Category Archives: mayalife

the bedroom is done! Or, what it feels like to finish building your own house, finally, after a decade of work

Last week, we moved into the bedroom.  (Pics below!)

In order to really understand this MONUMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE of this, please step into the Way Back Machine for a brief retrospective.

My wonderful husband/builder broke ground for the yurt in spring 2005.  (A post with some pictures from ground breaking day, so cute.) I was pregnant with Luc and Sophie was this tiny thing.  Ten months later, we moved into the yurt and its attached bathhouse and I had a baby.  Life was full.  A year passed.

In 2007, he built a Goat House and a Chicken Coop (made out of the box the yurt came in) because I had the idea that the toddler kids and I ought to keep goats and chickens (which turned out to be awesome).  He also installed our waterstove system.  In 2008, he built a gorgeous tool shed for his Building Stuff, because this was a construction site we were living in, make no mistake.  Where to put all the tools? Then, surprise, in early 2009 my cousin, Noah, gave us his tiny house and we had it disassembled, transported, and reassembled here, adding to our little compound.  The Noah House needed all new interiors, so my dear husband got to it, hanging sheet rock, laying floors, trimming it out, until we moved into it in August.

(Here is a post I had forgotten about, about building with recycled stuff, which is what all these structures were, except for the yurt itself, kind of cool.)

That was our first five years here.  Don’t forget, my builder also had a full time job, an hour commute, and two babies.  When I look back at all he did, it’s pretty impressive.

But, when we first moved in, we said, “we’re on the five year plan.” Meaning, yes, we knew this yurt/bathhouse combo we started with wasn’t going to work forever for the four of us, and yes, we knew the difficulties of moving into a house, that is, living in a house, that you are currently building…  But within five years, for sure, we’d be done.  We’d be in The House that we had always envisioned.  The yurt was temporary, like a trailer, only prettier.  Five years.  That was The Plan.

But, sheesh, by 2010, after those first five years, we had precious little energy left for house building.  Supercoolhusband was tired.  And he hadn’t even started a “house” yet.  Actually, that idea had eroded away completely.

Lesson learned—and this is important! pay attention future self-builders!—people who want to build their own house themselves have a crap-ton of enthusiasm for the task when we start.  There are Dreams and it’s so Creative and there are so many choices to make and building methods to try.  I know this because that was me.  It’s fun!  But listen: with time, that enthusiasm wanes.  At some point, a year, ten years down the way, you won’t care any more.  You’ll say, “let’s bail on this and buy a condo.” And it will sound like a really good idea.

When I came up with the Goat House idea in that second year, I didn’t know I was burning a limited resource (his energy) and that that energy probably  should have been going into primary structures for us.  Building the animal houses withdrew Building Energy from the building-energy bank account that once spent, was gone.  I didn’t realize that.

You must pace yourself on a project as monumental as hand-building a house. And if it’s primarily one guy doing it, he WILL run out of steam.  Plan accordingly.

Anyway, 2010 rolled along, we were at the five year mark, and we had accrued this strange compound of tiny buildings, but still no house, no finished structure, no done.  And we desperately needed more space.  The kids weren’t babies anymore, they had their own stuff, their own needs for privacy, the piles were threatening to take us over, not to mention our own privacy, and just where the heck does all this stuff come from anyway?

But it was clear, at that point, that building a HOUSE was not going to happen.

So instead, we got to work building a bedroom.

A room away for the adults would make room for the kids to have their own space, it would double the closets, it would solve tons of problems while still having us live in the yurt as our central structure.  One room, 12×12, totally doable, right?  It would be done in a year.  New plan!

Here is a post I did about the groundbreaking for the bedroom in January 2011.  Working on weekends, progress was slow, but it was coming along.  Here was a post one year later featuring some nice pics of the timberframe bones he had built.  That was when we figured out what the heating system would be.  Six months later, in the summer of 2012, he put on the roof.  Okay, maybe it would be two years….?

Next comes what I like to call the Three Little Pigs method of building a house.  Fist is the slipSTRAW north wall going in and getting stuccoed in 2013.  Here is a nice view of that in April when it was completed.  Then the STICK-built west wall went in, a traditional studs, sheetrock, cedar shingle siding, because he was sick to death of straw at that point.  And here is some STONE work on the east wall very pretty.  After that we captured the wolf in the soup pot as he came down the chimney and we ate him.

I swear we did plan to do the Three Little Pigs, it just happened.

We also did not plan grad school, which is what my builder went and did for the next two years.  Because life goes on, no matter that you haven’t finished building your house yet.  Your kids grow up.  Your housing needs change. What sounded like a good idea when you started fails to meet the current needs by the time it is finished.  It’s hard to factor that in when your time table is so slippery.

So, while he was getting his grad degree (and still working full time), building  downshifted to dribs and drabs, quite understandably.

In 2015, Sophie moved out of the yurt and into the Noah House, now Sophie’s house.  It was starting to be ridiculous, this Mythical Bedroom, an unfinished hulk over on the side of the yurt. The kids were going to move out entirely before the damn thing was finished.  I’m sure it felt like an albatross around his neck.  We even talked about taking a loan out to pay someone to finish it.  But he had a break at school in 2015 and got the south wall up (glass) with some help from my cousin Noah of the Noah House, which gave us all some hope.  I posted this with the very-nearly-finished bedroom.  It was so close!

We held our breaths at the precipice of nearly-done all winter last year while he finished school and….

