Category Archives: Memoir Monday

Happy Birthday to Me! And My Blog!

Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

Today I turn 41 years old, and today my blog turns 2.

These last two years have been the best of my life! That’s not a coincidence. Nor is it luck, magic, or random chance.


Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows I value mindfulness. I’m a big believer in taking stock of my life on a regular basis and checking in to see how I’m doing.

I also believe in God. When I say God, I do NOT mean I believe there is a some man with a long white beard and a gold letter G on a white robe hanging out in heaven with a score card keeping track of my every move.

Because I was made in God’s image … and I don’t look like that! Neither do approximately 7.5 billion people on this planet.

Although, my good friend, Lem, does so maybe that what’s God looks like to him.

To me, God is the Divine Source of energy or Spirit, that connects us all to each other and to the universe. The holiest Holy Spirit that resides and dwells in each one of us. Both male and female.

I can’t take credit for that idea. I learned it from Father Don McLaughlin at St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. On Mother’s Day 2013, I sat in a church pew mesmerized as Father Don discussed God as loving Father AND Mother and how the feminine is nearly forgotten in the church today.

Now that was an idea I could get behind.

In fact, when I now pray to God I pray to my Loving Father/Mother God. So my Our Father prayer begins with Our Father, Mother, Spirit Who Art in Heaven.

This realization that God is Mother and Father to us all and we are all a part of God is why I care about girls receiving an education in Burkina Faso, children being separated from their parents at the US borders, and polar bears losing their habitat in the Arctic.

Because I am them and they are me. The only difference between us is that for the Grace of the God, I ended up being born to the parents I did. 

So when I take stock of my life on a regular basis, it’s to make sure I’m on the right path. The one that God intended for me, and the one in which I am an active participant and creator.

Two years ago for my birthday, my best friend Arlene sent me a beautiful card in which she hand-wrote a prayer for me. It’s from Matthew Kelly, founder of the Dynamic Catholic movement.

Prayer by Matthew Kelly. Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I’ve been saying this prayer every day before I start my morning meditation for two years now.

Even when I added Rumi’s Prayer of the Chalice to the start of my meditation practice because I wanted to keep the practice fresh, I still found myself saying the one Arlene sent.

It’s not like you can go wrong with TWO prayers.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that these past two years have been the best of my life. My life is God AND Kelly willing, and I choose for it to be this way with love and guidance from God.

So on my 41st birthday, I say thank you to God for showing me where I need to be in my life and what I need to be doing, especially these last two years.

These last two years brought me to Norfolk and gave me more dogs to love than I could possibly imagine, friends that keep my spirit up when life gets me down, a community that makes me a better person, writing that makes me proud and takes me one step further towards my goal of published author, visits with family near and far, travels to new and wondrous places, and time with my husband to love and laugh and love and laugh some more.


There has also been loss; of course there has! This is life, after all, and that comes with being here. But through the love around me and which dwells in me through God, I am able to accept it and channel it into making me a better version of myself.

Thank you also to everyone who reads my blog and supports me on my journey. I couldn’t live this life without you either.

 

National Park Adventures: Grand Teton and Yellowstone Edition

After lamenting in my last blog post about how my first bear-in-the-wild experience turned out to be less thrilling than I thought it would be, Mother Nature showed up for me big time. It started with an early morning drive through Grand Teton National Park.

We saw gorgeous mountain views,

breakfasting deer,

the most majestic elk I ever did meet,

and then, on the way back through the park, a black bear had the courtesy to climb on top of a tree stump and pose for me. Don’t worry – there were two rangers there keeping the humans and bears safe, so I was not in danger while taking this picture.

Add this wildlife to the dogs I met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and you’ve got yourself one delighted animal lover.

 

I met most of these dogs while attending the People’s Market in Jackson Hole. The People’s Market is like a farmer’s market, except it’s for people who don’t necessarily identify as farmers. What’s amazingly progressive about the People’s Market is that it’s zero waste. Everything is reused or recycled.

While at the market, I bought my first non-essential clothing purchase in over 2.5 years. All the clothes I’ve purchased since December 2015 have been to replace something that has completely worn out. This time, however, I jumped the gun on replacing a t-shirt which still has a few washes left, since I wanted to support Bear Root Bitters, a locally-based company that focuses on remixing ancient herbal remedies from locally harvested and all organic ingredients.

Although I’m a fan of supporting local in general, I am especially fond of Bear Root Bitters since two of their proprietors, Katie and Henry, let us stay with them while we were visiting Jackson Hole. My husband and I know Katie and Henry as the sister and brother-in-law of Cody and Xena, the boxers we took care of a few weeks ago. They’re two chill, generous people, and I’m so glad we got the chance to hang out with them.

After a few days in Jackson Hole, we headed north to Montana by way of Yellowstone.

We didn’t see much wildlife in Yellowstone, except for a few bison here and there.

But, WOW! The geysers here are extraordinary!

