Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Salon: December 29, 2013

Well, it is hard to believe that this is the last Sunday Salon of 2013.  The holidays have come and gone; out-of-town family members have returned home after a nice long visit; and we are now mentally preparing for the start of a new year - deciding what we should "let go" in order to free space for new goals and adventures.

I do not make New Year's resolutions, per se, but I do believe that this week is a time for reflection - to review the previous year and decide what went well (and therefore focus more on that in the coming year) and what did not go so well (and therefore focus on change in the coming months).  I already know one significant change in 2014:  I will retire.  And I want to gain a firm understanding of what that means:  discover new interests and set new goals that will proactively fill the void that will certainly be felt when I leave the classroom for the last time.

I also know that I want to focus more on health - not in a lose-weight sort of a way, but rather in a lifetime change way.  I would like to eat more organic fruits and vegetables and less processed food; I would like to pay attention to the diet of the meat I consume; I want to drink more water (and have discovered that water flavored with orange slices is a tasty way to accomplish that goal) and I would like to add moderate exercise to my weekly schedule.  I thoroughly enjoyed the few weeks last summer when I was walking a 5K four times a week, and I would like to make that a regular routine.

A first step in this week of reflection included a re-read of the book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  This was the third time I read it (the last time about three years ago) and I will probably read it again before the end of this holiday break (I plan to review it in English Comp).

For those who are unfamiliar with this non-fiction book, here is a brief summary:  a publishing company has decided to make the author's previous bestseller, Blue Like Jazz (a book I have not yet read) into a movie.  The problem, however, is that the book is a collection of personal essays which does not translate well into narrative film.  They must write a screen play that includes the essence of the essays while maintaining a proper narrative arc to hold the interest of the audience.

While working on the screen play Donald Miller discovers that we are in fact characters in our own narrative story.  And if we do not like our current story, we have the agency to change it.  The point of narrative is to transform character:  giving the character something they want desperately enough to overcome conflict in order to get it.

The book begs the reader to consider his or her own life:  are you living the story you want to live?  Are you living the better life that God desires you to live?  When your life is over, will your story be meaningful and memorable?  If not, what can you begin to do now (the inciting incident) to set a new story in place?

As a writer-to-be, it is fascinating to think of my own life as a story.  And while I do believe that God is the ultimate author, I have a responsibility as His character to make the most of this story:  to be willing to dream dreams that require risk (and therefore character transformation) in order to make those dreams come true.

In life we are destined to play a variety of roles.  For me, those roles might include:  mother - grandmother - wife - friend - teacher - writer - traveler - photographer - dog lover.  And each of those roles has its own character arc - its own set of dreams/goals/desires.  What story do I wish each of those characters to tell --- so that at the end of my life here on earth I can leave knowing that I was indeed a "good and faithful servant" with the talents and gifts that I was given.

So in this week of reflection and consideration of the future, I hope to brainstorm some life stories for each of these characters (and I may use the author's interactive website, My Subplot to help me do that).  I hope to develop some dreams that will require some risk and sacrifice in order to achieve them.  I hope to institute some inciting incidents that set the story in place - that require me to dive into the story and live - rather than sit on the sidelines and observe.  As the author notes in the book, characters in movies must act.... no one wants to watch a protagonist sit and think.

A rather deep Sunday Salon ... not my original intent... but I suppose it is what I needed to write.

I wish all of you a relaxing end to 2013 and a joyous beginning to 2014... filled with love, hope, and peace.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Salon - December 22, 2013

It has been a long time since I have posted, but there is a bit of an explanation.  I have managed to contract the flu twice in one month (!) and had final exams to develop, proctor, and grade.  I am hoping that I can find a more regular blogging routine in 2014, but in the meantime, here is a bit of a catch up:

Today's Weather:  Finally... the first snow of the year!  Although we did not receive the predicted 3-6 inches of the fluffy stuff (more like one inch plus)... the white landscape does make it feel like Christmas.

What's on the menu:  Not sure what we will be eating today and tomorrow... but boy do I have two feasts to prepare for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve is the Italian Vigil - originally the "feast of seven fishes" that we have adapted to the feast of shellfish.  I serve the aioli pasta (olive oil and anchovy sauce... don't knock until you've tried it), shrimp, crab (this year we will do a taste comparison of snow crab and king crab), salmon and scallops (my first time to prepare scallops ... so if you have any foolproof recipes, I would love to hear).  Dessert is an assortment of Christmas cookies and the Italian Strufoli (little honey balls).

Christmas Day is celebrated American style with standing rib roast, mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole.  Dessert includes pumpkin as well as mincemeat pies.

I am always amazed how much time it takes to prepare these meals... and how quickly they are devoured.  But the joy around the dining room table - from the food and the fellowship - is worth the effort.

Highlights of the week:  Well, before the flu bug hit... there were actually several highlights.  On Tuesday students completed their final exams... and by Tuesday night all grades had been entered and my Christmas break officially began.

On Wednesday the girls and I went to see the Disney movie, Frozen, which was delightful.  And on Thursday afternoon the girls came over to help prepare Christmas cookies:  chocolate covered pretzels, M&M cookies, Pinwheel cookies, and Bishop's Bread (similar to fruitcake but with chocolate chips).

Teaching Overview:  Well, it is now official:  I will retire in May, 2014.

I actually made the decision in October, but waited to tell the students until the last day of class for the semester.  It is with mixed emotions for sure... but I do feel that it is the right time.  I have several ideas for ways to fill my time, most notably writing, photography, and as finances allow... a bit of travel.

In the meantime, I shall thoroughly enjoy second semester, knowing that it will be the last time that I will introduce the classics like Pride and Prejudice and Tale of Two Cities.  

Currently Reading:  Well.... not sure what I will be reading, but I can tell you that I will be reading it on my new Paperwhite Kindle!

My dear brother and sister-in-law give me amazon gift cards every year for my birthday and Christmas.  Typically I hold on to these for months before I finally decide what to purchase.  This year, however, I knew well in advance that the Paperwhite was going to be my treat and when the gift card arrived early, I did the unthinkable and actually opened it.  I ordered my Kindle on Tuesday and received it on Friday.  It is now fully charged, loaded with several books, and ready for reading.

Writing Progress:  In November I attended a breakout session at the writers' conference which  awarded a free "writing coach" session for anyone who set and completed a writing goal for the month.  Since I won the NaNoWriMo event ... I secured a session.

A week ago I met with the coach and really enjoyed our time together.  Not only will she be an accountability partner, but she will also help me to fine tune the direction that my writing should take.  I will probably meet with her about once every three weeks for the next few months and then hopefully I will be on my way to knowing what to write and how to make it a priority in my life.

Artist's Date: Hmmm.... not sure when was the last time I scheduled one of these.  That needs to be remedied after the Christmas festivities....

Craftiness:  Most creativity has taken the form of baking cookies ... but I have great plans to use my brand new Silhouette Portrait --- thanks in part to Catherine's post which inspired my daughter and I to trade in my cricut and take advantage of the holiday special:  essentially two machines for the price of one!

Megan has already made several beautiful holiday crafts, including a canvas painting for the wall and holiday gift bags.... and hopefully I will soon use mine for a few greeting card ideas.

