Celebrating the Light


Our mantle of candles (along with some kid-made masterpieces).

This has not been a great fall. Or, let me take that back: in some plain, everyday ways, it has been a lovely fall. The weather’s been great. My kiddo has hit some new heights. My husband is, as always, my rock. My friends and whole family continue to amaze me with their love and generosity of spirit. So, there’s all of that—and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

On the flip side, there’s been the enormous grief of watching someone I love dearly slip away and then mourning her loss. There’s been stress and worry and exhaustion and an ever-intruding sense of sadness. These are also nothing to sneeze at. As the days get shorter and darkness becomes more present in all of our winter worlds, I was feeling a little glum.

Which brings me to celebrating the light. I read this BBC article about the Danish concept of hygge, vaguely translated as coziness, but meaning much more than that. It’s lighting candles and fireplaces, eating and drinking tasty things, welcoming friends and family into your home for warm times together.

And, as I interpreted it, it’s not letting the darkness get to you.

I’ve thought a lot about this idea over the last month, and finally—just this past week as world events took another grim turn—decided to take action. I lined our mantle with every candleholder I could find in the house and stocked up on firewood. Each night as the sun goes down, I light the candles. It’s oddly comforting to have that glow filling the living room as I spend time with the people I love most. My husband has gotten in on the act by buying us mead to mull and lighting a fire each night. My kiddo, always a first-class snuggler, is all about the warm blankets. We’re walking and reading and enjoying meals.

These are all very small things to do, but they’re really helping. Somehow just the resolution to be cozy and welcome what the winter—and what life in general—brings is helping.

So, as the days get shorter and weather colder, at our little, yellow house we’re getting cozy like the Danes. We’re celebrating the light, one small step at a time.

Time Out: Iceland (Roving Around Edition)

SAM_3061Iceland is not a huge country, though it feels vast. Part of that is the volcanic mountains everywhere. Part of it is that there aren’t that many people—we’re talking over 300,000 but not much more. And the ones who are there mostly live in cities in towns, not strewn all over the country.

Of those roughly 300,000 people (I was assured that sheep outnumbered people to the tune of 500,000 more woolly animals), it’s really hard to tell who’s related. That’s because surnames there don’t go by family names the way they do in a lot of other countries. Here my last is Platt. In Iceland, it would be my dad’s first name plus the suffix dottir. My brother, on the hand, would have my dad’s first name but son. So siblings don’t have the same last name, let alone cousins and more distant relatives. Sound confusing? Try dating in Iceland.

As with all things, there’s an app for it. I honestly didn’t believe it when and Icelander informed me that folks at the University of Iceland had created an app—using the Islendingabok, a comprehensive tracking of the lineage of almost everyone who’s lived in Iceland since 873—where you can bump phones with someone you’re interested in romantically to make sure you’re not closely related, but lo and behold—there is, in fact, an app for this.

So, if you’re one of the nearly 94% of the Icelandic population who lives in urban areas like Reykjavik, you can easily find out if you’re about to hook up with a cousin. If you’re not, you can still use the app, of course. But you also get to feast your eyes on this on a daily basis.


Recently melted snow cascades in a lovely trickle down a lava hill.

Or, you know, this.


And over these lava hills in a slightly more powerful way.

We were only in Iceland for ten days, but it was long enough to make lava fields seem almost normal.


Just outside the Blue Lagoon, you get all of the beauty and none of the nearly naked people caked in silica mud.

Occasionally, it didn’t even look like we were on this planet anymore, and we were smilingly informed that astronauts have trained in Iceland for extra-planetary missions for this very reason. And Hollywood has been known to use Iceland as a backdrop for movies set somewhere other than Earth.


Take away the snow, and you’ve a pretty otherworldly landscape. Heck, even with the snow you do.

There were even occasions when the landscape defied anything that could be described as Martian.


Sadly, we weren’t really on Mars. But sometimes it felt like the Curiosity rover could motor its way around any corner.

And on those occasions, you could find both a bad smell—my kiddo insisted the sulfur stayed in her nose long after we visited these place—and boiling mud. And let me just tell you: boiling mud is awesome in every sense of the word.


No one in my family was as excited about the mud pits as I was.

Mud pits aside (if you can put something like that aside), almost the moment you leave the city, you realize that Iceland is one of the single most beautiful places in the world. Whether you’re horseback riding down a fjord, hiking up lava, or exploring one of the seemingly endless waterfalls, the land is changing and vibrant and stunning.


The view across the fjord during our exhausting trek on horses.

Plus, boiling mud.


Time Out: Iceland (Hanging in Reykjavik Edition)


Leif Eriksson, looking like his bad self, towering over the city.

