A Citrus Season Tea

A Citrus Season Tea

tea table
Making the winter bearable one orange at a time

I got myself into some trouble last winter with a serious cream tea habit. Working from home in the dead of winter was depressing in an already depressing season of the year and a depressing year in general. That four p.m. teatime was instead called ‘scone o’clock.’ To be honest, a year later, I still weigh more than I did prior to Cream Tea Mania. This is despite working out and eating more healthfully again and kicking the scone habit. If you’re under 35 and reading this, enjoy that metabolism while you can.

Just because I’m not going to make scone o’clock a daily routine ever, ever, ever again doesn’t mean I’m opposed to the odd cream tea now and then. This is a lovely time of year for it (as my somewhat tight waistbands will attest). It’s also a fun thing to do for my daughter, who is six and loves a tea party. I love seeing her enjoy this because I loved tea parties so much growing up.

My eighth or ninth birthday was a ‘fancy’ tea for which I mandated a ‘dresses or skirts only’ dress code. Young Me was terribly distressed when my friends acted like, you know, eight- and nine-year-olds and not like fellow miniature fifty-somethings. We couldn’t even hear the piano, it was so raucous, and if you think I’m making this up for the Internet, unfortunately, I’m not. Young Me spent most of the party whining to my mom in the pantry. I hope Margaret is less uptight one day, but she recently pinged my coffee mug to see if it was true crystal, so I doubt it.

My favorite tea blend is Earl Grey, and the Fortnum & Mason version is the best. It’s one that goes really nicely with lemon, perfect for citrus season.

The real star of any entertaining I do is usually the tablescape, not my limited ability to decorate a cake. I used a cheery Sarah Flint runner and napkins with our casual wedding dinnerware. I also added oranges to the table, of course, and some white flowers in a stoneware pitcher.

I had grand plans to host a small tea over the long weekend, but I’m just not comfortable having people (especially my grandmother) over right now. So the tablescape and coffee cake were just for us to enjoy. Hopefully, the Omicron wave will peak here soon, and we can cautiously get back to small gatherings.

Four indestructible items

Four indestructible items

living roomI have quite a few things that I’ve owned for a couple of decades now. Many or most of them have held up nicely. I chose to share these four items because they are all a) twenty years old or older and b) have been treated terribly over their long lifetimes. It’s honestly crazy what these things have been through. Some of them are investment pieces, but no, they were treated with the same callous disregard as a used coffee filter. I think you could hit any one of these items with a flame thrower and break the flame thrower.

