Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Wild hair. Crazy notion. Stroke of genius. The Cliffs of Insanity. NaNoWriMo.

They all fit into the same category, folks.

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and it's as crazy as it sounds. The assignment is to write a 50,000 word/175 page novel between the dates of November 1 and November 30. The idea is to promote quantity over quality, which is the only possibility working within this unreasonable time frame. NaNoWriMo has been going on since 1999, but I had not heard about it until last year. Last year, I thought, "What a great idea!" My next thought was, "What a great idea for people who are sleeping, who don't have an insomniac baby boy, and who haven't been awake for almost an entire year." When I was reminded of the event this year, my first thought was, "I don't have time for this." My second thought was, "I really don't have time for this." My third thought was, "I soooooo don't have time for this." The problem was that I really, really wanted to do it anyway.

Which, dear fans of my previous blog, brings me to Confession of a Potentially Crazy Person #64 :

"I'm going to try to write a novel next month."

I realize that this confession, maybe more than any other one, conceivably calls for the removal of the adverb "potentially." Anywho, check out my nifty web badge!

I'm going to anticipate the FAQs concerning this post, and answer them now:

1. Why do something so time-consuming when you have guests coming in for the week of Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, and the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all in one month?

I got nothin'. Next question.

2. Why do this at all? It seems like a pointless exercise.

I agree. Doing NaNoWriMo for the sake of writing a novel that will, in all likelihood, turn out to be disastrous and never come to anything seems like a pointless exercise. Here's why it's not:

A) For a writer, even a novice, writing of any kind is equivalent to the hours of focused rehearsal a musician puts in to be excellent in her craft.

B) This novel has been simmering in my brain for almost 2 years. It has a decent shot at being slightly better than disastrous.

C) I have new ideas that will take me in new directions that have come to me now, just in time for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo will help me get them out.

D) NaNoWriMo is a speed writing contest. I'm not good at speed writing because I absolutely cannot write without editing as I go. A 30 day time limit and a 50,000 word deadline hanging over my head should prove effective in breaking old and very bad habits. Besides, no novel was ever good in its first draft, regardless of how much editing the writer did as she went along. I must keep telling myself this.

E) Whatever happens, I will have made impressive strides in getting my novel written. No one can read the story in my head. I have to get it down on paper. NaNoWriMo will at least help me begin, kick my feathered keister out of the nest, if you will.

3. Do you plan to have a life at all outside of writing?

Absolutely. Some of you may be concerned about the amount of sleep I'll get or the laundry I'll be able to do, but I have a really good plan, which in all honesty, may or may not work. The plan is to put myself on a schedule, something my routine-oriented self really needs to do anyway. There will be time on that schedule for my time with God, housework, exercise, focused time with Micah and Brandon, my work schedule, the dinner/bath/bed routine and writing. Does that set me up for a sure and successful cross of the 50,000 word finish line? Probably not. And I'm okay with that. Really. I hereby publicly acknowledge that I have higher priorities than to write a novel inside of a month!!! But man, oh man, am I going to try!

Here's the thing--I'm crying out for a regular routine. I'm crying out for a goal, a finish line . . . even one that I may not cross. I'm crying out to get all of these jumbled ideas in my head out of my head and onto paper before the characters that are stewing around in there get angry and launch a nuclear rebellion in my brain. I'm not crazy, really. Just creative. All things born in the brain must be birthed at some point, or things get really messy in there. Can I get a witness? No?

I have nothing to prove to you. I have nothing to prove to myself, even. I just want to write, and to have a legitimate, albeit ridiculous, deadline. So, good or bad (and let's be honest--it'll be bad), win or lose, succeed or fail, I begin in 4 days.

Wish me luck!

For more information regarding NaNoWriMo or the NaNoWriMo organization, visit their website at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The House on Bear Creek Road

I'm not sure when it happened, but finally, the house on Bear Creek Road feels like home.

I had a hard time embracing this place, at first. It was ugly and old and smelled kind of funny, like an unlikable great-great aunt that wears gaudy off-red lipstick, smells of mothballs and still expects you to give her a hug and peck on the mouth every time she comes to call. This place wore outdated wood paneling and shag carpet, and smelled like a mixture of must and cologne that only old people are secure enough to wear. Brandon did a lot to correct the house's flaws, but it still had problems.

