Friday, February 15, 2019

Friday Feature: Is Nature Part of Your Commute?

This past week, Mother Nature has sent us some pretty challenging commutes. In fact, my whole week feels off-kilter due to a self-declared snow day on Monday. It was snowing when I got up, snow was in the forecast all day and leaving the house was not at the top of my list.

So, I stayed home and told my students to do the same.

Today, Monday feels worlds away. The sun is shining, most of the snow is melted and it's forty degrees outside. But, while I had a moment of appreciation for the sun's warmth when I first stepped outside, I haven't paid much attention since.

Turns out, that's a mistake.

According to an article by Jane Burnett in Big Think, commutes though nature can improve our mental health and sense of well-being. 

A proud product of the Jersey suburbs, I'm about as far from a nature girl as you can possibly imagine, but I have to say that my personal experience supports this assertion. My first job out of graduate school was in a rural school district and I literally drove through apple orchards to get to and from work.

It was a beautiful and relaxing drive and, in the fall, boy did it smell good.

Though I no longer drive through orchards to get to work, my current, much shorter commute affords me plenty of opportunities to appreciate more than just the cars around me if I simply broaden my perspective. When I remember to do this, and couple it with a deep breath, I can feel an almost instantaneous change for the better.

If you turn your gaze to more than the back of the car in front of you, what does your commute have to offer?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Timely Decision

Pexels via Pixabay
It all started with a watch box.

Actually, I guess it started with a watch collection, but it was reignited by the watch box.

I had no idea there was such a thing until my friend Sueann mentioned hers one night at cards. I was intrigued, so she showed me hers and, by the end of the evening, I'd sent my husband a link to the one I wanted for Christmas.

I stopped wearing a watch when I retired six-and-a-half years ago. When I worked, a watch was a wardrobe staple, but when I left my full-time job behind, I left a number of things -- watches among them -- behind as well. Part of being retired meant not having punch a clock, after all. Besides, if I really needed to know the time, I could do what my daughter does -- check my phone.

Last year, I did a show for the first time in decades. One of my castmates, a friend ten years my junior, needed a watch as part of her costume. Like so many of us phone-bearing folks, she didn't own one.

But I did. In fact, I had several -- some of mine and some of my mother's.

The show last year, the first I did after my mom passed away, was the first one I ever did that my mom wouldn't attend. She had loved seeing me on stage, and I had loved knowing she was there. I couldn't think of a better use for one of her watches than as a costume piece on stage.

After the show closed, I put the watches away -- sort of. More accurately, I moved them from one spot to another as I tried to decide what to do with them. Store them? Wear them? Donate them?

And then I heard about the watch box. And got one for Christmas. The top section is like a little display case with space for five watches. Below, there are two drawers, where I can store other watches or, in my case, other jewelry.

For the last month, I've been replacing watch batteries one at a time. Today, I picked up the last accessory in this round of refurbishing -- a black watch band. As I type this, I'm wearing one of my mom's watches with a fresh, new, black band. When I told the jewelry store owner I'd made a New Year's resolution to start wearing watches again, he joked that I should buy a new one.

Clearly, he's missing the point.

This time around, I'm seeing my watches as more of a fashion statement and less of a necessity. The habit of wearing them is so new that, some days, I still reach for my phone to check the time before remembering I have it right there on my wrist.

PlushDesignStudio via Pixabay
Most of the time, our things drive our need for organizers, whether they're watch boxes, file bins or three-ring binders. But sometimes, feeling the need to organize something brings to light its significance. I didn't want to just put those watches away, something I probably should have figured out as I moved them from one spot to another for quite literally months. I wanted them to be functional, fashionable and, especially in the case of my mom's watches, well-cared for, but it wasn't until the watch box that I figured all of that out.

Is this a phase? I don't think so. The other day, I canceled my class due to snow and, when I got dressed for a leisurely day at home, I made it a point to put on a watch. I had no pressing engagements, no need to accessorize and no dearth of electronics on hand to tell me the time.

