Monday, September 30, 2013

Crafty Monday: Variations on a Theme

For several years now I have entertained the idea of developing a Greeting Card ministry.  I have no desire to begin a business (although I am quite impressed with those who maintain Etsy shops...) or to consider it as another vocation, but I do enjoy paper crafts and I think most people enjoy an unexpected letter in the mail.  A Greeting Card ministry seems to be a nice marriage of my interests and talents coupled with my desire to bring joy to others.  However... I have been rather slow in getting this off the ground; I have lots of ideas and I try to keep a running list of potential recipients, but I fail to make the time to create and thus all I have so far is a heap of good intention.

But this past weekend I wanted to make a card for my youngest's birthday, and I also wanted to work towards the completion of the Pin It and Do It challenge, so I perused my Pinterest Board and found this example.  I really like "simply elegant" cards, those that do not require a lot of artistic skill but are pleasing to the eye, and this one fit the bill.  I was drawn to the embossed white on white with just a touch of pastel color. 

While I had this particular embossing folder, I did not have the cupcake die cut nor this exact stamp set.  This is my typical mode of operation, however - to find an idea but modify it to suit my needs or style.  While I tried to duplicate the birthday sentiment on the front of the card with a decorative stamp (I tried a party hat, cupcake and streamers), I ultimately decided to leave the front quite simple... and instead add a bit of decorative sentiment to the inside.

I played a bit with the cupcake stamp - trying to find a shade of ink that would match the ribbon but not be too overpowering - and then I added a bit of flair by giving the candle's flame a "glow" and adding dimension to the icing with Stickles.  I had to wait about an hour for the icing to dry, but I liked the end result.

I then realized that this design is so versatile that it can be adapted to many other occasions and not just birthdays.  I embossed the fronts using a different folder and left the inside blank; I can then add the appropriate sentiment when the time comes.  I think these would make a good baby card, sympathy card, or simply a Just Because card.

As with most crafts, it is just as easy to make several as it is to make one, so I thought I would create a few extras to keep on hand.  I changed the color of the ribbon and the inside sentiment to add a bit of variety.  The collection reminds me of a Sherbet sundae.

My final experiment of the day was to modify the front and add the sentiment, leaving room on the inside to write a more elaborate note.  I think black and white is quite formal and elegant, the perfect combination for a wedding.

I had a lot of fun creating this weekend.  I just need to remind myself to do it more often.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Salon: September 29

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:  After a heatwave this week with temps in the upper 80s, I woke up to the perfect autumn morning:  chilly (around 48 degrees) that promises to give way to a sunny, comfortable afternoon.  I should take advantage and go for a long walk.... we shall see.

What's on the menu:  We had a scrumptious dinner last night at McCormick and Schmick's to celebrate my youngest's birthday, so I am currently too full to have anything else but a cup of Pumpkin Pie coffee from The Farmers Market.

The meal last night was truly memorable; I think we sat at the table over two hours savoring the appetizers (oysters on the half-shell and a remarkable crostini with gruyere, shrimp, and a spicy compote of dried cranberries), main seafood entrees (I had parmesan crusted flounder with butternut squash risotto), and of course dessert (the signature dish is a dark chocolate sack filled with a silky white chocolate mousse and topped with fresh berries).  Truthfully, I shouldn't eat anything today...

The Princess
Highlights of the week:  Aside from last night's celebration... the other highlight was taking my granddaughter on a date.  I picked her up around 8:45 on Friday morning, and we went to Cracker Barrel for a breakfast of pancakes and scrambled eggs.  We spent time shopping in the country store where she enjoyed both  rocking in the pink chair and looking at all the Christmas Tree decorations; I am certain we spent 20 minutes vacillating between these two activities.  We then went to Hobby Lobby to look at more Christmas Trees and possible future craft ideas.

The real purpose of the trip however, was to visit the library ... her very first time.  He mama taught her she had to be quiet at the library, so the entire walk to the door she reminded me to "Shhh..."  She had no problem selecting a book and we immediately sat down to read.  I think it was a bit overwhelming this first time, but I am sure she will quickly adapt, as she loves to read as much as I do. We did select two books and two movies to bring home before meeting her mom at the mall for a hot dog lunch and a visit to the American Girl store.  All in all, it was a terrific outing and I look forward to many, many more.

Teaching Overview:  Brit Lit completed Beowulf this week and I am so pleased with the way they conducted class discussions.  Students not only came prepared, but they seemed to truly enjoy the book and the conversation.

English  Comp is finishing up scholarship essays, so I introduced the Narrative writing assignment.  Typically, this is a favorite because it is one of the few times that students have an opportunity to experiment with creative writing.  I decided to adapt Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method for writing novels, and created a six step process to help these students stay on task and not procrastinate.  I am anxious to hear their story ideas when we return to class on Tuesday.

It was my week to teach ACT Prep and I received such a nice compliment.  After reviewing a variety of grammar rules (always a boring unit...) a student commented that for the first time she understood the WHY behind the correct answers.  This truly made my week!

Currently Reading:  Ok... I did make progress in Harry Potter this week, honest.  I think I read about three chapters (Goodreads says I am 63% complete) and I have great hopes of actually finishing the book today.  But somehow time just got away from me and I spent far more time prepping for classes. Fortunately, my reading buddy is further behind than I am, so I don't feel too guilty.

