Sunday, July 30, 2017

What I did this summer…so far

One more day in the month of July and then we’re sliding right into the last real month of summer. This week, everyone in the PNW will be preparing for a real heat wave expected to hit us mid-week, so I guess many will be sliding into the new month on their own sweat. Temps nearing or over 100 degrees…not optimal for many who don’t have access to A/C because these high temps just aren’t normal around here. If this continues, our summer weather will be holding out until September and beyond. Some will love it, others won’t but Mother Nature doesn’t tend to care what we think.  J

How has your summer been so far? Mine has been a mixed bag, really it has, but I guess that’s what’ll keep the summer interesting.

If you’ve kept up with my posts, you know I’ve had some difficult moments with Piper during the months of May and June. I wish I could say we were all through it, but unfortunately, she has been struck yet again with another infection and she’s back on antibiotics as of last week.  We’ve been in and out of the vet a dozen times over the past two months…I’m sure if she could speak she’d say she hopes this time will be the last. Even with everything she’s gone through, she’s been such a good girl through all this; it’s probably obvious, but I really can’t say enough about how special she is to me.

Home from Hawaii!
June also marked my oldest son’s return home from Hawaii – funny enough, on one of the days when I had to take an unexpected trip back to the vet because Piper had pulled out her drain tube after surgery, I returned home from the vet to find a bunch of luggage in the front hallway. Nothing can eliminate the anxious feelings of a parent better than the knowledge that their kid is finally home safe and sound after a long trip.

Steps while in Orlando!
June was also busy with preparations for a family vacation to Florida where we visited all the theme parks at Disney World over a four-day period, as well as Universal Studios for two days.  

Just a sneak peek...

While my absolute favorite place to “be” was Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, my favorite ride by far was at Disney World, in the newest addition of Animal Kingdom. Avatar’s Flight of Passage is nothing like any ride I’ve ever experienced since we first began going on theme park vacations more than ten years ago. I really can’t put into words how absolutely amazing the Flight of Passage is, but if you ever get the chance to experience it, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

Very alert & just about ready to fly

Let’s see…what else? 

Oh yes, birds. 

This summer has been quite the experience with birds. Not just the normal characters who visit every summer, although I would like to see more owls than I have so far. No, this summer we’ve been treated to quite a few baby birds. The first family was a nest of robins in a shrub in our front yard – one we had planned to cut way down because of how large it had gotten. But once we realized there was a nest of babies, we had to put that plan on hold. When the babies finally left the nest, the plan to cut down the shrubs was halted yet again when we discovered a new nest with more baby robins in the other shrub. 

Cheez-it B&B for birds

And baby robins weren’t our only guests this summer; we also had some swallows who decided our porch would be a good place to start a family. Their home was probably like no other, but it worked for them and all six babies thrived in this odd-looking nesting box. It was seriously fun to watch them grow as they received food from their parents, and then watch as they learned to flutter and fly and finally move on. We don’t have cats right now, or this situation would have made me very nervous!

The month of July has been busy with family events just about every weekend – to include a wedding reception, an outing to the zoo with my two great nephews, hanging out at the annual Oregon Trail Days and a family reunion at our house just yesterday. 

I think I’m ready for some free weekends during the month of August, if I get my way…I have a book to complete! 

I hope your summer so far is a fun one to write home about – carry on and stay cool!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Christmas in July, and other distractions

The weather we’ve been enjoying in the Pacific Northwest has made this an enjoyable summer, so far. Other than the 97 degree heat I was treated to my first day back from Florida last month, our weather here has been pretty outstanding. The burn bans are starting and soon there will be talk about the lack of rain, but we’ll be subject to wet weather soon enough. I’m in no hurry to see it just yet.