Photography:  After reviewing my "failed" attempts at the 365 Project for the past three years (I always have great intentions...) I have decided that a 52 project is much more in line with my personality and photography routine.  I do take pictures several times a week... just not everyday.  And I like the idea of selecting one "best" photo of the week.  So, come January, this will be my new (more plausible) challenge.

And it should be a fun challenge as I use my new camera lens:  the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 (with image stabilization). This is the lens of my dreams... and if it weren't for being at the right place at the right time on Craigslist... it would still be on the list.  But I managed to find this powerhouse lens for half price - and since it was owned by a professional photographer, it is in super shape.

Needless to say, there will not be any gifts for me under the tree this year as I have received all of them early.... but I shall dearly love each and every one throughout the coming years.

What's on the Horizon:  Well, according to a text message time stamped 1:00am this morning... my son and his wife are now in Kansas City!  So, I am sure we will have the first of many "Totoro" gatherings today... perhaps for a late brunch.

As an early Christmas gift, my youngest gave us tickets to the Trans Siberian Orchestra concert tonight at the Sprint Center - and I am beyond thrilled!  I have had this item on my bucket list for years and while there was some concern whether my health or the weather would prevent me from attending... I can now guarantee that I will be there... with Jingle Bells on.

I know that the Totoros are looking forward to a wonderful celebration of our Savior's birth... and I wish you and your families blessings throughout this holiday season.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Salon: December 1, 2013

Today is the first day I have felt semi-normal in nearly two weeks.  Fortunately I don't get sick often, as I believe the last time I was this ill was in 1999, but when I do feel under the weather, I do so in style.  By my calculations, however, the next time I can anticipate the flu should be in the year 2027.

Today's Weather:  After a frigid Thanksgiving week, we are experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures this weekend.  Yesterday my husband put up the Christmas lights in just a sweatshirt and it is supposed to reach the mid-50s by Wednesday.  However, this is the Midwest and there is snow in the forecast for Thursday, so there is enough variance in weather to please everyone.

What's on the menu: Leftovers of course - but I intentionally over-prepare the Thanksgiving meal so we can enjoy turkey sandwiches and turkey tetrazzini the following week.

Highlights of the week:  aside from wonderful time with family this week (cookie decorating on Wednesday afternoon.... tree trimming party on Wednesday night... and Thanksgiving celebration all day Thursday)... I actually FINISHED NaNoWriMo this week!!!  This was no easy feat as I started yesterday at 39,500 words.  But I managed to write nearly 11,000 words over the course of eight hours and actually declared my winning certificate with six hours to spare.

Teaching Overview:  I only taught one class this week, Brit Lit, and it was a low-key class at that.  I have introduced the research paper (due Spring break, 2014) and the class was introduced to note-taking styles.  Students brought books and index cards to class and spent the morning getting a head-start on the project.  I brought in sausage balls and other tasty treats in an effort to make light of the required attendance.

This week Brit Lit will continue to act Macbeth, and English Comp will be peer editing persuasive essays.  There is only two weeks of class left and then finals, so the time is sure to fly.

Currently Reading:  Well, due to Thanksgiving preparations, dealing with the cold/flu, and writing furiously to complete NaNoWriMo, it is no surprise that reading took a backseat.  However, I have over 30 books checked out of the library (mostly children's books related to my NaNo project and/or writing books to help as well) which I want to review and determine whether to renew or just return.  That will be today's project.

I noticed that CB James is offering his TBR Triple Dog Dare Challenge again this year (January1 - April 1) and I am seriously considering registration.  My bookshelves are out-of-control and my self-discipline is at an all-time low.  The conditions are ripe to take advantage of this fun, no-risk challenge.

Writing Progress:  Well, as indicated above, I actually completed the NaNoWriMo goal:  I wrote 50,771 words in 30 days.  I still have a little over a chapter to write, which I plan to do today and tomorrow, then I will put it aside for the month of the December. My plan is to use the month of January as a NaNoReMo session (National Novel Revision Month) and then perhaps utilize one of my "prizes" by having a copy bound and published by CreateSpace.

In the meantime, I would like to continue a writing schedule.  I think I will start practicing my travel writing skills in anticipation of (hopefully) some future trips, and perhaps develop another historical fiction idea.

Artist's Date:  Oh, I had some great ideas, but being sick curtailed all of them.  The cookie decorating party was fun to watch, but I did not really participate.  I hope to rectify this problem in December.  I am feeling better (just a lingering cough...) and I love everything Christmas.  I anticipate at least one visit to the Nelson-Atkins museum, perhaps a carefree walk along the Kansas City Plaza to enjoy the festive lights and window displays, and I know that on December 22 my husband and I will thoroughly enjoy the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert at the Spring Center... thanks to an early Christmas present from our youngest!

Craftiness:  Nope, nothing here either.  BUT... I am looking forward to more baking opportunities this month and I have some ideas for Christmas gift tags and holiday cards.

Photography:  Somehow I have managed to take a photo a day, despite illness and busyness.  Most of the photos were last minute iPhone pictures, but I did manage to maintain the discipline.  I am hoping that December will be more purposeful in my photography sessions.  I still want to spend Sunday afternoon planning the week's photo shoots, trying to not only capture daily life, but also adding a creative perspective as well.

What's on the Horizon:  I plan to complete the NaNo novel tomorrow and then clean up the house from Thanksgiving dinner and holiday decorating.  Every year I say that I am going to start gift wrapping early in the season; perhaps this year I will actually follow through on that commitment.  I joined a gym two weeks ago and 18 hours later I came down with the flu.  I am hoping that I can begin an exercise routine this week as well.  Other than that, I am hoping for a relatively low-key week filled with the peace and joy of the season.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Salon: November 24, 2013

 First, a note of apology.  

I had a Salon post ready to write last Sunday, but unfortunately blogger had other plans.  After several failed attempts, a bit of a rant, and finally seeking the opinion of others, it was suggested that I try a different web browser.  I downloaded FireFox for Mac and I have not had a problem since.  Apparently when I upgraded my operating system, the Safari upgrade did not play well with blogger.  Go figure....

As luck would have it, however, once I solved the blogger issue, I caught the flu and have not had the energy to do much of anything but lay on the couch with my box of tissues and watch mindless television.  Here's to hoping the bug departs soon and I can get back to a regular routine ... and prepare for the holidays.

Today's Weather: absolutely F-R-I-G-I-D!!  It is currently 12 degrees - with a wind chill of 8... Brrr....

What's on the menu: right now, nothing more than a cup of hot, cinnamon hazelnut coffee next to the cozy fire.  We have some leftovers in the refrigerator that need to be used in order to make room for all the Thanksgiving staples.

Highlights of the week:  Well, this week.... nothing much since I became sick on Tuesday morning.  I suppose I could rate joining the gym as a highlight, although I have not yet had a chance to workout. 

I thought long and hard about this decision but the bottom line is that I do enjoy walking... once I actually get my sneakers on and out the door.  But I also know I am a fair weather exerciser... and there won't be much fair weather for the next few months.  I am not locked into a contract and the gym is open 24 hours and in a convenient part of town.  If I do not take advantage of this membership, then it is my own fault.

Teaching Overview: It was a fairly low-key week.  Brit Lit began Macbeth and they are learning how to dramatize the reading rather than just speak it.  We are starting to have fun and it is my hope that will only increase as time goes on.

