Monday, December 31, 2012

Five New Year's Goals

It's been an interesting year. But I'm glad to see it go.

Oh, it hasn't been all bad - I've had lots of blessings to count. But major surgery - a hysterectomy - and a major health diagnosis - rheumatoid arthritis - kind of took the wind out of my sails this year.

I don't do New Year's resolutions because I inevitably break them, then feel guilty afterwards. So instead, I just like to make some general goals.

1. Learn pain management techniques. When I have RA flare-ups, I'm in a lot of pain, and that's all I tend to focus on. I need to learn to distract myself - immerse myself in my writing or a book or playing a game with my daughter or having a good conversation with my husband. Dwelling on the pain does nothing but make it worse.

2. Focus on the novel writing. I've done quite a bit of freelance this past year, and I've discovered that while the money is good, it takes me away from my true love: writing my novels. So I've decided to be more selective in what I take on for next year.

3. Stay away from politics, but stay knowledgeable on the issues. I want to be aware of what's facing the country and the world, but I really don't want to argue with people over those issues anymore. It's too brain-draining.

4. Continue to count my blessings every single day. This helps me keep my perspective.

5. Pray more. I think there's a lot of power in prayer, and I need to use it more often!

What's one goal you're making for the New Year?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Season of Sickies

I'm not quite sure what to say about Christmas this year.

The trip home didn't start out well. We made it 40 miles outside of the city only to have to get a hotel for the night because the roads were bad. The next morning, we headed out again and thankfully made it to my brother's house.

But by that time, my body was screaming in pain.

Yes - my rheumatoid arthritis decided it would be the perfect time for a huge flare-up. And it never let up the entire time. In fact, my body still hurts this morning.  And since I'm on a medicine for my rheumatoid arthritis that suppresses my immune system, I have to stay away from sick people. This weekend, that was not easy to do...

My mom had a bad case of the flu - the congested, coughing, headachy kind. She was out of commission for the entire time I was home and I didn't even get to see her, which made me very sad - especially since it's her birthday on Christmas Day!

On Christmas Eve morning, my daughter woke up feeling feverish and with a bad headache. While out getting medicine for her, I got a phone call from my younger brother who was staying at my older brother's house. They had the flu - only the vomiting kind. I didn't see them all day, and while I cared for my daughter at my grandmother's house, I washed my hands with pathological regularity.

Christmas Day - my daughter woke up feeling like she was going to yak. Sigh. So we stayed at my grandmother's house again while my husband and stepson went to his mom's house.

Yesterday - I finally got to see my brothers, my sis-in-law, and my niece and nephew for dinner, but my dad had become the latest victim, so I wasn't able to see him before I hit the road home.

Throughout it all, my legs, hand, feet, and well, entire body just ached. I took naps. I popped ibuprofen. And all I wanted to do was go home.

I got my wish yesterday. And of course, when I stepped foot in my house, what did I find? Cat puke on the floor.

But there are always blessings throughout any trial.

My grandmother loved having me stay with her. We talked and watched movies and ate yummy food. We laughed at how we were a pair because she was walking with a cane and I was limping around the house. I helped her with the dishes and the cooking, and sometimes, we just say together and didn't say a word.

My stepson and I had a great conversation on the way home. I had nice phone conversations with my mom. I received very nice gifts. And it even snowed on Christmas Eve!

Of course, the most important blessing on Christmas for me is the birth of Jesus. Somehow, that got lost in the shuffle this year, but last night, while snuggled in my own bed, my two kitties close by, I was able to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.


I hope you all had a great Christmas - and now, onward to a new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snoopy Prepares

Because the news has been so darn tragic lately, we need a little humor to lighten things up.

What better person, er, dog to give us that humor than Snoopy?


I'm glad to know all I'll need is a sheet and I'll be safe! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Can I Go Back Under the Rock Now?

There was a time that I wasn't on Facebook.

I didn't read political blogs.

I didn't read commentary on the Middle East, or terrorism, or any of that.

I didn't read the news every hour, follow the latest columnist on his tirade against corporate America, or those calling for stricter laws on guns/drugs/prostitution/etc./etc.

In fact, I think I was quite blissfully unaware of a lot of the endless chatter going on between liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, independent vs. everyone else, and on and on.

And it wasn't just politics, but everything else, too. Atheism vs. Christianity. Heck, even Christian vs. Christian. The culture wars. The sexualization of our girls. And on and on and on.

I lived in a bubble. I was consumed with my writing and my history. I didn't really get concerned about these types of matters until around 2008 when the presidential election started to heat up.

Ever since then, I've crawled out from underneath my rock and in a lot of ways, I regret it.

I've had troubled evenings thinking about arguments I've had with people, turning it around and around in my head to try and figure out how I could have convinced them of my point of view...which is pretty much pointless in most cases.

I've feverishly checked my FB statuses or the statuses of others to see what new comment has been made.

I've hit the "refresh" button far too many times to see what new tidbit of information on the latest tragedy has appeared on a news site.

I've spent countless hours googling information, digging into the issues, and more often than not, finding opinions that generally agree with my own.

I've argued with complete and total strangers on Twitter and, most recently, even a minor celebrity.

I am not proud of this.

I sometimes wish I could go back under that rock.

I'd love to go back to that bubble, to be consumed with my passions - writing and history - and not be so concerned with the noise emitting from every website, FB status, and Tweet of the minute.

In some ways, social media has sucked part of my soul away.

That's the negative view of things, of course.

On the flip side, I've become much more knowledgeable of politics, world affairs, and the myriad viewpoints of just about everyone. I've researched subjects I've never thought to research before because some conversation spurred me to it. I've also bonded with people I don't even know over a shared opinion - and knocked heads with those opinions I don't share.

As in so many things in life, it comes down to this:

Balance.

Being knowledgeable of the world is good. Having an opinion and wanting your country to be the best it can be is good.

But it can also be draining - soul-sucking, mind-numbingly draining.

And when you're drained, you don't have much energy to devote to the things you love.

What is the solution in this day and age where so much of our lives is done online, from paying bills and checking emails to watching movies and playing games?

I'm really not sure. I've done a few things, though. I did delete my Twitter account. I did "unlike" some FB pages where the discussions would get so heated, it would tear me up inside. And I did make the realization in the first place that I had a problem.

But I am still trying to figure all of this out. I imagine I'm not alone.

I've blogged about the Internet being a two-edged sword, so I'm still trying to make sense of how I can make it fit into my life without sacrificing my sanity.

Anxious to hear your thoughts and opinions.







Sunday, December 09, 2012

Blessings Various and Sundry

I try to count my blessings as often as possible, and as today is Sunday, it is fitting I share those blessings with you!

Blessing #1: The day job has kept me busy this week. When I am busy, I am happy, and much more productive with every aspect of my life.

Blessing #2: The Christmas tree is still standing. Barely.

Blessing #3: I had a flare-up of my rheumatoid arthritis Thursday night. I thought I was getting a cold, but it turns out that this is the pattern to my flare-ups - I feel like I'm getting the flu. I get a scratchy throat, terrible fatigue, and body aches. Sure enough, the next day, my feet and hands hurt. But it wasn't nearly on the scale that they have before. The new medication I'm taking is working. Praise the Lord!