We’re hosting a family get-together the end of this month and about the end of June and beginning of July, I figured I better stock up on some items I thought might be good to have on hand for some summer kid-friendly fun. I also needed a new umbrella for one I had accidentally broken. When I went shopping, I was shocked to see that the summer items were either completely gone, or were down to a limited quantity tucked away in a clearance corner. In place of where they had been were school supplies.  Kids hadn’t even been out of school a month yet! I visited a couple of different stores looking for items on my list and also discovered the appearance of fall and Thanksgiving items. Good grief. By the time parents finally decide they should shop for school items (those who don’t know better), they’ll probably be shocked to find Christmas items instead.

I eventually found an umbrella, which I discovered was broken when I got it home. Ugh. I had to take it back, only to learn that the color I had chosen was no longer available. I was left with the choice of a bright lime green, light brown and dark brown. I settled with the light brown and called it good - and it had been marked down even lower since I purchased it so that I also received some cash back in return. J Finding the other summer items I was looking for was a challenge, but I finally crossed off all but one item from my list.

I’ve also noticed that there have been quite a few Christmas movies on t.v. lately. I happened to notice them one day when I was scrolling through the guide to see what was on. Eventually, when I saw more Christmas movies on the guide another day, I realized they have been playing more often than not this month on some channels. I guess people really do enjoy watching movies with a Christmas theme in July. 

We’re technically only, what, a month into summer? I don’t want to think about the holidays yet, or the change in the weather we’ll be heading towards, or the thought of having to wear coats or sweaters to keep warm, or worrying about driving to work in the snow. 

Do you ever frequent the magazine racks at the bookstore?  Do you notice a new trend that has been receiving wider audiences?  It’s the art and practice of mindfulness. However, in order to achieve that required mental state, part of it includes focusing on the present moment. That’s a difficult task when stores constantly pull us from the moment by thoughts of what’s to happen months and months away from today. For some it may be easy to ignore that pull, but for others, like those with children still in school, they are forced to focus on that future moment or risk missing out on the items they’ll need and which won’t be available when they finally go out in search of them. Unfortunately, the offering of seasonable items a season or two in advance is a tactic the stores will likely never change since it appears to be a competition of who can get their items on display first.

So I bought my umbrella and other items I needed for the gathering, I ignored the school supplies, and I quickly perused the fall and Thanksgiving items, before shaking my head and telling myself I did not need anything from those shelves at that moment.

Then I drove home, took off my shoes, and walked barefoot in the yard out to my gardens to check on my veggies and herbs while listening to the sound of the birds around me. The sun is warm and inviting, the smell of the herbs is invigorating, and beyond the birds and a slight breeze, the quiet of the woods around me is relaxing. Grounding myself in this way reminds me to keep focusing on the present, to enjoy these moments, for soon enough the clouds will constantly cover us, the gardens will be gone and going barefoot will not be an option if I want to keep warm.

I’ll enjoy fall and the upcoming holidays when it’s their time, but for now, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy these beautiful summer days. I hope you do too!



Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bi-yearly check in…already?

What travels faster than the speed of light?  I’m beginning to think just your average year! A bit of an exaggeration, I’ll admit, but still…we’re already moving on into the last six months of the year – how did the first six months treat you?

My last check in was the end of April, and it feels like a lot has happened in just the two months since that time. I’m still doing what I can to continue to improve on my monthly intentions, so that I can continue to have good progress on my tasks and expectations, both personally and professionally. As I review my original list of mindful intentions for 2017, here’s how I’m doing now in that regard:

Reading and writing - I am still reading almost daily, both fiction and non-fiction. Whether I can sink into a good mystery or thriller, or read a new book on writing or inspiration, I’m always on the lookout for new options to add to my reading list. I’ve discovered, however, that lately when I read fiction I’m having a difficult time wearing just my “reader” hat…because my “author” hat likes to stay put sometimes. I tend to read stories more critically, or I compare them to how I like to write, or I see a mistake or misspelling and realize even the work of well-known authors aren’t perfect. But regardless of which hat I’m wearing, being a reader is in my DNA and will always be a constant in my life.