English Comp has a busy Thanksgiving break, which is why I have given them Tuesday off to use as a work day.  They will be finalizing their narrative stories as well as writing a rough draft of a persuasive essay. 

Currently Reading: I'm not sure.... how sad is that.  I think my focus for the next two days will be to skim the thirty-something library books I have currently checked out and decide which ones will be worth a thorough read later, and which ones can be returned.  Several of these include children's books, which I want to study to determine how to write for this audience and if my story idea has already been published, or if it has a unique perspective. 

Other books include those on writing... books that I had hoped to skim before NaNoWriMo but which I will have to content myself to review them prior to the revision process.

Writing Progress:  I did SO well last week.  I was on-a-roll!  Not only did I develop a viable conflict that involved my protagonist in a real way... but I actually fleshed out a small subplot that required a bit more weave through the story from the beginning.  I had written a total of 14 chapters (out of 21) and 35,199 words.  I was sitting pretty!

And then...the flu happened.  This time last week I was ahead of the game, and now I am significantly behind.  Fortunately, I have quite a bit of free time this week and "only" 15,000 words to go.  I may not finish the story by the 30th but I am bound and determined to finish the word count.  I am hoping to have the rough draft complete by the time I return to school on December 3rd. 

I will take the month of December off and then I plan to use January as NaNoReMO... National Novel Revision Month.  I would love to take advantage of a few of the "prizes" for winning - one of which is a free copy of my bound manuscript via CreateSpace... the self-publishing arm of Amazon.  I believe I have until June to use the coupon code, which is kind of them to allow us that much time to revise.

Artist's Date:  Despite the flu, I did have two creative dates planned, which I kept.  The first was a sugar cookie date with my youngest daughter.  She came over on Thursday afternoon and we cut and baked well over four dozen cookies.  I have an entire bag filled with cookie cutters of every imaginable shape, size and holiday theme.  We selected about ten different cutters and had a good time baking, talking and listening to Christmas music in the background. 

This Wednesday the Totoro girls will come over around noon to decorate the cookies - complete with colored icing, piping bags, and decorative sprinkles.  It is always a fun ... and messy... time.  We may also make a few other tasty treats, like chocolate covered pretzels and M&M cookies, before the guys arrive after work to help us decorate the house and put up the tree.  It is beginning to look (and smell) a lot like Christmas....

This weekend was also the Scrapbook Get-Away that I have anticipated for the past couple of months.  And while I did not actually scrapbook, I did manage to visit the group yesterday afternoon for a couple of hours.  They had rented Creative Cottage - a cut little bungalow in the heart of our downtown area - and there was lots of productive scrapbooking taking place.  I mostly sat and watched, but I am sure another event will be planned sometime this spring, and I will most definitely be taking part in that one.

Craftiness:  Nothing more than the Christmas Cookie bake.  I need to think about making some holiday gift tags though, so maybe this week I will find the time to escape to the nook and create.

Photography:  No creative photography this week, but I did manage to continue taking my picture-a-day, which was no easy feat. 

What's on the Horizon:  Well, Thanksgiving, of course.  We will have two out of the three children at home, for a total of seven around the table (we will miss my son and daughter-in-law, who need to stay in Nashville this year --- we are hoping to see them here at Christmas though!)  I truly love this time of year, however, so I am looking forward to the decorating party on Wednesday, where I think I will serve a collection of fun appetizers rather than our typical pizza fare. 

I will make the traditional cinnamon roll monkey bread and sausage balls Thanksgiving morning - to munch on while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Dinner will be served around 5:00 to allow our youngest time to eat before reporting to her retail job at 7:00pm (don't get me started on Black Friday starting on Thanksgiving Day....)  And while I enjoy the holiday meal of turkey, dressing, broccoli casserole, etc ... I really love the leftovers.  I try to buy twice as much turkey as we need so that we can have turkey sandwiches for lunch and turkey tettrazini for dinner. 

Oh my... I am getting hungry...

I wish you all a most joyful, peaceful and blessed Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blogger Issue Solved...

... at least for now, and I owe a HUGE thank you to Catherine!

Last week I upgraded my operating system and apparently the Safari upgrade does not play well with Blogger.  Cathy suggested that I try FireFox ... which seems to have solved the problem.

So, now that I know that I can blog again, I hope to update shortly.

In the meantime, thank you again, Cathy, for helping me out!

Blogger Issues....

I am having MAJOR issues with blogger lately.

I can rarely write in the body of the post - and that is becoming increasingly frustrating.

I had planned - and attempted to write - a Sunday Salon post but there was always a major glitch.

SO... I am focusing on the completion of NaNoWriMo for the rest of the month and then I will see if I can fix whatever issue I am having.

Did I mention how frustrating this was?!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Writing Wednesday: Mr. NaNoWriMo

It is not often that I can boast of meeting such famous celebrities here in the Midwest.  I always feel those privileges are reserved for residents of New York City or Los Angeles.  But last night I had the opportunity to hear Chris Baty - Mr. NaNoWriMo himself - speak at our local library, and he was indeed a celebrity to all those in attendance.

I wan't sure what to expect, since registration was not required and it was a free event, so I arrived about a half hour prior to the 7:00pm start time.  A few were already seated, laptops in tow, working on their novel while waiting for the guru.  I was able to find a nice end spot about three rows from the front.  The perfect place to capture a couple of pictures while remaining somewhat inconspicuous.

Chris arrived shortly afterward for set up, and I was surprised by how tall he was and... how much he smiled.  He is such a pleasant person to be around.  He brought a couple of books to share, and had a typed speech available for a quick review.  He is quite professional.

The room filled up quickly and he began at 7:00pm on the dot.  I like a punctual speaker.

He began by telling us a little bit about himself (he was actually born and raised in Prairie Village, Kansas and his hometown library was the Corinth branch).  In fact, his father was in the audience, supporting his son in this endeavor, which explains why Chris is so supportive of every one of us.

He gave a brief history of the NaNo phenomenon:  it began in 1999 as a wild and crazy idea.  Chris emailed his contact list saying that he was going to write a novel in a month and would love some company.  The email was sent May 30th and the first NaNo event was held July 1st, with 21 participants.  Most of the writing occurred in coffee shops using laptops ... which Chris was quick to remind us that in 1999 coffee shops were not wired for writers and laptops were as big as a washing machine.  The budding novelists brought their own power strips, orange extension cords, and set up shop for thirty days.

The next year the participant list grew by word of mouth, with 140 writers taking part.  The following year saw a total of 5,000 participants and the numbers have increased ever since.  This year, which marks the 15th anniversary, the website shows just shy of 300,000 registered writers.  Chris has participated and won every year.

The one point that he repeated over and over - which we all needed to hear - is that NaNoWriMo is not intended to promote quality writing; rather it is to focus on quantity.  One problem we writers face, however, is that we also love to read.  And when we sit down on November 1st to set out on this quest, we are comparing our first draft to the polished prose of the novels we read.  We simply cannot do that.  All first drafts are awful... period.  And to prove his point, he read a bit of dialogue from one of his first drafts.  And you know what?  It was indeed awful -- and I can't imagine how many writers (including myself) he inspired by doing that one humble act.

