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Hello! My name is Shannon Taylor. I'm a long-time writer and editor from Minnesota surprised to find myself on an island in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, three younger children (the oldest is attending college in Chicago), and two dogs.


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So what if instead of thinking about solving your whole life, you just think about adding additional good things. One at a time. Just let your pile of good things grow.
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Winter Fun

Best Book Dedication Ever

Wodehouse dedication

(From P. G. Wodehouse’s 1957 autobiography, Over Seventy)

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Short Story: The Grey Heron

Grey Heron photo

The Grey Heron

by Shannon Taylor

The patio, at twelve o’clock on a sunny day in August, was oppressively hot. The shade from the large banyan trees that surrounded the restaurant provided some relief, and occasionally a light breeze from the Pearl River stirred the air. Ned Lewiston sat under a bright blue umbrella studying the menu. He was trying to picture the Chinese version of quesadillas, but when the waitress—”Doris” according to her name tag—appeared he decided to err on the side of caution and order sweet and sour chicken.

Doris smiled and took his menu. “Thank you very much,” she said in careful English. She turned and began to make her way back to the kitchen through the crowded maze of tables and chairs that were starting to fill with the lunch crowd.

Ned leaned back in the plastic chair and took a sip of iced tea. Sparrows pecked at crumbs on the pavement at his feet. He watched a boat full of tourists sail by, then picked up the newspaper he’d brought. He started to read but after a while realized he’d been reading the same sentence over again. He put the paper down, took another sip of iced tea, and watched his fellow diners settle in.

He knew, of course, that many tourists on Shamian Island were families staying at the White Swan Hotel while they waited for appointments with the U.S. Consulate for final approval to adopt Chinese babies. Minnie’s Restaurant was popular with the families, with its offerings of burgers and shakes and other western-style food. Ned had found himself returning every day for lunch since his arrival in Guangzhou a week earlier. He enjoyed practicing his Chinese, rusty though it was, with the wait staff, and they in turn were eager to work on their English with him.

More than anything, he was glad to be distracted from his thoughts.

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Pleasant Beach Morning

pleasant beach hydrangeas

Tim and I are terrible about going on dates. Some of it has to do with busy schedules, of course, but mostly it’s my fault for not wanting to leave the house if I don’t have to. It’s funny because when I was young, I always wanted to Go Out, but now I just want to Stay In. Preferably in my pajamas with a good movie on Netflix.

But we found ourselves with a couple hours early on Saturday morning with nothing on the calendar, so we decided to bike down to Lynwood Center, via Pleasant Beach, and call it a date. We set off through Fort Ward Park, but instead of turning left to go to South Beach, we turned right and biked the trail along the water. Normally, we’d have a gorgeous view of the Olympic Mountains to the west, but the haze from the wildfires in Canada is still lingering.

After a mile or so, the park ends and the trail becomes Pleasant Beach Drive. Houses start up here, on both sides of the road. Isn’t that the most inviting driveway? I do love hydrangeas.

Pleasant Beach Wharf Street

Bainbridge has more than 60 Road Ends, which is nice because of course all the shoreline property has been gobbled up. You can walk or bike down to the water and there’s usually a bench or some rocks to sit on to enjoy the view.

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Sign Advice and Revision Avoidance

Neil Gaiman Green Light Garage

We live on the south end of Bainbridge, so to reach town or school or the ferry, we take a road that winds its way up and down through thickly wooded hills and along the western edge of Eagle Harbor. Nestled between the road and the harbor is the Green Light Garage. And in their parking lot is a sign that dispenses wisdom to all who pass by.

The quotations usually tie in to whatever’s going on in the world at the time. Holiday and seasonal quotes usually, but sometimes it’s just random cool stuff like this one from Neil Gaiman. Every week, we look forward to seeing what the sign’ll say next.

Speaking of books, I’m trying to get back into the rhythm of revising the middle-grade book I’m supposed to be finishing up this summer. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo two years ago and really need to get it done so I can start sending out the manuscript. I was moving right along, doing a chapter a day, until Grandpa Tony passed away and we went back to Minnesota for the funeral. It was a crazy two weeks, but we’ve been home long enough for me to have transitioned back to revision mode. No more excuses. Read more »

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Early Morning on Eagle Harbor

2017-08-02 08.36.38

This week, Will’s been in a rowing camp for kids new to the sport. They meet at Eagle Harbor at seven o’clock in the morning, and today instead of just dropping him off, I stayed to take some photos. To commemorate either the start of his rowing career or the extent of it. Over the past year, I’ve had no fewer than five moms eye Will’s 6’5″ frame and tell me how much he reminds them of their sons, gentle giants with no interest in traditional competitive sports who found a home in rowing. I’m guardedly optimistic.

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A Compass and Travel Guide

blog walk 1

Madeleine L’Engle had this advice for writers: “I don’t care whether they’re five or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s only for half an hour–write, write, write.”

The second thing, absolutely. The third thing, a bit harder, but clearly necessary. But that first one…ugh. Journaling’s just not my thing. I’ve tried to get into it, but my attempts all fizzled out instantly. On the other hand, I wrote and published my first newsletter in fourth grade and have done dozens of similar projects (personally and professionally) ever since. I think for some of us, the reader is such an important part of our writing that we’re drawn much more strongly to modes that offer at least the hope of someone on the other end.

So. I’ve decided to dust off this old blog. When the kids were younger, it acted as a kind of compass for me. I was constantly being pulled in so many directions, but having this space to write and share ideas about parenting and life and recipes and whatever else came up helped me focus more than I ever would have imagined.