Blessing #4: My good friend Yvonne (who is also a writer) invited me to a World War II-set Christmas musical at her church Friday night. It was fantastic. I'm not ashamed to admit I shred a few tears, especially since it was set right when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Sitting in the audience, knowing that it had been exactly 71 years ago that Pearl Harbor was attacked, and watching this play onstage, really hit home for me.

Blessing #5: I was able to get a nice chunk of writing done on the novel yesterday. It's clipping along nicely, and I am more than half-way finished with it.

Blessing #6: My daughter and I watched Despicable Me last night. Love that movie and love hearing my daughter laugh even more.

Blessing #7: I am so very thankful for my friends and family. They are my rock.

Blessing #8: This picture:
This is my husband. In 2000, we had a St. Bernard puppy named Tiny Bear. He grew to be enormous and a beloved part of our family until he passed away a few years ago. But I sometimes think he has been reincarnated into our cat, Slick (yes, the cat who gives me no end of trouble). When Slick was watching my husband cook last weekend, I had to get this snapshot. Putting them side by side like this just makes me laugh.

What blessings are you thankful for today?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

When You Get Cold...

Winter is almost here. It officially begins on Dec. 21. The temps here have been in the high 50s and 60s, though that is due to change tonight. I'm hoping for snow.

When that snow comes, I will be very grateful that I'm not one of these fellows, standing at attention, in their kilts, to the King of England during a snow storm.

Brrrrrr!

The King inspects officers of 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders during a snow storm at Gorhambury Park in Hertfordshire, 29 February 1944.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

It Has Begun

I didn't want to wrestle with the fake tree this year. Last year, I nearly tore my hair out just putting it all together, then arranging the branches. It is also a very large tree, so it dwarfed everything else in the living room. So last night, hubby and I went to a local store and bought a beautiful, real balsam fir tree.

Now it's a little crooked, and after we chopped off some branches to make it fit in the stand, it's also a little sparse on the right side. No matter. It was up within 30 seconds and no need to rearrange anything! It also smells wonderful.

It took me about 30 minutes or so to decorate it. I listened to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra singing Christmas carols, and the only major interruption I had was when my son and husband were yelling at the t.v. downstairs (they were watching college football). Otherwise, it was a peaceful decorating experience.

I think it turned out quite beautiful.

However, the war has now begun.

As you can see by the photo, he is already plotting how to take down that ornament. A few minutes after I took this photo, this ornament became the first victim, rolling across the floor as Slick tore through the tree. But after that, he calmed down and sat under the tree, not bothering a thing. This was a calculated move to throw me off my guard, of course. You see, he has already set a precedent when it comes to his destruction of Christmas trees.

Last year, I tore my hair out over the damage Slick did to the tree on a daily basis. I would come home from work and half the decorations would be on the floor. I'd put them back, only to wake up the next morning and find them on the floor again. Our solution was to place a door in the doorway to the living room every night so he couldn't even get into the room. We just wedge it in place and though it's cumbersome and heavy, it does the job.

When I put up the door last night, Slick was not pleased. He sat in front of it and stared at it, as though he could, by sheer force of will, blast it to smithereens so that he could go and do his dastardly work. In retaliation for my opening volley, he proceeded to annoy me all night long. He woke me up once by scratching on my daughter's bedroom door. I yelled at him. He woke me up again when he jumped on my dresser and knocked over a bunch of stuff. Another yelling commenced. The third time, he woke me up by jumping on my husband's dresser.

When I stumbled out of bed this morning, bleary-eyed and unhappy, I removed the door to the living room and he ran right over to the tree, as though he heard John Wayne yelling, "Charge!" He began fiddling with ornaments, biting on the tree branches, and dismissing my commands to STOP. At one point, he literally had me running circles under the tree. That's when I said enough and put him in my bedroom, then shut the door.

That's where he's at right now. In short, he's been put in time out, like a naughty toddler.

My other cat, Kathryn, could care less about knocking off ornaments and making my life miserable. She loves to lay under the tree and take a nap.


She also loves to pose for photos.
I do believe, if she could talk, she would say, "Look at me! I'm the good one. I'm also cute."

Let the 2012 Christmas Tree War commence!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tunnel Vision

My Thanksgiving vacation was glorious. I had four days off work, and I only left the house once the entire time - and that was only for an hour or so to get groceries! That is a successful vacation in my book.

Of course, it wasn't all relaxing and reading and eating (speaking of, I need to go to the gym tonight...). I am currently working on the next article for America in WWII magazine. And, as any good historian does, I have managed to gather a massive amount of research. I remember a museum curator told me once, "The historian with the most stuff wins." If my research methods are any indication (read: lots and lots of paperwork), I could probably win the gold medal.

However, all of this stuff has to be filtered into a 2500-3000 word article. I wrestled with it all weekend long, and finally ended up with a rough draft last night. I didn't sigh in relief, though, because the hard work awaits - i.e. editing.

During the weekend, my family tried to engage me in conversation. My husband asked whether or not I wanted Christmas decorations in the front yard. My mom wanted some advice. My daughter tried explaining a new game she found.

I heard what they were saying, but I don't think I processed any of it.

Instead, my head was jam-packed with how I was going to write this article. I was mentally shifting paragraphs, deleting others, making notes on what I needed to add and subtract. I ate a little too much apple pie, and my back hurt from sitting too long. Tunnel vision at its finest.

Sometimes I think too much. My husband says I live inside my head a lot, and that is why he doesn't mind that the house isn't spotless. I am, in his words, an intellectual. That's a label I'll take any day. Indeed, I often forget to clean, and only after I emerge from my fog do I realize I need to scrub the floor or clean the bathroom sink. It's a good thing I have an understanding husband who helps me do laundry and dishes and can also cook better than I can.

Of course, all of this focus on the article has made it impossible to focus on the novel. That's how it should be as the article needs my full attention at this point. I'm not one of those that can work on two intellectually-demanding projects at a time. My brain would pop.

Onward!



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!


Thankful for my Lord, my family, my friends, my job, my home, the food in my kitchen, the clothes on my back, the bed I sleep in, my furry kitties, the car I drive, eyes to see, ears to hear, feet to walk and run, chocolate, laughter, joy, silence, solitude, fingers to type, a mind to think, stories galore, books, Snoopy, writing, cell phones to communicate, the Internet, the beautiful sky, leaves and birds and grass, the spirit of giving, love, empathy, hugs, and kisses...in short, I'm thankful for life!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Moving Too Fast

Lots of things are moving too fast lately.

1. The month of November, for one. I can't believe it's more than halfway over. Thanksgiving is in a few days and then we'll be in the Christmas season. In comparison, why does summer drag on and on?

2. My daughter is wearing make-up now. And straightening her hair. And oh yes, she is certifiably boy crazy. She's growing up too fast.

3. Now that I think about it, this entire year has gone by too fast. Does this happen as you age? I think so. I honestly don't remember years going by this fast when I was a kid. They seemed to plod along at a snail's pace.

4. However, one thing that is not moving too fast is my writing. I'm plodding along, but it's been hit or miss lately. I blame...well, there's really nothing to blame it on. I've actually felt pretty good physically, though mentally I've been struggling with very low motivation and depression. Gah.