I am not fretting it though... we will make our way through the series and enjoy it in our own time.  I am sure that I could easily skim through the books, but I do not want to.  I want to savor every word.  I firmly believe that we learn good writing by reading good writers - and JK Rowling is one of the best.

Writing Progress:  I am quite disappointed with myself on this one.  Yes, I was distracted by lesson plans but truthfully, I did have free time that could have been devoted to this project, I just chose to ignore it.  It isn't that I am no longer interested... I think it is self-doubt creeping in, telling me I do not have proper credentials; I do not write well enough to engage others; I do not have anything original to say... you know the drill.

I plan to give myself a pep talk and lecture today - and I will not allow another week to pass without making some headway.

Craftiness:  I was a bit crafty this week as I had to make my daughter's birthday card and I decided to make several other cards at the same time.  I plan to post about this tomorrow and count it as one pin completed for the Pin It and Do It challenge.

Artist's Date:  Again, I did not fare well here either - although I did play the photography game a few times and have added several images to my inspiration folder.  A good friend just purchased a new camera and is most eager to use it every chance she can.  Once she returns from vacation I am certain we will schedule several photo walks to capture the colorful fall activities.

Princess plays piano
Photography: While I did not intentionally plan a photo outing, I did take advantage of the Princess's visit last Sunday.  She LOVES to play dress up and we have a special "blue dress" that we keep at the house.  I tried to follow her as she wrote notes, played iPhone games, and serenaded us on the piano.  I am learning to get low to the ground and shoot from her perspective... not quite so easy for my stiff joints, but definitely worth the effort.

What's on the Horizon:  This will be a fairly busy week for me:

  • I plan to have a nice dinner with a few teacher friends on Tuesday; 
  • I want to see the Sketchbook Project mobile library on the UMKC campus on Thursday afternoon (have any of you attended one of these events?  
  • I would to hear what I should expect...); and on Saturday there is the Kansas City Zoo 4 mile run to help raise funds for the new penguin exhibit that opens at the end of October.  I have not decided if I will participate (it will be a slow walk at best)... but I will definitely go cheer my youngest as she runs the course.  
  • We also plan to make our annual visit to the pumpkin patch Saturday afternoon, so many photos will be forthcoming.

It is indeed that time of year when the temperatures cool down and the fall activities ramp up.  This is, indeed, my favorite season!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pinterest Challenge

Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is currently sponsoring a Pinterest Challenge for the month of October.  I know she has hosted a few of these in past, but this is the first time I will join in the fun.

For those of you who have a Pinterest account, I am sure you can relate to the modified adage, Too Many Pins, Too Little Time.  Well, this challenge is to encourage us to back away from the virtual bulletin board and actually accomplish a few of those ideas.

The challenge runs from October 1-31, although we have been given permission to begin a few days earlier, if we are so motivated.  There are three levels of participation:

  • Timid Pinner:  complete 1-3 pins 
  • Pinterested:  complete 4-7 pins
  • Pin Obsessed:  complete 8+ pins
While I have well over 3,00 pins to date, I think I will shoot for the middle and strive to achieve the Pinterested status.  I hope to make a few greeting cards this month, experiment with a couple of fall  recipes, and perhaps follow-up on a photography tutorial.  I will post my progress on the blog - linking you to the original pin as well as reviewing my finished product.  It should be a lot of fun and productive as well.  A winning combination in my book.

If there are some pins that you are anxious to try, why don't you join us this month ... the more the merrier!

Happy Birthday....

My youngest turns 20 today - a special milestone for both of us.  Mandy can say good-bye to those teenage years, the ones filled with awkward first loves. fancy school dances, and the drama of high school friendships.  She is now entering a new decade where her entire life is before her - filled with dreams, hopes, and the knowledge that anything is possible.  Mandy is a bright young lady, if I do say so myself, and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to witness her grow into an independent young woman.

But today is significant for me as well.  I am no longer the mother of a teenager - a role that I have played for fourteen years.  I am not necessarily melancholy, just reflective.  We certainly had our fair share of struggles and differing opinions, but for the most part my children managed to navigate the turbulent teens with maturity and intelligence.  They are all well-adjusted adults, living on their own and supporting themselves.  What more could a mother ask?

Mandy has lived two decades, and when I stop to remember the day she was born, it truly does not seem that long ago.  It causes me to wonder ..... how quickly will the next twenty years pass?  What is my future calling?  How will I continue to make a difference in this world?  What limitations (physical as well as mental) will hold me back?

The first two decades of my life focused on education... to be the best student I could be.  The second twenty years focused on marriage and raising a family.  The past ten years returned me to the classroom,  this time as a teacher.  What will be the focus of this next phase of life?  Writing?  Perhaps.  Grandmother-hood?  For sure.  But is there something more?

My mother once said, there is a fine line that separates, "some day I will...." from "there is not enough time to..."  I need to start prioritizing those dreams and hopes,  begin to set deadlines, and become serious about planning for this golden age.  I do not want to look back on life with regret.