If you haven’t lived in a partially finished house, which we have been doing since 2005, let me tell you, it’s…weird. For years we said “when the house is done” and later “when the bedroom is done” we would do all these cool things…like move Luc into his own room in the back of the yurt, or have enough closets so there wouldn’t be piles everywhere, or move stuff out of Sophie’s House so she could have her own space, plus a half-dozen other important things…so that it began to feel like So Many Problems were going to be solved by the Mythical Bedroom whenever it finally arrived.

As a result, life felt on hold.

Like when you’re camping.  You make do.  You solve a problem (like where to put your dishes, or where to sleep) for now, because you know it’s only temporary.  You’re camping!  It’s all going to change when you pack up anyway, right?  You put up with less-than-great solutions, or even fairly shitty solutions, because it’s fine, it’s just for now.

That was us, camping in the yurt.  But when For Now goes on for years, you forget that you’re on hold, you forget what it feels like to NOT to be on hold.  The builder feels the pressure the most.

Moral: Don’t let your building projects go on too long!

But sometimes you can’t help it.  It just happens.  You can’t know what building a house yourself is, until you do it.  You think sure, I can do this while working a full time job, raising children, living a life.  So you just have to stick with it, plod along, break tasks down into manageable chunks, but keep at it!  Self-building is a slow process, a marathon not a sprint.  It can be hard on relationships so you have to cut each other a ton of slack.  I  know too many couples broken up by the shiny-eyed plan of “building our own house together.”  Be kind.


And then….last week…he finished.

My other cousin, Tracie, happened to be here when suddenly in he comes into the yurt saying, “We’re moving the bed.  Here, take a corner.”  We were like, what? What? Today?  We’re moving the bed today???? Holy shit—it’s really happening?

Here’s a shot of the inside after we got the bed set up.

bedroom 1 400

So pretty!  Exposed beams, recycled casement windows, found (i.e. free!) glass doors for windows, stucco and lime plaster, jute rugs.  Look at the cool light fixture—he traded something for it at a junk shop, he doesn’t remember what now.  It’s, like, two feet across, huge:

bedroom 2 400

We slept in it that night even though there were still some tools, the new closets empty.  Here’s the view when I woke up in the morning:

bedroom 3 500

It smells like raw cedar.  The light is lovely.  The thick walls make it cool and quiet. A gorgeous space.  I love it!

But, see, this isn’t just finishing the bedroom, this is finishing the House.  Our weird, atypical, house/compound made of rooms-that-don’t-touch-each-other, sure, but whatever, it’s DONE.  No more building project hanging over us.  Let me say that again.

He’s been building a house FOR A DECADE.


It’s….well, it’s a miracle.

So, I’ve said some things about the downsides of self-building, but what about the upsides?

What we get with a handmade house:

A gorgeous, one of a kind, Art Structure.  Details tailor-made to fit us, our bodies (like cabinets that are at the right height for us shorties), our preferences (like a closet/clothes-washing combo, because why carry baskets when you can have it all in one place?), our tastes (unpainted wood, tall ceilings, funny details).  We also get a tiny mortgage (ours is mostly from the initial purchase of the land itself) that will be paid off in a couple of years.  And there’s the creative expression, a family project that everyone has worked on, a place like no other.  Memories.

Like this.  First I’ll show you the finished rocket mass stove:

bedroom heater 500

The small fire is built on the right, then the heat/smoke goes up into that iron barrel and down through channels inside the cob bench, warming everything as it goes.  The bench radiates warmth long after the fire is done.  Also, there’s that weird gourd on the barrel for the moment, just for fun, because it looks cool.

And for the memory: here are our kitty, MoMo’s footprints in the cob:

momo footprints

She came by to check it out while he was doing the final plaster.  So cute!  We’ll have those prints long after she’s gone.  You don’t get that sort of thing in a contractor built house.  There are dozens of little things like that, all over the place.

Anyway, for the last two weeks, we’ve been in the process of moving all our stuff.  Like one of those puzzle games where you slide this tile over, making room for that tile, making room for that other tile—Luc got a loft bed ($50 on craigslist WOOT), that is, a room of his own in the space that had held the big bed in the yurt.  It’s like a pirate fort, full of his things, arranged the way he likes it.  So cool!  The cedar chest in the yurt got moved, opening up space for a leather chair in Sophie’s house that had been in the closet, which means now she has a closet, which means her Table Of Stuff in the yurt is out in her place now, freeing up that table…you get the idea.  The futon that had been at the foot of the bed has moved, making room for the lego boxes that were under the piano stool, making the piano playable again.  Etc etc. It’s crazy!

What’s funny, things that don’t have even anything to do with the bedroom, like storing dishes, say, or laundry piles, suddenly are Getting Solved.  As if the whole house had been under a spell of Waiting, like the kitchens and stable-hands and courtiers when Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger and everyone fell asleep.  Suddenly they are all awake and yawning and thinking about lunch and getting back to LIFE.

I didn’t even realize we have been waiting.

The place is a MESS while we do all of this, of course.  It really is like we’re moving, although we’re only moving ten feet away, and mostly it’s in the same house, but all shuffled around as each space is retasked.  But seriously, this is it, this is our House.  Not For Now, this is IT. (Until we decide to sell (would anyone buy? but that’s another post) and go for that condo after all). It’s an amazing feeling.

