Monday, March 31, 2014

Emerged...

At the time I started this blog, approximately ten months ago, I knew that it would be a temporary space.  My first blog, My Cozy Book Nook, seemed too confining for the diversified posts I wanted to write, and yet my life was in transition and I was not sure what the next step should be.

Photo credit:  www.thebutterflysite.com
A year ago I was overwhelmed by the changes in life, seemingly all at the same time:  hitting that "half century" mark which officially qualified me to become a member of AARP; the death of my mother which resulted in me becoming an orphan and the matriarch of the family; and the birth of my granddaughter on the day of Mom's memorial service - and only six months after my youngest left the nest.  I needed to retreat and regroup and I did so... here in the cocoon and at home in the nook.

Over these past few months I have done much soul searching and gained quite a bit of insight.  I am learning to accept myself more and compare myself with others less.  I am learning to come to grips with my perfectionism and realize that I do not have to be the best to have purpose in life.  I am learning that God does not love me because of what I do, but simply because of who I am.

Photo credit:  www.thebutterflysite.com
This transformation takes about two weeks in the life of a butterfly - a bit longer for me.  But that's ok.  Through this process I have discovered my next step.

I will be retiring in six weeks:  May 16, 2014.  I have adored my teaching career and I know that I will miss it greatly; but it is time to move on.  I plan to follow a passion, something I have never done in life.  I plan to write.

I have developed a business website, Stepping Stones Publications, where you can learn more about my interest in becoming a personal historian.  I have also developed three blogs that will allow me to write more freely without self-imposed limitations.

Stepping Stones Blog will be my personal blog.  I anticipate many entries will focus on my writing endeavors, or books read, or personal discoveries.  The first post will be up tomorrow.

Stepping Stones:  Travels will document all my posts related to exploring the world, from local Kansas City to exotic Europe and beyond.  The first post should be up by the end of this week.

Stepping Stones:  Photos will not only showcase pictures I have taken, but will also discuss how photography has taught me valuable life lessons.  I hope to have something to share in the next couple of weeks.

As with any venture, I am a bit tentative.  There is comfort in the cocoon, even if the space is cramped and confining.  But I know that staying within prevents me from becoming the person God desires me to be.  The wings have developed, it is now time to take a step of faith and fly.  I hope you will join me on this journey...


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sunday Salon: March 9, 2014



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.  


Today's Weather:  This time last week the temperature was below zero.... today the high will be in the 60s.  I wish I could say this was uncommon for Kansas...

What's on the menu:  I think in celebration of our extra hour of light this evening... as well as spring-like temperatures... we may grill something for dinner.

Highlights of the week:  In some respects, this week was no different than the past two:  a limited focus on teaching, a greater focus on Stepping Stones, and some time connecting with friends.  However I would have to say that the highlight was spending time with my granddaughter last night while her parents went out to dinner.

We took her to the mall where we shopped at Barnes and Noble, American Girl, and the Disney Store; we ate dinner at 5 Guys Burger and Fries; and we rode the carousel.  Afterwards we came back to our house and had a tea party with my mom's china set.  While tending to a (nearly) three-year-old can be exhausting, it can also be energizing and ever so rewarding.

Teaching Overview:  Brit Lit is still conducting read-arounds of the research paper - spending on average about thirty minutes per student - revising three paragraphs.  It is my sincere hope that these students are learning the craft of writing while listening to these suggestions for improvement.

English Comp has finished the required textbook assignments (except for the research paper, of course) and we are now experimenting with other writing styles.  On Thursday we took a break and just played.... but I was so impressed how ALL the students stayed on task and helped create a viable story.  We used Rory's Story Cubes as the basis for our narratives and shared many laughs.

Currently Reading:  I read/skimmed about six books on the writing of memoir - three of which I loved and have added to my own personal library for on-going reference:

While I won't take the time to review each one of the books here (perhaps I will in a separate post), I can summarize and tell you the reason why I loved them is because they are concise, informative, and focused on the writing craft as opposed to writing prompts.  I have plenty of books (and online resources) should I need help in what to write; I am looking to learn how to write a life story in an engaging way.

I am currently reading Beth Kephart's Handling the Truth, which I am enjoying.  The author knows her craft and she presents the material in an informative way.  However, she uses many examples from published memoirs to help the reader understand her teaching point, which I do not think is my learning style.  I would rather read the author's words and then read the memoirs for myself.

I still have about ten more library books to review on the subject, and then I plan to transition to reading memoirs themselves.  There are several that are mentioned in nearly every book on the subject:  An American Childhood by Annie Dillard, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Liar's Club by Mary Karr, Growing Up by Russell Baker, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didon, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen.

If you have read a worthy memoir lately, I would love to hear your recommendations.


Writing Progress:  I have met with the two beta readers for First Impressionism (my NaNoWriMo piece) and discussed their valuable input.  I will now begin to assemble those comments, as well as my own, on the excel spread sheet with the hopes of starting the revision process by this time next week (this is taking longer than I first anticipated...so while it appears that I have made little progress in this area, it is not because I have lost focus)

Weekly Exercise:  Ok... it is hard to get motivated to exercise when it's below zero outside (I can justify anything...)  BUT... the weather is warming up and spring break is next week.  It is my intention to get back into a routine during the break and hopefully maintain it until the end of the school year.  Once June arrives, I am confident that I will return to the 5k walk-a-day routine that I began last summer.  And I am excited!

Stepping Stones:  Since developing this Sunday Salon template, my life has changed significantly.  And while I want to try to incorporate Artist's Dates, Craftiness and Photography into my life, I feel as though the development of this new venture feeds that "creative" side.  Perhaps this summer I will delve into those activities on a weekly basis, but for now, all my free time seems to focus on this area.

Developing a website --- what a learning curve!  Two weeks ago I had no idea that WordPress.com and WordPress.org were two completely different animals.  Now I do... and while I know that WP.org offers more versatility, I am not sure I want the hassle of transferring the domain name (which is another steep learning curve...)

The reason for the possible transfer is that WP.com allows for little customization.  It is not that I want to do anything flashy --- just have the ability to use different font sizes and colors for subheadings on a individual pages (a piece of cake in Blogger)... but apparently that requires learning the basics of CSS code (?)  Since I only discovered yesterday that CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets you can understand how inept I am.

And then there is Twitter.... I have never experienced such poor customer support.  And if I could find a way to communicate that to Twitter, I would write them a terse email.  However, the only way to contact Twitter with a question is to send a form email... which results in an instant canned reply that directs you to support links on the website (which I have already read.. multiple times).  Perhaps my "business" can survive using other social media like Facebook and Google Plus.

