Category Archives: Freelance Life

Cheers to one more 8×11 piece of paper that cost more than our two cars!

You’ll remember fondly, I’m sure, that I was teetering oh so close to the edge of wasting an ungodly amount of money on a correspondence course that was soon to expire.

That bad boy expires Sunday, friends. Which, in Natalie Time, meant I had until shortly after 11 p.m. on Sunday to finish reading the last novel, write the essay, pad the word count by including the author’s full name and novel title seven more times, put my full confidence in our internet connection and other three thousand technological conveniences to work properly, and get that masterpiece submitted.

But I’m a go-getter. A real hustler, if you will. I thought, “It’s hogwash to need 32 weeks to finish a class that others finish in one semester. Let’s get this knocked out in 31 and 3/4 weeks.” Plus, there are way too many Octoberfests sitting in my fridge this weekend to worry about that tiny little detail of spending $2.2 million on an unfinished class.

So I finished it today. Like, five minutes ago. Meaning the tears in my eyes from realizing a seriously expensive and seemingly unimportant goal are still fresh and making it rather dangerous to be this close to so many electronics. But, personal safety be damned,

I [will, at some point, when I submit the necessary paperwork and spend hours on the phone with the four colleges supplying me with grades] HAVE AN ENGLISH DEGREE!

A part of me feels like I should craft a long list of my (and the federal government’s) dollars spent or pairs of Rainbows worn thin or pots of coffee made after 10 p.m. or pity parties thrown after getting an A- (nine, to be exact) or husbands who finally stopped pestering me to wash a dish or make a meal that made this effort possible.

Instead, I’m going to start working on an excuse that allows me to pop open one of those frosty brews at 11:52 a.m. Anything remotely medical should cover it. And then I’m going to update my résumé. Because I might not be a student any more, but nerd is forever.


tori nat fountain

(First collegiate graduation, May 2007)

Forget the drum roll. I’ll take a mojito.

Meet my baby. It’s not exactly what my mother has been incessantly praying for over the last three years (which is almost cruel considering how we told her she had a grandson and then introduced her to an untrained, 6-week old Bryson). It’s the lovechild of some serious site envy, one incomparable web genius/friend and the eerie shadows of my brain’s weird ramblings. And ta da, you have my new blog.

Because you’re so awesome…?

Ha. No. It’s so that I don’t lose out on jobs because the first posting that pops up is about killing mice in my apartment (get ready for an uncomfortable déjà vu post involving our new place).  For a long time I’ve been wanting to separate my “professional” information from my musings on everything else. I felt censored blogging on a site that was also serving to promote my freelance work.

So for the last few weeks I’ve been working with my pal Josh Blanco, who I have not forgotten is a Seminole at heart even though he lives all the way out on that hippie left coast in Seattle. He took my concise direction–“I think this is kind of neat. Ew, that’s not cute.”—and made a site that actually functions. A task that is light years over my head. So, all the credit really belongs to him. Here’s his site one more time in case you missed it.

Now what?

We still have some fine tuning, tweaking and jazz-ifying to take care of. No one is comfortable with all that gray. 

In the meantime, I write. Hopefully better. And more consistently. But let’s not get carried away in the excitement. Bottom line: the “good” stuff is here, folks. So save it, subscribe to it, share it, whatever. Just know that this is the place for lusting over caramel flavored coffee beverages, an amateur use of profanity and all the sarcastic morsels I can muster. Which is also the closest you will ever get me to cooking.

On the real

Family, friends, strangers and social media stalkers, thank you so much for reading.

What are Synonyms for “Technological Slap in the Face?”

So here’s a true story. I just typed out my best 15 attempts at “hors d’oeuvre” and was so off every single time that spell check did not once rescue me with the correct spelling. Shortcut fail. I did get superb suggestions like devious and hourly, maybe hinting that I’m such a terrible speller I should switch to a more devious profession involving fishnets, desperate business men and hourly rates? My favorite suggestion was “no spelling suggestions,” basically spell check’s polite way of saying “you’re such a complete moron even my international language database can’t figure out the slightest idea of what you’re trying to say.”

Does this mean I have to turn in my writers’ club membership I.D.? Hope not, because with that deer-in-headlights thing going on, I look stunning in that photo.

