The magic of instant friendship.

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I came home from work the other day to find my little lady in her bedroom, lying on the bed with her laptop open and the Christmas lights she keeps strung around the room all year long plugged in. She was creating a website for a school project and had her phone propped up next to her so that she could FaceTime with a friend. Sounds like pretty much any thirteen-year-old in America, right? But this isn’t just any friend–this is a friend she met at the pool in Mexico when we vacationed there four years ago, and he–yes, he–lives in Virginia. So while she’s doing her pre-dinner homework here on the West coast, he’s playing around on his flight simulator on the East coast where it’s three hours later in the evening. They giggled and chatted as they worked on their individual pursuits, so I closed the bedroom door and went to change out of my work clothes, thinking how small the world must seem to them. I mean, I’ve met people and lost people and found them all over again (or never found them again at all) so many times throughout the years–to think that keeping in touch and seeing the face of someone you met so randomly is this easy for them seems strange. Their world is so different.

Her muted laughter drifted from her bedroom down the hall as I unwound my scarf and took off my earrings, and I thought about the day these two unlikely friends met, and about the way I’d pulled some hotel stationary from my pool bag and scribbled some thoughts as they played together under the sun. Though I hadn’t seen the paper in a few years, I knew I still had it tucked away somewhere, so I went in search of it. I found it folded in fours and tucked between the pages of a leather-bound journal in a drawer. Here is what I wrote:

She’d waited four days. Four long days for a playmate. Four days of settling on Mama as a swim date. Four days of conducting the ocean in its rise and fall with her long arms, unaware of my camera trained on her.

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And then finally he came. Not the fellow nine-year-old girl she’d hoped for. Not someone she could talk Barbies with, but a dark-haired eight-year-old in swim trunks and a black swim shirt with a pirate emblazoned on the chest. Prior to his arrival, there’d been fits and starts of “What’s your name?” and unremarkable snubs by girls who already had sisters and friends to play with. They didn’t need her. These repeated social letdowns had left her wrapped in a towel in tears by my side all week, but in one swift move of friendliness and curiosity, this boy in the pirate shirt had taught her one of life’s special secrets: sometimes boys are just easier.

He asked her where she was from and quickly explained to her why our four-hour trip from PDX to Cabo would take five-and-a-half hours on our return: “Headwinds or drag,” he said knowingly. “I’m kind of a plane expert.” He told us he was a member of the Beckford Barracuda swim team back in Richmond, Virginia. He told us he could swim the backstroke in 1:12, and that he knew how to have underwater tea parties. He told us he’d be happy to help us with our fries, which we were snacking on poolside on this, our first all-inclusive vacation and our first trip to Mexico. I slid the plate in his direction.

I could see that she was put off by the fact that he didn’t need her name in order to pursue this friendship, and that he seemed to want to share with her every piece of information he’d ever gleaned during his eight years on planet Earth. His desire to bring her into his world was charming, in my opinion, so in addition to “Sometimes boys are just easier to make friends with than girls,” I whispered another of life’s little secrets in her ear before she dove back into the pool: “Sometimes boys like to talk. A lot. Just let them. You’ll get your turn when they finally run out of things to say.” She nodded and snapped her aqua-tinted goggles back into place, took a deep breath, and dove into the turquoise pool after him.

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“Holly,” he said sometime later. “Want to go in the jacuzzi?”

“Sure.” She shrugged, trailing after him.

Want to go in the jacuzzi?” my husband intoned, eyebrows raised. “I thought she hated the jacuzzi! I thought she was the jacuzzi police–’No one under sixteen allowed.’”

“Not anymore,” I smiled, watching as she followed her new friend across the pool deck.

Now, post-jacuzzi, they have set up camp on a shared towel under some stranger’s umbrella, the roiling Sea of Cortez a backdrop to their games of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and hand claps. I watch them with mild envy as my baby replaces me as her only playmate on this trip, and wonder what impression this brief friendship under the sun will have on either of their young hearts. Will this self-professed “plane expert”–this boy who patiently explained to my daughter that she lives in the Washington with Seattle in it, not Washington D.C. where the president lives–will he grow up and remember this day? Will he one day think of blonde-haired, red-shouldered Holly from Spring Break in Cabo? Will he write about her? Perhaps fashion a poem as a grad student about a long-legged girl in a purple bikini who swam with the dolphins but wouldn’t race him in the backstroke? Or will it fade from memory for both of them, lost as many things are in the haze of childhood–like the pink sun setting just west of the crashing waves of the Sea of Cortez?

It’s the most wonderful time of the year–Part 2.

