A season for gratitude: A short and simple, but just as honest Thanksgiving list

A short list of things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. www.alliepottswrites.comA pair of Thanksgiving trees now stands at attention in the center of my dining room table. They were a project my boys worked on one day with their Nana. They consist a foam trunk with a scattering of bare branches. Red, yellow, and orange leaves, attached by glue, proudly proclaim all the things my children are grateful for this year.

Kiddo’s lists all the things you might expect from a sweet and sensitive nine-year-old. On it, there is mom and dad, his brother’s name, his grandparents, and his cousins.

Then there is LT’s tree and all the previously unsung heroes of my youngest’s truth.

As much as I wanted to laugh at what he chose to be grateful for this year, I can see the kid’s point for each and every one of his selections. And so this year I am attempting to follow his lead and give thanks to my own semi-ridiculous, but no less true, list of things that have made life that much better.

1. Her Royal Highness’s ‘Royal’ Sensibilities

It is a generally recommended that one does not do one’s business where one eats. I believe my dog, Her Royal Highness has this stitched on a pillow somewhere as she would prefer to drag us out in the snow and rain to do her business down the block than within the perimeter of our yard. This, of course, has necessitated many a walk resulting in many of my favorite posts, as well as the occasional swear words.

2. Mexican Restaurants

Specifically the Mexican restaurant close to my day job. While technically a sit-down establishment, the food arrives within minutes of me sitting down no matter how full the dining area is which gives me the ability to eat with time to spare for writing, editing, brainstorming, and other creative ponderings.

3. Bulletproof coffee

I love breakfast. Its one of the few meals I can be trusted to cook in its entirety (most of the time), but I love sleep too, and as a mom with a day job as well as novels to write and designs to create, I sometimes have to choose between the two. When forced, I choose sleep. Who knew that by adding a bit of butter to my morning brew, the drink would tide me over until lunch while giving me a few extra minutes of zzzzs?

4. Turn by turn navigation enabled by GPS

I have gifts – a natural directional instinct is not one of them. If left to my own devices, I can get lost pretty much anywhere. I’ve even managed to get myself lost on a battleship which is no small feat considering you are pretty much restricted to a defined parameter and a handful of decks. If it wasn’t for that lovely voice saying re-calculating when running a quick errand, I might have found myself several states over by now.

5. Podcasts

If I am going to be stuck in traffic, I at least can listen to something as entertaining as it is educational. My personal favorite is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast, which is geared toward the indie author, and I enjoyed getting into the Halloween spirit last month listening to Lore and Spooked. This month I’m giving This American Life a try and already have learned quite a bit about US copyright law simply by hearing about how an Indonesian monkey sued a British photographer in our courts.

6. A broken air conditioner

Raleigh, NC isn’t exactly known for its moderate summers, so when our air conditioner broke down not once, but twice this summer, we decided a change of scenery was in order. We spent the weekend in the mountains hiking and hunting for waterfalls. While her Royal Highness wasn’t a fan of the thunderstorm that kept us up all night (nor was I), we all agreed that the steak dinner cooked over campfire flames was one of the best meals this family has ever eaten together.

7. The neighbor’s trampoline

This one was on LT’s list as well and is a story in and of itself. The neighbors down the street had a trampoline and a son who’d recently graduated from high school.

One evening, they asked my husband if he would like to take it off their hands. A week of backbreaking work later in which we’d removed clay and pebble-filled soil over a 14-foot diameter, the corner of our newly leveled backyard became our kid’s (even Her Royal Highness) new favorite hang-out.

It may be old, and it may not be the prettiest, but bouncing and laughing under a blue sky while shaded by more than a few towering trees beats video games most days of the week.

8. Net Neutrality

This is not a joke. In the US, there is a serious concern that regulations currently on the books preventing internet service providers from being able to treat one site’s traffic differently than another’s may be overturned in the coming weeks. While currently, the major internet providers have publicly stated that they remain committed to the concept of net neutrality regardless of legislation, there is no guarantee that this will remain the case in the future.

Those not in the US who generate content should also care because, without net neutrality, US audiences will be further segmented as people opt not to pay for (or are otherwise unable to afford) access to sites the ISP wishes to restrict, disincentivize, or otherwise categorize as premium or exclusive content. This means marketing, which is already tough enough for a small business owner (like an indie author), is going to be even more difficult to navigate and connecting with an audience, an even bigger challenge.

So I am grateful for the net neutrality I’ve enjoyed thus far and would prefer to keep it.

