Saturday, June 28, 2014

Once Upon A Time, I Was 'Very Sure' ...

One of the many, many, many things that I love about my niece is that her idea of a good time is hanging out at my house on a Friday night and talking for three hours.

She's in the throes of college planning before her senior year. She is a very, very good student and has a very clear sense of what she wants to study. At the moment, however, she does not have a very clear sense of where she wants to go to school. There are contenders, but no school stands apart from the pack. And she hears the clock ticking.

I reassured her that she has, at the very least, the next two months to noodle around with all of this. I also tried to acknowledge that while yes, this is a very big decision, it is not a decision that will be cast in stone.

But she is very much a planner, my niece.

I can relate.

We talked about the ACT and the SAT and the importance – and unimportance – of test scores. They are one component, I reminded her, not the sole point on which any admissions officer will base a decision.

And as we talked, I thought about my own scores, pretty sure that I still had them in a file, tucked away.

So today, I looked.

Yep. Lower drawer, all the way in the back. My past.

What a trip, this glimpse into the time when I was 16 years old and "very sure" of what my future held.

Some of it made me laugh.

Recently, I reviewed the layout of the book of one of my clients, a doctor. I created a rather lengthy list of tweaks for her to share with her publisher. She cc:d me on a very nice note to the woman who had introduced the two of us. She wrote, in part, this: "Just wanted to let you know that when Beth read over the Interior Layout proof of my book, I decided she could also be a pathologist or a diagnostic radiologist or a forensic investigator. She can see things that the average person cannot."

Today, looking at my ACT results, I saw this:

I had forgotten about my radiology plan. It was secondary to my pre-med plan.

I am, of course, neither a doctor nor a radiologist. But I'm smiling, thinking that I've retained the trait that would have made me a good one. I've simply put it to another use.

At the time, though, I was very sure about medicine:


On the SAT, I was very certain. Leave it to the SAT to use "certain" instead of "sure."


I'm amused at my self-professed need for help with math skills. At least I knew that much about myself.

And I love that I wanted to go to a school that had programs for vocal music and student government.

I started singing in grade school. I sang in junior high. I sang in high school. I continue to sing today.

I was never a part of student government, but I like that it interested me as I headed into college.

If I had it all to do over again, I would major in political science.

Of that I am very certainly sure.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good Times: Summer Begins Edition ...

I felt the need to bake ... . Yep, summer officially arrived and my brain said, "Hey, turn on your oven!"

And I really do love creating cookies for Angelo's blog, and I'm not sure why I never thought of this hybrid before, but now I have.

Allow me to introduce you to snickerdoodle sablés.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Messages, Messages Everywhere ...

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend. I can't remember the context of a particular part of the conversation, but singing came up.

As in, my love of it and my fear of it.

Speaking in front of a group of hundreds of people? Piece of cake for me.

Singing in front of a few? Whoa, somebody get me a Scotch.

At the end of the evening, he said, "Sing in front of people."

I smiled at him.

"You're not going to, are you?"

"I'll work on it," I said.

To begin with, I told myself, I can start going to open-mic nights again, if only to hang out and start mustering up the courage.

And then, a couple of days ago, I saw this inside my Dove wrapper:

Hmm. Yes, I should do that. Though there's really no "discovering" to be done. There's "doing" to be done. I really want to sing.

And then, yesterday, an email popped up from a new client, subject line: "Random side note" with this inside:

"Your voice is STUNNING! (Yeah, I just lurked around on your website, I admit it!) Absolutely gorgeous!"

And then, last night, before I went to bed, I can't even remember if I was reading something online or watching something on TV, but I started crying (I'm a bit more emotional than usual these days) and said to myself, out loud, "I have to sing."

And then, last night, I had a dream about my friend Briggetta, whom I met in a voice class at The Old Town School of Folk Music and with whom I performed a song at Davenport's as part of a class outing, and in the dream, we agreed that we'd start taking Gwen's class together again.