Bottom line:  We need to learn to lower our standards on first drafts.  The bar should be raised in the  revision process, but we need to be willing to allow imperfection (and sometimes downright awfulness) in the first draft phase.  One of his quotes of the evening was, "You can always revise a bad draft into a good novel; you can only revise a blank page into a blank page."

One tip he shared for those of us who have a difficult time turning off the internal editor was:  set the font to white and just start writing.  You can't see the words on the page and that is enough to silence the critique for a while.

Chris stated that novels are not written by novelists, but by everyday people who have a story to share (therefore... if you think about it... we all have a story to share ergo, we are all writers).  He surmised that the reason we don't have more people writing novels (or.... completing any kind of creative endeavor)... is NOT because we lack talent; NOT because we lack self-discipline; but rather because we do not have a deadline.  NaNoWriMo is intended to help with that hurdle.

He told a short anecdote of the first year and how the pact between friends was they were not allowed to go to the bathroom until they had written a thousand words.  Now, they were in a coffee shop, after work, guzzling coffee to try to stay awake.  This was true motivation!

Since NaNo's inception, there have been 200 traditionally published novels drafted during the event; 9 best selling novels; and currently 1 major motion picture (Water for Elephants).  Who knows how many countless more novels could be added to these numbers if we would take the time to revise our first drafts.  Food for thought....

The final tip of the night, before he volunteered to sign autographs, was this:  FINISH

I absolutely loved the evening!  And while Chris gave some great advice for the NaNo event, I believe much of what he said could be applied to life in general.  Lower the bar - set goals with deadlines - and commit to finishing the task at hand.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Salon: November 10, 2013

It has been a very busy week … but I am grateful to have made it to another Sunday Salon.

Today's Weather:  A beautiful fall day, with sunny skies and a high near sixty.  However, they are predicting a major cold front moving through tomorrow night with lows in the 20s, highs in the 30s, and a chance of SNOW!!  I am certain I will be stoking the first fire in the fireplace this week.

What's on the menu:  nothing much… my husband will leave this afternoon for a solid week of travel, and I tend not to cook when he is away.  Today is probably some leftover roasted chicken with a slice of french baguette and perhaps a bit of bruschetta and mozzarella cheese.  One of my favorite "go-to" dinners.

Highlights of the week:  Hands down - the writing conference sponsored by Heartland of America Christian Writers' Network.  This was my first writing conference and it truly exceeded all my expectations.

The conference started Thursday evening with a brief introduction of the editors/publishers in attendance, as well as the Key Note address by Angela Hunt.  At that point I knew I had to take every breakout session she offered!  She is a prolific author with a wealth of expertise that she delivers in a professional, entertaining manner.  Her three classes included:  The Plot Skeleton, Point of View, and Creating Extraordinary Characters.  If interested, she has written short books on these subjects, plus four others - and you can find more information here.

The day began at 9:00am on Friday and aside from a one hour lunch, we were basically in sessions until 5:00pm:  two in the morning and then four in the afternoon.  Saturday's schedule was similar, except there were only three course offerings in the afternoon to allow time for the closing ceremony.

The registration fee included eleven breakouts plus a FREE ten minute critique session with one of the editors/publishers.  For an addition $40 - participants could have a twenty minute in-depth critique of their manuscript.  I am too new to writing to take advantage of these offerings this year, but I have challenged myself to have something prepared to share next November.

While the conference definitely cut into my NaNo writing time, it was most definitely worth the time and expense.

Teaching Overview:  Brit Lit completed the medieval unit - culminating with final drafts of Knightly Tales and taking the final exam.  This week I will introduce Shakespeare and we will begin acting Macbeth -- a great way to end the semester.

English Comp continues to workshop narrative essays.  Thursday's class was such fun!  A student read her story and after working through the plot issues, we discussed the title.  It was delightful to hear the suggestions, each coming from a different perspective.  In five minutes we developed six or more viable titles - and it truly showcased the value of brainstorming as well as "two or more heads are certainly better than one."

Currently Reading:  Quite frankly, the week was too busy to read, and NaNo should take up my available time this coming week.  However, I have nearly fifty library books in my nook, ranging from children's picture books to YA fiction to non-fiction books on writing that I hope to delve into shortly.

Writing Progress:  the good news is that I did indeed make progress on the NaNoWriMo project.  I have completed four chapters and written a total of 11, 565 words.  The bad news is I am behind…. the writing convention was a priority and prevented me from focusing on this project.  However, with my husband out-of-town and school work kept to a minimum,  I am hopeful that I can catch up on word-count by this time next week.

Artist's Date:  no time for a designated artist date, but I do think the writing convention should count for artistic inspiration… don't you?

Craftiness:  *sigh…. no craftiness.  However, there is a scrapbook retreat scheduled for November 22-23, so I am hopeful that I will be able to report something at that time.

Photography:  I have not yet missed a day of the 365 project (that is good for me… even though it is only day nine).  I decided to focus on the themes of Gratitude, Thanksgiving, Blessings, and/or My Favorite Things for at least a portion of the month of November.  The mosaic to the left includes the first nine pictures I have taken.  If interested, I am blogging about this photography project on the dedicated blog: My Spiritual Journey through Photography.

What's on the Horizon:  It will be another busy week, but not as chaotic as this past week.  The highlight will be a library presentation by Chris Baty, the initiator of NaNoWriMo several years ago.

Besides school, visiting a writing critique group, and a hair cut… the bulk of the week will be focused on catching up on the NaNo project and writing a minimum of 2,000 words each day.

I wish you all a great week, and for those affected by this upcoming winter blast, I wish you warmth and a good read while snuggled in a blanket next to the fire.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Writing Wednesday: A NaNoWriMo Panel

Our local library is fully on-board with the NaNoWriMo fever.  They offer weekly write-ins (typically on Wednesday nights) and a couple of special programs.  The first one was last night and I thought I would summarize what I learned.

The event was a panel discussion where the authors answered prepared questions which focused on their writing journey from novel inception to publication, as well as their personal writing process.  Those in attendance included:

Question 1:  How long does it typically take you to write the first draft?
Answers of course varied by author but typically a first draft was written between six weeks and four months with another two to six months of revision before ready for submission.

Two of the authors said that they typically write 50,000 words a month - every month - not just for a special project like NaNoWriMo.  In other words… writers write!

They also commented on the importance of completing a work.  Many of them had quit projects after just one or two chapters.  "A messy first draft is far better than several perfect first chapters"

In addition, many of them truly enjoy world building, or character development (or in my case… historical research).  But they all cautioned that a writer cannot allow these useful tools to become distractions to writing the draft.

In addition, they all said that they are usually working on at least two different projects at one time:  writing a draft of one and completing revisions on another.

Question 2:  Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Again, the answer varied by author but in essence they all said … ideas are everywhere - from overhearing casual conversations at the coffee shop, to watching the evening news, to just people watching at the mall or park.  Jessica Brody volunteered that the idea for 52 Reasons came when she was parked outside a building and watched the meter maid make the rounds.  She wondered what it might be like to be a meter maid … just for a week.  And that led her to wonder what other jobs she might like to try for a week.

She shared that "what if" is a powerful tool.  Her tip of the day was to take any non-fiction story - and ask what if … find a way to make it "cooler"

Question 3:  How do you structure your novel?  What is the process?
Again, the answers varied.  Some authors had a general idea of the characters, the fictional world in which they lived, and a basic story line, but the process was organic.  They allowed the story to go where it desired.

