try to make my fairly happy self, even happier?  Is it a self-absorbed, waste of time?  There's a substantial body of research that shows it isn't, but maybe the best way to make that point is to follow the age old writer's advice and show instead of tell.  Going forward I will make a point of showing why it's important for me (and you) to push ourselves to the top end of the happiness spectrum.

As for the second point, either every guy I happened to talk to this week is way more self-actualized than every woman I know, or it really is a Mars/Venus kind of thing.

Next post will be published on Monday.  It asks the question, what brings joy?  My answer pushes me back towards an abandoned passion.  I can't wait to hear about all of your passions (abandoned and otherwise) that bring you joy. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Internal Shudder at The Fulfillment Project

My task for the weekend was simple.  All I had to do was follow Gretchen's first commandment, which is technically Be Gretchen, but for my purposes, it's Be Johanna.

In The Happiness Project, Gretchen talks about giving herself permission not to like certain things she wishes she liked more.  For example, she says she wishes she were the kind of person who likes to play chess, go out to hot new restaurants or talk foreign policy, but she's not.  For Gretchen, being Gretchen means she needs to accept that she is never going to enjoy those activities and focus on what she does enjoy.

This was hard for me, maybe because I was using Gretchen's list.  I kept thinking, it's true I don't like to talk foreign policy but hot new restaurants, I LOVE hot new restaurants.  Fortunately, I remembered that this task was not Be Gretchen, it was Be Johanna and then everything began to fall into place.

What are the things that I do, not because I enjoy them, but because I wish I was the kind of person who enjoyed them.  I realized the best way to test this was to see if the thing in question made me shudder internally.  If it was something that I hated to do but did anyway (with an internal shudder) because I felt like I should, then it went on my list. 

I'm the one checking my phone.
The first thing on the list was professional sporting events.  Last year I attended a Blazers basketball game with my family.  While everyone else watched the game, I checked my watch, played on my phone and was quick to jump up to get snacks if anyone displayed the slightest desire for cotton candy.  Professional sporting events are a classic example of something that triggers my internal shudder. 

That being said, it feels vaguely unpatriotic to not like sporting events.  "You should go to a Timbers game," people tell me and they are so enthusiastic and certain I will love it, that it's hard to disagree.  But the internal shudder tells me that no matter how many sporting events I attend they will never make me happy.  Which is one of Gretchen's Secrets of Adulthood--What's fun for other people may not be fun for you.  Even though I wish I liked sporting events, I need to Be Johanna and accept that I don't.

What else triggers the Internal Shudder?  Foreign films (they feel like the movie equivelent of eating my vegetables), Interpretative Centers (disembodied voices talking about magma and lava flow make me really, really cranky), Anthropological Exhibits (I know, I know, I should care more and I really, truly wish I did) and Arts & Crafts Projects (any time the glitter comes out I get heart palpitations to go along with my internal shudder).

The list could go on, but I won't bore you.  Instead I'll confess that the hardest part about making this list is realizing how much I desperately wish I was the kind of person whose perfect day would be a morning Timber's game, followed by a quick trip to an Interpretative Center, a little Arts & Crafts in the afternoon, capped off by the newest, award-winning movie from Holland. 

I wish I could be that person but instead I'm Johanna. 

Next assignment, forget the Internal Shudder items and focus on the things I like to do. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Fulfillment Project: Week One

I announced the Fulfillment Project to my family at dinner time.  When I say I announced it, I mean I squeezed it in between one of Child #2's endless stories about Star Wars. 

"And then I said I was going to be General Grievous but Daniel said General Grievous isn't part of the rebel forces except if you know that Count Dooku is a Sith lord than that actually makes him part of the rebel forces because..."

Our dinners aren't this cheery.
 He paused for breath giving me time to say, "I have an announcement."

"Mom, you interrupted!"

From the top of the basement stairs where Child #1 was pouting about what was being served for dinner, a voice shouted, "I don't care about any announcements unless you're going to say dinner isn't pasta with mushroom sauce."