And then, this morning, I had another bite of Dove, and found this:

OK, Universe, message received.

Perhaps life will be a bit more normal on Monday.

Perhaps I'll hang out at Davenport's.

Perhaps I'll even sing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

For The Love Of Words ...

I blame the Puritans.

Somehow, despite my not be raised by Puritans, their damn work ethic bored its way into my brain: Work must feel like work – arduous, exhausting – I thought; anything less didn't count.

I tried the arduous and exhausting path.

It was not fun.

And so, I have since exorcised the Puritanical way of thinking and instead started constructing a life that I find much more rewarding.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about book coaching, a new offering in the new year, part of Michele Woodward Consulting.

In the post, I recount my experience with editing The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch and my dearly departed friend Jeff Zaslow.

This is what Jeff inscribed in my copy:

Beth, I am completely grateful to you for the advice, editing, cheerleading, and creative input you gave for this book. I remember being very unsure of where this was going, and I appreciated your clear-eyed skill at pointing me the right way. This book is better because of you. I am proud to be your friend.

I was very touched to read that that the night he wrote it. It didn't dawn on me until this past year that his inscription is the book-coaching recommendation to end all book-coaching recommendations.

I really love helping people talk through their projects and I really love helping them work through the nuts and bolts of editing and proofreading and formatting.

Starla Fitch, M.D., author of the soon-to-be-released Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine, recently wrote to Michele:

Just wanted to let you know that when Beth read over the Interior Layout proof of my book, I decided she could also be a pathologist or a diagnostic radiologist or a forensic investigator. She can see things that the average person cannot. And, it is going to make my book a better read for my clients, which is awesome. Thanks again for the referral.

I've edited titles of fiction, business, and wellness, too.

I've also connected with a client who's in need of help with writing for her job. I look forward to our weekly calls to discuss pieces she has in progress and to talk about ways to make her writing more lively and clear.

I credit my mom with my love of language. She taught me how to print my name when I was 3. And I've been writing ever since. She also read to me and encouraged me to read and set a fine example: Mom sitting on the couch reading is one of the indelible images of my childhood. She was a big fan of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. They looked very nice on our bookshelves after she had read them.

If you need someone to help you get your book project moving in earnest, I'm here. Let’s talk about what’s holding you back. Let’s talk through the areas that you feel aren’t working. Let’s work on an outline and a writing schedule so you can put into the world the things you most want to convey. Or, let's talk about your challenges with the nuts and bolts of writing. Or your need for editing. Or formatting. Or proofreading.

You can find more information and contact me about your project here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pondering ...

My father is in the hospital, which I reveal not to elicit sympathy or concern but rather to set up the "What's it all about?"-ness of this post.

Time is warped inside a hospital. And focus is checked at the door for anything that is not related to the situation at hand. I found myself watching golf in one of the waiting rooms. I don't watch golf in any other moment of my life. But I found myself strangely intrigued by the skill of the cameraman (or -woman) who captures the ball in flight.

Boredom and worry become fast friends and pursuits arise, such as venturing down to the cafeteria to check out the day's soup. (Thursday: turkey vegetable. Friday: chicken noodle.)

But "normal" life, the day-to-day-ness that we take for granted until it's interrupted, continues beyond the hospital campus, and so it was that I found myself on Friday morning, about 10 hours after speaking with Dad's surgeon, standing at the edge of a field, staring at the vastness of the pristine blue sky and thinking about Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Mom's car was scheduled for an oil change well before Dad ended up in his present situation, so I drove to the hospital, met up with her in his room, stepped out into the hall to receive an update, swapped keys, left the hospital, got into her car, adjusted her seat and steering wheel and mirrors, and drove to our mechanic's garage, which is on the same property as his home, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere, hence the vastness of the sky.