  1. Faribault Woolen Mill Company blanket. My great-grandmother gave me and my brother each one of these for Christmas in 1996. As she was fond of saying, these are ‘not some cheap old thing.’ At ages 9 and 12, we weren’t really aware of that. We were nonplussed to receive scratchy blankets instead of J. Crew gift cards. My parents recognized the blankets’ value, but nonetheless, these blankets have led terrible lives. They’ve been tossed into the back of a Jeep. Slept on by dogs. Used to rescue auto accident victims. Rattled around at the bottoms of closets and mudrooms. Used to pad furniture during moving. I think I put my refrigerator on this blanket at one point and slid it across the floor to save the hardwood. To my knowledge, my blanket has never been dry cleaned. All this to say, it looks exactly like it did on Christmas Day 1996. That’s some quality loom work right there. In his old age, Faribault has been given a place of honor adorning a rolled-arm sofa. I believe the closest thing currently available is their Pure & Simple Wool Blanket.
  2. Classic Nova Check Burberry scarf. Thinking I was some seriously hot stuff, thirty seconds after arriving at undergrad, I took my shiny new debit card to Saks Fifth Avenue to commence my responsible adulthood. Omg, so fetch. Never mind my that my father rocks the same scarf. Seeing as how this was my Big Purchase, one might think I would treat it with care. No. The scarf has had it slightly easier than the fridge-moving blanket, but as I type, I’m looking at the scarf. It has been carelessly tossed into an antique apple crate with all of our other winter accessories. I think it’s important to note that this is a Burberry scarf from 2002, the height of rap video Burberry era, not a vintage ‘Burberry’s,’ and the quality is still there. The pattern gets a lot of hate for being vulgar, but I don’t agree with that if it’s worn unobtrusively and doesn’t look brand new. This guy doesn’t look brand new, but for the suffering he’s endured, he looks pretty darn good.
  3. L.L. Bean Camp Mocs. I’m not sure when I got these shoes, but want to say 2001. I grew up wearing Eastland Camp Mocs to match my mother’s, but I think Eastlands became scarce at some point? Or maybe we switched when they started importing vs. making them in Maine. Whatever happened, I was given the L.L. Bean version and did not treat them well. I’m hard on shoes anyhow. I don’t like to buy shoes. I hate heels and wear comfortable pairs into the ground. But these are not in the ground. I have stripped woodwork while wearing them and splashed buckets of TSP water on them. They ‘moc’ my efforts to destroy them. I’m only seeing them available in men’s sizing right now, but here they are.
  4. Cashmere-lined leather gloves. Plot twist: These are from Kohl’s. Yes, the same Kohl’s where everything is perpetually on sale, and the items disintegrate as soon as you look at them. They’re from 2004, making them the newest item in this lineup. I think the fact that they’re from Kohl’s adds five years to their age. There’s no brand listed on the tag, but they are literally made of cashmere and leather. Not cashmere blend and pleather. They’re so warm and so comfortable and have had thousands of lattes spilled upon them and been crunched beneath furniture and left to perish in coat closets. Nonetheless, they have survived and taken me from hustling to final exams on the Bluff to hustling my daughter to school on freezing mornings. These gloves are very similar, but they’re not an exact match to the Unicorn Pair. I’m not sure how the ultra-high-quality Unicorn Pair came to be. It’s like Kohl’s stole them from Scully & Scully and resold them for $29.99.

Do you and/or your family follow the recommended care instructions on your purchases? If not, which items have held up for you? Tell me on Instagram (until I find a better anti-spam plugin so I can enable blog comments).

Five children’s books I still read

Five children’s books I still read

old books
Clearly a well-loved lineup!

The first movie I was allowed to see in theaters with a friend and no parents present was 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, which of course follows the owner of a children’s bookstore. A favorite quote from the movie is “When you read a book as a child, it becomes part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” This is so true for me as a writer. Although I definitely don’t write for children, in some ways, the reading I did growing up influenced me more profoundly than anything I read past age 16. Around once per year, I still go back to these books. You’ve probably read them yourself – these aren’t hidden gems or anything like that. If you’ve read and loved any of these, come find me on Instagram or email me! (I had to disable blog comments because all I ever did was moderate the spam that made it past my anti-spam plugin. If you have an anti-spam plugin you love, let me know that, too.)