Others were more structured, like Jessica Brody, who utilizes the Save the Cat method.  In essence this screen play structure of 15 beats can also be applied to novel writing.  (as a side note, I have this book reserved at my local library)

One author had always been a linear writer until one day she was stuck.  So instead of fretting on what came next, she decided to write a scene she wanted.  In the end, she found this method quite liberating and now rarely writes in linear fashion.  Often she will start with the end, then write the beginning, then ping pong back and forth until she concludes in the middle.

Final question:  How long did it take from finished draft to publication?
A loaded question, to say the least.  While some of them shared a Cinderella story, that is, the first agent signed them within a week and had the manuscript sold within days…. they were also quick to note that there was a lot of behind the scenes writing before that magical moment.

I particularly enjoyed Anne Aguirre's candid response.  She wrote her first novel at the age of fifteen and received her first rejection a year later.  This did not deter her, however,  In fact, over the course of twenty years she wrote numerous novels, all them rejected.  She realized she was writing to the market rather than her passion, and so finally sat down and wrote the novel of her dreams.  Her agent tried to convince her to tweak it, but she held firm.  In the end, she left that agent, found another, and Enclave became a bestseller.  Quite the inspiring story!

The panel discussion was only an hour… but there was a lot of useful conversation.  I am most definitely glad that I attended, and I am looking forward to next Wednesday when Chris Baty,  the founder of NaNoWriMo, will be presenting the history and future of this November writing event.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A New Photography Blog

After much consideration (and frustration with Blogger) … I have decided to create a new blog devoted to the 365 project.

While photography is most definitely a part of my life… and a part of the transforming experience in becoming who I am meant to be… it is by no means the single priority of my life.  And while I want to actively participate in this project by posting daily pictures, I do not want these posts to dominate this blog; that is not my vision for Emerging from the Cocoon.

So… if you are interested in following my 365 Project daily updates, please visit my new blog:  My Spiritual Journey through Photography.  I will more than likely provide a weekly post here, but in an attempt to maintain the personal, intimate focus of this blog, I will not clog the feed with more than an occasional update.

Now… after this nice little diversion… it is time to return to NaNoWriMo.  I have a knack for procrastinating…..

Sunday Salon: November 3, 2013

It is hard to believe that it is the first Sunday of November, which also signals the end of daylight savings time.  Were you able to enjoy the hour of extra sleep this morning?  Unfortunately our dogs have no concept of time (like toddlers) and so my daily routine was not altered. Oh well, I suppose I could say I now have an extra hour to work on NaNoWriMo….

Today's Weather:  Sunny and chilly, with a high near 60.  Fall is most definitely here to stay.

What's on the menu:  not quite sure, but I am hoping to be inspired at the Culinary Celebration this afternoon.  There is some leftover chili in the fridge that might make some good nachos while watching the Chiefs win their ninth game of the season.

Highlights of the week:  it was a busy week for someone who typically spends her time in the nook

  • Lunch at Chili's with a good friend on Monday
  • Dinner at Bravo's with another good friend on Tuesday
  • A visit to Costco with Brynn and family on Wednesday (which resulted in signing up for membership)
  • Halloween with Brynn on Thursday
  • The start of NaNoWriMo on Friday

Teaching Overview:  a very low-key week, for which I was grateful.  It won't be this relaxing until after finals in mid-December.

Brit Lit peer edited "knightly tales" on Tuesday, which means I only oversee the process rather than teach.  On Thursday we finished discussing the pilgrims of Canterbury Tales and we will finish the prologue this week.  Students began to recite the first 18 lines in Middle English and I was once again impressed by their ability to rise to the occasion.  Two weeks ago they thought I was crazy… now they may still think I am crazy, but they were able to complete the assignment with ease.

English Comp is in the revision process of their narrative stories.  We are workshopping one narrative per class, and it is exciting to not only hear their story ideas develop, but to also witness the synergy of brainstorming, playing off one another's suggestions to help make a good story great.  This class  demonstrates that the solitary act of writing is improved with the fellowship of trusted friends.

Currently Reading:  I have almost completed, Writing Irresistible KidLit, and will begin Writing Children's Books for Dummies.  While working on the NaNo project, I will probably focus my reading on non-fiction rather than clouding my brain with another narrative.

Writing Progress:  Slow and steady wins the race, right?  I had great hopes for writing ahead of schedule on Friday, the start of NaNoWriMo, but instead I decided to plot the story chapter by chapter. While I did not write one word toward the ultimate 50,000 goal, I felt that this was time well spent.  I not only know where I am going to start and end, but I have a good map to help me get there.

On Saturday I officially began.  It took me a while to find the writing rhythm, but by the end of the day I had finished the first chapter and logged 3,173 words.  I have the goal of writing the next three chapters over the next two days and hopefully have 10,000 words under my belt.

Artist's Date:  Not a planned date, but I did make a spontaneous visit to the local Archiver's yesterday afternoon.  I always enjoy looking at the colorful paper and whimsical stickers and imagine myself creating memorable scrapbook pages or encouraging greeting cards.  It was a good way to clear my mind from the writing focus this month.

I met a friend for coffee at the Market Cafe in the local HyVee, and I was reminded how much I enjoy that environment.  There is plenty of seating, even a fireplace to add to the cozy atmosphere.  The servers do not intrude and the noise is kept at a minimum.  I need to take advantage of this opportunity more often during the NaNo season.  A change of setting could work wonders when I find myself stuck in the mucky middle.

Craftiness:  Ah… once again no crafts this week, and in all honestly, probably no crafts until November 22nd when I have registered for an overnight scrapbooking retreat.

Photography:  Success!  A spur-of-the-moment decision resulted in registering for another 365 project.  On the one hand, I wondered if I was crazy adding one more daily task while trying to write a 50,000 word story… but on the other hand, photography is a serious interest too.  However, week after week I report that no progress has been made and I had to face the truth:  we make time for what we deem important and I obviously don't consider photography a priority in life.

It is my hope that this project does not become a noose around my neck, but rather a tool to help me reconnect with this passion and improve the craft for future writing endeavors.

What's on the Horizon:  another busy week ahead (I fear this will be the norm until after the holidays).  I plan to attend a NaNo event at the local library on Tuesday; participate in the library's used book sale on Wednesday; and attend the HACWN writing conference on Friday and Saturday.  Oh yea… and write another 11,500 words.   Lots of literary goodness and I love it!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Day of Firsts

November 1st:  The first day of NaNoWriMo and the first day of a new 365 project (and for some members of my family, the first day of the Christmas season).  I promise I won't give constant updates on these personal challenges, but it did seem appropriate today.

Today's photo showcases just a few of the books that I have used to research my NaNo project.  I did not include any of the adult non-fiction books relating to the French Impressionists that I have read over the past three years, although the three pink moleskins at the top are filled with notes from those books.

Most of these books are in fact children's books, historical fiction of 19th Century Paris, written for an audience that is similar to the middle grade audience I will target.  A couple of the books are adult historical fiction novels which focus on the ballet dancers of Degas' famous paintings, a major component of my storyline.

And while I have read more books than I can count over the past several months on the craft of writing, these two books, which focus specifically on writing children's literature, are the ones that I am currently reading.

