Celebrate the Small Things: Ice Cream Edition

Celebrate blog hopToday’s post is part of the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop hosted by Lexa Cain.

So, I have to admit, I’m kind of obsessed with ice cream. It’s not that I eat it every day. I swear, I really am trying to avoid sugar. But a bit of ice cream as a treat is well, perfection.

 

Locally we don’t have any ice cream stands, but when I was growing up, we had this place called The Ranger (school mascot–don’t ask). People would line up to get their dripping, delicious cones. I always got a swirl cone with sprinkles because, well, let’s face it. Sprinkles make life a little more magical, a little more sparkly. And there’s nothing wrong with adding a bit more sparkle to your life.

But the lack of a local mom-and-pop ice cream stand doesn’t stop us from occasionally stopping for self-serve frozen yogurt or picking up various types of ice cream at the grocery store. I’m a mint chocolate chip girl myself. A magazine quiz once told me that this means I’m quirky and like adventure, which might be at least half true…

But I have so many wonderful memories tied up in ice cream. My grandparents loved ice cream, and we often ate it for dessert after one of my grandmother’s amazing home-cooked meals (seriously, I’m hungry just thinking about it). So, thinking about ice cream reminds me of grandparents I’ve lost, but I’m comforted by many wonderful memories and a deep, beautiful familial love.

And then there’s travel. Ice cream is huge in Germany, where one of my dearest friends lives, and I can’t think about ice cream without thinking about her and her family. When we met, I was starting college and she was in high school, an exchange student living with my family, and I recently attended her wedding on a ship in the Baltic Sea, and now she has three kids! Time flies!

Last year, we ate at an ice cream café with her, my parents, and two of her kids. We were curious about something called “spaghetti eis”—literally spaghetti ice cream. Being dumb Americans, we were naïve enough to think it was ice cream on top of spaghetti, but no. It’s so much cooler. It’s ice cream made to look like spaghetti. Maybe other people had heard of it, but I hadn’t. (Don’t laugh!)

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

They basically take vanilla ice cream and put it through this machine that shapes it into “spaghetti” noodles. Then they cover it in raspberry puree to mimic the sauce and top it off with white chocolate shavings for parmesan cheese. And wow, is it good.

And no, my friend didn’t laugh at us at all when we thought spaghetti eis contained actual spaghetti. She’s sweet like that. 😊

There you have it. One delicious treat. Infinite varieties. Countless memories.

And now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite memory related to ice cream? And, of course, what’s your favorite flavor? And if you can’t eat ice cream, what’s your favorite dessert and your dearest memory related to it?

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Revisions, Remodels, and Retreats: July So Far…

Floyd Retreat 2018

Hotel Floyd, Virginia.

July started off with a peaceful retreat in the nearby small town of Floyd, Virginia. Floyd is a small town that’s full of music and breweries.

We didn’t partake in the breweries during our stay, but we did stay at Hotel Floyd and eat some good food at nearby restaurants, including far more ice cream than was sensible at the Floyd Country Store. In evenings, music filled the streets, and we strolled along, dreaming the dreams that arise from days of quiet work and contemplation.

In case you’re wondering, hubby and I started the month off with a creative retreat. He’s working on game development now that his master’s work is completed, and I started draft seven (Seven! Squee!) of my novel Spellfire’s Kiss. I only managed to revise two chapters, but I went over those several times.

When we returned home, we dove straight into a major home renovation project: tearing out nasty old carpet in our living and dining rooms and replacing it with vinyl floor planks. Honestly, we’ve spent more time tearing out the carpet and leveling the floors than we have actually installing the new floors. I will share pictures when it’s finished, but so far, we’re please with the results. It’s just taking us DIYers forever!

And that, of course, brings me to the revision of Spellfire’s Kiss. Migraines and problems with my hands are slowing me down. I am having mysterious pains in both hands that make it hard to work for any length of time, so frequent breaks are required. But I am slowly, scene by scene, deepening this story.

I can see what this story was always meant to be. Not a sweeping epic fantasy, but a story about love, about loyalty, about family, about magic, about the battle between good and evil that is waged in each and every person.

I continue to “revise” my home, making it a place where my soul is refreshed and I can retreat, to create, love, laugh, honor, make magic, and enjoy life to the fullest, a place where animals can play, people can gather, and stories can be told.

I continue to revise Spellfire’s Kiss, making it the quiet, magical love story it was always meant to be.

And I continue to work toward improving my health. I had an MRI this week, which thankfully was normal. My doctor prescribed something to hopefully decrease the number of migraines I get, and I’m doing well limiting my sugar intake, though the remodel means I don’t currently have a place to practice yoga. Maybe a corner of the bedroom until the living room is available again?

I’ve been stalled on chapter three of Spellfire’s Kiss since our return from Floyd, but I just purchased a much-needed copy of GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict and am hoping that book will help me figure out what exactly is going on.