  1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is by far my favorite children’s book. I re-read it every spring. My falling-apart copy is inscribed ‘Christmas 1993,’ so I may have very well read this 30-plus times. My copy is an edition with illustrations by Tasha Tudor. Funnily enough, Tudor is a last name that figures heavily toward the middle/end of the Pedigree Series, starting with a book that includes a lot elements inspired by The Secret Garden. Burnett’s prose is rich and layered, and as an adult, I love that it doesn’t talk down to her target audience of 9 – 11 year olds. We had a very large garden even before moving out to the country, and I had a few dresses that looked like Mary’s in the Tudor illustrations, so I loved acting out this book. I’m not sure if my mother knew I was routinely climbing our dying crabapple tree while wearing these dresses (and no shoes)! I can’t really put my finger on what specifically makes this book so special to me. I think it’s the setting on a remote country estate with a hundred secrets, the element of mystery, and the themes of healing from trauma and tragedy.
  2. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. I’m not sure when I first encountered this book, but my copy has my seventh-grade homeroom written on the inside cover. Of course, having New England ancestry and traveling there frequently made this book more vivid for me. In seventh grade, I had just moved to a new area, so I’m sure the fish out of water aspect of this story resonated. As I’ve gone back to it in adulthood, I appreciate how nuanced Speare’s characterization is. Especially as she was writing for children, she could have gone a ‘good vs. evil’ route, but instead explored character motivations and backstory as drivers for behavior. I will be rereading this one very soon, actually, as a work in progress manuscript winds down and a very early-New England-inspired next installment takes shape!
  3. The Riddle of Penncroft Farm by Dorothea Jensen. This might the hidden gem from this lineup. A Google search is showing it to be out of print, which is too bad. This is one I re-read every fall around Halloween time. It’s about a boy of maybe 11 or 12 who moves from Minnesota to his family’s farm near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. We read this as a class in fifth grade and oddly, after sixth grade, I ended up moving not terribly far from the area depicted in the book. I was a tremendous history buff in fifth grade. I printed out portraits of the six Tudor queens and hung them in my room. I tried to seance myself back to Colonial Williamsburg on sundry occasions. In the book, the boy meets the ghost of his Revolutionary War ancestor. I was jealous. None of my Revolutionary War ancestors have ever condescended to visit me and/or set forth a historical riddle that ended in me getting a large inheritance. I suppose it could still happen. We’ll see. If you can get your hands on a copy of this book, I’d certainly suggest doing so, no matter your age!
  4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Does this book really need an introduction? The quintessential coming-of-age tale with bonus points for being New England based. My family did a literary tour of New England the summer I was 17 (this is its own forthcoming post), and it was exciting to see some of the sites that inspired Alcott’s text. This is another one I typically read in the fall. Also, why is not being angry that Jo and Laurie didn’t end up together an unpopular opinion? They were so wrong for each other. So wrong. Sorry, everyone.
  5. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. It was hard to narrow this list down, but I’m giving Charlotte the final spot. This is yet another historical New England book with a strong female protagonist. Young Me liked what she liked. This is a breathless read, and it’s fascinating to watch the main character transform and become unable to change back again when society demands. I need to re-read this one soon.

Honorable mentions:

Beauty by Robin McKinley is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that’s set in England. I like the rich backstory versus the original fairy tale. I don’t generally care for the fantasy genre, but love the setting and characters in this novel. I go back to it for the vivid descriptions of the setting and elements and, let’s face it, the horseback riding.

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson. I’m not sure when I first read this book, but am fairly sure it was before age 12. Honestly, reading this one in adulthood, I kind of side-eye it. There’s a lot in here that doesn’t seem appropriate for middle-grade readers, but I guess I turned out okay? All told, it’s a very raw and real story set during World War II off the coast of Maryland.

Thoughts on the New Year

new year 2022I had planned to write something about being excited to share more in the new year and the same types of things everyone else writes. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot I’m looking forward to in 2022. However, I feel like I’m ending the year a little more weary than excited. It’s an uncertain time for the world and has been for almost two years. A lot of people I’ve seen online have been gathering their content plans for next year during this holiday downtime. That’s something I would enjoy, but simply don’t have the space to do.

I launched my book series to the public in 2021. It was definitely time to move them off my hard drive and into the spotlight. The decision doesn’t come without a lot of second guessing, though. I second guess the content in the books, despite having been proud enough of them to put them online. Is the first one strong enough to keep people coming back? Why did I put a beach on the cover of this serious book? How will this specific friend or follower react to this specific scene? These are things I never had to worry about when I wrote for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Marketing the books has come with a lot of ups and downs, too. I actually achieved and surpassed every single sales and marketing goal I set for the series in 2021. Getting people to follow you, click your links, and then actually spend their money and time on something you’ve created is a challenge. I’m grateful for the support I’ve received this year from everyone I’ve met (and whom I already knew)!

The marketing side of things has also been a fairly frustrating undertaking. Although I manage web/social platforms at work, it’s never my face on them. My name isn’t associated with them. A lot of the content I post is generated by others. There’s 100% nothing personal about being followed or unfollowed or clicked through on the work platforms. I started off 2021 generally too shy to leave comments on Instagram, so I feel like I’ve grown in a lot of ways! It’s sometimes hard to get past the frustration, jealousy, and extra screen time created by using Instagram to showcase the series. My real love is the actual writing of the books, and I’m always going to prioritize that over taking pictures of myself. Unfortunately, that means slower growth, which leads to my self-esteem getting dinged sometimes.

