"I am alive and kicking"

Look for regular blog posts on Fridays.
Never miss a post! Sign up for notifications through email at the bottom of the page.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Flagg's storytelling makes up for frustrating beginning

Have you ever picked up a free book or two just because the cover looked interesting?
I recently picked up "Daisy Fay & the Miracle Man" by Fannie Flagg, who is, of course, well-known for authoring the book "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe." 

"Daisy Fay & the Miracle Man" is worth the read, despite
the first half being seriously frustrating. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

I so enjoyed Flagg's style in "Fried Green Tomatoes" that I didn't think I could go wrong with "Daisy Fay." For the first half of the book, I was wrong. 
It's set in the South during the 1950s, and focuses on Daisy Fay Harper, an 11-year-old whose father's a drunk and mother is fed up with it. The book is composed of Daisy Fay's journal entries. The first half of the book was not fantastic. I was annoyed by how it seemed to jump all over, but that's life and Daisy Fay's journal entries reflect that pretty well. 
Once we jumped into 1956 about half way through the book, Daisy Fay's life really seemed to take shape. It was in a serious upheaval all through the first half. 
The second half of the book lived up to critics' acclaims on the back cover - "Side-splittingly funny!" and "A hilarious, endearing novel!" Throughout the first half of the book, I just shook my head at how dumb and irritating Daisy Fay's dad was.
Several times, I set the book down in disgust and my husband asked why I kept reading. I replied, "I'm invested in it now. I have to see how she turns out."
Throughout the second half, I giggled through almost every page. 
The ending - which I will not divulge - was particularly hilarious and satisfying. It left me wanting Flagg to write another book just so I could know what actually happened to Daisy Fay Harper. 
So, if you do pick up this book, stick through the first half so you can get to the second.
It is worth the two-day read. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"On Writing" Best Writers' Book on the Market

For Christmas, my brother sent me On Writing by Stephen King, which I requested.
Many writers have praised this book as the best book on writing. A few of my writer friends have said the same thing. While I loved the narrative portion of King's book, in which he tells snippets of his life that influenced him as a writer, I really love the sections called "Toolbox" and "On Writing." 
The entire book is geared toward those who write fiction, but really this book can apply to every writer -- even this trained journalist. Many of the principles he discusses I've often applied as a reporter, such as don't write in passive voice, don't be over descriptive, and be brief but clear. 
But as a (struggling) fiction writer, I find King's list of tools we should all employ particularly helpful.

Every writer needs these items in their toolbox (so says
Stephen King, and I think we should listen to the King.)
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
This book is inspiring and around every bend are humble
words of wisdom from an incredibly down-to-earth guy.

(Photo by Anna Jauhola)

I wrote down the overall list of tools I need to keep in my writer toolbox at the beginning of the section in the book. And I completely agree with each and every one. I can always improve on vocabulary, grammar, and basic elements of style, but the tool I struggle with the most is PRACTICE. 
King's advice for this? You just have to. You have to force yourself to practice. Good advice, Mr. King. But how? His thoughts are simple and to the point. 
He says (and I'm paraphrasing here) to pick a time every day to write, and preferrably a place where you can close the door, literally, so that you are able to concentrate. 
If you're serious about writing, you will find and make the time to practice. AND, the best part? It doesn't matter what you write. Just as long as you write. That's one way to generate ideas. 

King's varied background in the 1950s, 60s and 70s seems, at least to me, so ridiculously frought with situations that inspired his stories, it's still hard for me to imagine drawing any inspiration from my childhood spent in on the northern prairie of Minnesota. 
His book has moved me, though, and I've been racking my brain for any details - however small - on which to base a story. 
A few come to mind. 
Cemeteries were a central theme in my life, as odd as that sounds, and are something I've always wanted to use in a good story.
My brothers and I spent a good deal of time at the river growing up. That setting could spawn a story or two. 
Most of my time was spent at school, which could obviously spawn a lot of ideas. 
A good portion otherwise was spent at either my part-time job at a gas station or at Grandma's house. Come to think of it, Grandma's could be a great setting for some interesting stories. 

