Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Perfect Day – an exercise

This time of year I always feel rather two-faced:  I spend time reflecting on the past year - what did I accomplish/what did I hope to accomplish - but I also look forward to the new year with great anticipation:  what would I like to do differently to achieve new goals.  As I posted recently, I have discovered several new interests that I would like to pursue avidly in 2011.  The problem is that I never feel like I have enough time to do all that I desire, which instantly sets me up for disappointment and an attitude of why bother.  But this year will be different.  It is true that we all have the same 24 hours in a day - and I choose to use those 24 hours with purpose.

So this morning I engaged in an activity that my husband told me about several years ago.  The idea is to develop an image of your "perfect day" - not perfect day as in a special occasion day but a perfectly "ordinary" day.  Once I tried to visualize all the activities that I would like to accomplish, then I attempted to schedule those tasks in the 24 hour time period.  What time would I have to get up - What might I have to give up (like watching television) in order to realize my true desires?  Of course I would have to include all the necessities of life - like going to work, preparing meals, doing errands, and sleeping - but surprisingly enough, those 1,440 daily minutes provide plenty of time to accomplish much.  Multiply that by seven days a week and the free time to pursue my personal interests is staggering.

While my schedule is still in the rough draft stage - and I am sure that lots of tweaking will have to be done in order to get it functional, I thought I might share my free time discoveries with you:


Time of Day
Time of Day
Wake up – coffee/blogs
Wake up - coffee
Coffee and blogs
Morning exercise
Get dressed
Get dressed
Write weekly blog entries
Leave for school
Lunch with family
Plan weekly menus
Prepare dinner - dogs
Evening exercise
Blogs or free time
Lesson plans or grading
Lesson plans or grading
WRITE – journal or fiction
Watch news
Watch news
Read in bed
Read in bed

While my weekdays are quite structured, I still have enough free time to devote to those activities that I have previously verbalized as "I would do if I had more time…." like personal devotions, an exercise routine, and daily writing exercises. The weekends, however, provide quite a bit of free time, and seem to take away the excuse that I don't have the time to do anything for me. I am currently thinking that perhaps I could have a different focus for each of the four weekends per month: one weekend could be devoted to photography and Photoshop; one weekend could be devoted to scrapbooking; one weekend could be devoted to personal reading pleasures; and one weekend could be devoted to writing endeavors.

It has also occurred to me that I could write a week's worth of blog postings over the weekend, rather than try to find a few minutes each day to update my website. I plan to try this new schedule in January and see how that works.

This exercise has empowered me. I have come to realize that no matter how busy my life may be, I do have lots of free time to do what I want to do. I just need to make conscious decisions as to how I wish to spend that free time or else inertia will take over. I wish to be in control of my life. That is a New Year's resolution that I can actively pursue.

*** In an effort to try to work on efficiency - I wrote this post in Microsoft Word and then attempted to upload to the blog.  Apparently the table function needs a little work.  I apologize for this learning curve.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

TSS: last sunday of 2010

It has been a lovely Christmas holiday this year.  Different, but lovely nevertheless.  And next year will be even more unique when our household will officially be an empty nest - and we add a new grand baby to the family.  This first year in my fifth decade of life has been quite reflective and as I try to summarize 2010 I have decided that the word for this year would self discovery

While I did not plan my 50th birthday to be such a watershed moment, somehow over the past twelve months I have come to believe that this has been a very important year indeed.  I am truly "over the hill"  but I do not mean that in a sad, melancholic way - it is rather just a statement of fact.  The odds of living to 100 years is rather slim, so the age of 50 does indeed mark beyond the half way point of life.  In some respects this is a blessing.  I have no desire to relive those teen years (although I am surrounded by teens nearly every day), nor do I desire to be a new parent again.  I have come to accept myself for who I am and I am no longer trying to impress anyone or fit into any particular group.  Yes, there are a few more aches, pains, and stiff muscles, but that is a rather small price to pay over all good health.

What I have come to realize is that if I truly want to accomplish something in this life, then the time is now and not "some day when....."  This has been a year of discovering what truly interests me and putting the wheels in motion to achieve those goals.  I have always known that I enjoy reading and this blog has connected me with many others who share this same passion.  I have added more books to my personal shelves as well as my wish list, that I don't think I will ever be in want of quality reading material.

I have always enjoyed traveling, although that has taken a backseat for several years.  I have spent some time this year trying to decide where I truly want to visit and begin some background research into those areas.  I know that I will return to Paris one day - and hopefully spend a good seven to ten days rediscovering famous landmarks and out of the way cafes.  I also know that I will return to London and hopefully be able to tour a few of the surrounding villages as well.  I think it would be delightful to spend a good month or two in rented cottages, but I would settle for a couple of weeks.  Italy is one country that the entire family wishes to visit - given my husband's heritage.  Rome and Venice and Milan and Florence and Pompeii --- oh, the history and the food and the architecture are calling my name.

I also have desires to travel locally as well.  We used to live in New York City and I would love to return to the old haunts at least one last time.  It is high on the bucket list to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in person - from inside a high-floor office building on the parade route.  I still have some time to research that possibility.  I have always wanted to experience being "snowed in" -- just once.  And if I were to choose the one place to be snowed in it would probably be Yellowstone National Park inside a rented log cabin that has been fully stocked with comfort food and fireplace logs.  My books would provide the only recreational activity.

I have discovered a few new interests this year as well.  For example, I have learned that I not only like to take pictures for family photo albums, but I also enjoy the creative aspect of photography.  I have been jealous of those who can draw or paint to capture the world around them, but I am learning that lack of those gifts does not mean a lack of creativity.  I want to focus more of my attention on developing this craft in 2011.

