Monday, November 19, 2018

An Unmistakable Sign of Winter

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled, "Fall: Don't Blink or You'll Miss It." It was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but by last week, hints of winter already hung in the air. At Starbucks, the palette was red and green as Christmas merchandise lined the shelves, little Christmas trees dotted tabletops, and "Marshmallow World" emanated from a wall-mounted speaker in a nearby corner. At least one radio station had already switched over to a a holiday playlist (with a second soon to follow) and snow was in the 24-hour forecast within a week of my original post. I could pretty much disregard all of those things (which is exactly what I was doing), except for one thing.

The fountain on campus has been turned off and drained.

I'm sure the forecast of snow had something (if not everything) to do with that, but that simple change screamed "Winter is coming!" more loudly than any of rest.

It also inspired a spark of regret. The fountain is my favorite spot on campus, and I didn't spend a single minute there this fall. I kept meaning to, but I was being productive, sticking to a schedule, moving on to the next thing....

...and the opportunity passed me by.

I don't know what it is about fountains, but they definitely draw me in. Fountains at the mall, the fountain on my own college campus more years ago than I care to admit -- there's just something peaceful about them. Maybe it comes from years of throwing pennies into the fountain at the Cherry Hill Mall as a kid and making a wish, or sitting beside the fountain at other malls as an adult when shopping became dropping, but taking a seat beside a fountain affords a respite. Time to relax, to focus on the water and the scenery.

To just be.

Perhaps that's another part of the twinge I felt walking by the empty, lifeless fountain. Even if the winter weather in the forecast comes and goes, bringing fall back in its wake, that time to "just be" is nowhere on the horizon.

Then again, is it ever, really?

Time to "just be" is time we have to carve out, time we have to make for ourselves. Whether it's sitting beside a fountain admiring the fall foliage or sitting on a sofa reading a good book, these times don't just happen unless we make them a priority. It's easy to point a finger at holidays, work responsibilities or just general busyness, blaming things outside ourselves, but those things don't reach out and steal our down time unless we let them.

werner22brigitte via Pixabay
As I type this, I can easily think of ten more things I should be doing, need to be doing, have to get done. And I can be productive, stick to a schedule, move on to the next thing...

...or I can carve out some time for me. I can't sit by the fountain again until spring, but I can take a step back, seeking rejuvenation instead of efficiency, if only for a few minutes.

Because once the fountain is turned off, the opportunity has passed. And there's nothing productive about a missed opportunity.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday Feature: A Quiet Revolution

Usually my Friday posts are about articles I've read, but today's post focuses on a website (don't worry -- there are articles on the website) because I found it so interesting. 

I came across the Quiet Revolution website when I was looking for information about introverts and extroverts. Led by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, the site has as its mission,"To unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of us all." 

Now, anyone who knows me knows I am not an introvert, although I do have qualities of introversion (I took the quiz, so I know this is the case), but I have friends, family members and students who are definitely introverts. Whether you're looking to understand yourself better, or to better understand someone else, this site is a great source for all things introvert, featuring articles, book information and first-hand reflections.

After all, in a world that can't stop talking, being quiet long enough to better understand someone else might just be a good idea.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Concert, a Birthday and Boom -- She's an Adult

pettycon via Pixabay
Today, my daughter turns twenty-one. Every day, she makes me proud and, while I'm not always wise, I am smart enough to know how lucky I am to be able to say that. In searching for the right words for today's post, I scrolled back to other birthdays and stumbled across this post from two years ago. Change a few words here and there (her age, the fact that all three of us saw Billy Joel in concert this year instead of the mother-daughter Aladdin excursion), but the rest remains wonderfully, predictably, happily the same.

And for that, I am grateful.

Happy Birthday, Leah. Can't wait to see you this weekend.

My daughter turns nineteen today, and this will be the first time in her life we haven’t celebrated her birthday together. Yet another one of the milestones parenting a young adult brings. 