So you see? King really got me thinking. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! In his book, he told the story of how he first envisioned the story for Carrie. He was a janitor just out of high school and had never seen a container for feminine napkin disposal until he was cleaning the girls' locker room. He envisioned an embarrassing scene of a girl getting her first menstrual cycle in the shower at school while her classmates taunted her. He later remembered a tidbit about adolescent girls developing telekinetic abilities around puberty. He connected the two and he had a story. 
I've been working, and will continue practicing, to identify small details like that and couple them with life experience to find a good combo to create a compelling story. 
Can I do it? Sure! With the right amount of practice and the use of my writer's toolbox, I can succeed.

If you are serious about writing fiction, or any kind of writing really, pick up On Writing. It's completely worth it, even if you aren't a Stephen King fan. His advice is solid and his success speaks for itself - he obviously did something right. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Discovering S.D. Communities: Wessington Springs

When we moved to South Dakota, and I began venturing around the countryside as a reporter, I found so many great small communities with fantastic hidden gems. 
I'm featuring one of my favorite communities for the first of many summer outings my family and I are taking. In conjunction with Jacob's third baseball game, we took a road trip to Wessington Springs, S.D., a community of just more than 1,000. We arrived an hour early for the game, and I suggested we stop by Shakespeare Garden.
This amazing garden, up on a beautiful hill on the west side of town, turned 90 years old in April. It is home to thousands of flowers and gorgeous landscaping, AND the only structure with a thatched roof in South Dakota.

Derek and Jacob visit with Kathy Dean at the Ann Hathaway
Cottage in Shakespeare Gardens in Wessington Springs, S.D.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
A little about the history of the garden on a plaque as you enter the historic landmark. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
The shining jewel in the garden is the Ann Hathaway Cottage, which is registered as a National Historic Landmark, and - of course - features the thatched roof. Unfortunately, the cottage wasn't open when we visited the garden. But, we met Kathy Dean, a community volunteer who was working on removing plants around the cottage to make a clear path for sprinkler heads. Dean is one of many volunteers who help take care of the garden and cottage, and was full of friendly information. 
The Shakespeare Garden's annual music in the garden events begin in July, and I'm excited to venture back to the beautiful town in the hills. The cottage will be open then! And I'm so excited to see it. 
Since we couldn't visit the cottage this time around, we took a slower walk through the garden to enjoy the crazy variety of flowers and plants, such as: irises, daisies, peonies, snapdragons, and hastas. The garden offers several benches for resting and viewing, a little pond with a fountain, and - my favorite - a tiny fairy garden.

This is one of two fairy gardens you can discover at the
Shakespeare Garden! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

It was a fun treat to accidentally discover this tiny little village, complete with houses, garden furniture, fences, and fairies. I was just tickled. 
I'm pretty sure I could visit Shakespeare Garden a hundred times and still be excited to stop by just to enjoy its beauty. The people of Wessington Springs truly have a treasure hidden within the edge of its western residential area.



The grounds are open to the public during daylight hours. The cottage is open by appointment, but also during special events - like the music in the garden, which will take place every Thursday in July. 
Oh, one more thing. Thank You, volunteers, for keeping this amazing landmark in such great condition for the public. And to Kathy, who took time to visit with me and my family. We will be back! And on our next trip, hopefully we can take the day to see a few other places in town.