And, when it comes to my own writing, the fourth book in my series was sent off to the editor for review this past week. It’s such a huge relief for me to finally be at this point! I took so much time off after losing my dad, and then soon after with the illnesses and later the loss of my step-mom and my mother-in-law back-to-back, it was just really difficult to keep my head where it needed to be in order to keep up with my writing or stay on a regular schedule. Everyone deals with grief in their own way; I just had to figure out how to deal with mine, rather than what was expected or what I thought others expected from me, and I've had to push through my fears. It doesn’t have to be a lonely journey, but you do tend to travel that road alone. What works for you might not work for another, and sometimes it takes awhile to figure that out.

Growth, gratitude, focus, letting go - following up on the above, I have dealt with some serious blows but I have also grown through them, learned from them, and I have accepted the process of letting go of what I cannot change and of what might hinder me. I’m grateful, not for the bad parts, but for what I’ve learned from these past few years. It hasn’t broken me, but has made me stronger and has helped me focus on what matters most and for that, I am grateful.

Be mindful, be present, balance, strength – part of my new mindset involves being mindful, so that I can continue to find calm in the chaos, let go of hindrances, be present in each moment and find a better balance in life. I’m also constantly focused on how I can better myself with building strength and being more active. Yoga, meditation and journaling are just a few activities that help me in all those areas. 

Less clutter – I moved on from the house, after cleaning out quite a few closets and drawers, and we finally tackled the garage. It was a chore, but it felt good to go through everything, store items in bins or throw them away if necessary, and it felt especially good when we were able to haul off two truckloads of large items that had been taking up way too much space. There’s still a little more work to do, but it’s a manageable task compared to what we started with.

Travel, adventure, family – May and June were busy months when it came to travel and family. My oldest son, who has been living in Hawaii for the past year, came back home. Some might think it was because Hawaii was too expensive, but that wasn’t the case for him. He actually did very well and enjoyed living as an islander. But he decided it was time to come home and as a mom, you can imagine I’m thrilled to have him living nearby where I can visit with him more often, not to mention enjoy the holidays together. Only a week after he came home, we left as a family for a vacation to Florida. In June, no less, where the heat and humidity likely match, or was a bit worse, than where my son had been living in Hawaii. We’d sweat buckets during the day before the rain clouds came in the afternoon to soak us and lower the temps a bit but other than that, we had a great time and an unforgettable adventure.

Be brave, dream, create – these may be the hardest or the most fun, depending on the day or the mood, but these are also intentions I never wish to forget or discover buried under all the daily, common or necessary tasks. I am brave, I can’t help but dream and I love to create. Those traits are what make me, me, and they are intentions that will always make me feel complete when I stick to them. 

So that’s my bi-yearly check in. With half the year under my belt, and a better mindset and positive attitude as I move along, I am ready to take on the next six months! 

Until next time…take care and read on, or write on, if you’re also a writer.  J

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Piper’s own little mystery – a month-long saga

For those of you who have read my books in the Jorja Matthews’ mystery series, you’re aware that my protagonist has a rescue dog named Piper. For those of you who know me, or who have read about this fact in previous posts, you also know that I actually do have a Lab-mix named Piper. Other than Jorja, who is loosely based on my life as a private investigator, Piper is the only character in my books based on an actual…being.

Piper just wasn't feeling well
Since my last post on Mother’s Day, I’ve been very distracted with a mystery surrounding Piper after she began to have some serious medical issues with her neck. It actually began just before Mother’s Day weekend when her neck began to swell up. I called to schedule a vet visit but wasn’t able to get an appointment until the following week, which seemed to be okay at the time. But then during Mother’s Day weekend, that changed completely when her neck became so swollen, it caused the area to rupture. 

Nasty business, that. And just a bit scary.

The vet looked Piper over and discovered she had an abscess so they kept her overnight to drain it and get her started on some antibiotics. I took her home the following day with high hopes that all would be well and she would heal soon enough. 