11 Things You Can Do Working from Home Normally Frowned Upon in Office Settings

  1. Mimic the noises your dog makes back to him to see if you can have a conversation.
  2. Show up without shoes. But with purple socks on.
  3. Pee with the door open.
  4. Proofread out loud. In character.
  5. Eat cereal at your desk. And chips and salsa. During the same lunch hour.
  6. Roll your eyes and laugh out loud at the ridiculous, last minute request in your inbox.
  7. Decide not to swap the post-shower towel for actual clothes.
  8. Decide not to shower.
  9. Keep the same Amos Lee song on repeat for the entire workday. Or at least until you can nail that high note in the bridge.
  10. Adjust the blinds specifically for optimal neighbor stalking.
  11. Start working at 5p.m. because you are not in control of when Bravo schedules Real Housewives marathons*.

 (*This was actually 10 items until I woke up this morning. Life really is about being open to change.)

Updates. Because you’re riveted. And because working on Fridays is overrated.

Did I mention that I’m freelancing full time? Yeah, that happened. Sorry if you didn’t get invited to the party, but you wouldn’t have come anyway. It was in God-forsaken Newport News.

We added to our family. Her name is Tyra and she is a sparkly black 2011 Honda Civic and awesome and I love her and throw out that coffee because we’re leasing.

The gym has been oh-so-good to my moods. And my love handles.

Clayton and I stumbled upon a little jewel called Friday Night Lights. Unfortunately, we started watching about halfway through the last season and the series finale was a couple of weeks ago. But we were not deterred. Every night since it ended, we’ve been making our way through the first season online. Without fail, we’ve laughed and cried and gasped and nodded in understanding during every single episode. I haven’t done enough research to know if I should be embarrassed by or proud of this obsession, but either way, we cancelled our DirecTV premium 80,000 channel package, so the timing is fantastic. Go Panthers! (Until they’re the Lions.) If you have any interest whatsoever, this series finale recap could be the funniest show recap ever. (You might need to know a little about the show to enjoy it as much as I did.)

Because I used mind control tricks and my patented mumble-talk, my mom agreed to walk the Gasparilla 5k with me. Really big deal for the Alvarez’s, and I am out of my mind proud of her. Thanks to that and this gal’s wedding,

I’ll be in Tampa in less than a week. I’m planning on staying anywhere from 8 days to the rest of my life. We’ll see how it goes.

To Clarify

I fear that you have misunderstood. Or that I’ve been misleading.

My life, here in Newport News, Virginia, is incredible. I speak of sadness and missing and what-am-I-doing-here moments,


I am healthy.

Whether nature or nurture, it is not in my composition to adjust to being far away from

Brenda or Ken or Tony

or Grace

or aunt-uncle-cousins families.

So, constant undercurrents of emotion

surge and wane

at unpredictable and strange times.

While every day is not spotless from tears,

my everyday is filled with

laughing with my husband

and playing with my big dog

and creating pages of paragraphs and catchphrases for a paycheck.

It simply does not get much better on a waking to sleeping basis.

Voids exist where friends once sat

and empty chairs facing us at restaurants still remind us of our longing

to laugh with other people in person,

to have standing plans to keep.

But this also makes us cling to husband and wife life

and this tiny family

with a fierce dependency

and deep protectiveness.

 So, please remember that I am


and a different version of happy.

Just keep calling. And writing. Because it gives me

soul sustaining strength

to stay healthy

and a different version of happy.


November was my favorite month of this year.

I rocked Thanksgiving dinner. Like, to the point all those “mmms” were worrying me that my culinary bar was being raised before my eyes. As if I was going to start doing this more than once every 26 years. HA! Joke’s on you, family. I’m not Brett Favring my career in the kitchen.

I’d decided that, no matter what was happening or not happening with a potential writing career, it was time to quit my day job. I’d been talking to my boss about transitioning to another position, and after several months, it was clearly time for a change. The day I was scheduled to meet with my boss–when I was going to tell her my official last day would be in three weeks–I got an email about a writing contract. Meaning a writing contract was prepared, signed by the-guy-in-the-biggest-office-with-the-best-view, and had my name printed on it. It’s a strange feeling when things work out that perfectly. Elation sprinkled with skepticism.

So, my last day in my current position at job #1 is 11 days from now. My writing contract is dated December 1. I feel too blessed and wildly grateful. For all the difficult moments of the past year, it’s hard to think of doing it differently. Even if I still don’t recognize this place, I am standing on the edge of my dream career. I cannot wait to close my eyes and jump.

