Personal Paradoxes

The older I get, the more introspective I get. The more I learn, or realize, about myself. Sometimes I like what I learn and others, not so much. In books and articles that teach about writing, they all say to make your characters multi-dimensional. To give them contradictions in their personalities. For instance, someone who follows all the rules but always drives over the speed limit. I’ve discovered some of these contradictions in my own personality and I’ve given them the term, “personal paradoxes.” I would wager that everyone has their own paradoxes. If they look closely. Here are a few of mine.

Organized Slob
A phrase coined for myself years ago. My home may have stuff on the floor, the coffee table may be covered with trash or books or both, and my desk can be invisible to the naked eye. Yet if you were to look in the drawers and closets, everything is organized and in its place. In my past life, I had two perfectionists for roommates. Two separate times. As you can imagine, it was not pretty. For their sake. One of them was so particular, she ironed her sheets. But the socks in her drawer weren’t matched up. I asked her about this once, because it made no sense to me. She said, “No one sees inside the drawers and closets.” Okay, but it still didn’t make sense. To me, anyway. Ironing sheets and searching for matching socks were two time wasters, in my opinion. The other roommate almost lost her life. We were in college, and I was in the middle of homework at the coffee table when I took a break. I came back from my walk to find my papers all in one pile, on my bed. It looked like a mess to her, but I knew what was what among the piles of notes and research. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Never touch an organized person’s stuff. If you value your life, just don’t.

Impatient Procrastinator
This one is a recent discovery. I’ve called myself the Queen of Procrastination for a while now. I’ve also always been impatient but never put the two together. See, while I am impatient, I’m slow at getting things accomplished. One time, my boss told me that my slowness (laid back attitude towards tasks) frustrated him; but once he realized that I’ll get it done, he relaxed a bit (at least that’s how I remember the conversation). So where does my impatience come into play? Well, there’s something within me that just can’t go below the speed limit. The 25mph zones are my enemy. Three times I’ve been pulled over for going 40mph on those streets. I also will not arrive late to anything. That is a result of my childhood, which is a story for another blog. So while I’m slow at completing things or I put things off, when it comes to certain things I will not wait until the last minute. Here’s a prime example: The day I started working on this blog, I was at the church where I work. There was an event to get ready for, and I arrived three hours beforehand to set up. All because I didn’t want to rush around minutes before it started. I live a complicated life!

Impulsive Planner
I’m a planner. Always have been. When I was in college, I would appear to be taking notes when in reality I was plotting out the rest of my day. It was one way for me to stay awake during 7:30 am classes and a way to make sure I got homework done that afternoon. I’m to the extreme now. Each month I plot out my time and then use that calendar to schedule each week in detail. Now, even though I plan out my time, it doesn’t mean I follow it. Here’s an example: A few months ago, my sister (who lives in Texas) let me know she was going to be in Pittsburgh for business and wanted to get together. Sure. Great. No problem. Pittsburgh is only two and a half hours away. The plan was to just spend the day since she had a meeting with a colleague for dinner, plus I needed to be home at a decent time. Well, the night before the outing, I discovered the Cubs were playing on the Pirates’ turf. I think you can see where this is going (if you’ve read a previous blog, “Lessons From Baseball“). I forgot all about the “need” to be home early. We got tickets and I stayed the night.

As humans, we are complex creatures. Men don’t understand women, women can’t understand men, and we can’t even understand ourselves at times. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s more of a fun thing. It’s fun to learn stuff about ourselves and how we operate. Then once we know what makes us tick, we can embrace it and really flourish in life, work, and play.

What are some of your own personal paradoxes?

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude. It’s something we tend to take for granted. Maybe because it’s easier to complain and find the negative side of things. But feeling and expressing gratitude is good for our health. A few months ago the health website I use posted an article about things to do in the evening to prepare for the next day. One of the things mentioned was a gratitude journal. Since this was about the third article I had read about keeping a gratitude journal, I took the hint and decided it was worth a shot. I wasn’t prepared for what I would learn.

The idea is simple. Make a list of three items you’re thankful for. Some days it’s not as easy as you might think. There are those brain dead days when wires don’t connect. In fact, I’ve skipped a day or two here and there. Okay, maybe a few days at a time. Alright, even a week has gone by without any entries. What can I say? I’m never consistent at anything. But here are a few things I’ve learned.