What's on the Horizon:  Grading compare and contrast papers before Tuesday; introducing Tale of Two Cities (my favorite unit of the year); reading more books on memoir; developing a revision schedule for First Impressionism; working on the business website.  In other words... more of the same, and I LOVE it!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sunday Salon: March 2, 2014



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.  


Today's Weather:  March certainly came in like a roaring lion this year!  We have a couple of inches of snow/ice on the ground with a couple more expected throughout the morning and afternoon.  The high today is seven (7) degrees!!  I am missing the consistently topical temperatures of St. Martin....

What's on the menu:  Since my husband has to be in Des Moines by 8:00am Monday morning, he left yesterday afternoon to avoid the hazardous weather.  It's just me and the dogs... and I don't cook much for us.  I made sure to have enough staples in the house to see me through Monday afternoon, but I anticipate some warm soup and a hot sandwich with several cups of steaming tea.

Highlights of the week:  Unfortunately the highlight - the memory that I won't soon forget - was having to replace everything on my hard drive; not a task I had anticipated this week.  It all started rather innocently.... my system was a little sluggish and I made an appointment with an Apple Genius.  I figured there was quite a bit of unnecessary "stuff" running in the background and they might be able to clean it up for me.  Just a little.... not a big deal.

The genius who ran the diagnostic test concluded that my "1's and 0's" were confused (whatever that means.. I don't speak binary code) and he recommended erasing the hard drive and starting over.  I expressed GREAT concern:  erasing the hard drive sounds like the equivalent of a major stroke to me.  He indicated that my time machine had completed a backup just two hour before, and there would be no problem.  Well, he was the expert, right?  So I agreed.

It was a relatively quick and easy operation.  I left the store with instructions of how to transfer the backed up files from my time machine and was told that everything would be exactly as it had been.  It should take a couple of hours.  Perfect.

Except - as the Apple Care representative told me in a ninety minute subsequent conversation - my time machine had a little "hiccup" and we eventually determined that I had to manually move all the files.  What he did not tell me ... and I eventually realized... is that not all files are backed up every day.  So I had to search through several folders to find everything that I think I need.

Needless to say... it was a tense, frustrating, L-O-N-G Friday afternoon.

Teaching Overview:  Brit Lit completed Pride and Prejudice and all scored well on the final exam.  We have now begun the read-arounds for their research papers.  This group of students have been leery of read-arounds in the past... not understanding the process that many minds make for positive improvements.  But I had a couple of English Comp students volunteer to come to this class to help them feel comfortable with the process.  It was WONDERFUL --- one of the rare teaching days when I left the classroom completely satisfied with the positive learning that took place.  We will continue with read-arounds this week until all students have had the opportunity to receive appropriate feedback.

Currently Reading:  As is my typical Mode of Operation, once I get an idea I run full-speed ahead.  I have developed a library list of about 15-20 books related to the craft and/or importance of writing personal stories/memoirs.  About half of those were currently available and they are now home ready for the next step.

Typically, I skim through the table of contents and read the first few pages.  If it seems to be a book that I know I will want to read in more depth, I will put in the "keep" pile.  If it is a book that I think might be too much review of what I have already read, I will put it in the "return" pile.  This process can be done rather quickly.

Next, I will begin to read the books from the "keep" pile and perhaps find one or two that I really enjoy and want to add them to my own personal library.  The remaining books I will read, take notes, and then return.

Today's weather is perfect for this kind of leisurely reading activity.

Writing Progress:  I commented to a good friend earlier this week that I "felt like a writer" today ... It wasn't that I wrote new material, but I focused my efforts on writerly activities.

I modified my Editorial Calendar, which I think will keep me focused not only on the micro tasks that need to be completed in a given week, but also on the macro view of maintaining and developing new projects for the future.

In addition, I received the edits and suggestions from one beta reader regarding my NaNoWriMo project.  I am now in the process of reviewing those suggestions and making a spreadsheet that summarizes those comments per chapter.  Later this week I hope to start the rewrite, with the goal of completing about two chapters per week.

I met with my writing coach, and she seems to think I have enough valid material to try writing a travel essay for publication.  Just typing that causes my palms to sweat, but it is an exciting challenge to pursue.

Stepping Stones Publications continues to be a focus for me as well.  I have created a website, a Facebook page, and a twitter account.  I managed to learn how to create a designated email, and I have ordered business cards.  Now I need to put flesh on the bones - especially with regards to the website.

Weekly Exercise:  UGH... need I say more?

Artist's Date:  I am having such fun with the creation of a new business, that I feel as though each day is an artist date; however, I know that I need to get outside the house and rejuvenate the other senses.  I did manage to take time Saturday afternoon to watch my favorite movie of all time:  You've Got Mail.  It was the perfect stress-reliever following the computer experience of the day before.

Craftiness:  I am excited that Stepping Stones Publications can incorporate a bit of craftiness as well.  Finding the perfect photo to coordinate with the meaningful story to create a lasting legacy has been my vision for a very long time.

Photography:  I did manage to select, edit, and upload about 125 cruise pictures to Flickr and then take advantage of a Shutterfly special to print those photos.  While digital photography is convenient to view and share with others, there is nothing quite like looking through a stack of pictures and reliving each moment.

What's on the Horizon:  More of the same... and I love it!  There are two more weeks of classes until spring break, so there will be a focus on preparing the students for that last push to the end; I will continue to read memoir writing books to help me identify key elements that I need and want to include to create my own writing style; and I will use my editorial calendar to keep me on task for developing the  website in order to make it a viable presence ... as well as revising my NaNo manuscript.  Busy... and it's all good!



Sunday, February 23, 2014

TSS - February 23, 2014



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.  


Today's Weather:  I'm not really sure.... I have remained inside most of the weekend working on an exciting new project (see below)

What's on the menu:  Absolutely nothing!  Geoff left before noon today for an out-of-town case and I do NOT plan to cook.  Whatever leftovers are in the fridge (which might be yogurt and stir fry) is what I will eat.  After the cruise last week.... I can afford to skip a meal or two.

Highlights of the week:  Well... highlight of last week was the week long cruise to the Eastern Caribbbean, which I documented here.  This week... I just tried to readjust to real life routines.

Teaching Overview:  In Brit Lit we completed Pride and Prejudice this week, which will culminate in the final exam on Tuesday.  Next on the books (no pun intended), Tale of Two Cities, my favorite novel of all time ... and most probably, the last novel I will ever teach.  Bittersweet emotions here....

English Comp continues to work on research papers, while writing a short Compare and Contrast essay.  We are in the midst of read-around revisions, and final drafts of those short papers will be submitted the week of March 3rd.

Currently Reading:  According to my Kindle, I have read 74% of Edward Rutherfurd's historical novel, New York.  Interestingly enough... my husband chose to take the paperback version on the cruise and we are nearly neck-and-neck in our reading progress.  It is a good, entertaining read of my favorite American city, but I must confess that preferred the author's novel,  Paris.  Hmmm... this seems to be a case of fiction mirroring reality here.

