Happy New Year—2019

This represents what I’ll be doing in 2019—crocheting, writing, and sending Henry to terrorize villagers (not necessarily in that order)

Oh who am I kidding? With a face like Henry’s, who would be terrified?

Villagers serenade Henry with songs usually reserved for places like Whoville.

Praying—something else I plan to do a lot in 2019—could not be photographed, so pretend this emoji 🙏 is in the photo.

As I write this post, my email inbox is full of videos, newsletters, and blog posts all about the best or worst of 2018. Some of the above involve people making resolutions to do useful activities (losing weight, reading more, traveling more, writing more, socializing more).

I admire the work these individuals put into reviewing the previous year or writing goals for 2019. But a careful assessment of 2018 is not something you’ll find here. Under my given name (L. Marie is my pen name), I’ve got projects due this week and in the next two weeks. So, I’ll take the easy way out and show a photo that pretty much sums up 2018 for me, only with fewer snacks. (Wish I could’ve included a sound effect like a scream.)

If you’re wondering about the quote on the paper weight next to Kitty, it is this:

In many ways, I feel like I’m in a cocoon/chrysalis. No idea what sort of moth or butterfly may emerge in 2019. But the other day, I was inspired by a quote on the lid of my McDonald’s sweet tea:

The days ahead beckon us to look for moments we can sip for joy—moments where we look toward the possibilities and not just the problems; moments where we sip the sweetness of a sunrise or a child’s laughter.

Like the Skittles wrapper below says, try to look on the . . .

(If you can. I understand that life can be rather difficult sometimes.)

Happy New Year!

The Play’s the Thing

By now, you’re probably thinking of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, since the title comes from that play, specifically Act 2, Scene 2:

More relative than this. The play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

But I was actually thinking of what you do when you have downtime (like I did in this post). And in my area, we had oodles of downtime, thanks to the latest snowfall, which brought several inches overnight. What do you do when you barely have electricity (it flickered on and off on the night the snow began to fall in earnest and into the next day), no hot water, bad roads, and no internet, thanks to the snowstorm? (Working at home, I need internet.)

You go outside to scrape the snow boulders off your car, grumbling as you do so, because you can’t get your driver’s side door open. A layer of ice keeps it stuck fast. Same with the passenger door. And you need the scraper on the front seat. You grumble again. Finally, you get the rear passenger door open and crawl to the front over the center console, knocking your rearview mirror askew, and wind up in a tangled heap of boots, coat, and scarf in the driver’s seat. After shoving and shoving, you get the door open.

You scrape. And grumble. And scrape. Rinse. Repeat.

But then, something magical happens. In the distance, you notice the trees as the snow continues to fall. With the snow lacing their branches, they look like Christmas trees. And as you trudge wearily back to your building, you take in the sheer delight of a small child experiencing snow for the first time. His excitement is contagious. You think, The snow is pretty. Winter dresses the earth in frosting with a skill the finest cake decorator can only dream of emulating. (Okay, one tree is a little heavy on the frosting.)

   

This is a scene where you wouldn’t be surprised if a unicorn showed up.

  

As you talk with the child and his grandfather, you realize that going out to play is the thing to do on a day like this.

    

As I headed inside to cocoa it up, a friend texted, It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

It sure is.

If you have snow in your area, what’s your favorite thing to do on a snowy day?

Do you want to build a snowman?

Donatina thinks this chunk of snow looks like a dog.

P.S. The power finally went out for a while, then came back on, only to go out again and on again. Finally got internet early Tuesday morning.

Photos by L. Mare. Donatina Shoppie by Moose Toys.

The Profound Gift of Laughter

With Thanksgiving Day approaching here in the States, you probably expect to see a post on gratitude or family—a subject people normally write about at this time of year. And I have seen a number of thoughtful posts along those lines.

But this is not one of those posts.

It’s not that I’m ungrateful for the blessings of family or a holiday in which you can eat till you drop. (Every holiday in my opinion.) And I had every intention of writing one of those Thanksgiving gratitude posts. But instead, I can’t help writing about the gift of laughter.

Nancy Hatch over at Spirit Lights the Way usually writes about this subject much more eloquently. If you follow her blog, you can probably recall a post or two. But the reason why I’m thinking about laughter is the fact that I discount the power of laughter sometimes. Yet a sense of humor is one of the traits I look for in a friend.

Years ago, I remember laughing with some friends as one of them told a story about a friend of his. Even after six years, we still laugh about that story. Sorry. I don’t have permission to tell it. There’s a chance you wouldn’t find it even remotely funny. But the first time I heard it, for a solid week it made me laugh every time I thought about it.

The fact that we can laugh at all these days seems like a miracle, especially with all of the sad things happening. Grief has a way of piercing the heart. But laughter does too, in a different way.

I guess I’m stuck on the power of laughter because I know what depression is like. It’s like a place with endless gray walls and not a speck of light. That’s why I treasure laughter. it brings the light in.