Have some champagne with me and let’s raise a toast to my wonderful husband who stuck it out all the way to the end, even though it turned out to be a much, much longer project than any of us ever thought.  There is a still a bunch to do, mostly outside, turning a work site into a Yard.  But forget that, because it’s done, the house is done.  We are no longer building a house.

I just go over and sit in the quite, beautiful bedroom and feel amazed that its finally here.  Leaving things on hold for years until you forget that’s what you’re doing—and then being NOT on hold anymore…it feels like arriving, I’m here, this is it.

It’s so weird.

Bonus: Here’s the walkway from the yurt to the bedroom.  Because if you have to go outside to get to another room, you ought to at least have a lovely path to walk on while you get there.  (Cut glass circles by Sophie.  So is the mosaic on the front of the bedroom in the top pic.  Granite and bricks are all free scrap.)

bedroom 4 400

you can be too flexible: treating scoliosis with a rigo-cheneau brace, schroth, and postural restoration

Last fall, my daughter was bestowed a diagnosis of scoliosis.

I’m not talking about a little bit, the kind where you ignore it and go on with your life, only a bit more crooked.  I’m talking about the kind where the doctors look you in the eye and say your kid needs spinal surgery.

I was gobsmacked.  There had been no sign, she didn’t look crooked, no way, how could this be?  I went into hyper-research mode (beware a mother with an internet connection) and read studies, forum discussions, doctor reviews, journals from international organizations, even made myself rather sick looking at x-rays of severely distorted spines.  Basically, if you have a curve with a Cobb angle of less than 20 degrees most American medicals will say “wait and see.”  Over 20 degrees, they say, “let’s look at bracing” to keep the curve(s) from progressing until the kid’s growth period is over (and then, maybe that’s it, or maybe it’s surgery anyway).  But if you’ve got a Cobb angle over 50 degrees go straight to surgery, do not pass go.  Doctoring by numbers.

Sophie’s thoracic curve was 55.

The reason we hadn’t seen it before was that she has an S shaped curve with the bottom curve being about the same size as the top, creating a symmetry that means she looks straight.  If she bends over, you see a bit of a swell on the upper right and the lower left, but it’s pretty minor.  She looks like a gorgeous, athletic kid.  Until you look at the x-ray.

sophie 9:16 225

This is from September.  I fell out of my chair when I saw it.

Long time readers will remember all those pictures of young Sophie popping into advanced yoga poses (to my great jealousy) kapotasana on a whim, dropbacks like eating candy, my super-bendy girl.  Turns out there is a very high correlation between super-bendy girls and scoliosis.  Not CAUSE, correlation.  Gymnasts, ballet dancers, etc, are statistically more likely to get it.  Whatever makes them so able to do the extreme moves that make them great at their sports/activities, that thing also carries a risk of bones and/or connective tissue that aren’t holding up under gravity.  Turns out, being bendy isn’t always a plus.

Right away, given Sophie’s remaining growth (an educated guess about it, anyway), there was the suggestion from the docs of getting her into a very new, high-tech surgery involving tethering the vertebra with a wire (like getting braces on your teeth except it’s your spine being wired up) where the tethering would cause her spine to literally grow the curves straight.  It’s so new, however, that long term outcomes are unknown.  Avoiding surgery, if at all possible, seemed like the way to go to me because side-effects and complications are real and come with that roll of the dice all too frequently.  More importantly, Sophie didn’t want it.

However, because that kind of surgery is growth dependent—unlike the much more invasive, tried-and-true surgery where they install titanium rods along the spine—there was a limited window of opportunity.  The surgeons gave us six months tops, to decide.  Pressure.

But we decided to take the risk, and with that uncertainty and time pressure hanging over us, we put together a team of an orthopedic surgeon who is a specialist in scoliosis, an orthotist (for a brace), and a highly specialized physical therapist.  The brace we went with was the Rigo-Cheneau brace, custom made by Luke Stikeleather (one of the only people making them in this country), and a combination of Schroth and Postural Restoration physical therapy.

Did I mention that all these appointments were out of state??  Except the PT, thank god she is just one city over.  What an exhausting fall we had.

Anyway.  Cheneau braces are custom designed to work with a specific person’s spine and curves.  Luke built Sophie her brace with a rather fascinating process of 3-D printing her body, making the therapeutic adjustments to the cast shape, then draping hot thermoplastic over the cast.

brace 1

Luke on the left, helping to lift the 400 degree sheet of plastic up to drape it over the cast of Sophie’s body.brace 2

Here they are closing up the front and turning on the vacuum suction that draws the plastic into the body shape:brace 3

They have to do this part very fast before the stuff cools down.brace 4

Then they cut it off the cast, cut off all the extra, and attach straps.brace 5

Finally a long fitting process begins where he cuts and trims and files and reheats parts with a blow torch to relieve pressure points.  Internal straps and pads are added to increase the correction on the areas that need more pressure (the convex places in the spinal curves), with spaces left in the concavities that breathing can fill.  Then the kid goes back to the hotel to sleep in the thing for a night to find revealed problems, sore spots, areas that rub, etc, and more fitting the next day.  Luke really, really wants to get it right.  He is fantastic, generous, kind, and extremely dedicated.

The result is a bit like a steampunk corset, or maybe body armor, although it is asymmetrical, high under one arm and lower on one hip.  Here is Sophie’s brace:

sophie's brace 2:11:16 450

And here is Sophie’s spine in the brace.

sophie in brace 11:16

Better.  Still very crooked, but better.