And on that happy note, I will leave you, as Thanksgiving has taught me over the years that you can rarely feast to excess without experiencing at least a little indigestion.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, I continue to be grateful for all of you year round and wish you and yours all the best.

He should be grateful for his smile. It’s the only thing keeping him out of trouble some days.

The Watch & Wand Update:

My advance proof arrived last week and it is every bit as wonderful to hold in my hands as I imagined. Going on sale December 5th, 2017, you can read an excerpt here or pre-order for kindle here.

How I won big time by losing the sure family bet #CBF17

I went to lunch with my grandpa. No, it wasn’t his birthday. Nor was it a holiday. I went because I could. Something I wouldn’t have been able to do a year ago and something I’d bet I would never be able to do without days or weeks of planning.

I mean that quite literally. But before I get into the bet, I should explain. My grandpa, now in his nineties, has lived his entire adult life in Flint, Michigan, and though he occasionally suggested he might be willing to leave the great white north, he would change his mind in dramatic fashion the minute my mom ever made the mistake of taking him seriously.

Then one day quite out of the blue, my grandpa announced he was ready. Not ready to move down south, oh no, no, no, but at least ready to move to a place down the road where we didn’t have to worry quite so much about his roof collapsing under the weight of snow or someone breaking into his shed. My mom and her siblings did not waste any time, appearing as if by magic, to help move his essentials and clean out the family home before any second thoughts got the better of him.

His new living arrangements weren’t perfect, but it gave us a sliver more peace of mind. Still, the family home remained off the market, though it remained unoccupied.

We worried it would remain that way for some time. We also worried that it wouldn’t, at least, not legally anyway.

You see, in addition to being ranked among America’s most dangerous cities, Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, which began in 2014, though it took another year to be recognized for what it is, has still not been resolved. At least not fully. While the water in 57% of homes tested in December of 2016 contained no evidence of lead, it took until March 2017, for a judge to approve a deal to improve the water lines for an additional 18,000 homes – improvements which do not have to be complete until the year 2020. (source AP: A Timeline of the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan, US News.)

The lead in the water was only a piece of it. 91 residents of Flint and Genesee County, which includes Flint, contracted Legionnaires’ Disease. 12 died. Children born after the crisis began had an average birth weight 5% less than those born before with a higher than average risk of developing irreversible neurological conditions, and fetal deaths spiked by 58% (source Flint Had a Lead Crisis in Its Water. Now It Has a Fertility Crisis, Mother Jones).

Is it any wonder then that Flint might not have the nation’s hottest housing market?

You might then be asking why my grandpa was so unwilling to move. We openly wondered about that on more than one occasion too. I can only assume I get some of my stubborn refusal to accepts facts as presented grit from him.

Back to the bet. As the summer neared its end, my mom eagerly told us that grandpa had changed his mind yet once more. This time it was different. He would brave the change. He was ready to pick family over the familiar. She asked me if I would mind sparing my hubby for a few days to help with the heavy lifting.

Of course, I didn’t believe it for a second. I bet her she was wrong. I told her if and only if he still wanted to go through with it when the time came, I’d be happy to solo parent for a couple of days. It was an easy gamble.

A week passed. The story from my grandpa didn’t change. My mom, stepdad, and my husband booked a truck. I bet them he’d send them back the first day. They spent the day packing, finishing up a day earlier than expected. I bet them they would make it as far as Ohio before grandpa asked to turn the truck around. The truck stopped in North Carolina at a nice retirement complex ten minutes from my home.

I bet them they would make it as far as Ohio before grandpa asked to turn the truck around. The truck stopped in North Carolina at a nice retirement complex ten minutes from my home.

So instead of being right, I sat to Grandpa’s left as we enjoyed a lightly seasoned piece of baked fish. We met Irwin, another 93-year-old transplant from the north with a sharp wit and love of terrible puns rivaling my own. We met Paula a self-professed trouble-maker with an eye for cleanliness and efficiency in the German tradition who came to the US from Bavaria with the intention of staying two years only to stay sixty-five. We met soft-spoken John who was just as welcoming. I heard my grandfather laugh and for dessert, they served apple pie.

Losing a bet was never more delicious and I am happy to report, my grandpa’s house sold.

With an upside like this, it’s enough to make you wonder why, for so many of us, it takes so long to brave the risk of a little change.

The hashtag, #CBF17 in this post’s title, is in reference to the Cherished Blogfest, an annual event in which bloggers share something they cherish. Special thanks to Ally Bean over at the Spectacled Bean for sharing the details about this event as well as her own cherish story.