I remember reading Terry Pratchett’s book, The Wee Free Men, for the first time when I was feeling down. It made me laugh really, really hard. I searched for my copy of it as I thought about this post, but couldn’t find it. It has a tendency to wander about. But it always turns up when I need it. I laugh every time I read it.

You already know this, but in case you don’t, here is one of the health effects of laughter, which this post at healthguide.org describes:

Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

What was the last thing that made you laugh really hard?

May your holiday season be filled with laughter.

Though ’tis the season for Thanksgiving, Kitty is already planning her Christmas scheme. She plans to sit on the sidewalk and ask people for money. Her motto: “Give till it hurts.”

Barbie and Ken can only roll their eyes. But somehow they’re thankful for the laughter their adopted daughter Kitty bringing into their lives.

After eating copious amounts of turkey, these friends plan to binge watch their favorite show, The Great British Baking Show. And of course they will have pie as they watch it.

Turkey from wallyball.homestead.com. Book cover from Goodreads. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Apple Blossom by Moose Toys.

Happy Fall?

Well, if the weather were a song, it would go like this. (Um you have to supply your own music.)

You never stay the same.

There’s no need for me to complain.

   

I’m onto your yearly game.

These photos will try to explain.

Okay, it’s not much of a song. More like a chorus. 😀 😁

If you live in the Midwest, you know the drill. The weather is as changeable as some celebrities’ hair colors. Eighteen degrees Fahrenheit (-7.7 Celsius) one minute, 32 (or 0 Celsius) the next. Dry one day, snow the next, and then back to dry—all within a few days. Since the temperature is as up and down as a yo-yo, perhaps the celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma is the best musician to play a song based on it. (Okay, that was a groaner. Wuh-wah.)

At least Illinois ranked number 13 on the list of states with the worst winters. That means twelve other states have it worse! (In case you’re wondering, Minnesota is number one. Click here for that list. Hawaii is dead last, which made me laugh. Perhaps they could try harder this coming season.) And the winter season has not officially started! Still, the changeable weather makes deciding what to wear very interesting.

Speaking of interesting, you’re probably interested in who won the $25 Amazon card announced in this post. (Thank you to all who commented, by the way.)

Without further ado, the winner, thanks to the random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marie of 1 Write Way!

Congrats, Marie! Please comment to confirm below. I will need the email address you use for Amazon. If you prefer to email me that info, please let me know.

Doug from the movie up was found at Reddit.com. Amazon image from Amazon. Other photos by L. Marie.

Kitty Wants Out

See? She has candy. She knows how to celebrate the season.

She also has a T-Rex. There’s time to run though. He’s not finished (still being sewn).

Every once in a while, I feel pressured great joy to cover the antics of Kitty, even after forgiving her time after time for stealing the loose change out of my wallet. (Though how she managed to do that while carrying that cupcake in her two hands is something for the Guinness Book of Records I guess.) Even now, she’s not really doing anything worth mentioning. Just standing there on the desk staring at me. I don’t know if that means she’s plotting mischief or taking a break.

My bad. She’s saying something.

Kitty: I’m bored. Need to get out of the house. So, how do I muscle in on this Halloween thing?
Me (staring blankly at her): What do you mean?
Kitty: Halloween. How do I profit by it?
Me: There’s no profit to be made. You pass out candy to kids or to adults who show up in costume at your door. That’s it.
Kitty: Easy peasy. I’ll just make candy. Get me some construction paper and I’ll draw some to give out.
Me: You have to give real candy! Otherwise people will come after you with tar and pitchforks. (Under my breath) You should be used to that treatment by now.
Kitty: Did you say something?
Me (innocent): Me? No.
Kitty (sounding menacing, though standing there with a cupcake kinda renders this moot): I didn’t think so.
Me (trying to be helpful): You can get a bag of candy at the store for $2.99.
Kitty (light bulb): Ah. Get several bags. We can sell ’em to your neighbors for $17.50 a bag.
Me (knowing the futility of explaining to her that no one in his or her right mind would pay almost six times the price for a bag of candy that he/she could get at the store for $2.99): I see where you’re going with that.
Kitty (gleefully rubbing her hands while still holding on to that cupcake): I’ll make a fortune. Run along to the store now. We’ll be grifting in no time.

Sigh. Of course, you know this scheme is doomed. As a probable aftermath, I can’t help thinking:

Better get used to these bars, kid.

(If you know what movie this line is from, please tell me in the comments. [I already know the movie, BTW.])

Have a happy and safe Halloween.

On a more sobering note: Thinking about and praying for the families of the victims of the recent Pittsburgh shooting. As you grieve, know that others are grieving with you.

Photos by L. Marie.

It’s Puzzling

I can thank Jill Weatherholt for my new puzzle obsession.

Actually, it’s not a new obsession—more like an awakened obsession. I used to love putting jigsaw puzzles together when I was a kid. Back then, I gravitated to the 1000-piece puzzles, particularly if they had an image by artist Charles Wysocki. There was something comforting about his paintings—these visions of simpler times.