And that goals list I posted last week? I’m thinking those aren’t just my goals for Round 3, but for Round 4 as well. But more on that later.

More than ever, I am working toward a life of connection—connection to community, both in person and online; connection to spirit and magic; connection to loved ones, both human and animals; connection to my characters and their stories; connection between mind, body, and spirit, and the nurturing of each one; and connection to my own dreams and visions for the future.

What about you? How are you nurturing yourself this week? If you’re participating in ROW80 (the writing challenge that knows you have a life), how has the first week gone for you?

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Turning Plans into Action: (Lots of) Round 3 Goals

Ursula Le Guin Fiction Quote

It’s time for Round 3 of A Round of Words in 80 Days–the writing challenge that knows you have a life!

If Round 2 was about cupping an ear and listening, about learning and intensive study, about thought and preparation, then Round 3 is the action stage.

In Round 2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, I began my studies in aromatherapy, took a workshop on deep POV, and mostly researched, prepared, and planned.

Of course, the best laid plans go oft awry, which is why I try to remain flexible, even as I put plans into action.

My list for this round is extensive. I have two projects that are about 90 percent completed but need some polishing and deepening. Those need to be finished and sent out on submission, so they are top priorities. I have several other projects that are also calling to me, but I’m more flexible on those because they’re in the early stages.

I definitely want to get back into blogging and actively visiting others’ blogs. I’ve been having some mysterious health woes that are now affecting my hands, so I’m really hoping the weird sensations in my hands don’t interfere with this goal. Seriously ROWers—I miss you!

I also recognize that my health needs attention, and I have been chipping away at bad habits—such as a sweet tooth and tendency to be lazy when it comes to cooking from scratch. Health is foundational, so I will be easing into some yoga and stretching this round while moving away from sugary or processed foods toward a home-cooked, natural diet.

And, as hubby and I debate whether to stay in our cozy townhome and for how long, we’re fixing it up, though whether for ourselves or new occupants, we’re not yet sure. In any event, worn-out carpets are being torn out and replaced with durable vinyl plank flooring, warped countertops and leaky faucets shall be replaced with shinier new upgrades, and clutter is slowly falling away, room by room.

The plan is to write daily, Monday through Friday, from 4 to 5 p.m. No interruptions, no excuses. Of course, I want to write more than that, but I’m hoping starting with this small, manageable goal will give me momentum.

As Ursula K. Le Guin said, “The use of imaginative fiction is to deepen your understanding of your world, and your fellow men, and your own feelings, and your destiny.”

As I delve deeper into my stories, I recognize that what has kept me from taking my stories to soaring heights and gut-wrenching depths is this deepening of character emotion. I’m shying away from the depths of despair, the terror of seeing your worst nightmare brought to life, the fear of repeating the past, the intense vulnerability of fledgling love.

And so, armed with new knowledge, I go forward. This round is all about crafting the stories that I so intensely want to tell—and moving forward on my storyteller’s path.

All that said, here are my goals for this round. They are extensive, but my plan is to only report on active goals.

WRITING

  • Finish a draft of Spellfire’s Kiss; query.
  • Finish and resubmit Oak-Bound.
  • POTENTIAL WRITING GOALS: first draft of Wild Tarot; first draft of Silver’s Stray, a paranormal cozy mystery; fourth draft of Rose Petals and Dragon Scales; first draft of a nonfiction project.

BLOGGING/SOCIAL MEDIA

  • Respond to blog comments and return visits to commenters’ blogs.
  • Regularly post ROW80 check-ins and keep up with commenting on other ROWers blogs.
  • Make and post one video per month.

HEALTH

  • Do yoga or gentle stretching daily.
  • Eat more fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy whole foods and fewer processed foods. Also work on seriously minimizing the amount of sugar in my diet.
  • Try making my own bread, granola, etc.
  • Continue making my own cleaning and bath products.
  • Finish aromatherapy courses on Udemy.

HEARTH & HOME

  • Replace worn-out carpet in living/dining rooms with new flooring.
  • Remodel upstairs bathroom.
  • New kitchen countertops and sink.
  • Painting—neutral colors—where needed.
  • Hang all remaining artwork.
  • Clean attic.
  • Organize office closet.
  • Clean out storage shed.
  • Decluttering—items to thrift store.

*exhales deeply*

Wow! I have a busy few months ahead of me. What about you? As we sprint through summer, iced tea with lemon in hand, our skin sun-kissed (for those of us who dwell in the northern hemisphere), what plans do you have?

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The Importance of the Pause: Failure, Patience, and Persistence in the Writer’s Journey

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If the first half of 2018 had a theme for me, it would be deepening. I have embarked on a journey toward simplicity and intentional living. This goes beyond the act of physical decluttering to include thinking carefully about what I devote my time and energy to.

You may have noticed that I’m blogging less frequently, and that’s because I want to create more thoughtful posts instead of just saying, “Well, I haven’t posted on the blog this week” and feeling obligated to whip something up.