Last December I posted about my favorite hobby aside from writing: taking pictures of my daughter in my wedding dress every year around her birthday to mark the passage of time (the original post is here). This December we went to Europe to spend the holidays with my dad and stepmum in the U.K., and we traveled to Paris and Amsterdam as well as to London and the English countryside. It was two and a half weeks of wearing the same jeans and boots, cramming the beat-up pile of pink tulle and satin that was my wedding dress into a camera bag, and offering to buy my 13-year-old a pregnant puppy if she’d let me strip her down to jeans and a tank top in public (and in freezing weather) yet again to yank the dress and a jacket on and snap some shots of her in front of the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben. She was a trouper. (And I totally reneged on the puppy, which I’m sure will come up in therapy when she’s an adult.)

Her dad had to run interference between us on several occasions (how many times can we both retreat our separate corners and point our fingers at each other–me accusing her of not seeing the long-term vision of the project, and her demanding that I act like a normal mom for once…as if that’s ever going to happen–before we just bag the whole concept and I start to vacation with a point-and-shoot camera and forget all about the wedding dress that’s shoved into the back of my closet?) But we got it done. And even though it was cold–sometimes teeth-chatteringly so–we got our shots. I made some blunders with a couple of days of photos (didn’t realize I had my ISO set too high), but my husband acted as my trusty assistant, snapping back-up pictures with his iPhone and helping me to coax my mini-me into re-shooting a couple of our locations in Paris. It was a real family effort this year.

And now my baby girl is 13. A teenager. Her braces are off, her self-consciousness is in full-swing (“Mooommmm, there are people staring at us!”), and she is still the absolute light of our lives. Happy 2017–here’s to another year of adventure and joy!

 

 

RRBC Book and Blog Party 2016!

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Welcome to this stop on the blog tour! This is our first time participating, and we’re really excited to join you from Vancouver, Washington. We’ll have two winners today here at Redbirds & Rabbits, and all you need to do to enter is comment on this blog post. Our two prizes today (both randomly drawn by the RRBC team) are:

  • One $25 gift card to Old Navy (perfect for back-to-school shopping!)
  • One paperback copy of There’s Always a Catch, the first book in my Christmas Key women’s fiction series. Along with the book, I’ll send you some “book swag” like a magnet and my own homemade soundtrack of songs inspired by There’s Always a Catch and the forthcoming Wild Tropics, which is book #2 of the series!

It’s exciting to have you join us from wherever you are on this beautiful planet, and we’d love to tell you a little bit more about ourselves. My name is Stephanie, and I’m the mom. Holland is my 12-year-old daughter, and we’re the co-authors of a series that Holland dreamed up two summers ago. From her original idea, we decided to write books about what it might feel like for young girls to move to America. Each book is about a girl from a different country, and the main character’s story follows her as she moves to our country and gets assimilated. We published our first book, Iris, about a year ago, and we’re incredibly excited to announce that we just put out our second book, Mai, a few days ago.

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In addition to the books I write with my daughter, I also pen a women’s series based on a fictional island off the coast of Florida called “Christmas Key.” The main character, Holly Baxter, is the 30-year-old mayor of a tropical island where the only traffic comes from slow-moving golf carts driven by retirees; the commute to work involves getting sand between your toes; and happy hour means salty margaritas with a view of the ocean. The only drawback for Holly is the lack of romantic options on Christmas Key! Book one, There’s Always a Catch, came out in the spring, and book two of the series, Wild Tropics, will be out in September.

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And finally (as if two series and being a full-time teacher wasn’t enough!) I write YA under the pen name Reed Hall. My first YA book, @Robertopancake, came out last year, and it was a book that I absolutely loved writing. The whole thing was inspired by an exchange about music that I had with a kid on Twitter back when the site first became popular, and it moved me to write this book from the perspective of a teenage boy. The real @Robertopancake kindly gave me permission to take his (often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking) teenage boy tweets out of context and use them in my own fictional tale. The result is a book that I’m still incredibly proud of, and the main character is someone I love as if he’s a real, live boy (and many of my readers have said they wished he was real!).

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Thank you for stopping by today–we’ve loved being a part of the Rave Reviews Book Club the past few months, and this blog tour has been a great example of what a wonderful, supportive community it is. Happy reading and writing, everyone!

~Stephanie & Holland

The magic of words.

We all know by now that I’m on this writing journey with my pre-teen daughter, and I can confirm to you all that it’s been one of the best things I’ve done in my life. My girl turns 13 this year, and we’ve just spent the summer together doing a variety of things (which, I’ll admit, includes a fair amount of time spent re-viewing Gilmore Girls on Netflix), but most importantly, we’ve sat together and finished our first draft of the second book in our American Dream series. It took us a year to get that done (those are the realities of working with a hormonal adolescent who would sometimes rather watch Barbie furniture building how-to videos on YouTube than read through a section of a manuscript again to get it just right), but last night, as we sat in her bed under the Christmas lights that she has draped around her room, we emailed the edited draft out to our beta-readers, and it felt AMAZING to say we’d completed this project.