One of Charles Wysocki’s paintings turned puzzle

I breezed through Target the other day and happened upon some puzzles made with images of his paintings. They brought back memories of many autumn days of my childhood and the large piece of cardboard on which I would assemble my puzzles. But that day in Target, I selected a puzzle with a different image—one that reminded me of summer. (Yes, in the photo above and below, those are ice cream scoops.)

I’m an edge builder. I gather all of the pieces of the edge and put those together. With that framework, I work the rest of the puzzle. What is your strategy for putting jigsaw puzzles together?

I’m sort of the same way as a novel writer. By “sort of,” I mean that I only partially work on an outline—the framework of a story. I’m a hybrid writer—pantser and plotter. I usually work through some of the plot off the bat. But the rest comes as I write. Still, I find it helpful to know the boundaries of the story—what pieces need to be there and how they might fit. Like with my main character. I have to know who I am writing about.

I ask myself: Who are her

Friends?

Enemies?

Family and extended family?

Pets?

How will any relationship conflicts work thematically with my main character’s desires? How much of her back story will I include? How is the setting emphasized? These (character, setting, plot) are the puzzle pieces that I and other novelists sift through as we draft.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t coin the usage of the puzzle metaphor in regard to writing. But as I work on a puzzle and a novel (not at the same time of course), I can’t help being reminded of the connection between the two.

The puzzle metaphor sounds nice and neat, doesn’t it? But if you’ve worked on a book, you know that writing is often messy. So the puzzle metaphor is apt in another way: we’re puzzled about how we’re going to take our mess—all of those pieces we come up with—and make a cohesive whole out of it. As with many difficult puzzles, we often have to roll up our sleeves to solve them. But the satisfaction of seeing the whole puzzle put together is worth it! (And no, I didn’t finish the puzzle above. Look at the first photo. That is what the finished puzzle is supposed to look like. 😀 😁)

Charles Wysocki puzzle from puzzlewarehouse.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Shopkins Shoppie dolls and Apple Blossom by Moose Toys. Black Panther figure by Funko. Shuri action figure by Hasbro.

The Pressure to Be Something

I went to the same school as Stephen Colbert and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I’ll pause to give you time to look up which school they went to. (If you are a follower of this blog, you already know which school.)

You’re back? Okay good. The first thing you’ll notice is that they are celebrities and I am not. Not everyone who went there is. But while I was an undergraduate, and even after graduating, I felt the pressure to live up to the prestige of the university. During my time there, when I chose to major in writing, many people gave me the stink eye. “Major in something useful,” I was advised over and over. (Code word: more prestigious, at least in their eyes.) “In that way, you can make a lot of money and be an alumna the school can be proud of.”

   

The pressure to be something.

(Though nowadays, the latter message comes through in the frequent invitations to donate to the alumni fund. The pressure to give something.)

Ever feel the pressure to be something others have decided is the definition of success?

As a writer, I definitely feel the pressure. My grad program has turned out graduates who have won major awards and who have sold many, many books. Even the organization of children’s writers and illustrators that I belong to routinely sends emails about those who have “made it,” while extending the invitation to “Send us your success stories.”

But what if you’re the writer of some books that went out of print within two years? Or you’ve racked up 89 rejections for a book?

The pressure to be something.

Ever feel like you didn’t measure up somehow? Maybe like me you even fell into the funnel of comparison recently, and felt yourself squeezed out of the small end.

Comparison—the bane of our existence

Thoughts like that swirled through my head as I drove to Wal-Mart the other day. Yeah, I know I shouldn’t let such thoughts hold sway. I’m trying to get my mind right and defeat negative thinking. But for some reason, I thought about the sister who had died the year before I was born. I found myself crying and wondering why she was stillborn, while I lived. Not that I’m ungrateful for life. But because I lived, was I really being all I could be? Was I living up to the potential teachers and others had told me I had over the years?

The pressure to be something. The pressure to make my life count because my sister was dead and I was alive.

But after prayer (because I was really getting worked up), I realized, Wait. I could silence that nagging voice in my head—the one that caused me to feel the pressure to measure myself against someone else’s ruler. I could silence the strive, strive, strive, you’re not doing it right, make things happen and just be.

Be . . .

Content in who I am—someone who persists past rejection and failure.

Joyful regardless.

I’m not Stephen Colbert. I like the guy. I really do. But I don’t have to be him or Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be somebody. I already am somebody. I might not do life like them. But I do what I do, because I like doing what I do, whether that fits someone else’s protocol or not.

Pressure dispelled.

As Nancy Hatch of Spirit Lights the Way would say, “Aah, that’s better.”

And now, I’ll leave you with a Lindsey Stirling video, suggested by a friend who went to Lindsey’s concert the other day. It’s for anyone who needs to get out of the pressure and into joy.

Marsha Mello likes being with the Unfinished Tiger. His chill approach to life—that all of us are works in progress—soothes her.

Stephen Colbert photo from enspireusall.com. Julia Louis-Dreyfus photo from popsugar.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Marsha Mello and Donatina Shoppie dolls from Moose Toys.