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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I guess I feel overwhelmed and at a loss for words. It’s been an amazing, life-changing year, and an amazing day where some of my favorite people stopped by to see me at the gallery and brought me, along with their wonderful energy, some pretty magical stuff. The plant arrangement below, for example, contains lemon grass and bay leaves among other things. And bay leaves are often used in spells to attract love.

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What Now?

This morning I came across a quote in my new manuscript, Lone Wolf, that I really love: “A story does not end with a flight from trouble any more than it ends with happily ever after. Generally that’s where a lot of interesting stories begin. It’s the work that one does after the flight that’s truly compelling.”

The symmetry between this quote and what I’m doing at this time in my life was not lost on me. If 2019 was my Escapist Year, also known as the year when I’ve officially escaped, 2019 is the year to do the work that comes afterwards, the work inherent in building a new life. Today I devoted a great deal of time to planning out my events for the next year (which include trips to Paris, Madagascar, and Colorado!). I will announce these soon.

Also, here’s a peek at nine of my favorite books this year. What were yours?

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Ojo de Cabra

Today I went shopping for groceries so I can cook a few things for New Year’s Eve. Did you know that black-eyed peas are called frijoles ojo de cabra in Spanish? Neither did I, but it’s written on the box. And if you didn’t know it, it’s considered good luck to eat them for New Year’s here in Texas, so I’m making some, along with a few other things, such as my roasted tomato quiche, which usually turns out well.

The rest of the day was spent reading over my manuscript for Lone Wolf, then going to my studio at Sabine Street to paint. I’m preparing a surprise for February 1st, a day when it is customary to celebrate nature coming slowly back to life.

Still, despite all the planning and the excitement, I was feeling a bit blue. My new life requires more self-assurance and more self-reliance than ever before and at times it can be daunting. There’s no room in it for self-doubt or for stalling and sometimes, even as I am moving forward I feel like I’m not moving fast enough.

So it was perfect that John called to invite me to Tony’s. Tony’s is a place to see and be seen, and it has these huge paintings by John, and it always makes me feel special and cheers me up. Though really, it’s talking to John that always lifts my mood. After our meetings, there’s always a renewed sense of possibility, but also always new ideas, new things to be excited about, and new energy to get everything done.

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Muscle Memory

Last night I dreamt that I was being chased by an alligator. I was in my childhood home. I saw the alligator outside, by the summer kitchen. I ran inside, closed doors to lock it out, but it turned out that too many doors were open, and the creature kept inserting its webbed claw into cracks like a monster in a horror movie. I climbed up to the attic. I called the one person I know who has experience wrestling alligators. But later, awake, with coffee and an online search for the significance of dreams I realized the slayer of the beast is really who I’m running away from, the fear behind the metaphor. So, if in a dream you come to me as an alligator, could you please kindly slay yourself?

Luckily I knew what to do with these haunted feelings. I wrote them into my new novel, Lone Wolf. There was a perfect place for them, as any fictional heroine worth her salt has her own alligator to unload.

Afterwards, going through my memories, I was struck by the perfect symmetry of my day yesterday with what was going on last year. It turns out this is the one-year anniversary of closing on the sale of my house – something that was difficult to achieve, nearly impossible, in fact, but necessary for me to have the freedom to do what I’m doing now. After the closing I took myself (still shell-shocked from the emotional trauma of wrestling with the unfriendly world of small-town real estate) to a celebratory lunch at Provisions, the same restaurant where I ate last night. I wore all black and drew a sketch of my outfit, though it was not nearly as cool as the sweater dress I bought yesterday.

And so today, emboldened by the anniversary, and as free from alligators as ever, I set out to resolve some of the stuff I’ve been postponing that I don’t want to drag with me into the new year. This included my dry cleaning which had been riding in my car in a laundry bag from a luxury hotel in Barcelona for over a month now. My dry cleaning, in fact, has been to West Texas. I figured it had an interesting enough time and could now be dropped off. I probably won’t get it back until next year, but at least it’ll be clean and no longer in my car.