I’ve honestly thought about giving up the Instagram grind a lot lately. It’s difficult to be consistent without the time and resources that other accounts have. Back in my pre-child days, when I was a member of a writer’s group, we used to do monthly retreats (we called them boot camps) at each other’s homes. We wore comfy pajamas and put all our phones in a basket by the door; the host didn’t give out the WiFi password and made homemade soup, bread, and dessert for everyone at lunchtime. This sounds even more blissful as I type this now. Unfortunately, as we all got less-flexible jobs and had children, these retreats disappeared. I would love to be able to harness some boot camp energy (or just some energy would be nice). I also plan to stick with Instagram for the time being. The real solution to this is staying in my lane and not getting caught up in what others are doing. Of course, that’s much easier to type than actually do!

With all of that said, I really am looking forward to what’s to come in 2022. A new book is coming out in February, and it’s really a turning point for the series. It took me writing this series to realize that New England Gothic might be my favorite thing in the entire world. Given my typical pace, it’s also likely that the actual writing of the series will be complete in 2022. It’s bittersweet on the one hand, but I’m so looking forward to putting hands to keyboard on the final three.

Happy New Year! I hope you’re able to soak up the last days of the holiday season in peace with family and friends.

Chronicles of the Overdressed, Part II

Chronicles of the Overdressed, Part II

people outdoors
I combed back through old photos and found very few pictures of the awkward era. It’s hard to really see this homemade dress, but it didn’t fit properly and required two slips underneath.

I really believe everyone has a style that works for them, things that are flattering and make you feel comfortable and, most importantly, make you feel like you. We all go through bad fashion periods, though. Looking back on my own bad fashion periods, I think many people go through these awkward phases as a result of insecurity. Yes, there are people who genuinely don’t know what’s flattering or just haven’t found a style to suit them yet. That aside, what is jumping on every passing trend if not insecurity?

I’ve written before about moving to a different region of the country and the way it made me feel awkward about my personal style being too stuffy/dressy. Being in my mid-twenties and not really knowing anyone, I wanted to fit in so badly. Too badly to just wear the khakis and shrug.

After undergrad, I recognized right away that my college girl wardrobe wasn’t appropriate for a full-time working adult starting to build a career. I owned a lot of revealing tops and skinny jeans and Bestey Johnson dresses and Steve Madden slides. (Can you guess my birth year based on this list?) Even to go out with friends on the weekend, these things just didn’t seem quite right anymore.

Kudos to young me, I donated the college clothes and approached replacing them as an investment opportunity. Looking back, I think my entire wardrobe was from J. Peterman at one point. Of course, my tastes/body type have changed in fifteen years, so several of the investment items have been resold or donated. I still have a lot of the core items, though, and they’ve held up really well. I think the 1947 dresses will last until 2047!

But, as I already discussed at length, these classic and well-made investment pieces stuck out quite a bit when I moved. Art school is not the place for classic fashion – as the fictional Sutton and I both discovered. Neither is every workplace, especially arts-related ones, which is when I tried to change things up with disastrous results.

woman in madras
Weird Madras top with random Peter Pan collar (also homemade). Selfie angle is deceptively flattering.

I mentioned my hideous long skirt* era briefly in Part I. This is where I circle back to insecurity driving poor fashion choices. A coworker was very into buying clothes at thrift stores, which had never really interested me. I like to get vintage/antique home décor items this way, but prefer eBay/the RealReal/Poshmark for secondhand clothing.

Anyhow, I started shopping for hideous long skirts at the thrift store, and they were so cringe. I also got really into making my own clothes during this time. I’ve been sewing for many years and am pretty adept at making things like pillows, curtains, etc., but clothes, especially for women, are very hard to make. It was a fun hobby, but I definitely should not have taken my amateur creations to the street. Or to formal events…

I was about 30 years old while this was going on. Old enough to know better, in other words. This wasn’t about ‘finding my style’ because honestly, I’ve always known what that is. This was me trying not to feel awkward, but subsequently looking weirder and more awkward than I have at any other point in my life. All in all, the weird skirts/handmade clothes era only lasted about a year and a half. (Part of that was maternity, and let’s face it, a long skirt is pretty darn comfortable at that point.)

