Monday, March 20, 2017

Which gadgets bring enjoyment to your day?

There’s much to be said these days about taking time away from the computer, the cell phone, the television…anything that tends to keep you inactive for too long, or which limits your ability to really be aware of your surroundings, or live in the moment of what’s actually going on around you.
Courtesy of Death to Stock photo

I’ve written before about the need to unplug in order to recharge – a funny sort of contradictory statement, but I think many these days would have to agree it’s a good thing to do every now and then.

But lately I’ve been having some fun, not with the normal sort of electronics that might cause an increase in pounds and therefore, tighter jeans, but instead other sorts of gadgets which should help do the opposite.

First, music has always been part of my day. I listen to it on my way to my day job, I listen to it while at the office and again on the drive home. I have specific tastes when it comes to music, but any playlist I put together will tend to have more upbeat songs and I generally care more about the beat than who is doing the singing. If I don’t find myself rocking back and forth, drumming my fingers or tapping my foot, I’m on to the next song. However, I don’t really enjoy upbeat songs where the artist is basically repeating themselves, with a few other words thrown in for good measure. And unless I’m in a particularly bad mood and just want the company of sadness, I tend to skip, or tune out, slow or sad songs; although they will win my favor if they actually have a good beat. In fact, I’m listening to a good one right now…The Other Side by David Gray.

I’ve been using a music app on my phone and I enjoy the large number of songs and types of music at my fingertips. My favorite gadget lately has not only been my cell phone and the music app, but also my new JBL portable speaker. It was a gift for Christmas and it’s one of my favorites. Although I’m still not able to listen to music while I work on my novels, I’ve found that I am able to blog, journal and free write while listening to music. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to listen to music while working on a novel. It might sound odd, but I’m a bit tentative about using music when I write, as I don’t want the music to have any influence on any emotions on the page. What if a sad song comes on when I’m trying to write about something funny, or what if an upbeat song plays while I’m trying to write something serious? I also don’t want to be distracted by having to skip a song to find a song that might put me in the right “mood.” 

While the cell phone is often the enemy when you’re told to unplug, I’ve used it to focus less on negative social media and more on what helps keep me focused on my intentions. When I made my New Year’s intentions, I wanted to focus on writing, health, self-care, rest/relaxation and family/fun.  Music is fun, it can be relaxing, it can make you happy and it can make you move. 

Not so long ago, I almost gave up on the idea of using a smart phone. I thought I’d just stick with a basic phone and leave it at calls and texting. Now…I don’t think I’d ever want to give up my Android. I found another fun use for it, and that’s to keep tabs on another new gadget I’ve decided to try out: a Fitbit. While the Fitbit seems a bit bulky for my wrist, I’m enjoying this latest purchase a lot. When my New Year’s intentions included walking/moving more, drinking more water, sleeping better, being more mindful of what I eat, and making time for regular meditation/breathing exercises, this little gadget helps me keep tabs on all those intentions, plus some. When I’m writing, I can sit at my computer for hours…without realizing how much time has gone by and without realizing that the only part of my body that’s moved much are my fingers while I type and my eyelids when I blink (and my arm when I take a sip of my coffee). I enjoy the fact that my Fitbit reminds me every hour to get up and move so that I can reach my step count. It shows me how well, or how awful, I’ve been sleeping so that I can possibly begin to make some adjustments. I can easily keep track of my water intake. I like being able to see a comparison day to day on how active I’ve been, what goals I’ve reached and I’ve never been more aware of my heart rate in my whole life. It really is quite a fun little gadget.

I’m getting no kickbacks for talking about these devices I’m using. I just wanted to share because for me, the gadgets that bring enjoyment to my day also give me in return something that makes me happy (music) and which focuses on something important (my health). Regardless of the fact that these items might need to use an outlet at some point, I can’t take away the benefits they provide to me. 

Now, if I only I can find a gadget that will help me write faster!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How do you travel? Via fact or fiction?

I just returned from a vacation that made me so tired, I needed a vacation to rest after returning home. That’s nothing new, as I really can’t recall a time when a vacation actually meant relaxation. My husband and I are the same in that regard, thankfully, or I doubt we’d ever enjoy vacations together. 