I don’t do a lot of research before I visit places, mostly because I don’t want high expectations to be unmet. So I didn’t really know what to expect at Yellowstone other than Old Faithful (which did not disappoint).

As it turns out, there’s a lot more to geysers than just bubbling, gushing water. Check out these colors:

These photos are from Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone, and the only reason we stopped there in the first place is because my husband’s brother (the one who passed away in February) was nicknamed Biscuit. We now chalk up stopping there to divine intervention.

While there, we met the loveliest couple, Ron and Carolyn from Utah, while walking around Biscuit. Carolyn was so enthusiastic about how I quit my job as a college professor to pursue writing, that she insisted Ron take our picture together, so that later when I’m a published author she would be able to say she met me at Yellowstone National Park.

I’m pretty sure Carolyn is a real-life angel. I needed that boost and unwavering belief in my goals as a writer because just a few days prior, my agent and I decided to part ways. Despite liking each other very much and being fans of each other’s professional goals, we just couldn’t seem to connect in a way where we both were on the same page with my manuscripts.

A bummer and disappointment to be sure, but as someone who once sat down next to a complete stranger at a restaurant bar and then eloped with that person three weeks later, I have no doubt that what happened is for the best. I’m already looking forward to the next part of my writing journey.

In the meantime, I have more road tripping to do. Next time I post I’ll tell you all about the supermodel I met in Kalispell, MT. His name is Bruno, and, yes, he’s a bear to work with. Literally.

Exercise Advice That Actually Works

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: I actually achieved my goal of creating a cardio exercise habit!

WOOHOO!

As someone who spent fifteen years mistakenly believing I was lazy when, in fact, I had undiagnosed narcolepsy, I carry around a lot of baggage about setting goals and whether I achieve them.

Reaching my cardio goal is exciting, although I understand this news may not be as exciting as being offered a book contract (although this is a possibility that could happen any day now), planning a trip to Glacier National Park (if you have any recommendations, send them my way), or meeting a bulldog puppy at the Iron National Bank (I nicknamed her Potato, but I think the bank tellers are more spot-on that her name should be Meatball).

Meatball

If you remember, I read a book over the summer that I now consider the best book I’ve ever read on mindfulness, time management, and productivity: The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter.

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Truthfully, I haven’t read that many books on time management and productivity. However, I have bought a quite a few over the years and checked some out from the library. Funnily enough, I could never find the time to read them.

Not only did I read The Sweet Spot in its entirety, I then followed through on Dr. Carter’s advice. This accomplishment is the highest possible recommendation I could ever give a self-help book.

Here’s how my cardio goal went down:

  • Week of September 15th, 2017 – formulate a 20-week plan to build an exercise habit which would result in 20 minutes of cardio every day except Sunday using the advice Dr. Christine Carter lays out in, The Sweet Spot.
  • Follow through on plan.
  • 27 weeks later write a blog post celebrating my success!

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, which is why I highly encourage anyone who is serious about changing how they manage their time or even just thinking about it to read Dr. Carter’s book.

I would have written about my success sooner, but, you know. Life. And now I can further celebrate my success with an additional seven weeks of cardio.

Yes, I’m still jumping around for 20 minutes every day (for the most part). It feels good!

I credit Dr. Carter with a big chunk of my success, because her advice really went a long way towards my self-defeating tendencies such as procrastination and excuse making. I also need to give myself some of the credit, too, because I’m the one who actually had to show up every day and exercise. If I didn’t want my health to be a top priority in my life, it would have been easy to scrap the whole cardio plan since I already had established a daily 20-minute strength training regime that is working out nicely for me.

What really helped was being mindful of the process and that’s something Dr. Carter encourages throughout her book.

I already knew what would happen on days when I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise because of a poor night’s sleep, or a feeling of inertia that comes from winter, or lack of time because I had to be somewhere by 9:00am. For four minutes, I would do something related to cardio, such as plank and squats, jumping jacks, or dancing around. That’s what Dr. Carter refers to as a Better Than Nothing plan.

I also did everything possible ahead of time to ensure my success. This process involved thinking about why I wanted to establish a cardio routine and what would be the best way for me to exercise.

There were several whys, such as not getting out of breath while playing with dogs and losing even more of the weight that I gained in my first year of marriage, but the biggest reason is because I really believe consistent cardio is the best way for me to get a good night’s sleep.

For someone with narcolepsy, good sleep is the brass ring on the carousel of life we’re all hoping to grab. One of the most common misconceptions about narcolepsy is that you can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, such as into a bowl of soup when you’re at dinner. While in extreme cases that could happen, it’s not likely for the average narcoleptic.

What’s more likely with narcolepsy is one of the disease’s defining features– we can’t sleep at night, and when we do, we don’t get as much deep sleep as we need and we spend more time in REM having incredibly vivid, often disturbing or even terrifying dreams. So, we wake up exhausted and then have a tendency to fall asleep in a situation where we’d rather be awake.

naps-are-for-everyone

You’d think I would have wanted to make cardio a habit in my life sooner. It’s not like I hadn’t tried. In retrospect, I believe I was missing one key piece of the cardio habit puzzle – I never considered how my choice of cardio relates to my core life values. Again, thank you to Dr. Carter for helping me realize this point.

