Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Final Farewell

This will not come as a surprise to many of you.  I have struggled with maintaining this blog for the past two years.  Not because I did not wish to stay connected, but because my interests have changed since My Cozy Book Nook first appeared on the blogging scene.

At that time I was a full-time English teacher who spent most waking hours prepping for class .... or in the chance spare moment would pick up a book to read for fun.  I was enamored with the book blogs I discovered in the fall of 2008 and I was drawn to become a part of that community.  I have truly loved every minute of it.

But over these past four years my interests have grown.  And while I still enjoy reading, I have also added writing and photography to my list of obsessions.  I did not feel comfortable sharing these aspects of life when this blog's primary purpose was to review books.

So after several months of contemplation and arguing with myself, I have finally decided to begin a new blog that will hopefully encompass all that I care to share.

Should you care to join me on this new journey of self discovery, please feel free to follow me at Emerging from Cocoon.  I would love to see you there.  And should you decide to part ways here... please know how much I appreciated your online friendship.  It has been a great ride....

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Artist's Way: Week 1

As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to try to complete the Artist's Way workshop over these twelve weeks of summer.  I have managed to successfully write three days out of three, so I feel victorious!

The program mandates that for each of the twelve weeks I must write daily morning pages (that is, three pages in long-hand or 750 typed words) every single day --- as well as complete one artist date each week.  I have maintained a fairly consistent routine of morning pages for the past three years, so that activity has not been a problem  The artist date,  however,  has proved to be a bit more challenging.  But today I took myself on a photo safari of the Kansas City Zoo.  I walked the entire zoo (approximately two miles) so that I could get the lay of the land for future safaris... and I took approximately 330 pictures.  I quickly deleted more than half of those when I returned home, but I managed to find a couple that I really enjoyed.  One, a picture of a mother giraffe giving hugs to her baby... and the second a geese family out for morning stroll.   It is my hope to visit the zoo at least twice a month and take many more pictures of these fun-loving animals.

The specific writing activities, however, have not been nearly as fun. In fact, I have been forced to face my "inner critic" and I have discovered that she is not a very nice person.  I was appalled at the venom she spewed in my direction and a bit taken aback that I would befriend such a shady character.  The next day I was asked to write this inner critic a letter.  I decided that it might be good for me to put a name with this faceless foe and I did a quick google search of "evil female names"  After contemplating several, the one that seemed most accurate to me was:  DELILAH

My inner critic is deceptive... just as Delilah.  She has tried to convince me that perfection is attainable and that I am a failure for not achieving that status.

My inner critic has also betrayed me, for she led me to believe that she was my friend... always helping me strive to be a better person.  But the reality of the situation is that my inner critic is my worst enemy.  She has no desire to see me succeed.  She does not have my best interests at heart.  She has convinced me that self-confidence is synonymous with arrogance... and she has crippled me.

But... not any longer.  As of today, I have told Delilah to pack her bags.  And while I know that she will not willingly leave... and that it will be difficult for me to let go of a nearly fifty year relationship (no matter how caustic)... I am resolute that she is no longer welcome here.

Good riddance, I am sure.  But I hope that I find another faithful companion who can authentically cheer me on....

Monday, May 27, 2013

Living in the Moment

personal photo taken
at St. Louis Zoo June, 2010.
I'm not sure how to start this blog post.  How many times can I return after a hiatus and still call myself a blogger?  But there are a few faithful friends who continue to encourage me to write in this space, and I am grateful for their support.  So here I am again, embarking on a new blogging adventure at the outset of summer break after the end of a personally challenging year.

A few weeks ago I was counseled to try Expressive Writing as a way of dealing with all the internal turmoil of life.  As a rule follower and one who strives to please, I consented.  I opened an account with Penzu, an online journal that I simply cannot recommend highly enough, and I began to reconnect with my feelings.  Once I started writing it was as if the floodgates were opened and the tsunami began.  I have written well over 75,000 words in these two short months, and I am not nearly finished.  And it occurred to me that perhaps.... just perhaps... I am a writer.  And perhaps... just perhaps... I have long harbored a dream of becoming a published writer and it is a dream worth pursuing. 

But this is quite scary to voice aloud on the world wide web for all to read... and yet, quite exciting as well.  It is as though I am standing at the edge of the canyon ready to take that jump.  Do I trust the bungee cord to keep me from falling flat on my face?  Or do I settle for the safe existence that is void of life's adventures?  I believe I have lived in the cocoon for far too long.  Yes, it is secure; yes, its walls protect me (somewhat) from pain.  But is that really living?  Wouldn't it be far grander to experience the freedom of the butterfly?  A little risky - a little scary - a bit dangerous, but quite liberating.