Inside the Venetian at Las Vegas
When I think back to some of the vacations we’ve taken, I can probably count on one hand how often the bulk of one day was spent doing nothing. Why? Because there’s always too much to see and do! I can rest when I’m at home, but when I’m in places like Mexico, or Alaska, or Hawaii, or taking a road trip, whether it’s through three states or even up to ten, I don’t want to assume that I can bypass something that interests me or the rest of the family because we can always see it “next time.” 

My most recent trip was to Las Vegas – a place I haven’t visited in quite awhile. It really hasn’t changed all that much and I don’t know if I expected that it would have, but it was nice to return to find that it was still familiar. The one thing I do not miss about Vegas is the desperation emanating from so many, not only from those who visit but also from those who live and work there. But besides that, it’s still a fun place to visit and play, and where you will get more than your fair share of steps in every single day.

If you’ve never been to Vegas, you may not feel you’re missing out on anything, or maybe you secretly hope to see it someday. Honestly, I could describe what it’s like to vacation in Vegas, but it wouldn’t take the place of seeing it for yourself.  

New York New York from the strip
For those who don’t travel, whether due to financial reasons, health reasons or because other obligations prelude them from even attempting it, they might not ever know what it’s like to visit Las Vegas or Hawaii or Alaska, or foreign areas such as Mexico and beyond. Their only experiences of such places may be limited to photos and descriptions from others. Of course, there are some who just have no interest in traveling – like my in-laws. They were farmers, had little interest for much beyond the farm, and the furthest they traveled was to California or Oklahoma to see family. That was by choice, as they really had no interest in seeing new or foreign places.

But for those who do wish to see new places, how do they explore if they aren’t able to set foot outside their own state line? If someone isn’t able to travel, and they also have a love for books, they will most likely read about it. They will find authors who plunge characters into plots taking part in areas of the world they are interested in reading about.  Sometimes, stories will wrap you up with memories of a place so vivid you can no longer resist the idea of seeing it for yourself if given the chance. Before I visited New Orleans, I read Interview with the Vampire and The Witching Hour by Anne Rice. I’d already had an interest in seeing New Orleans, but after that, I just had to see it for myself. When a conference was scheduled to occur in New Orleans for private investigators, I jumped at the chance, and the city did not disappoint me.

Gaining knowledge from the experience of others might be insightful and exciting to hear about, and reading books by an author who can describe a character’s surroundings so vividly can be fulfilling to some extent, but I hope everyone gets a chance to explore someplace new at least once in their lifetime. I don’t believe anyone will ever regret taking advantage of living life and seeing new things when the opportunity presents itself. When I think back on the amazing places I’ve visited, I feel very blessed for the experiences and for the memories that will always be a part of me.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February: short-term month, long-term gain

This has been a busy month, and for a short month it’s been stocked full. The day job has been very busy, I’ve stayed on track with writing so that I’ve passed my minimum monthly word count even though I’ve had to deal with chronic back pain and more chiropractic visits than I would use in a whole year, there’s been extra time spent with family, and a couple of visits to the vet to learn that the mass the vet felt in Piper’s neck wasn’t a tumor, but actually a toy she had swallowed. 

Yeah, that turned out to be an expensive toy. But Piper’s now doing great, and in the end, that’s what matters most.

For the month of February when I check off my list of mindful intentions, I’m doing pretty well, even if my attempts at exercise have been limited due to having to take it easy because of my back. 

But what I’m really pleased with is the writing…I’m at a place now where I haven’t been in a long time: I’m at the end of a book, tying up the mysteries, getting to the last page of the story where “the end” is appropriate to type in.

It is a feeling I’ve had before with each prior book, but with each book it’s also a bit different.  Either way, it is an emotional ride when you know you’re nearing completion of such a large project and an intense feeling of satisfaction when you know you have finally completed your first draft. 

With each book I write, I learn something: I learn more about the craft, more about the process, and also more about myself. Because it has been awhile since I’ve been able to say that a first draft is about to be complete, I thought I’d go back through old blog posts to review how I felt when my prior first drafts were completed. 

Once the first draft of my first novel, No Mother of Mine, was ready for editing in 2012, I was only just beginning to learn what was involved with the process when it comes to reviewing and editing. The very first book, obviously, is not an experience that will ever be matched again; at least as it relates to the extreme surreal feeling when you can acknowledge you’ve just written an actual novel. By the time I completed the first draft of my second novel, Best Kept Secrets, in 2013, I was more aware of what was ahead of me before the book could be published, but I now laugh at myself when I read over that blog post for predicting that at some point in my future the process of editing would get easier. 