Writing Progress:  In the span of 36 hours I have managed to go from floundering writer to one with a definitive purpose.  It is as though all the events of my life, the stepping stones if you will, brought me to this point in time.  It feels RIGHT... if feels GREAT... it feels EXCITING... and I am indeed BLESSED.

To make a long story relatively short... I decided to read my two most recent editions of Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers magazines on Friday morning.  I was in a rather lazy mood, and so I not only read the articles, but also reviewed the advertisements and even the classifieds.  One in particular caught my attention with the title, The Life Story People convention - which will be held in St. Louis in October.  Perfect place ... perfect timing... intriguing subject.  I immediately checked out the website:  Association of Personal Historians - the Life Story People.  I had NO idea that such an organization existed - one that marries my passion for writing, teaching, and leaving a legacy for future generations.  I must have spent two hours reviewing the material on the site, and following links to member blogs.

With laser lock focus - as I have no idea how much time passed - I brainstormed a company name, checked into its availability, created a WordPress site, and purchased the domain name.  While it will be a while before I am fully operational, the website is Stepping Stones Publications and I even created a Facebook page as well.  If interested... take a look.

I like the name Stepping Stones because it not only reflects my philosophy of life, that is, nothing in life is by chance by rather by design - stepping stones that lead to the place we are supposed to be and the person we are supposed to become.  In addition, while I have found a focus for my writing, I do not want to be limited.  I still desire to write fiction - especially middle grade stories that educate as well as hopefully entertain, and travel articles.  I think this website will allow me that freedom.

While I will maintain this site for a bit, it was always intended to be temporary .... a transitional blog just as the caterpillar transitions to the butterfly.  Well, I feel as though the butterfly is developing her wings and soon, she will be ready to soar.

Weekly Exercise:  Ugh... I am certainly on the roller coaster with regards to exercise.  I seem to establish a working routine for a few days, and then life happens.  While I walked a bit on the beaches of the Caribbean, I have not returned to the regular treadmill workout since I have returned.  Hopefully this week I will make the time, as I would love to participate in a 5K event each month starting in April.  Yes, I am a fair-weather walker...

Artist's Date:  The entire cruise was an artist date as far as I am concerned... but I need to begin to be more proactive in planning dates for the future.  Now that I have a specific direction for writing and a renewed energy ... I anticipate more focus in this area as well.

Craftiness:  I did manage to create a few Valentine's using my Sihouette Portrait, which I mailed prior to our Caribbean cruise.  I must admit that it was fun to escape from the reading/writing/teaching routine and do something totally right-brained.  Perhaps it is not too early to start planning Easter card creations?

Photography:  I am not sure how many pictures I took on the cruise, as I uploaded each evening and deleted unsatisfactory images right away --- maybe 2100.  I am now at 1500 photos for the entire eight day cruise (and there are many others that could/should be deleted) but I managed to edit and upload about 125 to Flickr.

What's on the Horizon:  Well, there is the focus on Stepping Stones Publications.... researching other websites to help create my own... developing a rough draft of parent memoirs to use as examples... and brainstorming possible workshops that could be offered beginning next fall.  In addition, there are English classes to teach, faculty meetings to attend, and everyday life activities to keep me busy.  I must confess, however, that I am very excited about the future.  Life is indeed... Good.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cruising the Saints

Cruising the Saints is the working title for the journal of my recent travel adventure.  We left on Sunday, February 9th for a 10:00pm departure from San Juan to the Eastern Caribbean.  The seven day cruise took us to five islands before returning to port the following Sunday.  We chose to stay an extra day, in part to save money on airfare, but also to take-in the sights of another "saintly" destination.

I plan to write in depth about the trip, and perhaps post a few snippets here on the blog as well, but for now I thought I would give a Best of... summary of the trip.

Day 1:  Departure
We had booked the trip over six months ago.  At the time, Geoff and I decided to try a balcony room - a slight upgrade from the ocean view stateroom from our first cruise last year.

As luck would have it... we received a call from Carnival on Saturday afternoon offering us another upgrade for an incredibly low price.  The room was a suite, which included a couch and comfortable seating for eight, plus a vanity area and desk, plus a bath with double sinks and jacuzzi tub, plus a double-sized deck area on the port side.  

While the room itself was far larger than we needed, I must confess that the double balcony was well worth every penny.  This was our view before leaving the San Juan port .... and an equally nice view each and every day.

Day 2:  St. Thomas
In preparation for the trip as well as my writing plans afterwards, I did some preliminary research for each island.  St. Thomas was probably the most commercial of the islands we visited, but I did learn that the 99 steps (which really consists of 103) offered a nice view of the port area, and for those who are so inclined, a tour of Blackbeard's Castle provided a historical perspective.

We considered two beaches:  Coki Beach, associated with the Coral World Ocean Park, and known for its snorkeling adventures, and  Magen's Bay which is considered one of the world's top ten picturesque beaches.  We opted for the latter and were not disappointed. 

The beach is small and one can easily walk from one end to the other.  We were surprised to find pelicans nesting in the trees above the rocks, and took great joy in watching them dive into the water for a bite to eat.

As a side note... the sun in the tropics is fierce and while I tried to stay in the shade the entire time we were there, the one-hour beach walk was too much for my sensitive skin.  The tops of my feet were burnt to a crisp.

Day 3:  Day at Sea
While St. Thomas is but a short 75 mile jaunt from San Juan, the itinerary for the rest of the trip was to travel to the southern most island and then backtrack home.  The total distance between St. Thomas and Barbados is about 500 miles, which takes the 3,000 passenger ship approximately 36 hours.

To be honest, I was looking forward to this leisurely day at sea, and in my element on the Serenity Deck (21 years or older) lying on the shaded couch reading and journaling to my heart's content.  There were plenty of on-board activities for those who desire a bit more excitement in life, and the food, of course, was never-ending.

Unfortunately, there was an emergency on the ship and we had to make a detour to Martinique so a passenger could receive medical attention.  We were very impressed with the constant communication that the ship maintained with the passengers, and with the dignity that was afforded the patient.

Day 4:  Barbados
We decided to try our luck and find a local taxi to give us a tour of the island.  They can typically be found in every port and at times can offer quite a bargain experience over the cruise-line excursions.  We were blessed to meet Colin within five minutes of arriving in the city.  Colin quoted us a three hour tour of the island, and noticing our cameras, appealed to our interests by promising to stop at all the best photo opportunities, including the Jewish Synagogue, and Parliament Buildings.  He was true to his word, and allowed to stay as long as we desired at each location.

