A Brilliant 2020

I already wrote my post reflecting on 2019, so this post is about my hopes for 2020 and beyond. Last year, I said I don’t like resolutions because they’re broken so easily, but I did keep to my 2019 goal of reading 40+ books (the grand total is over 60 and I promise I’ll post the entire list and highlight my favorites). I also sent queries to over 20 agents, so I kept to my goal of pursuing publishing in 2019. I *didn’t* do so hot at keeping up bi-weekly manicures (and my hands are still a mess most of the time) BUT I was getting a little better at “treating” myself more frequently–then we moved and I’ve yet to find a nail salon I love as much as the one in the Central West End (but one goal for 2020 is to stop being passive-aggressively-bitter about no longer living in St. Louis).

Riding on last year’s coattails, my goals for 2020 are similar. This year, my goal is 50 books. I’m not anticipating the downtime of a move between jobs, so most of my reading will be squeezed into the in-between-life moments: brushing my teeth, waiting for elevators, steeping my tea in the mornings.

I’ve decided to hold off querying any more agents until I’ve gotten a first draft of my sequel finished. Partially because I think this might take some pressure off, mostly because I know how the story ends but no idea how to get there, and I like the flexibility of being able to tweak book 1 if needed to make the entire story better. So my 2020 goal is to finish drafting Sticks and Stones (working title), then regroup in terms of publishing. (Of course, that goes completely out the window if an agent offers representation now) 😉

I like the idea of doing something very resolution-y and health/physical-body-related, even though my follow through is statistically horrible. I’m going to try getting up a half hour early and incorporating a quick yoga routine into my mornings. And maybe get more manicures again.

I’m also going to return to therapy in 2020. This one’s kind of cheating, because I’ve already made the appointment, but I like crossing things off lists. Look at me go, already starting 2020 ahead of the game! I want to be more honest (I know that’s a goal I’ve had in the past, but this year I’m particularly focused on no longer lying to myself), and I hope therapy will help me separate out how I actually think/feel/want to act from the ways I *think* I should think/feel/act.

And I’m totally going to bake more, because I absolutely love it. I want to master challah, and tackle at least 5 items on my baking bucket list in 2020: macarons, croissants, sandwich bread, pretzel buns, and rainbow cookies.

Because everything in life should come with a soundtrack, here’s my song for 2020: BRILLIANT by Shinedown. If I can be one thing in 2020, let it be this kind of brilliant.

Best Nine of 2019

I love the trend of posting your best nine pics of a given year. Not only is it a chance to revisit some excellent memories and gather them all into one collage (remember making actual collages in the 90s, pasting together photos and stickers and ticket stubs? Am I dating myself?), but pulling together nine pictures from across a year reminds you just how blessed you are.

Maybe I’ve just had an extraordinarily *good* year. Maybe I’m just getting better at seeing the positives. Either way, this year I struggled to narrow down my 2019 experiences into nine thumbnail-sized shots. So what are blogs for, if not reminiscing?

At the beginning of the year, we got a perfect snow in St. Louis–enough to disrupt work for a day, not enough to put us on lockdown. One of the neighborhood restaurants opened its patio that night and provided free spiked hot chocolate/hot toddies around fire pits. Such a midwestern thing to do, and such spontaneous, snowy fun!

We also went to our first (and only) musical at the Fox Theatre while in the Lou. Fiddler on the Roof was every bit as magical as I remember it being when I watched it on VHS in middle school (moreso, since it was live, and I was old enough to appreciate what was going on in the story–I did NOT realize how dark it gets in Act II!).

Taking advantage of our location, we did a long weekend in the other Lou–touring bourbon distilleries, appreciating the baseball history, and visiting Churchill Downs. Louisville remains one of my favorite trips we’ve taken, and I can’t wait to visit again!

2019 saw the first newborn member inducted into the Olin Boys’ Club, as well as a whole host of get-togethers and adventures with our b-school buddies. These include Olin’s formal, graduation, and a trip to the Ozarks, to feature a few. The hubs turned 30, which we celebrated with bowling followed by a rooftop bar.

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We also enjoyed adult beverages in the street, because St. Louis.

We visited Chicago and continued an hour north to see Milwaukee (my favorite of the small cities we’ve visited since moving to St. Louis). We popped home in time to watch the Blues win the Stanley Cup. Then began our journey east.

After a pit stop in Indianapolis (and another, not-pictured, in Pittsburgh), we made it to our new home in DC. I worked on polishing my manuscript and query materials, and began seeking agent representation for my novel.