Anything moving too fast for you these days?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

On Elections and Bowling

On Elections...

It's Election Day here in the U.S. (which probably nearly everyone on the planet knows). I'm off to vote after work.

My mailbox has been inundated with junk mail from the local elections, and I'm heartily sick of it. The few times I watched t.v. and a political ad came on, I immediately hit the "mute" button. Ha!

If it's one message I want to send to anyone reading this blog, it's this: our political leaders are not rock stars or celebrities, and we should not view them as such. They are our employees. They are accountable to we the people. To forget this is dangerous. Hitler and Stalin taught us that.

I'm just glad it will all be over with come tomorrow. My recycling bin will thank me.

On Bowling (And My Health)...

It's been quiet on the blog...that's because my health is up and down a lot lately. I went bowling the other night with hubby for our date and spent the next two days walking around the house like an 80-year-old woman. This puts a cramp in my writing, and there are some days when stringing two sentences together is more difficult than making it rain.

I have my follow-up appointment at the rheumatologist tomorrow, and I'm hopeful of getting a diagnosis and perhaps getting started on some treatment options. Having your entire body hurt and wanting to take a nap all day long is certainly not conducive to any sort of writing productivity (or any productivity, for that matter).
Gratuitous photo of my napping cat.

However! I tend to think the two days of pain after bowling was slightly worth it since I beat my husband on every single game...


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Push Through

I posted this tweet during my writing session last night:

Tonight's writing session is like trying to herd cats. #failing miserably

The words were definitely "trickling" at my last writing session!
And yes, I was quite miserable. The words were painful to produce and several times I nearly quit. But then I read Pablo Picasso's quote, "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."

So back to the page I went. I told myself, "Just finish the chapter. That's all."

And lo and behold, the scene I was working on finally came together into something I never expected. It was perfect.

Well, the words themselves weren't perfect, but hey, that's what editing is for!

Moral of the story: When you hit resistance in your writing, push through.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Keep 'Em Separated?

On Twitter (which I'm still not convinced I like), I've been following some literary agents. Sometimes they get political. As this is a hotly-contested presidential election this year in the U.S., talking politics can get you into some pretty stellar arguments.

Which is fine. Disagreement and talking about issues is what we do in this country (though sometimes not very well if all the nastiness I see on both sides is any evidence...).

But what I'm wondering is this: should you mix politics/religion/other hot button issues, with business?

I understand that we all have opinions. But I also think there is a time and place to share them precisely because they can be so divisive. I understand there are some that don't care about these topics (and sometimes I wish I didn't, either, as my blood pressure would thank me) and there are those who hold passionate beliefs and have no problem airing them for all to see.

If, however, you interact with the public on a daily basis, and that public includes a wide swathe of people on all sides of the political spectrum, is it necessarily wise to start discussing politics or religion? Celebrities tend to get away with it as they have a huge following and can afford to alienate a few people if those people choose to boycott them based on their political/religious beliefs (I'm not a fan of boycotts, but that is another topic I don't want to get into).

But let's confine this to the literary world. Agents, editors, marketers, and publishers: should they mix politics with business? What about aspiring authors? If an aspiring author who was trying to find an agent posted a bunch of politically one-sided ads, would it hurt his or her chances at getting an agent even if their writing was stellar? I guess I'd like to ask that question of some agents and editors, too.

I tend to think we should keep business and politics separate.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

How Disconnecting Will Help You Reconnect

I recently joined Twitter. I held off for months because I didn't see the point in adding yet another social media site to my already big repertoire. I still am not sure I like it, but I'll keep my account and hang on for another few days. What I enjoy the most is being able to see what celebrities have to say and even conversing with them (if you're lucky).

However, Saturday night I had a slight meltdown in terms of my Internet time. In between housekeeping, laundry, and baking some scrumptious chocolate pumpkin cupcakes, I spent a good chunk of the day on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, not to mention looking at blogs, news sites, and other non-essential viewing items. I managed to get some writing done, but not nearly enough.

Not good, especially when the weekends are my prime writing time.

So at the end of the day, I decided to watch Midnight in Paris again. It's a film by Woody Allen and is really a tribute to Paris and to nostalgia itself. A writer, played by Owen Wilson, is given a tremendous gift: at midnight every night, he gets to go back to Paris in the 1920s. He meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and a host of others. He has always believed that Paris in the '20s was a Golden Age, and that he would have much rather lived then as opposed to his present time. However, he meets a woman living in the 1920s who believes Paris in the 1890s is the Golden Age. It's fun to see how their views of their own "present" shape who they are.

I won't give away the ending of the film (which I highly recommend, BTW), but suffice to say that it speaks to me on a number of levels. Besides the nostalgia part (which I will undoubtedly discuss in a future blog post), it was the commitment to the artistic life that really made me think. Paris was a Golden Era during the 1920s for art and literature, a response to the horror of World War I. But what I love was these artists' commitment to making great art. Sure, they partied and drank and probably smoked far too much, but creativity was at the heart of their lives.

(I'm mindful, however, that most of these great artists in this narrow window of time did not have a family or a mortgage or bills to worry about like most of us do. They were probably content to live in the moment for the most part, yet another response to WW1.)

But if we were to put these people in the year 2012, what do you think they would do? Would Hemingway be on Twitter? Would F. Scott Fitzgerald have a Pinterest board of likely locations for Gatsby's house? Would Picasso have a Facebook page? ( I bet Gertrude Stein would have a stellar blog...)

It's interesting to think about.


I am conscious of the fact that today's world is far different than it was from Paris in the 1920s. As writers and artists, we have a terrific ability to connect with other artists - and our audience. However, I honestly believe that we can destroy our creative life by spending too much time on the computer or iPad or iPhone or whatever electronic device connects us to the world.

Is that too harsh? Destroy is an awfully serious word. But in this case, I can't think of a better one to use.

I have personally experienced a change in my ability to focus. It's so easy to click from one site to the next, taking in information at a quick glance before moving on. This translates over to my "real" life. I find that, unless it's a really good book, I can't sit and read for hours on end. I get restless and want to go do something else. It's the same with my writing. I have never been able to sit and write for hours at a time - I usually get up and move around quite a bit. But lately, I've been getting on the Internet when I need a break. And what does that lead to? More and more distraction, which breaks the focus I have on my story.

What is the solution? In this day and age, it's hard to get completely away without any form of social media - especially if you're an aspiring author who wants to be published some day.

As in so many other things in life, I find that it all comes down to one concept: balance.

So here's my goal. Since I am on the computer all day at work, when I come home at night, I am allowed ten minutes to check my email and my social networks once - and only once - before bedtime. Otherwise, the Internet stays off. I am to use that time to write, read, craft, spend time with my daughter and my husband, listen to music, journal, whatever.

On the weekends, the schedule will be slightly different. I will give myself an hour or so in the mornings to catch up with what's going on in the world, etc., but after that, no more Internet until the evening, and even then, it must be limited.

There is far too much to see and do in this world without being glued to the darn computer for hours on end. Why I keep having to remind myself of this is baffling, but I think our world makes it so hard not to stay connected 24-7 that we must make a conscious decision to disconnect.