And by “completed” I mean we’ve written it and taken turns reading the chapters out loud, making our changes and haggling over word choice and description (the final editing will be mine to do once we get feedback). But that’s the magic, really: the words. The ones we wrote together, the ones I listen to her read, and the ones we debate over. They’ve kept us working together, side-by-side, like glue. They’ve kept us from drifting into a land where she holes up alone in her room like a typical teen, keeping her words to herself or only sharing them with friends. Instead, she shares them with me. As we write, we talk about other “stuff”–boys, mean girls, fashion, music. I mean, we talk a lot anyway, but this gives us a safe place to make silly jokes and to apply the situations we write about to real life. This book we’ve just finished gives us the chance to talk about what mean girls are like in middle school in 2016, and lets us ponder what sort of messages we want each book to impart. (For the record, she talked it through as I listened, and we ultimately decided that this book is about believing in yourself and overcoming whatever obstacles or limitations life throws in your path.)

Writing also gave us something to talk about on our road trips this summer. We sat next to pools in Buffalo, Wyoming and talked about our next book: who will our main character be? Where should she be from? (Russia, we’ve decided.) What state will she move to in America? (While driving to an abandoned gold-mining town outside of Bozeman, Montana, we determined that she’d definitely be moving to a horse ranch in the “Treasure State”.) And as we power-walked through a pool in Spokane, Washington like a couple of middle-aged retirees on a water aerobics mission, we even got to daydream about a time when we had enough books published that we could go on an indie bookstore tour, setting up tables and autographing books for our rabid fans. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

I know there are a few more weeks of summer and I shouldn’t be mourning its end just yet, but teachers go back to work three weeks from today, so…the end is near. I have some final editing to do on my own book, and I’m hoping to have both of our books out in early September (it always takes longer than you think it will!) The covers are done, the drafts are written and in their final stages, and–as always–I’m eternally grateful for the magic of words.

Designing a small office on the cheap.

So we have this playhouse–this adorable little space in our backyard that can’t be more than 5 feet by 6 feet–that my husband built entirely from instructions he found online about eight years ago. It started out as a playhouse for Holly, and we picked pink for the walls, filled it with plastic food and dishes, stuffed animals and dress-up clothes, and then let her make up games and play with friends out there. (These pics are from Labor Day weekend 2010–oh, how I miss that tiny girl!)

At some point we put a desk in there and added some “writing stuff”–books, inspiration boards, and our collection of red birds and rabbits–and she and I used it to work on our stories together. lady & lou

But this summer she’d finally stopped playing out there when friends came over, so we got rid of the last remnants of pretend food, gave away the tiny table and chairs where she’d used her plastic cash register to sell imaginary burgers and fries, and talked about making it a more inspiring space for both of us. She was loathe to say good-bye to the pink walls, but I finally convinced her we should try something new, and we agreed on blue.

I didn’t want to go crazy spending money on redesigning such a small space, so here’s what we did:

  • sold the old desk and chair set on Craigslist for $40
  • Bought a gallon of paint (“Resolute Blue” by Sherwin Williams)–$25
  • Printed 4×6 copies of all 5 book covers (ours, mine, and the one I wrote under a pen name) and bought frames at Target–$20 total
  • Purchased a 2-shelf white stand at Target (and convinced the hubby to put it together!)–$25
  • Found a gold cup, clock, and a white candle at Target to add some interest–$25
  • Picked up a white rug at Target for under the desk–$30
  • Moved a small white IKEA desk and chair out of our guest room and put it in the writing room (already had these)
  • Dug up an old lamp that Holly once used in her bedroom, cleaned it, and put a new light bulb in it (already had these)
  • Used our collection of books and those lucky red birds and rabbits for decoration (already owned all of this as well)
  • Brought a heavy ceramic box from my step-mum (she found it in a charity shop in the UK) down from a shelf and used it to hold paperclips and post-it notes, and to offer inspiration, as it says “NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP” on the lid (already had this)
  • Total: $125, minus the $40 I made from the old desk set. So the grand total I spent to remodel and re-charge our writing space is $85–I’m pretty happy with that!

Here are some of the “after” shots (we ended up turning the desk towards the wall for functionality, but it could really go either way):

I’ve already been out here for most of the day–I think I’ve found my new “happy place”!