I am still in the pupa stage of this process... a mess of ugly goo.  But I am transforming, slowly.  And I recognize that there will be discomfort as I begin to emerge from this protective fortress I have built, but I know that pain is essential... and yet temporary.  And I am learning that one vital secret to life is to learn to Live in the Moment... don't constantly relive the regrets of the past or worry about the uncertainty of the future.  We just have now, and there is beauty all around if we just slow down enough to notice.

So this summer I plan to cultivate the practice of Living in the Moment.  I hope to do that through daily writing, as well as through photography.  I have registered for two weekend writing courses at the University of Iowa this summer, one is Travel Writing at the end of June and the other is Spiritual Journaling at the end of July.  This is my version of dipping my toe in the water to discern if a writer's life is my true calling.

And as I was developing a summer schedule (which I hope to begin tomorrow)... I was reminded of this book, The Artist's Way, which I read several years ago.  And I thought it might be a good time to not only re-read the book, but actually follow the twelve week program.  And while you may not be surprised, I was shocked to discover that there are exactly twelve full weeks between now and the time I must return to school.  This seems more than coincidental to me; in fact I would say.... it is meant to be!

I also think this will pair nicely with Susannah Conway's online course, Journal Your Life, which will begin June 10 and run for six weeks.  I have taken two other courses with this talented instructor, and I look forward to gaining new insights into the journal writing discipline.

Another aspect of learning to Live in the Moment, I believe, is learning to take care of me... not just emotionally and intellectually (as the above endeavors will allow), but also spiritually and physically.  I so enjoyed the daily devotionals of Rick Warren and Joyce Meyer last year, that I decided to repeat them again.  I have consistently read, journaled, and prayed every day for the past thirty days and I can honestly say that I feel connected to God in a closer way now than I have for quite some time.  It is a long process to learn to let go of control and allow God to take the reigns.  And for me, it is an even longer process to fully understand that I serve a loving God rather than a divine accountant in the sky (all those "thou shalt nots...")  But it is a process, a daily process, and one that is essential to teaching me how to enjoy the present.

I also began a modest exercise regime a month ago and I hope to continue this activity for the rest of my life.  The goal is simply to walk briskly thirty minutes a day, five days a week.  So far my brisk walk equates to about 2.25 miles in that time frame, but I would like to increase it over time.  If my writing passion continues, I think I will also incorporate ten minutes of non-sedentary activity for every fifty minutes I write.  My goal is not to "buff up" or even lose weight... just to be fit in order to enjoy life to its fullest. 

In addition, I want to start eating locally - taking advantage of the colorful fruits and vegetables of the farmer's market as much as I can.  I hope to start cooking more at home, experimenting in the kitchen again --- like I used to when we lived in New York City ever so many decades ago.  I miss that creative process.  And so to take advantage of the new resolve, I chose to make scones for the first time this morning:  Lavender Blueberry .... and I thoroughly loved the imperfect experiment!  The dough was a bit dry, my technique uncertain, and the flavor a bit bland, BUT... I enjoyed the repetitive process of incorporating the cold butter into the flour mixture, I focused on the feel of the dough as I tried to knead it into a cohesive whole, and I was pleasantly surprised at the light, flaky texture of the finished product.  Learning to make scones - and brewing a fresh pot of tea - are also on the bucket list this summer, and I shall dream of taking high tea in my Oxford flat as I sit and write my manuscript.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Notice a pattern?

I still struggle with this blog's identity.  When I started writing about four years ago, I categorized myself as a book blogger.  I absolutely loved to read and I thought that writing book reviews (and other such literary posts) would be a way to focus my consistent writing efforts.  But then life happened... and while I still love to read, I have learned that I also have other interests that seem to demand a voice.  I am grateful to those of you who have chosen to continue to read my feeble words throughout these personal struggles, and I hope to find a rhythm to these posts in the very near future.

In the meantime.... here is a literary post that will give you some insight to my current obsession.  Can you notice a pattern here?  I feel almost compelled to start writing a memoir, or at the very least, a collection of family memories.  I'm not quite sure if this is related to turning 50 years old and knowing that I have lived more than half my life - or if it is related to the fact that all the "grandparents" have passed away and I am now matriarch of the family - or perhaps if it has to do with the old adage, "write what you know" and the only subject that I really know is me (or do I?  Isn't the discovery of self a lifetime process?  But I suppose that is the topic of a different blog post all together).  But whatever the reason, I have an overwhelming desire to start writing memories and I am trying to learn the best way to do that.