I have a feeling that by disconnecting, our lives will be richer and more fulfilling. And that, my dear readers, will translate to a deeper, richer, and more fulfilling creative life. This new sensibility will show up in our writing, our drawing, our painting, our gardening, our baking, our songwriting - in whatever creative endeavor we choose to pursue.

Here's to disconnecting so that we can reconnect with our creativity!





Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Snoopy, Charles Schulz, and Me

I've been keeping a bit of good news under my hat for awhile, but I can officially unveil it now!

My article on Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts and Snoopy, appears in the December 2012 issue of America in WWII magazine. Schulz served in World War II, a fact not many know. The article also includes several Snoopy comics.

It was an absolute honor and pleasure to write this article. As you may have guessed, I am a huge Snoopy collector, having amassed quite a few items in the past ten years. I love the Peanuts comics and find in them  subtle wit and humor that reflects Schulz himself. To be able to write about the life of such a humble, talented man was incredible.

It's on newsstands now!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Adapting


These shoes are going to become my new best friend. My husband took me shopping today, determined to find me a pair of shoes that would help my very achy and painful arthritic feet. The salesman recommended these and after I tried them on, we brought them home.

For the past several days, I've had trouble walking. It's scary. My feet ache so much and are so painful that I'd much rather recline and put them up then anything else. A good pair of shoes was a necessity, and I'm very thankful we were able to get these.

The fatigue and all-over body aching has also been a royal pain in the tush. I've slept a lot lately, kept taking my ibuprofen every four hours, and tried to think positive. I won't lie, though - Thursday night I had a slight meltdown as I felt so horrible that I despaired of how I was ever going to keep going like this. I didn't go to work the next day, too tired and in too much pain. Yet it was a better day as I had asked some other writers to share their experiences with chronic pain. That is the great thing about the Internet - the support you get from strangers who can quickly become friends.

I'm learning to adapt to this new body. That means I don't do as many things as before. I also move slower. I'm asking for help more (which is really hard for me to do as I am VERY independent) and I'm trying not to focus on the pain.

I am still waiting to talk to my doctor about medication options, etc., but that will have to wait until he's back from vacation. In the meantime, I'm learning that distraction can be my best friend. Yesterday, I met a dear friend for lunch, did a little shopping at Hobby Lobby, and came home, put up my feet, and worked on my novel. I momentarily forgot the pain and it was good to lose myself in my story.

I've toyed with the idea of slightly altering this blog to include ways to help writers with chronic pain. I believe that can be the best therapy of all - helping others. We'll see what the Lord has in store for me.

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy my new shoes and keep living one day at a time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dinner Update

I wrote an article on Ed Reep, a World War II combat artist, a few months ago and it was published in America in WWII magazine. I was fortunate enough to correspond with him (he's 94 years old) and in the process, I also got to know his daughter, Susan. Through Facebook and email, we continued to connect, even after the article was published. When Susan told me that she and her husband, Mark, were making a cross-country trip from California and wanted to stop in Nebraska, I was thrilled. She also said she was bringing me a surprise. I had no idea what it would be, but surprises are always fun to get!

We met Monday night at a local restaurant and we had a fabulous time. They are both terrific people, full of life and eager to embrace adventure. A few days earlier, they had been in New Orleans and went to visit the National World War II Museum, so of course, I had to get the details as I've never been there.

And what was my surprise?

This Giclee print of one of Ed Reep's sketches he did in Italy during the war:

I was so touched and humbled to receive this. The original is in the U.S. Army Museum in Washington, D.C. I cannot wait to have it framed!

I'm so glad I met Susan and Mark, and I hope to someday visit them in California.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Random Tidbits

It's time for another rousing edition of random tidbits from my very humdrum exciting life. Without further ado, here we go...

1) Autumn is here! YES. Temperatures are in the low 50s today. The trees around town are just gorgeous. Lots of red, orange, gold, yellow, and brown.

2) Unfortunately, chilly weather - which I adore - makes my joints hurt. My hands have been bothering me the past few days and I think I will have to invest in a pair of therapeutic gloves to wear while I'm at work.

3) I have revised the first chapter of my last completed novel (which I'm trying to sell) approximately 4,390 times. I really like it now. We shall see if an agent does, too.

4) My daughter hates the weekend. Every Friday night, she wishes it were Monday. She likes school that much. I have checked and yes, she really is my daughter. But on this particular issue, I think we differ quite a bit.

5) It snowed in my hometown (western Nebraska). That's 365 miles from me, and I doubt we'll get any. But as they have been in  a severe drought all summer, they need all the moisture they can get. Unfortunately, it's also harvest time and as my brother is a farmer, this is probably the last thing he wanted.

6) I may have to have my cat checked for insanity. Every night he wakes me up with his incessant pawing at my daughter's bedroom door. It's like her room is the forbidden zone and he must enter it or suffer some terrible consequence. If he keeps it up, curiosity may indeed kill the cat. (I kid...maybe.)

7) It is the 50th anniversary of James Bond. I have been a Bond fan since I was a kid. My dad and I would watch the movies when they came on t.v. Sean Connery is my favorite Bond followed by Daniel Craig. The next Bond movie, Skyfall, releases in November and I can hardly wait.
The quintessential Bond.
Daniel Craig - a worthy successor to Connery's Bond.

8) Next Monday, I'm having lunch with the daughter of Ed Reep, a World War II combat artist. I wrote an article about him that appeared in America in WWII magazine. She and her husband are on a cross-country trip (they are from California) and are going to make a stop here in Nebraska expressly to see me. How cool is that?


Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yes, There's More

Last week, I got hit with what I thought was the flu. Though I didn't have a fever, I was extremely tired and my entire body ached. I missed two days of work because of it. When I began to feel a bit better, I realized that my joints weren't. My hands, fingers, wrists, neck, back, and ankles were aching. I dismissed it for a few days and figured it was just a remnant of some kind of virus that I had.

When the aching did not subside, I began to grow worried. I had experienced a similar episode a few months ago and again chalked it up to some sort of flu. But two such episodes?

Since I have a strong family history of auto immune disease on both sides of my family - diabetes, arthritis, MS, etc. - I made an appointment with a rheumatologist on Wednesday.

After bloodwork and x-rays and an extensive exam, he diagnosed me with arthritis.

However, I believe the diagnosis may soon change to rheumatoid arthritis. I had my RF (rheumatoid factor) checked in my blood and it is above normal. While this does not make it a given that I have rheumatoid arthritis, combine that with my symptoms and my family history and it is strongly possible. I have to wait to speak to my doctor about it all at my next appointment. (The lab work results came to me after my initial appointment and as my doctor is on vacation, I will have to wait for the official diagnosis if this is indeed what it is).

I sometimes wonder if one person can really have so many health issues. But I guess not only is it possible, it's a fact. (If you're new here and interested in all my health problems...well, let's just say I've had several surgeries in the past few years!).

Strangely, I am not getting overly worked up about all of this. As I research the symptoms and the reality of rheumatoid arthritis, I can begin to see why I had so many times where I felt great, then got hit with illness. These are called "flare ups." If I am fortunate, I will continue to have long periods of time where I feel good. If medication is necessary, then I hope it helps, as well.
I'm not sure if Snoopy really said this, but I like it anyway.

However, niggling at the back of my brain is this harsh reality: I write, which means I use my fingers to type, and if my fingers are stiff (like they are at this very moment), that is going to make typing harder, which will make writing harder.