In the end the three hour tour was actually four hours - and he took us to an unplanned stop at Bathsheba Beach - a true highlight of the island.  The large rocks, powerful waves, and smooth sand made for perfect photos and island relaxation.  If you are ever in Barbados.... definitely visit this serene piece of heaven on earth.

As a side note, all beaches in the Caribbean are public beaches, even those outside the swankiest hotels.  You may not have access to the hotel amenities, but the sand and waves are available to all.  St. James's Parish is the elite section of town and I am sure the snorkeling and swimming adventures are fantastic.  I was too burnt from the previous day's experience to take part in any sun-soaking beach activities.

Additionally, the beach closest to port is Carlisle beach.  I had read that sea turtles are prevalent and it makes for a great snorkeling activity.  Our traveling companion tried to snorkel out to the site on his own, but found it too difficult to swim against the waves.  I had read on Trip Advisor that "Nevile" offered a great deal and we did indeed see his boat carry out a family of four ... allow them to snorkel around the site... and brought them back to shore.  I would think it would be a good investment of time of money to search out Nevile, if you are so inclined. 

Day 5:  St. Lucia
In my preliminary research I learned that St. Lucia is probably the most diversified of the islands we visited.  Of course there is beautiful beachfront property, but in addition there is a drive-through volcano, a botanical garden with beautiful waterfall, several small fishing villages, and the Pitons, two large volcanic formations that rise large in the distance.

I also learned that the island is filled with hills, valleys and hairpin turns that can make your hair stand on end.  We decided that rather than take a chance on a local driver - we would splurge on a ship excursion and again... we made the right choice.  Our tour guide, Felixia (like Felicia but with an "x") was extraordinary.  Not only was she knowledgeable about her island, but her personality made us all feel like family.  

St. Lucia is sometimes called the Helen of the Caribbean due to its tropical beauty.... but there is also another side of the island - one that claims 25% unemployment in an economy that charges 15% taxes and has seen an increase of over 50% in utilities.  There is much poverty in this area and it is heartbreaking.  We visited the fishing village of Anse La Raye, where the panoramic views are spectacular but the lifestyle is depressing.  I do believe there were as many wild dogs and chickens roaming the streets as there were people panhandling their wares.

While we did not opt to tour the drive-through volcano (I was leary of exposing myself to the smell of sulfur, given my propensity to motion-sickness), we did see much of the island and then took a catamaran back to the port area.  As introverted as I am, I must admit that the deck party was fun and I was somehow coerced to get out and dance a bit myself.

Day 6:  St. Kitts
This island proved to be the biggest surprise.  Again, my research led me to believe that we might spend a couple of hours wandering the port area, but I really anticipated an afternoon of leisure on the Serenity Deck.  Instead, we booked another taxi excursion and saw a large part of the island that is not easily accessible otherwise.  

As is the case with most of these islands, they are formed from volcanic activity and there were several "black sand" beaches that offered a unique experience.  Unfortunately, most of these beaches are polluted and not fit to soak up the rays or swim in the water, but the views are still quite spectacular.

We visited a rum distillery on the Wingfield Estate, which used the islands native sugarcane to make the popular Caribbean beverage, and that was adjacent to the Caribelle Batik.  This was the highlight of the island for me - and I would highly encourage anyone to take the time to visit the beautiful grounds, watch the demonstrations and browse the lovely handmade items in the shop.  We only had ten minutes which we managed to stretch to twenty... but I could easily spend an hour or more here.

The most beautiful beach area was Frigate Bay, which is completely surrounded with upscale hotels and condominium apartments.  The setting is simply spectacular and the water is that perfect shade of turquoise that you think only resides in photoshopped pictures.  

As a side note, the port area is extremely clean and offers a wide variety of shopping.  The clerks are kind, courteous and not at all pushy.  The monkey men on the street, however, are a different story.  The native Vervet monkeys are adorable and the handlers take full advantage of their charming appeal to tourists.  They put the monkey on your shoulder without asking and then demand $2.00 for a photo opportunity ---  not a bad deal if you want the picture, but be aware of the expectations.

Day 7:  Sint Maarten/Saint Martin
This island was the highlight of the entire trip - as far as I am concerned.  It is the only Caribbean island that I would love to return and spend an extended period of time.

Now, I am sure that a portion of the love-affair has to do with the French influence, as many of the people speak the language and maintain the culture that I adore.  And the fact that tourism accounts for 100% of this island's economy certainly contributes to the friendly welcoming atmosphere.  There is so much to see and do on this small 37 square mile island that I could easily return for a week and not grow weary.

The island boasts being the smallest land mass that houses two completely separate territories:  Sint Maarten, the dutch land to the south... and Saint Martin, the French land to the north.  Boats dock at the southern end and a brief walk down the pier takes you directly into the heart of Philipsburg.  The closest beach to the port is clean, well maintained with plenty of chairs and umbrellas to rent, and a boardwalk that offers any and every restaurant and shopping experience you could desire.  Just a short walk from this location and you will arrive at Front street, which is a major tourist destination for duty-free bargains.

My preference, obviously, was to the north, where we managed to see the bi-weekly Marigot Market area (Wednesdays and Saturdays).  There are two distinct areas of the market:  food stalls selling fish and local produce/spices ... and then across the way there are booths selling crafts, clothing, art and other such items can be obtained for a good price if you like to bargain with the vendors.  We purchased a few watercolor prints among other things, and then treated ourselves to a couple of  macaroons and a tarte de pommes (apple tart) at an authentic patisserie.  Tres formidable!

The highlight of this trip was not the clothing optional beach nor the market area, however, but Maho Beach (Airport Beach as it is known by the natives)... where the planes fly overhead so low you think you can touch the wheels.  It is most definitely worth a visit.  I would recommend standing a bit further down the beach in order to capture the "money shot" of the plane's logo, but this picture is good enough for this first time visit.  Believe me, I will return.

Day 8:  Old San Juan
Debarkation for self-assist passengers (those willing to carry their own luggage off the boat) began at 7:00am.  We were downstairs by 6:50am which proved to be the ideal time.  We were able to board the elevator with little trouble and we passed through customs and were in a cab heading to the hotel by 7:30am.

I wish I could say the people we encountered in San Juan were as friendly as those of the other Caribbean islands.  Sadly, there were several who didn't seem to care if they helped us or not, and many spoke very little English.   We were unimpressed with the staff at the Caribe Hilton (whose daily rate of $199 plus per night should indicate otherwise)... however... the visit to Old San Juan was indeed worthwhile.

Since we arrived so early... and were not allowed to check into the hotel... we were in desperate search for breakfast.  We managed to find a terrific local place, Cafeteria Mallorca, which served good food, strong coffee, and a healthy dose of authenticity.  Afterwards, we enjoyed walking the cobblestone streets in search of the San Juan Gate and then we made our way towards the Fort del Morro on the grounds of the San Juan National Historic Site.  While we wanted to visit the Fort San Cristobal as well, our stomachs were crying for food and the crowds of the first annual Circo Fest were a bit overwhelming.