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Grandma Marilyn’s Peach Jello Pie

Grandma Marilyn's Peach Jello Pie

Every summer, there’s a day when we go to the grocery store and the peaches are displayed front and center and we know it’s Peach Jello Pie time. Grandma Marilyn’s peach pie is just about the easiest pie in the world to make and it absolutely oozes summer.

You can do a quick version or a super-quick version, it’s up to you. With the quick version, you make your own whipped cream and graham cracker crust. Homemade graham crust is surprisingly easy to make, and it’s especially nice if you have a small helper who’d enjoy smashing the graham crackers.

The super-quick version involves Cool Whip and ready-made crust. With either version, keep in mind that you need to give the Jello an hour or two to set. (You can make the pie the morning of, or even the night before, the day you want to serve it.)

Grandma Marilyn’s Peach Jello Pie
makes one 9-inch pie

Ingredients

2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3-ounce package peach Jello
ripe peaches (4-6, depending on their size)
baked graham cracker pie shell, store-bought or homemade (see recipe below)
whipping cream or Cool Whip

Mix cornstarch and sugar together in a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and add package of peach Jello. Stir. As the mixture cools a bit, cut up peaches and arrange to fill the graham cracker pie crust. Pour Jello mixture over the peaches. Refrigerate for an hour or two until Jello is set. Serve with whipped cream or Cool Whip.

Homemade Graham Cracker Crust

Ingredients

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces crushed graham crackers, about 1-1/2 cups
3 tablespoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place graham crackers in a large zip-lock bag, seal tightly, and roll over the bag with a rolling pin until the crackers are crumbly.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan or the microwave. Combine the sugar with the graham cracker crumbs. Add the butter and stir until well blended. Press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, until the crust just begins to brown. Cool on a rack before filling.

 

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Muffin Mondays: Grandma Charlotte’s Nutmeg Muffins

French Muffins

Lexie dug out this old favorite from Great-Grandma Charlotte to make for Muffin Monday. The muffins are very simple with a hint of nutmeg and the topping adds just the right amount of sweet. You can make a batch to enjoy and then freeze the leftovers (if you have them!) for another Monday.

Grandma Charlotte’s Nutmeg Muffins
makes 10 muffins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix together:
1-1/2 cups + 2 TBSP. flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

In a separate bowl, mix together:
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup melted butter (don’t worry if the butter firms up a little when mixed with the cold milk)

Stir lightly into the flour mixture until just blended. Fill greased muffin tins halfway or use cupcake papers. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove muffins from oven and, handling carefully, dip tops in 1/3 cup melted butter, and then dip into the following mixture:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Serve warm or reheated.

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A Fairy Garden + ABCs of Summer

Lily and Fairy Garden

Grammy gave Lily a Fairy Garden starter kit in her Easter basket this year, and they spent a pleasant afternoon shopping for flowers and putting the garden together. It’s really just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. Grammy picked up the kit at Gordman’s, but you can find one on Amazon or probably any garden supply store. And, of course, you can go old school and make a fairy garden with little treasures from your own yard.

Fairy Garden

I don’t know about you, but I love being on our own schedule during the summer. But without any structure, we don’t get anything done. So I love the ABCs of Summer. We got the idea from the third-grade teachers at our school, who are ending the year with an ABC list. We borrowed a few of their ideas and added some of our own and came up with this list. I think it will provide just the right amount of “something to look forward to” without making us (a.k.a., me) feel overwhelmed.

So starting on the first Monday after school gets out, we’re going to tackle one letter a day, Monday through Friday, until we go through the entire alphabet. Here’s our list:

The ABCs of Summer

A—Art Projects
B—Books
C—Crafts
D—Dance Party
E—Experiments
F—Fairy Tales
G—Games
H—Hike
I—Ice Cream
J—Jokes
K—Kumbaya & Songs Around the Campfire
L—Languages
M—Memory Games
N—Newspaper
O—Obstacle Course
P—Popsicles
Q—Quest
R—Rejuvenate (Spa Day!)
S—Scavenger Hunt
T—Tongue-Twisters
U—USA
V—Volunteer
W—Water Balloon Fight
X—eXercise
Y—Yummy Treats
Z—Zoo

So how about you? Do you like a little structure or a lot? Would a list like this be fun in your house?

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Books! What We’re Reading

What we're reading

I finally finished the first post-writing read-through of my manuscript (the one I wrote last November, for heaven’s sake) and my reward is I get to write a blog post! We haven’t talked about books for a while, so I thought I’d share what we’re reading around here and ask if you have any recommendations—for any age.

Here goes:

The Beach Club by Elin Hilderbrand. Hilderbrand is one of the queens of the “beach read,” so I’m reading this for research—to get a feel for pacing, character, point of view, etc., for my own attempt at a beach read. Plus, a little escapism on Nantucket is kinda nice.

Night by Elie Wiesel. Andrew is reading this account of the Holocaust for his English class. As a mother, part of me is glad he’s reading this, but another part of me wishes I could protect him from what’s in the pages. Have you ever experienced that?

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole. I bought this book after hearing the author speak at a writing conference Lexie and I attended recently. Kole is a former literary agent, and her presentation was full of humor and great information, so I’m sure her book will have more of the same.

The Never Girls: In a Blink by Kiki Thorpe. A friend of Lily’s recommended this series about Disney fairies, and she’s loving the first book. And with five more books to go, it’ll keep her busy for at least part of the summer!

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