P.S. Jacob's game was awesome! He's on the Rookie team and they defeated Wessington Springs 25-15. Jacob scored a run and tagged one player out when he played second base! 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Black Hills: Worth every penny - even for the flat tire

"What's the best part of our vacation so far, buddy?" I asked Jacob as we drove back to our hotel on day two of our Black Hills vacation.
"The rock shops!" he said.
That's right. Jacob's favorite part of our amazing vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota was the rock shops. Naturally, I did not take any photos of Jacob with his rocks. So I will first share this classy photo:
Jacob and Frances at Mount Rushmore National Monument -- a trip he's been
begging to take for two years. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Mount Rushmore was a close second, he said, third was the swingset at Mountain View Lodge & Cabins, and then fourth was the cave at Jewel Cave National Monument. And in fifth place, the Museum @ Black Hills Institute (dinosaur skeletons).
"Really? The swingset?" I asked.
"Yes! It's awesome!"
Again, I did not take a picture of him on the swingset, which is goofy, because he spent a LOT of time on the swingset while we were there. But, I did take this shot of the view out or hotel room door:
We woke up to these lovely rocky hills every morning. Mountain View Lodge & Cabins
was amazing! Best stay around! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
On our last night, we had a bonfire!
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Our first morning in the Hills greeted us with a flat tire. Thankfully, our host, Kirsten, pointed us to Dales Tire in Rapid City - awesome service!
Two hours, two nails, a fixed tire, and $20 later, we were on the road to Mount Rushmore. 
It's still just as amazing as when I first saw it 10 years ago. This year, though, we ventured down the Presidents Trail so Jacob could get the best possible view of the Four Famous Faces, as he kept calling them. 
And he did. Around every turn he got a different view of the monument. This was his favorite: 

(photo by Anna Jauhola)
Until we got to this particular position quite a few miles from Mount Rushmore on day two:

Mount Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

A view of Mount Rushmore through one of the tunnels on Iron Mountain Road
on day two of our trip. (photo by Anna Jauhola)
After a few hours at Mount Rushmore, we stopped through Keystone and took a quick look around. My husband gifted me with a Black Hills Gold ring for Mother's Day and my birthday. Great gift! 
This is where Jacob discovered the joy of filling a pouch with beautiful rocks. From then on he couldn't help but talk about rocks and beg to stop at every rock shop along the way. 
Then we drove back through to Hill City and stopped at the Museum @ Black Hills Institute. It's a great museum full of prehistoric skeletons and fossils, many of which have been unearthed in South Dakota. It's amazingly full of sealife found in South Dakota, too. Why? South Dakota was mostly covered in water during prehistoric times. 
The most impressive piece in the museum is Stan, the most complete male Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. He's an impressive specimin and Jacob was amazed, despite being super tired.
Jacob with Stan the T-rex at the Museum @ Black Hills
Institute in Hill City. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
The Museum is totally worth the admission, which is way cheap, by the way, for a year's pass! Definitely should be on your tour list the next time you go through the Black Hills. 
After the Museum, we went to ..... a ROCK SHOP, just a block from the Museum. So, Jacob spent some money there. 

On day two, we ventured to Jewel Cave National Monument. Bonus - it was free! April 15 happened to be National Parks & Monuments Day, offering free admission to the park and cave tours. 

A close-up of the end of the bacon strip.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
My camera skills aren't great, so my pictures from the cave tour aren't awesome, but below are a few I got that are still pretty cool. 
This is the largest strip of bacon formation
within Jewel Cave. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)





















One of the calcite formations inside Jewel Cave,
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)



Jacob enjoyed the cave, really, despite his
unimpressed expression. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)


























After the cave, we took a drive along Iron Mountain Road. It is a beautiful drive, which includes three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore and pigtail bridges that are unique to the area. We saw three deer, five antelope and one bison. 
Then we had enough time left in the day that we drove back into Rapid City and went to Reptile Gardens. It's still super amazing. Jacob wanted to go back on Sunday, but decided not to. Here are a few pics from that excursion: 
Jacob was not excited about this big rock, but about either lizards
or brightly colored birds behind me. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
 
Derek and Jacob enjoying the botanical gardens. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)


Bubba the parrot showing off. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Derek eyeballin' a Chinese crocodile. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Gigantic sea turtle skeleton! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
There's one weird prairie dog in this village. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
He was only crabby because I made him take
this photo. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
On Sunday, after we checked out of our beautiful hotel, we took a quick drive up to Deadwood. It was Easter, so very few businesses were open, and we just walked around. We did take the steep drive up to Mount Moriah Cemetery to see Wild Bill Hickok's and Calamity Jane's gravesites, but did not trek up to Seth Bullock's grave, 700+ feet above the cemetery. 
Jacob observing Wild Bill's gravesite.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Signs denoting where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane
are buried. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

















Perhaps on another trip, we'll go visit Mr. Bullock, but holy crap, that was a steep road and we were tired. 