We ended up also having Luke make her a sleep brace, because lying down is a totally different gravity picture from upright, and more specific and aggressive correction could be done in either position, if he wasn’t trying to cover all the bases with one brace. Her curves were advanced enough that it seemed prudent to go for as much whammy as we could get out of “bracing” as a therapeutic choice.  So a long, agressive brace for lying down and a cut-down, shortened brace for sitting (where too much length would keep her from being able to comfortably bend her legs, or lower her arms) for day.

Success with bracing depends on wearing the thing as much as possible, and studies indicate the best success when it is worn over 21 hours a day.  That’s a lot.  “I live in a plastic box,” Sophie says.

To balance all that non-movement, and to come at the problem from a different direction, we added physical therapy.  Schroth PT offers a lot of lengthening, stretching out the curves, and breathing into the compressed areas. Relief. Postural Restoration offers exercises chosen for Sophie’s specific curve patterns to strengthen the muscles (again, asymmetrically) so they can support the spine in a better position.  The stronger the muscles get, the easier it becomes to hold a good position during daily life—that is, the muscles start to do internally what the brace does externally.  Hard work, but doable.  Combined, Sophie does about 30 minutes of exercises a day.

Scoliosis is such a weird thing to deal with because it looms so large (especially the extreme cases) as this potentially terrible thing, deformity, compression of organs, pain etc…but my kid was right in front of me with no symptoms, a gorgeous, strong body, no illness.  So all the worry—and I had tons, keeping me awake at night—is for something that hasn’t happened yet.  And that worry takes up your personal bandwidth, you know?  I couldn’t write, I quit yoga for a while, quit blogging (y’all might have noticed), quit everything but dealing with this for a while.

I mean, if your kid gets, say, cancer (and I am so grateful that the Medical Problem Card we drew was not cancer!!), your kid is legit sick right now, it’s terrifying, it’s a crisis right now.  Scoliosis, on the other hand (at the level we are dealing with), is a borrowed problem from the future.  It’s a scramble to play the probabilities in treatment paths that may or may not lead to a good result with the fewest side-effects.  It’s seeing a storm on the horizon, not knowing how bad its going to be when it gets to you, and trying to decide whether keeping an eye on it, getting in the cellar, or driving away is the best choice with the least disruption.  You get informed, you make your choice, but no guarantees.  But whatever choice might lead to a bad outcome.

But hey, Sophie is not currently sick, and that’s GREAT, that’s my kid not suffering, not ill, hallelujah, and I hold onto this gratitude with both hands.  She’s fine, she’s safe, seriously, right now she is fine—thoughts like this would help me sleep, especially in those first few weeks when I didn’t know what to do, and was researching till it felt like my eyes were bleeding.  Being a parent is having your heart walk around outside your own body, isn’t it?

Back to the story.  As all this was happening, I was very open with Sophie about everything I was learning and about what doctors said about her situation, without being alarmist or freaking her out any more than I could.  I told her what I learned, what I thought, and gave her room to make her own conclusions. After all, this is her body, her life we’re talking about.  I wasn’t about to make a decision about it without her being fully, 100% on-board, that is, without it being her decision, too.

As a result, when we decided no surgery (for now), she was committed to the brace/PT path because it was How She Would Avoid Getting Cut Open.  Her doctor was, as he put it, “all in” with a trial period of The Plan, and frequent reevaluations.  Every day (pretty much) she did her exercises.  Every day she wore her brace, tracking how many hours out of it for different activities (aikido, running, bathing, fun, etc).  About her exercises, she might say, “I don’t want to, you have to make me do it.” And I would say, “do you want me to be a drill sergeant? Or maybe offer you chocolate rewards? Or use logic?”  And she would frown and say, “Chocolate.”  Or, “You pick.”  Or, “I hate everything.  Poop.”  Other days she went off on her own.  “You need to do your exercises.”  “I already did them.”  “Most excellent.  Have a cookie.” But my basic message on her hardest days is always, “If you think it’s worth doing, you have to do it for it to work.  If you don’t think it’s worth doing, then we need to figure out another treatment plan.”  Just the simple fact of the situation and that I will listen to her if she doesn’t think it’s working.  (“I know, I know, I’m going….” she says.)

But those days have been rare.  She is on it.  And anyway, occasionally, fuck it, she gets a day off.  Because she works really hard at this, and she’s a kid.

It’s been a little weird how constantly the medical people we have encountered have talked about how hard it is to “get kids to comply.”  Comply, comply, such a yucky word, who wants to comply?  It’s like giving up your will, it’s submission, I can’t believe they use that word.  But when an x-ray tech, or a doctor, mentions how unusual it is to have a kid “comply” Sophie and I just look at each other in confusion.  In Sophie’s mind, the best medical care we can find says that this is what she needs to do to get well.  It’s in her highest interest to do it.  So why wouldn’t she?  Compliance has been a non-issue with her.

At Luke’s brace clinic, a gal comes in and does a kind of counseling/information/orientation session where she talks about how much to wear it, how to clean it, yada yada, with an obvious slant towards convincing the kid not to take it off, not to “cheat.”

“Why would I do that?” said Sophie.  “I want it to work.”

“Well, for example, some girls are worried about how it looks and what their friends will think.  Are you worried about that?”

“No.  My friends aren’t jerks.”

End of counseling session.