At the top of my life values list are freedom and joy. When going down a cardio path in the past, I’ve enjoyed ice skating, hula hooping, Bikram Yoga, Daily Method, Pure Barre, and dance fitness classes. Throughout my life, I have committed to several months of these activities, sometimes even years. But these options do not promote freedom. They all require you to spend time driving to somewhere, then you have to spend time in the actual class, and then drive home again. Also, a lot of these activities require equipment and/or special clothing.

Me in College

As someone who now values my time more than anything else and who also has a goal of getting all my belongings down to a single backpack, I just can’t make those types of commitments anymore.

I also have no desire to make a commitment to anything that does not bring me joy. There have been times in my life when I committed to going to a gym for 30 minutes a day to use boring (in my opinion) cardio machines such as treadmills or elliptical trainers. I hated exercising on those machines, and it’s hard to sustain a relationship rooted in hate.

Also, cardio machines cannot fit in a backpack and unless you have them in your home, you have to go somewhere else to use them. So again, that takes up more time that I don’t want to give up.

When I thought about my past failed attempts and what I wanted to achieve, it became obvious I needed to do something that I could literally do anywhere and that also would require no special equipment, including sneakers. I don’t own a pair anymore (I wore through my last pair in May, 2017) and I sure as heck am not going to buy a pair just so I can exercise. That would then make exercise dependent on an external circumstance and that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

I also realized I needed a form of exercise that I could do in my jammies.

Okay, yes, this one is weird. But, when you have narcolepsy sometimes even the act of changing your clothes in the morning can seem like a lot of work. I also knew from past experiences that if I didn’t exercise first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t do it all. Add to that a drafty house in Connecticut, and you’ll understand why this became an acceptable form of exercise attire:

Lana Pants Exercise

Taken all these insights together, here were my cardio requirements:

  • Can be done anywhere
  • Requires no special equipment or clothing
  • Brings me joy
  • Works if you’re wearing jammies

Ready to know what it is?

Drumroll, please … DANCING!

Not only does dancing meet all my requirements, but you can get pretty wild with jumping around, or if you’re having a less motivated day, you can bop around, or if you’re having a narcolepsy day, you can simply sway to the music.

You can also alternate the amount of effort you put into your dance moves, thus creating a nice interval flow to the workout. And if you don’t believe me, check out the Norfolk Library’s Corner Club kids breaking it down for Black History Month last month when the library brought in a hip hop dancer.

Twenty-seven weeks ago I wasn’t doing any cardio. And now I am. Even better, that’s 20 minutes nearly every day that brings me joy – both in the process and in the sense of accomplishment. That time would have gone by no matter. I am so grateful to have found a way that works for me, and I am even more grateful to Dr. Christine Carter for sharing her wisdom.

How E.B. White Broke My Heart with a Single Sentence

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True Confession: I have never read Charlotte’s Web before this year.

Yes, I am a children’s book author admitting to never having read one of the greatest pieces of children’s literature of all time. Okay, yes, I’ve only been a children’s book author since June 2015, when I wrote my first picture book manuscript. Yet somehow that doesn’t make me feel less chagrined about the situation.

Since I’m coming clean, the truth is there are many kidlit classic books I have never reads. Some books and authors I have never even heard of when I’m perusing kidlit writing websites.

For example, I did not know who Ursula Le Guin was when she died on January 22, 2018. Her name popped up everywhere on the writing and entertainment websites I read. I ended up checking out this article in particular, Mapping the Pop Culture Influence of Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea Booksand I was shocked to learn that her stories had been a precursor to Harry Potter.

EarthSea

As a huge Harry Potter fan, how is it I had never heard of Le Guin before? Who else haven’t I heard of that I should?

At least I’m quite familiar with EB White and Charlotte’s Web. Growing up as a child in the 80s, I’d watched the cartoon version of the story dozens of times, but somehow I never managed to read the story.

Charlotte's WEbWhen I think about it, I have no good reason why, other than I was reading other books: Sweet Valley Twins, Babysitters Club, Fabulous Five, and the Taffy Sinclair books just to name a few. All of these titles are series, so perhaps because I had multiple new books to read every month, I never needed to venture out to the classics.

That’s not to say I never read any of the classics growing up. The three that I distinctly remember are: Misty of Chincoteague and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, both by Marguerite Henry, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Yes, like most little girls, I had a thing for horses. I suppose I still do.

Horses

I also racked up quite a few more kidlit classics while in college when I took Intro to Children’s Literature my freshman year. We studied fairy tales (the gruesome original versions), Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Little Women, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, to name a few.