On our way out of town, we did stop at the Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, but I haven't downloaded those photos yet. I'll add them later. 

For anyone who hasn't been to the Black Hills, it is definitely a trip worth saving for! I can tell you, it's one you should take over and over again, at different times of the year. We went in April because it was cheaper. Despite the fact many of the shops weren't open, it was a great vacation! 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Honoring Veterans through Park Project

Working on Main Street in Mitchell comes with its pride and challenges.
I'm proud to be a part of a successful small business and happy to serve customers who visit The Framer. We have some amazing and unique shops downtown. Sometimes, it's hard to boast about downtown, though, because the amazing shops are accompanied by some rundown buildings and empty lots.
BUT! There is good news! While some property owners do not take care of their buildings, most do and that's what makes Main Street awesome.
The most recent addition to Main Street will be a brand new Veterans Park at the corner of First and Main. Finally, construction has started for this long-awaited project.

Ground work started on building the Mitchell Veterans Park last week.
It's going to be a beautiful entrance point for our Main Street! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
This park has been in the works for a long time, and so many people and organizations have been instrumental in making the park happen.
The short background started several years ago when the roof of the building that formerly occupied this empty lot collapsed. The building sat for a year or so before anyone could figure out how to demolish it without ruining the American Legion next door. The American Legion and the building shared a wall.
Once officials finally had the building torn down, the lot sat empty for some time while ideas formed and fundraising began. Slowly, the public could notice changes at the scene.
A crew sandblasted and painted the huge side of the American Legion building. Then the Mitchell Veterans Park signs and lettering appeared. NOW, we have light at the end of the tunnel! Soon, the park will come into existence and we'll have one more reason to boast about Mitchell's downtown.
Not only will the park beautify the southern entrance point to Mitchell's Historic Main Street, it will honor those who have fought and served to protect us.
What a fitting way to honor our veterans! They so deserve our respect and this great observance of their sacrifice. Thank you to ALL who served and are serving.
I, and many others, are looking forward to seeing Mitchell Veterans Park completed and being a place of beauty, reverence and pride for Downtown Mitchell.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen! For your entertainment ...

It is so gorgeous outside, I couldn't resisit a little excursion to a lesser-known nature area on the north end of Mitchell Lake. 
Celia Kelley's Pines is a small trail system through a pine wooded area, rich with history. Celia Kelley helped found it in 1932 in order to better preserve the area around Mitchell Lake, which is a reservoir built in 1928. If you live in or around Mitchell, definitely check this place out. It's so peaceful. 

This sign explains the history of this secluded trail system.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
The trail system leads quickly to a small clearing with a couple picnic tables and rocks. It's wonderfully secluded and brings you today's post. 
Purely for your entertainment, I took some self portraits.Okay, so that's not entirely true. I wanted a new headshot and there's no improving this face, so I figured the great outdoors can only distract you with its rugged beauty. 
Below is the final shot I liked the best (with a little bit of editing).

Here's a great senior photo, at age 33, with help from
my notebook and cell phone that propped up the camera.
(Self Portrait by Anna Jauhola)
On a hilarious note, it took a bit of tweaking and moving around and adjusting the camera and settings and so on to get this amazing photograph. First of all, I had to remember how the hell to work the timer. It's not that hard, by the way, I just had to turn one dial. Doi
Then, I had to remember tips I learned from my photographer friend, which took a little more digging in my scrambled brain, but I remembered. 
Below, please enjoy some of my laughable outtakes. And, be careful, the pale glory of my skin may cause the following: Sunburn, eye irritation, uncontrollable giggles, bursts of laughter.