I’m not sure that will ever be true. The first draft of any novel is a wild animal to be tamed, and it should not be mistaken for as an easy task.

Something else I wrote in the post about my second novel, but which I caught myself nodding my head to in agreement as I was reading it, was this:

During the editing process, we come to the intersection of Creation and Control…which is what it takes to make sure the story is complete, the words make sense, the characters aren’t flat and the plot twists and turns enough to give readers true delight.

I like how I described the editing process in that way, and it’s something I’ll have to remember each time I’m in the middle of reviewing any draft of a novel.

The last time I completed a first draft of a novel, not counting the short story I published in 2015, was Ties That Bind towards the end of 2014. For the third novel in the series, I brought in someone new to assist with the editing and as each phase for each novel has taught me something new about the process, so did my new editor. And with the new editor came a new appreciation for the editing process.

It’s been a long time coming, so it feels good to begin the editing process again.  It’s also a great feeling to know that I’m moving forward – working on that momentum I’ve focused on for this New Year.    

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Confessions of a book addict

Hi, my name is Paula, and I’m addicted to books. Reading books, writing books, buying books… 

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

I was thinking back to my first love of books and I’m pretty certain it was during grade school when I was allowed to purchase them during the Scholastic book fair. I’d have a set amount to spend, and while I can’t recall what that was, the amount probably couldn’t purchase even one book today. I’d devour the little paper catalog, choosing a book, a poster, and whatever else might not put me over the maximum amount I was allowed. And when I finally received my purchase, it was like Christmas in July…or whatever month the book fair usually occurred.

My love of books since I was a kid has only grown and it might be called an obsession, but I’m sure there are others who have many more books than I do. Right? I’m sure there are. 

But it’s more than books, oh yes, I’m on the lookout for more than just new books to read…I have a watchful eye for new journals, scrapbooks or scrapbook paper, stickers, notebooks, note cards, you name it. Anything paper, I adore.

So the other day, I visited the bookstore with the intention of getting a coffee, but also with the secret hope that one of my favorite magazines was finally available at the store. This particular magazine is made for paper-lovers like me. It felt like I’d been waiting for months for the next issue. Well, actually, I had…as I believe the English edition of the magazine is only printed quarterly. Worse than that, it’s printed in Poland, so it takes longer to finally become available in U.S. stores, which is maddening when I can see the issue is available on the website. Why not just order it online? I wish, but shipping and handling would mean my cost would be more than three times the amount I pay when I buy it in the U.S. And I can’t justify paying $70 for a magazine.

Anyway, I checked the usual area where the magazine is usually waiting for me and…it wasn’t there. Disappointed, I moved away from the magazine rack to stand in line to order my coffee. I almost bought a cookie too, to pacify my mood, but I had to remind myself I’m trying to change my eating habits to include more healthy choices (the coffee doesn’t count – it’s the one vice I won’t give up).

After placing my order, I wandered around to look at some of the other magazines for sale and as I neared the area where I find some of my favorite Yoga magazines other than the one I subscribe to, there it was…THE magazine. 

Hiding in plain sight, but near the fashion and health magazines; not its usual location.

I felt like a kid in a candy store…or like the kid I used to be, gleefully receiving my next purchase chosen so thoughtfully from the Scholastic magazine. 

When life as an adult can feel so hectic, so overwhelming, and so…serious, it’s nice to have moments when something as simple as a book, or in this case, a magazine I’d so (im)patiently been waiting for, can give you a taste of that childish glee many have lost along the way to adulthood. 

Moments like these should be cherished for what they are – little moments of happiness to take pure pleasure in, especially if it brings out the kid in us.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Letting memories drive passion, not stall it.

I'm pushing on through the muck. What is muck? For me, today, muck means “feelings.” Sometimes they hold you back, sometimes they can really mess with you, they can mess with your ability to function, and they can mess with your ability to move on.

Last weekend I took a break from blogging – for various reasons:  There was the Superbowl, which was a very entertaining game, and we got quite a bit of snow, which was a huge distraction by itself, and I was taking it easy due to a back injury, so I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the computer.