The house made and continues to make strange noises. When the heat kicks on, it sounds like someone gives two snaps of the fingers, awakening a grumpy dragon that lives behind the door at the end of the hall. But hey, the dragon does the job. It will be warm and toasty in here when the temperatures dip below comfort level. There are times when no is water running in the house, but the pipes whisper creepy, little, unintelligible nothings in our ears. Also, the water pressure mysteriously goes in and out, scalding the willies out of whoever is in the shower at the time. Things have disappeared in the house. My mom even witnessed this once. Toys sound off on their own. I once heard an undoubtable, yet inexplicable cat-call from outside the window of the master bath while getting ready one evening. Here's the strange thing--no one would have been able to see me from the outside even with his/her face pressed to the frosted glass. So, really the house is like a creepy, unlikable great-great aunt. The vandalism that took place days after our move in didn't improve my negative feelings for the place.

I organized, cleaned and decorated the new quarters, but it remained foreign to me. Sometimes, in the first few weeks after the move, I would turn onto Sunflower Drive without realizing that my autopilot was taking me to the place my heart still called home. Fortunately, I always managed to catch myself before turning into the driveway. I may have startled the new resident had I barged in to the old place as if I still owned it.

There are several theories as to why the house on Bear Creek Road feels like home now. Maybe it was being away from it so much over the summer. Maybe cleaning it a magical number of times had the same effect as clicking my ruby red heels together. Maybe I'm finally used to my kitchen. Maybe the security system helped me to feel safe. Maybe there's something magical the pitter patter of tiny feet sounding down the hall. My friend, Ellie, told me with a crooked smile that she thinks it's due to the deer heads that now project proudly from my living room walls.

I can't answer as to why the house on Bear Creek Road feels like home now, all of a sudden, but I can tell you some things I love about it.

I love how the sun filters into its open spaces through the curtains I hand made and the french doors. Brandon put them in after the vandalism took out the ugly sliding glass door that had been a feature of the house for the last 30 years. Electrical lighting isn't necessary on sunny days.

I love the vast front and back yard, embraced by thick, lovely woods and dotted with mature, gorgeous trees. This simple acre or so provides a wide open playing space full of adventures waiting to be had by a tiny red head.
I love the sounds of the washer and dryer as they hum and sing in the background. I love the smell of a clean house, cooking food and the light, fresh Beach scent from my Scentsy warmer. These things going on all at once create the perfect "home" ambiance.

I love to sip my coffee or tea on the couch in my studio, looking out through the glass door into the yard. I love to read in the same spot. On cool days, I venture outdoors. I'll sip and read in my lawn chair, basking in a sun ray.

I love the life that teaching brings into my home. I love the children, their parents and the adult students. I love the music that fills the entire house every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. I love the vibrant hues in the room that seem to cheer on all of the activity.

I love having friends and family over to visit . . . even if the house is not as clean and organized as I would like. I love setting out the china for friends who don't really care about such things, and drinking from a real tea cup for no reason at all.

I love the face lift my husband gave this house. Every room resonates with his love for me. Even the living room that has been man-ified.

Now, we get down to it--I love the comfort of spending time with my two favorite men here. I love eating, talking, crying, laughing, learning, failing, growing and making memories with them inside of these walls and out in its garden.

And maybe this feeling of home has nothing to do with the house itself. It still makes funny noises. The pipes still make my neck hairs stand on end. I get scalded at least twice a week. I continue to get a whiff of old lady now and then. The house itself hasn't really changed that much. It's me that's changed. I've begun to make cherished memories here. I've prayed for this house--that God would bless it with life, love and joy. He has answered that prayer by simply opening my eyes to what was already happening. And you know what? I haven't driven down Sunflower Drive in months. My autopilot heads straight to the bend in the road, a few yards from the lake, right to where my boys are waiting . . . or where I'll be waiting for them.

It's possible that absence really does make the heart grow fonder, but I really hope that time makes the heart grow wiser. I hope that one day I'm grown up enough to realize that a home isn't walls and halls, but the people God gave me to love and to love me back.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

God Bless Monster Cookies and Other Fall Foods

There really is something about Fall. Even when the temperatures creep back up to summer highs, the heat seems gentler somehow. The air remains crisp and light, as it should. Gone is that oppressive heat that makes your body feel twice as heavy, at least. Something about that sudden lightness has put some pep in my step, and I did something I haven't done in awhile--I cooked every single day last week. (Except Tuesday. Brandon cooked on Tuesday.)