I can still vividly recall the moment in class when my entire life changed because of a book. Mrs. Spore, my teacher, lead us in a discussion of the allegorical representation of Aslan the Lion in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Being a nearly-straight-A student, I raised my hand and proudly announced Aslan represented the struggle of good versus evil.

Mrs. Spore shook her head. “Too simple,” she said. “Aslan is much more than that.”

The guy next to me raised his hand. “Jesus Christ,” he said.

Lion

BOOM! There goes my head in an explosion of everything I thought I knew about the world. 13 years of Catholic education (K-12), and I had made zero connection to what C.S. Lewis was really telling us in his story.

Although that Intro to Children’s Lit class was my favorite class throughout all of college, anything in children’s literature/publishing did not seem a viable career option at that point. I allowed myself to get sucked down the rabbit hole of job security, earnings potential, and societal expectations, and ended up with a PhD in quantitative psychology instead.

So now, as a psychology professor turned kidlit writer, I find myself immersed in reading as much kidlit as possible. In January, on advice from an editor at Simon & Schuster, I checked out The Incredible Journey from my library. The editor recommended this book because I write about dogs. The writing was beautiful and the pacing a touch slow for modern reading standards (in my opinion). Still, I cried tears of joy during the last few pages.

Incredible Journey

Wanting to continue with reading kidlit classics, I then picked up Charlotte’s Web from the library. This is a book that should be required reading for all children and adults. The story is extraordinary in so many ways.

E.B. White is a master of word choice and description, with sensory details, rich visuals, and emotionally engaging characters that pull you immediately into the story. Just read the first sentence:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” asked Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Tell me you don’t want to read more!

Charlotte’s Web is not just about the writing, either. The illustrations by Garth Williams are adorable. Look at this little pig:

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Or “puppy pig,” as my 21-year-old niece called him when I sent her an illustration as an example of why I was loving this book so much.

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know how much I LOVE dogs! Give me a puppy pig and write him into a story where he finds out he’s going to die and you have me hooked.

The way E.B. White connected me to Wilbur the pig is genius. Wilbur loves Fern and misses her when she’s at school. He wants a barnyard friend to play with, but the other animals shun him. He finds out he’s going to die and becomes hysterical because he loves sitting in his pile of mud and slopping around his pigpen so much. Then, Wilbur begins to believe he is someone special simply because Charlotte, his spider friend, believes in him.

There’s also this sentence in the last chapter about Fern, the little girl who initially saved Wilbur the pig from Papa’s ax:

She was growing up, and was careful to avoid childish things, like sitting on a milk stool near a pigpen.

These words of E.B. White will stay in my heart forever.

I couldn’t help but cry when I read that sentence. They were tears of both joy and sadness. Joy because the way I live my life now, embracing the things that truly matter to me, such as loving my husband and family, playing with dogs, walking in the forest, reading and writing stories, and sitting on a stool near a pigpen are things I do every single day.

Okay, well maybe not literally every day sitting on a stool near a pigpen, but thinks to one of my wonderful friends in Norfolk, I do occasionally get to sit in a barnyard and play with farm animals.

Hammy Zorro

There was also sadness for the millions of children who grow up and may never again recapture the feelings of wonder they experienced during childhood. Just like I did in college, they go down the rabbit hole of adulthood, and I don’t know if they ever find their way out. I hope they do. I pray they do. And I write stories to show how I made my way out.

Thank you for reading my blog! Your support is always appreciated. If anyone is interested in more Charlotte’s Web writings and illustrations, I’ve been posting selections on Twitter as part of my #365DaysofKidLit Challenge. You can look for me on Twitter with the handle @KellyKandra. I also included selections from The Incredibly Journey and The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, plus several picture books.

As an end note, I’m looking to read as many of the Hank the Cowdog books as possible without having to buy them (you know, minimalist and all). The inter-library loan only offers a few, so if anyone out there can give me access to more copies, I would be ever grateful.

Hank the cowdog

Monday, August 21st, 2017

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I recently had the chance to catch up with some of my former colleagues from the University I previously taught at.  The school had a peace vigil this past Friday and since I’m in town house/pet-sitting, I decided to attend.  I’m pretty disgusted with the events as of late in this country of ours, and supporting peace through lovely words and prayers seemed like a wonderful idea.

Peace

While there, several people made the same comment to me: you look so happy.  I consider this compliment to be one of the greatest I can receive, because, truthfully, I do feel happy, and this wasn’t always the case.  This past year of living a writer’s life, spending as much time as I can with my husband, and playing with and caring for dogs in exchange for amazing houses to live in, has been such a blessing.  I am so grateful at the friends I have made this past year and the opportunities that have presented themselves.

These feelings of joy and gratitude were especially salient yesterday as I walked around a forest preserve.  I thought I had been driving to another community gathering of love and peace, but it turned out I had the wrong location.  Although that was bad news, the good news was I ended up at Fullersburg Woods, a forest preserve of DuPage County.