Taking a break is good sometimes. 

I think we can all agree on that.
Me & my Dad

Today I could be taking a break again, for other reasons, this time more personal. It’s my Dad’s birthday today, but he’s not here to celebrate this special day with us, which only leads me down memory lane about why he’s gone and the fact that he’s been gone now for two years.

Grief is a funny thing – not really – but there’s the fact that it doesn’t matter what the books, or blogs or good doctors tell you, the one true fact is that it is not a one-size-fits-all and you just have to remember that everyone deals with grief in their own way. You should never compare yourself to others when it comes to how you’re dealing with your grief. And you should never apologize for it.

Today, instead of keeping my mind completely in memory lane, I’m going to push on through the muck of my feelings and forge ahead with what I would normally do.     

A day at the beach

My main reason for this thought-process is due to one thing: it’s what my Dad would want me to do. Why is today any different than yesterday? Just because it’s his birthday? I thought about him just as much yesterday as I have today, but I was still able to write 1,800 words yesterday. I know that if I don’t work on my book, it’s not going to be completed, and if my Dad could relay a message to me, I’m fairly certain he would be upset with me if his death were the reason for my lack of progress.

Maybe this means I’ve finally moved on to the fifth stage of grief: acceptance. Too bad actually getting through all the stages of grief doesn’t actually mean you feel like you're done with it. 

But what it really means is that to live fully, you have to live in the moment, not in the past. My Dad and my memories of him will always be a part of me and my daily life. I don’t wish for my memories of him to fade, not ever, so I won’t let those memories stall me or excuse me from doing what I love. Instead, I’ll keep my memories intact and let them drive my passion because I know that he’ll be proud of whatever I accomplish in life. 

For that is the only gift I can give him now that he’s gone. 

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What can these things possibly have in common?

Word count, social media, death investigations, series Bible & inbox cleanup...they can't possibly have anything in common. Absolutely nothing, except for the fact that they have all helped me stay on task for the month of January.

The first month of the year is almost over…is it hard to believe, having flown by at a fast pace? Or has it been a long month for you? For me, I find it hard to believe the month of January is about to come to a close, but I’m okay with it because now I can look back to see how I’m doing to stay on task. As I review this first month of the year, I’m pleased with how well I’ve done with my writing schedule and my intentions to make good progress this year.

My weekly tasks involve writing, blogging and other social media updates. I’ve stayed committed with blogging, obviously; so there’s that.

I’ve shared regularly on my Facebook page, and generated some interest in fun details regarding my writing life.  

Here’s one post I shared:

And here’s another that really drew some interest:

You never know what might pique the interest of others (and that sometimes depends on what Facebook decides to let others see, which can be frustrating), but when a post results in a more engaging audience, it’s always satisfying.

I’ve also done pretty well with keeping up on my word count. I left the gate a little slow…okay, very slow, with less than 1,000 words the first week. That’s an awful result when it comes to word count, but that’s because I was working on other writing tasks, as well. My second week added just over 1,000 words to the count, but also involved a lot of editing. The third week I rocked it with just over 7,000 words for the week and this past week I’ve already reached just over 4,900 words, with time still left in the day. For the month, when my goal is an absolute minimum of 3,000 words per week, or 12,000 per month, I’ve written over 13,700 words. I’m nearing the end of my story, or I would likely have a higher word count for the month, but as I write I’m also tying up loose ends in order to wrap up the story.

I’m so close to finally completing this novel! And that, by itself, feels awesome.

In addition to my weekly to-do's, my monthly tasks are also coming along. 

We’ve already established that with regard to my total word count for the month, I’m on task, which feels good. 

I’ve been keeping up on my timeline and my series Bible as I complete the fourth book in the series. Since I don’t outline before writing, I keep a timeline as I write. This helps me track what’s happening in my story, while I keep notes on a monthly calendar and also a more detailed list in my notebook of what’s happening per chapter. This is a task I must keep up with each week and month as I write so that I don’t lose sight of what’s happening in my story and also where my story may be heading.