Of course, there are many situations where you will want/need to fit in, but there are ways to do this that don’t involve completely reinventing yourself. If you do feel horribly uncomfortable being yourself somewhere, maybe that’s not the right place for you. Otherwise, as long as you use common sense and dress appropriately for the occasion, there’s no need to waste money and energy trying to look the way you think everyone else would prefer.

*Please note that I have nothing against maxi skirts that are well-made and flattering. I own some wool and cashmere ones that I love. This story isn’t meant to trash maxi skirts, thrift stores, or the people who enjoy them. It’s simply about me not being authentic in the past.

Writing Inspiration: The Wrong Reasons

Writing Inspiration: The Wrong Reasons

divorce book coverThe epic mismatch of Rachel and Mackie is alluded to early on in the series – Mackie isn’t allowed to partake of family activities, his family members grumble about his spouse, Poppy and Mimmy trash Rachel’s less-than-illustrious background because of course they would. I realized Mackie’s story couldn’t possibly be one of the more lighthearted books in the series.

Here’s the funny and weird thing. The book that precedes The Wrong Reasons, Into the Sunset, is a timeline throwback to 2004. Initially, Mackie’s story was supposed to have been the throwback. Yes, Rachel is working in a (Star Wars-themed) café when they meet and is from Pittsburgh, where she grew up in a lower-income situation. She does end up going to college and getting a MSW.

This throwback was supposed to have been some romantic comedy fun or something. I don’t know. They find love despite this massive, massive chasm between their backgrounds and values systems. It was tentatively titled with Rachel’s (derogatory) nickname for the poor guy, Preppy Boy. My brain is throwing up right now. Thank goodness I came to my senses and made the book depressing and sad.

What wouldn’t work about a lighthearted Mackie/Rachel pairing is that I just couldn’t see how such a ‘Cinderella story’ type thing could work well in reality. I’m not saying everyone needs to marry a person exactly like them, but even small disparities between backgrounds can cause friction for a couple. This extreme level of difference honestly would be a very hard thing to make work. A reasonable portion of the Hughes family are – let’s face it – terribly snobby. Rachel is incredibly bitter and jealous. This isn’t a recipe for wedded bliss.

Once I ditched the idea of wedded bliss, the story really started to flow. The idea of someone being emotionally abused and subject to gaslighting really resonated with me. Years ago, with former boyfriends, I experienced this type of thing. I also thought it would be really interesting to shed some light on an abused male character – this is something that happens and isn’t often discussed.

Only a handful of the books are told entirely from one character’s point of view (The Date, Where We Start From, The Wrong Reasons and the forthcoming prequel Fatherly). For obvious reasons, Rachel wasn’t going to get a voice here. Narrowing the focus to just Mackie’s experience also helped show what being battered down by abuse is like. The reader only sees him doubting himself and thinking that it’s his fault.

The other thing I felt was delicate in this book is the fact that working-class Rachel is the bad guy. I hope I managed to strike the tone I was going for. The open-minded characters admire her for leaving her hometown and getting an advanced degree. It’s clear that the snobbier characters are just being their snobby selves. Going back to what I said about the difficulties of bridging the gap between a couple’s backgrounds, Rachel’s unpleasantness stems from the fact that she thinks the world owes her something and from the way she lets her jealousy of Mackie’s family eat away at her. She also pretends to hate money while using Mackie for money, so that’s not good either.

The Rachel character is awful, but when writing her, I wanted to be sure and make clear that it’s her personality that’s objectionable. Not the fact that her parents were unable to afford a stable of ponies or that she went to the ‘wrong’ schools or isn’t from New England. The series does have fun with some light snobbery at times, but in the end, these are never acceptable reasons to exclude someone. To be honest, living in Ohio now, I’ve been on the receiving end of this when I’ve gone back to visit the East Coast. It definitely stings when someone pretends your state is so low on their radar they don’t know where it is. (Although, it has to be said, shouldn’t the ‘right schools’ teach basic geography?) So, no, I don’t condone needless, petty snobbery, but admit to making myself laugh with the characters’ mostly harmless variety.

This book sets up some of the key conflicts in the series – we haven’t seen the last of Rachel, unfortunately, nor of Sissy Norcross – plus Mackie’s kids come into their own as adults much later in the series. I’m in the thick of writing about that currently, and I’m very excited about what’s to come.