At left, I was just setting up, so I look like a complete idiot. At right, I totally did NOT focus the camera, nor did I even remotely have figured out where it was pointed.
Below: Yeah, I fogot to scale back the zoom. HAHAHA!

Here are two failed attempts at some decent self portraits. The one on the left can give you a great tan, or burn, depending on your skin type.
(In case you're wondering, I did NOT burn in my half hour or so at this park.)

Below, however, is a complete Senior Picture pose that doesn't look entirely horrible. It's a keeper -- for a few good laughs on my off days.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Forgive, but learn

Intent is all well and good, as long as you follow through.
"I intended to do my homework, but I didn't." 
Throughtout life, I've intended to be more understanding, more helpful, more forgiving. It's hard to be any of those things when I often lose sight of anything but the juggling act of doing things for other people and making my family happy.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about ordering a token from MyIntent.org
I received the token late last week, imprinted with my chosen word: 
FORGIVE

This token now resides on my keychain. I see it every day, and it keeps me mindful
of letting go of my toxic attitude and remembering I am worth something. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Why did I choose this word? 
My life has seemingly been filled with failure after failure, with various people reminding me of these failures in different ways. 

I am my biggest obstacle.

When life doesn't go according to plan, I completely blame myself, which can have negative impacts on those around me. 
In recent years, forgiveness has played a large role in releasing guilt I should never have felt. 
But forgiveness is a lot more difficult than most can imagine, particularly for oneself. I anguish daily for the mistakes I've made in life, rather than focusing on the triumphs and joys I've found in being a mother, a wife and a writer. 
So, my word FORGIVE is to remind myself that I am good enough, I am strong and that everyone makes mistakes. Forgiving those mistakes gives me worth and creates my strength. 
My intent is to make sure the word "forgive" stays in my mind and that I use it often for myself, and for others - for to give ourselves a break from anger and resentment will help create a better world. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What's Your Intent?

On January 18, I blogged about befriending neighbors and briefly mentioned the MyIntent project.
Originally, I was going to write about the project, but couldn't get permission at the time to use a picture of the bracelets the project creates.
Today, I bring you MyIntent.org and the simple jewelry that is bringing people together.

Classic Bracelet
This is a classic bracelet from MyIntent.org. (photo courtesy of MyIntent.org)
According to the MyIntent website, the bracelets are meant as a way to introduce "meaningful conversations and positive energy." Each bracelet is hand-stamped with a word or two, chosen by those who purchase them. Many celebrities have brought this project to the forefront by purchasing bracelets and sharing them on social media, but it is meant for everyone. 
These can be a great catalyst for positive conversation. 
Although it looks like a jewelry company, MyIntent is actually a service project, raising money for various nonprofit organizations
Chris Pan founded MyIntent in 2014. It is based out of Los Angeles. 
When I first found out about the project, I watched a video on Facebook. I immediately sent a request to the contact email to use a picture and didn't hear anything back. So, I kind of forgot about it for the next several weeks, until today when I received a reply! 
The person who replied to my email apologized for not responding earlier and said they would be happy to have me blog about MyIntent. 
They also offered me a gift card along with their apology. 
I was shocked! 
Nevertheless, I plan to use this gift card. 
It would be great to have a constant reminder for what I strive every day, and what has gotten me this far in life. 
I'm not sure just yet what word or words I may choose. But stay tuned for an update shortly. I'll be sure to share with you my bracelet when I receive it! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Planning Summer Adventures