On Monday, we had one of Brandon's favorites--meatloaf and sweet potatoes. On Tuesday--oatmeal and ham. But I was just warming up. Wednesday was Red Lentil Soup (or Esau soup, as I prefer to call it) and Monster cookies. Thursday was chili/chili dogs/Frito pies, depending upon your pleasure. Friday was Creole jambalaya and Gumbo . . . sort of . . . and a gluten-free pumpkin bread experiment. (It's interesting which foods scream, "Fall!," to different individuals, isn't it?) If our menu was all I had to tell, I would have posted it on Facebook, and left it at that. However, God decided to bless our Fall menu, leaving His fingerprints all over it. As with everything He touches, something ordinary became beautiful, extraordinary.

The first day that cool breezes returned to the South, I wanted to eat 3 things: Red Lentil Soup, Jambalaya and Monster cookies. These three foods make me feel satisfied and warm on the inside, which is the way I like to feel when it's cool and breezy on the outside. On Saturday morning, I made my first grocery list of the week. (I went to the store 3 times last week.) The premiere item on the list? Fall colored M&Ms for the Monster cookies. We don't fight food cravings here at the Keaster household.

Some of you may be thinking, "What is a Monster cookie?" Others may wonder if I should be eating a cookie of any kind. Relax. These babies are made with peanut butter (peanuts aren't tree nuts; they're legumes), oatmeal (I can have this in small amounts), butter, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, corn syrup, semi-sweet chocolate chips and M&Ms. No flour. (Yay!) Monster is my favorite cookie. M&Ms the colors of changing leaves make them Fall cookies.

At first, I was going to bake the cookies the day I bought the ingredients, but I was too tired after the trip to the grocery store. Then, the plan changed to Monday. Tuesday passed, and no Monster cookies had been made . . .

During my quiet time on Wednesday, I read a story out of the Bible study I'm doing by Priscilla Shirer. She writes about praying during a quiet time one morning, and hearing God tell her to call a friend because her friend needed her. She made the call, and it turned out that the friend needed her desperately. After my own time with the Lord that morning, I asked that He would help me to walk in His Spirit that day, even if I wasn't aware of it. That He would lead me like He led Priscilla on the day she called her friend. I went about my tasks, doing my best to be aware of God's presence. I spent quality time with Micah, enjoyed creation, and washed clothes, thanking God for a husband and son who needed me to wash their clothes. I decided I would bake the cookies that night, and that I would bring some to the people who had moved into the empty house next door.

The evening rolled around, and I was exhausted. I decided to wait on the cookies, but I knew I needed to get dinner going. I began cooking Red Lentil Soup, which, by the way, turned out orange, not red. I guess orange lentil soup is appropriate for the month of October.
Something unexpected happened as I chopped, stirred and simmered--my energy returned. I decided I would bake those cookies after all. Brandon came home, and entertained Micah. Dinner was ready about the time the first batch of cookies came out of the oven.

"Brandon?" I said. "Would you guys be okay if I ran over to the neighbors' with these cookies while they're warm? I won't be long."

"Sure," he shrugged.

On a whim, which is so very unlike me, I ran across the yard wearing my t-shirt and jeans, smelling of onions, with unkempt hair and no make-up on, carrying a batch of fall-colored cookies, piled high on a plastic plate, covered in foil. Not much of a presentation, really. I knocked on the door, and introduced myself. I found out that the couple is only a few years older than me. They have an eight year old daughter and another daughter who will be born in about a month. I exchanged phone numbers with the mom, who also stays at home, and told them to call if they needed anything. I said my farewells, and left. I was running Micah's bathwater not even 10 minutes later when the phone rings. It was the new neighbor.

I answered, "Hello?"

"Melissa? I'm sorry to bother you guys, but I just had to tell you that these are the best cookies I've ever eaten. I have been craving peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and I was looking for some today in the store . . . "

For whatever reason, she had been unable to find them and buy them. And I had brought them right over. On the day she was craving them. When that wasn't the plan at all. And it still took me almost half an hour to realize what exactly had happened. Dude. God sees the cattle on a thousand hills, but cares when a pregnant woman is craving a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. He answers prayers we never even thought to pray. He listens when one of His kids asks to be guided by His Spirit. You know, God didn't have to use me to bring her the cookies. She could have found some at the store or made some herself or someone else could have brought them over. But God used me, regardless of the fact that I wasn't even aware it was happening.

"for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."--Philippians 2:13

God put the desire to make the cookies inside of me and gave me the energy to pull it off because it pleased Him that we two girls should meet, and she got her cookie she'd been craving at the same time. Is God good, or what? Now I have a friend, someone who makes this end of Bear Creek Road seem a little less lonely and a lot less vulnerable. Us stay at home moms can watch each others backs, and maybe even share the occasional pot of coffee and another batch Monster cookies. Cool, huh?