Winter DIY projects

Winter DIY projects

mischievous child
Very unpolished all around. This room was repainted, but it stops there.

Once we get through the holidays each year, we like to start on a couple of indoor-only projects. We do so many renovations and so much gardening during the summer, that we’re usually pretty over it by fall. Unless something urgent needs to be done to get ready for holiday guests, we don’t really want to spend our weekends painting and drywalling during September through December.

Thinking ahead to this winter, we’re planning to do a couple of necessary things. You might notice that I only show a handful of rooms on Instagram. This is because there’s still a lot of construction mess behind the scenes. As I’ve said before, we’ve been trying to take our time with restoring the house. Some (a lot) of this is mandated by our budget, but we also have enjoyed making more thoughtful improvements based on the way we use our spaces.

Despite that, the construction mess is getting on our (my) nerves. Three of the bedrooms have been half done for quite some time. The plan for January/February is to replace all the woodwork that we removed, as well as replace the flooring in our bedroom and in the sitting room attached to it. I might also finally get around to making my skirted dressing table – I’ve had the skirt for six months and have yet to get myself together enough to build the table.

Another thing I would love to do is put the finishing touches on the formal living room. I’ve had my eye on this Scully & Scully lamp forever, plus I love their tapestry pillows, too. If you look closely at the photos on Instagram, you’ll notice that there are no throw pillows in this room. A room definitely needs these types of things to feel finished. I’m also hoping to find a few more pieces for the gallery wall and frame the prints I bought this fall.

This might be all we can handle over the winter, but we’ll see. We have a lot to do over this coming summer, too, like replace the porch. It feels like we still have so much work to do, and we do, but we’ve just now lived here for five years and have a small child. It’s coming along, if slowly and steadily. When I start listing out our completed projects, it suddenly sounds like a lot of accomplishments. I hope we’re able to get these projects underway. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you and also just in general being able to share images taken in more than four rooms!

The double-edged sword of social media

The double-edged sword of social media

phone woman
“#nofilter, Poppy thought, except she had always filtered. She might be pissed and throwing needles everywhere and calling Stephen every name in her arsenal, but she was even filtering now.”

If you’re reading this, chances are high you’ve clicked over from Instagram. I use that social platform all the time. I’m also a social media manager in my day job. Despite – or maybe because of – the fact that I do these things, I no longer have any personal social accounts. I very rarely use my Sara Thomas Facebook account. I haven’t tweeted in almost a year. My Instagram is a public page where I focus on making connections with people I don’t know in real life (although I’ve met several people I would like to!). Honestly, I feel like I don’t know how to use a personal page anymore.

In the Pedigree series, I write about social media, Instagram in particular, fairly frequently. Early in the series, Poppy is an Instagram influencer with somewhere between 60-80K followers. She doesn’t use the account for income, aside from freebies. The account mostly serves to make her family roll their eyes (in the best case scenario) and to deeply hurt their feelings at worst.

As Poppy is a T.S. Eliot superfan, I refer back to The Cocktail Party at times throughout the series. In Where We Start From, she discusses these lines with her son: “We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”

There’s also a lot of talk of filtering – not just using VSCO to make yourself look good, but filtering your life the way you want others to see you. Poppy uses her Instagram account to make her life look perfect. Yes, she’s well off and privileged in a lot of ways, but she’s deeply unhappy. Her husband is rather out of control. Her children actively dislike her. So, she posts airy pictures of the foursome, the kids dressed like her, herself and Stephen out on the town.

Of course, one doesn’t have to be on social media to filter themselves. I’m pretty sure T.S. Eliot had never heard of social media, and said cocktail party was not a Facebook Live event. Stephen’s actions in the series are arguably worse, and they made him just as miserable as Poppy was despite her thousands of fans. He presented the version of himself in person that he thought everyone wanted, and this ends up leading to his untimely and tragic demise.