As adults, summers tend to blend into all other seasons.
We lose our sense of wonder because, well, we don't have three months off to goof around like we did as kids. At least, that's the way my summers have become.
I've decided this summer will be filled with little day trips exploring regional towns and recreational areas.
When we moved to South Dakota, I was hired as the region reporter for The Daily Republic in Mitchell. Tasked with covering a variety of events, meetings and features in a 17-county area was a bit daunting. However, it came as a fun challenge and a way of discovering the beauty of South Dakota.
Since leaving the paper a couple years ago, I've been sorely lacking in my travels as I've had no real reason to go beyond the Mitchell area.
This summer, that will change.
I've compiled a list of area towns I'd like to revisit as a private citizen with my family. I hope to gain a new perspective on these rural communities as we travel to some of them throughout the three-month warm season.
Many of the towns have festivals throughout the summer. Some have attractions I've been wanting to visit. Others have amazing outdoor recreation areas I've dying to try. Others have architecture and historical buildings I've wanted to tour since I first started traveling around the Daily's coverage area.
A partial list of towns includes:
  • Platte
  • Carthage
  • Winner
  • Gregory
  • Armour
  • Stickney
  • Menno
  • Wessington Springs
  • Woonsocket
  • Freeman
  • Chamberlain/Oacoma
While covering stories in these and other towns, I usually didn't have time to roam around perusing the area. It was go, cover the story, write the story, edit the story, file the story, get the heck home. Sometimes, roundtrip, our gallavanting into the wilderness was a 4-hour drive. That's not to mention the time to cover an event or meeting, and writing the story afterward. 
I'm thinking Platte is the first on my list. It has a plethora of places I want to try -- Prairie Parfumerie being my top pick. Plus, Platte is near the mighty Missouri River and has a majestic bridge that will be fun to show Jacob. 

These little day trips will actually begin with a big family trip to Mount Rushmore. 
FINALLY! We're taking a weekend vacation to the Black Hills and have several stops planned. All to be shared here, via diary entries and photos! 

If you have any favorite places in southeast South Dakota you think we'd like to visit as a family, feel free to share. I'd love to hear. Can't wait for our vacation days .... only three months to go! 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Research: Secretarial Schools & Printing Shops


Well, January went right down the toilet with illness, but I've started off February right with some research and writing. I'm excited about my story I've begun to develop, and I'm confident my year-long journey to write a book will be successful.
This week, I'll share with you a bit about my initial research.
As so many authors do, I've dreamt up a completely doable story idea -- and set it a decade earlier than I'd even been born.
Why? I've always been in love with the history of the 1960s and 1970s. Work was hands-on for most people and many did not sit in front of a computer. Many office jobs required people to sit at desks and typewriters. However, their research often required standing to find physical files, books and search through card catalogs. Personally, it was one of my favorite things to do as a kid - search through card catalogs and then physically find a book or file on a shelf. But, I'm a huge nerd, and that's another story.
At any rate, I've long been fascinated by the whole secretarial pool concept. You know, the period in time when women were really entering the work force and one major way to climb the ladder was to enter secretarial work. Often, they did this by taking secretarial courses.

A glimpse of a secretarial class during the 1963-64 year at
Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
(With permission from Ryerson University Library Archives)

So, my most recent research for a portion of my story is to find out the backgrounds of secretarial schools, which were later called business schools and basically offered courses teaching employable skills like typing, taking notes in shorthand and longhand, transcribing, and so on.
I'm pretty early on in my research and have a feeling it's going to take me a bit to find a decent amount of information about it. I also have a feeling I may need to make a few calls to historical societies.
My research has also led me to a nearly complete unknown - small business print shops. My character owns a print shop in the 1970s, printing items like flyers, business cards, pamphlets, newsletters and the like.
This idea brought me to the fact that I know nothing about the equipment she may have used, especially since she purchased the business from an older gentleman who'd owned it for 40 years.
Thankfully, I have a few ides of where I could find viable information on what machinery her shop may contain. And then, the tricky part will be making her role convincing as she usually works on her own equipment.
Excitement floods me when I think about this research, even though it's a minor portion of the project on which I'm working and most will only be peppered in throughout the story. Nonetheless, it is significant to know the background so I don't have incorrect references.
The rest of my month of research will be spent on my phone, calling historical societies and possibly colleges/universities. In between those calls, my fingers will be flying away creating more character background and hashing out plot details.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My Apologies