He was helping someone diagnose a problem – which he did, and refused any money for it, because that's who he is – and I stood by Mom's car, noticing the windmill I'd never noticed on his property before – the kind you see on farms, not the kind you see as cookies – and wondering what, if anything, it powered, and looking at the blue sky, thinking about pictures of Earth from space and how, if someone on the International Space Station, say, was looking down at that moment, or if some satellite was snapping images for the always-creepy Google Earth photos that reveal far too much, that I was a part of what they'd be seeing, me and seven billion other people going about our lives, some awake, some dreaming, some in hospitals, some in offices, at least one standing next to a car adjacent to a field, appreciating the wind.

And I was thinking about the final episode of "Cosmos" that I had just watched the other night and how the final image pulled back until the Earth was just Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot," and wow, yes, in the grand, grand, infinite scheme of it all, things that seem so hugely consequential are truly anything but, except that they are. It's all about scale.

It was a good, grounding moment, a place for my brain to return when I get riled about something, a standard against which to measure an instance and decide whether it's really worth the anger or the fretting.

Scott finished his work on Mom's car and showed me why his garage contains an anvil and he wrote up the bill and I wrote out a check and I headed back to the hospital. Mom and I borrowed some chairs from an office and set up in the hallway where we could keep an eye out for Dad's surgeon if he happened to make rounds, and chatted and snacked and found a few reasons to laugh. Laughter feels a little victory inside a hospital.

This morning, it was nice to wake up and make coffee and listen to the birds and catch up on things online. The grass needs to be cut, boy does it ever. And Dad has been moved off the ICU floor into a regular room. So I'll visit later, once I shower off the aroma of mower exhaust. And Fathers' Day will be spent on unfortunate furniture (honestly, who designs those fabrics?) in a small room and if his dinner consists of Jell-O that will be a big deal. (He hasn't eaten since Tuesday morning.)

And Monday will, with hope, bring some sense of routine with it and I'll resume client work and break away for a visit to his room, grateful that my life is such that that's possible.

And onward we go. Spinning faster than we can fathom and not quite standing still.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Hello, Iris ...

... my lovely, sculptural friend.

Thanks, Mom.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Worth Saving ...

I love the doors in my house.

They are not original. They were rescued from a renovation in another state. They were coated with years of paint and destined for the construction bin.

I did not do the rescuing. That was the doing of the previous owner of this house. But I can do the appreciating. And I do. Some days more than others. Some days, I look up from where I'm sitting and appreciate just how lovely they are and how glad I am that they didn't end up in a landfill or put through an industrial shredder. Perhaps someone along the line would have recognized them for their worth. But all of that is moot, as they'll enjoy a long and happy life here.

I'm always a bit baffled by people who want homes that are cookie-cutter and new. Why do they want granite countertops, I wonder, when there are so many more interesting options from which to choose? New construction often looks flimsy to me. How long will houses built today last? Will advancements in home-building technology matter when houses are slapped up with such astonishing speed? In former cornfields? Who wants to wait 30 years for trees?

I love the book "The Not-So-Big House." I've written about it before. I'd much rather have a small space with beautiful, timeless appointments than a new build with finishes that will look dated in a few years. Why do people persistt with iridescent glass backsplashes? Backsplashes are forever.

Well, not really. But it's not like snyone wakes up on a Saturday and says, "Hey, let's demo our backsplash and retile it today!" Painting a room? Sure. Tearing out a tile backsplash? Not so much.

Of course, my kitchen is backsplashless. Which is OK, given the position of my sink. My sink is not original. Nor is my countertop. I'd love to replace it someday. But I can assure you that granite will not be on the list. I think soapstone would be nice.

For now, though, I'll just keep admiring my doors.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Weather Gods Have Been Appeased ...

The morning has been dreary. Sodden, really. No sign of sun. Rain, followed by more rain, followed by drizzle, followed by more rain.

I have been resisting the urge to make peanut butter cookies but today's rain wore me down.