On Friday, I cooked all afternoon, preparing for the guests we would have over the next two weekends. I made large portions of gumbo and Creole jambalaya. Inspired by my favorite blog, I decided to make gluten-free pumpkin bread. I used a recipe and converted it into something that wouldn't kill me. I made an original gluten-free flour blend with brown rice flour, potato flour, potato starch, baking powder and coconut flour. Everything but the gumbo came out better than expected.
Gumbo that isn't gumbo, but soup, is kind of an epic fail in Louisiana.
Even in the northern part of the state.
It made an excellent soup, though.

Into the freezer the jambalaya went to store until this weekend.
Friends, a new boyfriend and a fiance are coming to dinner.

The pumpkin bread turned out pretty well. It tasted fabulous, too.
Especially served like this.

Anyway, the gumbo, the pumpkin bread, and the left-over Monster cookie dough joined forces to help us entertain some good friends last weekend. The Blackburns and Keasters have been special family friends for a year now. On Saturday, Brandon took Drew and Nelson hunting. Ellie, Audrey, Allison, Micah and I had a tea party with real china dishes. Later, we decorated a few pumpkins. We all gathered around our little dining table that night, and enjoyed gumbo (that wasn't actually gumbo) and one another's warm and lively company. We ate. We talked. We laughed. It was simple and wonderful at the same time. And we can't wait to do it again.
My only evidence of a tea party.

Micah's pumpkin

Allison's pumpkin

Audrey's pumpkin. She used an entire jumbo sized thing of glitter on her pumpkin.

Micah managed to get as much paint on himself as he did on the pumpkin.

Me: "Say 'cheese,' Micah!"
Micah: . . . . .

God bless good food.
God bless faux gumbo.
God bless good friends.
Gold bless new friends.
God bless glittered pumpkins.
God bless painted red heads.
God bless Monster cookies.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fields of Gold

Here's the reality--tons of writers romanticize everything. It's part of the job description. I don't place myself under their banner yet, but I hope to one day. Until I achieve something a little loftier than winning a local writing contest at the age of ten, and being published in poetry anthologies for which the published must pay, I'm still an apprentice.

I think I'm learning the ropes pretty well. I know that the topic of baking cookies with Micah is acceptable reading material, but no one really cares about the pile of dishes left in the sink afterward. Everyone likes a nice blog about the joys of summer when the season first begins, but no one wants to read about a Louisiana August, in which all of the vegetation has been obliterated by the cruel sun, in which the triple digit heat index overstays its welcome, and how the simplest tasks, even indoors, make you wonder if the shower was even worth it. If Summer had overextended its visit for one day longer, I would have rebelled. I felt so bullied by that triple digit heat index that I came "this close" to exchanging romanticism for---squeal!---realism. I would have pummeled you like a hungover John Steinbeck. Thankfully for you all, while I was involved in Curtains, something magical happened--Sir Summer surrendered to the gentler climate and richer palette of Fair Fall.

Autumn's entrance in the South is rarely distinct or official. She drifts in with a sense of serenity, and an undercurrent of humility. She has no need to announce herself. Why should she? We all know when she walks into the room. Her presence is obvious, breathtaking. She is a little frustrating in that she ambles in and out, bullied around by Sir Summer who can't seem to relinquish his rights to the year. It's no wonder that I'm not sure exactly when she was ushered in by cooler breezes and that dank, smoky smell the fallen leaves take on, but she's here now. Hopefully, she will prop up her feet, and stay awhile. I'm sorry I missed the moment the doors between one season and another flew open, but I was distracted by other good things.

Although Curtains was the dominate activity for the past 8 weeks, I was also busy with mothering, wifery, housekeeping and teaching. I know that you don't care about dirty toddler diapers, mildew growing in the shower, or that I was making dinners around the same time I made lunch every day, so I thought I would limit myself to the highlights.

I will begin with my new music discovery--Mumford and Sons. This British group creates a genius combination of folk, bluegrass, rock and piercing lyrics. I couldn't decide which song I liked best, so I thought I would share one that is pretty iconic of their work, which you can listen to on the playlist provided below if you are at a computer with speakers and no workplace firewall to block your fun.