  1. Throughout the day, I pay attention to things I can record in the journal.
  2. It’s easier to turn a negative to a positive when I’m paying attention. For example: one day I entered, “Quiet days in the office when I can really get things done.” I believe that particular day was not one of those days. However, I noticed something I am grateful for when it happens.
  3. It can be anything. Something minor like “donuts” to something big like, “friends who have my back.” I even have an entry that says, “Gourmet popcorn. Enough said.” After all, it’s the little things in life!
  4. I’m more content with how things are rather than wishing they were different. (Alright, this happens more when I’m consistent with entries.)
  5. It gives a more positive view of life and the world.
  6. I even took a negative experience and turned it into a grateful point. (I was so good on this one, even I can’t  figure out which entry it was.)
  7. It can be on any subject: spiritual, health, relationships, or even something silly like a favorite TV show.
  8. Occasionally, there are things I’m doubly grateful for since they’ve been entered more than once. Like “Hallmark movies” and “walking friends.” And that’s okay.

Every gratitude journal doesn’t have to look the same. It can be wordy, a paragraph, a page, or short sentences. Entries can be general or specific. Many of my entries are so vague, I couldn’t say what happened to cause me to be thankful for them. Then there are days when one grateful item stands out above the rest.

This is one of those days. With today being Memorial Day, 100% of my gratitude is for those who have served and sacrificed to fight for and protect our country. I think about and am thankful for those in my own family line who fought or served in the wars throughout our country’s history, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War. While none of them lost their lives while serving, they all sacrificed something to do what they did. And I honor them for it.

Have you ever created a gratitude journal? What kind of things are you thankful for?

Lessons From Baseball

Baseball season has begun, and I’m anxious to see if my team can do a repeat of the 2016 season. I am a diehard Chicago Cubs fan. In fact, I usually tell people I was born a Cubs fan. I’ve never been ashamed to claim them as my own, no matter how many losing seasons they had or how close they came to getting the job done. Even when I came face to face with a disgusted look preceding the incredulous question, “Why,” I stayed true to the Cubbies. The hard time came when they went up against the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series. Why? Because I live near Cleveland, and my Indians friends did not take it easy on me. I’ll admit it. I returned the smack talk. As I followed the Cubs and Indians through the 2016 postseason and World Series, I observed four things we can learn from baseball teams and their fans.

Loyalty
Despite the century long drought the Cubs suffered in the life of their ball club, their fans never wavered in their loyalty. And I don’t think this is exclusive of Cubs fans. I’ve seen it over the years with Indians fans who have experienced their own drought. I saw it with Red Sox fans when I lived in New England. Loyalty is a good characteristic to have, whether it’s for your favorite sports team or a job or a friend. The heart of loyalty is being faithful through thick and thin. Through the good and bad.

Hope
Never lose hope. Whatever we face in life, good or bad, we can have hope. Cubs fans, and Indians fans alike, never lost their hope. When their team failed to get to the Fall Classic, they proclaimed the mantra, “There’s always next year.” And next year always came with a renewed hope and effort. When the Indians were up 3 games to 1 in the Series, the Cubs didn’t lose their hope to come back. When the Indians were down 6-3 in the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 7, they didn’t give up hope. When Game 7 was tied in the 8th inning interrupted by a rain delay, neither team gave up hope.

The dictionary describes hope as, “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” What hopes do you have for your life? Whatever they are, don’t give up hope.

Fun
I’ve heard some say they can’t stand baseball, because it’s like watching paint dry. Yes, that can be true at times. However, when attending a live game or watching it with friends on TV, it has a whole new dynamic. Even if the home team is losing, the fans have fun spending time with each other. Memories are made no matter the outcome of the game. I had a few of my Indians friends over for one of the World Series games. It was my own version of a Super Bowl party. While my team lost that particular game, it was a fun night of friendly banter and tons of laughter.

Years ago, a friend handed me an envelope and said, “This is to write a wrong.” At first, I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I opened the envelope. It contained four tickets to a Red Sox/Yankees game at Fenway Park. A few weeks prior, we had a conversation when I admitted I had never been to a professional baseball game. That’s right. I grew up a Cubs fan in Illinois and never made it to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game. It’s sad, I know. Even though I wasn’t a fan of either team playing at Fenway, I rounded up some friends and had a blast at my first big game.

It doesn’t matter whether your team is winning or losing, fun is at the center. Enjoy time with your friends and family. Even if life is throwing a curve ball your way, find the positive and enjoy life.

Determination & Perseverance
During the 2016 Series, I noticed determination in both teams. Neither the Cubs nor the Indians were going down without a fight. Each one of the seven games, the players pushed through and persevered. Sure, one team had to lose at the end of each game, but each one was determined to do their best to win the game.

There may be times when we feel like an opposing team is trying to beat us down. When that happens, push through and fight back. We may lose that particular game or battle, but there will always be battles in life that we will win. If we’re determined to persevere.

Baseball is my favorite sport; and it doesn’t matter who’s playing, I’ll go to a game and cheer on the home team. I still haven’t made it for a game at Wrigley, but I have seen the Cubs play the Indians twice in Cleveland. After this last Thanksgiving, though, I can at least say I’ve been to Wrigley. I took a detour on my way to Minnesota and stopped by for a quick visit. I felt like a kid going to my first ball game. It was hard to maneuver my car through the narrow streets when all I wanted to do was look at the park while jumping up and down in my seat. Maybe that’s the main lesson to learn from baseball: become like a kid and enjoy the moment.