If you go to Reykjavik expecting to find one of the grand cities of Europe, you’re going to be disappointed. If you go expecting a city that’s young, fun, vibrant, and utterly welcoming…well, you’d be pretty much spot on.

One of the first things you notice in Reykjavik is that nothing is built from wood. This is unsurprising, really, since there aren’t a whole lot of trees in Iceland. But as New Englander, being surrounded by a sea of corrugated tin, plaster, and stucco was odd. Not bad, of course. Just odd.

Then you start to look closer. It turns out that plaster and stucco can provide a perfect canvas and the good folks of Reykjavik are clearly not ones to pass up a good canvas. So there’s art—lots of lots of it—all around the downtown area. Some of the art is the type commissioned by the city itself—statues in all shapes and forms dot the streets and parks.


A solemn cello player outside of the prism-like Harpa concert hall with a gorgeous vista behind him.

A lot of it, though, is painted directly on the buildings or created using the fences, fountains, and other pieces of the city.


Just a random house. A random, awesome house.

SIngle gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.

Single gloves looking for a mate. As gloves do.

Did I mention that this place is a lot of fun?


Jaunty mustache. Jaunty ties.

In the summer time, it’s also a lot of light. Like a lot of it. The sun “sets” after midnight and “rises” again at around 2:30 a.m. So while people are always saying that New York is the city that never sleeps, I’d argue that Reykjavik in summer the summer more literally is. The sun is up, people are out—eating, drinking, and generally having a really good time.


The view from our hotel room on the gloriously hip Laugavegur at 1:30 a.m. It got darker during a midday rainstorm than it did in the middle of the night.

And you know what? We had a really good time, too. I loved walking through the streets and finding little creative surprises in nooks and crannies. I loved to see the water and the mountains at the end of a street—a glimpse of the natural world (and the volcanoes) that surround and indeed created the land we were standing on. I loved that everyone we met—tourists and Icelanders alike—were warm and friendly. I loved that waffles are a thing and that rhubarb jam is ubiquitous.

Really, I just loved Reykjavik. Sometimes trees and wood are grossly overrated.

Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Yeah, it's a smiley face for me.

Rate my experience in Reykjavik? Heck, yeah, it’s a smiley face for me.

In Which Storytelling and Character Defeat the Dark Side

Seriously, though, would you mess with Leia?

My husband has, on occasion, told people that our greatest failing as parents was our inability to get our kiddo interested in Star Wars. For her, it all seemed to boil down to: parents’ love of the movies + stubborn resistance to things parents love = disinterest in Star Wars.

Fair enough—we’ve all been there with our own parents and our own personal Star Wars.

But this past weekend, we finally sat down and watched Episode IV: A New Hope. The next day, I got a request to doozy up her hair in Princess Leia buns. I’d love to say this was a parental victory, but it had nothing to do with us. In reality, the conversion happened because of the power of story and character.

It was an interesting exercise watching the movie through someone else’s fresh eyes—and through the eyes of the person who matters most in the world to us. It also was interesting talking to her about characters like Han Solo, who seems like less than a good guy at first (and who maintains that delicious edge of scoundrel even later on)—and about Darth Vader, whose back story my kiddo doesn’t know and whose role in the story remains mysterious. It was amazing to hear things like, “Don’t mess with Princess Leia!” afterward and to see how this character captured my kiddo’s attention just as she did mine when I was a girl.

Because who doesn’t get caught up in a bold, brave, problem-solver like Leia—someone whose dedication to her cause is unstoppable, but who is completely human (and more than a little sarcastic) at the same time. Or Han, who is more than he believes himself to be. Or Luke, who yearns to do something important and change the world. And don’t even get me started on the layers upon layers that make up Obi Wan.

So, it wasn’t dedicated Star Wars parents who changed my kiddo’s mind—it was the story and the characters. And it served as a good reminder that these two things aren’t just to be found in books. They’re on television and in movies, in video games and in plays—and they’re important in all forms. So as much as this one movie opened my kiddo up to new possibilities, she (and the movie) reminded the die-hard book person that I am that my chosen story format isn’t the only one. Star Wars: blowing my mind since 1977.

Just don’t get me started on episodes I-III….

Mad-libbing it with The Bachelor—Because the End of the “Journey” Is Near

Will you accept this rose?

This week the Bachelor takes ____________________ (female name) on a date to ________________________ (place name). They travel to their romantic date on a _________________________ (mode of transportation). It’s so beautiful there! The Bachelor and __________________________ (same female name) can’t believe that they get to visit such a place. They can talk about nothing else. (No, really, they have nothing else to talk about).

