Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wine and Ice Cream

Writing Prompt: Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Writing Time: 30 minutes

I’m wearing my favorite dress. A sleeveless, kelly green sundress with a V neckline. It’s been one of those weeks: long hours, overbooked obligations, a headache that never fully goes away. I know I’ll survive and be no worse for wear (assuming a good night's sleep or two). Still, it’s Thursday now and I feel I haven’t taken a proper breath since Sunday. It is undoubtedly a green dress, comfortable flats, braided hair, glass of wine with no one around kind of night. I need to slow down. I need to think a few rambling thoughts. 

I walk five blocks to the best wine bar in town. It's the best not because of its wine selection - which is only a bit above average - but its atmosphere. I order a bruschetta appetizer and a glass of chardonnay then seat myself in a wicker chair on the patio. It’s dusk and the automatic lamps around the seating area come on one at a time, a pause between each as if they are politely taking turns. Through the yellow glow, I watch a classical guitarist play. His eyes are closed as his upper body sways with the rhythm of his fingers on the strings. The background vocal is the low tide waves of the lake licking the beach across the boardwalk. There are only three other patrons dispersed around the patio.

The ice cream shop next door is crowded though, as it should be on an idyllic summer night like this. I keep one ear tuned to the guitarist and one ear to the giddy hum of the families indulging in homemade, hand dipped ice cream. The combination is unexpectedly rejuvenating.

I hear the scrape of a chair on the sidewalk somewhere behind me. I don’t think much of it until I sense someone close to me. The loss of the solitude of my spot causes me to stiffen a little in my chair. I sip my wine, ignoring whomever is outside the short fence surrounding the patio.

“I’ll pass you an ice cream cone if you’ll sneak me a glass of pinot noir.”

The nearness of the voice is startling. I continue to ignore.

"What could be better than wine and ice cream?"

I move finally, ready to dismiss this stranger, but as I turn my head and lean my shoulder toward the fence, he leans forward. In his hand is a chocolate peanut butter, double scoop waffle cone. It meets my bare shoulder and I feel the top scoop instantaneously melt into liquid on my skin. The contact with my shoulder pushes the cone down into the man’s fist. It cracks, ice cream dripping over his fingers. His expression is so stunned, so regretful, I laugh aloud despite myself.

“Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry.” He pulls a stack of tiny napkins out of the pocket of his jeans and tries to mop up the chocolate mess on my arm. Meanwhile his other hand is covered in ice cream that runs off the curve of his wrist to fall to a small puddle on the sidewalk. “I did not think this through. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

I’m still quietly laughing, dumbfounded, trying not to panic over the ice cream that has reached my favorite dress. I hold my arm straight out, unsure of the best move to make. The man dashes into the ice cream shop for more napkins. He has long legs and a lean build. He’s back by my side in no time. When our eyes meet, his face turns red.

“What was that about?" I ask.

“Honestly?” He raises an eyebrow, scratches at his temple. “I had this whole scenario play out in my head. That’s not how it was supposed to go.”

I can’t help wanting to know more but I need to clean up. Excusing myself, I do what I can in the wine bar’s small restroom. My shoulder is still a tad sticky and I have counted five spots on my dress I’ll need to take care of at home. I expect to be alone again when I return to the patio and my glass of wine, but the man is still there. He has sat down in the chair he’d dragged over, only the diminutive fence and a couple feet of summer air between us.

He smiles tentatively when I sit down. “I’m Eli.”

“I’m Harper.”

We shake hands over the fence. The whole encounter is surreal and I am more and more surprised at my ease with each passing second.

I swallow the last of my chardonnay. There are two pieces of bruschetta toast left. I pass one to Eli and keep the other. “Are you going to tell me how it was supposed to go?”

He clears his throat, amusement lightening his expression. The lamps gleam in his brown eyes. “I was supposed to ask you to bring me a glass of wine. I was supposed to find out your favorite ice cream flavor and bring a dish of it for you. We were supposed to laugh over our clandestine exchange. We’d talk. We’d take a walk. I’d get your number and give you mine. Tomorrow we’d go out.”

I respond with a laugh straight from my belly. Eli has lost his embarrassment and grins at me. “Instead you smacked my shoulder with your ice cream and stained my favorite dress.”

“It’s still a great dress.”

“Are you a hopeless romantic or just a flirt?”

“I prefer romantic optimist.”

“Well, you’re something. I’ll give you that.”

He frowns when I stand up, my bill in my hand to pay at the bar inside, then he stands up as well.

“Eli, my favorite ice cream is cookies and cream. Maybe I’ll have to treat myself to some tomorrow evening.”

“You should definitely do that, Harper. Tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow night.”