I love to write, and I look forward to devoting more time to this pursuit… but I adore research:  reading and learning something new, taking notes, organizing information, and planning the project.  It would be quite tempting to lose myself in the research and never follow through on writing the novel.  I need to mindful of this and discipline myself to find an appropriate balance.

So here's to the start of a new season, a new project, and a new vocation…. perhaps life does begin again at the age of fifty.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Here Goes Nothing...

For most children (and some adults) October 31st is greatly anticipated because of Halloween:  the opportunity to dress up and play pretend while gorging on lots of free candy.  For a few literary folks, however, October 31st is significant because it is the Eve of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) when passionate (crazy?) authors commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days.  I, along with nearly 200,000 other writers have committed to this lofty goal.

Do I expect to have a well-crafted publishable novel by the end of the month?  Hardly.  I expect to have a mess… but I also expect that somewhere in that mess is a nugget of story that can be mined, shaped, and crafted into a decent narrative, if I am willing to do the work of several revisions.

The goal of this sprint writing, for me anyway, is not to have a polished novel, but rather to stop procrastinating and just get the story down.  I have been mulling and researching and developing this idea for nearly four years and the time is right.  In fact, it is my secret desire to just put nose to grindstone, start writing tomorrow and hit the 50,000 word goal by November 22…. but I won't say that too loud so as not to set myself up for failure.

The advantage to writing at this breakneck speed is that there is no time to stop and review --- I just need to plow ahead and keep writing, no matter what.  There is no time to allow the inner critic to voice his negative commentary, nor to let the editor stop and agonize over the proper word choice or correct punctuation.  I will be required to remain in that unfamiliar "right brain" territory - the land of the creative, and not retreat into my comfortable "left brain" territory - the land of detailed analysis.  There will be plenty of time for that after December.

Do I fear failure?  Well, I suppose it depends on what you consider failure.  Do I fear that I won't complete the goal?  Yes.  I have actually attempted NaNoWriMo three other times, but only successfully completed the challenge the first year (and even then, I never finished the story, just the word count).  But I know that whatever I write this month will be more than I would have written if I didn't try… and that is not failure - that is progress.

So… here goes nothing.. and I am very excited!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dare I try again?

From the title of this blog, Emerging from the Cocoon, you can probably surmise that I am on a quest to discover myself at this stage of life.  The children are grown and live productive independent lives, the torch has been passed and I am now the matriarch of the family, and the hectic career days are giving way to a more relaxed and peaceful life.  All of this is good stuff … but it takes a bit of readjustment to learn my place in this "life after fifty" world.

For years I allowed the responsibility of life to dominate my days and consequently the creative pursuits  disappeared on the back burner.  For those who read this blogs on a regular basis, however, you know that I am trying to reconnect with those passions, which tend to take the form of paper crafts (such as greeting cards), writing (a true compulsion), and photography.  Unfortunately I have talked more about photography than actually practiced it, which is not in keeping with my ultimate dream of marrying pictures with writing to document travel adventures.  Practice makes perfect.  And if I want this dream to be anything more than a vapor in the wind, I need to do the work now in order to achieve the results later.

It is for this reason that I am ready to once again attempt a 365 project.  I have tried (unsuccessfully) two previous times, but I think I have learned some valuable lessons to help me triumph this go around. After all, third time's the charm, right?  Here is what I plan to do differently:

  1. Be intentional.  Of course, this is good advice about life in general, but especially true of this project.  In the past I would wait to be "inspired" to take a picture and more often than not, I would find myself scrambling for a photo right before going to bed.  Since that time, however, I have found several sites that offer monthly photo challenges that should provide me with some creative suggestions when I am stumped (such sites include Katrina Kennedy and Fat Mum Slim).  I plan to use Sundays to review my calendar for possible photo opportunities, as well as scan these challenge lists in order to create a weekly line-up of possible photographs.  This should provide a good starting point - one that is not too rigid to allow for last minute changes, but one that hopefully will help me to create and then maintain the daily photo habit.
  2. Make the Time.  I am a routinized person… I enjoy a schedule and am fairly disciplined to stick to it.  The problem in the past was I never included this daily activity on my to-do list.  And… as is wont to happen, I rarely bothered to remember.  We make time for the things we deem important… and the question becomes, how important is photography to me?  I need to be honest with myself here, but if it is as important as I want it to be… then I need to make time to practice the craft.  Period.
  3. Don't Compare.  Oh boy… this is a BIG one for me.  I am constantly comparing myself to others and the result is always personal dissatisfaction and a desire to give up.  I need to recognize that we are all in different places on this photography journey, and we all have different goals.  I have no desire to become a professional - I only desire to improve.  I can look at others' pictures and learn from their talent, but I cannot compare my work to theirs.  I must learn to embrace their talent while at the same time accepting my own.
  4. Give Yourself a Break…. but don't let yourself off the hook.  Life happens - and while the goal to take a picture a day is an admirable one, there will be days when it is just not going to happen. For a perfectionist like myself, this can easily derail me because I "failed" the task.  But the truth of the matter is… I did not fail. Tomorrow is another day.  However… I cannot confuse the inevitable conflicts with personal mood swings.  There will certainly be times where I am able to participate but I simply do not "feel" like it.  I must be willing to do it anyway; practice the craft no matter what.
 I know many participants have started a blog specifically devoted to this 365 Project.  I will not.  This photographic journey is a part of my "emerging" process and I want to incorporate it here.  My plan is to post a week's worth of pictures each Friday (Photo Friday).  Some photos may inspire commentary, others may have only a title.  Some photos may be SOOTC ("straight out of the camera") … others may have extensive Lightroom edits, as I am discovering that I enjoy creative post-processing.  In other words, I will make this project my own and enjoy every minute of it.

Thank you, Courtney and Jil for inspiring me to focus on photography once again.  I'm going to have a blast!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Everything Pumpkin

I had intended to wait and post this recipe in the next segment of Weekend Cooking, but I was so excited by its success that I simply couldn't wait that long.

I do enjoy pumpkins.  I enjoy the annual visit to the patch, I enjoy watching Charlie Brown and Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin's arrival, and I enjoy the festive decorations using these lovely gourds.  Along with many others, I greatly anticipate the first offering of Pumpkin Spice Lattes in coffee shops across the land.  And I have used pumpkin in a variety of recipes:  the quintessential pumpkin pie, frosted pumpkin cookies, and even turkey pumpkin chili.  This morning however, I tried something new… but it will definitely become a staple this time of year:  Pumpkin Oatmeal.

I probably pinned this recipe over a month ago, and I had great intentions of trying it immediately. But you know, life happens and the pin was forgotten.  However there is nothing like a challenge and a deadline to motivate me to action.  Since Trish's Pin It and Do It challenge ends this Thursday (and I have two more pins to complete), I decided that now is the time to try this unique breakfast item.

I have never cooked oatmeal in a crockpot, but I am now a convert!  I loved waking up to a warm, filling breakfast without having to mess and fuss first thing in the morning.  And the creamy texture was the perfect consistency.  The recipe first appeared on the website, Peanut Butter and Peppers, and it is most assuredly a winner!  I encourage any pumpkin devotee to add this to your fall recipe collection.