Back at home, gradually, we fell into a routine.  Stress lowered to a bubbling simmer.  We had the incredible luck of finding a Schroth/Postural Restoration specialist, Susan Henning, who has been fabulous.  At first I had her teach me as much as she was teaching Sophie, because then I could be the Susan-in-absentia as best I could between appointments.  Later, Sophie got it down and didn’t need me as much.

She has gotten so strong, it’s crazy.

Of course, always the fear that we made the wrong choice.  That this whole plan wouldn’t work, that the PT, the brace, none of it would be enough.

And the expenses.  Jesus Christ, don’t get me started.  ZERO of this very expensive medical care was paid for by our crappy insurance.  Zero.  High deductibles, out-of-network providers (as if some other PT would be interchangeable with Susan’s in-depth, specific training! as if any-old brace would be as effective as the one Luke built her!).  I curse Blue Cross Blue Shield now when we drive by their building.  Sophie’s brace is now the most expensive thing we own, second only to our house (we kind of have crappy cars, but still).  This is crazy! /endrant. Thank goodness for generous grandparents or I don’t know what we would have done.  Thank you grandparents!!!

Fast forward five months.

September to February, passing in a blur of stress and travel, then boom, it was time to head out-of-state once more for our fancy schmancy scoliosis expert doctor appointment and a new x-ray—this one taken with Sophie out-of-brace for 48 hours—and this is what we found:

sophie 9:16

sophie 2:11:2016 225

Look at the bottom curve!  From 45 degrees down to 29!!  And the top is down, too, if only 5 degrees, still, it’s 50, not 56, that is, NOT GETTING WORSE. The doctor, this mild-mannered, intensely smart man, came in with a bit of wonder and said in near deadpan, “Well, your progress is spectacular.”

Here’s the thing: remember I said she looks straight? She looks great.  And scoliosis is a cosmetic issue up to the point of organ pressure and we’re not there.  Sooo…if she holds, even as crooked as she is, she’s golden.  Holding was the minimum effective result we were looking for.  The curve not progressing.  Holding.

This was so much better than that!

We were jumping up and down and hugging.  Surgery is off the table for the foreseeable future (although it remains a possibility years from now depending on how things go).  Sophie did it!  She even grew two inches—some of which was coming out of the curve, some of it regular growth, but that was growth UP not sideways.  More indication that the curve is not progressing.

So.  Much.  Relief.

We chose a path, and so far it’s working.  We’ll keep doing what we’re doing (what she’s doing, mostly, I’m just the driver, cheerleader, and bill-payer at this point), and we’re to check back in in six months.

Of course, of course, these are still some big curves.  It’s a brace and daily exercises for Sophie for probably years.  It’s the much-better-than-the-alternative but still the not-very-great option.  In fact, it’s kind of the sucks-a-lot option. But it’s the best she’s got at the moment.  There’s a long way to go.

Everyone gets a pile of shit they have to carry in their lifetime.  This is part of Sophie’s pile.  I wish I could carry it for her, I do everything I can, but ultimately, she’s the one in that body.  This is her life.  But she’s been taking this head on.  She’s amazingly strong inside, as well as out.

She impresses the hell out of me.

I wanted to write this post because when I was in full-on research mode I so appreciated any family-accounts that I could find.  Reading the studies, full of statistics and faceless girls (it’s mostly girls) is one thing (and important).  Hearing real people’s stories is another, and so needed.  Especially good stories.  I’ll update this post as Sophie’s story progresses.  I fervently hope it continues to be good news.

ETA: For a Sophie/Maya co-post about life in the brace, see this post.

ETA: March 2017.  After eighteen months in it, Sophie, now thirteen, is weaning off the brace.  She is done growing and so her doc has her coming out of the brace gradually, over six months (gradual weaning lessens the chance that the spine will sag back into worse shape).  The main thing: her curves did not get any bigger.  We’re really happy about that!  And now, with her growth done, the chance of progression is much, much lower.  So basically, by holding and not progressing during her growth spurt, she bought herself time and space.  If she is happy in her body looks/pain-wise, there is no need to pursue further treatment.  She looks great, and has no problems—except trampolines.  Apparently trampolines really hurt.  So, she’s done!  Actually, what her doc said: You worked hard and you got yourself through the danger zone.  Now, go, live your life! 🙂

Sophie at 12 yrs old, in her brace, betcha can’t tell, she’s a master of bending fashion to her will (peplum coat, pinstripe vest, combat boots….):sophie in her brace, a stylish


2015 winding down, a 5k, state of the next book

The presents are under the tree tormenting Luc, 10, who struggles with waiting (don’t we all).  In the meantime, I haven’t been around the blog for a while, can’t even say why.  Busy life!  I have started a bunch of posts these last few months, the essay-ish ones, when my brain is chewing on a thing.  But then I don’t finish them, or my life moves on before I do.  Will I get more organized in 2016?  We shall see.  For now, though, gotta get through Christmas.

But, if I was posting regularly, I certainly would tell you about how I ran my first 5K race last weekend.  (The zombie-mud run wasn’t a race, as it was not timed, walking and obstacles, not a run run). A Santa Run! Everyone in Santa hats, reindeer ears, grinchs, elves, bells on toes, people in full costume or just funny Christmas t-shirts.  Best shirt: “Santa, stop judging me!”