I’ve heard we’re supposed to blog as many as three times a week, and I just can’t do that. My energy level and the maintenance involved in several chronic medical conditions don’t mix well with maintaining that schedule—not if I want to devote myself to writing fiction and deepening my craft.

And just as I’ve been deepening other aspects of my life, I’ve embarked on the same journey with my fiction. I have several WIPs that are close, but I really need to deepen the emotions, to help readers connect with what the characters are feeling. In support of that, I’m taking a course on deep POV and reading books on that aspect of the craft.

I have slowed down. I’ve let go of word-count goals and am trying to allow each project to unfold in its own time. To do otherwise felt like trying to force the leaves to unfurl in the spring. Unnatural and troublesome to say the least.

And what this deepening has taught me most of all is a hidden patience I didn’t know I possessed. I’ve always been goal-driven, a go-go-go sort of person. And I’m still goal-driven, but I’m also allowing things to happen naturally, in their own time.

Truthfully, I still sometimes find myself glaring at my stories, shaking my fist and mentally shouting, “Why aren’t you working?”

But now I step back. I pour myself a glass of cold-brew coffee or brew some tea and I practice the art of staring. I ask the characters to whisper to me. One thing that emerged from the workshop on deep POV, for example, is that one of my WIPs lacks a sense of urgency. What’s the “so-what” of the story?

How have I spent five years working on the story and not seen that flaw? Because that’s half a decade spent with this story, off and on, and I love these characters, and my love for them means that them getting their favorite flavor of ice cream is a big enough so-what. That might be enough for the author, but it’s not enough for readers.

My husband suggested making it an epic fantasy—you know, baddy wants to take over the world or destroy it. Initially, I decided to run with that idea. But the more I thought about it, that didn’t fit in with the main theme of the story or the heroine’s character arc.

I sat. I waited. I sipped. And then the MC whispered. Eureka!

That is the power of patience. That is the power of persistence. That is the power of allowing life and art to unfold naturally.

When we slow down, we create space for the magic to happen.

Take, for example, another WIP, a novel in which I was racing toward the midpoint. And then something felt off. I could’ve pushed through, shoved my characters into a storyline that didn’t quite feel right.

Instead I stopped. I listened. I realized that, one, the storyline had veered off in the wrong direction. And, two, that I needed the hero’s POV as well as the heroine’s to ground the reader.

I’ve been reading Anne R. Allen’s blog, and she has written some lovely posts about the subject of slow writing, slow blogging, etc.

Our society wants fast. We’re trained to want everything now. No, not now. Yesterday.

And I’m just saying, it’s okay to take our time. I’m no longer racing through my goals, crossing WIPs off some master list like a one-woman story factory. My process is slower.

The day I threw away my busy badge, I became free. The day I gave myself permission to fail, I learned to fly. The day I released arbitrary, meaningless goals, I made space for real goals that are in line with my values.

And so, as the second round of ROW80 in 2018 draws to a close, what have I accomplished?

I’ve discovered Wild Tarot, the first in a trilogy about three women learning to embrace a magical destiny, and written 25K in my first attempt at that story.

I’m enrolled in a workshop on deep POV and completing assignments associated with that course. I’m also doing an intensive study of deep POV on my own and trying to master this aspect of the craft.

I’ve worked out some plot problems with two other WIPs as well and am preparing to revise those in round three.

What about you? Are there areas of your life in which you’ve slowed down? How have you learned to slow down and be patient yet persistent?

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Feeling “Scattered”: The Tricky Balancing Act of, Well, Balance

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Those of you who practice yoga are likely familiar with tree pose. In it, you stand on one foot and slide your other foot up the inside of the opposing leg until it reaches your inner thigh. And here, you stand, rooted as firmly in your stance as an oak sinking its roots deep into the rich, dark earth.

Seasoned yogis make it look effortless. Their practiced focus never seems to waver, their stance as calm as the mighty oak itself.

And the rest of us? We waver. We falter. We lose our balance, arms windmilling as we try not to tumble sideways. And why do we falter? Not usually because of our bodies. We falter because we lose focus.

That’s life. One minute you’re writing the next great American novel, and the next you’re watching baby goats on YouTube. True story.

And, in real life, we’re not standing in a yoga studio filled with tealights glistening in Himalayan salt candle holders. Life outside our yoga practice is more like trying to do tree pose while a screaming toddler throws Little People at your head.

And no, I don’t have kids, but sometimes life itself feels like a screaming toddler. I want a cookie! Let’s go out for frozen yogurt! Why are you writing a novel? Didn’t you hear about the yogurt idea? Where are we at on that cookie?

Or it’s the rule-loving side of us that’s screaming. Pay the electric bill! What will the neighbors think if you don’t weed the flowerbeds?!