I have had a passion for creating family scrapbooks since I was first introduced to the concept in 1995.  For some reason I never allow myself the joy of doing this for fun; I always wait until there is some looming deadline before I begin to delve into a project (my youngest's graduation open house is a prime example.  That will be in the middle of May and I have yet to complete a single page in her album).  I am not sure why I sabotage my own efforts, but 2011 will be the year that I stop.  I have so many different scrapbook projects (not the least of which would be a Christmas journal album similar to what Vivienne has shown us on her blog) and I will give myself permission to pursue those projects without apology.

I have also discovered, quite unexpectedly, that I truly love to write.  I have always known that I express myself better in written form than face-to-face conversation, but this year I have learned that I really enjoy the craft of putting words on paper and the exploration of point of view in the retelling of a story.  I want to continue the pursuit of this interest in 2011 as well.

I think I would like to rekindle my passion for cooking again.  Parenting picky eaters hindered that interest for a while and lately my youngest has taken over the kitchen (much to my delight).  But when she leaves home I think I would like to rediscover the joys of cooking and baking and trying new taste sensations.    Beth Fish's Weekend Cooking has helped me realize that there are others out there who enjoy creating in the kitchen as much as I do, and while I have been rather inconsistent in participating in her weekly meme, I hope to become more of a regular poster in 2011.

I think in short I have discovered this past year that while there is a lot of life that happens outside my control and I must learn to adapt, there is still a lot of life that I do control. It is time to take the reigns and begin doing what I want to do and not just what needs to be done.

While the word that defines the year 2010 is self discovery --- I believe that the word that will define 2011 will be purposeful.  Life is too short and too precious to just slide by --- I wish to truly live.

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 Virtual Advent Calendar

The one thing that is constant in life is change.

I have heard that expression since I was a little girl, but it seems the older I get the more I realize that adage is true.

My Christmas celebration has been steeped in tradition since I was born. I remember it started with decorating tree.  My dad would spend hours making sure that the tree stood straight - in the right spot in front of the living room picture window - and each light bulb worked before stringing them on the tree.  He would then take a a long dowel (about 36 inches) where he would evenly place the 4 cardboard cutouts of the current year - each cut out lined with glue and highlighted with festive glitter.  My brother and I would stand by the tree holding the sign so that Dad could take a "picture for posterity"  My brother and I would decorate the tree with ornaments (which I have a feeling might have been repositioned after we went to bed) and then Dad would meticulously hang individual silver icicles for that finishing touch.  This would officially begin our family Christmas.

There was some traditional baking during the days that led up to Christmas Eve - such as M&M cookies, bishops bread, and orange balls.  Usually Mom would take an entire day to wrap the presents while Rodger and I were at school.  When I came home and saw all those lovely gifts "magically" appear under the tree I knew that Christmas was just around the corner.

Christmas Eve was not celebrated much in my house - except that we did often attend the midnight service when Rodger and I were old enough to stay up that late.  But no matter how much we pleaded, Dad would never allow us to open even one present on Christmas Eve.  All the magic had to happen on Christmas morning.  Consequently, the anticipation would keep us awake much of the night and when we would normally welcome sleeping late any other day of the week, Rodger and I were out of bed before 8:00AM to discover the treasures within the packages - and the surprises from Santa.  Yes, Santa came to our house as long as we lived under the roof.  The gifts were opened by mid-morning, we would feast on Christmas lunch of prime rib and mashed potatoes, and then all of us would take a nice long nap to round out the holiday.

When I married, I knew that some of my childhood traditions would need to meld with my husband's Italian heritage.  I brought with me the desire to bake M&M cookies and Bishop's bread, and of course the continuation of Santa's visit, while Geoff contributed the Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.  In his house, Christmas Eve was celebrated as much as Christmas Day. His grandmother (first generation American) would always prepare the large meal of aioli (angel hair pasta with a garlic/anchovy sauce), bacala fritters (salted cod), fried white fish, and bacala salad that included Italian peppers drizzled with olive oil.  Not quite seven fishes - but it was a huge meal.  After all the dishes had been cleared, washed, and put away, gifts from Cora were opened while coffee and cookies were consumed.  

Geoff also brought his father's love of Christmas lights into our home.  It would not be unusual for him to detangle ten or twelve strands of lights before placing them on the tree.  It often took several hours, but it was a true labor of love and resulted in a well-lit tree.

When we had children we knew that we wanted to institute some new traditions - that would be particular just to our family.  We still made the traditional cookies, although we added a few more to the list:  I eliminated orange balls but now include decorated sugar cookies and white chocolate dipped pretzels.  We decorate a tree --- although I eliminated the need for an elaborate sign to announce the date, and Geoff relished the idea of a pre-lit tree rather than dealing  with all the tangled cords.  We began the tradition of inviting friends over to make gingerbread houses in 1992, which is a lot of work but also a lot of fun.  The Christmas Eve vigil continues, although we have substituted chicken tenders for bacala fritters, and shrimp and crab for bacala salad and white fish.  A bit more expensive than the original meal, but so delicious.  We allowed our children to open gifts from Cora and each other on Christmas Eve - but the remaining gifts would have to  wait until Christmas morning.  Santa still comes to all in the house, but here all the stocking stuffer gifts are individually wrapped to help make the Christmas surprise last a bit longer.  The Christmas breakfast consists of egg casserole and bagels and cream cheese (a bit of New England in the Midwest) and the Christmas dinner continues to be roast beast, potatoes and gravy, and two kinds of pie:  pumpkin and mincemeat.  The required nap is still a staple.

This has been our family tradition for a generation, but the times are changing.  This Christmas will be slightly different as my daughter will be celebrating with her in-laws in Memphis, my son will be splitting his time between our family and his girlfriend, and my mother is not sure that she is up to join us for all the festivities.  We will be small group around the dining room table. I will still bake the same cookies - although it will not be quite as elaborate or nearly as much; I will still wrap the stocking stuffers in the hopes of prolonging the magic of Christmas just a bit longer (although I anticipate the two kids at home will opt to sleep a bit later this year), and the two primary feasts will remain the same, although noticeably smaller.  

My eldest - racing to find what
Santa had brought (1993)
But while this Christmas will be different, it will also be transitional.  Next year will bring even more changes:  there will be a new granddaughter to shop for, my son will be living in LA rather than Nashville and it will not be as easy to hop a flight home; my youngest will have moved into her own apartment (although it will still be in town) and probably wish to do her own baking rather help me with mine.  Mom's health is always questionable, but her presence will certainly be felt - just perhaps in a different way.  I anticipate that many of these traditions will stay the same --- but I also know that many will be adapted.  My daughter will want to begin her own traditions with her daughter, my son will continue to split time between households, and my youngest will have established her own life.  All as it should be.  

It is my expectation that many of the traditions will continue because it is what Geoff and I desire of a Christmas holiday.  Perhaps the cookies will be fewer, the meals not as elaborate, and the decorating a bit toned down, but it will still be our Christmas.  I also hope that as the children grow older, we can continue to have a Christmas Eve vigil together every two or three years --- and perhaps on the off-years we can celebrate a Christmas Day together as well.  Santa will still visit for all - although the wrapped stocking stuffers may be fewer as his helper seems to be developing a touch of arthritis in the knees and can't wrap as much as she once could.

Yes, the more things change, the more the stay the same.  This is particularly true of our Christmas celebration.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

TSS - 12.19.10

My Christmas break has officially begun!

I finished grading the last final Saturday morning and finalized all semester grades by noon.  It has been one hectic week, filled with all work and no play, but I am very anxious to have the next 2.5 weeks off and become reacquainted with blog friends and free time.

I plan to continue my old routine of waking up early and leisurely drinking two cups of hot coffee while reading your blog posts of the past two weeks.  I managed to take advantage of a Starbucks special and should have enough Christmas Blend coffee to last until the New Year - which will be a very pleasant way to begin each new day.  I am very anxious to catch up on all the new Novel Challenges being offered next year (by last count there have been close to 100 new additions) and I am sure that there will be several that I cannot resist.  I failed miserably at reading challenges this year - but hope always springs eternal. Are there any particular challenges about which you are excited?  If so, please share!

I finished all Christmas shopping about a week ago, but I have yet to wrap a single present.  I hope to focus on that this afternoon so that I can begin the baking routine tomorrow.  There was one point in my life where I would bake close to a dozen different Christmas cookies each year, but sadly that is simply not feasible now. We will be a small gathering this holiday as my mother is not sure she can make all our traditional festivities, my daughter will be celebrating Christmas with her in-laws in Memphis, and my son will be splitting his time between our house and his girlfriend's parents.  There are some cookies that absolutely must be baked or it simply would not be Christmas:  M&M cookies - chocolate covered pretzels - angel bites (although the rest of the world knows it as puppy chow) - bishops bread - decorated sugar cookies.  This should be manageable and provide enough sugary treats for our small gathering.

Even though I have not yet had a chance to read any of the Virtual Advent Calendar tour posts - I have volunteered to write one for tomorrow.  I hope to read several of the past entries this afternoon in preparation of writing my own.  Last year I wrote about our Italian Christmas Eve tradition - this year I think I might write on the need to adapt old traditions to new times.

I am working on a new system for next semester that will allow me more time to do the things that I want to do, while still teaching the classes that I am contracted to teach.  Hopefully all the details will be worked out before the New Year and I can head into 2011 with a lighter workload which will allow me to pursue other interests in life.  I truly believe that all work and no play is not a good recipe for a joyful life.

I hope this final week before Christmas allows you time to relax in the midst of the preparations.  I certainly plan to catch up on some much needed reading, relaxing, and creative pursuits of all kinds.

 I look forward to visiting all your blogs over the next few days!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Bishop's Bread

Oh my --- it has been quite a while since I have participated in Beth Fish's weekly meme, although I try to read all the posts of those who faithfully contribute.

Since I am now officially on Christmas break, however, one of the first things that I want to do is reconnect with my blogging friends.  So I figured what better way to do that than to share a favorite holiday recipe with all my online readers.

Ever since I was a little girl I remember my mom making Bishop's Bread each December.  When I was about five years old I would "help" by cutting the cherries in half with a pair of scissors, and then cutting the dates into thirds.  My hands would be sticky and I am sure that I made more of a mess than I actually helped, but I fondly remember taking part in this Coleman tradition.

Photo courtesy of:  Tasting Spoons
My father loved Bishop's Bread, so Mom would always make two:  one for Christmas and one to freeze for my dad's birthday in February.  The bread is so dense that it freezes wonderfully and tastes just as good thawed two months later as it does fresh out of the oven.

I have no idea where Bishop's Bread originates.  I am sure that Mom found the recipe in a magazine - although the original source has been lost for quite some time now.  It is reminiscent of fruitcake, but make no mistake, this tastes like no fruitcake you have ever eaten.  The combination of dates, walnuts, candied cherries and chocolate chips, bound with just enough flour to hold it together, makes for an irresistible dessert or early morning pick-me-up with a strong cup of coffee.

