A place for writing off-the-cuff
Coverart by TheGirlInTheBigBox. Visit her online art portfolio by clicking here: http://thegiriInthebigbox.deviantart.com/
In 2011, my main focus will be on writing a novel. Since I'm a novice novelist, I've decided to come at the project from different angles, exploring the genre and experimenting with its elements. This blog and its offsite sister blog will be my journals where I attack novel-writing one day at a time.
As I was creating my BlogSpot page, the inspiration for the blog solidified in my mind. I named that blog "One Significant Moment at a Time." In essence, I want to use the format as a reminder to walk through my life with my author's eyes open, taking in the details, feeling the emotions of the day. As moments unfold and I feel their affects on me as a person, a woman, a mother, a sister, a member of the world community, I'll let the writer in me talk about it.
Creative Nonfiction is the genre most fitting to describe what I envision accomplishing here, moreso than blogging or journaling. The style is best suited, I feel, for my ambitions as a novelist.
In addition, Friday entries will not be written by me. Instead, I'll turn the keyboard over to one of the characters in my novel. He or she will relate the events of the day as s/he saw them, through the filter of his or her perception.
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If you've read my blog before, and find yourself here again, won't you click this link and check out my BlogSpot?
Become a Follower there, and I'll send you a Supportive Merit Badge! -- You don't have to go to blogspot.com each day; in fact, I post much of the same entries here in this WDC blog. But building up a verifiable readership may prove important one day when I'm knocking on literary agent/publishers' doors!
To Follow, just click "Follow" on the right margin of my blog page. You'll have to sign in using, or create, a Google account (it's free and only takes two minutes!), and then follow the short instructions. It's easy, and I'd appreciate it so much!!
Merit Badges Sent To:
~Noelle ~ TY Anon! ~
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~Mara ♣ McBain ~
~Adriana Noir ~
~Carol St. Ann ~
2011 Reading Goal = 25 Books in 52 Weeks. To see the list of books I've read so far, CLICK HERE
Leave me a comment anytime ~ even on older postings!
Thanks for reading!!
|The new round of Young Stars Shine Your Light contest is open for submissions! We accept short stories, old and newly written by young writers between the ages of twelve and eighteen.
Check out the Mini-Workshop Lesson on the contest page! This month, the lesson concentrates on Character Development. Learn how to use personality typing to inspire characterizations and uncover new, unexpected storyline directions.
|I had a fantastic evening with hubby and the kids. After working every day straight since Christmas, with not one day off (including New Year's Eve or New Year's Day), hubby took us out for dinner at LongHorns. A few years ago, this was a regular, bi-monthly event. But it's been a very long time since we splurged on dinner in a steakhouse, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
The conversation was lively as we waited forty minutes for a table. In an attempt to ignore the tantilizing smells emitted from the adjacent dining room, the four of us played word games as we sat crammed into an entryway bench fashioned to remind us of the rustic Old West. One of us would think of a fruit or vegetable, announce the color of its peel or flesh, and the rest of us made guesses until someone guessed right. We moved on to animals (the hint had to be its habitat) before our pager finally went off and we were showed to a booth.
By then we were starved, the waitress was on the ball, and in no time we were eating. The food was delicious.
At one point in the night, someone made a reference to physics, or outer space, I don't remember which. Eleven-year-old Cody began contemplating his different theories for how mankind could break the time-space continuem ( is that even how you spell it??). Hubby made a remark about Einstein, which prompted our son to declare he agreed with Einstein's theories on all points but one: Cody feels Einstein was incorrect when he claimed gravity pushed us rather than pulled us down. I tried to contribute to the conversation but saying how goofy the Star Trek series were, with everyone walking around up there in space like their spacecrafts were full of the Earth's gravity. Cody agreed and said he had an idea for how to address zero gravity during space travel.
I interrupted him and said, "Weighted shoes?"
My son rolled his eyes at me and said he hoped I was joking. I guffawed; of course, it was a joke.... I realized then that I was about Cody's age when I was a big Star Trek fan. One of my first crushes was on Captain Kirk...
As I smiled at that thought, I was struck by how big the kids are getting. Just yesterday I was a 'tween,' dreaming of the adverntures I'd have when I was grown up. Moments like tonight are precious and fleeting. Cody's mind is so sharp; I'm enjoying watching him grow and mature. The sky's the limit for that kid.