Look at that beautiful sign behind me!

Do you have a favorite team? What lessons have you learned from watching them?

 

Conversations With Hunter

Five states and 750 miles can’t keep me away from four of the cutest and funnest kids in the Midwest. I’m privileged to be their Great Aunt, emphasis on GREAT, and they range from one to eleven years old. After visiting my niece’s family in the arctic north a couple of times, I decided to keep a record of conversations with preschool-aged Hunter during another Thanksgiving visit with them. He had already provided a plethora of quips that only a preschooler could give, I had no choice but to keep track of them. The 3- to 5-year-old range has always been my favorite age of kids, because of their silly sayings, behaviors, and honesty. They don’t intend to be funny; they just can’t help it. It comes naturally for them. So the following is a collection of conversations that I have had or observed with Hunter over the past year.

Cleaning Critic
We had just finished dinner, but Hunter was still working on his. Out of nowhere, Hunter said something ineligible followed by “is a mess.”

Hunter's photography skills after I left my camera behind.

Hunter’s photography skills after I left my camera behind.

So I asked for clarification, “What’s a mess?”

He simply replied, “Our house.”

I looked at my niece and said, “Well, there you have it!”

Lunchtime Logic
Hunter was sitting by himself at the table with a Kindle next to his lunch, learning to multi-task at an early age. Because he has trouble eating all his food, I checked in on him.

“Hunter, did you eat all your mac and cheese?”

“Probly.”

Hmm…

Topsy Tornado
We had celebrated our family Christmas since we were all together for Thanksgiving, and I realized Hunter hadn’t been seen in a while so I went on the hunt. I found him in his room with toys for new carpet.

I asked and stated the obvious, “What’re you doing? Looks like you’re making a mess.”

“Yeah.”

“Looks like a tornado went through here. Are you the tornado?”

“Yeah.”

Butt Boy
Daddy was getting Hunter ready for bed and was goofing around with him. As an observer and the silly great aunt that I am, I joined in the fun. “Hunter, you’re a silly butt.”

Hands on his stomach, he proclaimed, “No! No silly butt. Hunter butt!”

Fowl Education
We were basking in the summer evening around the fire pit after celebrating my niece’s 40th birthday, when I saw a gaggle of geese fly overhead.

“Hunter, look at the geese up there.”

“Those aren’t geese. Those are birds!”

“Oh, I stand corrected.”

Breakfast Big Boy
We were sitting at the table for breakfast, and I noticed he was devouring his food. “You’re doing a really good job eating all your food this morning.”

Matter-of-factly, he said, “Yeah, I’m a big boy.”

Polite Orders
At his mom’s 40th birthday party, Hunter was jumping on a small trampoline while firing a squirt gun. (A skill of coordination I wish I had.) He left for a little while only to return to find a few older kids sitting on it. Instead of telling them to get off because he had been playing on it, he yelled, “Get off the trampoline, PLEASE!!” At least he was polite about it.

Birthday Bash
Hunter and I have the same birthday, but we only celebrate his birthday. He turned four, after all, so it’s more important for him to celebrate. We were getting the cake ready with the candles when his daddy started this conversation with him.

Daddy: Who’s birthday is it?
Hunter: Mine!
Daddy: Who else’s?
Hunter: Mine!
Daddy: It’s Pam’s too.
Hunter: No, it’s mine!
Daddy: You share your birthday.
Hunter: (With an incredulous voice) No. You can’t share a birthday.

Sometimes the logic of a preschooler just can’t be argued with. All you can do is either laugh or walk away shaking your head in awe. During my waitressing days, I once had a little girl get indignant with me when I cautioned her to be careful since her hot chocolate was really hot. “Well of course it is. It’s hot chocolate!” I laughed while her mom apologized for her being “fresh.” A preschooler’s logic just makes sense at times. These conversations bring a smile to my face every time I read them, and I am so glad I recorded them. Because one day soon this young boy will be grown up and his little boy’s logic will be grown up with him.

Our family this past July.

Our family this past July.

A Christmas Eve Adventure

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The following is a story I wrote in 6th grade as an assignment using a picture. While the story is the same, I did a lot of editing and embellishing for an online class assignment. Enjoy!