And sometimes it’s not our inner id or super ego that’s giving us the problems. Sometimes there are intense emotions that make balance seem elusive. Things like grief, sadness, uncertainty, fear, insecurity. And if you’re living with a mood disorder, not knowing what your misfiring synapses are going to throw at you next? Will it be the terror of a panic attack, the painful waves of despair, or the siren’s song of hypomania?

Whew.

Sometimes modern life feels like one crisis after another. This year, for example, I literally spent part of New Year’s Day in the urgent care because of chest pains, that, thankfully, turned out to be a bad bout of esophagitis. My migraines have come back with a vengeance after years of being fairly well-managed, and in trying to improve my physical health, I injured my hip and spent weeks in physical therapy. On the homefront, our house seems to be falling apart. The washer went. The roof leaked, which broke the washer again. On and on. Nothing earth-shattering. Other people are dealing with far worse.

But each little thing chips away at our balance. So, what can we do?

First, we find our focus.

In balancing poses in yoga, when we lose our focus, we lose our balance. Practicing meditation and yoga are great for this because they train our mental focus muscles. And these skills require exercise, like any other. If you don’t run that mile, you lose the ability. Same with focus. If we don’t practice focus, we become scattered and focus becomes elusive.

It helps to have a list of values that guide us in life. For me, those are spirituality and magic, creativity and storytelling, and relationships and community. Refocusing on these core values allows me to let the little things slide right over me—given time. Sure, the roof is leaking, and that’s a big deal, but I still need to create a space to focus on creating art, living a magical life, and maintaining my relationships. So, I call my brother and chat for a while. I whip up a protection spell for the house. I write a chapter in my latest WIP. Anything to refocus on the bigger picture.

We have to remember that balance comes and goes. It’s not a destination.

Sometimes, we will be scattered. We can’t be this perfectly poised, grounded, centered person every moment of every day. Yes, that space exists inside of us even at our most frantic, but we will become disoriented from time to time. When we do, a simple centering exercise can help us reconnect.

Life has seasons—seasons of stillness, seasons of growth.

Growth can feel overwhelming, scary, and chaotic. Whether we’re growing our family or our business, we’re adding a lot more to our plates, and that’s overwhelming at times.

For example, I’ve entered a period where I really want to grow in several areas of my life. I’m studying aromatherapy, as I’m attempting to incorporate my own homemade essential-oil based goods into my life. Nature and magic infuse my life and my writing, and this is another outlet for my creativity. My life is awash in new ideas, new information, and new beginnings. Will I be any good at it? Can I create something useful? Can I master this new skill?

I am trying to go slowly, but also challenge myself. And writing remains my focus. I’m trying to master deep POV and get OAK-BOUND and SPELLFIRE’S KISS ready for submission later this summer or early fall, all while penning a first draft of WILD TAROT.

And as for my ROW80 goals, they are shifting in the midst of this quest for balance. I’m about 21K into WILD TAROT, and I’ve just sent OAK-BOUND off to a professional editor for her feedback. I’m also taking a monthlong workshop in deep POV to further strengthen this skill.

I’m tiptoeing into aromatherapy, taking two courses on Udemy as a starting point. I’m experimenting with perfume blends–Boho Soul turned out well, but the first attempt at Kitchen Witch was a bust. Now in the works: Awaken, a citrusy scent meant to help uplift the mood and focus mental energies. I don’t know if these will ever go anywhere outside of my own use or for family and friends, but it’s still a fun experiment.

Much progress has been made in terms of tending hearth and home, and the house is feeling much homier and more settled these days. I still have the attic and a couple closets to declutter and organize, but overall, we’ve drastically reduced the amount of stuff we own and everything has a place.

That’s balance. It comes and goes. As long as we know our core values, what we truly want our lives to look like, we can be assured that balance will return. In the midst of the mess and the magic that is life, balance, like all things, ebbs and flows.

What about you? How do you achieve balance in your life? Does it ever feel elusive? Do you have any practices for rebalancing?

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Tackling Clutter Problem Areas: Our Whimsical Message Center

Tackling Clutter Problem Areas Graphic

We all have at least one area in our home that is an ongoing problem area. Some parts of our homes, once organized, require only minimal and routine maintenance. But others seem to grow clutter like kudzu. For my husband and me, that area is our mail, receipts, and action items. “Action items” are any papers that require an action to be taken—a doctor’s bill, for example, or a form to be filled out.

The problem grew worse, however, once we moved to the townhouse. I don’t really know why, but suddenly receipts were popping up like weeds in our living room, mail was scattered all over the entertainment center, and one of the pair of storage ottomans in our living room had gone from a place to rest your feet to a pile of “to-do’s.”

A living room is meant to be a room for relaxation. It’s the place where hubby and I sit and chat over coffee or tea, where we lounge and watch our favorite TV shows, where I curl up with a cup of tea and a good book, where I frequently have writing sessions.

In terms of feng shui, our living room encompasses our helpful people/travel area and our creativity area. For me, clutter is like a bucket of cold water dumped on the fire of creativity—and that is not the kind of energy I want in a space.