And the close of another wonderful day has arrived. I'm off to dream about Captain Kirk, going where no man has gone before, in his weighted shoes.
|Julie Knotts is writing today. She is a fictional character central to "Overcome," a novel-in-progress I'm working on. Julie is a talented twenty-four year old painter and sketcher who has chosen a career in nursing over one as an artist. This decision, and many others she makes every day, stems from unresolved issues carried over from a traumatic childhood into her adult life. She is writing today unaware of events to come (in later chapters), events that will either force her to evolve in her perceptions, or crush her spirit completely. [Note: This is NOT an excerpt from the novel. It is a writing exercise in which I practice capturing the voice of my character.]
I followed the woman with the fake tan out the gym doors, into a frigid wind gusting around the corner of the building. As if dancing synchronized to the same music, we pulled our hoodies tighter around us and bent our heads, leaning into the gale. I thought she looked mildly ridiculous with such unseasonably bronzed skin, but the second the thought flitted across my mind I scolded myself. It was only January 8th, and here I'd broken one of my New Year's resolutions, again. My mind must have been desperate to fixate on anything besides the freezing air that burned in my lungs as I rushed across the parking lot, because despite the self-reprimand for judging her, I couldn't stop thinking about that woman's skin. What sort of vanity drove women to subject themselves to harmful ultra-violet rays in tanning beds? Granted, the bulbs today are probably improved from back when I used to tan, before nursing school. I hoped that woman limited her indulgence to the bronzing bed where the UV-B rays are less dangerous. Although, considering the deep, rich color she'd achieved, I doubted it.
I reached my car and fumbled the key trying to unlock the door. I started the engine and let it idle a minute to warm up. I hated the idea of cold hand-sanitizer touching my skin, but I cringed at the thought of how many germs I'd come in contact with handling the free weights. I pumped a generous dallop from the bottle wedged in the narrow pocket built into the driver's side door. As I slathered the product across my hands, I glanced at my pale reflection in the rearview mirror. It would be nice to have a tan.
I made one stop before heading home. With all the paperwork I needed to do, I didn't want to mess around with preparing food for lunch. I swung the car into the spot nearest to the grocery store doors in the Publix parking lot. A tingle of panic swept through me when I dug through my gym bag for my wallet. Suddenly, I wasn't thinking about lunch. What if I didn't have my licence and I had an accident, or was pulled over by the police? The burden of fear lifted as quickly as it'd gripped me when my hand closed on the rigid fabric of the wallet. I pulled it out and sprinted for the store.
The resolution I was managing to keep concerned my diet and exercise regime. I'm used to my friends rolling their eyes when I talk about the five pounds I put on over the Holidays. I'm naturally trim, but hey, when your jeans are snug you're just plain uncomfortable. It won't be hard to shed the extra pounds, most of which is water weight. As if my feet weren't paying a bit of attention to my head, they walked me right down the candy aisle. I slowed my pace and looked longingly at the malted milk balls in the bin candy section. Keep moving, I told myself sternly. My feet obeyed.
In the freezer section, I eyed the selection of Lean Cuisine meals. They all looked nasty to me, but I settled on an Asian-inspired meal, because it included edamame. Next, I walked down the aisle with dietary supplements, and chose a protein bar sweetened with sugar alcohols instead of regular sugar. At the register, I gathered up my purchases instead of wasting a plastic sack and headed back out into the cold.
I travelled a back road to get home, the sort with two lanes but no lines painted on its surface. Groves of tall evergreens lined one side, keeping the pavement in shadow. It was mid-morning, but the temperature was well below freezing and I could see patches of transparent ice. I felt a little better knowing I had my licence on me, but now I worried about the damage I could do to the car if I lost control and landed in a ditch. I maintained a speed under the limit.
My internal organizer spoke up, and I began mentally outlining the tasks to accomplish today. Most important on the list was completing the weekly report of my work with Mrs. Freeman, the patient with whom I spend most of my time. I'd need to call her, too, to schedule her appointments for next week. On the radio, my new favorite song began. I reached over and turned up the volume. The rapid beat drummed against my chest, and I smiled. I felt like dancing.
I must have pressed the accelerator without realizing it. The song raised my mood, and the car's speed followed suit. Before I realized what was happening, the back end fish-tailed, skidding sideways across a patch of black ice. I stomped the brake, the wrong strategy for righting the car but the one that came naturally to me. The car veered sharply to the left, then caught traction on a stretch of dry road. My eyes flicked to the rearview mirror and, thankfully, there were no other cars around. My heartbeat pounded in my ears, and I blew out through pursed lips a steady stream of air. I cut off the radio with a violent punch to the button, and silence filled the car. In control again, I continued, slower, toward home.
|Writers come up with many interesting ways to develop a new character. Techniques I've explored include filling out character questionnaires, interviewing my characters, and sketching pictures of them. Sometimes the inspiration for a character comes from a word or phrase, but I'm a very visual person so more often than not, I see the person in my mind's eye.