They are stupidly simple, go together in a half a minute, and bake nearly as quickly. Twenty minutes, start to finish, assuming you're going to eat a few warm.

Behold:

1 cup peanut butter (I use creamy Jif)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Dump everything into a bowl. Stir to combine. Portion* onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 15 miuntes.** Cool five minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack.

* I use a two-tablespoon cookie scoop.
** Space the oven racks in the upper-third and lower-third positions; halfway through baking, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Lesson From My Childhood ...

I talk to myself.

Usually, I talk to myself as if I'm having a conversation with someone else. Partly, that is a function of having an ear for dialogue. Partly, that is a function of wanting to control situations. And partly, that is a function of simply seeming less nuts.

But this morning, here in this early quiet and light, I started talking about where I grew up. Because of leaves.

The block on which I grew up contained homes differentiated only cosmetically. They were all the same bungalow – ours was slightly taller than the other house because my very smart mother had the builders lay extra courses of brick to raise the height of the basement because my father is tall – and owners added personality through accents. Mom had chosen three opaque green glass blocks – the color of jellied and sugared spearmint leaves – that were set vertically. They were visible inside the house only if you were in the master bedroom closet. Each one featured a minimalist leaf shape – or maybe they were just pointed ovals – and they were set to vary the patttern:

/
\
/

And part of the scrolled railing was painted to match, so our house was "green." Joyce and Shorty's house was "black" and Ava and Ed's house was "beige" and Sharon and Jim's house was "blue" and our house was "green" and on down the block they went.

But what I was really remembering was fall, and raking leaves, and how we kids would rake the leaves into a pile somewhat near the house, and then we'd climb the stairs, sling one leg over the railing and then the other, and turn ourselves to face the pile of leaves, hanging on to the railing behind us.

And what I was really, really remembering was how much time I stood there, deliberating.

Given the height of our house, my feet were at most six feet off the ground as I stood on our porch. But my view made the distance feel much greater. And I would stand there and consider the pile and whether it was really enough ot cushion me and I'd count. And I'd get to the end of my count and I wouldn't jump. So I'd count again.

Thinking about it now, I've spent a lot of my life on "One." I'm comfortable with "One." Maybe even "Two." "Three" is a scary place.

Eventually, I'd get impatient with even myself, and the count changed. It morphed from "One ... two ... three" into a hurried "Andaoneandaoneandaonetwothree."

Writing that just now makes me realize that I gave myself extra "Ones." The comfort of Ones.

Six feet, of course, is not very far down and so the time in the air was a second perhaps.

But this morning, what I'm really remembering is the feeling between the moment of deciding and the moment of letting go.

That moment is everything.

That moment after Three.

That is where I need to go.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Past ...

My father is a saver.

He gets that from his mother, no doubt. She lived through the Depression. We take on the traits of our parents. And so, he saves.

My mother, for the most part, is a tosser. She's not wasteful by any stretch but she has the ability to let go. To some things. Not all.

And so it was yesterday as I helped her sort through some stuff, long-forgotten stashes of – well, let's be honest: crap – that had been saved because, well ... because.

It was a time warp. "Is that a lint brush?" I asked. Yep. Tins of shoe polish, the contents of which were no doubt petrified by now. A cloth measuring tape coming apart all along its lengths, looking like a long-haired woman in a convertible on the highway.

And the small pink box of Ko-Rec-Type. Executive Ko-Rec-Type.

Whoa.

I remember using Ko-Rec-Type, back in the days before technology combined correction film and typewriter ribbon.

I slid the box apart. "Are you sure you want to get rid of this?" I asked my mom sarcastically. "There are still unused sheets." She gave me the look.

I slid the box back together and dropped it back into the bag.

But I had to rescue the Ko-Rec-Type for a wee photo shoot.

I took out the two used sheets and held them up to read what someone had corrected long ago.

Sometimes, these posts write themselves ... .