I have to apologize.
Last week, my body took yet another blow. I developed an ear infection and on Tuesday, I was in so much pain I just sat and cried at work until my doctor's appointment.
Now, a week later, I'm still recovering. My ear is still plugged, but the antibiotics are doing their job.
However, three weeks of being sick or taking care of people who are sick has left me quite out of ideas for my blog.
Well, I have ideas, but I don't want to rant about Betsy DeVos.

I will say, this week will be a week of planning and writing.
I'm finally getting back on track for writing and using my Novel Planner. I have some concrete character and plot development going and I'm really excited about that.
My week will also consist of planning out future blog posts so I can avoid this mess from happening a second time.

Again, my apologies. I hope next week will be more riveting.
Stay well!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

I'm out if commission this week with the flu. Just a note to let you all know I'll be back next week. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Do you befriend your neighbors?

The other day, I read a short article detailing with whom we should not start friendships.
A psychologist said we should not be friends with our children (agreed) or with our neighbors (disagree).
I dismissed the article as hokum and moved on with my day.
This morning, however, I watched a Today Show clip on the MyIntent Project that whipped my mind back to the "don't befriend your neighbors" article. Chris Pan founded the project to create a way to bring more positivity, togetherness and happiness into the world.
The project provides a simple bracelet - which Pan gave away at the beginning - a metal circle stamped with a word of your choice and fitted with an adjustable bracelet.
So, why am I bringing up the MyIntent Project? There's always a lot of talk out there about the need for tighter communities, more compassion, better conversations and so on. Well, MyIntent reminded me that community is something that everyone needs.
Most who know me, know I'm not a big people person unless there's a specific purpose in interacting with said people. However, in a small group or one-to-one situation, I'm alright and enjoy a good conversation.
Which brings me to the fact that I strongly disagree with the opinion of not befriending your neighbors.
We're not buddy-buddy with our neighbors, but we have good relationships with them.
The family who lives directly behind us is so nice, and hospitable, and kind. It's hard not to like that. If Donny's outside, he'll yell and wave, and sometimes just walk over and chat for a bit. Each spring and summer, he'll kid us about our garden and how crappy it looks.
I wouldn't say we're friends, but we're neighborly and I consider that a type of friendship.
The older couple who lives to the east of us is much the same. They moved in last summer and we instantly got along. It was fun watching them transform their yard into something of an oasis, when it was absolutely bare before. They took to Jacob right away and often wave and talk to him as he zooms by on his bicycle.
When Derek accidentally ran over Jacob's bike in the fall (due to Jacob leaving it in the driveway), the neighbors noticed. One day, after I'd taken Jacob's bike to be fixed, Jacob and I came home to a boy's bike propped up by our back door. Our neighbors to the east had put it there. They found it at an auction for free and knew Jacob's bike was broken, so they just put it there, knowing how much Jacob loves to ride.
The former neighbors to the north, across the street, were our friends from the beginning. Although they only stayed about nine months, I got to know them the best and was sad to see them go.
The couple often, and sincerely, said if we needed anything to give them a call. They had three dogs and so we often had front-yard conversations while their dogs were outside. I don't regret getting to know them at all.
Those are just three examples of what it is to be neighborly friends. These people enhance our lives with good conversation, a helping hand and a friendly wave once in awhile.
Not befriend your neighbors? What a load of bull. There are some neighbors worth befriending.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Life is a Journey. Writing is Life.


Novel writing has always been my dream. It's hard to cobble together a decent plot let alone go over the story time and again.
Discipline is my journey this month as I begin a serious attempt to develop a novel and complete it.
I've procured a copy of The Novel Planner: A Daily Planner for Authors, created by Kristen Kieffer and am slowly working my way through physically manifesting my ideas.