So I will say a fond farewell to the teenage years... at least for another decade, when my granddaughter will be on the cusp of her thirteenth birthday.  There is certainly a lot of living to do between now and then.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Salon: September 22, 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 period of time to devote to reading and all things literary?  While I like to focus these weekly posts on reading, I think I am going to try the format that several other bloggers have adopted and also use this entry as a way to summarize the past seven days and preview the upcoming week.

Today's Weather:  Perfect for the first day of fall:  sunny sky, cool morning (about 53 degrees) and a warm afternoon (high near 80).  And apparently we are to expect a repeat performance over the next three days.  I am ready to transition into the cooler temperatures, although I suppose now I no longer have the excuse not to complete my daily walk....

What's on the menu:  Currently enjoying a cup of Pumpkin Spice coffee in celebration of fall's arrival.    The kids are coming over this afternoon for an impromptu dinner gathering, and we will probably order the old standby:  pizza and wings.

Highlights of the week: Mumford and Sons concert --- of course.

Teaching Overview:  In Brit Lit we have finally finished the basic overview of literary analysis and will begin reading and discussing Beowulf.

In English Comp we met off-site at a local coffee shop to workshop 5 paragraph essays.  The class is small (only six) and the students are so focused, that I am sure we will make this a regular outing.

Currently Reading:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I had hoped to finish the book in a week's time, but I focused more on writing than reading this week.  I am about half-way through however, and really enjoy JK Rowling's writing style.  I have already fallen in love with Harry, and truly admire the entire Weasley family.  I will finish the book this week, and hopefully find the time to watch the movie as well.

Writing Progress:  I am still excited about the ebook idea, Finding Joy in the Present:  Spiritual Lessons through Photography, so I consider that a good sign.  I have outlined about fifteen chapters and written the rough draft for the introduction as well as the first three chapters.  I have decided to add photos to the project, and that has necessitated a review of my uploaded pictures in Lightrooom - which led to the task of (finally) adding key words to these images.

I refuse to let this become a diversion from my writing, however, so I only work on this portion of the project while watching mindless television in the evening.

Artist's Date:  (based on Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way...)   I did not actually take myself on a two hour date but... I did take a mental break several times this week to play the Photo Favorites Game, as I have come to call it.  I learned to play while taking Susannah Conway's online class:  Photo Meditations.

In essence, I log onto my Flickr (or 500px) account and randomly select one of my contacts.  I then go to their favorites page (that is, photos that they have selected as favorites from other photographers) and find one that speaks to me (either because I like the composition, the emotion it stirs within me, the subject matter, the technical expertise.... there is no set criteria) and I then add it to my collection of favorites.  Next, I visit the photostream of that particular photographer, go to his or her favorites, find another photo that speaks to me, add it to my list, and continue.

I typically only spend about 10-20 minutes playing the game, but it is relaxing, inspiring, and in the end, I have added several photographs that I can review and analyze at any time.

Craftiness:  I fell short in this area.  While I continue to add greeting card ideas to my Pinterest board, and I imagine myself creating them, I have yet to follow through.  I hope by reporting this inactivity week after week on the blog it will motivate me to do something.

Photography:  I did not actually take any new photos this week (except for the few iPhone pics at the concert), but I did begin the key word project and took time to review Flickr and 500px for inspiration, so hopefully that, combined with the "picture perfect" weather predicted for this week will translate into a photo adventure in the near future.

What's on the Horizon:  It should be a fairly typical week, which I enjoy.  It is easy for me to say yes to events and before I know it, I am over-committed.  I am trying to cultivate the habit of saying "maybe"

I do plan to continue writing, with the goal of drafting three more chapters.  And the highlight of the week will be celebrating my youngest's 20th birthday!  I will try not to focus on how old this makes me ... I cannot believe there is no longer a teenager in the family!

I wish you all a peaceful week, filled with cooler fall temperatures where you can snuggle with a good book, perhaps a cup of tea or glass of wine, and simply read for the joy for it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Dinner & a Movie Cookbook

I really had no idea what to post today for Weekend Cooking, seeing as I have not been to the store all week and the cupboards are rather bare (I think Greek Yogurt is about the only staple in the refrigerator right now), but Candace's post about watching a documentary reminded me of a cookbook in my possession that I could discuss (review is too strong a word as I have not actually used the cookbook yet...)

How many of you remember the popular weekly television series, Dinner and Movie? It aired each Friday night on TBS and featured a trio preparing a theme-based meal that was somehow (albeit remotely) related to the movie.  Each commercial segment included a visit with the team in the kitchen, one discussing the recipe and the other two generally offering rather corny jokes as conversational banter.  It was a clever idea, however, and while I did not necessarily prepare any of the featured dishes, I did find myself watching the movie-of-the-week because of this added component.

A couple of years ago I had a coupon for my all-time favorite hangout, Halfprice Books, and I simply could not let a good coupon go to waste so.... I made the rounds to the various departments:  writing, travel, photography, fiction, clearance (of course), CDs, and food.  I have weeded through my own personal collection of cookbooks over the past couple of years and kept only those that I use on a regular basis, but I often look in this area for Christmas gift ideas for the girls.