More than a week later, on the day she was to return for a simple follow-up appointment, her neck had begun to swell again. At the vet’s office when they were looking her over, the area ruptured again. Our vet was not equipped to help any further and we had no choice but to take Piper to an emergency vet. This time, the ER vet prescribed different antibiotics and placed drain tubes in her neck to avoid any further swelling until the area healed.

But Piper was able to pull both drain tubes out within a couple of days - I think she was getting sick and tired of having her neck messed with. And I really can’t blame her.

Even without the tubes, the area continued to drain so I kept ace bandages wrapped loosely around her neck to catch most of the drainage and I watched her like a hawk for the next week until her follow-up appointment. By the time we went back to the ER vet for a visit, the swelling was much better, but we could clearly see a mass just below her jaw line that appeared to be more than fluid. An ultrasound had already been used and no tumor, foreign object or injury had been seen, so the reason for the mass was still a mystery.

This was getting serious because we had no answer and yet she still had a condition that would obviously continue to cause issues.

Our only other option was to think about exploratory surgery - to at least remove the infected tissue, and hopefully discover the underlying cause of the infection. Obviously, I couldn’t let her continue as is, that would have been cruel. There really was no other option, so we scheduled her for surgery last week, having no idea what to expect but with a hope and a prayer that the vet would finally figure it out and fix our girl.

After dropping Piper off that morning, I waited all day for a phone call and could barely focus on anything else but what news I would get. The surgeon had multiple surgeries that day, some more serious than Piper so the wait was understandable. But by the time the surgeon called me that evening, I was beyond worried. I was scared.

Chunk of wood found in Piper's neck
But the surgeon had terrific news when she called – after removing almost all of the tissue and finding nothing (at that point even she thought she wasn’t going to find the underlying cause), the surgeon was finally rewarded with the answer to the mystery when she was working on the last infected area. Buried deep in the tissue she found a small chunk of wood! Her guess is that Piper was chewing on a stick and that a piece of it punctured through her throat in an area that heals fairly quickly, often within a day or two, so that after the puncture healed, the wood was stuck inside the neck.

Mystery solved!

Piper home after surgery - feeling better already!

That small piece of wood is probably the most expensive piece of wood I’ve ever purchased, but my relief is priceless, especially after discovering Piper’s condition was caused by a foreign body, rather than a disease or illness of some kind we might not have been able to heal her from.

We’d do just about anything for our kids, as most parents would, and that includes when it comes to our fur babies. If you’re not an animal lover, then you might not understand, but when your pets are part of your family, it can really affect you when you see they are hurting or sick.

So that’s what’s been keeping me distracted for the past month. Just thought I’d share Piper’s story and the mystery I’m glad we finally solved. 

Until next time – have a great day!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother’s Day – a day to celebrate, remember, be thankful

Happy Mother’s Day! 

Whether you are a mother, or an aunt or grandmother who is like a mom…and even to those who only have furry kids to love - It’s a wonderful day to celebrate moms, or to remember moms no longer with us, and to be thankful for the good times we’ve had and the memories we share.

Last year this holiday was a difficult time for me, as a daughter, because both my stepmom and my mom-in-law were losing their battles to cancer and both passed away shortly thereafter and within a few months of each other. Now I can only remember them, celebrate who they were, and be thankful for the time I had them in my life. While I did spend time with my own mom last year, I likely wasn’t the best of company since my thoughts and focus were constantly someplace else; but she is my mom and I’m sure she didn’t hold it against me. That’s what caring moms do.

This year, I celebrate my mom, remember moms who have passed on and I am thankful for my own boys, who have never made me feel as if I need to wait for a holiday to hear how much they appreciate me. I am very, very grateful for that. The hardest part for me this year is the fact that my oldest is living in Hawaii, so this is the first Mother’s Day we haven’t been able to spend together. 

I don’t mean to get too emotional, or end on a sad note, so I thought I’d share some cute quotes about moms to make you smile:

There is no way to be a perfect mother…but a million ways to be a good one.

Good moms let you lick the beaters…great moms turn them off first.