While I do enjoy history, I must admit that my favorite part of Old San Juan were the colorful houses, the Spanish architecture and the cobblestone streets.  I truly felt as though I had been transported to a different time and place --- so European!

In Conclusion...
We were quite blessed by the weather on this trip (when I reviewed the ten day forecast, all islands showed a high chance of rain but in reality, we only experienced morning rain in San Juan the day we left) and the moderate tourist population (many times we were the only boat in the port when research showed that often five boats are more visit these islands in a given day).  The accommodations were perfect and the travel companions ideal.  In fact, as we were waiting in the airport to return home, we were already perusing the Carnival website to find our next cruise destination.

And as a side note.... while we did not specifically plan this cruise to be a Valentine special event, we did happen to celebrate the occasion while in St. Kitts.  I have avoided the Pandora bracelet craze mostly because I really did not understand the concept but... duty free shopping has a way of opening my eyes.  Geoff purchased this bracelet and cruise ship charm on the actual day, and then we commemorated our love for St. Martin's by buying one additional charm.  Thanks honey... for a great gift that will be sure to keep on giving.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunday Salon: January 26, 2014



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.  


Today's Weather:  We continue on the roller coaster ride that is Winter 2014.  Today will be sunny with a high near 55... and tonight the temps will bottom out near zero with a high tomorrow of only 18.  So I plan to get outside a bit this afternoon and enjoy the glimpse of spring before I must return, once again, to hibernation.

What's on the menu:  Last night I improvised with a few leftovers in the house:  frozen shrimp, canned water chestnuts and fresh zucchini and created a stir fry that I served over plain rice.  It was surprisingly tasty.  Today we plan to treat ourselves and have brunch on the Plaza followed by a nice walk around the area.

Highlights of the week:  It was indeed the low-key week that I had hoped.  There was not one great event that occurred, but I did manage to begin a walking routine (more to follow) and I learned how to convert my manuscript into a mobi file that can be read on a Kindle - complete with a hyperlinked table of contents.  While the Scrivener software does all the work, there was most definitely a learning curve to complete the process.

Teaching Overview:  Both Brit Lit and English Comp had in-class sessions to work on their research papers.  Brit Lit learned how to organize their completed notecards and create a detailed outline to help with the flow of the essay and discover if there are any research holes that need to be addressed. We also reviewed the structure for an introductory paragraph, which culminates with the thesis statement.

English Comp is just getting started on their papers, so students brought in two resources on their chosen topic and began writing notecards, making sure to include the source (for citation purposes) and only writing brief fragments to avoid inadvertent plagiarism.  They also began work on a K-W-L chart, that is: list what they currently KNOW about the topic and then... what they WANT to know about it (L stands for what they LEARNED ... but cannot be completed until research is done).  As students research, they should constantly be asking themselves questions... adding those questions to the "W" list... and then finding more resources to address those concerns.  This is what will allow them to dig deep into the topic, rather than just settle for surface information.

Currently Reading:  I am still working my way through New York on my Kindle; I believe I am now on page 176 which represents 17% completion.  This will take a while....

I also read a book on writing this week, Writers and their Notebooks, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  One of my assignments over the next two weeks is to begin a writer's notebook to capture those fleeting ideas or observations or snippets of conversations to be gleaned for future projects.  I seem to have a mental block, however.  There is no good reason for it... I love to write... I love journals.  But perhaps it is because I still do not consider myself a "writer"... and because there is no "right" way to use a journal that stymies me. But the book helped, and I would recommend it to anyone who writes and enjoys reading about others who love the craft as well.

Writing Progress: Inspired by the above reading, coupled with my need to be a good student, I bought a few journals.  A good friend turned me onto the website, Live-Inspired, which sells unique writing supplies at an affordable price.  I ordered several different journals last Saturday, one for each project, and received the package on Friday.  Great service and a very nice product.

In addition to the journals and the manuscript compilation, I also used some time this week to conduct some online research for our upcoming cruise.  I have revised the working title of that compilation of future essays to Visiting the Saints and have a special journal devoted just to that project.

I have another idea for a middle grade novel and I have begun preliminary research into that as well.  While I know the subject, I am playing around with possible ways to structure the book.  One idea is to continue a "series" of the NaNoWriMo project; another idea is to tell the biographical story in first person and present it as a "year in the life" series.  It was a noodling kind of week...

Weekly Exercise:  As it turns out, I am highly motivated by accountability.  You see, we are a family of type A personalities (some would even argue A+)  Even those who marry into the family as a laid-back B become As after spending time with us.  After Christmas four members of the clan purchased FitBits... which is a device that not only monitors your own exercise levels, but also allows you to create a friend list and monitor their levels as well.  As you can imagine, competition is fierce in the Totoro household.

Last Sunday I finally decided to join the craze and purchased a FitBit One, and while I only use it as a glorified pedometer, the comparison of stats with other members of the family urges me to get off the couch and to the gym more than anything else.  I managed to walk on the treadmill six out of seven days this week and I feel accomplished.  I hope the competition does not grow old, but continues to spur me to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Artist's Date:  None per se... but the low key week did provide me time to reflect and ponder creative projects.  Just looking at the pile of new journals is invigorating to me:  the endless possibilities!

I plan to bring my camera with me to brunch today and I am sure the walk along the Plaza will provide some photographic moments.

Craftiness:  Valentine's Day is quickly approaching and I did spend some time this week looking for greeting card ideas and then posting them to my Pinterest Board.  I have all the supplies in house:  paper, stamps, ribbon, etc.  I just need to settle on an idea and then create.

Photography:  While I did not take any pictures that are worth posting... I did spend quite a bit of time learning my camera this week.  I discovered the use of a few buttons that will help me quickly meter and focus, and I even practiced with Manual mode (I tend to shoot in AV or TV modes only).

I also skimmed the book, How to Photograph Absolutely Everything, paying close attention to beach and landscape scenes, since that will be the focus on my photography on the cruise, and I began re-reading the book, Photos that Inspire.

The mechanics of photography are not intuitive for me.  There are some people, like my son, who can quickly assess a scene and know how to set ISO - aperture - shutter speed - white balance - spot meter - picture style - and the variety of other options that I often forget.  I am lucky if I can remember to change the white balance (although the horrid color tinge of the photo instantly reminds me).  But I am determined to learn.  And while the learning curve is quite long... and accompanied by many frustrations and poor shots... I know that I am in this for the long haul.

In addition there is the creative side of photo composition, that is also difficult for me.  I used to think that symmetry was the ideal; but I am learning that is not the case.  And there is so much to consider: the horizon, the rule of thirds, the point of view, the depth of field.  This is truly a hobby that requires me to use both sides of the brain ... and while that is a real challenge, I like it.