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome - www.alliepottswrites.comA three-day weekend loomed in front of us and our plan was to have no plan. We’d sleep in as much as the children allowed. We’d stay in. After being away from home most weekends in August, my husband and I were looking forward to tackling a few projects but generally doing nothing more than relaxing. It would be a weekend to simply enjoy being a family.

It was a good plan.

I’d no sooner stepped out of my bedroom Saturday morning when I was met in the hall by my eldest son and his best friend, Biff. “Mom! Biff invited me to go with them to a mud run. Can I go? Can I?” I blinked. I hadn’t drunk enough coffee that morning to be able to process that level of excitement. It was a wonder I’d even gotten into my day clothes already.

I stalled. “Those things usually cost money.”

“My mom will take care of it,” Biff assured me.

I felt like there was something I was missing. Kiddo would be out of the house all morning? He’d be exercising instead of alternating between begging me to allow him to binge-watch his latest favorite cartoon (there are only six seasons, mom), creating Lego minefields, or complaining about how bored he was and I wouldn’t have to pay for it? It seemed too good to be true.

It was.

We learned no such offer had been authorized. Sure, Kiddo was welcome to come along (the more the merrier!) but the insurance waiver clearly stated that a legally responsible adult must be present along with every child. One of us, either my husband or I, would have to go with Kiddo else live with a weekend long case of ‘you are the worst parents ever!’ There went our relaxing morning.

My husband and I faced off like gunslingers at noon in an old western.

“It’s only a couple of miles,” my husband pointed out.

“You are the one training to run another marathon,” I reminded his father.

*do-la-doooooo wha wha whaaaaaa*

“Please?” I swear Kiddo batted his eyelashes. (Don’t ask me where he learned that trick).

My husband broke first. “I’ll go change.”

LT, our youngest, caught wind of the conversation. He had no idea what a mud run was, but his brother and father were going. He would not be left out or heads would roll (as would the rest of him as his tantrums are typically full body affairs). Then all four of us were at the starting line with the elder Potts guys in their work out attire and me and LT standing on the spectator side with a camera and their spare clothes.

A fog horn blew and then they were off.

How Important is Your Plan to Your Outcome - www.alliepottswrites.com

This is after he swam across a pond. My washing machine is demanding a raise

A short time later, two incredibly filthy smiling faces crossed the finish line. I know they were smiling because the only part that wasn’t covered in brown was their shiny teeth. The shoes they’d worn were tossed in a pile which would be industrially cleaned and donated to those in need. A large tanker truck provided the water needed to remove the mud from Kiddo’s ear. Speakers blasted music while LT grabbed fistfuls of grass and rubbed them into his hair and across his belly in order to look like one of the participants. We hadn’t brought a change of clothes for him, but I found I didn’t mind. Not one part of the morning had gone to plan, but it was still a good morning.

No. It was a better morning.

I am a planner by nature as much as by habit. I set goals. I track milestones. I know how to keep a program advancing, but though it is making me twitchy writing this, there are times you have to focus on the outcome, but let the plan go.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tony Robbins

I was supposed to have another book out by now, but my characters rebelled. I found myself asking what was more important? My outline or my outcome.

I thought my outline was a good one. I’d put real thought into it. I’d spent hours if not days planning and pacing. I’d created character profiles and scene summaries. I’d researched setting. It should have worked, but it didn’t, and ultimately I allowed myself the flexibility to adapt moving forward. I picked outcome.

Though I hate that it has taken so long to get to this point, I have to admit my characters were right. I rewrote my plan. I altered my method. I’ve received my feedback from my beta readers and all that is left to do is a few manageable rewrites and work through my final edits before sending it out to the next round of advanced proof readers (if that sounds like something you’d enjoy, please contact me at allie AT alliepottswrites DOT com).

The path to publishing this book may have deviated from my plan. It’s taken a few twists and gotten messy along the way but my commitment has never wavered. With a little patience and a whole lot of support, I will publish this book and it may just be better than I ever planned for.

One foot forward – what a summer vacation can teach about determination

One Foot Forward - www.alliepottswrites.com #vacation #determination

Background image by rpertiet (The Stairs) via Wikimedia Commons

“Are you combing your hair with your toes?” is a question I never thought I would need to ask, but when your child is the human incarnate of a Gumby doll, I guess anything goes.

