Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year to All, Happy Blogoversary to Me

Tomorrow is my first blogoversary, as I wrote my first post on December 31, 2010. When I look at the post now, there's not much to it, but I remember agonizing over writing it. Not so much about the content, but about whether or not I should actually do it. I remember my finger lingering over the "publish post" button for what seemed like forever, and I must have hit the "preview" option 100 times.

Looking back on the year now, it's hard to imagine I was ever that nervous about starting a blog. But sharing my thoughts or experiences does not come easily to me, as I have spent most of my life as a closed book. But this blog was all about making changes, and a big part of that was changing what I had always done and always been. So while my first post doesn't look like much now, it was a big first step for me. For that reason, it will always make me smile.

When I started this blog, one of the things that inspired me was this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

That's what I tried to do in starting this blog, and I'm thrilled to have taken not only that first step, but also several others as I've gone through 2011. I'm working on setting some concrete goals for 2012, but I know my overall goal is to continue to make my way up that staircase. I still can't see all of it, but I have a good idea of what I want it to be, and what steps I need to take to reach the top of it. 

I've said it before, but I can't say thank you enough to everyone who has followed my blog, left a comment, or just visited and read a post or two. I'm so grateful, and I hope I have been as supportive and encouraging to other bloggers and writers as so many have been to me. It's been such a joy to get to know so many amazing people over the past year, from all corners of the world, and I look forward to continuing to follow your adventures in the year ahead.

I wish everyone a safe, healthy, and Happy New Year! May we all continue to make our way up the staircase in 2012 and beyond.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas. ~ Peg Bracken


To everyone who has visited my little Internet home here, thank you for helping to make this year such a special one for me.

And to those who celebrate, a very Merry Christmas to you! I wish everyone a wonderful and happy holiday season, filled with laughter and joy, and the gifts of time and love.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Solstice

Much of my WIP, Polar Night, centers around the Winter Solstice. I have always felt there was something magical and mystical about this time, and I find it interesting that while the solstice marks the shortest day of the year, and therefore the longest period of darkness, it also represents a turning point and begins the march back towards the light. I find the ancient Solstice traditions so intriguing, and I think it's fascinating that so many of our current winter holiday customs can be traced back to these ancient rituals designed to bring light to the darkness.

My story takes place in Alaska, primarily in Fairbanks and in the town of Coldfoot. The Solstice in Fairbanks will be today at 8:30 PM, while the sun will rise at 10:58 AM, and set at 2:40 PM. In Coldfoot, the day is even shorter, as the sun will not rise until 12:30 PM, and will set at 1:30 PM! I can't imagine a "day" like this. I have enough trouble with our short days here, when the sun sets a little after 5:00 PM. 

But the Solstice worked perfectly for my story, and in fact gave me the kick of inspiration I needed to move forward with writing. When I first started writing for my main character, he lived in Los Angeles, and the whole story took place in California. But I kept finding myself stalled, and I didn't feel like the story was gelling at all. When I transported my character to Alaska, and set the story during the cold and darkness of an Alaskan winter, my imagination went into overdrive and everything seemed to fall into place.

So I'm thinking about my WIP as we mark the Winter Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, and I'm hoping these dark and gloomy winter days will give me the inspiration I need to finish the first draft of my story. While I hate winter weather, the season itself has proven to be an unexpected source of light and inspiration.

Alaskan Sunset

It snowed and snowed ,the whole world over,
Snow swept the world from end to end.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.

Boris Pasternak ~ Winter Night

Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest: Christmas, 1972

For today's Deja Vu Blogfest, I decided to use my Christmas, 1972 post from back in July. I couldn't resist the holiday connection now that we are actually in December, and I also wanted to remind myself that I was complaining about the heat back then. I'll try to remember that when I start complaining about the cold now.

I also realized that this is my 150th post, so that's kind of cool to me. I didn't know if I'd make it to my 2nd post when I first started this blog.

Thanks again to DL Hammons for hosting the fest and coming up with such a great idea!

Christmas, 1972

Over the summer, I've been working on cleaning out and organizing the drawers and closets in my condo. I've only lived in this place for 8 years, but anyone looking at the closets and drawers would think it had been at least 25. I've actually enjoyed the project, as I've come upon things I had totally forgotten about, and I also smile every time I open a closet and see how organized it is.

One of the things I found that made me smile was this picture from 1972. My sister and I dressed in our matching outfit best, and went to see Santa. I was 4 here, and my sister was 8. She was a bit old to be doing this, but I know she did it because I didn't want to go by myself.

This picture brings back great memories for me, as I loved everything about Christmas when I was a kid.