I hope to make at least two loaves this week keeping the tradition of eating one now and freezing another for after the new year.  Should you decide to try this as well, please let me know how you what you think!

Bishop's Bread


  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking power
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 cups chocolate chips
  • 4 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1 pound chopped dates
  • 1 pound halved candied cherries
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar (*edit --- this was inadvertently omitted in the original post)
  • 1/4 cup oil

  1. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients:  flour - baking powder - salt
  2. Add to the dry ingredients the chocolate chips - walnuts - dates - cherries
  3. Toss together to thoroughly coat
  4. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and oil (*edited to include the sugar)
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir by hand until thoroughly mixed
  6. Bake in two prepared 9x5 loaf pans in a 325 degree oven for approximately 1 hour

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TSS - 12.12.10

It has been a couple of weeks since I have posted and I apologize.  Life sometimes gets in the way.  One of my New Year's Resolutions is to work out a blogging schedule that works well for me and for my readers.  I already have a few ideas brewing, but I plan to devote some pondering time to this subject during Christmas break.

Last weekend I was in Nashville visiting my son and his girlfriend, my brother and his wife, and the Birth of Impressionism exhibit at the Frist.  It was a glorious weekend filled with joy, laughter, and beautiful art.  I was truly able to get away and fully relax, even though I was barely gone for 48 hours.  I must admit that it was mighty difficult to get up on Monday morning and go back to school.  The only thing that kept me going was knowing that the last final will be given on December 17 and I would then have two-and-a-half weeks of freedom.

I have focused most of my personal time on either Christmas shopping (which I am nearly finished; I think a final trip to the mall tomorrow and that will do it), or reading some terrific books on photography.  I have mentioned that I signed up for an online class entitled Picture the Holidays at Big Picture Classes, and while I have not taken many pictures so far this December, I have filed away the daily prompts and read up on some creative photography skills.  Two books in particular that I have enjoyed lately are Visual Poetry by Chris Orwig and Within the Frame by David duChemin.  I also discovered a book yesterday that I am anxious to study entitled Photos that Inspire by Lynne Eodice.  The more I read about photography the more I am convinced that I know very little about the subject.  

I have also enjoyed reading the daily prompts from the site Reverb 10.  To quote:
Reverb 10 is an annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next. Use the end of your year as an opportunity to reflect on what's happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead. With Reverb 10 - and the 31 prompts our authors have created for you - you'll have support on your journey.
 Again, I have not made the time to actually write each day, but I have saved the prompts and plan to spend some time over the break reflecting on this past year and looking ahead at what I hope to accomplish in 2011.    If you have an interest in doing the same, you can find the daily prompts here.

I have not done a minute's work on the NaNoWriMo novel since November 29.  I am hopeful to make that a  January project:  to actually finish the novel (I probably have about five chapters to go) and then to begin revisions.  One of the 'prizes' for completing this exercise is to have a copy of the "manuscript" bound by CreateSpace.  I hope to take advantage of that kind offer before the June expiration date.

The teaching life has focused on end-of-the-semester wrap up in preparation for finals.  The eighth grade class had auditions for A Midsummer Night's Dream on Friday and managed to make this a very difficult decision for yours truly.  I am giving thought to performing the play as a series of individual scenes rather than straight through.  At the beginning of the year one student asked if we could have a "William Shakespeare" character added to the script and he could act as the narrator.  I like that idea.  This way all students would be able to perform an important role in the play and have fun.

My finals schedule is not ideal as I have one final on  Tuesday, one on Wednesday, one on Thursday and THREE on Friday!!  I have tried to develop a grading schedule which will allow me to maximize my time at school and reduce the impact of grading over the weekend.  I sincerely hope to have all papers graded and final grades calculated by noon on Saturday which will then leave me with a six days to prepare for the Christmas celebration.

I also hope to start reading a few of those Christmas stories that I had such high hopes of reading at the beginning of the month.  Truth be told, I think I may enjoy reading those AFTER December 25.  It seems to me that there is so much anticipation prior to Christmas - with Black Friday sales and finding the perfect
gift, 24 hour Christmas songs on the radio, holiday cookie and candy making, festive decorating and gift wrapping - that December 26th is  always somewhat of a let down.  This year I hope to continue to enjoy this season of hope by reading some special Christmas stories.

One of the books that I hope to read is Greg Kincaid's newest novel, Christmas with Tucker, the prequel to A Dog Named Christmas, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading last year.  The author will once again be appearing at our local library on Saturday, December 18, and I hope to see him and purchase an autographed copy of the book.

I hope this week brings you and your family peace and joy in the midst of holiday preparations.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane....

Well, I am sitting here at the Kansas City "international" airport waiting for my late afternoon flight to Nashville.  It is a wonderful feeling to be sitting here free from grading duties, my two-pound netbook in my lap, looking forward to a wonderful weekend with my son and his girlfriend, my brother and his wife, and the piece de la resistance ---- the Birth of Impressionism Exhibit at the Frist Museum.  I have been looking forward to this trip since July and I am finding it hard to believe that the time has finally arrived.