My research topic for this month was to delve more deeply into crime scene investigations. I've investigated cases involving deaths as a private investigator, but I needed more information from the point of view when it comes to law enforcement. I researched not only scene investigations, but also how cases are worked when a suspicious death occurs in a small town versus a larger one, and how the different jurisdictions work together when cities don’t always employ the necessary people to investigate a death. Here’s something interesting that I hadn’t realized: there truly is a difference between a medical examiner and a coroner. I think the words are often used interchangeably, since most might believe they perform the same tasks. But the differences are critical. One is usually a physician; one could just be the owner of a local feed store. One is appointed; one is elected. One is a medical doctor but may not be trained in death investigations; while the other may perform death investigations but have no medical training. One can perform autopsies; the other cannot (without the medical degree). And while one may perform the autopsy, the other will eventually determine the final cause of death. It’s all very interesting but also very helpful when trying to keep fiction closer to fact.

The only other main focus for me this month was to finally clean out my e-mail inbox. It was just crazy. After about an hour, believe it or not, I could finally read my incoming e-mails without having to scroll down the screen. My next task, I think, will be to decide which e-mail I no longer wish to subscribe to. I’ve seen a serious trend lately where many professionals I willingly offered my e-mail address to in order to receive their newsletters, updates, promo offers and the like, have turned to burying my inbox with e-mails only relating to how much I can save today by purchasing their offer of the day. Once a month might not bother me, but weekly actions to commit to save here, spend there, grab my copy or snag a spot are getting old. While everyone wants to make money on what they create, there is a balance and lately it’s been tipped much too far in one direction. 

So there it is: my January update. The first month of this New Year is just about complete and ending on a high note. How about you? How are you doing with your intentions for this year?


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Only humans can unplug to recharge

I’m having difficulty today taming the thoughts running around in my head – so much so that I have had a hard time figuring out what I’d really like to blog about today. 

Why the rampant brain waves? 

I have a few ideas –

The best bet is the fact that today is my oldest son’s birthday and for the first time in his life, we aren’t able to spend it with him because he moved to Hawaii a few months ago. When your kids move out, it is an unexplainable mixed-bag of feelings, but when they move so far away that it takes time and effort just to see them, the feelings are intensified even more.

That’s one reason I’m a little distracted.

Another reason, I think I’ve figured out, is that I feel completely overwhelmed by the intensity of the drama found on social media and in the news these days. While it’s always good to understand and be aware of what’s happening locally, nationally or internationally, the negativity of it all is just a bit much sometimes and, to be honest, it’s a lot to take in and I just don’t know if what I’m reading is truth or fiction. Regardless of which it may be, social media is now ripe with a constant barrage of so-called news added to a huge helping of opinions that usually end in discord when others dare to respond with their own beliefs. Some may just agree to disagree, but those are the few who can have a grown-up conversation. Sadly, there are many who cannot.

While I know it’s not a good idea to bury my head in the sand and try to ignore what’s going on in the world around me, there are just those days when it’s an absolute necessity. We have to find the time to unwind and recharge, and funny enough, I think to do that you need to unplug. 

“Where should I go?" -Alice.
"That depends on where you want to end up." - The Cheshire Cat.” 
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland~

Finding time to rest and recharge is one of the to-do’s on my list of mindful intentions for this New Year. What I’ve figured out over the first few weeks of this first month of the year is that it can sometimes be very difficult to actually find the time to do so.

But there is a saying, “It’s not about having time. It’s about making time.”

We all have the same amount of time every day. However, we may have no job, one job or possibly even two; we may live in a different season when it comes to our kids, we may be single or married, healthy or sick, have many responsibilities every day, or very few. Whatever course our daily lives take, it is oftentimes very easy to not only get caught up in our own busy lives, but also in what’s happening to others around us or around the world. That can be a lot to take on for any one person in any given day.

I’ve always been a “busy” person – even when I should relax, I tend to think about what else I “should” be doing. It’s a habit I’ve had all my life, and one that is admittedly hard to break. 

“Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” 
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland~

But I’m working on it and I’ve spent this month unwinding by writing, because that actually does relax me, as well getting out of town to visit with family, taking more photos whenever the mood strikes, getting in regular exercise, reading every day, and journaling. While blogging doesn’t define the concept of being unplugged, I am finding time today to unwind so that I can recharge for the upcoming week. For me, that involves writing – spending time with family – journaling – and then my favorite way to end the day, yoga.

However you plan to unwind before we hit the week running, I hope you find the time to enjoy it.

Have a great week!