____________________________ (same place name) is the perfect place to fall in love. But just as they begin to get comfortable, a ___________________________ (different mode of transportation) arrives to whisk them off to ___________________________ (different place name). Believe it or not, it’s the perfect place to fall in love, too! This is the best date of their entire lives. It really seems like they’re both here for the Right Reasons.

To prove it, though, she’ll first have to tackle her fear of _________________________ (common phobia). Because the only way you can show that you’re truly ready for love is to overcome her greatest phobia.

But even with that behind them, the Bachelor begins to have doubts. Will her _________________________ (noun) get in the way of her making a serious commitment? There’s only one way to find out—spending time alone together in the Fantasy Suite. They both claim they’re looking forward to a whole night of talking and getting to know each other better, but viewers know that the Fantasy Suite is really a code for _____________________________ (verb ending in -ing).

Soon it will be time for the final episode, but will the Bachelor choose ____________________________ (same woman’s name) or will _______________________________ (different woman’s name) win his heart in the end and receive the final __________________________________ (plant or flower name)?

Tune in next week for the most _______________________________ (adjective ending in –ing) episode of The Bachelor ever!

[image via ABC/Craig Sjodin]

When Life Gives You Snow….


The entrance to our yard. The snow’s so tall we’re considering tunneling to other locations.

Like lots and lots of snow—like over 75 inches of it—it’s difficult to look on the bright side. The city of Boston is struggling to keep moving, the venerable T is falling to pieces, and my small town seems to think it’s cool to dump a whole street’s worth of snow in our driveway.

Speaking of tunnels, we essentially have created one at the end of our driveway simply so we can leave the house.

Speaking of tunnels, we essentially have created one at the end of our driveway simply so we can leave the house.

So what’s a gal to do when nature provides a little more snow than is, strictly speaking, necessary? Since lemonade seems a tad too tropical under the circumstances, what are we left with? Snow cones? Ice pops? In an attempt to look on the bright side, I’ve been brainstorming ideas.

  1. It provides a great cardio-vascular work out. Sure, the gym is probably closed. And even if it it’s open, you can’t get to it. The good news is that a hearty work out is just outside your door. Break out that shovel and get your exercise. Bonus: Shoveling also allows you to leave your home and potentially reach the gym. Someday.
  1. It gives the kids an extended February vacation. Clearly not every part of this fair country has such a vacation, but here in good old Massachusetts—where February is kind of a bear—kids get a week off. And it’s coming next week. The children of eastern Massachusetts will be so rested after the snow days and vacation week that they’ll be chomping at the bit to learn, learn, learn when they get back to school.
  1. It’s pretty. I mean, the whole winter wonderland thing. It’s still kind of pretty. Sort of. Kind of. Isn’t it?

Okay, so maybe the snow is a bust. We’ve gotten more in the last 17 days that we have since 1920. And it just keeps coming. We’re scheduled to get another foot of it this weekend. So stay warm—and if you have any thoughts on how to make lemonade (because, in the end, it is a refreshing beverage after hours of shoveling) from insistent, snow-driven lemons, I’m all ears.

Even with the snow drifting away from it, the swingset is slowly being buried.

Even with the snow drifting away from it, the swingset is slowly getting buried.

Two Years of Scribbling in the Garret

May Alcott's original illustration of Jo scribbling away at her writing,  from the two-volume publication of LIttle Women.

May Alcott’s original illustration of Jo scribbling away at her writing, from the two-volume publication of LIttle Women.

I realized this blog has been in existence for two years today almost by accident. If a date’s not written on my planner—and is not, say, my husband or child’s birthday—I tend to forget it. And a blog anniversary (I can’t really use the word “blogiversary” with a straight face, even when I’m typing) isn’t the kind of thing you really mark on your calendar. So, the first anniversary went entirely forgotten.

But, it is, in fact, two years to the day since this little experiment in blogging began, and to honor the occasion, I’d like—once again—to have a little celebration of Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, and Jo March. Only this time, I’ve got lovely pictures.

The very gorgeous cover of an 1880 edition of Little Women (both volumes together at last!).

The very gorgeous cover of an 1880 edition of Little Women (both volumes together at last!).

Harvard’s Houghton Library is a veritable treasure trove of intriguing literary stuff. In this case, it’s illustrations from the original two-volume publication of Little Women, illustrated by her sister May Alcott. I wondered what May must have been thinking as she illustrated these two volumes and found the fictionalized version of herself—the artist sister—therein. Was she hurt by Louisa’s portrayal of Amy? Offended that her sister made herself the heroine of the story? Grateful that in the end this same writer-sister fixed her up with Laurie (because who wouldn’t be, really)?