Before I must board the plane I want to share my packing woes from last night, as I know the readers of this blog are probably the only ones who will fully appreciate my predicament.  Now you must know that I will be gone for just the weekend, so I only had to pack clothes for two days.  This proved to be very easy as I only needed one pair of jeans and two sweaters.  The required undergarments and toiletries took only a few minutes to assemble and I was done.  The real problem, however, occurred when I had to decide which books to bring in my carry-on bag.  I knew that I didn't want to pack too many because lugging them around causes my shoulder severe pain.  I didn't want to take too few because I didn't know if I would be delayed at the airport.  And then there is always the quandary as to what sort of book I would want to read this weekend.  Some non-fiction?  Perhaps I could read a bit on Impressionism in preparation for the exhibit --- or I could read a photography book:  Visual Poetry is my current interest.  Or maybe I would feel like escaping into the world of fiction.  But which world?  I could begin reading something for the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge, or perhaps I would prefer a cozy mystery?

It took me no less than forty-five minutes to make my ultimate decision, and even now I am afraid that perhaps I will regret not bringing just one more book.  For a two-day trip I have brought a total of four books!  Am I pathetic or what?

For those who are interested, here are the ones that made the cut:
Well, I now must sign off and decide which one of the four books I want to start reading.  

I hope you all have a terrific first weekend in December.  I know that I sure will!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Goal Oriented

Well, I set a goal and I made it!

I decided that I would try to write a novel in a month, and while I have not yet completed the story (I have about 5 more chapters), I did complete the goal of writing 50,000 in the month of November!

Now my goal is to take it easy, catch up on school work, and hopefully finish the book by the end of the calendar year.  I would like to spend the first quarter of 2011 revising it and then take advantage of one of the "prizes" and submitting it for free binding at Create Space.

This has been a marvelous experience and I hope to write a more detailed post of all the lessons I have learned while participating in NaNoWriMo, not the least of which is that I can indeed write a novel.  In the meantime, I must now grade papers.....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

TSS: 11.28.10

Well, it is hard to believe that Thanksgiving 2010 has come and gone and we are now in the throws of the holiday season.  I must admit, however, that I truly love this time of year.

I have done very little in the way of reading and writing this week; in fact, I have not written a single word in my NaNoWriMo work all week long.  I knew that this would happen, however, which is why I wrote like a mad woman the first two weeks of the month.  I still have about 2,000 words to go to meet the 50,000 word challenge, and I probably have about 10,000 words to go until the end of the book.  I may not finish writing the book before Tuesday night, but I will definitely achieve my goal of completing NaNoWriMo 2010.

This has been a fun family week.  My son came in from Nashville and we were able to celebrate with all children and their respective others.  It was nice to have the Thanksgiving table full of food, family, and friends.  My daughter will be spending Christmas with her in-laws in Memphis and Brian will be moving to Los Angeles in January, so this was probably the last time that we will all be together for quite a while.  My youngest will graduate in May and I will become a ....ahem....grandmother in April (not sure I like the sound of that new title) so 2011 is sure to be a year of significant changes, so it was nice to have a traditional Thanksgiving weekend.

Christmas time is definitely here!  I did actually venture out into the Black Friday crowds around 5:00AM and when I returned home around noon I had most of the Christmas shopping completed.  I still have a couple of stocking stuffers to purchase, but other than that, I am done.  I am  SO excited!  I hope to have them all wrapped by the middle of the month so that I am not staying up late on Christmas Eve.

We put up the tree on Friday night and I experimented taking a few photos.  I have a long way to go in my creative photography pursuits, but I am trying to give myself a break and rather than expect perfection, just enjoy the process.  I am looking forward to the Picture the Holidays online photography course that will begin on Wednesday.  While the next couple of weeks will be busy with end-of-the-semester grading and preparing for final exams, I hope to find a bit of time each day to focus on photography.

I also hope to start reading for pleasure again.  It has been far too long and I think I am ready to escape again into the world of fiction.  Most of reading lately has focused on writing, and after NaNoWriMo I think I am ready to take a break from the writing routine. I still hope to maintain some kind of daily writing habit, but not at the insane pace of 50,000 words in a month.  I think the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge is the perfect antidote.  I still need to cull through my bookshelves to find the perfect books.

I am also looking forward to reading all the holiday themed blog posts that will be a part of the Virtual Advent Tour.  I so enjoyed reading about others' traditions last year, and I know that I will anticipate each day's entries this year as well.  In fact, I decided to take part in this tour myself and am scheduled to post on December 20th.  I participated for the first time last year and gave a brief overview of our family's Italian celebration.  I am not quite sure what I will share this year, but I have some time to consider the options.

This week I will have to put my nose to the grindstone.  I have taken off three full days and now I need to write lesson plans and grade research papers.  I hope to write all the lesson plans for the rest of the semester today and grade about six of the remaining eighteen papers.  The students will be giving oral reports in class tomorrow and then I will have to complete the grading by Wednesday.  I have an incentive, however, that should help me to stay focused:  on Friday I will leave for Nashville for the weekend.  I will have the opportunity to see my son again, my brother and his wife, and attend the Birth of Impressionism Exhibit at the Frist Museum.  I have wanted to see this since I first heard about in July.  Approximately one hundred paintings from the Musee  d'Orsay will be on display, and while Nashville is not Paris, this will certainly be the next best thing.  I am just giddy with excitement!

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and that the upcoming holidays will allow you to rest, relax, and enjoy the true meaning of this Season of Hope.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

TSS: 11.21.10

It is very hard to believe that this is the week of Thanksgiving!  We will be spending time today taking advantage of the unusual warmer weather by putting up the outside Christmas decorations; today's high is supposed to be around 70 degrees, whereas the high on Friday is expected to be around 35 degrees.  Such extreme change is temperature is, unfortunately, rather typical for the Midwest.