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

There's This One Song

There's this one song, this one single song, that does everything for me that I could possibly need when I listen to it. It holds me like a lullaby. It serenades me like a lover. It moves me like a great work of art. It makes me smile and makes me sigh.

Is it not an incredible privilege that we are designed to experience art in such a manner? And not only that we can comprehend the beauty and genius in art while it inspires emotional reactions and provokes new thoughts, but also that we are each unique in our experiences of it. The song I speak of may have little effect on you. The painting or symphony or film you love dearly, I may not like. The favorite novel, the beloved play, the incredible sculpture, or the enthralling music - they are not the same from one to another. We each have our own "songs" that hold ineffable power over us.

Oh, the glory of such variety in both artists and recipients of art.

When I listen to that song I am thankful we are made in the image of the original Artist. We are His finest work, His masterpieces. In turn then every piece of beauty and creativity that comes forth from humanity is an offshoot of His artistry. I hope there is a piece of art, a reflection of His artwork, that has reached you like this song has me. We are each greater for the "songs" that reach our hearts.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Thank Yous and News! (A Video Blog)

There's a first time for everything! My first video post is here:
If you have five minutes to spare, take a look. I have a message for my readers and a bit of news too!

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Stranger's Hands

She could not look away from his hands. Wide palms; long, sturdy fingers. Strong. They looked capable of holding her, all of her; something she hadn't thought of a man in years.

Three years and twenty-six days. Cora didn't keep track each day. That stopped during the second year. Every few months though, she added it back up. Numbers were a comfort to her; a steadying force reminding her some things made sense. This didn't begin with her husband's death. It was true since she first learned basic mathematics.

Three years and twenty-six days and suddenly (anything new since his death felt sudden), she was staring at a stranger's hands, thinking of how they would feel holding hers across a restaurant table, or on the small of her back, guiding her through a busy airport. Ordinary tasks of her husband's hands. A stranger. At the gym, no less. What was wrong with her?

"Less than yesterday." That's what her sister Tessa would say. Tessa thought Cora should move on. Cora thought Tessa didn't know what she was talking about.

She made up her mind to switch to a different treadmill in a different row, away from the stranger and his capable hands. Tessa's next question would be, "was he attractive?" Cora realized she couldn't have answered. She'd noticed nothing except his hands.

"It's a start," she heard her sister say in her head.

"It's an ending," she whispered as she began to run.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What Is the Book About?

"What is the book about?"
 
I couldn't possibly count the number of times I have heard this question. Sometimes people want a summary of the plot. Other times they are looking for the genre or a succinct synopsis. Easy question to answer, right? Right.
 
As the author, maybe because I am specifically a new author, I find the question difficult. How do I condense this story down to a few simple sentences? This story I've been writing and tweaking and rewriting for almost a decade. These characters I created from scratch and know like my best friends. Their relationships, their dilemmas, their pains and victories. How do I answer that question?
 
Then I stumbled upon this photo from the online magazine, "Verily." I saw it and exclaimed, "That's it!"
"Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice." (St. John Paul II)
 
That right there is my book pared down to one sentence. The theme at the heart of Full of Days is the worthiness of love even when sacrifices are necessary for its existence. That truth is the reason I wrote it. Extending from this theme are the additional claims: that love's worth is essentially increased by those sacrifices and that no authentic love is capable of existing without some sacrifice.
 
In Full of Days, the protagonists experience this truth in varied ways. Sacrifice of pride and of approval. Sacrifice of comfort and security. Sacrifice of self. The latter is the only means for love to thrive. Do not mistake it for a pretty, romantic notion. It is the depth beneath the romance. It is the struggle beneath the prettiness. Self-sacrifice is the sustenance of love.
 
And, oh, the rewards! Freedom gained when pride and fear are rejected. Joys and adventures experienced when security is set aside and faith is boldly chosen. Strength built by arising from sorrow. Yes, my beloved characters experience these too.
 
If there is anything, anything at all, I hope my readers gain from this novel, it is a little less fear of and a little more courage for authentic love.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

I'll Wait

Writing Prompt: Red Shirt
Writing Time: 30 minutes

There was a spot of something on her shirt. A speck of food, maybe. It was too small to tell unless he drew closer. Her shirt was red and the spot was gray. Justin looked away. He wasn't about to be accused of staring at Leah's chest because of a tiny spot of who knew what. She would tease him for weeks. He tried to pay attention. She was speaking with as much grim seriousness as her lovely voice allowed.

Leah's voice really was lovely. Justin could not think of a better word. Like she was on the verge of singing every time she spoke. It was distracting, just like that spot on her red blouse.

He moved his eyes to the tumbler of whiskey in front of him. She still filled his peripheral view and the whiskey was only background color to her movements. Lifting her wine glass to her dry lips. Pushing her hair off her cheek. She set her drink down too hard. The wine sloshed up the curve of the glass, a single drop escaping over the top to slide down toward the stem.