Not one to sit on the sidelines, especially when there's celebrating involved, I convinced my husband to take her up on her suggestion of meeting in New York last weekend. We spent two days together as a family, celebrating her birthday by seeing a show and seeing the sights, continuing the New York City birthday tradition begun when she turned sixteen and our trip included additional teenagers who kept things both lively and fun.

If I thought that birthdays would get cheaper and easier once she passed the age where we invited the whole daycare class to her celebrations, I (and my checkbook) could be sorely disappointed (and depleted). Instead, I've discovered that having a young adult who still wants to celebrate her birthday with her parents is a gift in and of itself, one that makes the dollars and cents aspects of the celebration less relevant than I expected. Sure, she got a weekend in New York out of the deal, but we got one too, along with the opportunity to get another snapshot of her at this new stage of life.

At nineteen, she's poised and growing in confidence, excited about taking the train from Connecticut while we took one from Pennsylvania and met at Penn Station in New York. Her personal sense of fashion is burgeoning, and she worries less about other people's opinion than her own comfort and style. Excited to see the stage version of her favorite Disney movie (Aladdin), she's also mature enough to engage in intelligent conversation about world events and to worry about her dad, who spent Saturday night in the hotel room with a stomach bug. And modest enough to be annoyed that I wrote all this, should she happen to stumble across this blog. 

Just for the record..SHE took
the picture. 
Yesterday, as I watched her navigate Grand Central Station, check on her train and head to the right spot to catch it, I didn't feel the urge to cry or run after her, let alone hold her hand or second guess her. As she headed for her destination, I watched for a moment until her striped bag was out of sight, savoring the victory of having raised a child who could do those things with confidence. Pride shoved sadness out of the way, tilting goodbye more toward the sweet than the bitter than I thought possible. 

It helps, of course, that I'll be seeing her again in five days, and that she's looking forward to coming home. I know her excited anticipation has as much to do with seeing her friends here and driving her car as it does with seeing us (okay, probably even more those things), but isn't that how it's supposed to be?

And at the end of the day, I get to find her sleeping in her own bed, the same sweet, slumbering face I saw yesterday morning in the hotel room brightening our house for almost a week. And, in her waking hours, making noise, dirtying dishes, catching up on laundry and making plans that don't include us.

But I'm okay with all of that. In fact, those things are a big part of what I'll be giving thanks for.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Train, A Muse and a Character to be Named Later

TeroVesalainen via Pixabay 
I'm typing this on Sunday evening aboard a train from New York City, mostly because I love both the concept and the actual act of writing while on the train (but also because I need a post for Monday). The day before we left, I finished the almost-final draft of my next book, Know Thyself: The (Im)Perfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff. Though my deadline is looming, I decided to let my completed manuscript sit while I spent the weekend celebrating my daughter's 21st birthday at a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden.

Because I finished my draft on Friday and had train time on both Saturday and Sunday, I thought maybe I'd see what my Casting the First Stone/ Chasing a Second Chance characters were up to. Unfortunately, it had been so long since I'd paid attention to them that they were feeling a tad uncooperative.

Or maybe it was me.

Writing on command, though a necessary strategy, is not always a fruitful one. It seems there's nothing like a deadline for one piece that makes another one seem more attractive. My mother would call that being fickle; John Perry would call it structured procrastination -- at least if I succumbed to the siren song of the "other" piece.

In any event, I'd hoped my train time this weekend would give me an opportunity to focus on blog posts and maybe creep a little closer to the end of the third MAC (Marita/Angel/Charli) book, but the blog topics weren't flowing any better than the MAC storyline.

But tonight, on our trip home, I peered out the window at one of our station stops, there it was. Inspiration. Not for anything I'm actually working on now, of course -- that would be too simple -- but, rather, background for a novel that's third or fourth in line. Inspiration for something I won't be able to seriously approach for sixth months or more.

What to do? The mature, responsible approach, some would argue, would be to keep nose to grindstone and tackle what I'd set out to work on. And that, of course, is exactly what I did not do.

Instead, I delved into that background, jotting down my ideas, doing some Google searches and feeling a character come to life a little more as I wrote about....