I am busy making my Black Friday Christmas lists.  I enjoy looking at the ads early online (the site that I use is here, although I think there are several different ones available), but I will also purchase a Thanksgiving Day paper and scour the ads on Turkey Day.  I will not get into the madhouse crowds of Walmart or Target (although I may choose to take advantage of a few online specials), but I will most definitely visit some of my favorite haunts like Half Price Books, Kohls, and Michaels.   How about you?  Do you participate in the bedlam of Black Friday or do you prefer to sleep in and relax?

I have spent most of my free time this week grading narrative papers from English Comp and writing my own narrative for NaNoWriMo, but I did sign up for my first photography course at Big Picture classes.  It is called Picture the Holidays and I look forward to the daily emails which will help me focus on the moment during this hectic, stressful time.  Have any of you taken a class from them?

They also offer several scrapbooking and journaling classes, which I might look into in 2011.  I have scrapbooked for several years, and when I mentioned my current projects and ideas last week, Trish of Love, Laughter, and Insanity asked if I might consider writing a post on that topic.  I was actually a scrapbooking consultant for several years before beginning my career as a teacher (in fact, I am convinced it is because of my scrapbooking business that I was offered my first teaching job) - and while I do not consider my strengths creativity and design, I do have a few tips that I can share regarding organization and getting started.  Perhaps I will find the time during Christmas break to write such a post.

The students, as well as the teachers, are ready for a break.  As a result, classes are becoming less exciting and energetic and more a matter of endurance.  We just need to get through tomorrow and Tuesday, and then we will have five days off to rest, relax, and rejuvenate.  I did, however, have a terrific class in English Composition.  It was one of those days when nothing went according to the lesson plan, and we all left on a high note.  Let me see if I can recreate the bunny trail that led to a terrific second semester project:

  • ME:  looking ahead to next semester, we will have a major research paper to write
  • Student 1:  can we research on anything?
  • ME:  I'm not sure.  I am thinking of it being a three-part paper:  research a time period - research an author in that time period - read a major work of that author and analyze it - then tie it all together
  • Student 2:  can we do a movie instead?
  • ME:  This is English class, I think we will stick to books
  • Student 3: I would rather write another narrative than a research paper
  • ME:  sorry, Charlie 
  • Student 3:  I think I am going to participate in NaNoWriMo for scripts in April
  • ME:  great idea!
  • Student 2:  Can we write a script instead of the research paper?
  • ME:  sorry, Charlie.  You must write the research paper.  However, we might be able to write another narrative or possible script next semester.
  • Student 4:  If we write a script, can we film it?
  • ME:  sure - that is a great idea
  • Student 4:  how many scripts can we film?
  • ME:  well, perhaps all students could write a script and then we choose the two or three that we film together as a class.
  • Student 4:  I think we should have several genres like a horror, a mystery, a romantic comedy....
At which point the entire class exploded chatter and ideas.  These students spent over forty-five minutes deciding how many different stories they could film; how they would film; where they could film; who had film editing equipment; who could work on costumes; how we could turn this into a fund raising event.  Before we knew it, the class period was over.

No, we didn't discuss how to use Examples in our writing as proposed on the syllabus, but we did develop a long-term project that appealed to every single student in the classroom.  It was exciting and rewarding to witness.  Next semester should be blast....once we get through those pesky research papers.

I am still more focused on academics and writing than I am on personal reading.  HOWEVER..last week Wendy mentioned a book that I just knew I had to check out:  Pukka:  The Pup After Merle by Ted Kerasote.  I have not yet read, Merle's Door, but this book is exactly what I needed to read this week.  The story tells of the puppy that the author purchased after the death of his beloved Merle. While we all know that one pet can never take the place of another, our hearts do expand to include enough love for all.  This particular story is told using simple language and lots of personal photographs, which makes it suitable for elementary students through adults.  I have not yet finished it, but that does not deter me from heartily recommending it to any dog lover.

I am also enthralled with this particular method of telling the story.  As I mentioned above, I have been scrapbooking for a number of years and while I have dedicated scrapbooks of my pets, it never occurred to me to use those leftover photos to possibly hone my fictional narrative skills.  With sites such as Winkflash and Snapfish, I can  easily upload photos, arrange them on a page, add my own text, and select "finish product"  Within a few days I can receive my own hard-bound story.  Of course, I can do this with any theme, not just pets, and am thinking this might make a fun Christmas gift:  a story of Princess Mandy or Rock Star Brian or Motherhood for Megan.  Probably not this year.....but it is an idea.

At the risk of jinxing it, I will declare that I will finish NaNoWriMo 2010.  I am currently at 48,120 words - which means I need to write less than 2,000 words in the next ten days in order to "win"  My story will probably be closer to 60,000 - 65,000 words when all is said and done, and I truly do want to try to finish the rough draft by November 30.  At that point, I plan to put it away for the month of December.  I will need to focus on final exams, holiday baking, and hopefully a bit of pleasure reading.  I would like to use the month of January to revise --- there are some gaping holes that need to be filled and some inconsistencies that need to be remedied.  I also want to ensure that the theme is developed throughout the novel and not just in one or two key scenes.  Perhaps March will be the month to edit - try to put all my grammar skills to practical  use - and then I will take advantage of Create Space kind offer to bind the manuscript for free.

I am not sure that this will be a book that I will allow anyone to read (much to the surprise of family members).  This was a book that I wanted to write for me.  I wanted to see if I could do it, and I needed to work through some personal issues and I chose this mechanism to do so.

I am hopeful, however, that this experience has fueled a passion to write more.  I want to pick up my Impressionism story this summer and do a bit more research in the hopes that it will be my NaNoWriMo story 2011.  Hopefully that will be a narrative that I wouldn't mind sharing and receiving feedback.