Nine Months

It’s approaching the nine month anniversary of our move to Virginia , of the voluntary upheaval of our previous life to chase after an adventure that had seeped into our minds years before. An hour ago, I would not have had many uplifting things to say about this decision. But I grabbed the notebook I always keep by my bed (full disclosure: to write down Halloween costume ideas for Clayton and I), and I began reading the first few pages. Instead of writing my thoughts on the past nine months–bleak and lonely and depressing as they may be–I think it will make everyone feel better if I share the beginnings of the dream that brought us here. Mostly me. This is an entry I wrote the day I bought this journal, January 20, 2009. (Sorry to anyone who might have read the excerpts from this entry I posted the day after I wrote it. At least now you have the whole story.)

Today marked several firsts for me. And not just for me—today America has sealed this day forever in history as Inauguration Day of the first African American president. While I wish my mind could turn itself outward and embrace this milestone with the celebration and revere it deserves, I am holed up in a mesmerizing spell of introspection that has prompted this string of new (even if mundane to others) activities. As I write, I am perched on a bar stool in a “sports café.” Alone. Drinking a glass of rosé. Alone. I found my way to this place after walking the streets of downtown Tampa. Alone. Three “never-befores” within a span of two hours. I should probably explain.


Today I had to report to the Hillsborough County Courthouse for jury duty. Oddly enough on this groundbreaking day, this was not a new occasion. I’d had jury duty less than a year ago when living at my parents’ house in Pasco County. I went through the itemized list of potential-juror responsibilities throughout the morning: wake up early, fight traffic to get downtown by 8AM, search for the correct parking garage marked on the map of hieroglyphics included with the jury summons, check in, and wait. And wait. And wait some more. There was nothing extra ordinary that would cause the tectonic shift in my impulses landing me at this window seat staring at a glass of wine. Not even getting called to questioning for jury selection seemed unusual. (At my prior call to this civic duty, I was actually chosen as a juror.) It wasn’t until we broke for lunch that the winds started to shift, both literally and metaphorically, around me.


We were allowed 1 ½ hours for lunch, longer than I’d expected. Instead of crowding in at the deli in the courthouse, I decided to stretch my legs a little and venture into downtown Tampa on a search for some local flare for lunch. I ended up at Quizno’s. And no, there was nothing life-altering about my turkey club. What was different, and still is as the leaves swirl across the concrete streets, was the temperature. A recent cold front has sent Tampa into frigid and very rare near-freezing temperatures this week. I only walked for a half hour at lunch. But I’d gotten a taste. And though I couldn’t identify this particular feeling or urge, there was something I knew immediately: it was delicious.


I sat through the rest of the afternoon pretending to be interested in the questions the defense attorney posed to me and 39 other candidates. I shifted my weight from left to right, right to left as we waited to find out which of us would be reporting tomorrow morning for the robbery case. I didn’t mind the thought of coming back; I even expected I would be. But my name was not among the seven. And I didn’t mind that either. I was free to leave the courthouse, free to leave downtown and the traffic, free to forget this excuse to not be at work, free to get back to whatever it was I had to get back to. On the way out, when all the other jurors exited the elevator at the second floor (where we’d originally reported) and I rode to the first floor for no good reason at all, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to get back. Back home, back to work, back to the T.V., back there. I simply wasn’t ready. Not knowing quite how to catalogue or defend this realization, I let it sit out in front of me. I could see it and hear it, but I kept looking without reacting. I walked all the way back to the parking garage and even got in my car, all the while this familiar yet unfamiliar tug at my spirit lingered. The line of cars waiting to exit the garage stretched all the way to the third level and behind my car, preventing me from backing out. I guess this notion of not leaving was really intent on my following through with it. So I did.


It was even colder than it had been during the lunch break. Windier. Crispier. In a word, it was fabulous. Typically, I hate the cold. I am whining about goosebumps if the temperature drops below 70 degrees. But today, by any sort of definition, was not typical. Though I had no specific destination in mind, each step had purpose. Each gust of wind that whipped over my face energized me. The weather and the grayness of the skyscrapers enveloped me, and at the same time transported me right out of this city into someplace else, somewhere distant and different and unknowable. The hopes and ambitions that began to pour over me were intoxicating. I allowed myself these dreams and let my mind open itself to the possibilities of this new place, these new streets. An unimagined life began to take shape. I wanted to hold my breath for fear that I might exhale this windfall of promise out of sight. At the same time I wanted to drink in these moments with unashamed drunkenness. I wanted to absorb this cold air and float away in it. But I also wanted to walk right through it and take determined step after determined step. I wanted to feel what I was feeling. I got out of my car to walk out onto the streets and feel exactly this. That’s the only way I know how to describe the beauty in that walk. It was void of disappointment. What other moments in life can provide us with that fullness?