"I want to hear your announcement," said my husband so I quickly outlined the basics.

"Hmm," he said.  "I'm a little worried about how I'm going to be portrayed."  I started to tell him more about the book but we were interrupted by Child #1 who had made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and decided to join the rest of us. 

Later, that night I thought about our dinner.  Family dinners.  They're supposed to be the key to happy fulfilled families, right?  How could I organize our lives (or at the very least, our family dinners) so they don't leave me feeling tired and grouchy.  I consult the book, my happiness bible and note that Gretchen started her project by creating Twelve Commandments as the guiding principles for her happiness.  I read them over and have a miniepiphany. 

Gretchen and I are going to have our very own Julie and Julia moment.

Gretchen Rubin has written the cookbook for her own happiness and so, given our similarities I'm willing to bet many of her recipes will work for me.  The first of her Twelve Commandments is "Be Gretchen".  I think about this.  It's really just a twenty-first century version of, "To thine own self be true."  How can I put this into action and how will it help to push me to the upper end of my happiness range? 

Next up, Johanna thinks about how she can better "Be Johanna."  And yes, I promise that's the last time I'll refer to myself in the third person on this blog.   

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Fulfillment Project

My blog hasn't really had a purpose.  Up to this point it's been a meandering train of thought kind of blog.  One day I blog about my book release, another day it's adventures at Yellowstone and then another day it's a conversation with my kids.  It hasn't been hard to come up with ideas but in terms of a theme, nothing has caught my attention until this week.

This is the week I inadvertently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. 

It was inadvertent because I thought, I swear I remembered, my book club picking this book.  Except when I sent an email to one of the members of the group telling her how much I loved the book she reminded me that we had, in fact, picked something else.  So how did I come up with The Happiness Project?  Maybe someone mentioned it?  Did I see it somewhere?  Or maybe it was just a case of the right book finding me at exactly the right time.

The Happiness Project is a nonfiction account of one woman's attempt to make her pretty good life even better.  She sets out on a year-long journey to maximize her happiness.  This mission resonated with me.  My life is wonderful.  I have a loving husband, two adorable children and a beautiful home.  I'm a fledgling novelist at a time when the entire publishing industry has thrown up its hands and said good bye to stasis and hello to change.  I can walk my kids to school, two ice cream shops, Starbucks and restaurants featured in national magazines.  As I said before, my life is wonderful, and there are the days when I can hardly believe my good fortune. 

However, as I read The Happiness Project, I began to feel like Gretchen Rubin and I could be the same person.  First of all, we have a lot in common.  Both lawyers turned writers-check.  Both lived in New York City (where she still lives)-check.  Two kids-check.  Her husband is Jewish and his first name starts with a J-silly, but still check.  Neither of us are particularly religious-check.  Both love children's literature-check.  Those are the surface commonalities but we have even more in common.  She started her project because, like me, she also loves her life.  Also, like me, there are days when she feels like she should be happier.  Neither of us are suffering from depression.  It's not that, it's better described as a failure to enjoy, savor or be in the present moment. 

Gretchen wrote a well-researched book about her attempt to maximize her happiness.  I'm going to write a not very well-researched series of blog posts about it. 

With a twist.

I like everything with a little twist.  If I'd had to wear a uniform to school, I'd be the one with the crazy hair bows and ridiculous socks.  That's just me.  So here's my twist.  Instead of reasoned research and quotes on happiness, I'm going to give you myself.  I'm going to experiment, like a human lab rat, using some of Gretchen's ideas and some of my own.  What you'll get to read about, at least once a week, is the process and the results.  The other twist is I'm going to call it the Fulfillment Project.  To me, the word happiness feels too glib and fleeting.  You can be happy without being fulfilled.  But the reverse isn't true.  If you are fulfilled, you will be happy. 