I wish you and your family safe holiday travels and a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

TSS: 11.14.10

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here, even if maybe it doesn't look much like it yet.  The week started with bright blue sky, puffy clouds, and temperature in the 70s, but by the weekend a cold front had moved through and now we have cloudy skies, blustery winds, and temperatures in the low 40s.

Tomorrow is my brother and sister-in-law's birthdays, which means in a month I will be celebrating my birthday, and then Christmas will shortly follow.  I must admit that I love this time of year.  I haven't started listening to Christmas Carols (even though one of the radio stations began playing them on November 1st), but now that the weather has turned chilly, I am in the mood to think about this festive time of year.

I treated myself to a trip to Archivers earlier this week.  I rationalized that it was for "research" for my book, but in reality I wanted to get some ideas for Christmas projects.  I love daydreaming about all the scrapbook pages that I can make to turn our family memories into keepsake gifts, and I imagine crafting Christmas cards and matching tags to decorate thoughtful presents under the tree.  But for some reason I seem to enjoy daydreaming about the projects rather than creating them.  I never make the time to complete them once I get home.  Why is that, I wonder?

Anyway, I did find a few Christmas papers and embellishments to add to my collection, as well as some supplies to use in Mandy's Open House album.  Most notably, there was an entire section of Harry Potter merchandise which was difficult to ignore.  Mandy has already purchased her ticket to the midnight showing of the newest HP movie release, and now I told her she must take pictures so that I can use these supplies.  For those of you who scrapbook, do you find that you buy the decorative elements first and then stage a picture in order to use them?  I think that this is perhaps the sign of an unhealthy addiction (*smile*)

It was an uneventful, although somewhat frustrating week in the teaching world.  The computer lab did not have internet all week, which makes Computer Apps a difficult class to teach.  Grandparents Day was so popular that the 4th hour class, which was scheduled to take a test over Fahrenheit 451, was cancelled because not everyone could get through the lunch line in time.  Missing this class as well as last Friday's class has put my syllabus in a bind.  And then of course students, as well as teachers, are anticipating the Thanksgiving break and therefore find it more and more difficult to concentrate on academics.  I am grateful that we only have one more full week of school and then we can take a holiday for a few days.

On a positive note, I took advantage of Barnes and Noble sale last weekend that offered one game free if two were purchased.  I managed to find a couple of Christmas gifts, and the free game I chose was a small, compact dice game called Rory's Story Cubes.  I had never heard of it before, but it turned out to be a better "purchase" than I ever anticipated.  The game comes with nine dice, and each side has a different picture/icon.  The object of the game is to roll the dice and quickly develop a story using as many of the pictures as possible.  I tried this first with my creative writing class and they LOVED it!  They developed competitions to see who could use all the pieces in the shortest amount of time.  And of course, their stories were inventive and quite entertaining.  Sometimes spontaneous purchases can be the best!

This is the time of year when the new reading challenges for 2011 are being formed and advertised at one of my most favorite blogs, A Novel Challenge.  Some people are so creative and have taken reading to a level that I never imagined before starting this blog.  I fail miserably at challenges:  My imagination is always bigger than my reality and I constantly seem to run out of time, or at times lose interest in that particular genre.  But will that stop me from signing up for a few more next year?  Of course not!

I would love to participate in the Thankfully Reading Weekend challenge 2010, which takes place over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but I know that my time is already being pulled in too many different directions during those few short days.  Between holiday baking, Black Friday shopping, NaNoWriMo wind down, and essay grading, I doubt I will read more than a few pages each day.  I did participate last year and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I have already decided to sign up for The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge hosted by Michelle at the True Book Addict and takes place from November 26, 2010 - January 6, 2011.  I know .... I hear you ... Are you kidding, Molly?  You haven't written a book review in months, why on earth would you sign up for another challenge?  Well, the answer is simple.  I decided last year that I wanted to begin a collection of holiday books that I would read each year.  I may not read all of the books every year, but I would re-read a few each year to help put me in the holiday mood and remember the hope and love that it represents.  I don't think any of these books are dense literary masterpieces, but rather they are light, sentimental stories that are sure to bring a warm smile to my face.  I have about a dozen of these books on my holiday shelf and I think reading a bit each night will be the perfect way to prepare my mind and heart for this special season.  

I plan to sign up for the Mistletoe level (that is, read 2-4 books), although I secretly hope that I can achieve the Christmas Tree level (reading 5-6 books in the required time frame).  Do you have any favorite holiday books that you might recommend?  

This has been a great week of writing for me.  As you know, I am a goal oriented, put your head to the grindstone, singularly focused kind of gal.  I know that several of my November nights will be spent preparing holiday dinners or grading research papers, and so I have tried to focus all my free time this week to adding to my word count for this work-in-progress.  As of Saturday night, I have a total of 39,197 words with the goal of having a total of 40,000 words by the end of the weekend.  I must admit that I never thought that I had that many words in me (and I am only about half way through the story), and I do feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have learned so much about me and about life in participating in NaNoWriMo  - and very little of it has to do with writing a novel.  I have learned that writing from an outline is incredibly useful for me!  I will finish a chapter and have no idea what to write next; but when I look at  my timeline (which I have developed as scene cards in Scrivener and absolutely love it) - I am right back on task again.  I always thought true writers would experience "stories just writing themselves" - but I am glad that I did not rely on that method.