But at this point and time I feel as though I have read enough.  If I am going to write memories then I need to ... well... write.  Just sit down and put pen to paper (or as the case may be .. utilize the journal writing website Penzu or perhaps the Scrivener writing software).  Do I think I have lived a life that others would find worth reading?  Absolutely not.  My life is about as boring as a slice of white bread... but I harbor the idea that perhaps someday my children - or perhaps my grandchildren - might like to connect to the stories of their past and at this point, I am the only one who can provide that.  Am I the best writer for this particular task?  Absolutely not.  But I am here and I am now and I am willing.

I hope to start this endeavor sooner rather than later (that is... tomorrow...) But I know at the very least I will begin the process this summer.  I have already enrolled in the July offering of a Spiritual Journaling class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival ... and while I am very much intimidated to share my writing with others, I am also very excited to begin this next step in my writing endeavors.  In fact, I am so excited by the prospect of this new adventure that I may even enroll in the Travel Writing course offered in June.  I have harbored this dream of writing a travel memoir where the photograph that is "worth a thousand words" is accompanied by an essay of 1,500 words to create a complete short story narrative.  How cool would that be:  to marry my love of photography, travel and writing into one cohesive project?!

Yes, the future is bright and I am excited.  Life is indeed good.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Highly Sensitive Person

I have not read much fiction over the past several months, but that does not mean I haven't been reading.  Most of my library loot consists of non-fiction books on the craft of writing memoir (a post to follow shortly) and the occasional travel and photography books.  But sometime last fall I ran across this book, The Highly Sensitive Person, and I felt a strong urge to buy it sight unseen ( a rare impulse decision for this well-planned girl).  From the very first page I felt as though I had found a validation for my life.  I discovered that I am not weird or eccentric or all alone.  I learned that I am indeed "highly sensitive" (there are 20% of us other there) living in a very low to non-sensitive culture (the remaining 80%).  I took such comfort in this.  And while I have not quite learned how to navigate this world in which I must live, I feel confident that I will indeed learn strategies to help me cope.

The very first chapter offers a 23 question self-assessment - but the test can also be found online here.  Supposedly if you answer 12 of the 23 questions in the affirmative, then you are considered "HSP"  I answered 19 questions in the affirmative --- 10 of which strongly describe my temperament.  Here are my ten defining characteristics:

  1. Other people's moods affect me.
  2. I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.
  3. I have a rich, complex inner life.
  4. I am conscientious.
  5. I get rattled when I have a lot to do in a short amount of time.
  6. I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too many things at once.
  7. I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.
  8. I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.
  9. Being very hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.
  10. When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.
The remaining characteristics of an HSP that I possess, although not as strongly, include:
  1. I seem to be aware of subtleties in my environment.
  2. I am made uncomfortable by loud noises.
  3. I am deeply moved by the arts or music.
  4. I startle easily.
  5. When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment I tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable.
  6. I make it a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows.
  7. Changes in my life shake me up.
  8. I notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art.
  9. When I was a child, my parents or teachers seemed to see me as sensitive or shy.

Why do I bother sharing this on the blog?  I suppose I have two reasons.  First of all, for those of you who may also feel somewhat on the fringe of society - that you don't quite belong but you don't know why - I thought perhaps you could find yourself within the pages of this book as I have.  And secondly, for those who do know me, perhaps this will give you a bit of insight into the "real" me: the one who may seem anti-social but really is just overwhelmed;  the one who may seem stressed, but is just trying to multi-task when her temperament is singularly focused;  the one who may seem depressed but that is only because someone close to her is sad and she carries the burden as well.

Lately my world has been filled with all kinds of loss and changes (both good and bad) ... and this constant shifting of the sands has caused me to retreat - to hibernate - because I knew no other way to handle it.  And when that is compounded by the fact that I felt as though I was the only one in the world to feel this way -- to be overwhelmed by life -- well, I just wanted to withdraw from society.  But  I now know that I am not crazy... I am not a misfit ... I am Highly Sensitive, and I can accept that.

Monday, April 1, 2013


I wasn't sure what to title this post, but since I am reading A Tale of Two Cities (for the 7th time) with my Brit Lit class, I have the theme of rebirth on my mind ... and truthfully, it fits here.

I understand that the grief process is different for each individual.  And since I have never experienced grief before, I suppose I had a pre-determined image of what that would look like for me.  I imagined the scene of The Godfather movie (my husband is Italian and I am well-versed in this genre)... where the professional mourners are dressed in black, gray hair atop their heads in a tight bun, moaning and wailing in the back of the church.  Only I don't wail.  And I do not dress in black.  And I am not Italian (only married to one).