I just wanted to wear a watch.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Setting the Scene

EME via Pixabay
Today, I gave myself (and my students) a snow day. It started snowing last night -- thin, wispy flakes, just enough to cover the grass by bedtime. When it was still snowing this morning and the street and cars were covered, I activated the alternate assignment I'd set up last night and told my students (via email) to stay safe and warm (and do their homework).

Though it's out of print now,
Acting Assertively is still available
And then I pulled out my laptop.

I spent some time with Marita and friends and some time with an old friend -- my first book, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year -- as I put together an upcoming article on assertiveness.

And, before I knew it, it was evening and I hadn't written a blog post.

So, I thought perhaps I'd try something different and let some pictures do the talking. With the exception of my book cover, all of the photos in this post represent scenes and settings that play a role in Marita, Charli and Angel's next set of adventures.

What do you think they mean?

stevepb via Pixabay

wokandapix via Pixabay


musiklena64 via Pixabay

succo via Pixabay

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Embracing My Options

congerdesign via Pixabay
I'm a hybrid author -- part traditional, part indie. Both of my non-fiction books were published through a contract with a publisher and a third will be released via a different publisher this summer. I self-published one of my novels and the other, originally published through a small independent publisher, is now back in my hands.

Being published through a traditional house or via contract is like being an employee and, as such, it has many benefits. Someone else takes care of the little details I might not want to be bothered with and, as the book sells, I get a paycheck. Perhaps the best part of working within the employer-employee set-up that is traditional publishing is that it gives me access to professionals – professional cover designers, professional editors, professional marketing people, a professional sales team. These knowledgeable people make sure my book looks its best and that it's introduced to the world by a team, not just little old me.

But, as with any paycheck, deductions are part of the deal. In this case, the employer (publisher), who assumes all of the risk, takes a chunk of my paycheck as reimbursement for dealing with all of those details. And, as you'd imagine, the employer has a say in how just about everything is done. This process frees me up to write and, while I have input on how things go, final decisions are sometimes out of my hands.

The other side of the hybrid author coin is the indie publishing side. Working as an independent author (self-publishing), means that I get to make all of the decisions (even the ones I'd prefer someone else take charge of) and I have to find all of those previously mentioned resources on my own. In return, no one gets a cut of my paycheck (unless you count paying the professional editor, cover designer, marketing people and sales resources), but no one is double-checking the details either. Both the money and the headaches are mine, all mine.

This is, as you can imagine, a double-edged sword. 

Once upon a time, I dreamed of getting published and, by that, I meant traditionally published. Agent, editor, advance, royalties -- the whole package. Along the way, I've had all of those, just not all in the same book deal. 

And, as it turns out, that's not such a bad thing.

I like being a hybrid author. Some projects lend themselves to a traditional publishing model, others don't. For those that do, I like working as part of a team to make my book the best it can be. And, whether I'm putting my book in someone else's hands or hanging onto my project page by page, it's wise for me to educate myself about the elements of the publishing process. I believe that every author needs to know as much as possible about the behind-the-scenes aspects of publishing a book, if only to be a better participant in the process. 

Which brings me back to the novel that is now back in my hands. My first novel, Casting the First Stone was initially published by a small independent publisher. In January, I had an opportunity to take back my book and either let it languish or republish it independently.

I'm pretty sure I don't need to tell you which choice I'm making.

Currently, Casting the First Stone is unavailable as I consider what I want its re-release to look like. I've considered what I've learned as a hybrid author, and talked about it with trusted friends and fellow authors. I've decided that I want to add a fresh cover to the project before I send it back into the world again, and am thrilled that my talented friend Laurie J. Edwards, who created the cover for Chasing a Second Chance, is helping me make that happen.