I can’t believe I ran an actual race! Even a year ago I NEVER would have thought I could.  But I did.  I ran it in 38 minutes—SLOW—but so what, I did it.  Sophie, 11, ran it in 31, Supercoolhubby right behind her.  We were a little team!  So cute.  The fastest dude did it in 18!  I saw him hoofing it back in when I was still going out.  Amazing.  The whole thing was really fun, lots of cheering, lots of smiling people.

santa runHere I am crossing the finish line.  Photo taken by Luc.  Go me!  I’m carrying my Santa hat because I got too hot.  500 Santas finished that misty morn.  I really, really can’t believe I was one of them.  Bodies can change, even at 44 you can pick up a sport and become an athlete.  Nerdy, bookish me, running a race, it’s shocking, I tell you.

In other news, nerdy, bookish me (I may be a runner, sort of, but I haven’t changed that much) is here to report I am halfway through writing first draft of the next book.  Hoping to get the first draft in the can by the end of January.  I’m at that point in drafting where I’m pretty sure I hate it, it’s stupid, I should definitely quit, in other words, situation totally normal.  Still, I’m showing up each day, getting words.  So that’s all right then.

But the important thing!  I can’t wait to see the kids open their presents in a few days….

deep in the heart of summer

We’re cooking now, boy.  Daily swimming, lying around in the air conditioning reading fat books while waiting for it to get cool enough to move, tomato sandwiches, being night owls because the heat isn’t so bad in the dark.  Eating peaches over the sink.  Cicadas.

In contrast to the pleasures of summer, though, I struggle with stomach-dropping fear about climate change.  You know that feeling?  About which I generally feel quite helpless?  I try to give myself breaks, think about other things.  But all this hot weather (we had the hottest June ever on record and July has been crazy, too, 98 degrees, 98% humidity most days) keeps it in my mind, in the back somewhere, simmering away.  It wrecks my full summery-enjoyment.  Which sucks.

[Whoa, hang on, isn’t this a light, up-beat blog???  Yeah, I thought so, too!]

Here, have a Yotsuba, just about my favorite manga series, ever.  I just read this one to the kids, who are not too old to enjoy, thank goodness.  LAUGH OUT LOUD for reelz.  yotsuba 11

Ahhh. Yotsuba calls it Glow Ball warming, which is adorable.

In other news, we’re still running (can you believe it? Nor can I), 2-3 miles, 3x a week.  Sophie and Paul chat as they lope along while I pant and moan behind them, flailing weakly in their direction, “…go on…save yourselves….”  Sometimes Luc comes, too, although he is, shall we say, less committed.  “I want running to be my hobby, not my religion.”  He really said that!  He’s NINE.  Freaking smart-ass, hilarious kid….

Unfortunately, every time we see something cool (a double rainbow! Llamas! A cool black and yellow snake!) I don’t have my camera, while, if I lug it along, it’s guaranteed there will be nada but asphalt and sweat.  So, no photo for you.

Ooo, but this is fun: I start drafting on the new novel in ONE WEEK.  I’m halfway through my scene cards.  We’ll see how well they work this time.  Last book’s scene cards were pretty much a failure.  First feelings can be deceptive.

scene cards for precog book

See how the top 8 are super cramped with itty-bitty writing going up the sides? And how the bottom 8 float in a sea of white space?  Yeah, I’m still working on the bottom 8.  Trying for a shorter book this time, 16 scenes instead of the 30 (I think it was?) in the last one. Two pov characters instead of three.  A more streamlined plot.  We’ll see how that all works out.

Planning is fun!  Planning is when I haven’t fucked anything up yet!

Drafting set to begin August 1.  One more week to finish up the scene planning, where the chant is: protag with a need, in conflict with an antag with a need, in a setting, leading to a unique TURN that upends expectations.  One turn per scene, every scene must have a conflict and an antag, no exceptions, plus note down any funny beats or Points of Interest along the way.  Inciting incident, set-up, three trial-cycles, mid-point, final ramp up after failure of third, big confrontation tying up both inner and outer arcs, conclusion, denouement, yada yada yada.  Gotta love CRAFT.  I mean, I fucking got this, right?

I’m always so full of hubris before the novel breaks me into little pieces.

Happy mid-summer everyone!  (Try not to think about glow ball warming too much…).

mayaland was hacked!

Honestly, why would anyone bother?  And who are these people?  It’s baffling.

But yes my blog was hacked—to pieces—and it cost me $200 in hired help to get it put right again.  So annoying!

If you stopped by in the last few days and found nothing here, that’s why.  But it’s back, I’m back, whew.  I’m going to go lie down now.  Tech support is hard.  More posts to come.

running and the big questions like will i write another book

What are we doing here, why do we keep doing the things we do, how do we decide what to do each day when we wake up, what the hell is going on, what is life, what is death, is there more?

I always, always feel this way right after I finish a book.  I’ve written enough of them now that I know this about myself, so at least I don’t fall into the trap of taking myself too seriously.  The questions stem from the kernel of…Should I write another one?  Can I not?  (Doubtful.)  But there are SO MANY books in the world, all wanting to be read.  Seriously, why bother?  Which leads to all those bigger questions in a tumbling avalanche of uncertainty.  Maybe I should have been a philosopher.  Maybe it’s a simple chemical crash after the hype and stress of putting out a book.