I have also learned that I have more free time during the week than I ever thought.  I manage to find two hours or more each night to devote to writing, which has opened my eyes to what I can accomplish once NaNoWriMo is over!  What if I focused on my holiday crafts with this kind of determination?  What if I devoted two hours a night to reading?  What if I took an hour each day and practiced photography skills?  I am not sure how I have been wasting my time --- but now that I have found the time, I do not want to "lose" it again.

Lastly, I have learned that the experts are right (duh!)  Writing every day is liberating and it hones my craft.  Even if what I am writing is a crappy first draft (paraphrase of Anne Lamott) - I am able to practice pacing, detailing, showing vs telling, natural dialog, dealing with real life feelings and emotions in a fictional setting and receiving clarity of the situation.  I do not think this story will be of much interest to anyone but me, but that is ok.  I am still enjoying it, and I still look forward to writing the next chapter.  

I am a terrific at starting long-term projects, but somehow never finishing them.  I either grow bored and lose motivation,  or the project seems so insurmountable that I create distractions that prevent me from  completing the task.  I am committed to completing NaNoWriMo this year, and it feels good.  I hope it is a step over that fear of completion hurdle and I can begin to tackle other long-term projects with the same sense of adventure.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

TSS: 11.7.10

Well, without consciously planning it, I seem to have found a blogging pattern.  Lately I have found that a once a week post that covers a variety of topics works well for me at this particular time in my life.  I hope that it is a satisfactory schedule for you, my dear readers.  Hopefully I will find more time to read and blog about said reading during the holiday break, but until then I will at least try to remain faithful to the Sunday Salon.

It has been absolutely beautiful fall weather here in Kansas these past few weeks.  There has been little rain, lots of sunshine, and high temperatures in the mid 60s.  This is quite unusual for us.  We have a saying here that states:  if you don't like the weather in Kansas, just wait five minutes and it will change.  Well, I am glad that it has remained in this particular holding pattern.

I left school the other day and happened to look up and notice some beautiful cloud formations.  Again, this is not a common site in the prairie states.  We either have ominous looking clouds that indicate severe weather, or bright blue sky (usually accompanied by blinding sun and heat and humidity).  I came straight home and forced myself to take a few pictures.  Well, that is not quite accurate.  "Forcing myself" sounds as though it was some sort of punishment.  Actually, I ALLOWED myself to take the time and enjoy a photo shoot of nature that was totally impromptu without any pragmatic ulterior motive.  It was glorious.  I will share a few of the 270+ pictures I took in this post.  I hope you enjoy.

I did not actually read for pleasure this week as I spent all my free time focused on NaNoWriMo (see below).  I did, however, visit our library's bi-annual book sale this week and found lots of future reading material for a mere pittance.   I purchased approximately 45 books for a whopping $38.00  I figure even if I don't read them over the next decade I supported a good cause and increased my personal library.  It is a win-win situation.  I found a number of contemporary fiction books, most notably Brooklyn by Colm  Toibin and The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon ; a few mysteries including Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer, and quite a few holiday books for the  upcoming Christmas season.  I specifically focused my attention on more women's fiction stories, since that appears to be my writing focus.  I rationalized the purchase of these books as valid research.

The next sale will be the first week of June, so I should have enough reading material to tie me over until then.

I had an unexpected four-day work week, but I would gladly have worked five days if I could have prevented the cause.  The five year old son of one of the pastors at the church died in his sleep Monday afternoon.  He apparently had a seizure and by the time they rushed him to the hospital, it was too late to save his life.  The funeral was scheduled for Friday and school  was cancelled to allow the church family to grieve.

I decided that I would spend my Friday in celebration of life, in memory of this young boy who had his own life cut short.  I left the house by 8:30 and did a few errands before meeting a group of dedicated students at the local Borders bookstore for an impromptu NaNoWriMo write-in.  Out of the sixteen students registered for the month-long club, four came to the Borders get-together, and I consider a 25% response rate fantastic for a voluntary meeting.  We had quite a bit of fun and even made some progress on our novels.

I then decided to do a bit of Christmas shopping and ventured to Barnes and Noble.  I spent a good two hours (*edit - thank you, Margot!) perusing all the aisles and looking at all the books and magazines.  I came away with lots of gift ideas, and even a purchase or two.

I then treated myself to a frozen yogurt at Orange Leaf.  Have you experienced this marvelous taste sensation (or its counterpart Peachwave)?  I do believe I am addicted to the Pineapple/Coconut mix and Mango flavors.  I rationalize that the calorie content is negligible, so I can eat as much as I want.  Fortunately I do not enjoy frozen desserts in the winter months, so I am hopeful these cravings will cease in a few short weeks.

I met my husband for an early dinner and we then walked the local mall in the hopes of being inspired with Christmas gift ideas.  I think we both added a few items to our lists, and we had a rather relaxing evening.

Well, the end of week one of NaNoWriMo is coming to a close and I must admit that it has been a rather fun-filled adventure.  I am currently at 12,332 words and I am hoping to write another 2,500 or so more by the end of today.  That should put me ahead of schedule, which is good because I anticipate some academic lessons in my future that will hinder my ability to keep the pace during that time.

I have completed four chapters out of approximately twenty-five, so I think this novel will be somewhat longer than the required 50,000 word minimum.

This week should be rather low key, so I am hoping to have quite a bit of free time to write.  I would like to complete 25,000 words by next weekend, because the following week will require me to grade a number of papers which will not only cut down my available free time, but as is always the case, will leave me rather exhausted.  The week after that will Thanksgiving, which should provide me with the necessary hours to complete the project.

Of course, I am rather incredulous that Thanksgiving will be here in just 2.5 weeks.  Where did the year 2010 go?!
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