How to Wrap a Gift in the Car

My husband cranes his neck around the huge box balanced in my lap.
“Babe, I can’t see my mirror.”

“Hang on.” I’m intent on unrolling the gift wrap around the box without creasing it, slightly car sick from concentrating so hard.

The GPS lady reminds me that our destination is coming up in 700 feet as I cut a jagged edge on the gift wrap. I cringe, but there’s no time to fix it.

“Urgh- Why’d you have to get the Diaper Genie?”

He glances over at me.
“There’s no way you’ll make it. You want me to park in the back?”

I ignore him and pull out these sticky dots I’d bought on impulse.

I dab a few in a line and before you know it I had a wrapped gift!

“Hey, it’s not bad!” He says as he tucks the gift and its lopsided bow under one arm. I catch his free hand as we walk towards the door.

“Yeah, not bad, those little sticky dots were a life saver. And there’s no damage to the box in case she needs to return it.”

“Why would she return my gift?”

“I’m just saying. Sometimes people get two of the same gift.”

But, of course, nobody else got the Genie (which he smugly pointed out on the way back to the car).

Here are my tips for wrapping a gift in the car.

  1. Start as soon as possible.
  2. Consider parking in the back and wrapping the gift on the seat like you would change a baby’s diaper in a pinch.
  3. Buy the sticky dots!
  4. Spend extra on the gift wrap with the grid pattern on the back.
  5. Buy a gift that actually fits in a gift bag and totally save yourself the trouble.
  6. Strategically place the bow over the spot you missed when you cut the paper too short.
  7. And place your gift at the back/ bottom of the gift pile for good measure.

Happy Wrapping!

In which I initiate a conversation with a stranger.

So I’m trying to do more things that land in what is called “the growth zone”. The growth zone is the area just outside your comfort zone that will cause personal growth.

We went on a cruise this month (!) and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to stretch into my growth zone. I did quite a few things that I don’t normally do during this trip, and one of those was talking to strangers and people I don’t know very well.

My husband is really good at striking up conversations with new people, but for me this is a skill that is often negated by my shyness. My tendency to be ultra private compounds things even further. Often when we meet people he gets the conversation going then I chime in with a punchline or a story and pretty soon all of us are laughing.

But on my own it is an awkwardly different story. Like awkward as an artform.

So back to the cruise ship. I was determined to practice talking to people on my own. Everyone in our party was clustered around the three-hand poker table and through my boredom of watching chips and cards shufflle across a felt-top table, I noticed an opportunity.

I ambled over to the bar by myself and slid into an empty seat. I turned to the lady next to me and struck up a coversation- yes, totally borrowing my husband’s lines- by asking her who she was cruising with and if she’d ever cruised before.

Yes, she had cruised before and this time she was here with her husband. I mentioned coming with my family then listened politely while she hashed on about husbands and kids.

Sensing drunk beligerence approaching, I steered the conversation back towards the trip. What excursions was she doing at port?

I was both really excited yet on the fence about checking out the Mayan temples of Tulum. It could be the experience of a lifetime or I could condem my family to excruciating boredom while everyone else in our group lived it up at the beach. Maybe she knew something about them.

Instead she’s like,
“The Mayan temples, huh? When my husband and I get off in Mexico, we’re gonna find us some prescription pills. That’s our excursion.”

I’m not sure how my husband would’ve handled that, but I just nodded politely and asked her what she was drinking. Then I ordered one from the bartender and soon excused myself back to the safety of three-hand poker.

Everyone asked me where I’d been and I told them. They all laughed at the absurdity of my conversation at the bar.

But later, at the Mexican port, there was totally a place called Deli and Drugs. As we passed it on our way to the t-shirt shop, I wondered if my barmate was holed up in there with her hubby, filling up on Reubens while they filled her bottles with pills.

Does the idea of talking to strangers terrify you or enthrall you? If it is your thing, what kind of tips and suggestions do you have for an introvert like me? Although it made me feel awkward, unsure and uncomfortable, I will say one thing: it made a hell of a good story.

Famsgiving and Thanksgiving

Hey! Can you believe Thanksgiving is next week? Where did the first half of this month get off to?
This year my friend/ sister-in-law and I are splitting the cooking and coming together with our respective families. This means more food with less work (plus more wine 😆). I am excited and grateful to share this meal with my family and friends.
We usually go to my mother-in-law’s house but she is traveling over ther holidays and instead opted to host one of those uber-trendy early meals that bloggers dub “Friendsgiving” but I’m calling her version “Famsgiving” because it was family, not friends.
The food was delicious, the kids (9 of ’em! 😮) had a blast with balloons and a kiddie conga line, and every lady in attendance brought a bottle of my favorite wine, Moscato.