For me mourning took a different path.  I did not wail and honestly, I barely shed a tear.  My dad died in 2006 and two short months later I found myself responsible for the care of my aging mother who grieved in the form of hallucinations rather than tears.  Her psychological issues, paired with her physical limitations of orthostatic hypertension and congestive heart failure, nearly consumed me.  I was trying to raise my own children, fulfill a teaching career that at one point spanned nine different class preps, and provide her with the love and care that I knew she deserved.  In the end, she just couldn't go on ... and I assumed the guilt of allowing her to die.

I tried to mask the pain.  I treated myself to a thirty year dream of going to Paris - and while that was wonderful in so many different ways, it did not fill the void that was left inside of me.  I continued to teach, but the frustrations outweighed the long-term fruits of labor.  I was burnt out, but refused to accept my limitations.  In the end, I was fooling no one, especially myself.

So in these past two years since Mom's death I have had to do some soul searching.  What is it that truly captures my heart?  What is it that I truly wish to accomplish in life?  Who am I?

The past six months have been difficult and quite honestly, I had no idea the answer to any of these questions.  I debated retiring from teaching - but I couldn't voice that here in the off-chance that a fellow student might read it and not understand the full story behind the desire.  I managed to frustrate every person in my family and cause major anxiety and drama.  I was not me... and  yet I did not know who me was anymore.

I was no longer a daughter.  And I was now the "matriarch"  I was still a mother - and yet the mother of adult children, which is an entirely different type of parenting.  I was a grandmother and yet did not feel old enough to be called by that title.  I was a teacher and yet so weary of the grading.  What was the next step in life?  Did I have control of that step - or was it all outside my sphere of influence?

Such confusion.

But on this April Fool's Day I feel less foolish than I have in a long while.  Today I feel more in control of my own life than I have in years.  I am quite hopeful of the future and am anxious to see what new adventures await.

My granddaughter....
Family is the first priority.  And while we are not perfect, we are family.  We deeply care for one another and we refuse to give up.  I apologize for the drama I have caused, but I am grateful for the grace and forgiveness I have received.  Being a grandmother is a gift - and I cherish each and every moment of being "Olly"

Teaching a part of me.  I did not go in search of this career, it found me.  But I have welcomed this phase of life and am not yet willing to let it go.  I have the distinct privilege to work for a group of people that are not only dedicated to their craft, but also to their Savior.  And I am indeed grateful to report to an administration that looks for the good in all.  I needed a break, for sure ... but rather than quitting I have been allowed to scale back my schedule.  I will now only teach on Tuesdays and Thursdays - and I will be teaching only the classes that I truly love:  Brit Lit and English Comp.  I am indeed blessed - and I hope that I can continue to make a difference in the lives as students as they surely make an impact on my own life.

There is a quote by S. E. Hinton that goes something like this:  "If you have two friends in your lifetime you are lucky.  If you have one GOOD friend you are more than lucky."  I have never been what one would consider popular - and it wasn't until after college that I realized popular is not all it is cracked up to be.  The pressure of maintaining contact with everyone and being there when needed and providing the right amount of encouragement to all is absolutely exhausting to me.  But now that I am in my 50s I have realized that I am indeed blessed with friends.  I have three friends whom I know that I can call and they will be there for me - just as I will be there for them.  And I do not take that for granted.

And while my life is full with family, meaningful career, and friends ... I am also blessed to have interests outside these spheres that keep me mentally challenged.  I am thrilled to begin a writing endeavor (I am not yet brave enough to call it a career), and I love the idea of capturing a moment of life in photographs as well.  I enjoy creativity in the kitchen and I look forward to continuing my interest in paper crafts.  Yes. life is full - and I want to experience each glorious moment.

So while I was not officially "dead" - I do believe I was dead in spirit.  The body can only handle so much stress and I was over my limit.  I needed to hibernate - hide away - and discern how to become whole again.

But I think I am there - or almost.  And I do indeed feel reborn.  I have another half of life to live - and I intend to live it to the fullest.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughtful Thursday

I still don't have a clear direction for Thoughtful Thursday posts, so for today I thought I would detail the various sources that I use on a daily basis to help me dig deeper and ask those questions that help give my life direction.

Dumping Ground:  I have used the website, 750 words, going on nearly three years now.  The inspiration for the website came from Julia Cameron's best-seller, The Artist's Way, where she advocates writing three full pages first thing each morning:  stream of consciousness writing that allows you to empty the mind of worries, stress, confusions, order to make room for creative pursuits.  While she advocates long-hand, typing on a computer in this secure format is more conducive to my lifestyle.  I'm not sure that I have made much room for creativity to take hold (yet) - but I have found that this daily activity helps me to prioritize tasks and put life in proper perspective.