The most obvious solution was to create an organizational system in our home office, but it’s upstairs on the far end of the house—admittedly, it’s not a large house, but if you’re carrying in mail at the same time as groceries and dog food at the end of the work day, you don’t necessarily take the time to carry receipts and mail upstairs.

Enter our messaging center. It was a simple fix, really. A cheapo, wall-mounted file organizer from Target combined with some fun art—a Harry Potter themed “No post on Sundays” image that I made in Word and printed on some cardstock, and a little bit of magical flair add some visual interest to the space. Envelopes sort receipts into “shred,” “keep for 30 days,” and “file” categories (file would be for large items with warranties—a TV, for example). There’s also an envelope for coupons, and two sections, one for action items, another for incoming mail.

It doesn’t eliminate the need for maintenance, but it does eliminate the stress seeing mail, papers, and receipts strewn about the living room caused me. And really, such items didn’t belong in the living room anyway. Now I can sort through items once a week, and they’re all there waiting for me in one place.

I challenge you to find such an area in your home and brainstorm ways to corral the clutter. Of course, you will need a maintenance routine to keep things from piling up, but understanding which areas are problematic for you can go a long way to helping keep those areas manageable. Papers always have been a problem area for my husband and me, but some hard work at clearing paper clutter, followed by carefully designed storage is helping keep those areas much more manageable.

As for the creative aspect of my life, it seems to be thriving these days. I’m about 15K into the first draft of my novel Wild Tarot, the first in the Wild Fae Trilogy. I’ve been reading up a storm as well, including books on fairy witchcraft, deep point of view, and some lovely magical fiction reads, including Ellen Dugan’s Gypsy Chronicles and Kiss of the Silver Wolf by Sharon Buchbinder.

We’ve been tending hearth and home as well. I did a massive space clearing with some sage and rose incense on last week, after we thoroughly cleaned the house, and I ordered some sweetgrass so we can invite some good, magical spirits and energies into the house. We’re chipping away at clutter and planning out some major home renovation projects as well. The energy in the townhouse feels lovely and peaceful, and settled, which it didn’t for a while. It is becoming the tidy, cozy, whimsical home, a place for creativity and magic and love, that I always knew it could be.

And, of course, stories are unfolding. I hope someday soon to introduce you to Morgana, Rowena, and Sylvie, the three sisters in the Wild Fae trilogy.

Until then, may magic and light be with you!

Please share your comments below! What areas are problematic for you? Have you created a system for addressing these areas?

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The Joy of a Grateful Heart

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This afternoon, I drove home from my last session of physical therapy in the pouring rain, thunder rumbling overhead. Though I still have to keep up with my exercises and stretches to ensure the pain doesn’t return, I feel stronger than before, more grounded in my body. I am often too cerebral, and physical therapy has taught me to listen to my body and appreciate it.

I raced into the house amid the rain, my animals greeting me. My dog, Leo, thinks walks in the rain are perfectly acceptable, and while I usually agree, I draw the line at storms that involve thunder and lightning. So, I sipped my afternoon coffee, busied myself with a few chores and some decorating touches, all interspersed with rounds of tug of war and fetch with my lovely, lively lab mix.

Finally, the rain passed, and we ventured outside. Thankfully, the storms were fairly mild, and we were spared any truly severe weather. Storms can be beautiful, but I am all too often humbled by their power.

On our walk, there was a calm stillness in the air. Birdsong punctuated the quiet as Leo and I walked along. We strolled through the park, where the air held the scent of damp earth and wild forest. Back home, my rose bush was in full bloom, no doubt grateful for the burst of rainfall.

There is gratitude in this, in a quiet walk on a cool spring evening, and gratitude is the fertile soil in which joy grows. I don’t believe we can lead a joyful life without gratitude. We can seek pleasure or experience bursts of happiness, but joy has deeper roots and lasts longer. Joy has become my neutral, the place to which I return and find center after the storms of life.

Tonight, my animals sleep soundly as I type away at the keys. I’m nearly done with the first act of Wild Tarot, the first book in my Wild Fae trilogy. It’s set in the town of Foster Springs, Virginia, where the Faerie Forest stories also take place, but these are longer, novel-length works. These are books all about magic, both the human and the faerie variety, and I’m excited to be working on this new series. I’m also doing a readthrough of Oak-Bound and trying to fine tune that work for resubmission. Spellfire’s Kiss is finished and off with my critique partner.

On the home front, we’re chipping away at the excess, peeling away the layers defined as clutter to give our house that tidy but cozy vibe we’re after. I don’t want stripped-down minimalist, but rather a simple sort of whimsy, a feel that speaks of the magic that fills my spirit and my life. We’re working on a number of projects to continue with our home improvement efforts. Up next on the list is new countertops for the kitchen since the old ones are stained and a little warped.