Also I had a massage. The guy said something interesting. He said we need to get the blood out of the muscles so new blood can flow through them. Like squeezing out a sponge. I liked that. Later I had sushi and an açai bowl. And tonight, after my massage I hope to dream of things other than alligators. Though if they shall appear I know just what to do with them. All alligators will be written into novels. Because you can’t just wait around for them to slay themselves.

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Bobby Wants to Drive

Today I finished most of the Christmas leftovers. I finished the mashed potatoes and bread pudding. There’s still some turkey left. I also finished most of the revisions on my new novel. There’s one detail I still want to add, and one more quick read-through to complete. I’m happy about the way it’s turning out.

After sitting in Starbucks revising my manuscript I decided to go shopping. I’m taking a very special trip to DC in January (more on that later!) and I had no cold weather clothes. Not to mention I needed something elegant and appropriate. I wanted a black sweater dress, preferably cashmere, something comfortable yet stylish. The lovely people who work for Sandro and Maje at Saks helped me find two dresses, also a coat that’s bound to be warm enough. I found two sweaters on my own. And so, I’m glad to say I will not freeze. Nor will I look shabby.

After the shopping extravaganza I went and picked up Bobby and Nancy at boarding and drove them home. Bobby usually hates the car but today he wanted to ride shotgun. Actually, he wanted to do more than that. Bobby wanted to drive.

After my fun ride with the dogs I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner. I went to Provisions, possibly my favorite restaurant in Houston. I had the zucchini pistachio cake that I really like. I also ate a small freshly baked baguette, sweet potato curry soup, and a variation on chiles en nogada. Not in that order. I suppose y’all already know I eat a lot.

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Andreea Needs a Cell Phone

Finally, after days when I felt lethargic and too overwhelmed to tackle the task at hand, I finally delved into the editing of my new manuscript, Lone Wolf – A Road Trip Story. It’s a slow process, but not without its joys! Occasionally the editor, whom I love, underlines sentences she likes, or makes small comments that make me smile. My favorite so far? She expresses concern about Andreea, the protagonist, who doesn’t have a cell phone, going on a road trip with a man she doesn’t know. Fair point! Shouldn’t Andreea call her sister from a pay phone and give her the guy’s license plate or something? Well, yes, that would be advisable, but Andreea hardly ever errs on the side of caution.

If all this talk about the book makes you curious, you can now actually pre-order the ebook version, or at least read more about it on Amazon. Check it out! I did this mostly because I wanted to go ahead and make the cover. I must say I quite like it, and the one for the paperback is even lovelier!

Also today I did a little collage of some of the highlights of this past year. I love doing these, they always turn out so colorful, and this year more than ever.

And to add more sparkle to everyone’s life now that the Christmas presents have all been opened, I decided to hold my very first Facebook auction today! You can enter it on my Facebook page (Maria Elena Sandovici) until midnight December 26, 2018 to win Paris Fashion Week, pictured below, 20×20 inches, acrylic on wood. Retail price $400. Minimum bid: $120, bidding increments $20.

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Best Dog in the Universe

This one goes out to my sweet little dog who let me stay in bed until almost noon on this Christmas Day, chatting on Skype, drinking coffee, and shopping for rose quartz face massage rollers on Amazon. Later, I drove to the Woodlands to have Christmas dinner with my favorite witch and her parents. It was warm out, so after dinner we walked to the lake. The lake was dark and beautiful. We could hear frogs in the distance. We talked about life. Also, I totally liked what I wore today.

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The finches came to my window as I was talking on the phone to my former boss. I liked the finches. I was, overall, in a wonderful mood today, such contrast to last year’s Christmas Eve, when I was sad and lonely and exhausted, going through the ordeal of selling my house, and dragging with me some of the emotional baggage that was difficult to unpack long after the physical belongings that weighed me down had been sold. This year everything is different and I feel light and happy to be on a big adventure. It’s been a year of growth, learning, transformation, and changes. I hope, if there is anyone reading this who’s feeling sad today – and Christmas tends to make many people sad – that they take heart. I hope that for them too, the sadness is just a phase in a transformative process, that it prompts rebirth and reinvention, and that the magic returns to them as it did to me.