I think in this day and age, the type of falsifying that Poppy does is more common than outright lying about who you are. In 2021, if you lie about your background or location or name or whatever, the mean Internet will find you out and expose you so quickly. But the ‘behind closed doors’ type of filtering? I think that’s something we see all the time without realizing it. I follow dozens of accounts like Poppy’s fictional one (nb – she is not based on any real Instagrammer). My Instagram feed is the most beautiful and elegant place I’ve ever seen, and life is not like that. I’m not sure this type of filtering is even necessarily lying. I think the way a person wants to be perceived can be an enormous insight into what they’re actually like.

So, yes, Instagram is for sure a highlight reel. Is Instagram (or social media in general) terrible and fake? I don’t think so. Clearly, I’m on it. I mentioned previously about how I overdress for everything. That’s just the surface of often feeling awkward and out of place. There just aren’t a lot of people locally who share my interests. Oft times, the other playground moms are a little standoffish toward Fair Isle Lady. Honestly, it can be very lonely. I left a very large and tight-knit social network (the in-person kind) when I moved here, and it’s difficult/impossible to replicate that when moving as an adult.

Instagram and the website have been a lot of fun for me to connect with people who have similar interests. I’ve found endless inspiration for the house, supported a lot of small businesses, and have struck up some online friendships that are meaningful to me and not fake at all. At least, I don’t think they are. It’s hard to imagine catfishing someone to talk about sweaters and wallpaper, but who knows?

I think social media does have a lot of value when used correctly as a tool for making connections or sharing something you’re passionate about. I’m grateful to be finding an audience for my work. I think one just has to keep in mind that it’s not anyone’s complete reality, no matter how much it seems to be.

Writing Inspiration: Into the Sunset

Writing Inspiration: Into the Sunset

flowers book coverThe books in the Pedigree Series are pretty widely varied. Everyone talks the same and has the same manners and the same faded Trimingham’s sweaters are frequently discussed, but the content and plots run the gamut somewhat. The first book is very political, some titles are guy-meets-girl centered, others have New England Gothic vibes. I mean, for a long-haul series, I have to keep it interesting, not just for my readers, but for me. Honestly, I wrote these for me. Now somehow I’m blogging about them, but that’s another story.

Into the Sunset, Book 3, is unique among the books in a few ways. First, the narrative takes place in 2004 instead of during the main timeline. Second, nothing really gut-wrenching or potentially soul-destroying happens in this one. I think ‘lighter fare’ gets tossed around as an insult for books, but there’s nothing wrong with not always wanting to read something that requires trigger warnings. I somewhat wrote this to have some fun in between Book 2, Where We Start From, which deals with the death of Poppy’s husband, and Book 4, The Wrong Reasons, in which we meet Mackie’s abusive wife.

Phil, one of our two protagonists, is the oldest of the Hughes siblings. I wanted to draw a parallel between him and Hollis, who’s the oldest girl. Both of these characters are not very interesting in and of themselves – they’re upstanding, no-nonsense, low-drama types. Something from an external source has to happen to them in order to make a plot work. Hollis had to randomly get dragged into a scandal peripheral to her in The Date, and Phil’s boring relationship ends when his fiancée skips out on their engagement party.

As a former Classics major, I’m really influenced by a style of ancient Greek drama called New Comedy. These plays became what we know today as the comedy of manners, which take stock characters and place them in familiar situations. The tension comes from social factors more than anything else.

I had the hazy idea while writing the first two books, that Phil was married to someone he’d known from childhood or had met in school and some type of light comedic drama had ensued prior to his lifetime of wedded bliss. I also had the sense that unlike Mackie, Phil was not an intrinsically romantic person and would probably have to be smacked upside the head with true love. A romantic concept, indeed.

I loved writing awkward yet socially brilliant Abby. In Book 2, I gave her an ongoing sad storyline about not being able to have more children and was a little sorry I did that once I got to know her. Poor Abby, although this was probably the right call for the series. I like to keep things real and not too entirely perfect. Abby embodies a certain ideal – she’s equally one of the guys and extremely ladylike. It was gratifying in the story to watch her blossom the way she does.

Something I introduce in this book that appears again on occasion is Boston Social Diary, a GeoCities-hosted gossip website run by a social-climbing individual named Yvette Harrington. Clearly, the name was adapted from the much more respectable and real New York Social Diary. The fictional BSD is nothing like it, although Poppy exaggerates tales of the real New York version to set up a story about besting Yvette.