It was Christmas Eve of 1999, two weeks after my tenth birthday. Snow drifted past the bigger than life window while logs crackled in the fireplace. I was engulfed in the parlor’s overstuffed love seat that looked like it had been attacked by the ugliest flowers I’ve ever seen. My parents and my sister were all at Christmas Eve parties. I was invited to go, but I preferred to stay home with “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

My eyes cruised along the pages, “When out of the roof there arose such a clatter—“ CRASH! Glass scattered everywhere as four intruders in black came into the room where the large picture window had been. Their dark clothes speckled with snowflakes, and all I could see were their eyes. Two of them grabbed me and one yelped when I nailed him in the shin with my pointy elf slippers. He held tight to my ankles while the other one tied me up. The other two broke a flower-filled vase and the grandfather clock. They took the million dollars hidden in each one and stuffed it into a green duffle bag. I wanted to scream but the duct tape over my mouth only allowed a soft grunt. Then the skinny one with glasses over his stocking cap opened the safe, with a fancy contraption. Another million dollars and treasure maps were stuffed into the bag. “Grab her,” the large chubby many barked. The short man picked me up and put me into a bag, tied it and carried me out with me trashing about. A mechanical sound of a door opened and I was thrown inside.

I willed my fingers to become pretzels in an attempt to free my hands. The vehicle swerved and tilted until it stopped with screeching tires. A few minutes later, something slammed against me. Then we were moving again. More swerving and tilting and crashing into objects before the vehicle braked. The door slid open, and I heard footsteps on a hard surface. A gruff voice said, “You got the goods?”

“Yeah. They were no problem,” a raspy voice replied. “Here’s the money and maps. The other packages are in the van. The smaller one is a bit feisty, though. She’s been struggling to get free the entire ride.”

The next thing I knew, two arms picked me up. They put me in a room and opened the bag so I could get some air. Everything was dark. I thought I was alone. I closed my eyes tight when a bright light snapped on and blinded me. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw an oversized black bag moving like a captured puppy. I skootched toward the bag and kicked it. A muffled growl with a return kick startled me. I swung around on my bottom, used my thumbs to pierce a hole in the plastic bag, and made it bigger with slow perseverance. My eyes became two moons when I saw my sister, Donna, next to me. I scooted around to put my back against hers. I then grabbed her wrists and felt my way around the knotted rope to untie it. Once her hands were free, she ripped the tape off her mouth with a shriek before untying my hands.

“What happened? Where are we?” Her voice waivered.

“We were kidnapped, stupid. I don’t know where we are, but they took the hidden money in the parlor.” I loosened the rope around my ankles. “How did they snatch you from Betty’s party?”

“While everyone was in the backyard, I went inside to use the restroom. They got me then.” Her hands shook as she freed her ankles from bondage. “And now I have to pee like a big old dog.”

“Shush. Somebody’s coming.” I made my way to the edge of the doorway on my knees so my slippers wouldn’t scuffle on the floor.

The door opened and I clutched his legs as my teeth sank into flesh. He barked and yanked me off. The man was as tall as a tree with a red nose. We were half scared to death. He scowled, “I’m here to help.” His hand rubbed his bit leg. “Hurry. Come with me and I’ll take you home. We’ve retrieved your family’s money and maps.” He took Donna’s hand on one side and mine on the other and dragged us along. “I’m Rudy, by the way.”

“What about the bad guys?” I asked as my short legs took three steps to his one.

“They’ve been apprehended and are in custody.” He rushed us into a red car with those gaudy foam reindeer antlers attached at the top of the front doors. “When your parents got a ransom phone call, they called Nick’s Detective Service. So Nick, my boss, sent me and my eight assistants to track you down. They rounded up your kidnappers and took them to the police.”

When we arrived at our small mansion, I threw my arms around Rudy and said, “Thank you. And thank your boss too.”

A week later, our family spent New Year’s Day searching for the treasures indicated on the maps. There weren’t any real treasures, but we had fun looking together.

The picture prompt for the story. (The mimeographed paper shows my age!)

The picture prompt for the story. (Yikes! The faded mimeographed paper shows my age!)

Contests…and More Contests

photo-1429051781835-9f2c0a9df6e4With the end of the year approaching, I realized it was time to give an update on my writing projects. It’s been a busy year with all aspects of my life, but I’ve picked up the pace of writing. At the start of the year, I posted about three projects that were in process: So Many Projects, So Little Time. All three of those are still in process. The anthology piece, however, has been submitted and is awaiting some editing before publication. Throughout the year, I have entered a few contests and I wanted to share those with you.

NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge
Okay, this is a big one. I entered this contest earlier in the year, but it didn’t start until July. This one has definitely been a challenge. It’s basically a tournament style contest. Each contestant has 48 hours to write and submit a thousand word story (or less) based on the assigned criteria of genre, location, and object. It works like this… There are three rounds with four challenges. The scores from both challenges in Round One are combined and the top five scorers in each group move on to the next round. Rounds Three and Four only have one challenge each. There are 60 groups with 30 people in each. If you’re decent in math, you’ll realize I’m competing against 1799 other people. Talk about pressure.

photo-1445109673451-c511bb51bd17So what was my first challenge? A horror set in a photography studio with an onion. Now, the onion didn’t have to be a major part in the story; just mentioned. I integrated it with the story. “Layers” is about Gus, a nerd. Gus loved beautiful women, and he couldn’t pass up an extraordinary woman and a photo shoot. He’s surprised, however, when the past meets with the present. I do not read or watch horror, so this one was a true challenge for me. Thanks to my boss and a horror loving friend, they gave me a couple of ideas that helped make it creepy.

In two days I will find out what the piece scored and two days after that, I get the new assignment. I won’t know if I move to the next round until the first week of November when I get the score – two days before the next round. My fingernails have slowly disappeared over the past couple of months.

Meltdown
This piece I submitted to Wow! Women on Writing’s quarterly flash fiction contest earlier this year, but it didn’t place. Using the feedback and critique from the judges, I tweaked it and resubmitted it in August to their fall contest. It’s about a woman who has a difficult time coming to grips with some life changes.

The Murder of Mrs. Jones
Originally posted on my other blog site, I submitted it to Wow!’s quarterly contest back in the Spring after quite a bit of editing. It went on to the final round of judging, but it didn’t place. This time, I took the feedback, polished it, and submitted it this month to Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest. Dr. Joe Simon, a therapist, finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation when one of his clients, Mrs. Jones, is assumed dead after a lot of blood is found in her apartment.

A Hiking Disaster
I think I’m in love with this one. It was inspired by one of my own hiking trips when fatigue took over my imagination. Sarah, a humble school teacher, is caught up in a murder investigation when she witnesses a body dumped on the trail sbb9f9777he’s hiking. She’s put into protective custody when it’s discovered her life is in danger, and then more disastrous things happen while she’s in custody. “A Hiking Disaster” is almost ready to submit to Writer’s Digest’s Popular Fiction Awards, which has an approaching deadline next month.

A Love Story
That is not the official title to this story. For some reason, figuring out a title for it has been difficult. This is probably the one short story that is closest to my heart and has taken the longest amount of time to finish. It’s inspired by my grandparents whom I didn’t know, so the story is embellished and imagined. I’m doing my best to get it edited and polished so I can finally submit it to Glimmer Train’s New Writers contest. The submission deadline: October 31.

My Own Upcoming Contest
In order to focus on finishing all these short stories that have been in process far too long, I put the editing of my book on hold. But once they are all completed and sent off, it’ll be time to refocus on the book. Which, by the way, still needs a title. That’s where you, my readers and followers, come in. In the upcoming months (maybe after the first of the year), I will announce a book title contest. The winner will receive a $25 gift card to their favorite restaurant. So be on the lookout for that announcement.

In case you lost count, that’s a total of five contests with submissions to keep my fingernails as little stubs. Sometimes I do think I’m crazy to have so many writing projects at once, and it can be overwhelming at times. But I’ve been having a blast tapping into the dark, twisted corners of my imagination. And that’s what matters (the fun part, anyway). The way I figure it, the more pieces I get out there, one of them is bound to get published. These aren’t the only contests I plan to enter, by the way. There are a few with deadlines in November and December, but I don’t have specific stories for them yet.  To keep up with all my madness and the results, keep an eye out here on my website or follow me on social media. I’m still finding my way on the various social media sites, but I will make sure to post contest results.

Have you ever won a contest? If so, what was the prize?

The Day the School Burned Down

The following is a story I dug out of the archives that I wrote in sixth grade. It is uncut and unedited except for names of friends and places in order to protect identities. I hope it gives you a chuckle as it did me when I read it after all these years, showing I have a hidden dark side I was unaware of. Also, my apologies to a former U.S. president.

 

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There was this school in Mammoth, Illinois that I went to called Washington Elementary School and it was my last day at the school.

One day at the school Karla Vanderhausen and I was going down to the office after the lunch tickets. The storage room was across from the office, the office door was always shut. When we got to the office we saw smoke coming from the storage room and we could smell it.

I told Karla to go in the office and tell Mr. Gillish and Mrs. Fletching that there was a fire in the storage room and I went to the nearest fire box and pulled on it and Karla went across the street to a house and called the fire department.

It took awhile before the fire department got there. President Carter was visiting the school and started to run out of the building but a light fell down on him and he got trapped. By from the ceiling fell on him and he was trapped. When the fire trucks got there the school was burnt down. After the fire was out and I saw a body, so I went to see who it was. Then I found out it was President Carter dead!

No one got hurt or injured luckily, but the president died of all the smoke and it was his second term as president.

THE END

Did you write any stories for an assignment in elementary school? If so, what was the craziest one you wrote?