A questionnaire is a useful tool for making decisions on what I'll call the character's "surfaces," their external and internal "shells." The character's name is very important to me, but I often can't name the character until I know other things about him or her. A questionnaire directs my thinking about the character's "outer shell": How old is this character? What color hair and eyes does she have? What's her physical stature? What's her ethnicity and religion? From contemplating and deciding these things, I can better answer questions further down on the list. For example, what are her physicality traits? Is she graceful or awkward? How does she move her body when she's relaxed? When she's stressed? Does she appear introverted or extroverted?
A questionnaire also helps me gather information about the character's "inner shell" that may move the story in interesting, unexpected directions. Is she single or married? Does she have children? What was her upbringing like? Does she have strong ties with her parents and siblings? What's her education level or profession? Does she live where she grew up, or did she move far away when she left home?
I found this free worksheet on the Web. Check it out: http://www.toasted-cheese.com/jj/characterdevelopment.htm
Another good technique for developing a character is to interview her. I, the writer, become the interviewer. I follow a formal list of prepared questions, and I let the character answer each one. Like any good interviewer, I listen closely to her answers. If something she says triggers another question, not on my list, I go ahead and ask it, noting both the question and the character's answer. It's important to let the character speak freely during this exercise. Don't censor her. And don't be shocked by what she says! Sometimes I have to remind myself that she isn't me. If she doesn't like babies, or chocolate, or if she's carelessly promiscuous, that's neither a reflection on me, nor on my likes and dislikes, or my personal code of ethics.
Laura Cushing and Rich Taylor have come up with a list of 100 great questions to ask your character. Check it out: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474976908598
As I worked through the first draft of my novel, I was struck by the similarities between developing a character and meeting a real-life person. When I'm introduced to someone for the first time, I note their name and their physical appearance. I hear the person talk and gather information throughout the conversation, from the person's speech patterns and word choices, facial expressions and gestures. But first encounters don't tell you that much about a person. People are on their best behaviors when they first meet, their conversations are guarded and polite, and oftentimes people mirror each other's mannerisms and body language. The initial steps in creating a character for fiction are very much like being introduced to a person for the first time.
If you spend time with a new acquaintence, you learn more about him or her. Guards come down as people develop a sense of trust and security with one another. Moments of stress or challenge reveal the inner workings of a person's psyche, and over time you find out what really makes them tick.
As I wrote each chapter and I put my characters into diverse situations where they were faced by conflict and personal demons, I was often amazed at how they acted and reacted. I realized I wasn't really writing them, I was channeling them. It was a fascinating revelation, one that represented a turning point in my journey from the short story genre to that of novel.
With the desire to push that revelation to new levels of understanding, my newest trick for discovering how my characters think and what makes them tick involves this blog. I plan to do this: one day a week I'll give the keyboard over to one of my characters. Every Friday, I'll take one character on an outing. I may run errands, go to the gym, or just go for a walk. During that time, I'll observe the world around me through the eyes of that character. I'll think like he thinks, perceive each moment through the filter of his prejudices and life experiences. When I blog about it, the entry will come through my fingers but from the lips of that character.
I can't wait to get started tomorrow. I hope you'll join me to hear what my first guest blogger, Julie Knotts (protagonist of "Overcome" [WIP]; click here to read the novel's synopsis and an excerpt) has to say.
Until then, what's your favorite method for getting to know your character? I'd love to hear what works for you and what doesn't.
Thanks for reading, and have a pleasant day!
Visit me at:
|I finally carved time out of today's schedule to pack the Christmas decorations up, dismantle the tree, and put everything away for another year. The house looks bigger and emptier than before. I wrapped each ornament in soft paper for safekeeping, since nearly every one is breakable. Almost no two ornaments are alike; each has its own story of how it came to hang on our tree. I felt sad, but content. Unlike last year, I didn't miss the Holidays this year. I was here in body and spirit, and the memories from Christmas 2009 will stay with me forever.
~ PEACE ~
|The sun dazzled me this morning and the sub-zero air made me fully aware of my lungs. With each gulp of it I felt more vital, more alive. The grays and browns of winter's landscape dissolved in the technicolor brightness beyond the windshield. I smiled all the way to the gym.
In many ways, today felt like the New Year. The kids were back in school, and our daily routine replaced the loosy-goosy, time-has-no-meaning lolly-gagging of vacation. Don't get me wrong, I love staying in my jammies all day long. But after a couple weeks, this schedule-oriented woman was ready to get back on track.
