This and That

Blessed!

Last week found me a bit under the weather, which included a trip to see my cardiologist. A reminder of how precious life is and how blessed I am to have a device that keeps my heart beating as it should. So this week I’m listing the top three things I’m grateful for.

1.  Family–A husband who supports and encourages my faith and who stands by my side no matter what; Children who are so good to me and are truly good people; grandchildren who love unconditionally and remind me to live with the innocence and acceptance of a child; And parents who daily model true love.

2.  Medical professionals who are not only knowledgable, but kind and compassionate. And health insurance to afford their care. We are so blessed here in America.

3.  Life! Yup, all of it–the good, the bad, and the ugly. The bad and the ugly because they develop perseverance, patience, and strength and make me really appreciate the good. And the good not only for obvious reasons (we all like good, don’t we?), but it feeds my soul, helping me survive the bad and the ugly. The totality of life is such a gift. Every. Single. Breath.

Go out and live each moment of this day. Really live. And give thanks. For all of it.

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We All Bleed the Same

You know how you can hear a song a hundred times and then on the hundred and first time you hear it, you really hear it? Or is that just me?

I’ve listened to We All Bleed the Same by Mandisa on the radio several times a week and while it always gets my attention, this past weekend it hit me up along side the head. There’s so much truth to the words in this song that it’s painful. Our world has gone so sideways with all the hate, judgement, violence and intolerance. So many groups fight against each other. Why can’t we fight for each other? Why can’t we look for the similarities rather than the differences?

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.
― Mahatma Gandhi

My challenge to you this week is to look deep inside of yourself and see if there’s a cause, or even just one person, you can fight for. Let’s make the world a better place by showing kindness to those who are different than us, tolerance to those who have different beliefs than us, and love to all.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.
― Henry James

The Bucket List

Bucket List Post

How many of you have a bucket list? The movie, The Bucket List, with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson is one of my all-time favorites. It’s a 2007 movie in which two terminally ill men (Freeman and Nicholson) set out to accomplish a list of things they want to experience before they “kick the bucket.” I guess I took that movie to heart. Why wait until we’re dying to experience life? Each day we’re all one day closer to the end of our days. And at the risk of being cliché, not one of us is guaranteed tomorrow. That shouldn’t be a depressing or distressing thought, but rather one that inspires you to truly live.

I recently reviewed my bucket list and realized how few of them I’ve accomplished, much less remembered. I updated it, removing things that no longer held interest, adding some items that have piqued my interest over the past couple of years.

And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years – Abraham Lincoln

Some of them I’m especially passionate about, namely:

  • Ride on a train,
  • Travel the New England coastline,
  • Perform a random act of kindness every day for a month,
  • Get to know 10 people from different countries.

While I’m an advocate for kindness by everyone, toward everyone, I’ll admit I’m not consistent in consciously looking for ways in which to practice acts of kindness. Work keeps me busy and preoccupied, life gets in the way, the lure of the television set and electronics, and…well, practicing acts of kindness gets placed on the back burner. Until I review my bucket list and remember.

Riding on a train and traveling the New England coastline are dreams that require minimal planning to make come true and are affordable. So there really is no excuse. Except, as with random acts of kindness, life happens and they become a “someday” item on the agenda, if I remember them at all.

And getting to know 10 people from different countries? That one I’m especially passionate about. Not simply meet, but with whom to share life. And, yet…yup, you guessed it…without the reminder, the effort falls to the wayside. So making an effort to meet and get to know people outside of the those that I stumble upon as I go through each day doesn’t happen.

My dream is to prove that love can cross any boundary, physical or otherwise. Nothing can stop love except unloving people. And this past year, with so many issues demonstrating anything but love, it’s especially important. There’s so much hatred, judgement, and intolerance in the world today, that it’s frightening. I want to be part of the movement to bring back love, compassion, kindness, and acceptance. It occurred to me this past weekend that while criminals in our country are considered innocent until proven guilty, those from other countries and nationalities or different race and religion than our own are often not afforded the same benefit. Instead they’re forced to prove their innocence. Where’s the fairness and justice in that? Why have we as a nation gone so far astray by separating “us” and “them.” Why can’t it just be “we?” “All” innocent first.

It’s all about Love. Acceptance. Kindness. Compassion.