My kids call it “yelling” when I raise my voice.  
I call it motivational speaking for the selective listener.

The quickest way for a mom to get her children’s attention is to sit down and look comfortable.

My nickname is “Mom” but my full name is “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom...”

A worried mother does better research than the FBI.

And finally, here’s the definition of “Mother” – 

One person who does the work of twenty. For free.

So to all the mothers out there, whether your kids live near, or far, whether they show you every day, or make today something extra special to remind you they really love and appreciate you, or whether your only kids are the furry kind who have absolutely no idea what the significance of today might be, I wish you a truly wonderful and blessed Mother’s Day!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Monthly check in – May we look forward to May?

It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of April already…I hate to say it, but where the heck does the time go?

I haven’t offered an update on my monthly intentions since February, and I thought now would be a good time to check in.  So where am I with my tasks and expectations? When I review the words that came to mind when I thought about 2017, there are a number of them I’ve been working on the past few months. 

Instagram post for my idea of Serenity
Reading and writing – I’ve been reading pretty much every day, whether fiction, magazine articles, writing books, whatever I have on hand at the time I have the time to read. With my writing, I’m taking some time to continue to review, edit and make changes to the fourth book in the series since I still have some time before my scheduled professional edit. As long as it’s in my possession, I’ll probably continue to find something I can correct…or change…or add. In the meantime, I’m also working on my young adult novel. And of course, I’m always journaling. 

I’m also planning on which writer’s conference(s) I want to attend this year – one for certain I’m already signing up for, and the other I’m still thinking about since it’s a 4-day commitment. Whether I attend just one or both, I look forward to the continued learning opportunity and meeting other like-minded individuals.

Less clutter – I spent a couple of weekends going through closets and drawers and boxes until I finally had enough items to stuff my SUV and then I donated everything. The amount of clothes and household items we were able to donate was incredible. We just don’t need that much stuff! I’m still working on clearing out some other areas and items, as time permits, and I’m hopeful by the end of the year I will finally feel free from the clutter. 

Reflection – I’ve been doing a lot of this lately…and it’s still a work in progress. I don’t know what answers I’m looking for, but eventually I believe some changes will be necessary and for someone who isn’t terribly great with change, this can be a scary concept but I’m working myself up to appreciate it can also be exciting.  

Be present, find beauty, create – I took part in a photo challenge during the month of April, and I really enjoyed finding different ways to take photographs to show my point of view or my interpretation of what it was we were supposed to be sharing with others. 

Because I really enjoy monthly challenges, I’ve signed up to begin a new challenge tomorrow – it’s a routine & habits challenge. I’m interested to see what I might learn about my habits, or about myself.  If the challenge proves to be useful, I’ll share what I learned.

Travel, adventure, family – I recently took a trip to Vegas and had a terrific time with my family; I’m now planning and looking forward to my next travel adventure. If I’m going to spend money on anything, besides books, I’d much rather spend it making memories with my loved ones, instead of buying stuff to add to the clutter.

Movement, strength – I enjoy Yoga, cardio and other attempts to stay active, and I’m still really enjoying my new Fitbit, as it continues to remind me to move my butt every hour throughout the day, which is so very helpful when my day job has me sitting more than I’d prefer. And there it goes…I just received my notification that I need to get up and move to reach my step count…

...I took a quick walk to reach my goal.  It’s always nice to be rewarded when I reach my step count – the little dancing person icon on my Fitbit is cute – it would be fun if I had a similar little writer icon who could jump with happiness while throwing pages in the air when I reach my word count.

Now that’s an idea…  J

The past few months have been encouraging as I continue to work on my intentions, and besides giving me a sense of accomplishment, I enjoy moving into a new month with a renewed interest in upcoming expectations.

Hello May…let’s do this!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Easter Bunny didn’t visit today, but my Muse did.

Today was a special day for many. Easter Sunday is a day for church goers, family gatherings, and fun times for children as they search for colored eggs, whether real or plastic ones filled with treats.  A time for visiting, taking photographs and relaxing on a nice Sunday afternoon.

This is likely the first Easter Sunday, ever, that I haven’t had plans for a family dinner or gathering. It left me with the feeling that I had forgotten something, that I should be someplace else or the sense that I should be doing something.

I did get to spend some time outside. We’ve had a break in the weather and it was nice to just get out for some fresh air while I tackled a project. Once I got myself planted again at my desk, I decided I had to make good use of this holiday if I was just going to sit around at home. I used the rest of the afternoon to review the earlier chapters of the story I’ve written for my young adult novel. This is a novel I’d like to publish later this year, after the fourth novel in the Jorja Matthews’ mystery series is finally released. The fourth Jorja novel will be edited soon by my editor, but she has a very busy schedule and that edit is still a ways out, so I’m taking the time in between to work on my YA novel. My expectation is that the fourth in the series will be published before the end of summer, and if my young adult is ready and gets on the calendar for a professional edit, it will be published before the end of the year.  It’ll be a challenge but very satisfying to publish two full-length novels before the end of the year. 

As I was reviewing and editing the first chapters in my YA novel, I was once again enjoying how much fun it is to review what I’ve already written. To get back into the story from the first day of my characters’ lives in the world I’ve created. To reacquaint myself with them from the beginning; it’s something I just never get tired of. I find little snippets and trinkets of special details about the characters or details about the story that I may have forgotten about until I read back through it again. It’s always a lot of fun and still one of my favorite parts about reviewing my work. The review went so well, I was then able to add additional details and answer some lingering questions I still had with some of the plot points in the story. The Muse was a chatty Cathy today and I took advantage of it.

So today wasn’t my usual type of Easter holiday; it wasn’t really a day off either. But that’s okay. I was able to make good headway on reviewing and editing my YA novel, and adding to the story, as well, so that soon this novel will also be ready for a professional edit. It feels satisfying to know that this will be a productive year. 

However you spent this Easter Sunday, I hope you also had a wonderful day doing something that brought you joy.

Have a great week!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

When childhood memories come calling

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about my childhood, or just what it used to be like to be a kid in the midst of all the grown-up stuff we were ignorant of or allowed to pretend we knew nothing about.  Why the nostalgia about the past?  It’s not nostalgia really…I don’t actually wish to be a kid again. It’s just memories about the way things used to be, and what it was like to grow up as a kid in a small town.   

Maybe it’s due to the preview I watched recently of Stephen King’s novel, It, which is about to make its way on the big screen in a few months. I have always enjoyed horror and suspense novels and I’ve been reading King since even before I became a teen. Like many of his stories, the novel, It, certainly struck a chord with readers, as many could relate to having some sort of childhood fear. I remember my biggest fear as a kid was that something was in my closet, or under my bed. I couldn’t sleep without the closet door being closed, and when I went to bed I would run and jump onto the mattress, rather than risk getting my bare feet too close to what might lie beneath it.

Thankfully, I’m not afraid of clowns, or I probably wouldn’t have been able to make it through the book King wrote about Pennywise and the children who met him, but there is one thing I’m afraid of, which I won’t mention for those who plan to see the movie but haven’t read the book (and if the movie sticks to the script). I just know it’s one part of the movie when I’ll likely be closing my eyes, or at least peeking through my fingers.

Aside from the childhood fears, there are days when I miss what being a kid was all about – when all you really did was live in the moment. I’m talking before we learned to dread Mondays and wish for Fridays. Before cell phones and video games, before there were more than five channels on the television (oops, I’m dating myself!). There was no whole day spent inside the house in front of any kind of screen. That just wasn’t allowed, or you’d likely get put to work. I grew up on a family farm with hardly any neighbors other than nearby family and with many acres available for us to explore. My brother and I would take off, even as fairly young kids, to go for a walk through the woods, hang out at the creek all afternoon or ride our bikes down the road to our cousin’s house.  Obviously, these days, letting your kids just roam around like that isn’t really advisable. 

But that’s the adult in me talking.

The kid in me didn’t think like that. 

Instead, we followed where our curiosity led us. We’d catch frogs or, even better, find frog eggs before they hatched, put them in a bucket and watch them for days until they finally hatched and we could dump them back in the creek. We’d find logs that had fallen over the perfect spot on the creek, and lie on the log with our hands stretched out towards the water, waiting patiently…until a salamander finally came up for air. We’d use our hands to catch as many crawdads or fish as we could, and see who could finally find the biggest one. We meant no harm to anything; everything we caught, we threw back to be caught another day.

Those are memories I enjoy when I recall what life was like as a kid. We didn’t think ahead to what the day might have in store for us, we lived in the moment, enjoying nature and letting curiosity drive us.

My childhood fears had no basis in fact; there was nothing in my closet or under my bed. And, like most children, even if I knew this to be true, I still thought it was possible, and nothing in the world was going to make me look to make sure nothing was hiding from me. I just jumped in bed, pulled the covers over my head and willed myself to go to sleep quickly. I feared monsters that did not exist but never thought about how I could have very easily run into a bad situation any of those days I played as a child in the woods. 

But that’s what being a kid is all about – it’s letting the imagination roam and the curiosity drive you.  And if you’re lucky, the adult in you will remember how to do that again, even if it’s only every once in awhile.

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!

Monday, January 16, 2017

I have to admit…change is a good thing.

Change – something I’ve always had an aversion to…and never really appreciated. I have my reasons and they are likely all textbook answers, but as the character, Popeye, is famous for saying, “I Yam What I Yam.”

There is change we can’t control – no question. But we can try to control how we react to it. What’s the saying? It’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to it that matters. Life is a river…sometimes a stream and sometimes a torrent, but it is always, without question, changing.

Butterfly enjoying the Butterfly Bush
Whether we like it or not.

Then there’s the change we can control. What our New Year’s intentions are usually all about. For me, changing my routine can be a daunting task or just plain uncomfortable, but I know I’ll regret not sticking with a plan when it’ll be good for me and I know the benefits will offer positive results.

I got to thinking how ironic it is that while I really don’t like change, I wrote a series with a character who is literally thrust into a new perspective about her life after she loses her job, moves back to her hometown, starts not one, but two new businesses, discovers revealing details and unanswered questions about her family, and meets people who are an important part of her life and her family history. Not-to-mention the dangers of dealing with others who have ulterior, ugly or evil motives.

So much change and in such a short time. It would be a lot for a real person to get through and while there are some people who deal with a ton of change all at once, it’s more likely to happen in fiction than in real life. I think we can all be grateful for that fact. 

But that’s what fiction is all about, the excessiveness of what we deal with in real life squeezed into the pages of a novel. Otherwise, reading would be a very boring ordeal. The overwhelming details about the lives of our characters help us relate to them, but may also make us feel just a bit better that our own lives aren’t quite that bad. We can relate and feel thankful at the same time.

Fiction is wonderful that way – we can love, or hate, a character. We can follow them through thick and thin. We can watch them as they falter or are fortified, find trouble or solutions, and change in good ways or bad. We can pretend to know what we might do in the same situation, or maybe we do know and through the characters we imagine how our experience may have gone differently if we’d only done this or that.

It’s possible I enjoy writing because with characters, I can play with change in ways that I get to control…somewhat. The characters do tend to take over when I’m in the middle of writing, so I guess it’s something I get to pretend to have control over. Either way, I enjoy coming up with ideas that will mix up the character’s day, add more mystery to the mystery, make up characters to assist or hinder progress, include tidbits to create more questions or provide answers, and then try to tie it all together at the end. That process is a challenge, and a challenge is something I enjoy. 

Regardless of what I personally feel about change, one thing writing has taught me is that if change results in a challenge I can enjoy (and grow and learn from), then change is admittedly a good thing.

We’re only two full weeks into the New Year and I can say I’ve already learned my first lesson.

We’re off to a good start!