"Don't you have any thoughts at all, Justin?"

So many.

He didn't admit that. "When have you ever taken my advice?" He said it with a smile that reached neither his eyes nor his tone.

"I'm sure it happened once."

She smiled now. That smile would be the end of him someday. Once it lit her face, he felt desperate to do anything, say anything, to stop it from disappearing.

"You can't leave."

Her mouth abandoned the smile to form a small O of surprise. Justin regretted it instantly. She'd want an explanation.

"It's his dream job. I can't ask him to stay." Leah took another sip of wine.

"I didn't say you should ask him to stay." What was he doing? If the tumbler was empty he might have something to blame. His hand shook when he lifted his still full drink so he set it back down and pressed his fist into the polished wood of the bar.

"Justin."

Her almost-singing voice was sad. Or scared. Justin wasn't sure which but he could not meet her eyes after she said his name that way. It sounded like a rejection wrapped up in a mere six letters, two syllables.

"Are you hungry? Let's order some food."

"Justin."

He shook his head. "I'm hungry."

"Me too," she whispered as she placed her finger tips under his chin to move his face in her direction. They both jumped when her phone rang. She dropped her hand.

"Damn it." He reached his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, more roughly than he intended. She slipped off her barstool and stood, leaning her hip against his knee. Every coherent thought left his head as their lips met. Then one single reality reached him: she was kissing him back. Her hand was on the back of his head. Her smooth skin was warm against his end of day stubble. Justin started to stand as well when she broke the kiss.

Leah stayed in the curve of his arm, her eyes still closed. He held his breath. She laid her palms on his chest and he knew she could feel his heart pounding through his shirt.

"How long have you wanted to do that?"

He laughed quietly, placing a light kiss on her forehead. When she finally opened her eyes, he replied, "May 17, 2002."

Confusion wrinkled her forehead for a moment then she smiled too. "The end of year party in your dorm?"

"The day we met."

"15 years, practically."

Her phone rang again and she stepped toward it. He groaned a little for the loss of her nearness.

"I have to take this." Leah didn't meet his eyes when she said it. She was chewing her lip the way he knew so well; the way she did when there was a decision to be made.

"I'll wait."

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

To Annabelle, Now and Every Tomorrow


Dear Annabelle,

Look at you. Football jersey, princess slippers, can't-sleep-without-them animals, and a smile brighter than a sunbeam. Lunging at me in jubilation. Certain I will embrace you. Certain I will laugh with you. 

You didn't see it but last night as I laid you in your crib, relaxed and content after our mutual favorite lullaby, there were tears in my eyes. You didn't notice the catch in my voice as I said goodnight. Something in the sight of you at that moment clarified reality. You are finishing up being my baby. You are ready to be my little girl instead. My little girl who will grow into my big girl and my young lady. The realization filled my chest with a wave of panic. The wave passed, swept out into the ocean of mixed emotions in a mother's heart as she watches her child change right before her eyes. There's no stopping you and so there are some things I must say before my voice isn't the one you're most eager to hear every morning, noon, and night.

Your face in this photo, along with a million instances of the privilege I have to see your smile, gives me a flash into the future. I am convinced you will be a woman who is "clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come" (Proverbs 31:25). Please don't lose that light that fills your features. Keep your hair out of your gorgeous eyes, so you can see clearly but also so you may better be seen. You ought to be seen. When you feel the kick of an urge to smile at someone across the room, the way you do for me, don't resist it. You have no idea the kindness it is to offer that smile to another. And the way you never doubt that I and your Daddy will hear your calls? Have that confidence in your heavenly Father and the days to come won't be able to silence your laughter.

The time will come when you doubt this so I'll try to remind you of it often: you are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14). Your soul, your mind, your body. Every aspect of the whole Annabelle is a wondrous gift from God. Do not belittle any part of that gift, nor listen to those who would try to tell you otherwise. Know that you deserve what is true and beautiful and good, then seek it out fervently.

Among my greatest hopes for you is that you become a woman who, like the very breath and wisdom of God, "is more precious than rubies, and nothing [anyone might] desire can compare to her" (Proverbs 3:15). Your character is a wellspring of untold worth. The potential for generosity and kindness, humor and boldness, passion and earnestness, understanding and creativity - unearth that treasure, my girl. Every person you touch will be better for it and you will pass your years living instead of waiting to live.

Be the princess you are, Annabelle, and be that only in the truest sense of the title. Be a daughter of the King. There is "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:4), Annabelle. Rather than sacrifice it for anyone, be a reason they look for theirs too. Seek the good of every soul that crosses your path. Know your worth and convince others of theirs. 

I love you.

Mamma