Into the second mile on the treadmill, a personal trainer new to our gym arrived with her client. The trainer is a tall, muscular woman whose stature and gait make her more handsome than pretty. Her client was a doughty woman in her early fifties, quite possibly attempting to fulfill her newest resolution. I give her snaps for the effort, and I wish her luck sticking with a program. But she wasn't my focus as I jogged along.
The trainer was awesome! She kept the woman moving from exercise to exercise, huffing and puffing through each set. The woman didn't look happy, but the trainer stayed upbeat and wouldn't indulge her in laments. She counted out the reps, added "Come on!" and hand claps between numbers. "You can do it" became her mantra, and each time she said it, she used her voice like a musician uses his instrument, changing keys and altering tones, until the client was laughing, in spite of herself. I wanted to tell the trainer she rocks, but I worried she'd use the introduction as an invitation to sell me some sessions.
I'm no personal trainer, but I know my way around a gym. I've been working out regularly for a long time, and the last eight years I've trained with my workout partner and best friend. Even if none of that were true, I still wouldn't find money to squeeze out of our well-wrung budget for something like that. As I ran past the 2.25 mile marker, the trainer started me thinking about a play I watched Sidney's class put on last month.
Two classrooms of fourth grade children participated in the production of "The Baker's Neighbor." It was an adorable story with a cast of ten, and each of the three acts starred another group of children, cast in those same ten roles. That way, everyone had a chance to be on stage. I cracked up when a girl played the role of the baker in the second act, donning a large black mustache cut from construction paper, scotch taped to her upper lip.
Briefly, the story opens with the baker selling his famous sweetbread goods. A local named Pablo arrives, like he does every day, and simply stands in the shop, smelling the cakes. The baker realizes although Pablo isn't eating his baked creations, he is enjoying them, without paying anything. The baker tries to charge Pablo for sniffing the air.
I thought about this play while I was watching the trainer, feeling motivated by her energy, wanting to copy all her exercises. I didn't want to pay her, but if I worked out near her, I'd get many of the same benefits as if I had. I was Pablo!
I spent about two laps on the virtual track worrying I was a terrible person, until I realized something else. The trainer was so inspirational because she was totally committed to what she was doing. She was joyful, living out loud, making the room brighter with her presence. That's what I wanted to emulate, not her workout routine, but the way she approached her life.
She left before I finished my three miles, but when I see her next, I'm going to introduce myself -- and not as Pablo, either!
|In the two plus years I've been a site member, I haven't competed in the Dear Me... contest. I've decided this will be the year I take a stab at it.
The format for my letter is taking shape in my mind. That's been one of the hurdles of past years; I've never been able to articulate my goals or find the right voice. Now, that forward motion I talked about in my first blog entry, that unexplainable momentum carrying me in a destined direction, is again holding the reins.
I pulled a card today from the Crystal Tarot pack. I do this from time to time, for fun, to see what in my perception at that moment can be mirrored in the card. I pulled La Lune, the moon. The card indicates an uncertain future but one to embrace, come what may. It's a complicated card with contradictory interpretations, and I can identify with both the positive aspects of illuminating the darkened path before me with unwavering optimism, as well as the negative aspects of being consumed by unfounded self-confidence and being led astray by it. Today, with La Lune in hand, the "Dear Me..." contest seems more important than ever.
Outlining goals in a format destined for an audience's eyes goes one step beyond merely stating my resolutions. It becomes a sort of pack with myself, a binding contract signed, sealed and delivered. The excitement I feel tells me what I need to know: trusting my instincts to this point is a very good thing.
|I visited a creative writer’s Blogspot today and she had posted her list of The 12 Things a Writer Needs. She invited readers to come up with their own lists. Here is mine, and I’d love to hear yours!
My List of 12 Things I Need as a Writer
A reliable computer/word processor – When thoughts come fast and furious, my pen just can’t keep up.
http://www.dictionary.com – I love the ease of clicking back and forth between dictionary and thesaurus.
A quiet workspace
Piping hot cups of black coffee
My sister, Noelle ~ TY Anon! , who is always willing to help me flesh out a character or debate the necessity of a comma.
http://www.writing.com -- The BEST online writing community where I've come to rely on everyone's helpful, supportive critiques.
A hot shower – I don’t know why, but when I get stuck connecting plot points, the shower is the place where inspiration hits me. (Do they sell waterproof paper and pen yet?)
Chocolate – Okay, I try not to eat chocolate when I write, but it deserves a spot on any list of life’s essentials.
The current issue of Glimmer Train -- Nothing wakes my uninspired muse like reading brilliant writing from successful authors.
My Gratitude Stone – Thirteen years ago I found a piece of sea glass on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s smooth and curved so my thumb lays perfectly in the groove. I hold it when I count my blessings, and when I commune with my characters and ponder their dilemmas.