But a part of the day was just this: a quiet walk under a cloudy sky, a walk with my lovely dog, a walk full of birdsong and calm. It was peace and wonder and joy all rolled into one, and there was a simple kind of magic in that moment.

May we all find such moments. They’re often hiding under our clutter—jam-packed schedules, overflowing closets, unending to-do lists. But every day, those moments await. In the space of a few breaths, we can find them.

What about you? What have you been up to lately? Any new projects? Are you undertaking spring cleaning?

Wherever you are, I hope you are safe and sound, and that you were spared the worst of the storms. Stay safe!

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Is there such a thing as ‘controlled busy?’

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As life unfolds at an accelerated pace, I’m asking myself this question. Things have been racing along lately—home projects unfolding, decluttering efforts gaining momentum in the spring. Different parts of my life are opening up and blossoming now that I’ve made space for them.

Writing is progressing steadily, with the latest draft of my novel Spellfire’s Kiss finished and off to my critique partner, a kind and thoughtful no-thanks-for-now from an editor, whose suggestions I am mulling over as a couple beta readers mull over the manuscript, and a new(ish) novel just begun. I’ve always toyed with the idea of setting a series of novels in Foster Springs, Virginia, where The Beltane Kiss and The Faerie Key, my two novelettes, are set, and this idea came to me, demanding to be told. It’s about a tarot reader and a strange faerie man who comes seeking a tarot reading. There are three sisters, and I’m enjoying their dynamic so far. I’ve also joined an online chapter of RWA and attended my first meeting of a local writers group too!

And teaching English as a second language is expanding as well. I’ve moved from one class a week to two, and we’re even expanding to include some computer literacy training for the students.

On the home front, hubby and I have about a zillion projects to finish, and there are other life things that we’re doing as well. Now that the weather is warm, hikes and long walks in the woods are once more high priorities, and we took a weekend trip to Pennsylvania to visit family and attend the PA Fairie Festival. I’m also getting back into a yoga routine after a hip injury sidelined me for a while.

So, yes, it’s a lot. It reminds me of the Chariot card in tarot. Whenever I draw this card, the phrase that pops into my head is “life unfolding at an accelerated pace, but maintaining one’s stride.” (I believe that’s how Anne-Marie Ferguson, creator of the Llewellyn Tarot, puts it.) Or, as Biddy Tarot describes this card…

You will be successful at pursuing your goals, so long as you maintain focus, determination and confidence in your abilities. You need to focus completely on the task at hand, get in the race and win it. … You must cultivate the ability to withstand the rigours of what is required. In fact, striving towards your goal can be as satisfying as attaining it. This is a time to be strong and in control. You must also draw upon your willpower and self-discipline.

It’s a wild ride. I’m trying to just enjoy it. The rejection stung, but it was also beautiful, in part because the editor was so encouraging and made it clear that she saw a lot of potential in my story, and in part because it showed that I had the courage to put my work out there.

I’m trying to take it one thing at a time, and to build downtime into my schedule. Morning coffee is reflection time, and I aim for a cup of tea and some chill time in the evening. Reading tarot cards helps me find my center and reflect, distilling those little what-if questions into something tangible. Best of all, each of my endeavors is something I’ve consciously chosen. Writing books filled with magic and romance. Teaching the English language to a group of dedicated students. Creating a tidy, whimsical home I love. Adventures with my husband and our animals. Time with family and friends.

Sometimes it is indeed the chariot. It’s wild; it’s a rush. It’s busy and beautiful and blessed.

What about you? What do you do when you’re swept up in the busy-ness of life? How do you create the right level of busy-ness—not so much that you’re stressed, not so little that you’re bored? How do you build downtime into your day?

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How to get—and stay—organized when you don’t have a fairy godmother

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Graphic created at Canva.com. Photo from Dreamstime.com | Creative Commons Zero.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, at the end of the day, after all of the messes and chaos, our fairy godmother would show up, wave her magic wand, and, in a sea of sparkles, things would magically put themselves back in place?

Or, if we could but cast a spell, and everything would look nice and tidy like a picture from a magazine or a shining social media post?

Yeah, right. Enter real life.

The average American home doesn’t just house people and pets. It’s also home to more than 300,000 items!

That’s right. That’s 300,000 objects each household has to find a home for.

And we wonder why all of those clever storage solutions aren’t working.

Minimalism is a great alternative, but not all of us are cut out to be minimalists. So, if we’re not willing to live solely with the number of possessions that fit into a backpack, how do we get organized?

I will confess. Sometimes my home is messy. I have problem areas. But I am conquering clutter one area at a time—and here’s a guide to organization for the rest of us. Rather than waiting for our fairy godmother to bippity-boppity-boo away our chaos, let’s tackle it—one area at a time.