My brother visited during his (too) brief tour of the US before returning to Korea. I bravely (for me) explored DC on my own, between job-hunting and writing. And my in-laws (after at least 8 years of talking about it) *finally* bought a home in Old Town.

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We made it out to Rehoboth Beach, where we discovered we’re no longer used to the brilliance of a sun reflecting off ocean waves.

An agent responded to one of my queries, complimenting my writing sample and requesting more. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire walk home from our new favorite pizza place. My husband bought a car (unrelated, but almost as exciting for him).

Dear friends tied the knot. Others have growing families. I turned 30.

And celebrated with a parade. Okay, that was for the Nationals, since they won the World Series and all. I started a new job with a fun group of people. I watched so much Great British Baking Show that I was inspired…

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The challah that started it all!

I spent time with those adorable faces (and equally adorable sister- and brother-in-law, not pictured). I baked a lot more delicious stuff. Turns out, I’m a baker! #challahatyagirl

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As the year winds down, holiday parties are filling the calendar. Crazy to think there’s only a week left in 2019, and in the 2010s! What a decade it was. Here’s to the memories, friendships, and epic life changes!

And to 2020: No pressure. 😉

Grabbing a Bite at My Favorite Spot

The night is so cold, my ears start to ache before we’ve even crossed the street. Breath crystallizes in the light of a streetlamp and my nose throbs. My date ushers me through the door first, ever the gentleman, and I’m hit by a wall of heat and the rich scent of beer and well-polished wood.

The bartender pauses in her conversation with one of the local regulars to call a friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” as we pass. We wave, still too frozen (not to mention far too hungry) for Midwestern small-talk. The floorboards are well-worn around the horseshoe bar, as if we needed a path to follow.

Tonight, we’re in luck: there are only a handful of people in line. Of course, if this is their first visit, we could still wait a half-hour to order, but I like our odds. My eyes wander the tap handles as I try to decide between my usual Citywide Pale Ale or a nice chocolate milk stout.

Aggressive music floats through the window into the kitchen, underscoring the conversation taking place there. This close, the smell of caramelizing ground beef makes my mouth water. Impatience sets me bouncing on the balls of my feet as the couple at the counter finalize their order.

“Hey, guys, long time no see,” he says when it’s our turn.

It’s been just over a week since our last visit. It feels like an eternity has passed.

The guys chitchat about the weather and how quiet it is tonight, despite the line that has multiplied behind us. Then comes the order: “Two double classics with everything and a side of regular fries.”

I pretend I might switch it up, but in the end, it’s always the same.

We snag two stools at the far corner of the bar, Thursday night football starting up on the screen behind us. Frigid winter air leaks through the seam of the door beneath the TV, but it’s toasty within my jacket. The phone nestles on the bar between us.

I’ve gone for the stout; he orders the pale ale. We people-watch and make up whispered stories about those in line, feet from where we sit. A raucous cheer sounds from the other side of the bar. I twist in time to catch the replay and curse my fantasy team.

The phone buzzes: order’s up! He slides from the stool and squeezes past the line to retrieve the scratched metal tray. My heart pounds with anticipation. Butter, onions, and sizzling beef cloud around us as he sets our burgers down.

The toasted bun is soft and buttery. The crisp edge of the smashed patties adds a delicate crunch, and melted American cheese wraps it all in salty, gooey luxury. No matter how much I savor every bite, the burger is gone within minutes, washed down with fat, golden fries—perfectly crisp exterior, soft carby interior—and a swallow of one of 4Hand’s finest brews.

My belly full and warm, my fingertips buzzing from the stout, we brave the cold once more to return home.

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Taking a Walk to Clear My Head

Today is one of those achingly beautiful days. The sky is painfully blue, a blue you could gladly drown in, and the sun bathes the multi-colored trees golden. Each breath is crisp with decaying leaves and the promise of frost.

Cars fly through the intersection. A golden-doodle pants at my side, distracted from the sight of the park across the street by a new person to smell. I bury my gloved hands deep in my coat pockets and tilt my face skyward. A light but insistent wind tugs at my earlobes and rubs the tip of my nose, but the sun’s warmth soothes away the sting.

It’s a day that reminds you you’re alive and demands you be happy about it.

The light changes, a shiny pickup and rusted old Honda blurring past anyway. Everyone waits a collective breath, then the dog leads the charge into the crosswalk. Two joggers pass, spurring the dog and its owner faster. I take my time. Forest Park waits patiently.