That scares the crap out of me.

During the time I was struck with the overwhelming fatigue, I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't write and barely had the energy to even read. All I really wanted to do was sleep and mindlessly surf the internet.

This isn't good. If I'm going to be battling this for the rest of my life, I need to learn coping strategies - emotionally and physically. I don't want to to eschew life just because I'm down and out. I refuse to be an invalid. I refuse to allow a disease to define who I am.

In the end, as I am a Christian, I am just giving it to God. That is really all I can do.

If you're wondering why I am putting something so personal on my blog, it's for several reasons. One, my blog is about the writing life - and this is most certainly going to affect that. Two, I want other writers suffering from chronic illnesses to know they're not alone (I've added some great links to my sidebar about living with chronic illness if you're interested). Three, there are some things that I feel I should share. This is one of them.

I don't want sympathy or pity - it's not needed. I don't want to be treated as an invalid because I'm not. I'm going to keep doing what I love. I'll keep smiling. There will be days I want to crawl under the covers and not move (because it hurts to!), but I will deal with it when it comes.

Onward!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Same Old, Same Old?

While I was at Curves exercising the other night, two ladies were talking about their day.

"How was work?" one asked.

"Same old, same old," the other replied, her voice tinged with boredom.

"Yep, I know how that is," the first one sighed. "Same old, same old."

It hit me at that moment how I do not want to say that about my job or my life: same old, same old.

There are some people in this world who work at the same job for 30, 40, even 50 years. They get up at the same time every day. They go to work at the same office. They do the same tasks. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. They have a routine, and they have security in this routine. Some people love their jobs. Some do not. Yet they stay, perhaps looking forward to that time when they retire and life can finally begin.

And they are perfectly fine with that. I admire them.

But I am not fine with my life taking that route at all.

Why?

Because I do not want the "same old, same old" to be my career.

I do not want to be an office drone the rest of my life. I do not want to just "put in my time" until I retire. I do not want to continue doing something I do not love for years on end. I do not want to start living life solely on vacations or weekends before returning to the drudgery of the day job.

Many people say that writers should not quit their day jobs. For financial reasons and some other, compelling reasons (the sense of camaraderie you get with your co-workers, health insurance and other benefits, etc.), I agree that keeping the day job is a necessity.

For me, it is a necessity at this point in my life.

And yes, I, too, am caught up in the same old, same old. For now.
A little tongue in cheek humor...

But I am actively working to make sure it is not going to be the same old, same old in the future.

Here is why.

I have two consuming passions that work rather well together: writing and history. I am defined by those passions in so many ways that it is probably impossible to document them all. In short, they compose a major part of who I am.

Which means that I want to live my passions. I want to live through my writing and my love of history. Achieving this goal remains of paramount importance to me.

I want the opposite of same old, same old. I want to be able to write and publish my novels. Go on a few book tours. Have enough money in my bank account to take a trip once a year. Volunteer at a museum. Go on research trips. Write, write, write. Break out of the routine.

But! I also want to be home when my daughter gets out of school in the afternoon. Enjoy my cozy house and my pets. Take walks in the morning when it's crisp and cool outside instead of being locked in rush-hour traffic. Look at the clock and think, "Oh! It's that time already? I've been enjoying myself so much that I didn't even notice time passing!" Connect with readers and writers. Take my time browsing through an old bookstore instead of hurrying through it on my lunch hour. And lots and lots of other things. ( I also know that there will undoubtedly be plenty of times where I will not be positive, happy, and cheerful. I am well aware of the flip side of the coin.)

Perhaps you think I am an idealist. This would not be the case. I am a realist, if anything. I know that I need to pay my bills, which means I need an income, which means I need a job. I need health insurance. I need to pay rent. Those things cannot be done on passion alone. They require income, and at present, the day job is filling that need. I am immensely grateful for it. Truly, I am. In this time of economic misery, I feel incredibly blessed.

That is why I am taking baby steps to achieve my goal.

But identifying what I don't want out of life is the first step.

And I don't want same old, same old.



Monday, September 17, 2012

The Return of Downton Abbey

In some aspects of life, I am not a patient person. I usually can't wait for a chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven to cool completely before I devour it (besides, a warm homemade cookies is THE. BEST.). Getting to work in the morning behind a line of slow-moving cars tests me each and every day. And let's not even go to that dark place when I have no chocolate. No chocolate = no patience.

I am also not patient when it comes to watching my very favorite show of all time, Downton Abbey.

Season 3 has begun in the U.K., but sadly, it will not be available on Masterpiece Theatre here in the United States until January.

If you thought I was going to wait until January to watch it, you'd be wrong.

However, short of moving to England for three months (not that I'd be averse to that), I wondered if I'd be able to watch it without violating my morals - i.e. watching a pirated version.

Turns out that I can have my cake and eat it, too.

I found a wonderful program called Tunnelbear. It is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that allows you to access videos from other countries that would otherwise be unavailable simply because of your location. Thus, if you visit the website of ITV, the British television channel that airs Downton Abbey, you would not be able to watch the videos because of your location. With Tunnelbear, however, you can. ITV, much like other television stations, puts complete shows on their website after they have aired on t.v.

It works brilliantly. And yes, it's perfectly legal.

So! I am happy to announce that I have watched the first episode of Season Three's Downton Abbey and am thrilled with how wonderful it was. Even better? I can satisfy my desire for all things British t.v.!


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Historical Tangent

I recently finished a superb historical novel about Catherine the Great called The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. It is set in Russia during the time Princess Sophie (who later was renamed Catherine) traveled from a small German principality to the Russian court to become the wife of Empress Elizabeth's heir, Peter. It's told from the point of view of a palace "tongue" - i.e. a spy who reports all that she hears - gossip, scandal, etc. - to Empress Elizabeth as well as Catherine. The historical details are quite wonderful, and more than once I would rouse myself from reading only to be reminded that I was living in 2012 and not 1760.

Young Catherine the Great soon after her arrival in Russia
My fascination with Catherine the Great began in high school (1991) when I watched a TNT movie called Young Catherine that starred newcomer Julia Ormond as Catherine and a very handsome (and sadly now deceased) Mark Frankel as Catherine's lover, Gregory Orlov. No, it wasn't historically accurate in many ways, but the story intrigued me, as did the romance between Catherine and Gregory. Ever since, I've had an interest in this monarch, though not one that has caused me to do a great deal of research.

However, reading The Winter Palace once again sparked my desire to learn more about Catherine. This fascination is further fueled by the fact that my grandmother's parents were Germans from Russia. Their ancestors originally lived in Germany, but when Catherine the Great sent out an invitation for Europeans to come and settle Russian lands, my ancestors decided to make the trek to this foreign land.

My cousin has done extensive genealogy of our Germans from Russia ancestors, and my grandmother even has the exact date that my relatives arrived in Russia: June 15, 1765. They went to the Volga River region of Russia and stayed there for generations until they came to America in the early 1900s.

I went to the library today and snagged the most recent biography of Catherine available. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie is a heavy, thick book, but I'm looking forward to diving into its pages. Catherine also wrote her memoirs and thankfully, they've been translated from the original French so that I can read them, as well.