Pumpkin Oatmeal in a Crockpot


  • 1 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (I used a rounded measurement)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (again, I used a rounded measurement)
  • 1 teaspoon stevia, or to taste (I omitted)
  • 1 pinch salt
  1. In a bowl that will fit inside your crockpot (this inner bowl makes clean-up a breeze and eliminates a crust forming on the top of the oatmeal)…. add all of the ingredients and stir to combine.
  2. Place bowl in the crockpot and then fill the crockpot with enough water  to come up half-way on the inner bowl.  Set crockpot on low for 6-8 hours
When ready to serve, I added a bit of brown sugar in the bottom of the bowl, ladled in the oatmeal, sprinkled a few walnuts on top and then drizzled with a bit of maple syrup.  The result was a rich, decadent and filling dish that will keep hunger at bay all morning.

There are plenty of leftovers that I anticipate will make a quick microwave warm-up for easy breakfasts the rest of the week. Mmmmm…. quite satisfying….

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Salon: October 27, 2013

From the Sunday Salon's original website:  Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book.  

Doesn't that sound heavenly --- that in our hectic lives we carve out a chunk of time to devote to reading and all things literary?  While I plan to use this space for that purpose, I am also going to use this entry as a way to summarize the past seven days and preview the upcoming week.

Today's Weather:  Seasonal temperatures and sunny - although I must admit I loved the below-freezing mornings this week.  I am ready for the constant chill in the air!

What's on the menu:  Made a colorful and flavorful Chicken Monterey soup yesterday and will probably use the rest of the leftover chicken for a quick and easy stir fry.

Highlights of the week:  Lots of writing news this week, which I will share below.  Other highlights included:

  • Library adventure with Brynn - it has become a bi-monthly routine now, Brynn and I going to Cracker Barrel for a pancake breakfast, then a trip to the craft store to look at Christmas decorations (not sure what we will do come January...) and then to the library where I find appropriate books to check out while she plays in the children's area.  We meet Mama for lunch and then say farewell til next time.  We both have such fun - and I am blessed to have this opportunity to bond with my dear granddaughter.
  • Barnes and Noble rendez-vous - we used to do this quite often, but it has been months since my dear friend and I have met here to browse the books, chat in the cafe area, and write in our journals.  We spend the entire afternoon nursing our hot drinks, surrounded by all things literary. I found the most beautiful leather journal with a Venetian gondola scene that I immediately put at the top of my Christmas wish list.  

Teaching Overview:  We are working our way through the Prologue of Canterbury Tales in Brit Lit.  Last week I told the class that they would have to recite the first 18 lines in Middle English by October 31st, and you should have seen their shocked faces.  But after only one week of practice they are reciting like pros -- it is so fun to watch them overcome doubts!  Each year I teach the first three pilgrims of the prologue, analyzing the text to discover the morality, social status, and key lines for each individual, and then the students are responsible for teaching the rest of the pilgrims to the class.  We are about half way through the list and they are starting to understand Chaucer's use of irony.

I spent class time in ACT Prep trying to prepare them for the written portion of the test.  It has become quite obvious to me that I adore teaching writing!  What I intended for one day's worth of lessons turned into two (and could have spilled over into three).  I loathe grading the writing (trying to put an objective grade on something so subjective)... but I adore teaching it.

English Comp students were assigned certain grammar topics to teach the class.  I think that students learn concepts better if they are required to teach... and sometimes they introduce a concept that students can understand better than if I were to do it myself.  It takes a bit longer but in the end I do believe it is worth it.

Currently Reading:  Well, I have read quite a bit, but perhaps not exactly what you might expect.  In thinking of an audience for my NaNo narrative, I have discovered an interest in writing for the Middle Grade.  Unfortunately I have limited experience reading literature geared to this market.  So I checked out several books from the library that might help me find the appropriate voice for my story.  Most of the books I previewed were biography picture books (I was also doing research for another story idea... a series perhaps), but I also discovered, Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole, which I think will be a great resource.

Writing Progress:  As I mentioned above, it was a great writing week!  Not great in terms of word count, but in terms of clarity for my NaNo story and connection with other writers.

  • Attended HWKT meeting (Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens) - which was quite a big step out of my comfort zone.  Many of those in attendance are published authors with incredible talent. But they were warm and welcoming and I left knowing that this is a group that will challenge me and push me to improve my craft.  While they meet weekly, I will probably attend twice a month for now.  It will be a while before I have a manuscript to share, but I can learn so much just by listening to them workshop one another.
  • Discovered "my" audience - I think I have struggled with a conflict for my NaNo story because I had not defined my audience.  Some days I think I will write a dark, seedy conflict involving the sinister patrons and the pimped-out ballerinas; other days I think my authentic voice is less controversial.  Ultimately I discovered that a perfect match for my talents and desires is to write for the Middle Grade market (5th-8th grade).... and while this initially surprised me, I soon realized that I have extensive knowledge of this target group.  My first teaching experience was 6th grade and I taught 5th-8th grade English classes for several years before focusing solely on the upperclass courses.  These pre-adolescents are able to read and understand complex literary themes without demanding the graphic sex and violence scenes that appeal to the YA market.  I am more than excited!
  • Discovered "my" premise - Once the audience was identified I knew I needed to work on the premise of this story, that is, why do I want to tell the story - what do I want readers to glean from these characters?  I have fleshed out two key themes so far.  The working title is First Impressionism and I want to delve into the idea of quickly judging others before truly knowing them.  In addition, I hope to explore the need for self-expression in order to feel understood.  This requires acceptance of others and their need for expression as well.  
  • Developed another story idea - for a possible series.  It was as though once I accepted my Middle Grade audience, my mind awakened to new ideas. For many writers this is not an issue, as they have far more ideas than time to write them.  But for me... this is a huge breakthrough.  My creative brain has lain dormant for decades and I feared that this NaNo idea was the only one I would ever have.  But the brain is like any muscle, and now that I have started to exercise that right side, it is growing stronger day by day.  I did a bit of research and could not find a similar series, so perhaps I have discovered a niche that I am anxious to pursue (after November 30th, that is).
Artist's Date:  While not intentional, I could say that the Writers' group meeting was a date with my author-self.  I did not leave inspired with new story ideas, but I did leave with a stronger sense of self-confidence, which translates into a successful date to me.

Craftiness:  Alas, no crafts this week (again)... although I was rather creative in the kitchen making a variety of one-pot comfort foods, including a hearty steak soup.

Photography:  Not this week, although I anticipate taking many photos on Thursday as I document Brynn's Halloween celebration.

What's on the Horizon:  The schedule for the first part of the week is relaxed and low-key, which will allow me to continue with the narrative outline and character sketches for First Impressionism .... and then of course Friday is November 1st, the start of NaNoWriMo, at which time I plan to spend the day writing with the hopes of sprinting ahead early with my word count.

I wish you all a festive and safe Halloween ... and a happy start to November.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Steak Soup

The cooler fall temperatures have awakened a craving for one-pot comfort foods.  In the past two weeks I have made chili, chicken pot pie soup, and steak soup.  Last night I pre-cooked some chicken for the upcoming week; I plan to make a chicken/tomato stew and perhaps chicken tortilla soup.  I am sure this domestic mood will soon pass, but I have sure enjoyed the meals (and leftovers) these past few days.