The Love of a Dad

Father’s Day is rounding the corner, and I realized I’ve written a couple of blogs about my mom but not my dad. (You can go here to read the most recent one on Mom.) While he had his faults, my dad was a great guy. He quit high school to join the Army during World War II, and then ended up being discharged months later due to flat feet. Or at least that’s the story I’ve heard all my life. Dad was one goofy guy and loved by many. Like a typical teenager, I thought he was embarrassing. (Sorry, Dad.) During one of his college visits, I had friends say to me, “Your dad is so funny.”

“Really? Are you sure you’re talking about MY dad? The gray haired hillbilly with no teeth?” They confirmed it was the right guy. That was probably the moment my embarrassment started to turn into admiration.

His life was filled with love. Ever since his death in 1999 at the ripe age of 75, I have reflected about the things he loved, several of which he passed on to me.

A prime example of my dad's fishing skills!

Look at that whopper of a fish!

Love of Fishing
Now I can’t say that I’m a great fisherman. That would be a bigger fish tale than, “I had one THIS big and it got away.” But I loved the times he took us fishing. He showed me how to put the worm on the hook and how to cast the line. A lesson that didn’t take very well since I hooked myself on the back of the knee once. But he was there to take it out and tell me I was fine. It was more than the quality or quantity of fish we caught. It was the time spent together that was invaluable.

Love for People
I think I felt embarrassed by my dad because he knew no strangers. Me, on the other hand, was so shy I barely talked to people I knew. And it wasn’t just that he would talk to anyone. He would talk about anything and everything. Basically with dad, what you saw was what you got. He didn’t put on pretenses and didn’t try to be something he wasn’t. This is something I hope I have achieved in my life.

Love for God
This is probably one of the most treasured aspects about my dad that I loved. He wasn’t a preacher, nor did he try to talk people into following Christ. He just loved them through his actions. He helped numerous people when they needed it, whatever the need. It was the only thing that came before his love of family. (I’m smiling right now just thinking about this.) It was an unusual occurrence if Dad didn’t have tears in his eyes when people were being touched by God at a church service. His lips would quiver, and he’d get a little chuckle in his throat. I hate to admit this in such a public manner, but I’m the same way when it comes to God’s presence touching people’s lives. (Without the quivering lips, though.) Even though he was a talker, he wasn’t much for talking on the phone. Unless he had just gotten back from a church men’s retreat, and then I could hardly get him off the phone. (And now I’m starting to cry.)

Love for Family
I don’t think there was anything he wouldn’t have done for his girls. The poor man had to live with five women, fortunately only four of them at a time. (As if that makes it  any better.) With a seventeen-year gap between oldest and youngest, he basically raised two different families. (I always felt sorry for him.) He took the train all the way to Boston so he could help me move back to Ohio, and I believe he did the same thing for two of my other sisters: one moved from Illinois to Minnesota and the other one to California while the third stayed in our hometown.

My sister and I with Dad on one of our many camping trips.

My sister and I with Dad on one of our many camping trips. (I’m the cute, short one with a stain on my shirt.)

Love of Camping
This love of Dad’s was probably equal to his love of fishing. After all, with almost every camping adventure, fishing was involved. We started out with a pop-up camper, then graduated to a small “upright” camper where I slept on the bunk that was about one foot from the ceiling. Eventually, we went a little bigger where the bunk gave me more breathing room and fewer nosebleeds. Just about every vacation involved the camper. By the time I graduated high school, we had been to almost all fifty states minus the northwest and northeast. Most of those states were seen with the camper hitched to the back of the vehicle. My sister or I would stand next to the camper and direct Dad in backing up the car to the hitch. We may not have been able to drive yet, but we knew how to direct him in hooking up a trailer.

Love of Trains
This was a huge love of Dad’s. I guess it would be after spending four decades on the railroad. This is one love I inherited from him. I even followed in his footsteps and worked for a railroad. Okay, it was a scenic railroad but still, it was one of my favorite jobs. His nickname on the railroad was Skeepo or Skeep for short. To this day, I have no idea how in the world he got that nickname.

His railroad crew just outside the depot in my hometown. Dad is third from the right.

His railroad crew just outside the depot in my hometown. Dad is third from the right.

Love of Stories
Oh my word, did he love to tell a good story. His stories weren’t made up, though. They were his own experiences. He would talk about his railroad days or growing up in Iowa. The only story he refused to tell was his romance with Mom. For some reason, he was shy about that. It wasn’t until I thought of his storytelling that I realized I’ve inherited this love of his. Like Dad, I share stories of my own experiences. However, I also love to put those stories on paper, especially the ones that are purely my vivid imagination.

I realize not everyone has a dad who loved them or even showed them love, and that breaks my heart. Even though my dad wasn’t perfect, he did the best he knew how and I wish everyone would have a loving father. While my dad never told me he loved me, I knew he did from his actions. The time he spent with me working on cars, fishing, and wrestling me on the living room floor are all things I treasure. (Confession: our wrestling matches usually ended up with him sitting on me.)