That's my goal.  I hope you'll enjoy reading about it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fan Mail

Today's post was inspired by writer, Dianne Salerni.  You can read her post here,, after you read mine of course! ;)

I got a nice note in the mail yesterday.  It didn't come in the usual way, you know, in an envelope with a stamp.  Instead it was just a little note, slipped into my mailbox.  Here's what it said,

"Dear Johanna Garth,

I am so sorry that I didn't have a envelope.  I read your book and I am an interested and excited fan.  It's so amazing I wish I could call you mom.  In fact, I'm lost.  Can you take care of me?  Your newest daughter and biggest fan.


Nice note, right!  I wonder who this mysterious Zoey person could be?  All I know is Child #1 was very vested in making sure I respond to poor, lost Zoey as soon as possible.

Hope your weekend is filled with mysterious surprises.  Speaking of surprises, make sure to stop by on Monday.  I've got a big announcement to make that has me spinning in excited circles (and Mom, if you're reading this, no I'm not pregnant!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Diary of a Crazy Writer

I know I usually pick a topic and write about it, but today I'm going to go a little 'Diary of a Crazy Writer' on you.  Partially, because I only have twenty minutes to write this post and partially because I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.

In the last two weeks I've generated twenty thousand words.  That's a lot, a whole lot!  At least it is for me.  Twenty thousand words means I'm planting my tushie in a chair and typing as fast as I can type, with a few moments here and there to think, for a solid three and half hours.

I've heard he's great about deadlines.
Which is all fine and good.  I'm a writer so I'm supposed to write, every single day (although unlike Stephen King and many of my less famous cohorts I don't attempt to write anything but blog posts on the weekends).  Except, there's this little deadline that's nagging at me.  The one that's found in the back of Losing Beauty right above the first chapter of Losing Hope.  The one where it says "A Special Preview of Losing Hope coming March 2012"  Every time I see that I hyperventilate a little bit.

I'm funny about deadlines. 

When I was working at my law firm people would say things like, "Do you think you can review all these documents and get back to me by tomorrow?" 

And I would shake my head sadly and say, "Probably not.  I probably won't be able to give you any kind of real feedback for at least three days." 

Which is the worst thing to say when people are paying you real money to work for them EXCEPT it didn't take long for everyone to figure out I would then stay up all night long until I had a working version of any given transaction rattling around my brain.  See!  I like to set expectations low so I can consistently outperform expectations.  But this time I can't.  There's no room for me to say Losing Hope won't be finished until next summer, at the earliest, and then wow everyone when I produce it in February.   

Is this guy edible?
Okay, so you're probably thinking, "She's got until March.  What's the big deal?"  Wait a minute, that's not what you're thinking at all.  You're thinking, "Thank God, I don't have to live with or near that crazy lady."  And yes, you're right.  I'm a little crazy.  But I can't get into that right now because I've got to finish the first draft of Losing Hope.  And then edit it and edit it and edit it some more and did I mention I promised someone I would turn Losing Beauty into a screenplay by the end of November? 

And somewhere in the midst of everything else I'll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the ones I love.  Do you think anyone would notice if I served marked up pages instead of turkey?    

Monday, October 10, 2011

When Are You Ripe?

"Mom, when do you think I'm most ripe?" Child #1 asked me last weekend. 

"I guess that depends on what you mean by ripe."

"You know, like if I were a berry, when would you want to pick me and eat me.  What's my best season?" 

We determined her best season is summer, when she can swim to her heart's content.  And then, working backwards we decided she's almost ripe in the fall, in flower in the winter but spring is Child # 1's winter.  In spring, she turns into a cold, frozen, leafless branch waiting for school to get out and the sun--the precious Oregon summer sun!

Then, because it was fun, we spent half an hour figuring out when everyone else is in season.

"You're ripest right now," she told me.  "Because Losing Beauty is being published.  And Child #2 is in season every time he has a play date."  Grandma, it turns out, is ripe when she's making her world-famous, award-winning pie and Daddy is ripest during autumn when he can watch the Giants play football, scheme about the best trick-or-treat candy maximizing strategy and eat pumpkin pie.