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Puerto Rican holidays have a different selection of sides served up with the turkey than the traditional green bean casserole, so we had our turkey with a pasta salad and the World’s Best Rice. Ask anyone who’s tried it and they will agree, my MIL’s arroz con gandules is the. freaking. best. It was lots of fun and lots of yum.
I’m pretty sure we won’t have such a lively celebration, since we won’t be topping off the night with salsa dancing and conga drums, but there will be green bean casserole, gravy, and candied yams, so a good time is still guaranteed!
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Do you prefer the traditional meal or does your family have their own unique traditions?

Should adults have screen time limits like our kids do?

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Should adults limit screen time?

Home and tired after a fun, full day at a local amusement park, Zoomers. I didn’t take any pictures because for once we left the phones in the car. Since I almost always work on Sundays it is rare that we get this kind of quality time together, so we were intent on being in the moment, and a big part of th was leaving the biggest distraction out of the equation.
And guess what? We had a great time.
We waved at the girls as they passed by on their go carts, joined them on the midway rides, played games together in the arcade and made real memories. Way better that twiddling our thumbs on tiny screen or force freezing fake memories that our phones would remember better than us.

It got me thinking about how pediatricians recommend that we limit our children’s screen time, but our own healthcare providers don’t recommend he same for us.
So I’ve decided to impose my own limits. I already limited myself from facebook by uninstalling the app a few moths ago, but I’ve noticed that anytime I’m bored or idle, my hands go straight for the phone.
I am not sure how crazy my husband would be about this idea, honestly, but I would like to see us let the phones go at least one afternoon per week in order to be fully present with our kids and in our little family adventures. It doesn’t even have to be the same day every week, just a day where we are intentionally offline to boost quality time.
I will let you know how it goes, but in the meantime, what about you? Do you enforce limits to your screen time like you do for your kids? Do you find it decreases your stress levels, improves quality time, or makes you more present in the moment to put your phone down? And if you do impose limits, what kind and how often?

Secretly Proud

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The teacher sent a note
I was supposed to be mad
But when it read it
I was secretly glad

She’d been in trouble
For reading during math
She’d been in trouble
For doing what I had

All those years ago
When I was bored in class
How many times had I been caught
With a book in my lap?

I told her gently
That she could read at home
Or even on the bus
But that she must
Show her teacher respect
That Mrs. P worked very hard
On those lessons and tests

My daughter said she would
That she’d never thought of it that way
Then I called my mom
And told her about my day

I knew she’d understand
Cause her bookshelves bulge like mine
And we were secretly proud
And we secretly didn’t mind

Someone Gets You

Talking about my depression. It’s something I rarely do. I prefer not to give additional life to the overwhelming darkness that often consumes my hope, my energy, and my positive thoughts. But while I have three someones to listen to me when the death march gets too loud in my head, maybe you don’t. Or maybe you just think you don’t (which in a depressive mind is often the same thing). So I am here, opening up to you. Talking to you. Because if baring the darkest part of my soul can reach someone else, even just one someone else, then it’s worth it.

My Story

Depression became my lifelong companion in high school. I was on Spring Break, freshman year, when the phone rang at 2am. Even though it was a house phone, I swear it rang with a different tone. A tone of foreboding.

News of the worst kind. News that my teenage nightmares were made of. Even before anyone said it, it was like I already knew. My mom couldn’t bring herself to do it. My older brother- the one that hid all my baby teeth in his closet and all his spare change under my pillow, just so I could believe in the tooth fairy back in second grade- took my arm and got down to my level.

“Dad had a heart attack. He didn’t make it.”

My world turned in a way only death and loss can spin it. Like riding a rollercoaster you were only pretending to be brave enough for. But there is no getting off this ride. Because even when  you finally set your feet on the ground, your equilibrium continues to wobble.

My dad was my bestest best friend. For a girl that had a hard time making friends with people that exsisted outside of books, the deep conversations at the table with him were my life force. He loved me. Not only that, he got me.

You never know how much a person can hold a group together until they are gone. He was not a perfect man. We were not a perfect family. But when he died, those left behind became individuals, no longer a sum of all parts. Now we were just apart.

Looking back I realize that the three of us were fighting the same battle, each in our own isolated way. But as a 15 year old girl, I just saw more loss when my brother moved away and my mother tried to move on.

Me, I turned to drugs, to black eyeliner, and to more books. More and more books. And notebooks. Countless words in countless journals.

I did eventually crawl out of that dark hole. I met my best friend, my soul sister, a woman that I am so, so lucky to still have in my life. (I love you, girl!) I had a shining senior year with a letterman jacket, a high gpa, and an acceptance letter to my dream school.

But depression is an internal war fought over a series of battles, pryyhic victories that leave your mind littered with crippling negativity and self-destructive behaviors.

Even when it leaves you, its never really gone. I have fought depression again and again in my life. Post partum after I had my twins, and again after I had my son, and again, recently, about something that I am still not ready to talk about.