Oh, but THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who has bought Ghost Fugue, for 3 Voices in the last couple of days!!!  I’m watching for some reviews to start trickling in, pins and needles.  I find I’m thrilled for every sale and every person out there who might read and get something out of it.  Which might sound sort of noble, but it’s really quite selfish of me, to want to feel like I’m not just taking up space.  [rolls eyes at self]

In a parallel track, we’ve been running.  We’re about three months in now.  SuperCoolHusband, and the two kiddos, and oh, Henry The Dog (he’s absurdly happy with this new development) and me, yes me, I actually run, well, sort of jog, slowly.  Three times a week, we’re up to about 2.5 miles each time (kids do more like 3, running back and forth for us slow-pokes).  I can’t believe we’ve stuck with it this long.  We’ve actually been talking about running a 5K race.  Shocking!  Well, it wouldn’t be Sophie’s first, but the idea that I might run a race is like talking about someone else.

And then this morning I ran across this video, a short movie asking hard, personal questions of people while they are running.  It’s exquisitely compelling.  The running both seems to open the people up, as if their masks are thinner or missing because of the flush and endorphins, and also is a fairly on-the-nose metaphor for how we run through life, striving and efforting, trying to figure out how the hell to deal with everything that happens to us, the very things the people are talking about as they run…It’s a great piece of film!

Anyway, here, watch this, it’s wonderful, and it’s way better than listening to me winge!  I’ll get on with writing soon and perk up.

The Runners from Banyak Films on Vimeo.

Isn’t that something?

The kids and I are once again listening to Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones in the car, it is just a wonderful book, and makes me feel how much I would love to write a book that someone, somewhere loved as much as I love it.  But maybe it’s best to just write because it’s there, because I seem to get depressed when I don’t do it, because I start wondering if there is any point to anything.  Could be writing is just a distraction to that question, and not an answer, but maybe it doesn’t matter.  Must keep running somehow.  Gah, I’m so morbid when I’m not writing [laughing].

(Sophie pattted me this morning and said, “there, there, Mom.  Have some chocolate.  That’s the answer.  The question is pretty much irrelevant.”

She’s so smart.)

in which we begin running and Jeff Galloway tells me I’m amazing

I met a gal at a kid birthday party a couple of months ago who was about to go run a marathon. I was impressed, while she was totally blase about it—until I started asking her more questions (people love to find something to talk about at parties), and she lit up and begin to tell me about Jeff Galloway. Turns out this gal had killed her knee ten years back, requiring surgery, and had thought she would never run again…but had managed to get into it—including this, her seventh marathon—four years ago, using Jeff Galloway’s “run/walk/run” method with, get this, zero pain and zero injuries. spy phone ipad

I ran in high school and liked it, but gave it up. Getting back to it has proved, up to now, impossible, as any time I tried my knees complained bitterly. But something about this gal’s story got my interest going and I looked up Galloway. Turns out he was an Olympic runner back in the 70s and has written a bunch of books about training gently and building up super slowly. He has a website and an app. It all looked absurdly easy, simple intervals essentially, like, starting out you run for a fifteen seconds out of each minute, working up to one minute running/one minute walking and beyond, but never completely giving up the walking. Ten what is the best app to spy a phone from distance minutes total to start, building up to an hour of run/walk/run.

Ten minutes, shit. I could do that.

All casual-like I asked the yurt at large if anyone wanted to play with the app with me. To my surprise, SuperHubby and Sophie (my 11 year old) both said they’d give it a shot. In the app, Jeff himself comes on to tell you when to run and when to walk and you can play your tunes in the background. Nice layout, nice timer features. Total running handholding. And that is how we came to be the 3x/week runners for phone spy flexispy turn mobile data off the past month.

That’s right, I’m five weeks in and no knee pain. My biggest concern is anything that might mess up my yoga practice, so I’ve been ready to drop the experiment in a hot minute. But so far, facebook password tracker so good.

In the app, Jeff has us up to 30 minute run/walks now. He promises to get us to a 5k if we keep it up. Me? Run a 5k? C’est impossible!

Sidestory: He gives these little bite-sized coaching slogans (you can turn it off if you want) as you plod along. For some reason Sophie (who is 80 lbs of muscle) kept getting messages about fat burning and watching out for over-snacking—odd since I haven’t gotten a one of those. Instead, Jeff if always telling me how great I am. Daw, thanks, Jeff.

All while he mocks Sophie in his strong southern accent: “Munch, munch, munch.”

“We don’t talk about that!” jokes Sophie, indignant.


Ooo, I know, maybe if we actually do a 5k, we’ll get matching t-shirts! The Lassiter Running Club! I’ve always wanted to (pretend to) be an athlete! I just voiced that thought and Sophie rolled her eyes at me. “What?” said I. To which she answered, “Nothing. I just had a powerful urge to look at the ceiling.”

Oh hardy har.

Stay tuned.

end of an era for me

My best loved grandma passed away last week.  She was 91.  The last few years had been pretty hard for her, but Lassiter women are tough and she kept hanging in there, past when it even seemed possible.  One of twelve siblings, born on a tiny rural farm, she married at seventeen, had three babies, went back to school for a nursing degree, stayed married for 70 years.  She was also captain of her high school basketball team, loved to dance, traveled the world on a budget—Paris, Scotland, Switzerland, Alaska, she walked the Great Wall of China in her 70s!—delivered Meals-on-Wheels, was a devoted fashionista, sang in her choir for twenty-five years, wrote and published poetry.  I can’t even begin to sum up her life in a silly blog post.