We went to see Santa at a great old department store called Shillito's. To me, visiting the downtown store was almost like going to an amusement park, especially at Christmas time. Shillito's had amazing Christmas window displays, and I loved them. I would stand in front of them and stare, completely mesmerized, like Ralphie and his friends in A Christmas Story. (One of my all-time favorite movies, by the way. My family and I never tire of quoting it.)

Shillito's also had the best Santa displays. It wasn't just about seeing Santa, as you had to walk through an enchanting Christmas display that snaked around one whole floor of the store just to get to him. One year it was the North Pole, another it was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I can still remember the smell of the chocolate as my mom and I walked through the display on our way to see Santa Claus.

With the massive heatwave gripping so much of the country, I really enjoyed taking a trip back in time to this winter tradition.

It was also fun to see a picture of my 4 year old self. I couldn't help but think, if I could go back and talk to this little girl, what would I tell her, knowing what I do now?

The first thing that came to mind was that I would tell her to go easy on the student loans when she gets to college! I kid, but there's no question I've made some unwise financial decisions in my life. But of course, hindsight is 20/20.

I think mostly I would tell this little girl not to be so afraid to try things as she gets older. And not to worry so much about what other people think.

But at the same time, I think, I wouldn't tell her anything. Whatever choices I made or whatever fears I had, they are all part of the person I am today. And accepting myself, warts and all, is something I've finally learned to do.

What about you? If you could talk to your childhood self, what would you say? And if you are dealing with the heat where you live, I hope this little trip to Christmas past gave you some relief, if only in your mind.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Would Walk 500 Miles

Do you remember this fun song from the early 90s by The Proclaimers?

I've always loved it, and it's my theme song for this week as I crossed over the 500 mile mark in my walking challenge for the year.

Clancy has been with me for most of these miles, and I figured out that if he and I had walked non-stop, we could have been in Toronto, Canada by now. I visited Toronto some years ago and loved it, so it would be fun to return. But since I hate snow and cold weather, now probably wouldn't be the best time for Clancy and me to arrive there. 

As I wrote when I finished the original 400 Mile Challenge, the ticker where I tracked my progress became a metaphor for my blog as the year went on, and my walking steps came to represent the steps I was also taking in my writing journey. The writing steps were baby steps, but they were steps all the same.

But with a new year on the horizon, I realize that I need to move beyond the baby steps. I'm thrilled by the progress I have made over the past year, but I also know that it's time to up my game.

I'm beyond grateful that I have a job so that I can pay my bills while I work towards my writing goals. But at the same time, I think this has allowed me to get lazy at times, and still treat my writing as more of a hobby. As I want my writing to be more than just a hobby, I think I need to start focusing on it as if my safety net didn't exist. 

For me, this means forcing myself to write even when I am tired and have had a long day, and would rather just collapse on the couch and watch tv. It also means I need to hold myself more accountable, and break my procrastination habit once and for all. 

I was making great progress on my WIP last month, and was very excited about that, but then I hit a roadblock and allowed myself to get distracted, and put the writing aside. I've also thought of ideas for query letters that I wanted to write, and procrastinated instead of actually writing them. 

This is the behavior I feel I need to change if I'm really going to meet my writing goals. It's taken me a heck of a long time, but I've finally figured out what I want to do with my life, and what makes me feel happy and fulfilled. So, it's time to start walking the walk, and stop playing around. 

When I think of people I know or admire who have achieved seemingly impossible goals, none of them did it by being content with merely dipping their toes in the water. They jumped in with both feet. I've had a great time dipping my toes in the writing waters over the past year, and I'm proud of what I have accomplished, but now it's time to take it to the next level, and dive in all the way. 

That's the new challenge I'm setting for myself, and I'm also going to start a new ticker to see if Clancy and I can make it to 600 miles in 2012.

But that's for next year. For now, I'm going to enjoy what I've already accomplished, and the amazing time I've had this year. And, I'm going to go back to singing along with The Proclaimers. :) 

Finally, just a reminder that tomorrow is the day for the Deja Vu Blogfest! If you want to sign up, just head on over to DL Hammon's site and join us. I know it's going to be a great fest, and I'm looking forward to seeing all the "day of the do over" posts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reviews of Semper Audacia, The Christmas Village, and Once Upon a December Nightmare

I've had my Kindle for two weeks now, and I love it even more than I thought I would. I'm totally sold on it. And, just like I'd hoped, the Kindle has allowed me to catch up on the works of some of the great writers I've met here in the blogosphere.

When I first wrote about the Kindle, I planned to start writing reviews of the books I read. But I've since discovered that I really stink at writing reviews. :D When I enjoy something, I find I don't have much to say beyond the fact that it was great and I really enjoyed it. Not exactly scintillating.

So I don't think I'll be writing regular reviews on the blog after all, but I still wanted to post about the first three stories I read on my Kindle, and give a big round of applause to the authors.