But though I’ve had to fight again and again, each time I’ve been stronger, and climbed out quicker than before. You can do this too. Know that every time you fight, you are stronger than last time. Know that you are a survivor and that makes you awesome. And that someone gets you.

Someone gets you. If you take nothing else, take this one statement with you. When your mind taunts you, remember someone gets you. You are not alone in feeling alone. I am here, fighting.

Tomorrow I will be back with a list of what works for me when I feel alone. I’m waiting til tomorrow because I want to take the time to write it right, for you. Because you are important to me. So I’ll see you tomorrow, but I’ll be thinking about you all day.

Because Reading is Winning

When I was in the eighth grade, they introduced a school-wide Accelerated Reader contest.

“… And at the end of the year there will be an assembly to announce the winners and give them their prizes!”

You’d think they announced a 365-day Christmas, I had never been more excited about something.For me, reading was the prize, but a prize for the prize?

I already walked the hallways hugging a book and passed the long bus rides reading, but this sparked an obsession.

All year, all the time, I was reading. In line at the cafeteria, walking the halls, during class. I gave up my lunch and breakfast recesses to be in the library. Every Friday afternoon, I made a beeline to the library to snatch two books to take home for the weekend before the bus left me (indeed, the bus driver had to wait for me a couple of times).

I read so many books.

One of my classmates saw me with yet another book one day.
“How many points is that one worth?”
“Hmm?”
I looked up from my book, but it took awhile to register her question.
“Oh, I don’t know.” I flipped the front cover open. “Two.”
She scoffed, shaking her head.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
She pulls a thick volume out of her bag.
“This is worth 16 points.”

I looked from her book to mine. I was not convinced; I knew for a fact her book was really boring. Why would I take the pleasure out of reading just to win?

When the end of the year assembly came, my classmate, with her few dozen big, boring books, came in first. I came in second.

You might think I was disappointed, but I was extremely proud of my accomplishment. Third place was over 100 points away and though my classmate had set out specifically to beat me, the bookworm of the school, she only just passed me by 15 points.
Plus, I had read a ton of books, hundreds. As my classmate had pointed out, many of them were not worth very may points, but to me they were worth more because I read them for the pleasure and the challenge. To come in second for doing something I loved and that I was going to do anyway was amazing. Besides, I had surpassed my reading quota from last year by a landslide. At this is age, I was still only competing with myself.

Looking back, I am impressed by my youthful attitude towards failure and success. Would my grown up self be able to accept an internal accolade so genuinely? Or would the external second place overshadow the internal best? I hate to think that my 8th grade self was more mature than my almost thirty year old self.

But its a good lesson to take from my younger self: In the pursuit of passion, never let the winning overtake the pleasure, and never deny a win, no matter what it looks like.

readinghappy

As one of my prizes, I received one of those big, red Webster’s dictionaries. This was actually a big deal for a poor little reader/writer like me. In the days of Y2K, a collegiate dictionary was a must-have addition to a home library, but we couldn’t afford one. As I stood up on the platform hugging my prize, I remember thinking that I had earned it, deserved it, won it fair and square, without cheating the system, and without compromising my love of reading by reading boring shit.

“Why are you still reading?”
“Hmm?”
My classmate was squinting down at me in the midday sun.
“I said why are you still reading? The contest is over.”
I stared up incredulously.

Some people will never understand.

Oh NOW you tell me

There is this piece of art that has been hanging around my house for years. My husband’s best friend gave it to us when he moved away.

And I hate it.

Spring Is In The Air II

Not the actual art itself. It’s the color scheme. Matching it to anything in my house was impossible. So we painted the walls this orange color and I bought a gray and blue comforter hoping to tie everything together.

And it kinda worked. Except it turns out that the piece doesn’t hang well anymore so it fell off of three different walls before being shoved behind the sofa.

Months later, I stumble on it in one of those cleaning frenzies I get.  I take it out and put it on my desk behind my monitor. I don’t know what compels me to put a piece of uninspiring art right in my face in my creative work space. It isn’t long before the cursor is blinking but I’m not.

That stupid picture.

I spy a Good Housekeeping magazine on my desk. It makes me think of the mantra I adopted for this year: Good Things are Going to Happen. And true to my random self, I grab some scissors and some washi tape and add Good Things to the middle.

I smile. It already looks better.

It is not really that random for me to turn this into a collage. When I was in high school, I spent the better half of one summer papering an entire wall and half of two others with a collage clipped from my stack of Cosmos.

My mom walked in on me one day (as a teen, she rarely came in my room except to remind me to clean it) and saw that shit spreading across the walls. She dead stopped in the doorway and let out a strangled, “What are you doing?”  I turned from my creation, staple gun in one hand, “I’m making a collage.” And my mom, bless her creative heart, she just blink-blink-blinked and left the room. (Thank you mom, for letting me be me!)