I tend to place my love of history into two distinct periods: the Eighteenth Century and World War II. I've studied the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars (which, granted, went into the early nineteenth century and include the Regency period, which I also love.) I used to be quite a historian of the American Civil War in junior high and high school, but now I find I can't muster much enthusiasm for it anymore. I have dabbled in other historical time periods - the Russian Revolution, World War I, and the late nineteenth century. In fact, I didn't really start having an interest in World War II until my mid-20s. It gained further traction when I went to graduate school, and after studying it for quite a few years now, I can safely say it's the number one time period I enjoy researching and reading about.

However, every few months I long to dive into the Eighteenth Century. I have ideas for novels that take place during the American Revolution and Eighteenth Century England that I'd like to explore one day. I have a few half-written novels about the French Revolution, too, that sadly will never see the light of day.

But now, thanks to the transportive nature of historical fiction and my own family history, I have an idea budding for a novel set in Catherine the Great's Russia. The main character will, of course, be a German who makes the trek from his native country to try his luck in Russia, and ends up in the court of Catherine the Great.

Ahh, how my mind whirls and skips and dances with delight when I think of writing his tale!

But here I face a conundrum. There are only so many hours in the day (and most of them are eaten up by the day job) and taking on a story of that time period would require a lot of research. I tend to devote most of my research time to World War II since the novels I'm writing now take place during this war.

I am of the mind, however, that certain novels call to us at certain times of our lives. I have abandoned fully-formed ideas in the past because I knew that it simply wasn't time for me to write them yet. Whether that means I didn't have the experience or the wisdom, I don't know. I only know that I must bow to the inner voice and let these projects wait until I am ready.

So it will be for this new story idea. I will let it simmer, jot down notes when needed, and do research when I  feel the urge. At some point, if the idea is meant to become a fully-fledged novel, I will be seized with the undeniable longing to write it.

I eagerly await that day.



Thursday, September 06, 2012

All That They Desire...


I saw this picture on Pinterest today, and it made me stop and think about my own characters. Do I give them all that they desire at the end of the book?

Yes, Jane Austen's books have happy endings. Yes, I tend to write happy endings, too. But I don't know that I give my characters "all that they desire." Why? Because that would be too easy. And, well, too unrealistic.

Life is made up of challenges. That's what makes it interesting. Sometimes, it's what makes it unbearable. But I am a firm believer in the saying, "One cannot know joy without first knowing sorrow."

I wonder if Miss Austen perhaps meant that they would have "most" of what they desired. I could live with that. Of course, it doesn't make for nearly as 'neat' of a quote.

Do you give your characters all that they desire, or do you deliberately keep them from having what they want the most?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Finally

The last time I was able to come back to my hometown and see my family was in March. My hysterectomy surgery made it impossible for a few months, and then the lack of paid vacation time put a further cramp in those plans.

But I'm happy to say that I've spent the last few days firmly within the arms of my family. It's been glorious.

Helping my mom bake when I was little.
I made chocolate chip cookies with my grandma, watched my nephew's high school football game, had a rousing discussion on politics with my dad, wandered around my brother's farm and pet cute little farm kitties, and reminisced with everyone about the good old days while sitting in my grandma's living room. Today I went to church with my mom and we just finished putting a cake in the oven. We're making jello cake, one of my favorite recipes from my childhood.

I've pretty much stayed off-line and I really haven't missed it at all. I've been far too busy enjoying the company of my family.

I've loved every minute of it.

This is exactly what I've needed for the past few months. The summer heat, the drought we're in (it's even worse in western Nebraska, where I'm at now), and the battles with my health have taken their toll. I needed a change of scenery, and coming back home has been a wonderful antidote to my less than stellar emotional mood.

As it's Labor Day tomorrow, I don't have to work - hurrah! - though I do have a six hour drive ahead of me. That's ok. It's been worth it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Wisdom of Madeleine L'Engle


Madeleine L'Engle was perhaps one of the most beloved writers of our time. She is most well-known for her book, A Wrinkle in Time (which I read long ago, but barely remember - must remedy that). However, she also wrote a book on writing and Christianity that has a lot of wonderful insights on creativity. Called Walking on Water, it delves into some of the deepest issues that writers and writers of faith face. I'm reading it for the first time right now and really enjoying it.

The following quotes by L'Engle, though, speak to every type of creative person.

"Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it."

"Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling."

I experienced both of them in the last two days. Monday night, I decided to sit down and write despite feeling yucky with allergies and a pounding headache. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to write, only that I needed to. 

I started writing a scene that I liked, then realized it would work better in another part of the book. So I cut it, planning to paste it somewhere else. However, due to my befuddled brain (likely caused by the misnomer of 'non-drowsy' allergy medicine), I accidentally cut and pasted something else and ended up deleting the entire scene altogether.


Frustrating.


I sighed, muttered a few choice words, then decided there was nothing to do but rewrite the scene. But I started writing the scene again, and this time, inspiration struck, and the scene was much better than the first time around. 


Madeleine was spot on: inspiration comes during the work


Since my allergy symptoms had abated somewhat, I decided to tackle the novel against last night. I also naively thought I'd opened up the floodgates on writing. I was wrong.

Every word I wrote was agonizing. I couldn't get it to work. Yet I knew exactly what I wanted out of the scene. I deleted a whole swath of words and that helped, but it really was like I was battling between destruction and creativity.

Once again, L'Engle's quote was spot on.

In this writing gig, it helps to know that those who went before us and succeeded in the writing business were not so very different from us. They struggled with writing just like we do. 

Which is why community is so important among writers. It helps to know we're not alone.

Thank you, Madeleine L'Engle, for your words of wisdom.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Respite

It's in the low 70s here today.

I am wearing my favorite outfit: jeans, a Victorian blouse, a blue sweater, and my black Oxfords.

Yes, jeans AND a sweater.

I walked downtown to get my lunch and the cool breezes felt heavenly.

Can you say bliss?

The weekend is supposed to bring more of the same, which means I should get a lot of writing done as this is my Optimal Writing Weather.

Hot summer days are probably still ahead - after all, we are in the dog days of summer with August and September, but if we can get these cool days interspersed with the hot ones, I'll be ok. (I think). But if the weather would like to stay this cool until, oh, next June, why, that would be fine with me!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Brain Fog

We all have times when we can't think of the right word. Usually, it comes to us after a bit of thought. Sometimes, like what has been happening with me lately, it just stays covered under a thick blanket of fog.

Maybe it's my hormones, maybe it's this terrible heat (my city is now under water restriction), or maybe I'm just going senile, but my brain fog has made it impossible to write.

I tried for two days to get the darn brain unstuck, and while I did write, what came out was pretty much crap. Still, I can fix crap.

To address this problem, I have taken a step back from the novel and done a few other things. The other night, I made a chocolate cake from scratch - something I normally never do as a box cake is a lot easier - but my daughter wanted cake, and I was in the mood to bake, so bake I did. I also whipped up a batch of baked burritos that my husband loves. I normally do not like to cook. But as it is a form of creativity, it was fun to do.

Last night, I finished reading an absolutely adorable, charming novel called The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart. It centers around a modern-day Beefeater who lives and works at the Tower of London. It's rare for me to actually laugh out loud when I'm reading, but this book made me do that more than once. It's very British, and as I am a certified Anglophile (I do have a certificate somewhere...), I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I feel better today, and I hope to get back to the novel tonight.