The greater meaning of this day came in several waves of realization. In one moment of complete gratification I understood so much of my joy was coming from the idea that I was somewhere else. Of course, my body wasn’t anywhere different. I grew up in this city. But for those few moments where I captured the excitement and wonder of the unfamiliar, I was happy. I was happy with strange weather and strange faces, with unrecognizable street names and storefronts. I was happy thinking if I am somewhere else, then maybe for a while I can be someone else doing something else. And maybe that someone else was more like the real me than the girl I was walking headfirst into the cold to escape.  I didn’t feel like I was here, and I wanted to stay wherever I was for as long as possible.


About halfway through this “Oh-my-God-am-I-going-crazy-to-feel-like-this-because-of-a-walk?” walk, I had another thought that begged me to take its significance seriously. I was experiencing this apparent life-changing transformation in my psyche, and the silent narrator in my head confirmed what I’ve known since high-school. So simply I thought, “I want to write about this.” I don’t know (or maybe now I really do know) what the “this” is. Taking this thought in the most literal sense, I stopped into a cards and gifts shop no more than thirty minutes ago and bought the journal in which I’m chronicling the discovery of this very thought. And now I sit alone in a sports bar doing my best to fulfill this immediate impulse of creativity. (I didn’t want anyone mistaking how serious I was about all of this.) But in the beyond-today kinds of questions, where does my writing fit? Is it a part of the whole? Does it encompass all of the answers I’ve been restlessly searching for these last few months?


I’m certainly not a person who would be mistaken for a fanatic or a kook, but can such life affirming statements carry themselves to you through an unseasonably cold burst of moments on a directionless walk meant solely to postpone returning to the life you’ve found yourself in?


I don’t think I need to decide that tonight at 502 Sports Café. What I can fully attest to is that I am almost done with my wine, my best friend is on her way to have her own glass, and this was one of the best afternoons I can ever remember having.

I can’t say that I have had any afternoons here that felt quite like that one. And I’ve probably cried more days than I haven’t. But to read this again was such a comfort to the part of my head that has not stopped questioning this move since the day I said goodbye to my parents at the Newport News-Williamsburg Airport. That uncertainty has tainted every relationship I’ve tried to build here.

But, in complete honesty, everything is ok. I know we are right where we are meant to be. The evolution of careless comments to whimsical conversations to hours on a bar stool trying to make sense of those feelings to job interviews to snow boots feels divinely laid out. To read about a day so crucial to that plan provides a sense of supreme affirmation.

Cheers to three quarters of a year in VA.

And you’re just going to have to wait and see about those Halloween costumes.

Get the FDA on the Phone

I’m a writer. And not in the in-my-spare-time, when-I-need-to-use-profanity-privately kind of way. I am a writer in a totally legitimate, business meeting on the fifth floor, “what are your rates?” kind of way.

A few weeks ago I landed my very first freelance writing gig. I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that someone has offered to pay for my writing. This idea lodged in the recesses of my brain growing up, an abandoned dream when I got to college, a goal I set a year and a half ago that completely altered the course of my life– it’s actually here, in my hands, right now. And in a couple of weeks it will be replaced with a paycheck!

It’s been more than a little hectic trying to juggle my day job, my classes, and the writing project, but I can’t even think of complaining. A few nights in the past two weeks, I actually got home later than Clayton, which is unheard of since he started his residency job. I dont’ think he knew how to handle the role reversal; his confusion was cute.

To counteract the craziness, I had to start running again. And, though I had a very intense love affair with my Asics, a new obsession has entered my life. I like to call them the cure for my self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder, or “the mopies,” as well as the answer to all the aches and pains that come with running on super high arches. Feast your eyes on these puppies:

Mizuno Shoes

Mine have red accents instead of blue. And they make me and my outrageously high arches very, very happy. I actually went to a running store and consulted a “professional” before deciding on these shoes. Who knew that your feet swell when you run and you may need to go up a size? After coming to terms with the fact that I needed a 9 1/2 and waiting for Clayton’s mocking laughter to subside, I pulled the trigger and paid more than I ever have for a pair of shoes. After three weeks of off-road and pavement running, my conclusion: MONEY WELL SPENT.