I have three sponsor kiddos through Compassion International who I treasure, all three from different countries in Africa: Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Togo. That’s a start. And I’ll be printing my bucket list and keeping it handy to view frequently, reminding me in the midst of the chaos and busyness of life, what’s truly important.

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When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves. William Arthur Ward

Spring has Fully Sprung

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I just love the Crab Apple trees in the spring. The purple, pink, and white flowers aren’t only breathtakingly beautiful, but their sweet, tangy aroma is candy for the nose. (The legal kind!) As I was running this past weekend, I was in awe of how the landscape is painted and planted so perfectly, so pleasing. The patio furniture is out, the sun curtains hung, the grill ready, and flowers planted. Now if I can keep a very persistent robin from building her nest under the awning, we’ll be ready to roll.

On the writing front, another Spring session of Camp NaNo is now over and I met my goal–just barely, but I did. That means the first 40,000 words of book two in the Whispering Pines Mysteries are written. My plan is to keep the momentum going throughout May to finish the first draft. Also I have a story due by May 22nd to a publisher. Getting these two things accomplished while also working my day job as a Paralegal may require a weekend writing retreat where I head to the mountains and hole up, doing nothing but writing. My idea of a perfect weekend! July brings the summer session of Camp NaNo (and my favorite) in which I’ll be revising book four of the Melanie Hogan Mysteries.

May is also when we typically go for our first long bike ride of the season to Confluence Park in Denver. It’s about a 30-mile round trip and exhilarating! The park is home to all walks of life–similar to Boulder.

Do you have any plans for the remaining spring days and for summer? I would love to hear them.

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Unique Boulder

We had family visiting from Minnesota this past week. With all the snow Minnesota has had this spring, my husband and I thought we would treat them to new sites. And the sites don’t get any better–or crazier–than Boulder, Colorado. In fact, Boulder is like it’s own little state. Comments like “Only in Boulder,” “That’s something you’d see in Boulder,” “Of course that happened—it’s Boulder!” And the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder is the cream of the crop.

However, that being said, Boulder is the best place to escape. It’s in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and home to University of Colorado Boulder, so it’s populated with full-of-life college students. It’s home to people who are comfortable being themselves, free from the chains of what society expects us to be. It’s a city that celebrates art and all walks of life, embracing human uniqueness, and holds no discrimination. It’s pure human freedom.

Below is a sampling. The gardening along the Pearl Street Mall was breathtaking, and the rest of the photos–well, there aren’t even words to explain. The pictures say it all.

Enjoy!

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And here’s a little shot of beauty with which to end.  And in the end, I’m all too happy to get home, where I’m free to be me. There’s nowhere like the quiet beauty of home.

And now it’s back off to Camp NaNo to finish up my writing goal.

Have a beautiful week!

Being different gives the world color.  Nelsan Ellis

Nature at its Finest

We spent some time at our place in Estes Park, Colorado this past weekend. In fact, we’re actually there now as I write this post. Before me is the amazing mountainside on the other side of the river right outside my sliding glass door, a cup of coffee at my side, one of my fur babies at my feet. This morning I enjoyed the hot tub right outside my door as the sun rose on the mountaintops. Typically there are a lot of tourists here, as Estes Park is consistently recognized as one of the top visiting sites, but this weekend was quiet and so peaceful. Every time I’m here, I’m reminded how blessed my life is.

Since I can’t seem to get enough of this place and would live up here if my day job and my husband’s commitments didn’t keep us elsewhere, I thought I’d share some of its charm with everyone. It doesn’t matter the season, it’s heaven on earth.

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This is one of my favorite little walkout hiding places. It’s located right off the trail that circles Lake Estes. The lake’s shoreline is about 4 miles.

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A lot of weddings are held here, also on the shoreline of Lake Estes.

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Bear frequent the area so these are located everywhere. Last fall as we were walking the fur babies in the early morning hours at our place, we ran into a mama and her two babies in our parking lot. That was a little too close for me!

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The art of fly fishing has always fascinated me and is on my bucket list. Someday. This river connects to Lake Estes. I’ve never fished here–yet–but rumor has it there are Rainbow trout, Brown trout, Sockeye salmon, Yellow perch, and Cutthroat trout.

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The mountains in the back of this photo were breathtaking on my run this morning.