Okay, so I admit it, it was on the tip of my tongue to add that Daddy is also pretty ripe after he comes back from playing basketball, but somehow I resisted.  The word may be funny, but it doesn't prevent me from being enchanted with the, blogosphere, now that the days are getting shorter and the nights colder, tell me, when are you in season? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Little Bit of Magic

This wasn't the one I was looking for...
Did you ever have a book that you loved intensely, passionately, read it, like a hundred times, only to forget the title?  And the author, and pretty much everything else about the book. 

I know what you're thinking.  It can't have been that good of a book if you read it a hundred times and can't remember anything about it.  Either that or you're Googling the names of early onset Alzheimer specialists so you can send me a referral, but don't worry.  It was an amazing book and I'm almost positive I'm not having a Still Alice moment (if you haven't read Still Alice, you should.  It's terrifying but good). Here's what happened.

This book, my magic book, was one I read over and over again at the age of eight.  I know I was eight because that was the year Mrs. Rankin, my elementary school librarian, barred me from the older kid's book section on the grounds that some of the material was "inappropriate".  In lieu of checking out the racier Judy Blumes, I was stuck reading the same little kid's books over and over until I had them practically memorized, everything except for the title and author's name, of course. 

Fast forward thirty years and all I can remember is how much I loved one of those books.  It was something about little girls, witches and a porch.  If you Google little girls, witches and a porch, you get a lot of options but none of them were my magic book.  Then, yesterday, it came to me.  Wasn't there a bumble bee on the porch?  I think he might have been named Molokai.  Again, I Googled it and guess what I got?  Lots of stuff about Hawaii.  I changed the search terms a little bit and BINGO!  There was the book!!  My book, the one I'd loved, lost and looked for, for the last fifteen years!

Neither was this.

As if finding the book wasn't exciting enough, it was written by Eleanor Estes.  At the very moment, I was successfully searching for my long lost book, Child # 1 was upstairs in her bedroom reading "A Hundred Dresses" by Eleanor Estes.  I was overcome by the perfect symmetry of it all.  

At that moment my husband came downstairs, peaked in my office and said, "Why are you crying?"

"Because I found it," I told him.  "And I was meant to find it, at this very moment when our daughter was reading a book by the same author.  It's one of those perfect circles of life."

"Huh," he said.  "Do you want some ice cream?" 

Okay, so he's not buying into my perfect circles of life theory but maybe you will.  If I read the above scene in a book I wouldn't belive it.  I'd think it was too unlikely, too pat or maybe too much of a leap.  But now, as the days begin to get shorter and Halloween approaches, it's a good reminder.  Every now and then magic does happen.  You just have to be on the lookout for it.  I know my family will be enjoying some early fall magic of our own the moment the Amazon box arrives carrying our very own copy of, "The Witch Family."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Losing Beauty is in Print!!

Guess what? 
Oops, I guess you don't need to guess if you read the title of this post.  That's right!  Losing Beauty is in print!!  It was just kinda fun to write it twice because it's a big deal!  It's something I've been working towards for years and now I can hold it in my hand.
In fact, it's downright crazy to see your book in print.  Bananas, mezzo matto, insane, mad, wild, loopy, daft, coo coo!  You get the idea.
It's modern art crazy-as in bananas.

What happens now?  For those of you who have been patiently awaiting the print version to be released, Thank You!  Your email messages, Facebook comments, Tweets or actual face-to-face communications that you were dying to read the book, but prefer to read it in the print version mean so much.  Writers, as a group, tend to be [insert any one of the adjectives for crazy used above] about their work.   Your kind words mean a lot.