And finally there is the post-processing, which I am learning is another craft in and of itself.  While I strive to take a quality picture, there is comfort in knowing some imperfections can be reduced after-the-fact.  But post-processing does not only improve a photograph, it can in fact, be a creative endeavor.  And I enjoy the opportunity to create art when I have no drawing or painting skills.

Yes, photography is indeed a life-long learning endeavor.

What's on the Horizon:  More of the same, I think.  This was a good week and I hope to continue the momentum with walking, writing, journaling, reading, and photography.

I wish you all a peaceful, warm and relaxing week as well.



Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Salon: January 19, 2014



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.  


Today's Weather:  Unseasonably warm.... a high near 60 degrees!  I think I might take advantage and go for a walk this afternoon, for they are predicting a high of only 21 degrees by Tuesday.

What's on the menu:  brunch with good friends.  Life prevented us from getting together much during the holidays, but today we are going to enjoy a leisurely meal.  I am sure talk will turn to our cruise trip, which is only three weeks away.... and we are all more than ready to set sail!

Highlights of the week:  dinner with a good friend on Tuesday, and then, quite honestly, Friday morning when I was home alone with no responsibilities of any kind (that hasn't happened much lately).  I did, however, meet the Princess for a quick lunch before she and her family embarked on a magical vacation to Disney World.  I anticipate many FaceTime calls over the next two weeks.

Teaching Overview:  A good week.... but I don't really expect anything less this semester.

Brit Lit began the study of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and I am always curious to hear the students' reactions to the Bennet family and Mr. Darcy at the beginning of the book.  Since the original title for this work was First Impressions, I ask the students to not only pay attention to the character's first impressions of one another, but to also pay attention to their own first impressions of the characters.  I want the students to discern, if in fact, we as readers are a bit prejudiced as well.

English Comp is beginning the major writing assignment of the semester, the research paper, which is worth 50% of the grade.  In addition, they will also have to give a 20 minute multi-media presentation on the topic as a final project, which is worth another 15% of the overall gpa in the class.  Needless to say, they are a bit anxious... but I know they will do fine.  Topics have been chosen and research will begin in class on Tuesday.

Currently Reading:  I had some time yesterday, so I decided to once again catch up on library books that have been sitting on my shelf for quite some time.  Both of them have to do with writing.

The first one I read/skimmed was Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland.  While the content is fairly basic, I was surprised how much information she packed into this relatively small book (176 pages).  It would be a fine resource to have in any writing library, and the author interviews at the end of each chapter give the reader a number of different perspectives.

The second book I finished was Writing and Selling the YA Novel by K.L. Going.  I am still not convinced that this is the genre that I am supposed to focus my writing endeavors, but I enjoyed the book and the insight it offered.  Each chapter is given the title of a course in high school (including gym and lunch) and the author gives a nice overview of how to properly target this audience.

In an effort to balance my non-fiction reading with fiction, I decided to tackle the historical fiction tome, New York by Edward Rutherfurd.  I used to live in New York City and I am still in love with that place.  I enjoy the author's writing style, identifying a few key families at the beginning of the city's history and then following them throughout the centuries.  I am reading the book on my Kindle, so the massive 800 page book is easy to carry and read whenever I have a spare moment.  Currently I am on page 120, which Kindle tells me is about 11% complete.

Writing Progress:  I am learning that writing progress is measured in baby steps, at least at this point in my writing career.  In an effort to get over my fear of letting others read my work, I have sent out about six copies of my rough draft manuscript to beta readers.  They are friends whom I trust, and I have made it perfectly clear that this is a VERY rough draft.  I know that they will be kind... but I am also hopeful that they will provide valuable input to help improve the plot, the characters and the overall writing.

My coaching session this week yielded a few more writing directions.

  • I am currently working on a theme for a memoir.  I have developed several key "defining moments" in life, and now the idea is to try to find the one thread that is common to all of them.
  • I have begun preliminary research for the upcoming cruise in an effort to write a few personal travel essays with the working theme of Traveling with the Saints (we are visiting the islands of St.  Thomas, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and  St. Maarten) 
  • I have also begun some preliminary research for a middle grade historical fiction idea that will blend the biography of Jane Austen with the story of Pride and Prejudice.  

In the meantime, I have been chastised for not keeping a writer's notebook (chastised in the most pleasant use of the word).... and have been instructed to begin using one immediately.  I am not sure why I have this hang up.  Perhaps it is because "real" writers use notebooks and I still do not consider myself a true writer.  Anyway, I am a good student... and I will of course complete this assignment.

Weekly Exercise: ah... best laid plans you know.  I know a large part of my problem is that I have not yet established a walking routine... and because of that, I always run out of time (or to be more honest with myself, I do not make the time).  This week I hope to discover a good time that works on a daily basis, and then institute it.

Artist's Date:  Well, not exactly an artist date, but last night my husband and I went on a date to see Saving Mr. Banks.  If you have not seen it, I would highly recommend it!  I did not realize that there are two parallel stories, one told with wit and good-natured humor, the other more serious and thought-provoking.  Of course, Tom Hanks is absolutely wonderful as Walt Disney, and Emma Thompson gave an outstanding performance.  I am anxious to purchase the DVD when it is available, and then my plan is to watch the original Mary Poppins before re-watching this behind-the-scenes tale.

The most significant quote from the movie (for me at least):  That's what storytellers do.  We restore order to imagination.  We bring hope.

Craftiness:  No craftiness but... I did take time yesterday to organize my space.  This is a necessary step for me to actually begin to work.  I cannot think in clutter and I almost feel claustrophobic.  I am hopeful that the clean desk, the organized stamps and ink pads, and the color coordinated papers will soon inspire me to create.

Photography:  Again, no photo sessions this week (although the nice weather today provides the perfect opportunity) but.... I have also organized my bookshelves and found a place to store all those "books and works in progress" close to my sitting area.  Travel writing and travel photography are in that basket.  See, my vision for this upcoming trip is not only to document Traveling with the Saints with written description, but also to capture the personality of the islands in photographs.

I know that in order to effectively (or at least decently) accomplish that goal, I need to practice before I go.  And of course, the more I practice the more I will improve.  So I hope to read the tips in these books today, and then find time over the next three weeks to go out and explore my own hometown through a 2.5 inch viewfinder.

What's on the Horizon:  Nothing... absolutely nothing out of the ordinary and I am thrilled for that.  Perhaps I will be disciplined enough to actually use this time to devote to crafts, photography and artist dates.

I wish you all a peaceful Sunday afternoon that I hope is filled with at least a few minutes of leisurely reading.



Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday Salon: January 12, 2014

Is it really the middle of January?!  Even in the effort of trying to slow myself down and appreciate each day for what it has to offer, the weeks still seem to zoom by.  But as I reflect on this first full week of the new year, I am pleased with the balance of activities and I look forward to exploring more of the interests in the weeks and months to come.

Today's Weather:  My... what a difference a week makes!  This time last week we were looking at sub-zero temperatures with wind chills approaches -30 degrees.  Today?  Sunny with the possibility of reaching 60 degrees.  Such is the joy of living in the midwest.

What's on the menu:  A family pizza dinner (ordered from the local Pizza Hut... not homemade).  My eldest and her family will be leaving for a magical vacation to Disney World on Friday and will be gone over two weeks, so we need to get our Princess-fix before they depart.  In addition.... we need to put away the Christmas decorations and (hopefully) our son-in-law can help carry them up to the attic....

Highlights of the week:  There were a few highlights this week...which I will detail below.

Teaching Overview:  Classes started this week, and while it was difficult to get back into the routine, it was good to see the students again.  The highlight, however, was the return of several alumni for an all-school assembly and then a more intimate lunch with faculty.  The tables were turned a bit, and the students gave us a report card of sorts, that is, they told us what we do well to prepare them for college, and what areas we can improve.  It was encouraging to hear that my rigor in the writing class pays dividends, as the students felt that they were well-equipped to handle any essay assignment and they were amazed at the vast difference in writing ability when placed in peer edit groups.

Currently Reading:  Since school just started, I had quite a bit of free time this week and decided to use a portion of that time to review all the library books sitting on my shelf.  I managed to read one in full, quickly read another (First Impressions:  Degas, a YA book I used for research), and after skimming the rest, decided that I could return four to the library without reading them in full.

The book I read in full was Refuse to Choose:  Use All of Your Interests, Passions and Hobbies To Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher.  I owe Joy Weese Moll the credit for introducing me to this author and while I borrowed three of her books from the library, this was the one that seemed to hit me where I currently live.

The author identifies personalities who have so many viable interests that they never seem to get anything done as Scanners (I fit the definition ... how about you?)  It isn't that scanners are unfocused, and often it has nothing to do with time management or organization deficits, but rather we are so intrigued with life around us that we are naturally curious to learn more.  She offers some good, practical advice to help us satisfy this need to learn while at the same time (finally) accomplishing projects that we want to do.

Interestingly, she also gives scanners permission to abandon projects that have lost interest.  She says that the passion is gone because we have already gleaned what we needed, so there is no reason to continue.  She advises wrapping the project with some brown paper, tie it with twine, label it, and include a sheet that details what was completed, as well as what is left to be done.  Then place the parcel on a bookshelf entitled, My Life's Projects... or My Autobiography... or My Adventures... anything that helps us realize unfinished projects do not translate to failure, but rather, knowledge gained and joy derived for that moment in time.

In an effort to try to create a balanced reading life, however, I want to read a work of fiction next.  My natural inclination is to read self-help or memoir, but recently I heard a quote that has resonated with me:
Non-fiction gives us facts; Fiction gives us truth.

My brain is full of facts and I need to balance that with truth.  I am considering either New York by Edward Rutherfurd (I read Paris this fall and really adored the author's development of generational stories in a historical fiction work) or.... a short story collection recommended to me by a good friend:  The News from Spain by Joan Wickersham.  Short stories are not something I typically read, but I have no good reason why.  Perhaps I could read both?!

Writing Progress:  Drum roll please..... I actually finished the rough draft of my NaNoWriMo novel, First Impressionism!  While I wrote more than 50,000 words in November, which qualified me as a "winner" - I still needed to write two more chapters to complete the novel.  And even though I was sick with the flu (twice) and had to prepare for the holidays, I still had a mental block in completing the book (this had nothing to do with being a scanner, by the way... but rather facing fear).

My schedule Wednesday provided me with an unexpected block of time and I decided to put it to use.  It only took about 2.5 hours to complete and I must confess, that the satisfaction I have experienced in completing this project is pretty awesome.

I even formatted the manuscript into a PDF file and printed it off:  all 182 pages.  I hope to spend a bit of time each week in the revision process and perhaps have a copy ready for possible beta readers by spring break.

Weekly Exercise:  I have decided to add a new category to the Sunday Salon in an effort to keep me accountable to this lifestyle goal.  For about two months last summer (until I experienced a knee problem) I walked a 5k four to five times per week and I LOVED it.  I felt a sense of accomplishment and I know my body enjoyed the workout.  But once out of a routine, it is difficult to establish again.

So in October I decided to join a local gym in the hopes that walking inside on a treadmill would take away the excuse of not walking outside in the cold.  And of course... the day after I joined, I came down with round one of the flu... which turned into round two... which segued into the holidays.. which led me to the first of the year.  So last Saturday I joined the rest of those who made healthy resolutions, and went to the gym once again.  I walked about 2.5 miles in thirty minutes, a good first day effort.... and then Sunday I stubbed my toe, which sidelined me yet again.

I am determined, however, to return to the summer level of activity - and then to maintain it.  I am determined to begin walking in an official 5k a month - starting this spring when the weather is warmer.  And the only way I will attain this goal is if I put it out here for others to read.  I may not be accountable to myself, but I am not about to lose face in front of the world.

So this week.... I will once again go to the gym and get on that treadmill for the first time.

Artist's Date:  Good news:  I actually completed my first planned Artist Date yesterday.  A good friend of mine and I treated ourselves to a "day in France"  We began the morning by having breakfast at Chez Elle, a lovely creperie here in Kansas City that provides good authentic French food in the perfect ambient setting.

We then had tickets to the Impressionism Exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins museum.  The exhibit featured artwork as well as photographs that depicted the change in the cities and countryside from approximately 1860-1880.  I had seen the exhibit in October, but it was nice to revisit the collection and share personal insights and reactions with one other.

The Alliance Francaise partnered with the museum to offer a Day in France experience.  The pastry tasting and wine tasting events were sold out, but we chose to register for a class in French Travel (a brief discussion of sights to visit in Paris and Bordeaux) and another class on The Destruction and Transformation of Nineteenth Century Paris.  Both of us truly enjoyed the latter class and could easily have spent a few more hours learning from this passionate instructor.

Craftiness:  Now that I know I am a scanner.... I do not feel quite so guilty reporting no activity (again) in this area.  Yes, I did "shop" for a few more dies to download from the Silhouette website, and yes, I did take advantage of the Archiver's sale and purchase some decorative paper to use in card making activities... but I did not actually create.

I am learning, however, that I need to schedule this time - put it on the calendar - and then honor the commitment.  And... I need to define the underlying fear that prevents me from pursuing this creative outlet.  I am not quite sure if it is because I cannot play without a specific purpose (quite possibly....) - or if it is because I don't think I am creative enough (quite possibly..) - or if it is because I am afraid if I start I won't want to stop.  All these are silly, I know.