At the same time that I'm making these decisions and planning to turn my previously small press-published novel into an indie project, I'm working with a team at Our Sunday Visitor to bring Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff into the world. For me, having one foot in each camp increases my knowledge, my experience and even my creativity, making
me better at this whole hybrid author role.

I'm grateful to be writing (and publishing) in a time where indie publishing is no longer seen as a last resort but, rather, as a viable option. I'm grateful to have friends on the journey -- readers, writers, and publishing professionals -- who make the trip more fun and make all the effort worthwhile. And, I'm very excited to see not only where this road takes me, but what it means for books in all the seasons to come.

I don't know if my next project will be indie or traditional, but I like that my journey has led me to a place where I feel I can make an informed decision.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Magic of Week Three

MabelAmber via Pixabay
I'm very happy that we're entering the third week of the semester.

The first week of the semester is nerve-wracking. No matter how many years I do this, I still get nervous. No matter how many times I proofread the syllabus, I still miss mistakes. No matter how many layers I put on (or don't), I'm still too hot (or cold) in whichever classroom(s) I've been assigned to.

Week two is a little better. We're through with the preliminary information and beginning to tap content. I know a few names, I know how to work the equipment in each of the classrooms and how to dress for the climate of each classroom. I'm still not in a routine, though, in part because switching away from a writing focus and into a teaching focus is something I do a bit grudgingly. Last week, snow -- both expected and unexpected -- made getting into the swing of things even more challenging than usual.

By week three, it's all coming together. I'm no longer worried about the impression I (or my imperfect syllabi) make. It's about the students (whose names I'm beginning to master) and the material. I've set the parameters, clarified expectations and I can just be myself and teach. My nerves have dissipated and so have theirs.

It took me a long time to get to week three, or to even understand that week three was coming. The ebb and flow of the semester, like the ebb and flow of any job setting, takes time to learn and perhaps even longer to embrace.

In early January (or August), people start asking me when the new semester starts and, as we move through the month and that date gets closer, if I'm ready. Honestly, even though I enjoy teaching, I'm never quite ready to relegate writing to second place. But, once the semester starts and I fall into a new routine, I can embrace the change.

This year, the day before classes started, someone asked me if I was excited and I said that I wasn't, but I would be once I met my students. The person who'd asked smiled and told me that's how she knew I was a good teacher.

I never really thought about it that way, but now that I'm moving into week three, I get it. Teaching a class is a lot like doing a presentation. Both require knowledge of the subject matter, preparation, and an ability to blend information dissemination with interaction and entertainment.

But teaching goes beyond those things. For me, teaching starts to get fun when I know the people I'm dealing with, when I can tailor the subject matter to those sitting in front of me and when I have a sense of who my students are as people.

A presentation shares material. Teaching makes it relevant.

Kidaha via Pixabay

And by week three, it has started to feel relevant. Classes are less of a presentation and more of a two-way street. Questions pop up -- both those that are easily answered and those that make everyone (including me) think -- and the material not only begins to take shape but to come alive.

Both writing and teaching require the ability to breathe life into material. As a writer, the responsibility for this is all mine but, in the classroom, the responsibility is shared. Between me and the textbook, the material is set out before the students, who are strangers to me during those first couple of weeks. As we get to know both one another and explore the material, a shift occurs, and that's when things get exciting.

Right around week three.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Friday Feature: Sketchnoting

When I was a little girl, I used to try to draw Winky. In case you're too young to remember Winky, she was the deer who graced matchbooks and the inside back cover of the TV Guide in advertisements that dangled the offer of cash prizes and art scholarships. I remember sitting in my grandmother's living room, trying to recreate the drawing that looked oh-so-simple.

That was when I first became convinced I had no artistic talent.

When I worked at East York Elementary, a man named Bruce Van Patter came to our school as a visiting author. Bruce could most definitely draw Winky. He'd written some books, but what fascinated me about Bruce was his ability to draw on the fly. As he nudged the kids to create a story of their own, he sketched away with a Sharpie marker, creating wonderful blackline illustrations that he left behind to line the putty-colored hallways.