First, here are the definite don’ts of organization:

  • Don’t try to do it all at once. Seriously. If you’re average, there are 300,000 objects in your home. At one-minute decision time per item, that’s 5,000 hours—or more than 208 days nonstop! If we attempt to declutter and organize our entire house, we’ll end up overwhelmed and stressed. If you’re fairly far into the decluttering process, you can take it one room at a time. But I highly recommend you break a room into parts and take it one drawer, one closet, one box, etc. at a time. Don’t attempt to declutter and organize the entire living room. Aim for the bookshelf, the coffee table, the kids’ toys, etc. Trust me. This works soooo much better, and you’ll hold on to your sanity.
  • Don’t think of organization as a destination. It’s a process, and it must be maintained. That’s the primary reason storage solutions fail. We buy them, but we fail to maintain the organizational method we implemented. If you’re going to get and stay organized, go slowly and remember that it is an ongoing process. If you see it as a destination, you’ll only quit once clutter again starts accumulating. We’ll take a few big passes in the beginning, and then, as time goes on, it will get easier. It will take less and less effort, but it will still be a process.
  • Don’t buy storage solutions before you sort things out. Too often, we try to “buy” our way out of our mess. I get the inclination, and trust me, I have definitely been there. But you have to organize before you buy that pretty little organizational solution, or it won’t work. Declutter first. Know exactly what you have and how much you’re keeping.
  • Don’t think organization is only for the chosen few. You don’t have to be a minimalist to be organized. This mentality frustrates me—because many people simply don’t want to be minimalists. You can live a clutter-free life without only owning 100 items. Trust me. My mother-in-law owns a lot of stuff, but man, she knows where everything is. “Oh, it’s in the blue bin on the top shelf in the garage, and it’s labeled…” I am generally a fan of owning less, and I think decluttering is the first step, but don’t think you have to own next to nothing in order to be organized.

 

Okay, so we’ve talked about the “don’ts” of getting organized. So, now where do we start?

 

  • Step No. 1: Identify the area you want to organize. Take everything out.

I mean everything. Every single item. See why I suggested starting with one area at a time? It could be a drawer, a shelf, etc., but choose one area. And yes, we have to take everything out. Don’t try to cheat on this one. Everything needs to come out.

  • Step No. 2: Hold each item in your hands, and place it in one of three piles: Donate, Trash, Keep.

And yes, I mean every single item. Take, for example, a kitchen drawer. You might have a drawer of miscellaneous utensils. Hold every item in your hands and ask whether you’re using it. Does it serve a purpose? I, for example, had a melon baller. Do you know how many times I’ve balled melon? Uh, zero. Gone. That one was easy. Some objects will be difficult. That vase given to you by your late grandmother? Do you keep it? Ask yourself whether you like it, whether it serves a purpose. Just because something was a gift doesn’t mean we have to keep it. Items that you’re actively using (note: “might use” doesn’t count in my book), go in the keep pile. Items that are in good condition but you don’t have a use for go in the donate pile. And items in disrepair go in the trash pile.

In this stage, it helps to examine our attachment to objects. Why keep something if we’re not using it, beyond obvious sentimental items such as photographs, old letters, etc.? Sometimes we imbue belongings with power we shouldn’t. They represent our aspirational selves (that’s why I kept my art easel for so long). They represent who we used to be (clothes three sizes too small). They represent times we want to hold onto (uh, yeah, I kept my college books for years after I graduated). But here’s the thing. Objects don’t make us the best version of ourselves—we do that, with our own personal power. And we don’t need to cling to objects to remember our past. Those college creative writing and literature courses? They’re in who I am now. Every word I write, every book I read. They’re a part of my journey. They live on inside of me. And the person I used to be led me to who I am today. I don’t need to keep that skirt, however lovely, that doesn’t fit my new, curvy body. Sometimes, before we let go, we have to examine why we’re holding on. Only you can determine whether the emotional resonance of an object outweighs the mental weight of keeping it, and that’s the balance that determines what’s clutter versus what’s worth keeping.

  • Step No. 3: Carefully examine your keep pile and determine the best way to store it.

And make sure to give yourself room to grow. If we’re talking about books, for example, make sure there’s spare room on your bookcase—because, trust me, you’re going to buy more books. If it’s clothes, do we have room for a few extra articles of clothing? If we’re talking papers, is there room in the file cabinet for future tax returns, etc.? If you’re sure the objects you’re keeping are definitely keepers—and you might need to take a few more passes before you get that step right—then figure out how to store them. I find placing limits on certain categories helps. I have one drawer for office supplies, for example, and another for crafting supplies. If that bin gets full, I’m out of space. That’s it. No more office or crafting supplies until I use up what’s in the bin.

And now is the time when you buy into those storage solutions. I am a big fan of plastic drawers for storage of many items—office supplies, crafting materials, cables/cords/surge protectors, etc. I even have one drawer for my witchy/altar supplies. And a label maker is our friend here. It helps to label a bin or drawer—and nothing that’s not under that category ever goes into that drawer.

  • Step No. 4: Create systems for maintenance.