Post-It notes – for those moments of genius I don’t want to forget to include in future (or past) chapters.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the support of my hubby and kids. On the (rare) days when I don’t have that, you can be sure I won’t be writing.
Making this list, and others like it, helps me reconnect with myself and the methods to my madness. I feel inspired to get writing. What essentials are on your list? I'd love to hear them!
Have a fab day, everyone!
Visit me at:
|Every January, it seems, I start a new project. In true New Year's Resolution fashion, I've begun a new adventure that I plan to keep up for all of 2010. I was inspired by Vivian's recent newsletter, where she said all author's should have a blog, as well as the movie Julie&Julia, and my dear friend who blogs. So, I started my own off-site blog called One Significant Moment at a Time.
The concept is simple: A venue for daily, down-time writing practice, when I'm not working on my novel. A writer interprets the world with all five senses, and I'll try to document my daily experiences with the flourish of an author's pen. In particular, I'll see the world with a heightened sense of the positive, looking out for those significant moments that alter my perception and make me a better human being.
I'd love it if you'd join me in this adventure by becoming a follower! It takes just a minute to sign up, and you're support is so very much appreciated. Here's the link, should you like to check it out:
Happy New Year, everyone! Here's to a better year than last, with more joy, more good health, and more writing!
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New Years is always a time of reflection for me -- a time to look back and look forward, but I'm happy to say I don't have near as many resolutions this year as in the past. I have a super family, wonderful friends, good health -- what else is necessary? In the spirit of always improving my life experience, I plan to concentrate on the positives in my everyday life. I want to wake each morning with intention, deciding how I will seek out the happiness and beauty around me. One day, for example, I'll notice every smile I see, directed at me or elsewhere. Another day, I'll spend more time listening than talking. I want 2010 to be the year I focus on the little pleasures that are oftentimes ignored in the throes of everyday bustle. That's my resolution.
|Last night, a mixture of rain and sleet slapped at the windows, but I heard above the racket the sound of her sobs. A mother's instincts are sharp, and as I strode toward Sidney's bedroom I heard the rational part of my mind reassuring my instinctual self that nothing truly threatening could have happened. Afterall, I'd just tucked Sidney's purple comforter under her chin and splattered her face with silly kisses a couple minutes before. Still, I made it down the hall in three strides.
When I got to Sid's room, her light had been turned back on. Cody was leaning over her in the bed, stroking her face and asking why she was crying. The look of concern in his eyes when he turned them on me made my soul smile. Growing up, I always wished I'd had an older brother, someone who would take care of me. I realized I'd been imagining Cody all those years ago.
I hugged my son and thanked him for being him, and sent him back to bed. By then, Sidney was on her feet, her head tilted slightly back, her body wracked with sobs. I took her in my arms and just hugged her, realizing I'd have to wait until she calmed down a little before I'd learn what the problem was. The rain pelted the windows at a faster pace, but Sidney's tears finally subsided.
It turned out that as part of the Gifted Program at school, Sidney was responsible for reading a 300-page book over Christmas Break. I remember her complaining about the story a couple weeks ago, which she described as boring. I guess the craziness of holiday activities and cram-packed schedules made both of us forget all about the reading assignment. Until last night.
I clicked off the light and followed Sid under the covers when she crawled back into bed. We worked out a plan to get as much of the book read between now and Jan. 5th when school resumes. We're going to partner read, her reading two pages silently, then I'll read aloud for the next two pages. Every couple minutes, Sidney's little face would scrunch up again and the tears would leak from her swollen eyes. She is a child devastated when she feels she hasn't done all that she expected of herself. We whispered in the dark through each meltdown relapse, promising ourselves to do better and remind each other of the project. Eventually I felt her body go limp and her breathing deepen.
I lay there a couple minutes longer, listening. The sound of Sidney's breath, the rain on the window, and the muffled noise of the television in the next room gave me an incredible feeling of childhood nostalgia. I used to lie in bed and dream about the future. The memories were so close; it seemed like just yesterday. And then I looked through the darkness at Sidney's angelic profile. Now for my future, I want to be more like my daughter. She cares so deeply about what's happening in her life. Her commitment to the present is absolute. She reminds me of how I can be a better me.
I should sign off here......we have a book to read.
|Compelled. That's how I feel these days, as if there’s something drawing me to its hiding place just over the next rise in Life's road. The attraction is strong. I’m in motion. My internal navigator, though, has closed her eyes. She trusts in the momentum she can’t understand or control. I have to follow her lead, for I know fighting it would be futile.