In skimming through the baking books and those of celebrity chefs, I came across this little gem.  I opened it to the table of contents and enjoyed the organizational system.  The book is categorized by movie genres (Teen Angst, Road Trip, Cold War, etc) and within each genre there are approximately 3-5 different movies.  Each movie offers one recipe with detailed instructions, plus a of couple of tips that might be related to the dish, the movie, or it might be totally random and related to nothing at all.

Here are some examples of the movie/food match ups:  Pretty in Pink is one of the movies listed in the Teen Angst section and features a recipe for Pretty in Pink Salmon Filets with Virgin Tomato Sauce - or - Goldfinger is a movie listed in the Cold War section and features a recipe for Golden Ladyfingers - or  - the one that I think is perhaps the silliest is Fall Apart Pot Roast is the recipe chosen to represent the movie, The Money Pit.

To be honest, I am not sure I see myself using any of the recipes from this cookbook, but I think it will certainly inspire me to plan my own dinner and movie evenings.  I adore the film, Midnight in Paris, and could easily prepare a French dinner for two, perhaps adding a bit more atmosphere by using the cafe bistro set that I have tucked away in my room upstairs.  Or another favorite movie is Sleepless in Seattle, which might feature Pacific seafood, grilled vegetables and a chocolate dessert with a cup of Starbuck's Pike Place blend coffee.

For those who have a significant other who enjoys cooking as well, this could easily transition into a full day activity:  plan the menu in advance - shop for groceries in the morning (perhaps include a special bottle of wine and a bouquet of flowers for the table) - prepare the meal in the afternoon - and enjoy the movie in the evening.

The possibilities are endless, and I would love to hear some of your suggestions for combining a favorite movie with a coordinating menu to create a truly fun, entertaining evening.

Mumford and Sons Concert: Bonner Springs, KS

Mumford and Sons - Lion Man
Music has always played a large role in my life, but live concerts have never interested me.  I think it is the large crowds and deafening instruments that leave me anxious and overwhelmed.  And in fact, I have only attended three live shows in my life:  Chicago when I was in college (circa 1980); Bruce Springsteen for my 27th Anniversary, and Mumford and Sons this past Friday night (a belated Mother's Day gift).  However, I must say that this latest concert exceeded all expectations and I am already dreaming of attending another ... except on their home turf in London, England.

I will not pretend to write a detailed account of the concert or the band's  musical talent - my brother is the music review guru in our family... and I will not pretend to discuss the acoustics or the lighting or any of the other technical specifics, as my son is far more qualified.  But I will tell you that I LOVED the concert and their dedication to fans, their passion for music, and their commitment to delivering a quality performance.  I appreciated that they sang the songs as we know them from the album, with limited harmony variation.  The audience, myself included, sang to every song and thoroughly enjoyed this intimate connection with the band despite the thousands of people in attendance.

The light show was engaging without distracting from the music.  The introductions were kept to a minimum because the band acknowledged that they knew we "all came to dance and listen to their music."  Because I knew I wanted to remember this special occasion in great detail, I made note of the night's playlist - and I thought I would share it here, for those who might also find it interesting.

The Playlist:

  • Lovers' Eyes
  • Babel
  • Lion Man
  • Below My Feet
  • White Blank Page
  • For Those Below
  • I Will Wait 
  • Lover of the Light
  • Thistle and Weeds
  • Ghosts That We Knew
  • Roll Away Your Stone
  • Awake My Soul
  • Holland Road
  • Dust Bowl Dance
  • Two Songs A Capella with just acoustic guitar accompaniment --- fabulous!!!
    • My Love Don't Fade Away
    • Timshel
  • Both opening bands + Mumford and Sons
    • Bruce Springsteen's, Meet me Tonight in Atlantic City
  • Final Mumford and Sons Encore
    • Winter Winds
    • The Cave
Mumford and Sons - A Capella Encore
While I did not time the show exactly, I can tell you that it started around 9:20pm and the band walked off the stage after the final encore at 11:10pm --- nearly two hours of non-stop, high energy music.  And if you bothered to count the selections ... a total of 19!! Even between songs, when the band was reorganizing the stage and adding or replacing instruments, music was always playing in the background.  The pianist was able to showcase his skills and I was truly amazed.

I am not sure if this was a typical show on the concert circuit - perhaps others were shorter, perhaps not.  Bonner Springs, KS  had the dubious honor, however,  of being the final show of this two album tour.  The band told us that they were headed back to England for some much needed R&R --- and they assumed we wanted them to write more songs (insert "thunderous applause")

As my daughter noted on our drive home after the concert, I would love to see them again.. but I really want to see them in a pub.  The way they connect with their fans and their music, made us feel like they would have enjoyed giving the same performance for an audience of ten as for an audience of ten thousand.  Truly an amazing evening.... and I owe it all to my attentive, generous husband.  There is a joke in the family about a certain ruby bracelet that I did not appreciate as much as was anticipated..... This, dear Geoff, is my ruby bracelet; you hit the ball out of the park!

I feel that I must apologize for the quality of these two photos, however, dslr cameras were not allowed in the venue and the iPhone was all I had to work with.  But in this case it was not the photo that made the evening, it was the music that allowed us to escape from our routine lives and the lyrics that reached deep within our souls that is most memorable.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Photo Thursday: Lightroom Workflow

I am not writing this post as an expert on Lightroom. In fact, I am writing in the hopes that some of you may be able to give me a few pointers.

