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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#IWSG: Goals, Dreams, and Vision in the Writer’s Journey                        

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

When I first started my writing career, I was a starry-eyed graduate student with little more than a head full of dreams and a heart full of stories, clutching a copy of Writing Down the Bones to my chest. I wrote for the sheer joy of it, the exhilaration, the thrill. I didn’t care about business, and I didn’t even know what platform was.

That was ten years ago. In the years that followed, I realized that I needed more than the wispy qualities of my dreams if I wanted to be in this for the long haul. I realized that writing is art, it’s storytelling, it’s magic, but there’s also a business side.

But, unfortunately, I went too far to the other side of the spectrum and got stuck on the hamster wheel of word-count goals and metrics. I became obsessed with things like “how many projects can I draft this year?” or “how many words can I write today?” And the storytelling suffered. Sure, it was finished. But it didn’t often sparkle the way I wanted it to. I’d lost my heart. I’d lost touch with the magic.

I’d tried to turn myself into a storytelling factory, and do you know where it led me, that starry-eyed dreamer who wrote for the sheer love of it? Burnout. I realized that my approach wasn’t working. It wasn’t organic enough.

In the years that followed grad school, I worked multiple jobs—at one point, three at a time, started a blog, attended writing conferences, met amazing people who have supported me on my journey, quit jobs to focus on writing, learned countless ways to improve my craft, started many projects, tried and failed, battled chronic illnesses…

Yeah, it’s been a journey. And you know what? I’m still only beginning. That’s the beauty and the frustration.

I still have goals. We need goals. That’s why challenges like NaNoWriMo and ROW80 work—because they give us tangible deadlines, finite targets that take “I want to write a novel” to “I’m writing a novel” and, finally “I wrote a novel.”

But as much as we need goals, we need vision. Vision gives goals a context. Without a vision, we’re just churning away in a sea of words. Without vision we lose our heart.

I still write for the sheer magic of it. Yes, I recognize that it’s hard work; it’s constant growth and improvement. It’s learning new skills. It’s putting ourselves and our work out there despite a fear of vulnerability. But whoa, when the magic whispers…I’m transported. That’s what they call flow, the magic of the storyteller’s life.

So, yes. Let’s dream. Let’s set goals. Let’s strive to achieve them. Let’s devise a plan and follow through.

But let’s do these things in the context of our vision. Who are we as storytellers? What is our passion? What brings us to the page? What do we want or need to say, and why are we saying it?

Love. Magic. Adventure. To tell deceptively simple stories that help rekindle people’s belief in the power of magic and love. For me, it’s that simple—and that complicated.

If I keep that vision in my peripheral as I write, I can make the steady progress that moves me along the writer’s road. I can move forward on my journey. Lose it and I’m a rat in a wheel, lost in word-count goals and deadlines.

We need those things.

Let’s just give them context.

(The Insecure Writer’s Support Group helps writers overcome their insecurities, and by offering encouragement creates a community of support. Visit their website to learn more.)

So now, tell me. What’s your writer’s vision?

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Embracing Our Inner Hobbit: Life lessons from Tolkien

Tolkien quotes, Denise D. Young, fantasy, simple living, author

I love hobbits, and I love the Shire. There’s something very hobbit-like about my version of the writer’s life. I curl up with a cup of tea, maybe something yummy to eat (croissants from the bakery down the street are a favorite), and I set to writing. I sip Earl Grey while I get lost in a book I’m reading. My husband and I laugh and share stories about our days. I walk the dog in the park, enjoying the beauty of nature right outside my door. Friends visit. No wizards, yet, but I’m still hoping.

Of course, I have, on occasion, gone on strange and wonderful adventures. The world’s oddest tea room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the proprietor, upon seeing us eyeing the menu, asked, “You want food?” A stay in a little red cabin in Germany, where chickens awoke us and friends awaited with food and conversation.

I stumbled across this quote from Tolkien, and I wanted to share it because too often we get caught up in destinations. I do this all the time. I think, “Someday we’ll buy our house in the country”—forgetting that our little townhouse, with all its quirks, is a perfectly delightful home. I forget the rose bush I planted last year, with its brilliant magenta blooms, or the little amethyst room where I can curl up and write, or the vibrant blue walls in our living room, or the dining room table, not even second-hand, but probably third-hand, which has seen so many wonderful conversations had and meals served. Yes, the kitchen faucet leaks, but it works. Yes, the bathroom tile is hideous pink, but the space still functions.

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Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

Food. Cheer. Song.

And stories, of course.

We need stories—the ones we write, if we’re writers, and, all of us, the stories of our lives, the little, everyday ones. Like my memory of the night we brought puppy Leo home, and how everything in the house startled him. Like the memory of curling up on a cold night in an unheated cabin in Germany, my husband’s warm body pressed against mine. And waking in the morning and sipping French-pressed coffee with a beloved friend. Like the time we bought solar eclipse glasses and glimpsed the event from our front yard, and how we shared them with our neighbors so everyone could take a peek, and got to know people just a little better.