Here’s what I do know: When you want something very badly, so much so that you can actually see it sitting in your hands when your imagination looks down, then it will be. When I’m most in tune with the world around me, I easily perceive the signs pointing me in the right direction, toward the next goal. With that belief, that knowledge in mind, I embark on this blogging journey.
Last month during NaNoWriMo, I wrote nineteen chapters of my first novel. They are rough as a mountain river bed, but the ideas flowing through are full of energy and intrigue. My professional goals in 2010 include completing the first draft, and then working through rewrites and revisions. I may find this book won’t be marketable. But I’m compelled, (there’s that word again), to finish it. The project figures in, somehow, with the hidden thing lurking just below the horizon.
The idea for this blog came to me in the form of multiple signs woven lately into my everyday life. My good friend and next door neighbor, Miss T, blogs. I’ve admired for a year her strong memoir-style writing and commitment to her readers, but yesterday, sitting in my kitchen, she let fly one of those signs that hit me square between the eyes. She’s decided to use the create-a-book option once a year, to archive her blog entries in book form. Brilliant! I thought. This pushed the quiet, wallflower thoughts I’d been unconsciously harboring since watching [i}Julie&Julia over the Christmas break into the brightly lit chambers of my consciousness. Suddenly, I wanted to blog! I created an account at blogger.com. http://nicoleducleroir.blogspot.com/
You wouldn’t think a creative writer would have trouble coming up with a theme for her blog, but at first I was stumped. I want this blog to have a raison d’être. Julie blogged her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I wanted to have some kind of focus as well. Since the New Year is upon us, I feel compelled, yet again, to choose a resolute direction.
Each time I add an entry, I will write about one significant moment that affected me deeply. It may be something that happened in the past, but I don’t want to look back too often. Instead, I want to be present in my life, living today with open arms, open mind, and an open heart. In 2010, I want to live each day with intent. I will indulge in random acts of kindness and write about how the experiences affected me and the others around me. Through this blog, I want to become a more joyful and positive human being, and a better writer.
And so I take a deep breath, stretch my arms open wide, and begin.
|I've never been a materialistic person -- not hard-core, I mean. Sure, I like to have new things that aren't scratched, stretched out, or dirty from use. And even though I realize that "new smell" is often toxic chemicals gassing off the item and up my nose, I still love it. But I'm not driven by the need to have new things. In fact, I tend to keep things that are in rough shape but still functional, well after the average person would have tossed them away.
Christmas is the one time of year that I truly enjoy buying new things. I get a magical feeling as I hold a person in my thoughts and peruse the shops, looking for something special that person will appreciate receiving. This Christmas though, family finances have forced me to scale way back on holiday spending. Usually, I send packages to all four of my sisters and their families, to my parents, my grandmother, and to my husband's family in France. Postage alone usually doubles the amount the gifts cost. It's so hard to face the fact that I just can't do it this year, even though I know all those people love me and understand. I'm reminded again that the material stuff doesn't matter.
I grew up in a large Italian family. Every Thanksgiving at dessert, two hats would go around the table, one filled with scraps of paper with the family's children's names on them, and the other with the grown-ups' names. Each family member chose one name, and that was the person they would bring a present for a month later when we reconvened for the Christmas meal.
As the years went by and the cousins grew up, it became harder and more expensive to provide "good" gifts. One year, my cousin Dayna had an idea. Instead of a regular gift exchange, we would begin what she called Christkin. Rather than individuals in the hat, whole families where written on scraps of paper. Store-bought gifts were not allowed. Each gift had to be something crafted by the whole family, made by their hands as a family project, for the family who would receive it to enjoy. Some memorable Christkin gifts were:
One family with six children made a nativity scene. Supervised by their mom, the children used molding clay to fashion Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the three Wise Men, shephards, angels and assorted barn animals, while the dad made a set with barn and manger out of wood.
Another family made homemade hot cocoa mix in a giant mason jar, then painted ceramic mugs for each receiving family member.
Yet another family made coupon books for each family member that included free babysitting services, "library visit" invitations, and "Borrow My ______" coupons.
Even Christkin got hard to do after several years; the creative juices ran dry. The next idea was just as good and was sparked by a family tragedy: In the early nineties, my uncle died of A.I.D.S. It was devastating to our family, but outside of the A.I.D.S. quilt which we contributed a block to for Uncle Mark, we didn't know what to do with our sorrow and energy. A cousin found a website at the time that supported families touched by A.I.D.S. We chose a family whose father had passed away, leaving a wife and three young children. That was all we knew about them; we didn't even know their names.