But she conveyed to me, powerfully, through her actions, that if you want to do something, you go do it.  Full stop.

Sophie and I went to visit at the beginning of the week when she was pretty much gone, then went back a few days later for the funeral.  Her daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and spouses-of-same, discovered that Granddaddy’s vault (where some of his ashes are) was full of water, so the day after the funeral there was vault repair, and we put Grandma in there with him then in these glass jars.  The weather was gorgeous, the cemetery, this old place full of graves from the 1700s including a bunch of Lassiters, was lovely, all graceful spring trees, flowers, and gentle breezes.  That was a good morning.

Back at her house we found a litter of feral kittens in Granddaddy’s old boat barn.  Sophie caught one and my cousin caught another.  What the heck, we brought the little guy home.  Kitten therapy.

Here is Mr. Fluffbutton getting his first bath:Fluffbutton 4

Those ears! Mr. Fluffbutton

And here he is all fluffy and cute:

Fluffbutton 2

Fluffbutton 3

fluffbutton 1

When my Grandma was twenty she met a vivacious redhead named Iris who would go on to be Grandma’s dear friend for the next seventy years despite living hundreds of miles apart.  They visited and wrote long letters, and grew old together long distance.

We got a call the day after Grandma died letting us know that Iris had also died, ON THE SAME DAY.  Its just as if they  decided they were doing this next thing together, just like they did all the rest of it together.  Makes all the hairs stand up on my neck, makes me cry.

Here is my beautiful Grandma, Marginette.  I hope she and Iris are cutting up, having a grand time!

grandma 500


pollen, henna, sushi, and the new book

It’s raining on the yurt roof (loud!) and thank goodness because we have been drowning in pollen.  Seriously, look at this:

pollen car 1

That’s from ONE NIGHT.  Take a closer look:

pollen car 2

That thick layer of yellow has been on everything.  I come in from walking Henry and the cuffs of my yoga pants are covered in it.  Hubby came in from working outside and when I patted him on the back, poofs of pollen came off him.  Driving down the road, you look into a yellow haze, seriously!  We leave footprints in it, it is so deep.

pollen footprint

But now this rain will wash it away, or at least some of it.  Our breathing systems can go back to the normally high levels of pollen of  NC spring and not this crazy onslaught.  Spring is on fast forward this year.

You know what, I was just flipping through my camera to get those pollen pics and look, Sophie’s gorgeous hair after our semi-annual Henna Party.  My cousin and I, and sometimes my sister, and now my daughter, we all have this crazy red hair now.  It’s a Thing.

sophie henna

So pretty! She likes to torment me by talking about cutting it all off.  Sob.

Ooo, and look at this, an amazing sushi feast we had a couple of weeks ago:

sushi feast

DELICIOUS. I had to take a picture.

Isn’t going through the camera fun?  I don’t miss the days of film.

And in my final news of the day, the new book has a title!  Ghost Fugue.  It is out with the second round of beta readers at the moment.  The cover is in the works, and I have booked my copyeditor to do the final typo, cleaning and formatting, hopefully in May.  Aiming for a June release.  I’ll do a fancy shmancy cover reveal as soon as it is done. I’m super excited about this book!

dark star, please move on UPDATED: now with more broken things!

Everything at our house is breaking.  I think we might be cursed.

The clothes washer stopped spinning (replacement, $200 from Craigslist).

The ipad started randomly typing things, opening apps, going to websites all on its own (demon exorcism, free but it didn’t work, bye-bye ipad, sob).

The dishwasher started making the dishes MORE dirty (SuperCoolHubby was able to fix it, YAY)(isn’t it funny how, as you get older, different things start to be totally hot in a guy?).

I’m zipping down the road at 60 mph and the car just turns off.  I had to coast to the road side with barely any brakes.  Scary! (Fuel distributor, $700 [passes out]).

The sound part of the remote stopped working (you now have to literally get up to change the volume, its a nightmare).

Car breaks down AGAIN, (catalytic converter, will be $700 AGAIN but we’re considering getting a different car because it also needs brakes, $600, and two tires $500 [passes out AGAIN]).

The hot water heater exploded (replacement, $550 [fall into a coma from all the head injuries from passing out so many times]). Just got that fixed yesterday, washed two loads of laundry in the new (used) machine, did two loads of dishes (in the old, fixed machine), and took two baths (sweet jesus I needed that).

For heaven’s sake!  This has all been in the last SIX WEEKS.  I am afraid to get out of bed!  What is going to break next??? Thank goodness I got some cash for my birthday, which saved our patooties, but even so, our finances are wrecked.  (Plus, I didn’t get to spend it on fun birthday presents.  Booooo.)  Please!  No more, no more!  Uncle!  I can’t take the stress!

This just happens sometimes, right?  All the bulbs in the house go at once.  It’s not like any of these things are serious.  We aren’t ill.  No one is bombing our city.  We have plenty to eat.  It’s not so bad, right?

Still.  Maybe I’ll just lie here quietly under the covers and wait for the dark star I am under to pass.

UPDATE: So, just when I thought maybe we were good…a loose connection on the new hot water heater caused a short, tripping the main circuit breaker…and it broke.  Meaning we couldn’t turn the power back on.  Cost to get an electrician out here and install a new one?  $520.

I had an honest to god panic attack, my face went numb, difficulty breathing, the works.  For heaven’s sake, right?  I need an evil eye deflector or something!  This kind of bad luck can’t be naturally occurring.