Oh, Laurie, couldn't you see you belonged with me and not Amy?

Oh, Laurie, couldn’t you see you belonged with me and not Amy?

Or was she able to celebrate her sister’s literary achievement just as we still celebrate it today? In my spare time (ha!), I’m going to do some research and try to find out. But for now, enjoy the illustrations, and thanks for being a part of what’s now an ongoing blog experiment!


On New Year’s Resolutions and Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, rocking some dazzling (and enviable) self-confidence in the Blank Space video.

Let’s get two things out of the way up front: 1.) I haven’t made a New Year’s resolution in years; and 2.) I am a big Taylor Swift fan. I’ve liked her music from the get-go and like it even more now that my kiddo is a huge fan. And her latest album, 1989, did not disappoint.

So what does this have to do with resolutions? Well, I’m not really a big proponent of them. I know they help some people to start the year off fresh, but in my experience they’re easily made and easily broken. Maybe this means I’m the weak-minded type who’d be easy prey for Jedi mind tricks. Or maybe it just means I’m realistic about my own flaws.

I’d love to drop a few pounds, run my first marathon, write every day for hours on end, and be more organized on the household front. Will I really do all of these things? I’m going to go with no. Though I always aim for good health, I haven’t been able to run in months (a frustrating health development) and I can’t possibly write every single day—I work and have a kid. As for household organization, I think I can safely admit that I err on the side of what (I hope) is friendly chaos.

So what would a resolution in honor of 2015 really get me? Other than a sense of frustration with myself—something I already excel at having—when I don’t live up to the resolution, not much, I’m afraid.

Which brings me back to Taylor Swift (no, I didn’t forget about her). The new album contains some glorious statements of self-acceptance and empowerment, from the letter to her fans about change and learning from your mistakes to the songs contained therein. And I love it as such, from start to finish.

I’ve danced gleefully to “Shake it Off” with my kiddo up and down the aisles of a grocery store, not caring a whit if neighbors, or even complete strangers, think I’m crazy. I’ve watched the video for “Blank Space” more times than I can count, talking along the way with my kiddo about how Taylor Swift’s not serious when she sings things like “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” She’s doing something remarkable, in fact: reclaiming her reputation and her sense of self.

It’s a gift to be able to accept yourself, grow as a result of your mistakes, and laugh a little as you’re doing it. And it’s important to realize, at least for me, that every day—not just New Year’s Day—is one in which you can be true to yourself. You can work for and toward something you love, whether it’s your friends, your family, your work, or a passion that you pursue despite your work. You can look forward, as Anne of Green Gables always did, to tomorrow being fresh with no mistakes in it. And then you can make mistakes and it will be okay.

So, on this first day of 2015, I wish you all the ability to accept and love yourself for who you are, to laugh at the small annoyances thrown your way, and realize that even if “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,” you can choose to not let them get you down. It’s not an easy choice—haters come in all shapes and forms, external and internal—but it’s one we can all strive to make.

Because it’s time to shake off the old year, and celebrate the new one. And if you need a little inspiration, you can always watch this. Pretty. Awesome.

When it Comes to Revising, Which Way Should I Go?

Lately, I’ve been channeling Dorothy Gale in the unfortunate area of general confusion about how to proceed with my writing. (If only I’d started channeling Judy Garland in the area of singing. If only.)

I’m at the point where I have first, even second, drafts of more than one novel manuscript. They all need work. Like a lot of work. And revising is never a hardship for me—I’m an editor, after all. I like editing. and trying to find solutions to story problems. So what’s the hang up?

For a long spell this fall, there was a sizable hang up indeed—that of deciding upon what to spend my sadly few writing hours. Do I keep pushing forward with the historical fantasy story that was my thesis in Lesley’s MFA program? Do I dive whole-hog into one of two contemporary YA stories instead? It’s nice, of course, to be in the position where I have multiple drafts of multiple stories.

But which way do I go?

The siren song of first one, then another, would call me. And I’d answer each call. Briefly. Always very briefly. It look a while to figure out that there’s a way I could use this to my advantage. Which is what I hope I’m now doing. So I have two stories that I’m revising—one much more complex than the other. I give time to both and then take breaks from both—it’s turned into a giant switch-up.

There’s clearly going to have to come a time when, like Odysseus, I lash myself to the mast and force myself to listen to the siren song of one of these stories—and do my best to sail right past it and stay on course with the other.

But for now, I’m doing what makes most sense—and keeps me sane and writing. Even if, alas, not singing like Judy Garland.