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.