Spiritual Focus:  As I mentioned last week, I am currently working my way through Rick Warren's daily devotional, Decade of Destiny for the second year.  I really enjoy his practical easy-to-understand messages that often cause me to think more clearly about my life's goals.  Today he reviews his famous Acronym of SHAPE - and how knowing your shape will help you define your calling in life.  For those of you who may not have heard of this, SHAPE stands for:

  • S = Spiritual Gifts
  • H = Heart 
  • A = Abilities
  • P = Personality
  • E = Experiences
Writing Focus:  I currently use two daily tools to help me think about the writing life - although I have not yet translated those thoughts to an actual writing lifestyle (I have faith that will come later).  The first is the book, A Year of Writing Dangerously, where the author has daily messages to motivate would-be authors to face their fears and just write.  Each message is then accompanied by a quote from a published author.  

Yesterday's prompt was entitled:  Getting Permission - and the author states:  If you feel you need permission to write about yourself, or whatever you feel you need to write about, I give you permission.  
She then uses the quote by William Zinsser to summarize the thought:
If you write for yourself, you will reach all the people you want to write for.

The other tool I use is Patti Digh's Daily Rock.  As some of you may recall, Patti Digh is the author of Life is a Verb, which inspired me to develop a series of writing prompts two summers ago.  She helps me to focus on the moment - to stop putting off til tomorrow because who knows how much time they have left (her father died only 37 days after learning he had cancer).  

One of her prompts this week included:  Let Your Life Be a Poem

Photography Focus:  Writing comes naturally for me - not that I do it well, but it comes easily.  Photography does not.  I have NO natural ability.  I must constantly think about the rules of composition; I must stop and analyze the light before I attempt to set the ISO - Aperture - Shutter Speed controls.  I have yet to learn how the camera sees the world and become quite frustrated when my picture is not what I saw with the naked eye.  And yet... I still love the possibilities that photography offers to help me relate to the world in which I live.  And I am determined to learn the craft.  After all....don't I teach students that writing can be learned - they just have to be willing to put in the effort?  I want to follow my own advice.

Of course improvement comes from practice - and daily practice is best.  However, I struggle finding variety in the world around me. That is where Capture Your 365 photo prompts help.  Katrina does not necessarily suggest WHAT to photograph, but rather WHAT EMOTION to capture.  And this, to me, is the essence of photography. 

Today's prompt is Real Life - which she also offers Everyday - Ordinary - Daily as possible synonyms. It is a rainy day in Kansas, so I think I will be forced to find a suitable subject indoors.  I was thinking perhaps a photo of emptying the dishwasher .... but I'm not sure.  What would you photograph to capture "real life" ?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Monday, January 7, 2013

Library Loot: 1.7.13

Oh it has been a long time since I have shared my loot with you .... but trust me, I have maintained a very active account at my local library for the past several months.  Thanks to Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Claire at The Captive Reader for sponsoring this weekly meme.

I have divided my loot into two separate categories:  those books that I plan to read for my mystery writing endeavors ... and all other books outside that description.

The Eclectic Grouping:
The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs by Malcolm Gladwell.  Anyone who knows me knows why this book is on the list.  I have only skimmed the first few pages, but I am fairly certain that this will have to be a permanent addition to my personal library.

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes.  While I have only watched the first three episodes from season one, I know that this is a series that I would enjoy (in fact, I gave my eldest the first two seasons on Blu-Ray this past Christmas).  I thought this book might provide some interesting background information that will aid me in appreciating the time period.

Vineyard Tales:  Reflections on Wine by Gerald Asher.  Not a typical "how to appreciate wine" book, but more a collection of narratives that involve the enjoyment of wine.  I think this might be a nice book to add to my own collection so that it is available to read one or two essays as time and/or interest permits.

The $100 Start-up:  Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau.   I don't remember where I first heard of this book, but I can tell you it is quite popular.  I think I placed the book on hold over three months ago.  I have read about half of it so far (it reads fast) and while there is nothing earth-shattering new, it does provide some interesting material upon which to ponder.

The Cozies:
Murder and Sullivan by Sara Hoskinson Frommer.  I selected this mystery series because Joan Spencer, our amateur sleuth, is an orchestra manager from Indiana.  I have always had a love of music and living in the midwest myself made the setting of interest as well.  Plus...who could resist such a clever title?

Exhaustive Enquiries by Betty Rowlands.  I selected this mystery because the main character, Melissa Craig, is a mystery author herself - who lives in the Cotswolds, England - my dream location.

Trouble in the Town Hall by Jeanne M. Dams.  The basic description of this series is that the main character, Dorothy Martin, is a retired American teacher living in England.  This sounds like fiction imitating my reality!

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker.  I know precious little about this series except that Bruno resides in St. Denis, a small town in France.  Need I say more....

Strangled Prose by Joan Hess.  Another "literary" sleuth - this time the owner of a bookstore in a small town in Arkansas.  I'm not sure if it will have too much of a romance feel for me though...