Photography:  And... I could just do a copy-and-paste from above and put it here.  I love photography ... I love learning about the technical aspects of photography ... I love learning about the creative and compositional aspects... I love taking pictures of memorable moments to savor for generations to come.  I am constantly reading blogs and books on the subject, and I can spend hours on Flickr and 500px studying the images and the exif data associated with them.  But for some reason I don't pick up the camera and practice.

Again, there is some mental block that prevents me from doing what I know I need and want to do.  And I am determined to overcome it ... some day.

What's on the Horizon:  This past week was jam-packed for me, typically two or three calendar activities per day.  I am hoping that this week is a little more subdued, with time to stay home and write, read, craft(?) and revise.  Getting into a regular routine would indeed be a highlight.



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sunday Salon: January 5, 2014

Well, here it is... the first Sunday Salon of the New Year.  This is always an exciting time - starting the year with a clean slate.  There are so many possibilities ahead and the regrets of the past have been silenced with the flip of the calendar.  While I have many life changes that await me this year, I am still committed to enjoying each day - live in the moment - and find contentment with what I have.

Today's Weather:  F-R-I-G-I-D!!  At 8:00am the newscaster stated that the temperature was 10 degrees, and that is the warmest of the next 48 hours!  Tomorrow the low is -11 temperature with windchill of -30!!  Fortunately, we did receive the first real snowfall of the year... approximately four inches of fluffy beauty, but the cold will keep us indoors, next to the fire, with a hot cup of Christmas in Paris tea.

What's on the menu:  leftovers.  The New Year's ham was postponed until yesterday, but rather than the traditional dinner with savory green beans and mashed potatoes, we simply had sandwiches while watching the Chiefs vs Colts game (ugh!!)  Geoff is out of town for the next two days, so I may make the green beans for myself and enjoy the comfort food during this cold snap.

Highlights of the week:  It was a low-key week.  We kept Brynn over New Year's so her parents could enjoy an adult celebration... and there is nothing quite so entertaining as watching a 2.5 year old view the Disney movie Frozen.  She adores the theme song, Let it Go, and sings it at the top of her lungs.  I am sure we listened to the soundtrack a minimum of 20 times over the course of 18 hours.  That definitely could be considered the highlight of this last week of Christmas vacation.

Teaching Overview:  I spent Thursday developing lesson plans for both classes, Brit Lit and English Comp, to take me from the present to the end of the year on May 13th.  It was bittersweet... knowing that when I retire I will have free time to pursue personal interests, and yet having to say good-bye to what has been a fulfilling career.

Currently Reading:  I picked up the book, Daily Rituals:  How Artists Work by Mason Currey at the library today.  It is essentially a brief summary of the daily routines of many popular artists, writers, filmmakers, composers, and other creative personalities.  It is a quick read, but interesting... and what I have discerned is that many of the authors tend to get up early (which I do).... have a morning routine (which I do).... focus on writing between 8:00 and 12:00 (which I plan to do)... take a daily walk (which I hope to do)... and then spend the rest of the day socializing, drinking, and/or taking drugs to help them sleep (which I have no plans of doing).

I found it quite interesting that most authors consider it a productive day if they write 1,000 words.  That seems doable to me.

On another note.... I have discovered that I read far more non-fiction than I do fiction... and while there is nothing wrong with that, I am constantly pondering the quote I heard a few weeks ago that says:  Non-fiction gives us facts but fiction gives us truth.  I want to be more balanced in my reading.  I want to continue the study of writing as a craft.. but I also want to read more in my chosen genre.  I think perhaps I will try to read one non-fiction book and then follow that with a fictional narrative.  Hopefully this will give me a more balanced reading life... and one that I can use to help me in my new writing career.

Writing Progress:  I met with my writing coach for a second time this week and have grown to appreciate her wisdom and support even more than before.  I love the accountability she provides and her action steps are quite practical and just a bit outside my comfort zone - the perfect combination.

This week I need to develop an "editorial calendar" (a new term to me, but I have researched it online and created one that I think will suit my personal needs) ... order business cards that confirm that I am indeed a writer ... complete my NaNo story (which I plan to do prior to the first day of class on Tuesday morning) ... and discover a theme for my memoir.  All of these are good action steps that I am certain will bring me closer to my goal of creating a writing routine once I retire.

Artist's Date:  Making strides here... that is a good thing!
I have joined a Facebook group that is going through the Artist's Way over the course of 12 months rather than 12 weeks; this seems doable to me and I am looking forward to the longer, more relaxed study.

To that end, someone on that loop posted a Kindle ebook that gives some ideas for Artist's Dates, and while nothing is a big "aha" moment... there are some good ideas that get the creative juices flowing.  I have some concrete ideas for future dates, and I am sure that I will be able to develop more as time goes on.

In the meantime, I have my first artist date scheduled for this coming Saturday, January 11th.  The Nelson-Atkins museum is sponsoring a Travel France Day to spotlight the current exhibition of Impressionist Art and Photographs.  A friend of mine and I plan to walk through the exhibit in the morning and then take part in a couple of the events in the afternoon.  It should be fun, cultural, educational, and inspire me to revise my NaNo project.

Craftiness:  And believe it or not... I am making very small baby steps in this area as well!

In November a good blogger friend and scrapbooking lover posted about her recent purchase of a Silhouette Portrait die cut machine.  I was intrigued, so I followed the link.  OH MY... what a glorious invention this is.

To make a long story short... the holiday special was two machines for the price of one plus $35 in free die cut downloads for each machine.  This was simply too good a deal to let slip by.

With the help of my eldest, I sold all my Cricut supplies online for $100 and then she and I split the cost of the two-machine deal.  And while I have not actually used mine ... I have downloaded several dies and have a long list of potential projects to create.  I am excited about future Artist Dates with this machine!

Photography:  And I have given this topic some serious thought as well.

I have decided that a 365 project is simply not for me.  There is too much pressure to take a picture a day and quite frankly, writing needs to take the priority in my life right now.

HOWEVER.... I am still devoted to this hobby and I have a desire to improve.  So I think a 52 Project is much more in keeping with my schedule, my priorities, and my goals.  I hope to take my camera out at least a couple of times a week... and then I will post one picture for the week - on Flickr and on the blog.  I am excited about this prospect and have already begun making a list of possible subjects to photograph each week.

What's on the Horizon:  The first week of school of my last semester of teaching.  That is the big deal.  On Monday there is an alumni chapel that I will try to attend, as I love reconnecting with these students and learning about their life after high school - and then on Tuesday we will begin second semester.  I calculated that I have 36 more days of teaching..... not sure how I feel about that.

I wish you all a great first full week of the new year....