I had all intentions of posting the recipe for chicken pot pie soup last week, but alas I could not coordinate my photography with my hunger and we finished the soup before I had a chance to take a picture.  I am quite sure I will make this personal favorite again soon, and this time I will have the camera ready.

I did learn my lesson, however, and managed to click a few images while preparing the steak soup.  I received this recipe years ago from a good friend and since that time I have tweaked a little here and there to suit my personal tastes.  As with most soup recipes, it is good served right away, but even better the next day.  The flavors blend together and intensify, making it the perfect antidote to a cold dreary day.  Eating a bowl in front of the fire, dogs by my side, watching the World Series.... well, there is nothing better.

Steak Soup

First, brown 1 pound ground meat, drain the grease, and set aside.

Next, in a large pot saute ....

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
Once the vegetables are cooked to your liking (I prefer them a bit crunchy) add...
  • 1/2 cup flour to thoroughly coat the vegetables to help thicken the soup.
Next, add the following and simmer about 4 hours ...
  • 32 ounces chicken stock
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 bag frozen corn
  • 1 lb. cooked ground meat
  • 2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons A-1 steak sauce (the original recipe called for BV, but that is sometimes difficult to find and I like the robust flavor of the A-1)
The soup is good as is, but being an Italian household we feel the flavor is enhanced by sprinkling the top with some grated parmesan cheese and serving crusty Italian bread on the side to help sop up the juice.  Deliziosa!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Salon: October 20, 2013

From the Sunday Salon's original website:  Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book.  

Doesn't that sound heavenly --- that in our hectic lives we carve out a chunk of time to devote to reading and all things literary?  While I plan to use this space for that purpose, I am also going to use this entry as a way to summarize the past seven days and preview the upcoming week.

OH BOY... I had great plans to write a few posts this week, but obviously I fell short of the mark.  It was a busy week filled with extra meetings, unique outings, and serious thoughts to ponder.  I hope to do better on the blogging front next week.

Today's Weather:  Sunny and high near 70.  This will be the warmest day of the week, however, as the forecast calls for a hard frost on Tuesday and temperatures that struggle to reach 60 all week.  I'm not complaining, mind you, I am ready for the first fire in the fireplace!

What's on the menu:  After a fabulous dinner at Cooper's Hawk Winery on Friday (I am hoping to post a review this week), I think today's menu will be simple fare suitable for watching the Chief's football game:  Steak Soup (perhaps the recipe will be my Weekend Cooking post on Saturday...)

Highlights of the week:  Several highlights this week, which made for a rather hectic but exciting week:

  • Thursday night critique group:  I was brave enough to attend my first writers' critique group and I survived!  They did not bite or scare me, and in fact, I was strongly encouraged and supported in my writing endeavors.  More details below...
  • Cooper's Hawk Winery:  This was actually choice B for our Friday night dinner, but we were thrilled at the change of plans.  The waiter was delightful and knowledgeable, the happy hour was an exceptional value, and the food and wine were exceptional.  This will become our new favorite place to dine.
  • Impressionist Exhibit - opening reception at the Nelson-Atkins museum.  A first time experience that was both entertaining and educational.  More details below....

Teaching Overview:  The first of two rather low-key weeks of teaching (and I am grateful).  Brit lit finished reading Sir Gawain and is starting the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales.  Students are required to learn the first 18 lines in Middle English, which they heard for the first time on Thursday.  Of course right now they think their English teacher has lost her mind... but by October 31st they will all be able to recite it with ease and impress their parents.

English Comp is working on the rough drafts of their narrative essay at home while we review grammar concepts in class.

Currently Reading:  Well, after such great reading last week (I finished three books:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - The Painted Girls - and Dancing for Degas), I took a nose dive this week.  I had great plans to re-read Claude and Camille as research for my NaNo project, and I have several books on writing that I would like to review before November's great event.  Oh well, there is always this week...

Writing Progress:  Ok... lots of writing focus this week, but unfortunately no writing.  I know this is not good (writers write --- they don't just think about writing) and I vow to rectify that problem this week, BUT... I gained clarity on a few issues in life that I think will help me focus on writing.  Nevertheless, here is the writing news worthy to report:

  • Thursday night critique group:  This is a small off-shoot of HACWN.  At this particular monthly get-together there were three other writers in attendance besides myself (I am told this number fluctuates greatly month to month).  All three of them brought something to share.  One published writer brought a page from the third book in her trilogy; another published author brought an online article that she is writing to help writers learn how to use social media to market their work; and the third brought the first chapter of his debut novel that he hopes to sell to a publisher at the upcoming conference in November.  All of them are accomplished writers who I believe can help me improve my craft... and they offer valuable criticism in a kind, encouraging manner.  
  • Another Networking Opportunity:  after the success Thursday night I wondered if perhaps there was another writing group in town that I might want to visit... to compare and contrast, if you will.  My google search led me to HWKT (Heartland Writers for Kids and Teens).  Since my NaNo story is for the YA audience, I decided that I would email them for more information.  Two people quickly responded with such warmth and encouragement that for the first time in my life I wondered if perhaps writing children's books is my calling.  At this point I am such a newbie to the craft that I am willing to investigate any idea until I reach a dead end.  There is no fee to join and they meet every Wednesday morning. I happen to be free this week and plan to attend.
  • New Ideas for Future Projects:  due to the above epiphany....I was consumed with researching this market (early readers, middle grade and YA) and developing some potential story ideas.  While I have never considered writing for this audience, I have always had a desire for young people to enjoy reading.  I read to my children from the time they were a month old, and I tried to instill a love for the written story throughout their school years.  It is perhaps not out of the ordinary that I would write for this group as well, to inspire them to discover the joy of escaping into literature that will last a lifetime.  I haven't been this giddy with excitement in quite some time.

Artist's Date:  Well, an artist double-date.  My husband was offered two tickets to the preview of the Impressionist exhibit and we gladly accepted.  The festivities began at 7:00pm and the entire lobby had been redecorated for the event.  There were actors in period costumes mingling among the crowd and a live band provided appropriate Parisian music. Several projectors had been set up along the hallway leading to the gallery, which showed film clips from that era.  There was a contagious excitement in the air.

The exhibit itself is quite large and features Impressionists' paintings as well as photographs that depict the country's landscape at this dynamic time in France's history.  There was too much to see in one night and the crowd was rather thick, but it was fun to be among the first to see this collection.  I anticipate several more visits - probably during the week when it is less crowded - to not only admire the talent and beauty of these masterpieces, but also to use the collection as research for my NaNo writing.

Craftiness:  No crafts this week... but I did have the opportunity to accompany my granddaughter on a visit to Michaels, which was definitely a highlight of the week.  She adored the animated Christmas houses and felt compelled to arrange all the holiday decorations on the shelf so that they were in exact alignment (she does have some perfectionist tendencies of her grandmother...).  I see many craft adventures this holiday season with this little pumpkin.

Photography:  Sadly, I made no time for photography this week.  The leaves are starting to change though and if I don't make time this week, I fear I will miss my opportunity to capture the colorful landscape.

What's on the Horizon:  I am hoping this week is not as busy with time commitments so that I can focus on planning for the NaNoWriMo event by creating detailed character sketches.  I am looking forward to some solitude in the nook.

I hope this week finds you in a festive fall spirit and you can find some time to relax with a good book and perhaps a nice cup of tea.