The website handled all the logistics, and our family went to work. My father has five surviving sisters and brothers, who have produced eighteen children. That equals articles of clothing and items for literally every age. We gathered winter coats and boots, clothing, small appliances, music and video CDs/CD-roms, books, school supplies, car seats...the list went on and on. In addition, each family donated money, and we bought every item on the family's wish list. The rest of the money (there was plenty more!) went to the family as a cash donation.
We never had contact with the family, never met them face-to-face. But we felt a connection with them. Through them and the loving memory of Uncle Mark, we were touched by the Christmas Spirit like never before.
This year, as I shop only for my children, I'm reminded of those Christkin memories and the family we adopted. Santa will still visit our house, and thanks to the money Christian's parents put into our account in France (Euros buy a LOT of dollars!!! ) we'll have "good" presents under the tree. But the kids and I have been making presents for people. We've been tye-dying t-shirts this week and having a ball doing it. Our Christmas Eve party presents that will go into the traditional White Elephant exchange at my cousin's house will be tins from my collection, filled with baked goodies the kids and I will spend the 23rd and the 24th making. I'm looking forward to those memories all ready!
Christmas isn't a materialistic time of year. It's a religious holiday, and an opportunity to touch the hearts of the people you love -- and those who you don't know at all.
Everyone who signs up pledges to do one review and to send one merit badge. In a massive match-up I'll conduct on December 16th, using the virtual dice, I'll match each player with one other player.
During the last weeks of December, you will review the member you got, and send him/her a merit badge. Also, YOU will receive a review AND get a merit badge from the player who got your name!
Let's Celebrate the Holidays together! Sign up today!
|This morning I passed the 50K mark in my novel-in-progress!!!! Whoo-whoo!! The story is still half-told, and I'll be writing right through December to get the first draft finished, but I am so excited to be working the plot out for this story. It's been banging around in my head for years -- for more years than I've been (seriously) writing. It feels great!
I'm also excited to have reached my NaNo goal because my sister is coming tonight with her two kids and staying the week for Thanksgiving. I really didn't want to feel silent stress about needing to write while she's here. I miss her so much since she moved away and we have lots of catching up to do. She just returned from her first trip to Africa (Uganda) and I'm dying to hear her impressions and what that emotional rollercoaster was like for her (because I remember it well!!). Plus, she is the BEST Scrabble adversary and we have been known to play out three games back-to-back. Can't wait!!
Thank you, sweet Mara ♣ McBain for the awesome Merit Badge -- the first of this kind I've ever received!!!
It's a good day! I hope anyone reading this is having a fab one as well
|In a community near where I live just outside Atlanta, GA, a teacher, Ashley Payne was recently fired from her position at the high school where she taught English because of her FaceBook page. When I saw this on the evening news, I didn't know what to think, and it's become a colorful topic of conversation between myself and my girlfriends.
Appartently, this young woman posted pictures of her European vacation on her FaceBook page. In two photos, she is pictured holding an alcoholic beverage: she has a glass of beer in a photo taken in Amsterdam, and a glass of wine in a photo in Italy. In addition, she used the word "bitch" in a post someplace on her page. The story goes that a parent from the school saw her page and complained to school administrators about it, leading to her dismissal.
According to Payne, she doesn't know how a parent could have seen her page because it is set to private. She claims she never accepts a friend request from a student.
My knee-jerk reaction is here we have yet another example of Southern holier-than-thou attitude condemning anyone who commits such sins as drinking or cursing. And shame on them for working with God-fearing children being raised to walk the path of Jesus. (My cheeky explanation stems from the ridiculous hypocracy that I see every day where these types of people are concerned.)
Then, since I am a Libra who must examine each side of the coin, I think about my own children in school and I wonder if it isn't good to insist that the teachers interacting with them uphold a certain standard of behavior. I wouldn't want a teacher to say "bitch" in class, so how is that different from reading they said it on FaceBook?
Even as I type this, I'm shaking my head. After all, this teacher has a right to a life outside her job. I wouldn't blink an eye if I saw a teacher in a restaurant sipping a glass of wine! (If she was stinking drunk, I'd have a problem with it, though!) She had her FaceBook page set to private, so if she didn't invite this parent or any students to view it, why should she be fired for someone seeing it?
I don't have a FaceBook account, so when I asked my friends who do how someone can view a private page when they aren't accepted as a friend, I was told someone must have "tagged" the photos, making them accessible to any of that person's friends. Sheesh...that's why I won't open a FaceBook account. No guarenteed privacy!
This situation is still in limbo. Ashley Payne is suing the school district to get her job back. Her attorney is going at it from the angle that the school violated Georgia's Fair Dismissal Act when they fired her. If I were her, I'd try to get my job back and once I did, I'd quit!
