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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