But a little washi tape collage is no big deal. Like my mom that day, my husband says nothing of my improvements to his friend’s canvas when he notices them.

So then a few weeks later, I want to add to the canvas, but I can’t find the washi tape.

So I glue my new pieces on.

Then I read this fantastic article and I am inspired to scrawl Write with Whimsy on the top corner with a Sharpie.

My husband comes home.

“You know Harv paid like $200 for this?”

I turn to look at him. Blink-blink-blink, “What?”

“Yeah, he and his roommate split it.”

I scoff at him. “Yeah right.”

My husband is a notorious exaggerator, but I google the artist anyway. I find her at Art.com. So I type in the size and…

$227.

Dammit.

Collage On Canvas
#pricelessart

But as I look up from the monitor at it, I don’t feel bad for it’s fate. On display with adjustments is better than stuffed behind a sofa. And if the point of art is to inspire someone, well then I say this piece is priceless now, because it inspires me every single day.

(I just want to mention that I really don’t have anything against this artist or her work. In fact, as I was hunting for the price tag, I noticed this piece, this piece, and especially this piece that I’d love to own by the exact same artist.)

If the earth is round how did I fall off the edge?

Yes, its been ages. Where have I been? Wrapped up in my life, guys. The last few months have been bleak, challenging, and devasting, but I am grateful for how much I’ve grown, learned, changed and strengthened.

One of the questions I often bemoaned to God during this time was “Why?” I really didn’t understand.

And one day, as I took out the trash and bitterly wondered “Why?” again, God sent me a sign.

There in the grass, in my path, was a perfect, gray feather. I had just read about feathers as signs the night before and the sight of one just as that question formed in my mind illicited a gasp.

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I bent over to pick up the feather, and it had a perfect quill tip. For a writer like me, the message couldn’t have been more clear.

“Why, Celeste? Because you are to write.”

That message stopped my bitterness right in its tracks. And again, I appreciated the irony, because I had been asking for motivation and inspiration to write, and oh, did He give it to me in spades. In painful, painful spades.

It never looks like you thought it would.

But I always try to look at the plus side of any situation, and not only have I come out stronger on the other side of this, but I have a sheaf of 35 poems that I wrote during that dark time.

And these poems, maybe I will never publish them or even show them to anyone (or heck, even read them again- so much pain) but they mean something. They are special. Because they showed me that even in times of great pain, I am a writer. They showed me that writing is more than just a thing I want to do, it is part of what I am.

I am a writer. Maybe I need more practice, more experience, more time. But I am a writer. I will never doubt that again. This pain taught me that. And that makes it beautiful. That makes it worth it.

Drafting and Drawing

Happy Saturday!

Are you enjoying your weekend? I just finished reading Inkspell. I’m looking forward to finishing the series but I picked these up at a second hand book shop and she didn’t have the third one. And of course, the second one ended on a cliffhanger!

So I promised I’d share a little sketch I made as part of my- I guess we can call it prewriting- process.

I preface this with a disclaimer: I’m not an illustrator. I just drew up a little sketch to help me visualize.

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Little story:

I was sitting at my desk working on a different project and as I cast around in my mind for an idea, my eyes cast around the room and landed on a puzzle I had jammed into the bookcase. Something about the image on the side caught my eye.

I pulled the box off the shelf to get a closer look at the picture on it.

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This! I thought to myself as I rubbed my hand over the surface. Something like this.

And I pulled open my special notebook.

“This” is Noah’s Ark by Chris Thompson. And it just had a close feel for what I was imaging. What I picture is simpler still, with softer edges, like the boat featured in The Going To Bed Book. Ooh and check out this link for an app version of that best selling book!

Let me digress to just say that not only do I love this book (and my twins loved this book) but I am super excited to see a book as an app! I have an idea for an app for the series that I am working on that kids would love. With pottermore and now apps like this opening doors, this dream of mine could become a reality!

But back to the puzzle. I especially liked shape of the boat, (but again, softer) the flags, and the one patchwork sail. I also really appreciate this artist’s imagination. There are two other puzzles in the box that are just as spectacular.

So I used this image as a bit of a model. I even edited the poem several times, first to add the patchwork sails, then I decided they were too busy and I cut that line out again.

Instead of the patchwork sails I think something similar to a coloful circus tent would be best. But like I said, I’m not an illustrator, and that little drawing took me a long time. The idea of creating another with my new specifications felt daunting at the time.

Now that I know I’m done with Le Cirque, I might do another one if the mood strikes me. I bought a sketchpad and I’ve been practicing a little in the evening.

So that’s the sketch. The next post will be about editing Sailing Le Cirque. Then after that, I will post the final piece.

Well I’m off to sit in a wading pool and drink spiked lemonade while my kids splash grassy water in my face. #liveitup

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