This is life. These small moments. A dinner with friends. A croissant and a cup of coffee while an author takes us down a wending path of adventure and magic.

We talk about the process. We talk about the goal.

Let’s not forget the journey. Let’s not forget the small, sweet moments that unfurl every day.

Let’s not forget to turn our eyes to the wheeling stars, gaze at the watercolor panorama of the sunset, watch the dog play with one of his canine friends, listen to our children or significant other tell us a story about their day, sing in the kitchen while we do the dishes.

In the midst of doing, let’s not forget to be.

In the midst of making a living, let’s not forget to live.

So far this week, I’ve focused on revamping the website and taking a blogging workshop over at WANA International. I also revised chapter two of Spellfire’s Kiss. No work on my novelette Spun Gold yet this week. I’m also in the process of redecorating the living room. I found a couple of gorgeous art prints on Etsy to add some color, and bought a new lamp and mirrors from Target to improve the lighting. Not much else to report!

Are you a Tolkien fan? What life lessons have you taken from his work?

Blessed be.

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Seeking Magic and Whimsy in 2018

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Creative Commons Stock Photo | Dreamstime.com

By now the glitz and glitter of the holiday season are behind us, a time of brightly colored packages tied up with ribbons—but also a time of harried running around for many of us.

Perhaps, now, we can pause. We can catch our breath.

And we can look forward to another year on the calendar. We’re still deep in the belly of winter. For Pagans, we’ll mark Imbolc on February 1, a celebration of the slightest quickening of the earth, of impending spring. And it’s still a long march forward to Ostara, the spring equinox, when daffodils trumpet the season and robins sing their merry tunes.

No, those of us in the northern, colder climes can look forward to trudging through snowdrifts and returning home to curl up under a blanket with a cup of steaming tea and a good book.

But there is a gift in these colder months. Winter is a time of stillness, of reflection, of rest. We can renew ourselves and look forward to the year ahead. We can plan our goals for the year just as we would plan our gardens.

Too many times, we sally forth without a clear vision. I am called, again and again lately, to Mary Oliver’s lovely phrase in her poem “The Summer Day”:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I spent much of 2017 scattered, and through that scattered energy, I found a renewed call to my purpose: to live a life that blends simplicity with whimsy, the everyday with the magical, creativity with calling. Above all, I am a storyteller. I took on too many things in 2017, trying to be and do too much, trying to make everyone happy, trying to live a life that satisfied other people’s definitions. I was exhausted. On the day before Yule, I woke up feeling awful, burnt out and stressed. It was a wake-up call to focus on what mattered, to return to my creative center. Out of that scattered chaos I found renewed purpose. To eat healthier. To care for my body, my mind, and my soul. To focus on my creative gifts. To simply be. To create from my center, my heart.

My goals for 2018 are to revise and polish several of my manuscripts and send them off on submission. As far as the first quarter–or “round”–of the year goes, I have several upcoming, self-imposed deadlines. My deadline for submitting Oak-Bound is January 8. My deadline for submitting Spellfire’s Kiss is March 3.

I’d also like to finish a draft of another story finished by the end of March–possibly Riverspell, the sequel to Spellfire’s Kiss, or one of my unfinished novellas, such as Fates Entangled or Silver’s Stray. Both of these have drafts finished but aren’t ready to be submitted yet. I’d like to get a draft of either finished, but Riverspell somehow feels more pressing.

On the home front, I’d like to continue various projects in our townhouse and continue my massive decluttering project. If I can tackle one project per month related to this goal, I’ll be satisfied with that.

I’ll also continue teaching English as a Second Language and, perhaps, branch out to animal rescue and take in a foster dog or two.

Magic. Simplicity. Creativity. Whimsy. These are what I strive for as I move forward.

The winter solstice has passed. The days are growing longer.

Perhaps, the signs of quickening are here. Even in the cold, short days of winter, the promise of spring remains. One need only look to the evergreens to remind us of the sleeping promise of the earth.

What about you? What are your plans for 2018? What are some of the words you’d use to define your “purpose?”

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Bright Holiday Blessings!

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Photo from Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

It was a simple Christmas in the Young household. We opened gifts—simple things, like t-shirts, books, chocolates, and tea. We drank tea and coffee and ate a simple meal of chicken and quinoa chili with cornbread for dinner. And our big outing for the day was a trip to the dog park, which was unfortunately deserted. Leo looked desperately around for puppy friends to roughhouse with, but no one showed up. So, Ryan and I stepped up. We mostly played keep-away, his favorite game. He grabbed a frisbee and we chased him. This lasted for quite a while.