The old adage is true - sometimes, you just gotta refill that creative well.

How do you refill your creative well when it runs dry?

Friday, August 03, 2012

The Writer's Struggle


What I see in my brain is not what ends up on the page. In my head, it's a beautiful movie, with lots of gorgeous scenery and sounds and smells. Transcribing that onto the page is an exercise in madness. Why? Because it will never be exactly as we see it in our head. That is impossible.

But isn't it neat to think that what we end up writing will be seen differently by each and every person that reads it? Each person will relate to your words differently because they will bring their experiences, their memories, and their reactions with them as they read.

Of course, in the end, it all boils down to one thing: you must write. Because if you don't write, then your words will not be read and experienced in a multitude of varying ways by a variety of people.

Therefore, go and write. Get it down. Fix it later.

And above all...

Enjoy the process.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ode to Messiness



This is me. I have a very slight memory of this day, though I couldn't have been more than two or three. My mother tells me we were making cabbage burgers at the time. I am not at all surprised that I was a messy baker back then because I am still a messy baker (and cook) today.

I have had to clean cookie dough off of walls because I let the beaters out of the bowl and dough goes flying everywhere. More than once, I've called one of the pets into the kitchen - either the cat or the dog - and told them to eat the food I dropped on the floor while cooking. Flour doesn't normally stay in the measuring cup, and neither does just about any other dry ingredient.

The garbage disposal in the sink has saved me from making even worse messes. Peeling vegetables is easier now that I can just throw the peels down the sink (though I think I still manage to get some on the floor in the process) and I just put an egg shell in the sink instead of leaving a trail of egg white on the counters in its trip to the trash can.

I must say, though, that despite my messiness, I manage to create some tasty meals and baked goods. Thanks to Pinterest, I've been trying a lot of new recipes and while some have turned out so-so, others have been a rousing success - especially this chocolate chip cookie recipe.

But I'm not just messy in the kitchen.

Ask my mother about the stacks of paperwork and books and stuff in my bedroom as a kid. Apparently she couldn't take it for very long stretches of time as I would sometimes come home from school to find it all organized. I loved that.

Contrary to what you might think, however, I keep a pretty darn clean house. My living room is very organized. Everything is in its place, and that's just the way I like it.

However, my office is another matter...

I blame my father for this one, as my mom would often try and clean his office. She gave up, though, when he couldn't find paperwork after she cleaned, and thereafter she had to grit her teeth and leave it in all its messy glory.

(As an aside, I am starting to think I owe my mother an apology for her cleaning so much...)

Yesterday I spent the entire day at home. We'd already bought groceries for the weekend, and as my daughter is finished with summer softball, we had no practice to go to. I was quite excited to write all day.

But the mess had accumulated in my office. Bills, stacks of paperwork, research, wayward notes, and piles of books had become too much. So I got to work. I organized, tossed stuff, filed paperwork, put books away, and made the place presentable again.

Every time I clean, I vow I won't let it get this way again. It does anyway.

There is probably a lesson in here somewhere, but I've failed to learn it so many times that I think I'm a lost cause.

However!

I have learned one thing about messiness in regards to my writing.

(Ah! you're thinking. She is going to tie this to writing!)

Yes. Yes I am.

My writing itself can be messy - words, phrases, descriptions, etc. - for the first draft.

But, the plot cannot.

The last novel I wrote began on a whim. I had the germ of an idea, so I sat down and began to write. I was blissfully unaware of what direction I was going and really didn't care. I would discover it as I went along. Unfortunately, what I discovered is that I am really good at making messes.

Granted, this was the first story I wrote where I didn't really have any sense of direction. Most of my other stories I've plotted out enough to know my beginning, middle, and end (though I still didn't have some very important elements worked out). But not this one.

Fixing that story cost me months of writing time. It was a huge, colossal mess. I resolved I wouldn't do this anymore with my novels, couldn't, in fact, if I wanted to make the best use of my time.

I realized that while I could be as messy as I wanted to with the pre-writing phase - and believe me, I tend to be all over the place in trying to figure everything out - I could not translate that messiness to the first draft. I needed certain things hammered out before I started. I implemented this new way of thinking for my next novel (thanks to this stellar book on plotting), and the actual writing process hasn't been nearly as messy this time around.

That is a good thing.

The moral of the story? Being messy in the kitchen is fine. It's even okay in the office for a short time.

But messiness in my plot? Nope. Can't do it. Does this make me a plotster vs a pantster? Probably. It's the method that works for me. I know it doesn't work for everyone, and that is the beauty of human nature.

I do find it fascinating, though, that I can be messy in some areas of my life - my office, my cooking, etc.- but not in others - my fastidious living room, the way I fold laundry, cups stacked just so in my cupboards, etc.

I am a study in contrasts.

And that's just the way I like it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Heat Wave

Wow. We have had temperatures in the 100's for several days now, with not a drop of rain to cool us off. Those who have given up on watering the lawn (and because of the city's "recommendation" not to water every day) have brown, ugly grass. My evergreen bushes in my front yard are even turning brown. I have never seen that before.

Yeah, it's hot.

And I'm not happy about it.

Luckily, relief is in sight. We have a chance of rain tomorrow and the temperatures are supposed to drop back into the 90s. That's a heck of a lot better than the 100's!

I've been writing, albeit slowly. I've also been reading a fantastic novel - I love it when I read a book that I don't want to put down.

What have you been up to?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Tools of the Trade

I started writing on my mother's manual typewriter in the 6th grade. I really didn't know what I was doing, having yet to take a typing class in school (that came later), but still, I plucked away, getting my fingers caught and using whiteout as I tried to get the thoughts in my head down on the page.

I also kept writing longhand on my yellow legal pads or just pages of loose leaf notebook paper. I remember getting cramps in my hand, but still kept at it.

When my Dad got a computer, I gladly exchanged the typewriter for the ease of clacking away on a nice keyboard. This was before Windows, though, so it was pretty much green words on a black screen. This made writing easier, and so did the typing class I took in school - on electric typewriters. Old school!

And then, of course, came the miracle of Windows (for the Microsoft users, like we were) sometime when I was in high school along with the ease of word processors. Ah! Black words on a white screen. It was so much easier on the eyes, and I could use the fun formatting techniques.

Around this time, I pretty much abandoned writing longhand. I could simply write faster by typing.

But then after college, I started journaling, and I wrote in longhand. I still journal today using an old-fashioned pen and paper. I love to write in cursive and despite our society's penchant for no longer teaching cursive in schools, I hope it never goes away. There's something organic and beautiful about those loops and curls that our words create.

What were your tools of the trade when you started out? How did they evolve?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Back When...

I had a very nice phone call from an old friend the other day. He recently retired from the military and had decided it was high time to start writing again after putting it on the back burner for several years. He called to ask me what advice I had for an aspiring writer.

I admit that I was slightly dumbfounded for a minute. How long had it been since I had walked in his shoes and been an aspiring writer? Years. I started this writing journey in the sixth grade. That's a long time ago.