The whole thing brings up the question whether your job should dictate the kind of private life you lead. Celebrities have to deal with the public scrutiny of their private lives, as do politicians. Where we should draw the line is debatable, for sure.
Word to the wise: be careful what you put out there about yourself. Information you offer on FaceBook, MySpace, or a blog can definitely bite you in the ass in more ways than one.
For anyone interested, here is the news story of Ashley Payne as reported by Atlanta's local Fox network:
|I don't question whether divine intervention lead me to Writing.com. Two years ago today, I put the key words "copyrights creative writing" into my Google search engine and hit "enter." The first link to pop up was Writing.com; I clicked and never left!
In two years, I've made giant strides in my writing craft. I tell people I've learned more here than a masters program could have taught me. The friends I've made are many and I hold them close to my heart. I think about them, worry about them when I know they're facing difficult challenges in their personal lives, and look forward to hearing from them each day. But one of the most exciting aspects of my experience at WDC has been competing in the contests offered here.
I counted them up. I've written twenty-eight short stories for contests in two years. That's not counting the three book items in my port holding daily entries for contests lasting two weeks. Plus, I've penned five poems for contests. I've written more in two years at WDC than all other years combined. I owe my growth as a writer to this site, the contests its members hold, and the reviews those members offer to its entrants. I am eternally grateful!
I've reached a place in my journey where I have more confidence in my skills than ever before. I trust my imagination. My muse and I have a strong working relationship. I'm ready to take the next step. Thanks to Nanowrimo, the first draft of the novel that's been outlined for eighteen months now is finally making its (computer) screen debut. The draft is rough Ooh, baby, is it ever rough! So.....
2010 will be the year I work on rewrites. After November, I'll have a better idea how many chapters I'll be dealing with, although I already know there will be some restructuring of this monster along the way. Each month I'll work on X number of chapters, for as long as it takes. My goal is to have a final draft manuscript. I don't know whether or not I'll peddle it off to agents; it's just too soon to tell if it will be good enough for publication. But I know there's more than one novel in this noggin of mine, and I see Overcome (working title ) as my learning arena. It's the project that is already teaching me just how different a novel is from a short story!
Today, thought, I'm celebrating Writing.com. What a wonderful community this is! I love the site, the people who gather here each day, and the opportunity to have my work read and reviewed. Most of all, I love being part of that community, interacting with my peers and commenting on their work. I am inspired everyday by all of you!!
Here's to many more great years to come! Vive Writing.com!
|An hour into my first Nano writing session of the morning, I was typing along in Word 2007 with my eyes closed when I heard a "tick." It was a soft noise, almost imperceptible. I opened my eyes and glanced to the left, where I thought the sound came from. Nothing was there; there was no obvious source for the sound. To the right I saw the cat, asleep in his window seat. Dismissing the sound, I went back to typing.
Nothing happened -- on the screen, I mean. My keyboard wasn't responding to my strokes; all that happened each time I hit a key was a soft "tick" sound. Panic.
My mouse worked fine. My system wasn't frozen up because I could navigate between Word and WDC pages. Then I noticed a new icon at the bottom right of my screen.
It looked like a stopwatch, and when I hovered the mouse over it, it said "FilterKeys." Ah-ha... WTF are filterkeys? I picked up the phone and called my sister, Noelle ~ TY Anon!
She did a quick Google search, and together we figured out my quandary. (Thanks, Sis! )
According to Microsoft, "FilterKeys is an accessibility option that adjusts the keyboard response so that inadvertently repeated keystrokes are ignored. Using FilterKeys, you can also slow the rate at which a key repeats when you hold it down."1
Apparently, the default shortcut to filterkeys is holding down the right shift key for eight seconds or more. I must have done this in an indecisive moment while I was writing. How annoying.
There are several ways to turn off filterkeys. What got me out of suspended animation was holding down the right shift key again for more than eight seconds. When I hit the next key -- success! I was never happier to see fifteen k's in a row!
After reading up on the subject, I've learned there are other ways to turn off, or disable, pain-in-the-ass filterkeys. They are:
In addition to holding down "shift" for more than eight seconds, you can also hit both shift keys at once to turn off filterkeys.
To permanently disable filterkeys, go to Control Panel and double click Accessibility Options, then click Remove All Check Marks. Apparently, though, this isn't enough to disable filterkeys. After you do that, you have to go to the Settings submenu and remove check marks there, too. Click OK twice, and you'll be free of filterkeys for good.
Here are a couple off-site blogs I read with filterkeys entries:
And just to be fair -- since filterkeys weren't designed solely to drive me crazy , here's a site that explains why the feature is a good thing:
Okay -- my writing break is over! Back to Nano-writing in a filterkey-free environment!
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