I didn’t really do much today. It was an easy, lazy day. It was warm and sunny outside and the dog and I took a very long walk. We walked the Tanglewood Tranquility Trail, which is by our house and quite lovely, and which I hadn’t walked for longer than I can remember. Perhaps it was last Christmas that I last went there?

The dog was very happy. See, dogs don’t care for Christmas presents. Dogs want quality time, attention, and adventure. Dogs are very wise.

Later I came home, cooked dinner, and baked the bread pudding for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner. I made a small portion for myself too. I must say, it’s pretty decadent. And so ends a really nice Christmas Eve.

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Grackles and Bread Pudding

It’s almost Christmas Eve, and with my parties done, I was able to relax and indulge. I stayed in bed late drinking coffee and curating my Twitter account, the yet unwalked dog curled up warm and cuddly under my blanket. After walkies I met one of my closest friends for lunch and to go see her new condo, which feels spacious and beautiful. We exchanged Christmas presents. I gave her my favorite novel of all times (Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley) and a John Ross Palmer Christmas ornament. She gave me a whole bunch of fun stuff, including champagne flutes, which I badly needed. Yes, I have thus far committed the sin of serving champagne in wine glasses and been scolded by my mentor!

Later I had two other friends stop by the gallery. One brought me homemade tamales, which are Christmas thing here in Texas, and which I wanted badly, but been too busy to procure myself. They have butternut squash inside, also beans, and cheese. They are so good!

Also I got it into my head that I want to make bread pudding for Christmas dinner with the leftover butter croissants from yesterday’s Open House. I went to Whole Foods, which is where I saw the grackles, and got pastured organic eggs, also butter, heavy cream, and a large bag of pine nuts I’d been eyeing for a while. I also got caviar for the New Year’s Eve party because Whole Foods had a very attractive sale.

Then I went home and combed the internet for the most exquisite wisdom on bread pudding. Here’s what I learned: It’s best if you let the croissants soak up the custard overnight; always use heavy cream (duh!) and mix in a bit of melted ice cream; add a pinch of salt to the custard; butter your dish before baking and, for a special caramelized crust, sprinkle sugar over the butter and bake until browned before adding the bread pudding mixture; you can use a Dutch oven; you should cover the bread pudding for 3/4 of the time it bakes, but do leave room for it to rise.

You’re welcome! I’ve no idea why I delight in all this knowledge so much, but I do. Perhaps it’s because this has been the year when I have done the least amount of cooking and I miss it. I’ve been too busy but things are looking up. Also, I made a test batch of the bread pudding in a small ramekin dish and it is pretty scrumptious! Also, I bought Holly her Christmas present and I think she likes it.

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I’ve been publicly scolded on Facebook by someone I’ve known since childhood because I post too many pictures of dogs. But, like… Dogs are everything! I asked her if such comments are really necessary and she got upset. Oh, well. Luckily my life is as full of dogs as it is full of art, from my feisty little Boston, to my mentors’ beautiful English Pointers.

Also, today was the last in my series of pre-Christmas parties unveiling my West Texas show. I am so happy I did these! With each event I feel like I’m learning more and getting my gallery to be more professional. Also, I’m lucky to have such supportive people in my life. And dogs, too. Let’s not forget the dogs. They offer so much support!

As if it wasn’t already such a wonderful day, with beautiful warm sunny weather, a few nice sales, and overall just the feeling of accomplishment of having had some lovely parties, there were a few other treats in store as well: I got a lot of Christmas cards this year, and each and every one of them makes me happy. I also got a sweet little present in the mail today: a little brooch of a doggie that looks like Holly (see, more dogs!). And then, in the evening, I got to have drinks and snacks at Caracol, one of my favorite restaurants, with a friend and collector who’s been incredibly wonderful and supportive, and whom I’m so happy to get to know better.

All in all, it’s been a lovely day, and the conclusion of a series of events that took much planning, and a bit of fretting, but which turned out to be wonderful. Now, time for Christmas and a little bit of a rest, then I’ll start planning my New Year’s Eve party.