But as I talked, I became more and more excited, eager to share with him the joy that is writing. I was so glad that he was taking this step and I tried to encourage him not to worry too much about the craft right now, but just to get the words down and write without that internal editor breathing down his neck.

How long have you been on your writing journey? If you had a piece of advice to give to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Why I'm Hibernating

This year's summer has been awful. We've had triple-temperatures some days - yes, over 100 degrees - and add the humidity in with that, and let's just say stepping foot outside literally becomes a health hazard.

My heart goes out to those people who have to work in this weather. My brother is a manager for a pool-building company and works outside every day building and maintaining pools. My other brother is a farmer, and spends a large chunk of his day outside working. Unfortunately, he's also smack in the middle of a severe drought which just makes the heat that much worse. And my husband is working outside at a temporary job while he's out of school for the summer. He sweats buckets and comes home just drained.

Me? I'm inside all day in an office. I have nothing, nothing to complain about.

But I'm going to anyway.

Ha!

Because summer drains me. I literally feel stagnant, like I can't move forward with anything. My motivation disappears. Maybe it's my body not being able to tolerate heat. Maybe it's my inability to go outside and enjoy nature because I feel like I'm in an oven when I do. Or maybe I have the reverse of seasonal affective disorder. In contrast to summer, I come alive during the fall and winter. My mood is exuberant and I'm literally filled with joy.

During the summer I am depressed. Each year gets worse and worse. This year, it's especially bad. I don't know if it's the day job, the rejection letters on my manuscript (I am thisclose to getting an agent, and it's taking an incredible amount of patience and perseverance to keep at it), or the fact that I really just need a vacation and have no money for it thanks to my surgery a few months ago, BUT, I cannot wait for autumn this year.

And it's only July.

Ohhhhh boy. It's going to be a long few months...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Are You Reading? Sizzling Summer Edition


Tomorrow is the first day of summer. (It's also my dad's birthday and I forgot to mail his card. Gah!)

Anyway.

Since I'm not a summer person and heat agrees with me just about as much as poison ivy, I love to spend my days curled up inside my house reading or writing.

I've found that I've succumbed to the frightful habit of reading more than one book at a time. So my reading list right now is composed of these gems:

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - I normally don't read young adult novels, but this one is set in Lithuania and Siberia during World War II. I was hooked from the first page and had to stop myself from reading the entire thing last night so I could get some other things done.

The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron - Sometimes, I need an artistic and creative boost. Julia Cameron unfailingly delivers it with her beautiful essays on writing and the creative life.

The Second World War by Antony Beevor - This is a brand new book and it's a mammoth one at 880 pages. It may take me awhile to get through, but I'm looking forward to it.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Livin' the Dream

Back in 2005, a new magazine hit the stands called America in WWII. I had recently completed my MA in history with a focus on World War II, so I snatched it up, eager to see what it had to offer. I wasn't disappointed. It was printed on lovely, slick glossy paper, had wonderful photos, and incredible articles.

At that time, writing magazine articles wasn't on my radar. But as the years passed, I kept thinking, "Hmm. I'd love to be published in this magazine."

It soon became my dream publication. And when I finally had a story to offer them, I emailed my query. It took a few tries and some persistence on my part, but it paid off. My first article, "Government Girl" was published in the April 2012 issue. It was about Mary Lou Moorberg, a Nebraska girl in the 1940s who moved to Washington D.C. to work for the FBI during the war.


My second article on World War 2 combat artist Ed Reep,"Artist Under Fire" appeared in the August 2012 edition, available on newsstands now. Ed is an incredible man and my correspondence with him remains some of the most meaningful of my life.

It's an amazing feeling, to see my name in print in my dream publication, to read my words, and to realize that I did it.





Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Beauty of Flexibility

Flexibility. No, I'm not talking about the ability to touch your toes or do the splits - I can do neither - and I'm not talking about anything related to the writing craft.

Instead, I'm talking about your writing schedule and the need to make it flexible.

The longer I'm involved in this writing business, and the more writers I talk to, I understand that one method that works for me will be devastating to another writer and throw them off their game. So with that caveat out of the way, let me tell you why I think flexibility in a writing schedule is beautiful...

It involves this girl.

My daughter turned twelve last month. She just finished her first year of middle school. She's growing into a beautiful young lady and I completely adore her and love her with all my being.

Tuesday night, I had plans to write. I went on my evening walk and was about to hit the shower, then head on up to the office, when my daughter approached me. "Mom," she asked, "would you like to spend some time with me?"

My heart melted, and of course I said, "Absolutely." Any plans I had of writing went out the window. This was far more important, this moment, this time with my daughter who is growing so fast that sometimes I want to cry.

We played several games of UNO, laughed and talked. By the time 9:30 rolled around, I knew I wouldn't get much writing done - but I didn't care. I wrote about a half a page and that was fine.

Flexibility.

Last night, to my surprise, my daughter joined me on my walk. We always have a blast - her sense of humor and her incredible imagination are a delight to behold. When we got back, I was outside cooling down with my husband and she came out with her glove and softball. Suddenly, I was on my feet again, helping her with her pitching and her catching, and then the neighbor and my husband got involved, and we spent the next hour and a half playing softball in the backyard.

Did I have plans to write last night? Yes.

But this was more important.

I finally went inside around 9 p.m., took a shower, and  climbed into bed (I used some muscles I forgot I had while playing softball!) with my laptop and managed to write another page. It was enough.

That, my friends, is the beauty of flexibility. It's the ability to know when to put the writing aside for more important things. In this time when my daughter is growing so much and changing, I truly believe she needs her mama more than ever, more than even when she was a toddler. She needs me to be there for her emotionally and physically, and there is no way I will deny her that.

The writing can wait. It can be done in snatches of 30 minutes here and there. It can be done on lunch breaks at work, or during the weekend, or even when I really should go to bed after a long day, but decide to fight sleep and squeeze in just a few minutes of writing time.

The work will get done, some way, some how. It's important to me that it gets done. I'm not denying myself anything by putting it off for a few hours, not when I'm spending time with my daughter. There will come a day, not far from now, when she will fly from the nest and I will long for her sweet voice to ask me if I'd like to spend time with her.

Flexibility. Yes, it's a beautiful thing.

Monday, June 04, 2012

My Other Addiction

I'm addicted to writing, yes. But I'm also addicted to history. And if you didn't know, I'm addicted specifically to World War 2 history.

Pinterest has become my new favorite place for feeding that addiction. I have found lots of other WW2 enthusiasts out there, and I'm learning quite a few things I never knew before. One thing that fascinates me about this war is how all-encompassing it was. It really was a world war in every sense. Hardly a corner of the globe went untouched by it, and when you think about it, that is mind-boggling.

Thus, my learning about this conflict will never, ever be over. There will always be something new to discover, something new to unearth and research. Which means I can spend a lifetime studying it. Awe...some.

Lately, I've loved finding pictures of soldiers with animals. There's something rather beautiful about seeing a hardened man in combat snuggling with a dog or kitty, or taking time out to help an animal that has been wounded by the humans fighting around him.

Here's a few of those photos:






I love all these photos. They show humanity during a time of great upheaval.

So what are your addictions?

It's Time

I've had this blog for over 10 years. But I'm finding that I go to it less and less. Maybe it's the death of blogging that broug...