One of my favorites with Dad.

One of my favorites with Dad.

What are some things your dad loves or things you love about your dad? I’d love to hear one of your favorite dad stories!

Retreating to Write

First stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

First stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Retreating usually means to withdraw from something. A scene from “The Patriot” comes to mind when the militia retreats from the British in order to lead them into an ambush. I sort of did the same thing. Without the bloodshed, though. I retreated from my everyday life and schedule, and retreated to something. This writing retreat was scheduled months ago, and it turned out to be perfect timing. Last month was Mayhem March with a full schedule that didn’t allow any writing time. April is calmer; however, there is a huge event at the end of the month that requires a lot of preparation on my part. As it turns out, it’s another retreat – a women’s retreat. So I set out with road trip snacks and several goals down on paper, and headed to the mountains of southwest Virginia, not far from the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

A spot on the campus to think, write, pray, or just distress.

A spot on the campus to think, write, pray, or just distress.

I chose this particular location, because it holds memories for me. The last two years of my Bible College years were spent there preparing for ministry. The college was closed years ago and is now a conference center among other purposes. As a licensed pastor, I have the benefit of using one of the apartments for up to one week each year at no charge. It makes it a cost effective, and beautiful, place to run away to write.

Since this was the first writing retreat I’ve done, I gathered many tips from friends and online articles which were very helpful. My intent is not to rehash what others have already put out there. I’m sharing my own personal experience, what I learned, and what I might do differently.

Things I Discovered:

  1. Outlining a book is essential for me. When I started my book ten or so years ago, I didn’t have any plan at all. Nada. A few years later, I took an online writing course and put together a very basic plan and partial outline. The problem: I was at a place in the book with no plan. It’s hard to knock out thousands of words when I have no idea where I want to take the story. It meant I had to spend some time after I arrived to decide where the book would go.
  2. I would probably never make it as a full-time writer. I don’t see this in my future anyway; however, I definitely don’t have the focus or discipline to write for hours straight every day. In my last blog, “Discoveries of the Writing Process,” I talked about how I am my own distraction. And nothing has changed since then.
  3. Detailed planning is key. By detailed planning I mean, detailed planning. I sketched out a schedule each day, in 30 minute increments, to help guide me toward my goals. Granted, I didn’t stick to it exactly, but that’s okay. Without it I would’ve been willy-nilly all over the place and not much writing would have happened.

Things I Would Do Again:

  1. Pack printer and supplies. I’m old school and prefer to edit off of paper as opposed to the computer screen. Since my printer is small and portable, this was a feasible idea. Turns out I didn’t need to print much, but it still came in handy and I would’ve regretted it if I hadn’t taken it with me.
  2. Make goals and break up the tasks. I tend to over plan and had a total of eight goals written out. Then I broke down each one by the four days I had available in order to make them doable. For instance, my goal was to add 10,000 words to the book, which averaged out to 2500 words per day. Because of my short attention span, I broke those 2500 words down to four to five 30-minute segments throughout each day.
  3. Sightsee and eat out. This really makes it sound more like a vacation instead of a retreat. I’m not Wonder Woman at writing (or anything else for that matter), so there’s no way I can write 24/7 and not take time out for a bit of fun and relaxation. The reason I would do this again is it helps to break up the time and gets me out of the confines of an apartment. I was strategic, though, and took writing stuff with me which weaved a little bit of productivity into those times.
  4. Plot stories in my head and pray while traveling. The six hour road trip provided plenty of opportunity to think ahead about the stories to be started as well as pray for the trip. About halfway into the drive, however, the mountain curves demanded my attention. I think I’ll blame those curves for why I didn’t plot out the cavernous holes in the book’s story.

Things I Would Do Differently:

  1. Fewer and healthier snacks. After my last few road trips, I’ve noticed a tendency to go overboard with the snacks.  While it’s essential to have snacks to fuel my brain’s energy, I don’t need five boxes of crackers, two bags of chips (which were never opened), pretzels, etc. Healthier snacks packed with protein are better at helping my brain function well.
  2. Limit the number of projects. Like I said, I tend to be an overplanner. Over four days, I had a total of six writing projects in addition to some reading and spiritual activities planned. I think if I were to focus on fewer projects, I wouldn’t have felt so schizophrenic.

There are other, smaller things I would do again, like leaving the laptop on all the time so it’s ready to go in the case of insomnia (it happened). While I think this will become an annual tradition, I don’t always need to “get out of Dodge” in order to have a writing retreat. For example, I’m finishing up this blog at the local beach before I head a few blocks over to the library, and then to my favorite restaurant for a late lunch. Everyone’s experiences and goals are different when it comes to getting away. Whether you retreat to write, get alone with God, or to have some time away from the spouse and kids, plan it well and it will be a success.

Another favorite place on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Another favorite place on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Where is your favorite or ideal hideaway place?

Discoveries of the Writing Process

I’ll admit it. I’m a newbie to the writing life. Sure, it’s been two years since I started making some headway on this writing journey, but I’m learning all kinds of things on this adventure. And like most adventures, there are discoveries to be had. Every writer has their own process, or even quirks, when it comes to writing. Now that I’m getting (or more like attempting) to be consistent with writing, I’m learning a bunch of new things about my own writing process.

Short Attention Span
Ok, so this does not only apply to writing, but it shines through every time I sit down at the computer. Sometimes I think I have ADD “Attention Deficit Disorder.” It doesn’t have to be a bird outside the window or even an unidentified noise. “I am my worst distraction,” I always say. All it takes is a random thought: Oh yeah, I wanted to light some candles or I forgot to turn off the light in the other room. This is a real problem for me. One day I was having an especially difficult time at work focusing on the task at hand. So what did I do? I searched online for a motivational poster on focus. What else could I do? I found the perfect one for a Star Wars fan like me: Luke Skywalker attacking the death star. Because of this lack of focus and short attention span, I have discovered that thirty minutes is about all I can do at one time except for the rare occasion of being on a roll or if I’m editing. Whether I’m writing a new story, blog, or editing a work in progress, I set a timer on my phone for thirty minutes. This has two purposes: 1) it forces me to keep working for another fifteen minutes when it feels like I’ve been at it for an hour, and 2) it reminds me I’ve been sitting long enough.

sw_focus

Basic Story to Final Draft
A few weeks ago I posed a question in my Facebook writing group to see if I was the only one who ends up with more questions and quandaries with each edit. One person replied that she settles those things during the rough draft stage and uses the editing stage to fix the grammatical and technical stuff. It did not surprise me that I am backwards. I learned a long time ago that my brain is wired opposite from the majority. High school algebra class was a prime example. I picked up the difficult formulas quicker than the easier ones. In adult life, I’ve noticed that if there is an easier solution or method to accomplishing a task, I’m not the one who thinks of it. The way I go about things tends to be more complicated for others, yet it’s easier for me. No wonder I confuse people when I explain things to them. When I write, I get the basic story on paper while fixing grammatical and spelling errors as I go. Then it’s during the editing process when I look for inconsistencies in the story line. What typically happens is the story expands while I’m editing. At times the final story ends up being twice as long as the original draft. There is no right or wrong way to write or edit. Every writer discovers what works for them and then goes with it.

Best Time & Place to Write
Writing advice on when to write will vary from person to person. Some say to squeeze in thirty minutes in the morning, while others suggest staying up later to fit in some writing. For me, neither one is the “best” time. Since my brain wakes up about two hours after my eyes open, mornings are definitely not an option. By the end of the day, my brain is fried like an egg that’s been in the skillet too long. While the occasional late night does work for me, I’ve noticed that anywhere from afternoon to evening is best, depending upon my schedule. As far as the best place goes, I can concentrate better when I’m somewhere other than my house, like the library or Panera Bread (my favorite place). However, most of my writing is done from the comfort of my couch. I do have a desk at home, but it’s usually cluttered with papers and personal financial stuff. Besides, I spend close to forty hours every week at a desk so writing at my home desk doesn’t inspire me much. But no matter where I write, there has to be some level of noise to help me concentrate. Music is better, but people talking or some other type of activity around me works as well.

A sample of how I plan my life.

A sample of how I plan my life.

Scheduling/Planning
This is a trial and error aspect of this writing journey. I set goals (which I rarely meet) then schedule writing accordingly. I’ll first print out a monthly calendar, and then I use a red ink pen to note my deadlines. From there, I assign all my tasks (everything from household chores to writing projects) to a specific day with the approximate time to accomplish them. Each week, I print out a weekly calendar and get even more specific with a schedule for each day, complete with times. Yes, I know this seems extreme, but I’m returning to my college days when I would sketch out a schedule for the day. It started as a way to stay awake in my 7:30am classes, but it turned out to work for me. Before you think more highly of me than you should, I don’t always stick to the plan exactly how it’s written. Life is unpredictable so it’s a necessity to be flexible.

Writing discoveries are different for every writer; these are mine, and I’m pretty sure they won’t be the only things I discover on this journey. It’s only a start. In fact, life should be a learning experience until the day we die. When we stop learning, the fun gets sucked out of our lives. And no one wants to live life without fun. Whether you are a reader, a writer, or neither one, there are things you’ve learned about yourself during your lifetime. I’d love to hear some of them in the comments. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll inspire a new story for me to write.