I have been using Lightroom 4 for about eighteen months.  I never got the hang of iPhoto and I have yet to advance to PhotoShop (I have an unhealthy fear of layers...), but I like the organizational system of Lightroom, and the basic editing tools are sufficient for my present photography needs.

I bought Scott Kelby's hefty tutorial text, and while I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first four chapters, I am ashamed to admit that I have not progressed any further - other than a brief scan of the index.  I thoroughly enjoy the author's conversational writing style, and the numerous images help this visual learner understand the step-by-step instructions.  I am certain to find time this winter to do a more serious study of this powerful software program.

In the meantime, however, I have managed to develop a nice workflow that suits my organizational needs, and I thought I might share that system here.  I am always open to suggestions, however, to make this even more efficient, so please feel free to share.

I try to download my pictures after each event; it allows me to review the photos while the memory is still fresh in my mind, and it prevents a major backup that will demand hours of time rather than minutes.  Within Lightroom my pictures are sorted first by year, then within each year I have a separate folder for each individual event.  All event subfolders begin the same way, that is, the numerical value for the month, followed by the year, followed by a brief descriptive title.  For example, the recent pictures of the Arboretum were uploaded to the subfolder:  09-2013 Arboretum within my 2013 folder.

Once I download the pictures into Lightroom, I do a quick review and immediately delete those that I do not want to keep.  My criteria varies depending on the event, but I tend to weed out about half (mostly due to poor composition or focus, and/or if I have several of one shot I eliminate all but two).  This takes very little time.

I then go through the remaining pictures and select those that I think are the best - the cream of the crop.    Currently I use the flag system (white for "best" and black for "delete") although I know that some people prefer the five star rating system.  While I have no set percentage that I deem as favorites, typically I find about 12-20 pictures that meet the criteria (and I typically find a few more to delete during this second pass through).

At this point I edit only those pictures that I flag as the best.  My edits are fairly basic, mostly because I am not familiar with many of the advanced options.  I crop the image, if needed.  I adjust the white balance (this one feature is worth the cost of the program!) and often tweak the exposure and contrast.  Occasionally I will play with the color adjustment options, but typically I stop here.  Quick and Easy.

A new step that I recently added is to keyword these edited images.  I must confess that I do not have the hang of keywording, and I fear I either add too many or too few.  I do, however, see the value of this feature to either perform a search for a particular picture, or to assemble a photo compilation that spans several months/years.  Unfortunately, I did not add this step to my workflow until just recently, so I am now faced with the laborious task of keywording photos of the past ten years.  *sigh*

The final action is to post these edited images to a photo sharing website like Flickr (if interested, here is my photostream).  Lightroom makes this simple and convenient because it is already linked to Flickr.  I can create a new set within Lightroom, select the images that I wish to include, copy them to that set, and click "publish"  Within a few minutes I can log into my Flickr account, rename the files to a more descriptive title (rather than IMG-0152), write a quick summary, and I am done.

Typically the entire process takes less than an hour and it suits my need for efficient organization.

Addendum:  As I continue to catch up on the backlog of key wording, I have decided that at the end of each year I want to review these favorite photos and select the "best of the best"  There are some that evoke such a positive response within me - mostly sentimental in nature - that I would like to have a way to easily access them.  Using the rating system, I will only five star those favorites that I feel are truly the best... based on purely subjective reasons.


As I said in the beginning, however... if any of you have a modified workflow, I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Writing Wednesday: A Process

Since posting the idea for my ebook, Finding Joy in the Moment:  Spiritual Lessons through Photography, I have had several people ask if this will be available for human eyes.  Translation:   Molly, are you going to let others read this, or just keep it hidden on your hard drive?  While it is most definitely outside my comfort zone to voluntarily create an environment where I am vulnerable to critique and criticism, I know that this is a necessary step in my writing progress.  So yes, the ebook will be available for others to read... at some point.

But writing is work, long laborious work, and there is a natural process from inception to publication which involves several steps.  While there is no one right formula to follow, I thought it might be helpful to outline my writing process for those who are waiting to read this collection of essays.

There are essentially two categories of writers:  the Pantsers and the Planners.

The Pantsers are those who "fly by the seat of their pants" - they are struck with an idea and they run with it.  Sometimes they write themselves in a corner and have to backtrack to work themselves free; sometimes they stall in the middle and wait for further inspiration; sometimes their writing takes several bunny trails to reach the end and there is quite a bit of necessary revision to clean it up.  They are never at a loss for ideas, however, and often this creativity allows them to complete a rough draft in record time.

The Planners, on the other hand, like to organize the project from beginning to end before writing a single word.  Often they will structure an outline with not only broad chapter descriptions, but detailed plot points every step of the way.  Once they begin writing, the book practically writes itself.  There are few unnecessary diversions because the path to the end is clearly marked.  The mushy middle is not quite as murky because the stepping stones are already in place.  There is still a revision process required, but there are few bunny trails to rewrite.

For those of you who know me well, there is no doubt which writing camp I belong.  However, I do not plan every significant detail before I begin.  I like to allow some organic growth to take place; some insights or direction that I can only gain by writing.

Then there is the matter of research.  For any book, whether fiction or non-fiction, some research must take place if the story is going to ring true.  Facts should be double checked and a dictionary is an essential tool to fully understand the meaning of words.  Some writers save this necessary detail until the first draft is complete.  They are most concerned with getting the draft written, so they mark the passages where additional information is required and keep on writing.  Other writers try to anticipate the research needs prior to starting the project and develop reference notes that can be accessed during the draft phase.  I tend to fall in this latter group.  Research helps me to flesh out ideas, as well as gives me a firm grounding in my content area.

At this point in my Work in Progress (WIP) I have developed a rough outline that consists of fifteen chapters.  I have written 2-3 sentences on each chapter's index card that summarizes the general points.  I have arranged the index cards in what I think is a logical progression for the book.  And I have written a very rough draft of the introduction and first two chapters.  Currently the word count is approximately 1,500.  I know that each of these areas can be further developed however, so I think each essay will be approximately 1,000 words.

As in any creative endeavor, there is value in deadlines.  It serves as motivation which is a catalyst for inspiration.  While there is no outside force to establish this deadline, after all it is my own idea for my own pleasure, it would be very easy to say that I will complete it whenever...  But we all know that life will get in the way, and I do want to finish.  I want to see if I actually have what it takes to be a "writer" and for that reason alone I am setting the deadline of November 1st to complete the rough draft. This seems quite manageable:  15,000 words in approximately six weeks.  But November 1st is also significant because it marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo, in which I would like to participate.

Now.... this does NOT mean that the book will be ready for human eyes.  I know plenty of revisions as well as detailed edits will need to be made, and I have recently entertained the idea of including photographs to help illustrate the spiritual lessons.  While I have some usable photos on my hard drive already, I know I will need to supplement with others.  Unfortunately I won't know what pictures to take until I finish the project.  However, in an effort to keep myself accountable I will set a tentative deadline of December 31st to complete all written revisions and edits, February 28th to complete all photographs, and March 24th for publication (end of spring break).

I anticipate a big challenge in learning how to compile the manuscript, with pictures, in a suitable format for ebook publication.  I will more than likely opt to use PDFs as it is the most versatile and can be read on a variety of computers or other electronic devices and ereaders.  I have no idea what costs I might incur, but that is the least of my worries at the moment.

For now, I will write.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Salon: Writing ..AND.. Reading

It is taking a while to get into my new teaching routine, but I shall be there soon.  This week yearbook duties were successfully transferred to a capable replacement, and I should now be able to enjoy my new weekly schedule of working three-days followed by a four day weekend.

A portion of this additional free time is reserved for my writing endeavors, and I have had a rather productive week in that regard.  On September 1st I began a free online writing program hosted by Cat Wearring entitled, 30 Day Product Creation Challenge, where the goal is to write an ebook in a month's time.  Cat sends a daily email with a motivational message and exercises designed to keep us focused and stay on task.  While I have enjoyed reading the daily assignments, it wasn't until yesterday that they all seemed to culminate into a personal epiphany.

This is not another NaNoWriMo event where the goal is to write a 50,000 word draft of a story any which way you can; it is far more manageable, and Cat even offers suggestions for finding a viable idea.  Writing fiction is significantly outside my comfort zone, but for some reason I have not found a suitable non fiction topic to sink my teeth into.  I know that I want to practice travel writing, and I have a few memoir ideas, but nothing has grabbed my attention and ignited my passion to write for my own pleasure.

But as I was reading through this list of possible ideas (for the second or third time) I realized something:  I have been waiting for the 'blockbuster' idea rather than writing the smaller pieces.  I have placed such unrealistic expectations on this first writing endeavor that I set myself up for failure before I have had a chance to begin.

Writers write.  And I just need to follow that axiom.  I shouldn't worry about the size of the project or the audience appeal, I should just write what I know and what I feel needs to be told.

So this week I will be working on my ebook project:  Finding Joy in the Moment:  Spiritual Lessons through Photography.  I currently have twelve chapters outlined and an introduction drafted.  I have not been this excited about a personal project in a long time, and I look forward to the work and the joy I know it will bring.

On the reading front.... the heat wave broke in the midwest and cooler temperatures have finally arrived.  With the advent of this fall-like weather, my youngest and I have embarked on a Harry Potter read-athon.   While there is no deadline to complete this goal, it is my hope to have the entire series read by the end of the year.

I believe this is about the third or fourth time Mandy has read the books, but it will be my first.  I own the entire series in a variety of formats:  hardback, audio, and blue-ray video (I am most definitely committed to the series, I just have not made it a reading priority). While I do not typically listen to audiobooks (I find it difficult to follow without focusing on the written word), I am hoping the soothing accent of Jim Dale will help me to overcome this issue.

I have read the first five chapters of The Sorcerer's Stone and hope to read more on this relaxing Sunday.  The audiobook is loaded on my iPhone and I plan to listen while driving to and from school.  Hopefully I can finish the first book this week and then give a brief review in the next Sunday Salon.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Weekend Cooking: Variations of a Theme

Last week I posted about my first attempt at preparing Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad.  I wasn't sure how my "meat and potatoes" crowd would react but they seemed to enjoy it, and I absolutely LOVED it.  In fact, I liked it so much, that I have considered adapting it to a variety of different tastes.