My youngest, LT, has hypermobility, a condition that allows him to perform fun party tricks like the one above, but at the same time made it difficult to build up the muscle definition needed to sit up, crawl, or walk. He spent almost a year of his life in physical therapy mastering skills which other kids picked up naturally at a half (or a third) of his age. At times it seemed he would never gain the knack, until one day the pieces fell into place, and he took his first step.

It is now time for him to take his next first step – into kindergarten.

To say that I am a wee bit nervous is an understatement. Thus far he has spent his entire life surrounded by those who have known him, his abilities, and his limitations from birth. But as of next week, he’ll be in a classroom of twelve to twenty children, each with unique talents and challenges of their own. Has he caught up to his peers? How will he cope? How will his teacher? We will soon find out.

As the last days of summer break wound down a group of us (eight adults, six children under the age of ten, and two dogs) decided to head to the Outer Banks, which is a series of naturally forming islands off the coast of North Carolina where pirates once sailed and wild horses still roam.

After two days of red flags, signifying a dangerous riptide in the water, we decided to take in the surrounding sights and made our way to the Currituck Beach Light.

Currituck Beach Light - www.alliepottswrites.com

Currituck Beach Light –
Just in case you wanted to know what 1,000,000 bricks look like

Currituck’s lighthouse is not the tallest lighthouse in North Carolina, at 198.5 ft (60.5 m) that distinction goes to the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, but it would do.

The sun beat down on us as we waited in line. Sweat formed as the staff advised it would be another twenty to thirty minutes wait before we could go inside. The kids scattered across the green while the adults held their places. I watched as my eldest and one of his cousins started playing tag. LT attempted to join in but he couldn’t compete with their speed and soon the game lost its appeal.

LT returned to my side and guzzled down the contents of my only remaining bottle of water already showing signs of tiring. I looked at the tower. 220 spiraling steps awaited us, constructed prior to any form of building safety code (or air conditioning). Some of our group discussed sitting this one out as the crowd waiting increased along with the temperature. I looked at LT. There was no way I would be able carry him to the top were he to slip or give up mid-climb.

The line moved. Our group was next. It was time to decide who was going and who was staying on the ground. LT didn’t hesitate to join his brother and cousins at the front of the line. His face was set. His decision was made. I guess mine was too.

The majority of our group disappeared up the stairs within seconds of our entry. I hung back ready to react as I could as my youngest grabbed the handrail and took that first step forward. I watched with laser focus as he took another. Then another. We reached the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs. Eight more flights to go. LT didn’t look back. We rounded the next. The inside of the tower narrowed.

Halfway up, another group appeared at the top of the next landing and began their descent. I made the mistake of glancing down. It was all too easy to imagine what might happen if LT were to slip now. Maybe it would be best for us to stop to wait with our backs against the wall while they squeezed past. I hesitated. LT did not. Instead, he kept climbing.

We met more and more people the higher we went and each time my stomach twisted along with my heart, but LT never looked back, never complained, never asked me to do the work for him, and never once stopped.

Currituck Beach Light - www.alliepottswrites.com

View from the top

Then we were at the top of the stairs and roughly 150 feet (45.72m) from the ground. A small doorway through the brick wall opened to an external landing, which circled the lighthouse and provided an unencumbered view of both the ocean and the sound separating the island from the mainland. But the most beautiful sight for me was the smile on LT’s face as he joined the rest of our family on the rail.

It was enough to make me forget we had to still go back down. Well … almost.

We reached the bottom with LT leading the line of children behind me. After exiting, I turned and looked up once more, amazed again at how far this one little guy had gone on his own and reminded once more of how much can be accomplished one determined step at a time.

How would he cope with this next stage in his life or any goal he sets his mind to for that matter? I had my answer. It was the same way any of us should – with one foot forward.

Other random facts

  • Built in 1875, Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of eight official lighthouses in the state of North Carolina, though there are more than twenty if you include replicas like the Roanoke Lighthouse and converted offshore rigs like the Frying Pan Shoals Light, which also serves as a bed and breakfast for a truly unique off-grid travel experience.
  • Also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic due to the number of shipwrecks, the sea bed around the Outer Banks can shift quite dramatically as evidenced by the sudden appearance of an entirely new island earlier this year.
  • The shifting sands and storm erosion also required the Cape Hatteras lighthouse to be moved 2900 feet from its original site in 1999, which was a feat of engineering and worth reading about.





No Signal: A story about connection when connectivity stinks

No Signal-A story about connection when connectivity stinks - www.alliepottswrites.comTwenty degrees. That’s roughly the difference in temperature between my hometown and the mountains at this time of year. Considering it is no reaching the nineties (32C) and the fact that our air conditioning has decided to take some time off work, we decided a change of scenery was in order.