It is an ambitious list of books - and I'm not sure that I will read through all of them - but it will be enjoyable no matter what.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

TSS - 1.6.13

It has been a L-O-N-G time since I participated in a Sunday Salon - and how I have missed these comfortable connections with fellow participants.  I hope that this is the start of a new weekly routine that I can maintain throughout the year.

Goals and resolutions.  That is the focus of this first week of the year and quite honestly, I hesitate to make them; they only seem to set me up for failure.  But this particular goal has been rattling around in my brain for several months, and I thought perhaps now is the time to give it a voice.  A true goal is specific - both in focused details and designated time frame.  My goal is neither - and I am fine with that.

I have decided that I would like to write a Cozy Mystery.  The idea came to me this past summer as I was working on another novel idea.  I was having a difficult time developing the conflict:  I knew the protagonist, the antagonist, the setting, the theme, the chronology of events .... but I had no compelling conflict (still working on that, as a matter of fact...) See.... I try so very hard to live life free from any conflict whatsoever - so the thought of intentionally creating conflict for characters that I enjoy is quite difficult.

But then the thought occurred to me that a murder mystery defines the conflict, but needs an author to develop character and setting and intrigue.  I have enjoyed reading mysteries since I was eight years old and discovered Nancy Drew - but I would not say that it is my preferred literary genre.  Nevertheless, the idea of writing a cozy mystery appeals to my creative side.  Cozies are typically void of graphic violence, explicit sex, or vulgar language --- all areas that I feel poorly equipped to write.  Cozies instead focus on character relationships and (typically) small town settings - two aspects of literature to which I relate most.  So the seed of an idea was planted - and continued to sprout through the fall.

I have decided to tackle this project with an organized determination - the way I tackle most assignments in life.  I checked out several books on writing a mystery from the local library, and ultimately decided that You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts best suited my needs.  It is now a permanent resource in my personal library.

I then gave thought to the protagonist.  The adage, write what you know, seemed appropriate here.  Not that I know murder, mind you, but I do know a few "characters" in life.  I did some research online and discovered that there is a cozy protagonist of just about every age, profession, and interest.  To narrow the focus just a bit, I decided to begin with my own personal interests.  My initial list include such interests as:

  • Animals (particularly dogs)
  • Caterers
  • English teachers
  • Librarians
  • Book store owners
  • Writers
  • Thrift shop
  • Coffee/Tea/Wine shop
I used the website, Cozy-Mystery, to find suitable series for me to read as research for my writing endeavors.  The site is wonderful as it has mysteries categorized by author as well as by theme.  The titles are then arranged by order of publication  - which for me is essential.  I want to read the first book of each series to learn how an author creates the characters and setting.  For those books that I find particularly interesting, I will then read subsequent books in the series to learn how these relationships are further developed.  Yes, it is a rather long process - but I think it will work well for me.

My goal for this year is to try to read through the box of "firsts" - which I anticipate adding to as time goes on.  Ideally I would like to read one cozy a week, but I realize that once school starts that may be a bit ambitious.  The good thing about reading cozies, however, is that they read quickly.  I am not taking the time to analyze the writing style - that will come later.  I just want to develop a feel for the genre and learn what I consider a "good book"  I think once I discover what attracts me to a story - I will then know how to focus my own writing.

It is my intention to write brief reviews of these cozies on this blog.  I will begin that routine this coming week.  In the meantime .... Here's to a new year with new intentions, aspirations, and beginnings.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Photograph vs Snapshot

In keeping with my pre-designated blog schedule.... today is Photography Friday.  I initially began this post as an insight into my photography workflow, but as I began to write it seemed to evolve into something completely different.  In an effort to learn to listen to my inner voice rather than preconceived notions, I decided to delay the workflow post for another time.

About two years ago I began to realize that my life was out of balance -- and had been for quite some time.  I enjoyed teaching and had spent nearly every waking moment devoted to that profession.  Teaching gave me a sense of purpose and it fulfilled the need to remain mentally challenged.  But living a life of all work and no play can create a rut that if left unchecked, can quickly become a prison. So I made the resolution that I would learn to balance responsibility with creativity - schedule with spontaneity - pragmatism with frivolity.

Photography has been a great hobby to help me achieve this balance in life.  It has awakened the right side of my brain and is helping me to see the ordinary world around me in an extraordinary way.  It has allowed me to feel artistically creative when I have no talent for drawing or painting.  It has enabled me to learn more about myself through visual images rather than just written words.