While shopping at Trader Joe's this week, I discovered Harvest Grains, an assortment of Israeli-style couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa.  The color combination is festive, and the nutritional content seemed decent:  2 grams of fiber; 6 grams of protein; 2 grams of sugar; 1 gram of fat.  I bought a bag and decided to use these grains as a part of the adaptation of last week's salad.  I prepared the blend according to the package directions, using chicken broth rather than water.  Quick and Easy.

I decided to improvise, however, and made a one-dish meal rather than a side salad.  To the grain mixture, I not only added the cherry tomatoes and cucumber, but I also added 1 cup diced boiled chicken breast and about 1/2 cup of feta cheese.

The dressing consisted of 1/4 cup olive oil and 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Greek seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon Penzey's Shallot salt.  A sprinkle of finely chopped mint added a splash of fresh flavor.  And I must say, it was rather tasty!

This successful experiment has led me to think that there may be a variety of other one-dish meals that can be prepared from this one basic recipe:  perhaps shrimp with a bay seasoning dressing, or  shredded pork tenderloin, asiago cheese, with a Mexican dressing using lime juice, cumin and coriander.

This is the perfect dish to serve one night as a light dinner, and then eat the leftovers for lunch throughout the week.  I would be happy to have this as a staple on my menu repertoire.  If you can imagine another flavorful combination, I would love to hear it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Arboretum Reflections

In celebration of cooler temperatures and bright sunny skies, I decided to take a photo safari to our local arboretum.  Of course the nice weather encouraged others to enjoy the outdoors as well, so it was a bit more crowded than I anticipated. I only stayed for about an hour, but in that time I was able to take a few pictures and reflect on this time of year.... and life.

This week one of my students reminded me of the prologue to Tuck Everlasting - an exquisite passage of literature for me, although not necessarily a favorite of the student.  Natalie Babbitt sets the scene by describing a summertime heat spell:
The first weeks of August hang at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.
When I taught the book to seventh graders, we discussed this simile at length:  if seasons of the year are compared to a ferris wheel, it is then logical that the hottest part of the year would be at the top before it "falls" into autumn.

This also corresponds to a lesson I teach in my British Literature class.  Currently we are discussing symbolism in literature and how each season often has an archetypical meaning:  spring symbolizes rebirth; fall symbolizes old age.  We all found this a bit incredulous, however, because when we think of fall we imagine vibrant colors, delicious hot drinks, and warm comfortable clothing.  We don't think of old age and dying.

But if we look closely at nature we discover that this is indeed a seasonal affect.  And while I recognize that my age indicates I am "over the hill" ... I prefer to think that I am in the autumn of life.

I might be losing a few petals....
or be a bit withered around the edges...
But I still have purpose in life...
and I welcome special friends

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Passion for Writing

A couple of weeks ago I posted an endorsement for the Craft and Vision collection of photography ebooks.  The website was celebrating its 4th anniversary and in its honor  offering 50% off the (almost) entire collection.  For a twenty dollar bill I ordered several photography "how-to" books, as well as this collection of essays taken from the author's blog.  On a whim I decided to read a few on our nine hour trip to Nashville and was captivated by the author's writing style, inspirational messages, and life application.  

While I do enjoy photography, it is writing that is my true passion in life.  And as I read these essays I found myself constantly nodding in agreement, "Yes, that can be true for writing as well."  Or painting...  or music.... or quilting... or any other creative endeavor.  So in the spirit of sharing the wealth of wisdom, I thought I would post over the next several weeks a few of the most powerful messages I read in the hopes that perhaps some of you would also be inspired and encouraged to follow your creative dreams.

From Craft and Vision -  Vision is Better (Volume 1) by David duChemin

If you want to succeed in your photography, whatever that means to you, then you need to fuel it with passion and hard work. If photography is the air you breathe, the thing that distracts you and not the thing from which you are distracted, if it’s the thing you most want to do, to talk about, to spend your spare time on, and if you work harder at it than you’ve ever worked on anything, you will make it. Why? Because passion, true passion is in short, short supply these days. As is hard work. Long ago we abandoned the idea of having a life’s work, a calling; those that still do their work from that sense of calling or vocation, will be unbeatable. 

So what is photography? It’s less talk, more making photographs. Do that, and do it hard. And then tomorrow, do it again. And as long as you love doing that more than something else, you’ll have filled your days and fed your soul with something you love. And to do that, by almost any sane definition, is to have succeeded. 

I think somewhere along the way many in my generation (and the next) have somehow convinced ourselves if we have a passion for something then it shouldn't involve work.  We have made "work" an antonym for "fun"  mistakenly thinking that the two cannot coexist.  Or we believe that our natural talent in a certain area somehow translates to an automatic job well done; a half-hearted effort is good enough.  And this mentality saddens me.

I believe strongly that the desires of our heart are put there by the Almighty God.  And I also believe that He equips us with the necessary gifts and talents to achieve those dreams.  However, He also requires that we do our part:  to whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48)  We shouldn't ignore these dreams because we fear failure; rather, we should pursue these dreams because our life's purpose is contained within them.  