Waterfall

For about an hour, I wandered around enjoying the beauty of Salt Creek, before settling myself on some rocks by the Rainbow Bridge to simply be at one with nature.  Although I missed the community fellowship I had been anticipating, I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful way to spend my afternoon.  And I wasn’t really alone.  Spirit surrounded me, as did the rocks, trees, birds, leaves, and waves from the river.

Rainbow bridge

Walking along the trail on my way back from the bridge, I began marveling at the world around me.  Then, it hit me! One of the reasons I think I’m so happy is I’m able to find wonder and awe in the little things.  I began thinking of what brings me the most joy in life.  Here’s an incomplete list:

  • Laughing with my husband
  • Playing with dogs
  • Talking about dogs with my Mom
  • Reading a good book
  • Finishing a draft of a story
  • Helping someone edit a draft of their writing
  • Fantasizing about future travels, especially if they can include family and/or friends
  • Watching funny online videos of animals, particularly bears

It’s good to know these things because right now, there’s a lot of unhappiness and turmoil in the world.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when it’s hard to know what to do in response.  What I liked most about the vigil I attended on Friday is that the event was not against anyone or anything.  I have often heard spiritual teachers caution against what you give your energy to, such as an anti-war protest versus a rally for peace.

With these thoughts in mind, I am recommitting myself to focus on the things in my life that bring me joy.  Selfish and elitist?  Perhaps.  But I’m going to subscribe to the words of Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.  I wish to see peace and happiness.  So that’s what I’m going to be.  Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…one youtube bear video at a time.

Memoir Monday, August 1st (which is really a Tuesday)

HB to my blog

Happy Birthday to my blog! One year ago today I posted for the first time and I am now up to 97 posts.  A little bit short of my (overly) ambitious 156 (3 posts a week), but I’ll take it.

Originally, I started this blog as a way to document my new career choice as a writer.  I planned on writing about writing (there’s a novel idea [haha, pun totally intended]), as well as featuring some of my fiction writing (Fiction Friday posts), with a dash of other writing as well (poems, one-liners, life lessons from a dog, etc., for Whatever Wednesday posts).

Now a year in, I have more realistic expectations.  It turns out there is only so much I can write about writing in any given week.  A lot of my Memoir Monday pieces morphed into metacognitive pieces of how I am my own worst enemy in achieving my goals of being a healthy and peaceful person and a productive and prolific writer.

I actually quite like the evaluation process, having conducted program evaluation research for well over a decade, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that I ended up spending a lot of time reflecting on my goals, objectives, and whether or not I am making progress.  As I continue writing my blog, I expect the process of what I am trying to accomplish over several different areas of my life, not just writing, will continue to fall to the forefront.

My Whatever Wednesday posts and Fiction Friday posts certainly stretched my creativity and writing muscles.  But I often found myself feeling forced to come up with content.  Although I am a big believer in having a consistent writing practice, I like to have freedom in the process.  Telling myself I had to come up with a thought provoking one-sentence caption for a photograph or another flash fiction story created undue stress for myself and a lot of times I felt a bit resentful because the time and effort it took away from the writing projects that are closer to my heart (my children’s picture books and middle grade novels).

Therefore, year 2 of my blog will not include these outlets for my writing.  Over the next few weeks, I will be updating the blog site to reflect these changes.  However, at some point I would like to finish my Fox Through the Forest story.  For those of you who have read, I feel it is unfair to leave Malcolm the fox and his friends stuck in narrative limbo.  I know he has his journey to finish and I want to see him to the end.

It’s exciting to think about where year 2 will take me.  A year ago, we were housesitting in Johnsonville, NY, and taking care of a Bernese Mountain Dog, a Border Collie, and a Bordernese mix, as well as two rag doll cats and a barn cat, in addition to goats and chickens.

Johnsonville three dogs

Frank with Heath Rosie Jack Cat

Now we’re on the road in Joliet, IL, caring for an old timer Golden Retriever, a rescued Great Dane, a German Shepherd/Border Collie mix that came from the pound, one cat, and 37 (I think) chickens.

Phyllos Lilu Rafiki Triferros

A year ago, I had no completed manuscripts over 1,000 words.  Today, I have one complete 41,000 middle grade novel, and a 51,000 word middle grade novel sorely in need of revision.  I wrote an additional seven picture book manuscripts.  One of them won the top fiction prize in Kidlit College’s picture book contest.  As a result, this manuscript is now being considered by five publishers.  Plus, I now have an agent who makes me laugh a lot and is supportive of my story ideas.

I am so blessed and grateful to be on this journey.  I thank God every day that I had the courage to change the life I was living for the one I wanted to live. I am grateful to my husband who has shown me unconditional love, laughter, and support as we realize our shared visions for life.  My parents have also been incredibly supportive and I know they hope and pray for our continued prosperity and success, as do my extended family and in-laws.  We have met so many wonderful people along the way and every day we make new connections.

We have no idea where this next year is going to take us, but there is not a doubt in my mind it will be filled with abundant gratitude, joy, love, light, and laughter.  I look forward to telling you all about it.

Memoir Monday, July 10th, 2017

What Dreams May Come

This past week that my husband and I spent at my parents’ house was an epic achievement for me in that I did not gain any weight.  This is good news because I’ve been working on keeping the momentum of staying active and eating less junk food that I’ve sustained since the beginning of May.  Ever since I fell off the whole foods, no sugar bandwagon approximately 1.5 years ago (note the coincidental timing with my marriage), it’s been a struggle to release the addictive hold sugar has on me, but I’m here to say I’m still going strong.

The bad news, however, is that I enjoyed other foods that for me, personally, wreak havoc with my health.  Night shades (i.e., white potatoes, peppers of any kind, including spices, tomatoes, and eggplant) all cause my narcolepsy symptoms to be significantly worse.  Specifically, when I eat night shades the amount and intensity of the time I spend in REM sleep increases.

REM is the stage where dreams occur; for people with narcolepsy, we already have overly long, incredibly vivid and emotional dreams, as well as more frequent dreams throughout the night.  During the week that I ate nightshades on a regular basis here are the dreams I had:

  • I was driving someone else’s car (someone I used to work with at my former university) and the brakes wouldn’t work

 

  • I kept missing my flight – where I was going, I couldn’t tell you, but in the dream, no matter what I did I couldn’t get to the airport on time.

 

  • SNAKE! A long vicious snake, kept trying to attack while I had to hold its mouth at bay.  It was all I could do to keep the snake from biting me.

 

  • I was back in college and I had to turn in a paper that I was totally unprepared for.

 

  • I was still teaching and I couldn’t find any of my work to turn in my final grades.

 

  • I was at a high school dance, or perhaps a reunion, and I kept worrying about what I was going to wear (at least I think that’s what this most recent dream was about.  Unlike my previous dreams, this one has faded more).

Any one of these dreams is enough to exhaust anyone, let alone having them six nights in a row.  I’m convinced these dreams are my own personal ayahuasca experience, with nightshades serving in place of the illicit vine that so many seek out in the Amazon.

For the record, I have never used an illicit drug to alter my state of consciousness, as ayahuasca does, but having traveled for three weeks in Peru of course I met people who had.  Their reported experiences were not unlike this video

so I’m not sure why anyone would want to have those experiences anyway, and, frankly, because of my narcolepsy I’m having these experiences of my own accord (though to be clear, not soiling myself).

I also realized that my nightshade consumption has bumped right up into the full moon.  Thanks to my Fitbit (which my Mom gave me as a gift in May), I’m much better at tracking my sleep. Sure enough, during and around the full moon, I have trouble falling asleep, my dreams increase in vividness, emotion, and duration, and I wake up around 4:00am.

As you can imagine, after a week of this kind of sleep (though the 4:00am wake-ups just started this morning and I expect will last two more days according to my Fitbit records until the next full moon), I could really use some rest and recovery.

To that end, I am choosing to say NO, THANK YOU, to all nightshades and processed sugar for the next few weeks, I am striving to meet my daily 8,500 steps goal, and I am staying optimistic.  Although in this moment it’s not as easy to stay optimistic, except that twice in the month of June I had really good sleep.  Sleep where I woke up refreshed and enthusiastic about my day.  The last time I got sleep like that (other than naps) was the last weekend in September 2015.  No, that’s not an exaggeration, and yes, it was a long time ago.

I just wish I could remember these feelings in the moment when I’m about to eat those delicious hamburgers with ketchup, the crunchy and salty french fries that I love so much, or the spicy goodness of Chipotle.  I’m not sure what it would actually take for me to commit to NO NIGHTSHADES EVER AGAIN but at least maybe these dreams are enough to make me commit to NO NIGHTSHADES EVER AGAIN for at least 30 days.  I can do anything for 30 days, right?

Memoir Monday (though it’s really Wednesday), June 28th, 2017

On the Move

It’s packing time…again! My husband and I will be heading out at the end of the week, leaving dear, old Norfolk, CT, behind for two months.  We’ve been making the rounds, saying goodbye, returning library books, and for me, personally, trying to soak up as much time with these three dogs that I can.  I’m going to miss them so much!

Tobey

Smudge

Faith

Here’s where we’re headed:

  • Harrisburg, PA, to visit my Mom, Dad, and brother.  For those of you who read my blog, you know the biggest challenge here will be to NOT eat all the cookies, cakes, and peanut M&Ms my family keeps on hand.  I’ve shaped up quite a bit in the last month and a half and I don’t want to lose momentum.

 

  • Cornelius, NC, to pet and housesit while my cousin and his wife (who is far and away one of my favorite people EVER), along with their two kids, head to their annual extended family beach week in the Outer Banks.  They have a boat and a dog that looks like Rick James reincarnated, so I have plenty to be excited about there.