But photography also feeds the left side of my brain as well.  I have had to learn about the relationship between ISO - shutter speed - aperture.  I have had to learn about the Kelvin scale of light - and not all light is created equal.  I have had to learn that the way I see the world is not the way the camera sees the world - and it is essential to learn its language in order to properly communicate.

One thing I have learned this week, using Katrina's Capture 365 prompts, is that I need to give more thought to my pictures BEFORE I click the shutter.  For me, I think this is the difference between a photograph and a snapshot.  A photograph is purposeful - it goes beyond the image to tell a story or convey an emotion.  A snapshot is spontaneous with the purpose of documenting a moment in time.

I have taken snapshots my entire adult life.  I felt it was my responsibility as a mom to pull out the point-and-shoot for each birthday, holiday, or family trip in order to fulfill my duty as family historian.  I remember one trip to Disney World where the children instinctively posed the same way for each character portrait.  It made for a quick and easy picture - but the emotional thrill of the vacation was missing.

In preparing for my trip to Paris, however, I realized that I wanted to photograph something more than the iconic images:  postcards serve that purpose. I was traveling alone and I wanted to capture my emotional reaction to these familiar sights in order to share them with family when I returned home.  It sounded easy enough ... but as is most things in life, it was far more difficult than it first appeared.

I used to be naive enough to think that photography was not an art - it did not require talent.  All that was needed was decent eyesight to focus, and an index finger to press the shutter.  How grateful I am that I kept that ignorant comment to myself.

True photography, I feel, is about finding just the right angle - point of view - to tell the story.  True photography is giving thought to focus - what is tack sharp and what is blurred for effect.  True photography is as much about what is included in the picture as what is excluded.  True photography is about how the light is conveyed in the image - and how the shadows are acknowledged.

I do not pretend that this is all there is to know about true photography.  This is only what I have learned in the last few months of study and practice.  And while I had no idea that this one little hobby  would turn into a life long quest, I am delighted to have found such a worthy past time.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Decade of Destiny

Blog posts for this day of the week can be categorized as Thoughtful Thursday posts.  The idea is that whatever is on my mind for the week (and I am sure there are some weeks where nothing will be written...) I will post here.

I have re-started Rick Warren's one-year devotional, Decade of Destiny, and I find that the questions he poses in these first two messages coincide perfectly with this particular stage in my life.

Rick uses Genesis 24 as his scripture reference - the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of their son Isaac.  At this time in my life I find this story inspirational, as Abraham was 100 years old when his son was born.  He had dreamed of a family his entire life, but God's timing took a bit longer than Abraham had anticipated.  I am only half Abraham's age - so I am confident that God must still have some significant accomplishments for me as well.  This brings a smile to my face and gives me hope for my own future.

Rick first states that in order for us to move forward, we must develop focus.  And to help us develop that focus gives two questions to ponder:

  1. Where am I now?  Where am I spiritually, financially, emotionally, relationally, physically, and occupationally?
  2. In all those areas identified, what would I like to change?
Believe me, these questions are easier to read than they are to address.  What I have discovered since last year's answers to the same questions is that I have indeed grown and matured and started a path toward change.  I have a long ways to go, but it is nice to know that I have indeed progressed.  And it is nice to know that I have an idea of where I hope to be next year - and the year after that.

The second list of questions are a bit more specific because Rick states that the more specific the goal, the more power it has in your life.  This concept was reinforced for me this week when a segment on the local news focused on New Year's Resolutions.  The "expert" stated that vague goals such as, I want to lose weight, do not have the success rate as much as specific goals such as, I want to lose ten pounds in three months.

So Rick provides four questions to help us quantify our goals in life:
  1. What do I want to be?
  2. What do I want to do?
  3. What do I want to have?
  4. Why do I want it?
While the first three questions are not easy, it is the final question - the WHY - that can stump us.  And yet if we do not know the why - if we do not understand our motivation behind these goals, then they become nothing more than wishful dreams that never come true.

Interestingly enough, Rick closes this particular exercise by asking us not to question HOW.  And for the pragmatic folks out there like myself, that is difficult.  But his reasoning is sound.  We may not know "how" yet --- but if we focus on what we don't know, we will give up before we even start.  Rick maintains that if we know the what - and we know the why - and we know that these are in line with God's will for our life ---- then we can trust that God will reveal the how in due time.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Beginnings

It won't happen often, I promise, but today I thought I would copy and paste what I wrote for my 365 project picture on Flickr.  Since today is my blog's self-designated topic of Writing Wednesday - and the subject matter for the photo fits that theme, I thought it was suitable.

While I do not plan to limit my 365 photo project to these prompts, I am enjoying Katrina Kennedy's January list of helpful suggestions.   Today's prompt is New Beginnings - and here is my response.

A new year - a new lease on life.