I was super excited to get my Novel Planner
it in the mail. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
The back cover of the planner I received.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)















The planner is pretty cool so far, and with help from Kieffer's site ShesNovel.com (soon to be called Well-Storied) I'm really getting the most out of it.
Kieffer really breaks down how to dig into character, plot and scene development, even better than I experienced in college classes.
I've fleshed out my protagonist a lot better on paper than I ever expected. Usually, I'm the type that creates a fantastic plot in the shower, perfect characters just before falling asleep and amazing scenes while I'm washing the dishes. Of course, when I sit down to write it in a notebook --- BLANK. Who were those people I was thinking about? What was my story again? Damn it.
In a few posts I've read, Kieffer stresses discipline and the need for writers to make time to sit down and plan. Physically write down ideas, not just amazingly create them mentally only to let them slip away 10 minutes later.
Discipline. It's a tough word. I can't stress enough how hard that aspect of my writing is for me.
But The Novel Planner has so far helped me understand the importance of even a general outline .
Writing down the outline for my idea was actually super liberating. It was like my author eyes sprang open and I saw my protagonist's purpose, along with my antagonist's.
Outlining. Do it.
The Novel Planner will help me keep track of all aspects of my life with spaces for personal, work and writing project to-do lists; room for project goals and project marketing strategies; character sketches; room for doodling or jotting down different story ideas; and accomplishments like weekly word count. And, since I have an ever-growing list of books I need to read, there is a whole page dedicated to jotting down book titles and authors. :) Wonderful!
I haven't been so excited about a planner since I entered high school.
The Novel Planner will help keep me accountable and motivated so I can become a better writer. Who knows? My goals and plans might actually come to fruition with a finished novel in 2017.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Old authors and new will fill my 2017

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
My holiday was filled with binge reading. Well, as bingey as I can get.
I read two books - WATCH OUT! - "Speaking from Among the Bones" by Alan Bradley and "Took" by Mary Downing Hahn.






Hahn has long been one of my favorite authors and I now intend to binge on several of her other books. Despite the fact she writes for a very young audience, I still love her master craftsmanship.
I first read "Wait Till Helen Comes" when I was in second grade - age 7. Scared the dickens out of me, but also intrigued me to no end. I read it at least twice every year through middle school. In fact, I remember a substitute librarian asking me once in third grade (age 8), "Don't you think you're too young for chapter books?" when I placed the book on the checkout counter.
I looked at her and said, "No. I've read this book many times already. And other chapter books."
Even now, I often think of Hahn's writing and ponder how in the world I could possibly become that great of a writer.
So when I saw she had a new book out, I couldn't wait to read "Took."
Hahn is known for her ghost stories aimed at elementary-aged readers.
I read "Took" in an afternoon. It was not only easy to read, it was so gripping I couldn't put it down.
It is based on an old folk tale and is set in West Virginia, where a family relocates to a spooky old house that had been abandoned for 50 years. It's completely worth the read. If you're jumpy, try reading it in the afternoon, though, especially if the view out your window is the woods.

"Speaking from Among the Bones" is the fifth in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.
This is the first I've read of Bradley's work, which I don't think made a huge difference.
However, I WILL be starting the series from the beginning very soon. Flavia de Luce is one of the most intriguing characters I've read in a long time. Her obsession with chemistry is intoxicating, despite the fact I hated chemistry in high school. I'm not the sciencey type.
Oh, did I mention she's 11? She's a little genius living in a time when girls were expected to dress nicely, sit up straight, keep their mouths shut and generally settle in the background.
Flavia is unique in every way opposite the 1950s norm for girls in England. And I love it.

I do not make New Year's resolutions, because -- SHOCKER -- I never keep them.
However, a resolution I can keep is to read more books! I've got a list I have to keep so I can continue reviewing them online, but I also have a growing list of books for fun.
Watch out 2017! I'm super excited to add more and more books to my new bookshelf and to check off the ones added to my "to read" list.