It wasn’t a warm day, instead cold and crisp, and we ran bundled up in puffy jackets and gloves, our cheeks pink from the cold. Cows grazed in a nearby pasture, and we pointed them out to Leo, who was fascinated (he’d never seen one before!).

2017 has been a year of ups and downs, twists and turns, missteps and breakthroughs. A trip to Germany opened our eyes. Sleeping in the loft of a simple red cabin, surrounded by the sounds of barnyard animals, awakened by the sounds of chickens and goats, we realized we’d been moving away from the life we want. We want to live close to nature, to spend as much time as possible outdoors, to experience nature’s bounty and beauty as often as possible.

Making art and living simply. Today was a simple day. Sitting on the living room floor, opening simple but thoughtful gifts. Cooking and enjoying a homecooked meal. Embracing spontaneous playtime with a rambunctious, joyful dog.

In a few weeks, I hope to have a story out on submission and be digging into the last major round of revisions on my novel Spellfire’s Kiss. I’m trying to keep my other goals open for 2018, but I’d like to send out a couple short stories, finish two more novellas and at least one other novel—preferably a sequel to Spellfire’s Kiss. But I’m keeping it flexible.

Change is on the horizon. My husband has just finished his master’s degree in information technology, and we are planning our escape to the country—though when is still uncertain.

Thus, I end 2017 with a renewed sense of purpose. To spin stories and live simply. These are ever my goals.

Onward.

Blessed Yule, merry Christmas, happy New Year, and happy holidays, everyone!

Blessed be.

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Autumn—With a Dash of Chill

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Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

Late autumn is here in earnest this week, with some chilly temps and soggy days. It’s been a week for sipping tea and curling up under a blanket with a good book.

I’m finally getting around to responding to blog comments, and I apologize for the delay. Having two new part-time jobs has sent my schedule all topsy-turvy, and I’m still finding my groove and getting into a new routine.

It’s also been a year of introspection, as I really have delved deep into what I want out of this one wild, precious life. I want to be a storyteller more than anything, but I also want to travel, to have adventures, and to help people. So, I’m processing all of that as well as slowly progressing on my stories.

That brings me to the big progress for this week. Here’s where I’m at with my fourth-quarter goals.

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-BoundI’m officially finished with the first draft. I wrote the ending lines a few weeks ago, but there were a number of changes to make before I sent it off to my critique partner. And it’s sent!
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss, once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader. On hold until December.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month. Went to a local craft fair Friday afternoon.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week. 
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own. I found some flooring online for the living/dining rooms, and we’re hoping to go look at it in person on Sunday.
  6. Bonus Goal: Baba Yaga novelette. Now that Oak-Bound is finished, I’m off to work on this story. I’d like to finish a draft before Nov. 20, when I meet with my CP, so I can work on the second draft of Oak-Bound while my novelette, tentatively titled Ancient Charm, rests for a while. Current: 2K/12K.

It’s hard to believe, but soon it will be Thanksgiving, with the winter holidays following fast on its heels. I’m enjoying the last stubborn traces of autumn leaves before winter sweeps them away, while embracing the coziness of the colder seasons.

What about you? What have you been up to lately, writing, reading, or otherwise? I’ve missed the online community, and I’m glad to be back with all of you!

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The Turning of the Wheel of the Year

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“A study in Scarlet 1” by boogy_man at stock.xchng

I felt the shift last week. The air, a little cooler. The leaves, with their hints of gold and red. Autumn was on its way. This week has been filled with cool mornings and autumn rain. We ate chili and snuggled up under blankets. As I walk Leo, I notice the marked shift in the leaves.

As the air grows colder, as the seasons cycle toward autumn and impending winter, I find myself turning inward. I’m reading Tami Lynn Kent’s amazing book Wild Creative, and it reinforces a reawakening that had already begun inside me. I had internalized societal pressure to “get a real job,” “make some money,” “be successful” (whatever that means).

I turned inward and realized that those pressures, reinforced by others in direct and sometimes subtle, indirect ways, were taking a toll. I was carrying them around like a load of bricks on my back. I let them fall.

I am still trying to figure out what all this means, where it will all land. Deadlines are a part of the writer’s existence, and I must manage those while living with chronic medical conditions that sometimes seem to drain the energy from my body, leaving me tired to the core and struggling to get through the day.

And I’m still processing the lessons from my trip to Germany, which taught me I’m most alive when I’m close to animals and nature. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate those lessons into my life as my husband and I contemplate an escape from life in town and into the country.

As for my writing goals, I have finally started writing again after the block that followed my return from Germany. I wrote a poem, “Call me Raven,” that’s got this very Romantic/outcast vibe to it, and just got comments back from a friend and fellow writer. And I wrote 658 words in my novella Oak-Bound last week and 357 words last night.

 

Ideally, I’d like to finish a draft of Oak-Bound by Samhain (or, as Muggles refer to it, Halloween)–when the Wheel of the Year begins a new cycle. And then I can turn toward Spellfire’s Kiss, which is very much a story about autumn, colder days, and even colder nights.

I’ll share more about my journey through Kent’s Wild Creative in my next post.

In the meantime, does it feel like autumn where you are? How do you embrace the slide into the colder half of the seasons?

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The Gravel Road: Abandoning Societal Definitions of Success for the Self-Determined Path

Country Dirt Road
Photo by Scamp, Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Lately I’ve been struggling with the notion of success—what it means, how we define it, how we unconsciously internalize cultural definitions of success and make them our own. And, ultimately, what it truly means to lead a successful, meaningful, purposeful life.

This year, I’ve struggled with my writing. I’m approaching four years of writing full time, and while I’ve had some successes—won two contests, had a request for a full manuscript, indie published two short stories, written a lot—I haven’t had a “big” win. I’ve started to wonder what I’m doing with my time, if my writing will ever have an impact, make a difference. I’ve started to wonder if writing is enough. And all that pondering has squashed my creativity, left me spinning my wheels, stuck in a ditch on the side of the gravel road that is my journey.

I tried to make it an interstate. But it’s not. My journey to “success,” whatever that might be, is a curving mountain road that snakes its way through forests, traveling alongside wending rivers and babbling streams. I will spot deer and ravens, wild turkeys and countless squirrels, maybe even a bear or a coyote. It is not a journey one takes in a sports car, zooming down the interstate. It’s a journey for a battered hatchback. A journey of thought. A labor of love.

Acknowledging that I had, in fact, internalized a societal definition of success helped me realize that what I want most is an adventure. I’m reminded of the precious, lovely, moving words of Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”:

“I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

Ah. There it is. What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?

And then the answers poured forth. My trip to Germany in August offered clues, if only I bent my head and listened. I stood in the spray of a waterfall in Triberg and hiked to the ruins of an old castle, but the moment that brought me most joy was when, at the farm where I was staying, one of the goats escaped her pasture. My husband and father were unsuccessful in trying to corral her, so I went to help. She walked up to me and leaned against me, and I gently took her horns and guided her home. It was simple. It was beautiful. It took me back to my childhood, the place that inspired me to become a writer, walking the woods of home and dreaming up stories, all the while surrounded by creatures, both wild and domestic.

I can’t say I have all of the answers. But I have made my peace with the fact that my definition of success is not the same one that society has laid out so neatly for me, like a parent setting out a child’s clothes for school.

I will follow my stories wherever they take me. I will listen closely, as only our most creative selves can, and I will create. Maybe it won’t always be in words. Maybe I’ll learn to paint. Last week I made lavender goat’s milk soap, and the simple creative act filled me with wonderful energy. There are so many paths to explore. I won’t always drive my battered hatchback down the gravel road. Sometimes I’ll see a winding mountain path that leads over an arching footbridge and into the mossy hills. Sometimes I’ll park the car. Sometimes I’ll walk over the bridge. It’s not always about forging ahead. It’s about seeing the beauty along the way.

Blessed be.

Now tell me, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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Simple Summer Pleasures

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Photo by Orientaly | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Summer is in full swing here in Virginia’s New River Valley. As I type, birds are singing in the twilight. The grass beneath my feet is soft and lush; the trees are bright green and filled with scampering squirrels and countless types of birds. Leo and I have been enjoying long walks in the park and on the nature trails we’re lucky enough to have right outside our back door. I’m growing herbs and squash in containers on our front porch, and the lemon balm, oregano, and basil are already taking off. Tonight I cooked stir-fry and added some of the sweet basil into the mix.

We live in a go-go-go society. Too often we miss the birdsong and squirrels because we’re focused on other things. Too often we forget to drink in the forest’s tranquility because we’re distracted by modern life. Too often we don’t savor the taste of fresh basil because something else is calling our attention away.

True contentment, I believe, is slowing down enough to enjoy these things. True contentment means embracing moments of stillness and the small moments of joy that are all around us—if only we’re paying attention.

So what did I do this week, aside from some container gardening and long walks? I wrote 3,612 words in Fates Entangled. I did a lot of refreshing of my social media presence. I’ve been more active on Facebook, tried a new Twitter chat, updated my cover images for Facebook and Twitter, and started planning some changes to this website for the launch of Spellfire’s Kiss, hopefully this autumn. I continued reading Courting Darkness by Yasmine Galenorn.

On the home front, hubby and I are talking more and more about saving up to buy or build a house in the country. He really wants to live in a yurt, so we’re researching that option. No definite plans yet—this is all just dreaming out loud. But it’s something that might be out there on the horizon. And long summer days and warm summer nights are the perfect time for such dreams.

What about you? What are your favorite summer pleasures?

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