Anyhow, despite having the dubious honor of being written as a sort of ‘brain break,’ Into the Sunset is just as significant to the main storyline as any of the other books. Despite taking place in 2004, it informs the rest of the series the same way the others do, which is why it’s part of the main series and not separated out as a prequel.

Have you read Into the Sunset yet? Check it out on Amazon and at Books a Million.

Shopping small for the small

Shopping small for the small

When my daughter became old enough to a) reliably fit into things for at least a year and b) not destroy her clothing like a pureed-food goblin, I started to think a bit harder about her wardrobe. The ‘leggings and a onesie’ standard baby uniform is fine – functional, practical, a diaper blowout or strained carrot disaster isn’t the end of the world. As she got older, though, I really wanted to step things up a bit.

Unfortunately, if you’ve tried to find children’s clothing in the mainstream, ‘stepped up’ does not describe it. Most manufacturers seem to have been taken over by Big Unicorn, and a lot of the quality is very poor. I know kids outgrow clothes and get them dirty, but handing things down and doing the laundry are valid options. Plus, a lot of the children’s clothing out there is made so poorly that it shreds well before it’s outgrown. This can’t be my daughter’s fault – she hates nature and would rather color indoors.

adorable child
First Instagram dress

I can’t remember how I stumbled across Classic Children’s Wear Instagram a few years back. I had searched Google with limited success for things like children’s Fair Isle sweaters, smocked dresses, and girls’ khakis without ruffles or rhinestones. The first retailer I found via Instagram carried a beautiful wool tartan dress with smocking, and I was really impressed with it – fabric quality, stitching, detail work. Was it $13? A definite no, but we still have it, thanks to strategic sizing up, and it’s in excellent shape.

I’ve found a great many other children’s clothing retailers on Instagram since then. Some tried-and-true favorites are linked at the bottom of the post – remember, these aren’t affiliate links, just things I like. All my support for creating this content comes from the kind people who buy my books.

Not only do I like the quality and style of the Instagram children’s wear, but I’m much happier to support a small business than to throw more dollars at Big Unicorn. I mentioned the higher price point above, but there are budget-friendly options, too. Interestingly, the quality – in my experience anyhow – doesn’t really drop versus the pricer children’s brands. I’ve had great experiences with Seven Lantern Lane (I think most/all of her items are under $40) and Posh Pickle, plus these are woman-owned small businesses. Buying these smaller-batch, better-made items from independent retailers is also more sustainable.

A word to the wise about selling classic children’s wear to the wearer – your child. These clothes were definitely a hard sell at first. Big Unicorn knows how to give the small people what they want. What three-year-old will appreciate a worked Peter Pan collar and Oxfords when compared with a sparkly pink kitty shirt with shoulder cutouts? And rainbow shoes that are already shredding at the toes?

This is a hundred percent not a parenting blog. Sell the cardigans however you will to your own individual child. I bribed my own kid with marshmallows. My Mother of the Year trophy is backordered. In time, she has come to generally appreciate the better clothes. Don’t force your kid into dressing like a Princess Charlotte ideal for Instagram, although I admit, I definitely tried that at one point. That wasn’t cool. She’s five. If she wears a glittery unicorn shirt to the library on occasion, that’s life.

Recommended Classic Children’s Wear Retailers Starter Pack

Nantucket Kids

The Beaufort Bonnet Company

Seven Lantern Lane

Posh Pickle

Pepa & Co

Land’s End (this a ‘Big Prep’ retailer and not a small business, but I buy her school clothes through them. They’re better quality than the uniform pieces I’ve bought from a certain higher-priced Big Prep retailer, which faded after two washes.)

Classic Prep Childrenswear

The Proper Peony

Little English

Bella Bliss

Joy Street Kids

The Woman’s Exchange St. Louis

Smocked South

Footmates Shoes (It’s worth noting that I cannot for the life of me ever manage to cram her gigantic feet into their Cheer Oxfords, no matter the sizing, but they are very well made.)

You can always email me if you want to discuss classic children’s wear, and I will gladly talk your ear off for a hundred years.