Rick James

 

  • Smyrna, TN, to visit with my husband’s parents, brother, two dogs, and three cats.   My husband’s mom is recovering from surgery, so we’ll help out where needed, and on my agenda during that time is to get my car registered in TN.  After hiding my car title in a SUPER SECRET PLACE, then moving three times in four years, I appear to have lost it.  I finally got the replacement title.  I would have simply re-registered it in IL until we figure out what we’re going to do with my car (it’s currently hanging out in my in-laws’ driveway), but the car needs an emissions test in IL first.  As we’ve been in CT, well, not going to happen.

 

  • Joliet, Manhattan, and Elmhurst, IL, for various pet/housesitting jobs.   We sat for one of these houses last year, which inspired my picture book story The Best Darn Dog Ever, and when they asked us to come back and take care of their dogs, we immediately said yes.  I was able to find other sitting jobs which fit neatly into our timeline for being there, so we’re happy at how it’s all working at.  Plus, one of the houses is dome-shaped with 87 (or maybe 84) windows and the other has two geriatric wiener dogs (wiener dogs are AWESOME), so we’re going to have some great new experiences.

I’m really looking forward to these new housesits, even though I lived in IL for 8 years.  My writing has been going exceptionally well lately, but I still think my absolute best creativity comes when we shake things up and have new experiences.  Like at the end of March when I met Theo, the therapy llama, at the Norfolk Public library.

Llama

I’ve now started writing a nonfiction picture book based on this gentle and loving pack animal (FYI – they only spit when threatened; watch their ears for signs).  Nonfiction picture book writing is something I had on my to-do list, but now I find myself actually doing it.  My agent also thinks the story is a great idea (did I mention I now have an agent?!?!?!  HUGE STEP FORWARD! YAY!).

So, there will be lots to see and do over the next two months.  It makes saying our temporary goodbye to Norfolk bittersweet.  But for now, I bid this wonderful town of Norfolk and its wonderful people a fond farewell.  See you soon!

Memoir Monday, June 12th, 2017

Oddly Refreshing

This past Saturday I was delighted to attend the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley June conference.  This is the third writing conference I’ve attended which focuses exclusively on children’s writing.  It was also the smallest writing conference I’ve yet to attend (my count is now at six; I forgot I attended Fall Philly Fest from the Eastern PA Chapter of the SCBWI in a previous conference count that I mentioned on my blog) and I have to say I learned A LOT.

One of the best parts of a small conference is that you don’t have too many options to choose from.  This has been a problem for me not just in writing conferences, but when I attended academic conferences in my past life as a professor.  I would always scour the conference schedule, circling the sessions that looked most intriguing to me, having to weigh options and presenters and then make some tough choices.

For this conference, there were only two options for the morning session: focus on middle grade novels or focus on picture books.  Then, everyone came together for an afternoon session on revising work masterfully presented in a way that blew my mind.  I suppose there is nothing truly earth shattering in learning that the picture book and the novel can both be revised using the same methods, but in my mind I had the two genres as incompatible in how story is presented and thus, would require different processes for the all-important revisions.

I consider it to be a valuable use of my time to learn not just one new process of writing, but several, and so I am itching to review my notes and see what I can do to some of my manuscripts in terms of improving them.

The day ended with another joint session; this time the day’s presenters came together on a panel and reviewed the first 100 words of manuscripts submitted by conference participants.  I feel a tad guilty that I included four different manuscripts of mine (two picture-book and two middle-grade) because I am so eager for feedback, but not guilty enough not to have only submitted one manuscript.

I did rationalize to myself that because I didn’t find out about the conference until a few weeks before and I missed the deadline to schedule one-on-one critiques, I should be allowed to submit more than one first 100 words.  I also didn’t keep it a secret from the conference hosts that I turned in four, so I guess in the end it was okay.

Well, the action was okay; the process brutal.  Two of my first 100 words got selected and holy cow, it is hard to sit there with a straight face while four strangers perform what one of them called a “parlor game” in highlighting the weaknesses of your work.

To be fair, one of the other panelists gently explained that this process was not to focus on what people were doing well because that wouldn’t necessarily improve the weaker parts of their writing.  The panelist also went on to say they probably wouldn’t be so harsh if they were to spend more time with more words of the manuscript.

The first 100 words of my picture book got torn to shreds. The first 100 words of my middle grade book first got accolades for an intriguing first paragraph, then fell completely flat upon reading of the second paragraph.  It was a truly a humbling experience and I’m pretty sure no one could actually hear the pounding of my heart as they read and critiqued my writing.

The strange thing, though, is that after getting over the initial emotional response, I am nothing but grateful for the opportunity to hear from four different industry professionals on what can be objectively improved with my work.  There was a time in my not so distant past that I might have been thoroughly demoralized, perhaps maybe even have cried, and probably would have said to myself that these people don’t know what they’re talking about and my work is brilliant.