My reading list for the last few weeks included Semper Audacia by M.Pax, The Christmas Village by Melissa Goodwin, and Once Upon a December Nightmare by Cherie Reich.

 Semper Audacia is described as a "space opera," and I have to admit that I'd never read a space opera before, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. This story turned out to be an excellent introduction to the genre, and I loved being transported to an entirely different world while I was reading. Semper is a dark and haunting tale, and I was completely taken in by the protagonist Leda and her heroic "last stand" to save her world. When I finished the story, I hated to say goodbye to Leda, as she was such a strong and memorable character.

 It's hard to imagine a better story for this time of year than The Christmas Village. If you have fond memories of an old-fashioned Christmas, or just love the traditions of the holiday, this is a must read. I was totally enchanted by the village of Canterbury and, like the main character Jamie, I wished I could visit there myself. The story also provides a good reminder to be careful what you wish for, and I can imagine that young readers would really identify with Jamie as he learns some valuable lessons about life. The story is full of holiday magic, and is sure to leave its readers smiling.

 Once Upon a December Nightmare is a spooky, suspenseful story involving four young people lost in the woods on a frigid December night. In spite of the novel's short length, the characters were all very well developed, and I felt for each of them as they struggled to deal with their situation. I read the book in one sitting and did not want to put it down, which is always a sure sign of a great story. As the title suggests, this tale is indeed a nightmare, and quite scary, but it also offers touches of humor by playing with horror movie cliches. It's a fun and atmospheric mystery, with a killer ending.

Kudos to all Mary, Melissa, and Cherie for these great reads! I'm looking forward to reading more from all of them, and highly recommend their work.

It's been fun to finish my first round of Kindle stories, and I'm now moving on to Watching Willow Watts by Talli Roland. This is one I've wanted to read for a while, as I had such a good time participating in Talli's launch party back in September.

I look forward to reading many more books by fellow bloggers in the months ahead, as for me there's no better time to curl up and read than cold winter evenings. I'm so glad again to have this opportunity to discover so many great writers I may never have found otherwise. :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Season's Greetings

Clancy and Nate decided to get together to wish everyone a happy holiday season as we move through December. Their pictures are courtesy of Banfield Pet Hospital's "Dress Your Pet", and they're really excited about how the photos turned out.

In reality, I'm certain they would both give me the cold shoulder for the rest of their lives if they could see these pictures, and Nate especially would be livid at the affront to his dignity, so it's a good thing neither of them are computer savvy.

I hope everyone is enjoying the hustle and bustle of this busy time, and I wish you all a wonderful weekend ahead. :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Examiner Article

I started writing for the Examiner website as an Animal News Examiner, and wrote my first article yesterday. I had a great time doing it, as it was fun to try something new and have another opportunity to write about animals and support organizations that I admire. And, while I love doing the volunteer writing for Best Friends, it's fun to get a little money for writing as well. :D

I wrote about a dog named Edie who was found as a stray here in Ohio, and now works for the Fairmont Hotel in Pittsburgh. I found her story so touching, and I loved writing about her. I had never heard of Canine Ambassadors for hotels before, but I think it's such a cute idea, and I'd definitely love to visit one of these hotels at some point.

I'm excited to have another "writing first" to add to my list for this year, and I'm looking forward to continuing with this opportunity. If you'd like to read about Edie the hotel cutie, click on the link below to see her story. Thanks for reading!

Kaitlin Bledsoe Photography

Local dog makes good in Pittsburgh

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Deja Vu Blogfest, and A Celebration of Mutts

DL Hammons of Cruising Altitude 2.0 is hosting the Deja Vu Blogfest on December 16th, and I think the fest sounds like a lot of fun. All you have to do is re-post your favorite blog post, or one that you think didn't get enough attention when it was originally posted. It's hard to beat a blogfest where you don't even have to write a new post! Since I have been an extremely lazy blogger lately, this is a great deal for me. :D

I was really glad to come upon DL's site (thanks to a link from my buddy LG Smith) as I have really enjoyed the 7 x 7 Link Awards that have been going around the blogosphere, and this blogfest reminded me of those awards. It's been great to be able to catch up on posts that were published before I started blogging, or just posts I may have missed due to getting behind on my blog reading. So I think a blogfest dedicated to showcasing old or favorite posts is a fantastic idea, and I'm really looking forward to participating.

To sign up, just visit DL's site here. I hope to see everyone on December 16th!

Also, I just learned that today is National Mutt Day, a day created to raise awareness about mixed-breed dogs who are waiting for their forever homes, and to celebrate the awesomeness of mutts. I couldn't let this day pass without honoring the greatest mutt in the world, my Clancy.


Hugs and pets to all the fabulous mutts out there, and Happy Friday to all. I hope everyone has a great weekend!