Since kindergarten, I have always considered myself fortunate to celebrate two "new year" celebrations:  January 1st and the First Day of School.  I supposed I was destined to become a teacher, as my most favorite shopping day of the year is mid-July when I stock up on school supplies.

That euphoria has now made its way into my hobby life as well.  Over the past few years I have discovered a love of writing - and while my preferred method is clicking on the QWERTY keyboard, there is something that draws me to the "old fashioned" method of writing in beautiful journals with decorative pens on the blank page.  I have numerous journals waiting for me to put pen to paper - either as notes for future NaNoWriMo stories, or as quotes from treasured reading, or as family stories to preserve for the next generation.

There is such excitement about the blank page - and all the potential that it holds; and at the same time there is such fear at marring the pristine page with dribble.  This year I don't want that fear to keep me from realizing the dream of becoming a writer.  I want to write - and imagine - and document.  This is indeed a new beginning to a fresh start in this second half of life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Welcome 2013 -- I have looked forward to meeting you for quite some time!

While last year was an emotional roller coaster - which prompted the early anticipation of a new year around June - I am not naive enough to think that 2013 will be smooth sailing.  I guess that comes from living more than 50 years:  I have learned that life is cyclical and there will always be ups as well as downs - joys as well as sorrows - conflicts as well as resolutions.  But I am also learning that I cannot expect my inner joy to rely solely on outward circumstances, for that only results in frustration.

Last year I tried to informally participate in Ali Edward's One Little Word project.  That is, select one word to guide my thoughts and actions throughout the year.  I selected the word BALANCE because I felt that my "all work and no play" mentality for the past decade had eroded my ability to have fun.  While the word served me well, I soon came to realize that it was an unattainable goal.  As mentioned above, life is cyclical and the notion of finding balance every day is nearly impossible --- some days demand more time and energy spent on work while other days demand more time and energy spent on relationships.  I do think I learned to add more playtime to my life in 2012, but I did not find that deep inner joy that I craved.

In pondering this connection between chaotic life and inner joy I came to realize that my true goal for 2013 is PEACE.  And in coordinating this one word with possible New Year's resolutions, I have decided to eliminate that "R" word from my vocabulary.  Resolutions set me up for failure - for I tend to be an all-or-nothing mentality.  One slip and I am doomed.  So I will choose to adopt the phrase New Year's modifications:  slight realignments in my current lifestyle that will help me focus on bringing inner peace to my sometimes hectic and frustrating life.

PEACE will guide my eating choices, for what I put in my body will affect my physical being.  As Florinda posted on her blog today, I want to eat more fruits and vegetables, less sugar and refined food, and drink more water.  I refuse to put any quantifiable numbers to this list, for that is where the fear of failure enters the picture.  Rather, just make more conscious decisions about what I eat because I want to maintain a healthy body to accomplish all my bucket list items (which continues to grow with each passing day).

PEACE will guide my exercise choices, for my bucket list involves a lot of travel and I need a fit body to accomplish all these meaningful goals.  The word exercise, however, has always had negative connotations for me and as a result, I am never motivated to truly embrace its role in my life.  So again, I will borrow from Florinda and say that I plan to sit less and move more.  That is easy enough - and knowing that the ultimate goal is not to complete a certain workout regimen but simply to become fit for traveling adventures will help keep me focused.

PEACE will guide my time management choices, for I know that work AND play are both integral components of life.  I have developed a good morning routine, complete with writing morning pages and maintaining spiritual devotions, and I have learned to compartmentalize my teaching life between the hours of 7:30AM and 4:30PM.  I now need to focus on developing a good evening routine that provides time to spend with family and friends (for I am learning that even an extreme introvert such as myself cannot live alone all the time) ... as well as time to pursue outside interests such as photography, reading/writing, and paper crafts.

Along these lines, PEACE will also help me to live in the moment - to find beauty in the ordinary - and to embrace the now.  Yes, I can always learn from the past, but I do not need to dwell on it.  And yes, I can prepare for the future, but I do not need to worry.  Today should my focus in living a full life.

And finally, PEACE will guide my financial choices, for I know that impulsive purchases only provide temporary happiness, and true long-term joy comes from debt-free living.  We have spent the past two years making up for lost time.  The much-needed home repairs had come to a critical point and since we had officially become empty-nesters, the timing seemed right.  However, new windows, new siding, and new decorated rooms (a beach room - a Paris room - and a Tuscan kitchen) have taken their toll.  So while I have great aspirations of travel and photography and crafts..... I know that peace will be found in delayed gratification and finding contentment in possessions already owned.

PEACE.  SERENITY.  JOY.  It is the desire of my heart - and worthy of my attention in 2013.

I wish each and every one of you PEACE in this new year.

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