Well, I can't tell you that right now. It might spoil the story.

Pexels via Pixabay
My decision might not have been the mature, responsible one, but any writer worth her salt knows you don't ignore inspiration when it walks in and presents itself to you wrapped in a big, red bow (figuratively, of course). You cajole the inspiration, convincing it to linger a little longer so you can pepper it with as many questions as possible before it decides it's bored and slips off again, to new adventures and other writers.

And then you go back to your work in progress.

Or at least that's what I do because, when I get home, it's back to course planning and attacking the to-do list. As long as I'm on the train, time and inspiration are mine.

And I'd be a fool to squander either one of them.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Friday Feature: The Very Tired Word Writers Should Stop Using

One of my favorite books is Stephen King's On Writing. Though I neither read nor write in the genre that has made King famous (I'm a horror chicken), I nevertheless admire what he has accomplished. I also enjoy following King on Twitter, as much for his wicked sense of humor and political views as anything he has to say about writing.

I missed the tweet referenced in this article from Big Think, but since it was King who convinced me of the evils of adverbs, I was very interested in finding out which "very tired" word King believes writers should stop using.

Every writer has his or her go-to words -- the ones that pop up in our writing more often than we're even aware. We try to fix them, perform the find-change combo to excise them, but still they escape our fingertips more than we would like.

If you were doing the editing, which word(s) would you eliminate?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

5 Things I Know About Charli's BFF

I stepped away from my characters last week but, as is often the case, they called me back. Anna Fitzpatrick, Charli's best friend, has been tapping her foot as only an impatient middle school girl can, wondering how much longer I'll ignore her.

No longer.

Here are five things I know about Anna Fitzpatrick.

1. She won't admit it, but she secretly loves being the only girl (besides her mom) in her family.

2. She loves Charli, but she doesn't alway understand her.

3. She is very, very grateful that her parents are together and she doesn't have to go through what Charli does.

4. She wants her brother and Charli both to be happy, but everything felt a little weird when they were together.

5. Part of the appeal of youth group is the church connection, part of it is Lukas and the other part...meeting boys.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Fall: Don't Blink or You'll Miss It

Couleur via Pixabay
Fall is my favorite season. This year, it took its time getting here, meandering through September and much of October before it finally made more than a cameo appearance. Even then, it played peekaboo, popping in and out between raindrops and 70 degree days before it decided to stick around.

Still, as much as I longed for fall temperatures to arrive, I was remiss in paying attention to its other attributes. Last week, for the first time, I got out of my head long enough to appreciate the leaves that overhung the streets I drove regularly to work each day. I'm embarrassed to admit that the only reason I looked up in the first place was because I was stopped in traffic; the cessation of my forward movement interrupted the constant flow of to-do's that typically runs through my head on my short drive to work.

I was more attentive on the ride home, looking up as much as safety would allow to take in the yellow and orange canopy arching overhead. That simple act had a lovely, relaxing effect, the beauty of the rich colors scattering my stress like a gentle breeze that scatters the leaves themselves.

Friday night, it rained hard and the wind whipped around me, ripping the leaves from their branches. Today, it rained again -- without the wind this time -- but the damage was done. The leaves that had arched overhead last week now lay on the ground, plastered to the road by the insistent rain.

It's not often that I'm grateful for construction that interferes with my getting to work on my scheduled but if it weren't for that minor annoyance last week, I might have missed the leaves. Too engrossed in my own thoughts and plans to look up, I nearly missed the very thing I was waiting for.

Last semester, when I taught my positive psychology class, I was good at remembering to be mindful -- to be fully present wherever I was -- rather than physically present but mentally elsewhere. The older I get, the more I believe that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, no matter how inconvenient, frustrating or fantastic. That belief facilitates mindfulness but, by itself, it's not enough. I need to remember to pay attention to where I am -- not to simply go through the same motions on autopilot or, worse yet, shut out my surroundings by checking my phone.

There are still leaves to appreciate and, once the rain subsides, brisk, sunny days to enjoy.

I just have to be wise enough to know where to place my focus.