In addition, we should never take our gifts and talents for granted, or worse, ignore them.  Rather, we should strive to increase their worth through hard work and exercise (see the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30).  Our strengths can be honed, our weaknesses can be improved.  Obstacles are inevitable but not insurmountable.  And failures are just stepping stones to success.

The pure delight of following a dream with all your heart (emotion), mind (intellect), soul (spirit), and strength (physical labor) is like none other in the world.  Why do we deny ourselves this personal satisfaction when it is so readily available...  Are we that afraid of failure?  Are we that repulsed by hard work?  I hope that is no longer the case with me. I hope I find the courage to push through the fear in order to take a risk... and in the end find joy in the journey.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Warm Springs Ranch

Who doesn't remember this 2013 Superbowl commercial?  I still tear up when I witness the love between an animal and his human... even if it is staged for "Hollywood"

Warm Springs Ranch is the breeding facility for the world-class Budweiser Clydesdales, and we are fortunate enough to live only two hours away from its location in Boonville, MO.  But if you are ever traveling through the midwest, I would strongly encourage you to alter your route in order to pay a visit.

Because it is a working ranch and not simply a tourist destination, reservations must be made in advance.  It is an effortless process on their website, but weekend visits are popular, so don't procrastinate or you will risk a sell out.  The price is ten dollars per person plus a one-time transaction fee of $3.00 -- money well spent!  There are two tours offered each day, 10:00AM and 2:00PM, and each one accommodates approximately sixty people.  We attended the afternoon session on our way home from visiting our son and his wife in Nashville over Labor Day Weekend.  We were fortunate to have beautiful weather - sunny with a high of 82 degrees - but be sure to pack contingency clothes as the tours are never canceled due to weather.

While the ranch is conveniently located about five minutes off the I-70 highway, there is no signage or commercial advertising to direct you to its exact location.  Be sure to plug the address into your GPS system before making the exit (25270 Highway 98, Boonville, MO 65265)  The gates to the ranch remain closed until a few minutes prior to each tour when one of the four trainers will meet each car, double check the reservation roster, and allow admittance.

The long driveway to the main building is edged on either side with white picket fences, and there are plenty of clydesdales roaming the pastures to greet visitors in an authentic way.  The well-manicured lawn, coupled with the traditional fencing and red barns help to recreate a postcard image of days gone by - a time when life proceeded at a slower pace and simple joys were truly appreciated.

Pregnant mare ... due any day
The tour begins at the main building inside what is called the "breeding room" - and yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.  I will let the tour guide give you a play-by-play description of the five minute process, but the room is often used since there are approximately 40 breeding mares kept on the ranch.  The gestation period is approximately eleven months, after which the mares are allowed thirty days to recover and then they are ready to mate again.  The ranch also houses 3-4 stallions who seem rather pleased to have secured such a plumb job.

After a general overview of the breeding process and the inner workings of this ranch, the tour proceeds to the Pre-foal area where pregnant mamas are preparing to give birth.  There is a separate exercise area outside for these mares to roam, but as you can imagine, they are more interested in resting in the shade.

Bathing area
The next stop is the washing area, where we were shown how the clydesdales are bathed.  Their white legs are washed daily, and they are given a full bath about once a week.  The trainers give the tours and so they are quite knowledgeable about all aspects of these beautiful creatures.  Guests are encouraged to ask questions throughout the tour, and at times the trainers seem disappointed if none are forthcoming.

Pebbles and Paris
The tour then returns outdoors where the trailer trucks that transport these animals are parked.  Warm Springs Ranch is strictly a breeding farm; training occurs in New Hampshire.  If a colt is selected to be worthy of becoming a Budweiser clydesdale (he must have the right coloring, be the right height, and have an appropriate disposition) he is first neutered (poor guy...) before proceeding to training.  Once ready,  these geldings are then dispatched to one of three different "hitching" sites:  Merrimack, NH - Grant's Farm, MO - Ft. Collins, CO.  Those colts who do not make the cut are sold; they cannot be used at Warm Springs due to inbreeding issues.  The fillies remain on the property to begin the mating process when they are old enough.

The highlight of the tour, however, occurred at the end when we were fortunate enough to see a two week old filly and her mother.  We learned that the naming process of the foals is unique in that the first name of each baby begins with the same letter as its mother.  In this case the mare, Pebbles, gave birth to Paris.  Paris was asleep for most of our tour, but she did wake up long enough to nurse for a few minutes.

We were also able to visit Hope in that same hallway - the filly from the Super Bowl commercial.  I have a feeling she knows she is something special, but the fame has not gone to her head.  She was a little camera shy, but seemed at-ease with visitors.  We were allowed to remain in this area as long as we liked, since it was the last stop on the ninety minute tour.  We concluded by returning to the breeding room where free beer was distributed to those who wanted it and met the minimum drinking age.  In addition, a photo opportunity was available with the handler and one of the champion stallions.

Those who know me know that I am an animal lover.  And while I have a soft spot for dogs, I must say this visit to the ranch has helped me to appreciate the grandeur and splendor of horses as well.  I have a feeling I will return to Warm Springs on another visit to St. Louis or Nashville, and I am sure that it will be just as special as this one.