This might include transitional areas. I have a file organizer that I use for sorting receipts, mail, and action items such as bills to be paid or forms to be filled out. This is not long-term storage but a place for things that are temporary in nature. You might identify a few such trouble spots in your home and create systems for maintaining items that cycle in and out. Limits, again, are helpful here, as are bins for items that are to be donated, so that once we’re through with them we can send them on their merry way. The key is to maintain areas, with rules (if I haven’t used/worn it without a year, it’s time to donate it), temporary storage areas (such as the file organizer for mail, or a bin for donations), and regular clean-up sessions (once we get organized, maybe going through a particular area once every six months to reevaluate/clean up as necessary).

 

Again, we can’t expect to get it right on the first try, and we can’t expect it to always be Pinterest-perfect. The more passes you take—and I speak from experience—the less stressed you’ll feel by your stuff, the less overwhelmed by clutter, and the more quickly your regular maintenance sessions will go.

What about you? What are your problem areas, organization-wise? What systems have you put in place to control clutter? What works—or doesn’t work—for you?

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Living in the Deep: What it means to live a slow, passionate, creative life

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Creative Commons Zero | Dreamstime.com

In the past few years, I have been trying to strike a careful balance between opening myself up to the world, fully living in it, and living slowly. There have been missteps along the way. Taking a part-time job quickly turned into an energy suck. But letting go of it made space for the opportunity to teach English as a second language, which quickly unlocked a passion for working with underserved communities. I almost made the mistake of joining every writing group I could, but I’m trying to choose those that best serve where I’m at now in my writing career.

We can’t be everything to everybody. We have to choose a few things and do those really well. And we all have varying levels of energy. Some people can function in a high-energy state of overdrive with very little downtime. I, personally, suffer from several chronic medical conditions that are in and of themselves part-time jobs. They require management, attention, and downtime.

When I was in undergraduate, my journalism professor told me, when it came to opportunities, “You’re the belle of the ball. Dance with everyone.” And that was fantastic advice for a twenty-year-old. I went to grad school, interned at a daily city newspaper, had lots of awesome experiences.

But then I entered adulthood, post-college, and kept doing it. I was working three jobs and volunteering. I experienced a level of burnout that took a lot of recovery. I was exhausted and sick and no one could figure out why. “Maybe try doing less,” my doctor suggested when all the tests turned up nothing.

So, I did. I started focusing exclusively on writing. And then, later, I added in teaching ESL. I’d like to start fostering for the animal shelter again, if my husband is up for it.

I make time for slowness in my life. Some of the best parts of my day are those sunny afternoons when the animals and I just chill in the backyard. It’s actually very little sitting. It’s mostly herding cats and stopping the dog from digging, but it is so wonderful. It’s my happy place. Well, one of them, anyway.

I make time for moments that involve nothing but me, a comfy spot to sit, a warm blanket, and a cup of tea. I turn thoughts over like a hound turns over leaves searching for rabbit scents. I open myself up the goddess and god and wait for their guidance. I seek the part of myself that is calmness and light in a stormy sea of chaos.

I am often overwhelmed, with too many to-do items waiting in the wings. I read in a simple living book that we’re better served choosing three items to accomplish each day rather than crafting a rambling to-do list, and I’ve tried to work from that. Three is manageable. Anymore and I feel like I’m failing. Three forces me to prioritize. Three allows me to make time for stillness and self-care and all of my other responsibilities, from walking the dog to doing dishes, and space for relationships—cuddle time with my husband, phone chats with my siblings, coffee dates with friends.

I am learning. I am imperfect. I am a work in progress.

This week was an example of that. Overwhelmed by all the things I’ve taken on, I managed to revise one chapter. Not as many as I’d like, but I feel like this book is deepening, opening up to a level it hadn’t been at before, and I am so proud of what I wrote this week. I finished my word-cloud and sent it off to a blogging expert who’s helping me hone this aspect of my writing. I started off strong with visiting others’ blogs, but fell off toward the end, so there’s room for improvement there.

In terms of tending the hearth fire, the new washer and dryer are in! Finally. It was quite an ordeal, but we have a new washer and dryer. We’re still in the midst of the living room redecorating, and creating a message center in our hallway to organize incoming mail, action items like bills and whatnot, and receipts, which are all problem areas for us organization-wise. We have some major projects are on the horizon, but I think we both want to focus on some smaller ones before we tackle anything large like this again.

And so, I head into next week looking for some time to recharge. It snowed today, believe it or not, but the weatherman assures us warmer days are on the horizon, and I trust in the promise of spring.

I have always craved stillness and depth and purpose and magic. I have tried to fill my life with those things. There are, of course, the mundane things—the bills to be paid, the errands to run.

But in the midst of these things, there is magic.

Washing the dishes, the slightly citrusy scent of the dish soap filling my nostrils, Celtic tunes playing in the background, I am reminded that in the midst of the everyday, magic glitters.

We just have to be paying attention.

What about you? How did your week progress? How do you seek out calm and stillness in the midst of everyday chaos?

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