I find it oddly refreshing to discover I have reached this point where I do believe industry professionals are experts in their field and not all my work is brilliant.  This revelation has been in progress for a while as a few weeks ago, I opted not to submit two of my manuscripts to a contest because I truly didn’t believe they were my best work.  In re-reading and revising them, I still felt like some spark was missing and I feel rather validated that my own professional judgement is becoming less biased as I become more familiar with the revision process.

That’s not to say I didn’t feel any sort of emotional wound or negative gut reaction to hearing the comments from the panelists.  Hearing criticism/rejection is one of the hardest things we ever have to do in life and I can’t imagine it ever gets easier over time.  But it is now easier for me to move on and I feel quite liberated by this knowledge.  We’ll see how it goes once I receive feedback from the editor I’m in the process of hiring for one of my manuscripts.  At the very least, it will be a good measure to see how far I’ve really come.

Memoir Monday, June 5th, 2017

Fear Factor

It’s now been a full-on month that I’ve cleaned up my diet, kept up my six-day-a-week 20-minute daily exercise routine, and practiced meditation twice a day on most days. It’s probably not a coincidence that I’ve also had an upsurge of productivity with my writing.

One of my greatest accomplishments in the last week is getting the revision of my middle-grade manuscript, Top Dog of K-9 Academy, in tip top shape.  I’ve managed to edit an additional 19 chapters and I still have 6 to go, but I fully expect to have a working third draft by June 10th, the deadline I gave myself.

I’ve been debating about whether to get the manuscript professionally edited once it’s in its third draft form.  All my research suggests that having outside, qualified eyes look at your manuscript can only improve it.  My only hesitation?  Edits can cost $3 to $4 (or more) dollars a page, so it is an investment.

Having been raised in a frugal family, I sometimes have a hard time spending money on things I should.  However, as my Mom likes to say, “If money solves your problem, then it’s not really a problem.”  So the question becomes why don’t I really want to get the manuscript edited?

I think like most aspects of our lives that are beneficial in the long term (e.g., good diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques), there’s not an immediate return on investment with an editing process.  But I honestly don’t think it’s a time issue.

I’ve written before about how slow the publishing industry can be and if I take the time to get a professional edit, then, yes, that’s several more weeks before I can start submitting the manuscript to agents and editors.  But what difference would a few weeks make, especially if my manuscript is all that much stronger for it.

Other questions that pop up in my mind when I consider getting an editor are: what if I spend the money and I don’t get anything useful out of the edit?; what if the editor says my work sucks?; what if I invest all this time, effort, and money, and the manuscript doesn’t result in a book contract?

But when I really think about it, these are all just fear-based excuses that are getting in the way of achieving my dream of being a published author.  If I don’t get an editor, then I can always make an excuse that my manuscript wasn’t ready and I submitted too soon and that’s why it didn’t get published.

Good thing I’m done letting fear get in my way.  I spent over a decade and a half stuck in a career that my heart wasn’t really in because I was afraid to try something different.  That’s long enough.

I reminded a person I’m very close with the other day that, “Most of what we worry is about is imaginary.”  That’s one of the more useful pieces of advice from the intro to psych textbook I used the last time I taught that course, and quite frankly, was the best part of teaching it.

This little piece of advice came up when this person expressed concerns that no one would like them or their chronic illness would get in the way of them having a good experience when they start a new chapter of their lives in the coming months.  I then followed up my advice by providing a list of other things that could also happen to them in the coming months, including:

Being liked so much by everyone, that they want you to quit school and work for them full-time;

Meeting Leonardo DiCarpio, who falls in love you at first sight so then you have a relationship dilemma with Leonardo and your current boyfriend; and

Finding escaped pandas from the zoo and hiding them in your bathtub because they’re too precious to return.

My point with all these was that anything could happen in the coming months, so you might as well focus on the wacky and wonderful.

Advice I really need to take to heart, then, because if I allow myself to think rationally about my fears, I already know the answers to them:

1)      Of course having my manuscript edited wouldn’t be a waste of time; I know what to look for in an editor and I understand what to expect in the editing process.

2)      If I really thought my worked suck (and in retrospect I can now say that, yes, some of my past work has sucked), then I would edit and revise it myself until I felt it was good enough to send to an editor.

3)      I have no time limit in achieving my goal of being a published author.  Yes, I want this sooner rather than later, but I was also once told that, “It’s not my job to manage God’s plan for me.” Meaning, I don’t have to worry about the “how’s;” I just need to keep taking steps in the right direction and believe that everything else will work itself out.  Which, it will.  Because my mom also likes to say, “Everything always works out in the end.  And if it doesn’t, that means it’s not the end.”

So as I wait for the details to work themselves out, I will keep on with what I’ve been doing – prioritizing my health and well-being to keep my productivity flowing, writing and editing my own stories, reading and studying other stories to help improve my craft, playing with dogs because that makes me really happy, and getting my manuscript professionally revised.  I look forward to sharing more about this process in the coming weeks.

Silly Faith

Smudge Tennis Ball 2

Tobes swimming 2