I began teaching piano and voice lessons the last week of August, and managed to hang on by my fingernails as Curtains entered into technical rehearsals, then performances. It's always amazing to me how children grow, mature and develop over the short course of a summer. The little girls I taught last year are looking more like little women, and students who couldn't sit still for half an hour last spring are doing brilliantly in hour long lessons this fall. Brandon and I also began teaching Sunday School again at Crossroads. We are glad to be back with our class from last year, just one year older, a few inches taller and a few vocabulary words wiser!

During the weeks I was involved with the show, I worked on Micah's baby book in my precious spare time. I used to upload my images, design my book and publish it. They did a beautiful job, and I'm very pleased with the product! Shutterfly photo books are user friendly, quick, painless and reasonably priced. It provides the perfect approach to documenting memories at this time in my life. What mom doesn't like fast, cheap and awesome?

The front cover

My letter to Micah and first photo

Probably my favorite page

Back cover
One Saturday, I came home from either a rehearsal or a performance--I forget because it all runs together in my mind--to find our living space painted and redecorated . . . man's man style. You may remember the battle of wills that waged until I chose to give in, realizing that I never give in, even to the person I claim to love. I will admit that although it isn't to my taste, that it isn't the nightmare I had imagined, either. Several people have really liked it. Everyone else has found some level of appreciation for it. I just have to ignore the creep factor of having the heads of dead animals protruding from my walls. (Too much realism for you? Me, too.)

How am I doing? I'm . . . coping.

I think that pretty much says it all.

Sandwiched in between the two weekend runs of Curtains were two very important events--my first time conducting a choir in 2 years and Brandon's 31st birthday. I conducted a joint choir, which included members from Crossroads in Ruston, Christ Community Church and John Knox Presbyterian Church, for the World Communion Sunday service at John Knox. It worked out surprisingly well, but I'm not sure how much of the success can be attributed to me. I was so nervous that I was freezing for the entire service, convulsing with nervous chills and uncontrollable nervous yawning until the song was complete. I also began the piece too fast. Fortunately, the organist was very good, and followed me right into a slower tempo.

Brandon turned 31 on September 21st. His birthday was on a Tuesday. He worked all day long, and just wanted to come home and relax. He had also been working really hard for the past 4 months so I could get some stage time. Almost every day, he would come home from work, pick up Micah from the grandparent on duty, feed him dinner, bathe him, and put him to bed. That is a lot to put on a guy whose job entails holding human life in his hands on a daily basis. So, I wanted to make the evening special for him.

I cooked one of his favorite dinners . . .
went to great lengths to bake him a real, glutenous,
highly-poisonous-to-myself birthday cake . . .

bought him a video game, allowing him to unwind by mass murdering the villains . . .

and made sure he was rewarded by lots of birthday kisses,
both captured and not captured on camera.

This tightly packed bushel of events hit me line a ton of bricks. Until my third 10 hour night of sleep, I was asking questions like, "Where am I?," "What am I supposed to be doing?," "What's my name again?" because I have been so TIRED after all that has gone on. On the other hand, I had been feeling like I had missed out on quite enough Micah time. So . . . for the past few days, I have aligned my schedule with his, and basked in the sunshine, the crisp air and the glow of his tiny soul.

I remember heading outside with him the first day we were able to share alone. I wanted to etch the happiness of the moment in my memory. I knew the only way I could do it was if I provided a soundtrack to our outdoor play. I brought out my Ipod, strapped it on (no headphones, just a light buzz from the small speakers), and selected the only song that made sense to me in that moment. The breeze blew into our faces gently. Golden rays peeked down at us from the tree tops, dancing in and around Micah's curls. The smell of autumn wafted from the woods to the tips of our noses, and just like that, those precious, slow moments with my son were forever burned into my memory with the help of Eva Cassidy's "Fields of Gold." What a perfect soundtrack to that hour . . . Micah felicitously discovering the world around him, teaching me how to once again marvel at the various sizes and shapes of sticks, the indigo vastness of the sky, and the joy of holding a katydid in the palm of my hand. His squeals of delight and his baby songs of contentment are sealed in my mind and heart. I remember sighing with pleasure as I drank in creation, watching him toddle about the yard and knowing that I was living in those fields of gold.

Welcome, Fair Fall, and all of your lovely fields.

I have worn a million hats thus far this fall, but the MOM hat? It fits just right.
"Peek-a-boo, Mama!"

And I didn't even tell you that I soured three loads of laundry this week by forgetting they were in the washer. How's that for romanticism?

Where am I, again? What am I supposed to be doing?