All right, so where can you get the book?  At the moment you can order it off of Amazon by clicking on this link
Or, you can buy it directly from the publisher by clicking here.
Below is a quick list of Q&A that attempt to answer most of the questions I've received.
When will Losing Beauty be in my local book store?
That depends on where you live.  Broadway Books in Portland will have it in stock by the end of the week.  However, if you don't live in Portland, OR your best bet is to purchase a copy from an online source.  The book has to work its way through the acquisitions editors of every major chain before it will show up in the store.  If you’d like to see it in your local independent book store or large chain store, it might make a difference (a big difference) if you request it. 
Will you be doing book signings? 
Yes!  Rest assured I will Tweet, Facebook, Blog and G+ any scheduled book signing.  I might even send out invitations.  In fact, I'm sort of sensing a whole wine and cheese opportunity and you all know how much I love wine and cheese!! 
Will you come to my book group? 
If you live in the Portland area I would be honored to visit your book group.  If not, email me anyway.  Maybe we can come up with something creative.
When, oh when, will Losing Hope be released? 
According to my publisher, March 2012—at least that’s what it says in the back of Losing Beauty where a sneak peak at the first chapter of Losing Hope is provided.
I think that covers most of the questions I’ve heard, but if you think of something else just send me an email or leave me a comment.  One more thing that goes, almost, without saying.  Thank you so much for your continued support and for reading, not just Losing Beauty but everything.  Reading is the best kind of vicious circle.  The more you read, the more demand is created, thereby ensuring continued quality reading material.  You keep reading and, rest assured, I'll keep writing!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Nip & Tuck

A friend of mine, who will go unnamed but she knows who she is, recently mentioned she was thinking of having some work done. 

"But what would you have done?" I asked.  "Because you already look great."  This wasn't said to reassure her.  She really does look great.

"Oh, you know.  A nip here, a tuck there.  I could go to a spa and come out looking refreshed and rejuvenated."

"I don't think you'll like spa food," I told her.  I mean, I know about these things because at the Garth household we are assiduous readers of Paddington Bear and there's that one chapter where he goes to the spa.  Long story short, Paddington finds spa food is tasteless and served in insufficient amounts.  He smuggles in jars of marmalade, distributes it to the spa patrons and mayhem ensues.  Which, come to think of it, sort of describes every Paddington Bear story.  Anyway, point is, I am practically a leading expert on spa food!

"Johanna," she said raising her eyebrows.  "Spa food is amazing."

I didn't think she would buy my Paddington Bear theory so instead I tried another tack.  "It's surgery.  You know that, right?  I mean, every time you have surgery there's a chance something could go wrong."  I would have added the possibility of syringes being sewn back inside her skin or googled horrible botched facelifts but she already gives me a hard time about my obsession with avian flu.

"Maybe you're right," she said and our conversation moved on, but because I'm me, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  Why would my fit, attractive friend consider, even for a moment, going under the knife?  And on a broader spectrum, what does our cultural obsession with plastic surgery and youth say about us as individuals and as a society?  Putting aside the feminist, medical and self-esteem issues, let's focus on the practical.  From a purely practical standpoint, most plastic surgery I've seen looks plastic, as in fake.  Even the best work results in a face that doesn't match the rest of the body.  When we lived in Manhattan my Park Avenue dermatologist encouraged me to start early with a little botox so any lines I might be developing wouldn't be noticeable.  "It's the gift you give yourself," she promised.  "And your husband will thank you later."  Clearly, she didn't understand that my husband is the kind of guy who does a happy dance whenever I manage to use a coupon. 

There was one thing my dermatologist was right about though.  I am getting lines around my eyes.  It's true, I'm not as young as I was ten years ago.  The things is, I'm quite certain there's still no surgical process to magically turn back the clock and restore my youth.  Even if there was, would I want it?  The last ten years have produced two children and hundreds of thousands of words.  That would be a lot to give up just to get rid of a few wrinkles.  In the end, why not just accept that we're getting older and do it in style, a style that doesn't resemble Malibu Barbie.  That being said, if you (or my very good friend) decide to go through with it, I'll bring over some Matzoh Ball soup and tell you you look ten years younger, because cooking and being a supportive friend are two other things that I've gotten better at in the last ten years.