Inside the park, the sun dapples through slowly-dying leaves. I cross the bridges, first over the metrolink, then over the parkway, and descend to the Victorian footbridge. Wood planks echo underfoot. I take a moment to lean against the black metal railing. A chill seeps through the down of my jacket sleeves. The sun reflects off the water below, and on the far bank, a weeping willow flutters in the wind.

Two teenagers speed past on electric scooters, rumbling across the footbridge. Wisps of breathless conversation drift by as speed-walking moms push their strollers toward the ice rink. I turn right instead, gravel crunching beneath my boots. Here, without the burnt-hued trees shading the path, the sun sinks into my skin. Frigid air burns my nose with each inhalation. Every breath tastes of life.

By the time I reach the statue and pause for a vehicle headed down the road toward the Muny, my fingers are numb despite the gloves. Breath clouds in front of my face and my cheeks tingle. I turn and follow the path back along the creek, past a man calling for his black lab as his little boy cheers on the dog sloshing through the shallow current. Past a couple arguing on a bench near the pond with the fountain spraying rainbows between its jets. Back under tree-cover, a smile for the homeless man curling up on the bench surrounded by brambles and caught-leaves. Across the footbridge, pausing for a cyclist to cross my path. A grandmother helps a toddling child in a princess skirt climb the stairs to the pedestrian overpass. She trades a smile with me over her shoulder then cautions the little girl to “let the lady pass.”

A train blurs below as I cross the second bridge, its rails whistling protests against the cold metal. Somewhere, a fire crackles in a wood-burning fireplace, filling the air with the smoky-sweet scent of home.

It is a good day to be alive.

Highs and Lows

Hello, friends! It’s been a little bit, and mostly that’s because I’ve been busy (but also, a little lazy).

So we *moved*. The Navy Yard area of DC is so fun and surprisingly pretty (I’ll admit, I was expecting a lot more concrete, but there are parks and tree-lined streets not far in the beautiful Capitol Hill neighborhood). I will definitely need to post about the great food and drinks we’ve experienced thus far!

I also started a new job! It happened a lot faster than I expected, which is mostly good because I was already starting to get a little stir-crazy–though a little extra time between jobs may have provided more writing opportunities.

Who am I kidding? I started the querying process shortly after the move, so rather than putting pen to paper, I was crafting letters and cramming the happenings of my story into a single page (double-spaced). This process gave me terrible writer’s block, because my brain was so focused on the nittiest, grittiest of details rather than letting my imagination roam free.

So my lack of creativity mingled with my lack of hearing back from agents I queried, sprinkled with stress over starting a new job in a new city with a new, hellish commute has had me bouncing from high to low and back again. The best way to explain how I’ve felt this past month would be to say I vacillate between “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco and “Special” by Shinedown with very little neutral ground. Though, I’m pleased to report things just might be looking up for me in the writing world. To be continued…

That’s all I’ve got for right now, I’ll try to get back to semi-regular posting once I’m more settled into a routine. I’ve definitely got the commute for composing rambles!

2019 Reading Challenge: Accomplished!

Maybe it’s all this free time on my hands (definitely that) but I blew through 40 books this year. I’m also the sort of person who crams entertainment into every few minutes she can (reading for the 2 minutes it takes to brush my teeth, listening to podcasts while I get ready for the day, driving or cooking to Spotify playlists…) and I need at least an hour of unwind-reading-time before I fall asleep. I’ve made my stretch goal 65 books…let’s see what I can do to read 25 more books before New Year’s Eve!

To Recap:

  1. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  2. The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins
  3. Wildcard by Marie Lu
  4. Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne
  5. Seafire by Natalie C. Parker
  6. Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer
  7. The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donad Maass
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart
  10. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
  11. Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody
  12. Courting Darkness by Robin LeFevers
  13. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  14. The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  15. The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
  16. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  17. “I Give You My Body…” by Diana Gabaldon
  18. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
  19. A Question of Holmes by Brittany Cavallaro
  20. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusa
  21. The Firethorn Crown– Lea Doué 
  22. Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi
  23. The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein – Kiersten White
  24. King of Fools – Amanda Foody
  25. Girl, Stop Apologizing – Rachel Hollis
  26. Legacy of Kings – Eleanor Herman
  27. Girls of Glass – Brianna Labuskes
  28. Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty
  29. The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe – Allie Condy
  30. Dance of Thieves – Mary E. Pearson
  31. Mirage – Somaiya Daud (A young woman is taken from her family to be the stand-in for an enemy princess–who just so happens to be her doppelgänger. Once at the palace, though, she learns things aren’t what they’d appeared)
  32. Queen of Ruin – Tracy Banghart (excellent sequel to Grace and Fury, all about girl power, sisterhood, and trust)
  33. Captivate: The Science of Succeeding With People – Vanessa Van Edwards (ever see the show Lie to Me? She discusses micro-expressions and how to read people quickly to overcome social anxiety and awkward interactions…I’m still pretty socially anxious, but I learned a lot of interesting things reading this!)
  34. Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo (A girl discovers she has a great power that’s been repressed her entire life, but could be the key to saving her people from the monsters who lurk in the darkness)
  35. Yes, Please – Amy Poehler (as funny and heart-warming as she is, Amy Poehler’s memoir is full of interesting life advice, anecdotes about Parks and Rec, and features a stellar cast of voices if you listed to the audio book)
  36. The Ladies’ Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Mackenzie Lee (sequel to The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and just as charming and witty. Featuring an asexual leading lady who just wants to be a doctor and/or go on an adventure–and ends up getting much more than she bargained for)
  37. The Lost Girls – Heather Young (told from two POV, that of the sister to a young girl who went missing in 1930s Minnesota, and her great-niece trying to start a new life for her family. Family secrets are uncovered, long buried mysteries are solved, and a family finally finds peace)
  38. Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan (a girl is hunted for her ability to commune with the gods and combat the blood magic used by the heretics of an enemy country. She places her trust in one such enemy, with their joint goal of ending the war between their countries. But when she arrives at the enemy king’s court, she isn’t sure who she can trust)
  39. Mistress of the Ritz – Melanie Benjamin (told through competing POVs–that of Blanche and her husband Claude–we see the Nazi occupation of Paris during WWII and the lengths people go to in order to protect everything they love–including a glamorous hotel)
  40. Broken Things – Lauren Oliver (this was very much along the lines of Sharp Objects, Gone Girl, and Girl on the Train. Friends are accused of murdering their best friend when they were 13. Five years later, they’re thrown back together with a new clue to finding the actual murderer. Everyone’s a suspect, and everyone has something to hide. I’m usually good at figuring out these twists, but I didn’t realize who the murderer was until shortly before it was revealed, despite the well-laid clues.)

There you have it, 40 new books in 2019! My bookshelf is full in the Libby app, and I have four unread books in my den just waiting for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing how many books I can experience before the year is out!

Blood and Bones: Mix 5

I’m back with another playlist of songs that I’m jamming hard to! Some are new(ish), some have been around forever. It’s not the most cohesive list, but they all make me crank up the volume!

  1. Halfway Right – Linkin Park (“All you said to do was slow down, but I was already gone…”)
  2. Reflections* – Lucidious (I’ve got to have a Lucidious song on here–I’m convinced he’s me in rapper-form: “I ask myself would I write this shit if nobody loved it?”)
  3. Hostage – Griffin Oskar (the chorus gets me belting it out like “‘Cause love don’t wanna let me leave AND-I’M-A-HOSTAGE!”)
  4. BKCBD* – The Blancos (“And we don’t know who we are, just Broken Kids Chasing Broken Dreams”)
  5. Someone to Rely On – John Allred (from the first strum, this song *feels* as reliable as the title implies. Definitely a song for every couple I’ve ever written, but especially fits for my future piratey story)
  6. Play That Song – Train (so the melody of this song is totally “borrowed” from Heart and Soul by Hoagie Carmichael, which is my #1 song for my WWII series I’ve been working on, which immediately made me love it. That it’s so peppy and fun only makes it better)
  7. Old Town Road (Remix) – Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus (this one just makes me think of the OBC–my husband’s friends from business school)
  8. Secrets – Tribe Society (this song is really badass, and one I’m definitely saving for some powerful, dark character someday)
  9. bury a friend – Billie Eilish (another fun one to bounce along to, with a kind of dark twist. Also works for Solvi heading into Book 2)
  10. Someone You Loved – Lewis Capaldi (this song gives me all the feels. Also perfect for my pirate story, but could fit Einar/Solvi, too…)
  11. Never Really Over – Katy Perry (I *adore* this song. Every shift in the music is amazing, and I love bopping around to the “just-because-it’s-over-doesn’t-mean-it’s-really-over…” part)

Like I said, it’s a weird mix, but if you’re interested in listening to the entire playlist, you can find it here.