Bruce and I connected as fellow authors, but the stronger connection was geographical. Bruce lived in the town where I'd gone to college, and today, years after his visit to East York, we remain connected via social media.

It was through Bruce, indirectly, that I stumbled across sketchnoting. Enamored of Bruce's live scribing work, I became fascinated by a simpler version that could be used in the classroom by visual thinkers. I sought out sources, looking first for information to share with my students, but the more I learned, the more interested I became. I bookmarked Doug Neill's Verbal to Visual site and put The Sketchnote Handbook and brush markers on my Christmas list; last Monday, I added sketchnoting to my list of 19 Things for 2019 (#14).

I'm not sure that this qualifies as what I'm reading -- which is what I usually post in my Friday Features -- but The Sketchnote Handbook is most definitely a book, one I pulled out last night to play with while I watched my favorite Thursday night television shows.

I'm still not sure if I can draw Winky (and I'm definitely not quitting my day job), but I look forward to doing a little more experimenting with this combination of words and pictures on the page. It's relaxing and appeals to my creative side in a low-pressure kind of way.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Too Cold for the Porch Swing, but We're Getting Together Anyway

It's been a while since I invited my characters to the porch swing for a chat. Since the current temperature in my part of the world is 9ยบ, today doesn't seem like a good day for the porch swing, so imagine them gathered together...well, I'll let them decide.

Where's your favorite place to be on a cold day?

Marita: In front of a fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa.
Bets: I'll second the fireplace, but substitute a hot guy for hot cocoa.
Angel: On the sofa in my family room with a plush throw and a good book -- or in the kitchen baking something that makes the whole house smell good.
Charli: In my room, under the covers.

Angel mentioned baking. What are your favorite and least favorite household chores?

Charli: I hate cleaning the bathroom and I definitely don't have a favorite chore.
Marita: I don't mind doing laundry but I hate to iron.
Angel: Oh, I love to iron! And cook. I'm with Charli on the bathroom as least favorite.
Bets: I love to organize stuff but I hate to clean. Well, running the vacuum isn't so bad. Doing dishes is probably my least favorite. And while we're talking subjects, Angel might have mentioned baking, but I mentioned guys.

Okay then. Tall, dark and handsome or blond and fair?

Charli: I'm not that tall yet, but definitely dark hair. And blue eyes.
Marita: Like daughter, like mother. Definitely tall dark and handsome.
Angel: Blond and fair.
Bets: You have to say that! Your husband's blond.
Angel (laughs): That's why I think he's handsome.
Bets: I like you, so I will try not to gag. Tall, dark and handsome here.

Coffee, tea or milk?

Bets: Tequila!
Marita: Imagine my surprise. Coffee.
Charli: Chocolate milk.
Angel: Tea. Or milk. Depends on what I'm eating.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner?

Charli: I'm in favor of food at any time.
Marita: I'll vouch for that! Breakfast. Especially out.
Bets: Brunch. Breakfast is too early.
Angel: Dinner. It always makes me think of families.

Okay. One last question, inspired by National Croissant Day, which is today. Croissant, cookie, donut or something else?

Charli: All of the above. But if I had to pick one, I'd go for a donut.
Marita: Chocolate croissant, please.
Bets: A beignet from Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.
Marita: You are so high maintenance!
Bets: Yes, I am! How about you, Angel?
Angel: I was going to say a pastry, but Marita's chocolate croissant sounds really good!

I look forward to the weather being warm enough that I can curl up on a porch swing (or hang out on my favorite screened-in porch at the beach) with a chocolate croissant of my own. If you're feeling overwhelmed by winter, check out my Porches and Porch Swings Pinterest board for a spring and summer vibe. And stay tuned for some new adventures with Marita, Angel, Charli and Bets, coming later this year.

With any luck, I'll have them finished by the time it's nice enough to curl up on that porch swing.