Tents and sleeping bags strapped to the car, we set out for the Pisgah National Forest, just a few hours to the west, near Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States, to be exact. The park is part of the Appalachian Mountains, accessible through winding roads and the Blue Ridge Parkway. While you can (and I have) backpack camp along the trail, there are also a number of more ‘civilized’ camp sites scattered along the roadways offering bath houses and running water, but operate on a strictly first come, first serve basis.

Knowing the risk that there might be no room at a particular site, we’d identified a location that might offer more than one option and plugged in the address into the navigation app on my husband’s phone. While we drove, I scrolled down the webpage describing the area. Down at the bottom of the screen in bold text, the site read, ‘As we are in a remote area, GPS directions may not be accurate. Click here for detailed directions.’

LT demanded markers in the back where he was hard at work on his latest masterpiece. Kiddo wanted a movie. My mom, who was brave enough to venture along with us, chatted about recent family news. I returned my phone to my bag, dismissing the site’s warning. So what if we didn’t find that exact site. There were sure to be another.

Black Mountain overlook #NC

Coverage here is limited to the natural kind

As the mountain roads twisted and turned, the back of the car grew silent. In Kiddo’s case this is a troubling sign as he is particularly prone to motion sickness. We pulled over to give him some air. “Are we almost there?” he asked as we piled back into the car. We glanced at the navigation app. It read, ‘No Signal’.

“Seven more miles to go,” my husband replied. To me he added with a shrug, “at least, that’s what it said before it dropped off.” My mom offered her seat so that Kiddo could be closer to the open window.

It felt more like seventy. The signal never returned and I grew increasingly chagrined for not looking at those step by step directions while I still had the chance. We could only assume we were still going in the right direction as there was only one direction to go. Up. And Around. And Up some more.

We noticed the smell of campfires first. The campsite wasn’t the one we were originally targeting, but considering the shade of pale green on the faces of those in the back seats, it would have to do. Fortunately, a single site was still vacant.

Mom looked at her phone. “Still no signal,” she replied.

Preferring to stream our music to downloading it, we were limited to listening to the same five to ten songs on repeat as we pitched the tents (one for my mom and the boys the other for Her Royal Highness, my husband, and me), unpacked our supplies, and stoked the fire. As the sun began to set we noticed dark clouds rolling in. “Do you think it is going to storm tonight?” My mom asked.

Storm – such a small word for such a big event in the wide open.

Shortly after midnight the wind picked up as lightning flashed across the sky, temporarily making the flimsy fabric of my tent appear as colorful as it appeared in bright day. Her Royal Highness sat at full attention in the center. Thunder boomed. Her Royal Highness whimpered. I sat up and tried to comfort her as the wind whipped at our sides. She nuzzled the flap that served as the door as if to say, let’s go!

“Shh shh, it will be okay,” I whispered as felt along the flap’s zipper and found a half-inch of water. At least, I hope so, I thought. A storm this intense couldn’t go on for long. Or could it? My hands itched to locate my phone and bring up the radar, but once again – no signal. You don’t realize how much you have grown to rely on constant connection until you are completely cut off.

Crabtree Falls #NC

Crabtree Falls, NC

The storm passed, though I didn’t track it. We woke without alarms and ate when we were hungry. We found trails by looking at maps and *gasp* asking other humans for directions. The air remained cool and inviting as we ventured deeper into the forest until the only sign of people were the footprints left on paths made muddy and slick with rain water and the occasional signpost or hand railing (thank you park service).

Before the day ended we had walked roughly nine miles and seen stunning vistas and waterfalls made only more impressive from the storm. I’d watched my boys walk hand in hand as the trail became steep and attempted to memorize the moment as they called out “Brother Jump” before hopping off exposed roots together. (It’s a memory I fully plan to use to maximum embarrassment when they start dating.)

That evening (which thankfully was thunderstorm-free) we ate the most amazing steak dinner, cooked over the fire ring’s open flame as a neighboring site played music in a language we didn’t recognize, but was music all the same. We laughed while Her Royal Highness snored. We chatted when normally we might be scrolling on our phones. We enjoyed being together. And before we called it a night, Kiddo told us it had been his favorite camping trip ever.

I may just agree.

We’d lost connectivity for a few days, it was true, but as it turns out we only strengthened our connection. All it had taken was a change of scenery (and perhaps a difference of twenty degrees).

brother hike

Brother Hike