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This beast was unconcerned with the growing crowd around him last summer.

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This duel was right outside of our sliding glass doors last fall.

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This beauty was allowing us to admire him this afternoon.

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We hiked this trail last summer. It’s located in Rocky Mountain National Park. Our place is a mere 1/2 mile from the entrance to the park.

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This is off the same hiking trail last summer in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Now it’s back to camp. Camp NaNo, that is. Book two in the Whispering Pines Mysteries is well underway. And no surprise, it’s set in the Colorado mountains. But I need to step it up a bit if I’m going to meet my goal.

Have a beautiful week.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. John Muir

 

Writers and Writing

Conference

Is there anything more intoxicating than being in a room full of motivated writers? If there is, I can’t think of what it would be.

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop in Denver, Writing Commercial Fiction, by Jeffery Deaver, hosted by Rocky Mountain Chapter Mystery Writers of America, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This was my second time I was blessed to learn from him, the first being at the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference. What a talented, generous, wonderful man!

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The five hours were packed with useful information, no fluff, no time wasted.

He started with general rules of writing fiction which included:

Define your goal as a writer, remember your mission, writing fiction is a business, adopt the mint-flavored business model (as an author it’s our job to give the reader a pleasant experience, mint vs liver-flavored toothpaste), the subject of your story and what it should be about, plan your book or story ahead of time (he’s a huge advocate of outlining and research and completely convinced me to put more time into each), and know your craft (from style, prose, grammar, punctuation, syntax, the publishing market, and technology). He touched on being aware of your shortcomings, the importance of rewriting, continuing your education via classes and conferences, that rejection is a speed bump and not a brick wall (something we can all benefit from to remember) and take your time in all aspects of writing. Hurrying the process will only result in a lesser quality piece of written work.

From there he spent time on the four elements of a story:

Plot – Continually introduce conflicts. Every scene needs to raise questions. Aim for the WOW! factor. He suggested holding off on answering those questions as long as possible. Unresolved anticipation is good, but never leave a conflict, clue, or subplot unanswered. Every question needs to be answered at the end of the book and every clue resolved. He talked about adding subplots, humor, and even a few fun facts. He explained the importance of using plot reversals and how to energize the middle of the book. I was surprised (pleasantly so since I’ve always struggled with the 3-act structure) that he doesn’t believe in the 3-act structure but rather a linear structure with a series of ups and downs. He talked about the need for surprise endings, that your twists need to have consequences, and the necessity of creating risks for your characters by incorporating physical threats, death, or a loss of something, whether it be love, friendship, a career, or any other loss that’s significant to a character. He touched on using the Goldilocks principle when incorporating research–not to little, not too much, but make sure it helps the story and furthers the reader’s understanding.

Characters – It’s good to have a protagonist with flaws but s/he needs to be likeable, don’t create passive characters, observe people constantly to make your characters better, give them quirks and tics, the best way to reveal a character (telling the reader directly, describe the appearance, thoughts, and feelings, using dialogue, through the character’s actions, and through others reactions). And we can’t leave out that even the villain needs to be a little likable. Shoot for compelling characters instead of interesting.

Setting – The setting is essentially another character but less important than plot and character. The plot should be developed first, then populated with characters, then setting comes into play. He stressed the importance of doing your research on settings. Boots-on-the-ground research is best, but if that isn’t possible, use the Internet.

Dialogue – Don’t over explain during dialogue, write as if someone is talking (use contractions and break the rules of grammar), match the characters with their dialogue, and when using a dialogue attribution “said” and “asked” are best.

This is only a brief explanation of topics covered. Each section was chock full of information, suggestions, examples, and personal stories. And when I asked if I could record his presentation, he was kind enough to allow it. That’s generosity, folks! His passion for his profession is hugely contagious. (How’s that for the ole ly adverb?)

Numerous members of my Sisters in Crime-Colorado writing group attended as well. (I’m third from the right with the cut-out shoulder shirt). To say it was beneficial to us as writers is an understatement. If he’s ever presenting at a conference/workshop in your area, I highly recommend any and all writers to attend. You won’t be sorry. It will be a mint-flavored experience!

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And now it’s back to Camp NaNo where I have a manuscript vying for my attention.

Write on. Have a beautiful week!

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain