Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Traditions of New Year’s

This is a great time of year for reflection and contemplation – reflection on the year in closing, and thoughtful anticipation of the New Year. It's a time for counting your blessings, and making plans for a brighter tomorrow. A time steeped in tradition.

What are some of those traditions? It is tradition for many to spend New Year's Eve in celebration. In New England, revelers partake in First Night Fests that include parades, music, and cultural activities. Everyone knows of the ball drop in New York City. In the Houston suburbs, celebrants bring in the New Year with booming fireworks displays.

For others, the tradition falls mainly on New Year's Day itself. Superstitions abound, and many folks, self-included, feel New Year's Day sets the stage for the incoming year (see my post from last year here). There are traditional foods shared both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, some believed to bring about good luck or good fortune.

Probably the most well known tradition is that of making New Year's resolutions. Almost everyone has made resolutions at some point or another. The desire to make the incoming year better than the one ending is powerful, and people resolve to change many things. To eat better, lose weight, exercise more, spend less, save more, etc. Typically, the resolve is strong in the beginning, but tends to wane over time. That is why you will see a surge of activity at the health club come January, but it fairly quickly dies down.

One way to make your resolve passionate and help you to keep that resolution is to write it down and post it prominently. Not just where you can see it every day, but where the rest of your family can as well, maybe even friends.

In keeping with tradition, I have made a few writerly resolutions that I would like to post here and share. I give everyone full permission to frequently remind me of these resolutions, check in and ask how I'm doing, and otherwise keep me honest and working towards them. I also invite you to share your resolutions, and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

Sheryl's 2009 Resolutions and Goals

  • Rewrite and edit my NaNoWriMo novel into a finished manuscript.
  • Once finished with the novel, query agents.
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo again next November.
  • Post a minimum of one short story each quarter on my blog.

Signing off for 2008, I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Book Review - First Three of the Twilight Series

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer






rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was an enjoyable read and I look forward to seeing the movie adaptation.


New Moon (The Twilight Saga, Book 2) New Moon by Stephenie Meyer






rating: 2 of 5 stars
New Moon left me feeling a bit cheated, like the story wasn't really finished, it was truly a let-down. Still an easy, quick read like Twilight, but too much more of the same... Bella's insatiable love of the vampire Edward and how perfect Edward is.


Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer






rating: 3 of 5 stars
Eclipse was another enjoyable read, although none in the series has captured my attention as much as the original Twilight. In Eclipse, Edward becomes even more perfect (if that's possible) and Bella remains head-over-heels in love with him. The werewolf Jacob adds more interest to the story, but overall I still feel like it's more of the same... a teenage girl swooning over her perfect guy.


View all my reviews.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Split is Positively Rejected!

Happy holidays to all! 2008 has been an exciting year, and one of my highlights was having Split published. It provided a vast array of learning experience and even more exciting…

Split is Positively Rejected!

Recently, Humble Fiction Café entered our book, Split, into the 16th annual Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards. We did not win. I am happy to report however, that we received some fantastic scoring and commentary.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, Split received outstanding marks as follows:

Plot – 5
Grammar – 5
Character Development – 4
Cover Design – 5

Wow – I’m still excited by those impressive marks. The judge went on to comment that he liked the overall theme of the book, as well as the variety of voices and writers. He mentioned a few stories by name where he particularly liked the ending, and said all the stories were good reads! Additionally, he found value in the end of story explanations. The judge complimented Humble Fiction Café saying that through our writing he felt we liked one another and he sensed good will.

Equally beneficial, the judge also mentioned areas that could improve the book, such as stronger character development, and less focus on plot twists that occasionally resulted in sudden, sometimes violent endings. The judge felt there were too many stories with the character Beatrice, but also said they were all good so he wouldn’t know which stories to cut.

Overall, I think the commentary and our scores were outstanding. As writers, we value this kind of feedback because it helps us know what we did well, and how we can do better in the future.

If you haven’t yet read Split, I invite you to do so. If you’ve read Split, I would love to hear from you. What did you like best about the book? How do you think the book could be improved?


Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

I took a fun quiz that matches your personality with a Fantasy/SciFi character. I matched with Gandalf...

Gandalf

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

You can take the quiz also at http://www.tk421.net/character/. Be sure to post in the comments which Fantasy/SciFi character you matched.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Free Family Fun for Christmas

Anyone looking for free family Christmas fun in the Houston area, check out the live nativity at Woodforest Presbyterian church. They have live animals, a manger scene, and costumes to dress in. It's a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.

Monday, December 8, 2008

National Novel Writing Month is Over – so Now What?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is officially over. I'm pretty sure that just about anyone that knows me or reads my blog is aware that I participated and won at this event by completing a 50,000-word novel. How exciting is that? Congratulations to everyone else that participated in the event. Regardless of word count, you've accomplished an amazing feat.

A friend recently asked me if I would do it again, and without hesitation, I answered a resounding "yes." The lessons learned through the month long event were invaluable, requiring discipline and the support of my family. The fact that I now have a drafted novel is incredible to me. I wouldn't want to trade the experience …but now what?

I've got a plan that I will share with you here, and you can respond in the comments to tell me if you think it will work. My plan is simple, I think. During December, without reading my NaNoWriMo novel at all, I am working on character biographies and plotting. These are details I didn't have time for before or during NaNoWriMo, so I'm taking the time now. I want to nail down the personalities that make each character unique in my story, and then work on tightening and strengthening the plot and sub-plots.

There is much in my NaNoWriMo novel that will need to come out, but many places where I will need to embellish. My goal is to take a fresh look in January, with stronger characters and plot points, and begin a rewrite.

Whether you consider yourself a WriMo or a NaNo'er (I've seen them both touted), what are your plans now that the month is over? Are you going straight into a rewrite? Are you sitting your manuscript aside for a time to gracefully age? Who's in it with me for next year?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Review - Writing for the Soul by Jerry B. Jenkins

Writing for the Soul: Instruction And Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life Writing for the Soul: Instruction And Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life by Jerry B. Jenkins


My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Chapter 1 is appropriately entitled Early Breaks. As I read about the author’s writing success, even at an early age, I immediately began to doubt the value in the following pages. This author obviously experienced a great deal of beginners luck. He clearly didn’t face the obstacles and numerous rejections early on in his career that are so characteristic of this field. How could he provide instruction and advice to someone like me, someone finally beginning to take their writing career seriously, mid-life? I certainly have not received any early breaks!

But the book was easy to read and entertaining, so I pursued. And I am very happy that I did. This very well written book is loaded with useful information.

By far the most valuable chapter to me was Chapter 12, Thickening the Stew. It is here that the author gets into practical ways to make your writing tighter and less cluttered. He describes beginner writer errors, talks about setting the scene, and explains when and how to use foreshadowing, flashbacks, and transitions. And while his intended audience is the inspirational writer, the lessons learned can be applied to any writer.

Extremely successful, yes, and obviously a good and well-seasoned author. While I haven’t read any of his other works, you can bet they will be on my to-read list now.

View all my reviews.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Puzzle Fun

This is a picture of my family taken at Thanksgiving. If you click on the arrow in the bottom left corner of the picture, it becomes a fun puzzle! I heard about this from the Stay At Home Mom blog, and you can create your own puzzle at JigZone.com.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving List

Thanksgiving wishes for a very happy holiday!

While I am still adjusting to unemployment, there is yet so much for which to be thankful. Here are ten things I'm thankful for, in no particular order.

  1. My wonderful husband and family
  2. Friends and neighbors
  3. Acquaintances, both in-person and on-line
  4. My discovery draft of a novel nearing completion
  5. Books to read; movies to watch
  6. Jesus Christ
  7. Mashed potatoes and noodles
  8. Watching a sunrise
  9. Health
  10. Spending time with loved ones

Guess what? Most of my list comes free! What does that say about what is important?




Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's Lemonade Time

I was let go on a job once in 1986, and then again twenty-two years later... in fact, 2008 - just this week. It's not that I haven't changed jobs in that span of twenty-two years, but it was always a decision on my part and not something in which I had no control. Being let go brings about an odd mix of feelings.

There were certainly differences in the two scenario's. Twenty-two years ago I worked for a company that gave me ample notice that it was coming, sufficient notice to start making plans and to get ready. They also offered a decent severance package. This week I went into the office on Tuesday and was home at noon. No notice. Certainly no package.

While I've been adjusting to the various emotions that come with being let go, and trying to put panic aside, I remembered a college paper I wrote following that layoff twenty-two years ago, and I dug it out. I'll share it here.


























Here's the full text (3 hand-written pages), retyped so as to be readable...

Turning a Lemon into Lemonade

Most people look at a layoff as a terrible, drastic, and uprooting experience in their lives. I, on the other hand, have squeezed the lemon to make lemonade. I have turned my layoff into a new beginning, a new opportunity.

In January of 1984, I began working for a large, independent oil company here in Houston. I was a secretary for the Property Acquisition and Planning Departments. Faced with an upcoming divorce, this job turned out to be my only security in this unstable world. It provided a steady income, friends, and the belief that I could make it on my own. It gave me the courage to go on with my life and seemed, at that time, to be the only thing I truly could count on. My job was my rock, my life.

One day in July 1985 with no forewarning whatsoever, a bulletin was posted announcing the unanticipated and petrifying fact that the oil company was for sale. Suddenly my security was being threatened. Who’s going to buy us and what will they do?

Bulletins were posted regularly, each one spawning new rumors. Who’s evaluating us now? Where are they from? Will they keep us as employees? Some of the employees hoped the French company would buy us, others hoped for the Australian company, but all employees hoped for the company that would keep us most intact.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. There was a feeling of panic and uncertainty in the air, but finally, an agreement was reached. Monsanto Oil Company would be sold to BHP Petroleum (Americas) effective December 20, 1985.

Relief swept over the office. The question of who would buy us was answered. It was the Australian company, a favorite of many of the employees. For the first time in months we were able to smile at each other. Soon we would all know the fate of our jobs.

Unfortunately, soon was not nearly soon enough. Again, days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months. The rumor wagon began rolling again, only this time it appeared more frequently. The atmosphere was one of dreaded anticipation. I was on the verge of losing my security. What would I do? What could I do?

Bulletins, again, appeared regularly. To my disappointment, they rarely answered my questions or eased my fears. One bulletin claimed that over three hundred would be laid off.

I was overwhelmed with panic. I knew that I did not want to be a secretary for the rest of my life, but what did I want to be?

Several days passed as I began searching for an answer. I realized then that there were many directions I could take at this point in my life, but as long as I let panic dominate my thoughts it would be hard, maybe impossible, to concentrate on only one direction. What I had to do was take charge of the situation. I had to make some real decisions and set some goals. What I had to do was squeeze the lemon.

On May 8, 1986, the inevitable layoff came. I was in the group of people laid off, but I had a smile on my face. I smiled because I was no longer feeling despondent. Instead, my life was moving forward.


Time again to squeeze the lemon. What do you do to turn negative situations to positive? Any tips you care to share?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book Review – Waiting by Ha Jin

Waiting: A Novel Waiting: A Novel by Ha Jin


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a quirky story set in China, spanning the 1960’s and into the 80’s, rich in tradition and custom. Lin Kong is a medical doctor with the army who lives in Muji City. He is in a loveless and arranged marriage to Shuyu, who lives in the countryside and raises their daughter. Each summer during his 12-day leave, Lin returns to the village to divorce his wife, only to have the divorce declined year after year. In the meantime, Lin and his girlfriend, Manna, continue waiting until such time they can marry. Over time, the sociopolitical pressures influence and change each of these characters.

An engaging and easy read, I felt the pace a little slow at times and the dialog flat, though it may be appropriate for the culture depicted in the story. And while I didn’t get lost with the point of view shifts, they seemed contrived and did little to advance the story.

I enjoyed getting to know each of the characters, although I was never certain where my alliance should lie. Should I root for Manna as she becomes an old woman waiting for the man whom she loves, or for Shuyu, who remains content despite her circumstances?

The ending is strong, and puts the whole story in perspective. Waiting is a unique novel that won’t easily be forgotten.


View all my reviews.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Stoning

In August, On The Premises magazine ran mini-contest #6 where writers were challenged to tell a complete story in just 25 to 75 words and use dialog only. No dialog tags and no narration allowed. It's much harder than it sounds. Here's one I wrote. Guess what novel I had just finished reading?


The Stoning

"I miss you Mammy."

"I miss you too, Farhad."

"I'm sorry I told them about that man that came over."

"It's OK, the truth is always best."

"Is that why they brought you here, Mammy?"

"Yes, son."

"When will you be home?"

"Soon, my love."

"Baba talks about a stoning. What's that, Mammy? I hope you can be there."

"I will be there, my son. I will be there."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

NaNoWriMo Week One Recap

Whew. Week one is officially behind us for WriMo's around the globe, and so begins week two. Here's a recount of what I've learned so far.

While I didn't end week one with the expected and hoped for count of 11,669 words, I did end the week with 7,447. So, I'm behind. But I think a better way to look at this is that it is way more words than I've ever written in one week on a novel before! In that sense, it's a success!

My story is also evolving from what I had originally imagined. The protagonist marries early on in the story, and my intent has been to keep her married. But the schmuck she's married to has turned out not so nice. I don't know if she can stay married to him now or not. Perhaps he will redeem himself later on in the story; time will tell. It is as though the story has taken on a life of its own, and I am simply the typist.

Of course, it is also terrible! I would be horrified to have anyone read the dribble on these pages I call a novel, so I know the real work is ahead when it is time to go back and edit.

Anyway, thus far, NaNoWriMo has been an exciting and fun adventure. I am so glad that I signed up for the event.

Now I must cut short this post to get back to my novel. Week two needs to be even more productive than week one, so I must keep pushing myself to get this done. Write-on!




Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Great Marketing Idea

You may recall that I recently received The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield free by agreeing to post a 200 word minimum review on my blog. My review is here.

This is a great marketing idea and provides good word of mouth (WOM). Now Thomas Nelson Publishers has launched a book review site for bloggers. If you like free books, enjoy writing book reviews, and have a blog, this may be for you. In a nutshell, the program provides for free copies of certain titles published by Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for a 200-word minimum review on the readers blog, as well as on Amazon. Details are posted at A New Book Review Program for Bloggers - Michael Hyatt.

Happy reading!

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, November 3, 2008

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

I wanted to post a very brief progress report here of NaNoWriMo. With day 2 completed, I am still in the game at 3990 words. You can see my progress on the word counter at the top of the left hand column here.

While I think my Chapter One is OK, my Chapter Two is absolutely horrible. I don't know if there is a salvageable word there when I go back at a later date for editing.

Anyway, it's started and with 27 and 1/2 days left to go! Happy writing fellow Wrimo's!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NaNoWriMo Here I Come

I've done it and I'm so excited… and nervous. I've registered for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)!

Like last year, I don't have the time. And believe me, I've debated as to whether I should do this or not. But unlike last year, no more excuses! I feel like if I don't do this now, I just may never write a novel.

Last year's decision not to do NaNoWriMo was tough. And yes, while my month of November was certainly easier as a result, I did have regrets. So I'm going to bite the bullet this year, and just do it. Anyone else who is participating or wants to participate, please be my writing buddy. Look for sheryltut in the Authors section.

In my final few days before NaNoWriMo kicks off, I'm looking for tips and tricks for success. Here is a blog posting that I found helpful and wanted to share.

Paperback Writer: Pro-to-NaNo: "Pro-to-NaNo
Twenty Bits of Advice from a Pro for the New NaNo'er"

My blog posts may fall off in frequency this coming month, but I will get back to blogging as fast as I can. Do stop by the blog anyway, as I plan to add a word count widget. I appreciate everyone's support (and thank you Chrissa for the "Go Sheryl Go, You Can NaNo!" cheerleading card)!

Good luck to everyone participating. Please remember to add me as a writing buddy. Experienced NaNo'er's? Please put your words of wisdom in comments!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Love Traditions

I love traditions. For Halloween, besides carving a pumpkin and baking seeds, one of our newer customs is to make a scarecrow with the kids. We stuff an old pair of pants and shirt with leaves, pine needles, or whatever else we might rake up from the yard, and plant the ole geezer in a comfy lawn chair in front of the house. There he sits to welcome Trick or Treaters on Halloween night.

Perhaps you know this year's scarecrow?

By the way, early voting in Texas ends October 31. Be sure to get out if you can and avoid the Election Day crowds. Tell them Joe the Plumber sent ya!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fun at The Texas Renaissance Festival

In celebration of my husband's birthday, we recently visited the Texas Renaissance Festival (TRF). What a wonderful time! A Renaissance themed event, it takes place for eight weekends in October and November and is one of the largest of its kind. Actors and spectators alike dress in period costume and partake in 16th century repartee, food, and festivities.

Here are a few pictures.










Standing in the archway of the arena awaiting the Joust competition, older daughter is dressed as a fairy (note the wings).





Viva la France! We sat in the section that cheered for France in the Joust.






The gallant French Knight, Philip put on quite the performance but alas, did not emerge as victor in the Joust.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The New (and Improved?) WordProverb

Announcing the long overdue update to WordProverb (drum roll please)…

Perusing templates galore, I have finally settled on a new look for my blog. I've removed some links, added a few widgets, and have hopefully made it more reader friendly and contemporized. If you are reading this post through an email subscription or feed reader, I invite you to visit the actual site to see the new look.

Well, what do you think please?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review – Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Walk Two Moons (Summer Reading Edition) Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
My daughter loved this book and recommended that I read it also. It's a touching story of a thirteen year old girl, Salamanca (Sal) Hiddle, who embarks on a long car ride with her grandparents to go see Sal's mother. Sal's mother had left Sal and her father only to never return. During the car trip, Sal tells her grandparents the outrageous story of her friend, Phoebe Winterbottom, whose own mother also disappeared. The author, Sharon Creech, has done an outstanding job of intertwining the two tales. A truly enjoyable read, particularly appropriate and entertaining for middle-schoolers.


View all my reviews.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Fun Meme

My friend and fellow blogger, Theresa at T.C. and the Muse, tagged me in a meme. I'm supposed to list six unspectacular things about myself, so here goes.

1) I don't get near enough exercise. For someone who taught aerobics in her twenties and knows the value of exercise, I sure do sit on the "fanny" an awful lot in front of the computer.

2) My husband and I married at Sandals in Ocho Rios, Jamaica (yeah mon)! It was a choice between a traditional wedding and reception OR a nice honeymoon – we chose the honeymoon.

3) My first concert was Billy Joel in St. Louis, MO.

4) I'm accused of having a cast-iron stomach and I didn't experience morning sickness with either pregnancy!

5) I am a huge worry-wort.

6) I hate to be told what to do.

My instructions are to tag six more bloggers, so here they are without further ado.

Dave at Link'n Log, http://linknlog.blogspot.com/

Joy at Moving Right Along, http://yellowrosez.blogspot.com/

Sue at Stay at Home Mom, http://www.sahmsue.com/

Linda at Just Out of Sight, http://wish-words.blogspot.com/

Oops – that's only four; oh well, I'm tagging in order to keep the meme going.

Be sure to visit Theresa's blog at T.C. and the Muse where you can find all kinds of interesting and useful writing tips.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Writer Blogs

I enjoy blogging. As a writer, it's only natural that blogging would easily become one of my favorite pastimes. It's an opportunity to practice the art of creative writing – and in my opinion, all writing is creative – in a quick, digestible format for my blogger readers. But, is a blog necessary for a writer?

The viewpoints certainly vary. On the one camp, writers are encouraged to maintain a blog and build a reader base. The theory is that for each new book the writer authors, they will have an immediate fan base of people that will rush out to buy the new book. Sounds logical.

But what constitutes a "good" blog for a writer?

The blogs I most enjoy seem to have a theme, i.e. they are about something. Take for instance Supernatural Fairy Tales, the blog of Humble Fiction Café member Dorlana Vann. In her blog, Dorlana posts a monthly short story of a modernized fairy tale with an added supernatural element. She also posts articles about mythical creatures, such as elves, fairies and mermaids. In addition to her own stories and articles, Dorlana features guest bloggers. But in the end, everything relates back to fairy tales with a paranormal twist.

Another example of a writer blog with a clear topic is Eavesdrop Writer Blog. Read What I Hear. by Vivienne. This creative blog describes situations and conversations overheard by the author. They are entertaining observations of true life that spark the imagination.

Having a theme works especially well for non-fiction writers who typically have a specialty or particular subject matter about which they write. These authors' blogs capture readers with similar interests and enable the author to position themselves as experts.

For writers such as myself, who haven't quite yet found their writing niche, it isn't so easy. Many writers blog about writing. Interesting, yes, but the problem … and this leads to the opposing viewpoint of whether or not all writers should have blogs… is that there are so many. With hundreds, probably thousands, of writer blogs out there, what can you possibly do to make yours stand out?

A central idea is good, but equally important is that the blogger writes about what most interests him or her. This gives the blog a more personal feel. Regular updates are also vital, but daily are much too frequent. Once or twice a week seems to work well. Finally, unless it is a subject near and dear, and the author has done an outstanding job writing about it, I personally prefer shorter posts. Ones that don't take too much time to read.

My own blog contains book reviews, viewpoints of current events, and snippets of what's happening in my writer life. While I love my blog WordProverb, I'm not so sure it has mass appeal.

What's your opinion? For the blogs you frequent and read, do they have a theme? How often are they updated and what is it that draws you back?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Book Review – The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield

The Faith of Barack Obama is not about "converting" anyone from one political party to another. It's more a biography of Barack Obama and an interesting read. Dispelling some of the myths surrounding Barack Obama, it replaces those myths with actuality. It provides background as to who Obama is, his values and beliefs, how he might be as a leader, and what has actually come into making him who he is today.

I have read elsewhere that the author, Stephen Mansfield, is not an Obama supporter, and his preference for a more conservative viewpoint comes through in some instances. However, he has done a good job overall in remaining objective, and I would recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about this potential President.

The book describes the various non-Christian and Christian influences on Barack, including the known controversial influences of his atheist mother, Muslim stepfather, and the black liberation theologian Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr of the Trinity United Church of Christ. But it goes further to explain how these influences have contributed to Barack's ideology. At one point, the author describes Barack as "unapologetically Christian" as well as "unapologetically liberal," and much of the text describes these two characteristics coming together in an historic American movement of faith-based politics to the Religious Left.

In the chapter entitled "Four Faces of Faith," Stephen Mansfield contends that the 2008 political arena is dominated with religious forces, including in addition to Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush. The chapter offers a brief background of the faith of each of these political personalities and helps the reader to understand their driving forces. While I felt this chapter long and questioned the reason for devoting that much of the book to discussion other than Barack, I quickly saw the value in that it gives the reader a basis on which to compare the various individuals.

To me, The Faith of Barack Obama describes Barack as a Presidential candidate that offers hope and sincerity. Hope for a unified nation, an end to racism and poverty, and ethical and accountable leadership.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

So Long Ike

Written 9.20.08

We lost power approximately 7:00 pm on Friday, September 12, well before Hurricane Ike even made landfall. Ike packed a mean punch. It was long hours of howling winds and pounding rain, followed by the calm of the eye, and then more wind and rain.

Even though we were exhausted, sleep was next to impossible. We heard the constant roar of the wind, tree limbs whipping through the air, and broken branches smacking against the house. The kids would doze, only to fully awaken with the next accelerated blast of wind and the whistle echoing through the fireplace. Reassured of their safety, they would then fall back to sleep, only to awaken again. Hurricane Ike was extremely large, and the storm lasted many hours. It was a truly long and terrifying night.

But everything must eventually come to an end, and so it was with Ike. Finally, the wind stopped blowing and the rain quit falling. Our home and property escaped damage, although many of our friends, family, and neighbors fared less well. We were limited to a messy yard with a lot of limbs and debris. We were lucky.

Our first full day without power was hot and humid – typical Texas weather. But the following days were glorious! A cold front moved through, and our highs only reached the 70's/low 80's and our lows were in the 50's and 60's. Great sleeping weather – and little to no humidity.

It felt odd being completely disconnected with no telephone, electricity, computer, or cell phone coverage. I wondered how my parents were, my sister and our friends, yet all I could do was hope and pray that they had made it through OK. Our only remaining connection was a battery-powered radio. We soon discovered however, that my home office telephone landline worked with a corded phone plugged in, so then we were able to check in on family and friends.

What happened next was short of miraculous. Neighbor helping neighbor, everyone pitched in to begin the cleanup and recovery. Debris littered throughout the neighborhood became mounds at the end of driveways. Ice and chests were shared. Generators powered up with strands of extension cords draping lawns. Everyone wanted to help out. What had looked like a war zone began taking shape once again as our neighborhood.

Invitations were extended for dinners as food needed used before it went bad. No one was in a hurry. People stopped and talked, kids played together outside, and families took bike rides and walks. And of course the weather was wonderful and made the outdoors very enjoyable. It was a very pleasant time socially indeed.

One by one stores began to open. First, there were incredible lines for necessities such as gas or food, but as more and more stores opened, the lines diminished considerably. Finally, six days later, our power was restored. We were one of the lucky ones, as there are many more still without power. Soon our cable TV and internet connections will be restored, and the kids will be able to go back to school.

I asked my husband if there were another storm, would he stay or evacuate. Of course, it would be somewhat dependent upon the storm itself, but we both felt as though we would probably stay again in the future. I am frequently accused of turning lemons into lemonade, but while Ike was a very bad storm indeed, it also gave us invaluable time. Time to re-connect with family, friends and neighbors.

We were lucky (I can't say that enough). We never lost our water supply, the weather was very comfortable while we were without power, and we did not have damage to our home. Others weren't so lucky and they still need our prayers.


9.27.08 UPDATE

Finally, seven days after drafting this post, Comcast restored our service! Extremely thankful we had electricity after only six days without, I was beginning to experience severe internet withdrawal. Fifteen days in total without a home telephone, internet access, and of course, cable TV. I have felt so disconnected - what have I missed?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September Happenings

I've been a little slow with my blog postings since August vacation and then back to school. I am happy to say that life is beginning to settle down and fall into a routine, so hopefully the posts will get back to a more regular schedule.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some of my plans for September posts. First, be watching for a review of the book The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield. I received a free book at From Where I Sit, which is the blog of Michael S. Hyatt, Thomas Nelson Publishers President & CEO. In return, I agreed to post a 200-word minimum book review on my blog. What a great marketing concept for book authors.

I mentioned in a previous post that I was working on a very late letter writing short-story project for my writers group, Humble Fiction Café. I am happy to report that I should have a rough draft ready soon. Once critiqued by the group, I will make it available to read. It's been a challenge as I am attempting genre that I have not written before. We will see how it works and I'll look forward to your comments as well.

Finally, one of my daughter's teachers shared a poem with me entitled Unity, by Cleo V. Swarat. I'd like to share it with you.


Unity
Cleo V. Swarat

I dreamed I stood in a studio
And watched two sculptors there,
The clay they used was a young child's mind
And they fashioned it with care.

One was a teacher:
the tools she used were books and music and art;
One was a parent
With a guiding hand and gentle loving heart.

And when at last their work was done,
They were proud of what they had wrought.
For the things they had worked into the child
Could never be sold or bought!

And each agreed she would have failed
if she had worked alone.
For behind the parent stood the school,
and behind the teacher stood the home!


Saturday, August 30, 2008

An Easy Riddle

Here's an easy riddle for you. What happens on the one day you drive your car without your proof of insurance card in the vehicle? That's right – you get pulled over! At least that's what happened to me this past week.

At an intersection with several police officers, one motioned for me to pull over. He asked to see my driver's license and proof of insurance. Unfortunately, I had taken my proof of insurance out of the car just the night before. I had given it to my husband who had the day off from work and who had offered to run to Kroger for me to get my car registered. The current registration expires at the end of the month.

I explained all this to the officer, but to no avail. He wrote me a ticket anyway. He proceeded to tell me that I could go to the court location within the next few days with my proof of insurance and it would be dismissed.

Not true! Two days later, the court advised that for all insurance citations, an appearance on the court date noted on the ticket was required. So, guess I'll be going to court after all.

How maddening! 364 days a year with the insurance card in my car, and 1 day without. Sometimes life feels unfair.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Review – A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

One of the reasons I think I liked A Thousand Splendid Suns so much is because one of his characters, Mariam, was born around the same timeframe that I was. Her life is a stark contrast to my life, and while I know this book is fiction, I have to believe that the lives and lifestyles depicted in this tale are realistic.

This is a story of two women – their hardships, their hope, and their strength. It is a story that brings to light the injustice inflicted upon Afghanistan women, and the heartache and sacrifices that many must endure.

Khaled Hosseini is a tremendously talented writer. Not only are the worlds of Afghanistan and the United States completely different, but the worries and concerns, and our lifestyles, are poles apart. Yet, through his gifted storytelling and his unique characters, Khaled makes apparent how we are also very alike.

This book is 5 stars - a great read!




Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Time to get working on this year's birthday party

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Book Review – Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

In Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult tackles another difficult subject, this one revolves around a high school shooting. She examines the forces contributing to the event, and she puts the reader in the head of those involved, offering many different points of view throughout the book. The characters feel real, and the societal questions raised by the story are confounding, they really make you think. While reading Nineteen Minutes, I had imagined a completely different end to the story, and I was impressed with the author's ability to add surprise to a story I felt had only one clear and logical ending - although I think the ending was slightly unrealistic. Overall, a very good read!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Writer’s Block

According to Dictionary.com, writer's block is "a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work."

Phew! That's good news to me. I was so worried I had writer's block that I even made mention on both MySpace and Facebook. But writer's block isn't my problem at all if the definition above is correct, and I can confidently say that because of just one word in that definition. Proceed.

You see, I am stumped with a particular writing task, but it isn't a problem of "proceeding" with the writing. No, my problem is with "starting." Let me explain, and perhaps some of you can offer suggestions that will help me through this thing.

Several months ago, the Humble Fiction Cafe writers group embarked on a writing assignment whereby those participating made up and wrote letters. It could be any kind of letter; a love letter, business letter, Dear John letter, etc, with props and fancy stationary or envelopes allowed. We collected the letters, and making sure no one retrieved their own contribution, we randomly selected the letters as a basis for a story. The premise was that the letter would serve as inspiration, get our muse in gear, and maybe even force some of us to write in a genre we hadn't yet experimented with.

I very reluctantly pulled a letter after being assured we had no deadlines for this project, and that I could take all the time I wanted.

It was going to be a challenge for me to write a story based on the letter I received. After reading the letter several times and racking my brain for storyline ideas, I set it aside while I finished writing my short story, Reservations for Two. I'm the type writer that seems to work better on one project at a time.

Now it's time for me to start my "letter writing" story, but I'm stuck. My letter has not prompted the swell of ideas I had hoped for. In fact, I haven't come up with a single idea that doesn't stink!

By now I think everyone in the group has completed their assignment, so I'm sure the author of my letter must know I have it and be wondering why I haven't come forth with a story. Rest assured, I'm struggling with it working on it.

Let's hope that my muse will kick in and I'll have a flood of ideas soon. In the meantime, please feel free to offer your thoughts for getting out of this slump. It is surely appreciated.




Monday, July 28, 2008

I’m an INFJ – What about you?

When I tell people I'm an INFJ, almost everyone asks what I mean. INFJ is my Myers Briggs personality profile, and the letters stand for Introversion, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging. While I won't go into the details of each of these "types," I'll summarize as follows.

I – Downtime, or reflection, is my energy source
N – With less interest in details, I tend to look for the “big picture”
F – I empathize when making decisions
J – My preference is for order and structure, and for things to be settled

Great news! According to Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Paul D. Tieger & Barbara Barron-Tieger, good "arts" careers for INFJs include Playwright, Novelist, and Poet. So at least I've confirmed writing is a good fit for my personality type!

But that's not what's prompted me to write about personality type.

At a writers' group meeting several weeks ago, we talked about our great chemistry and how each member contributes a different skill set. Gary talked about Dorlana's ability to see where the story should start, Chrissa's capacity at florid description, Theresa's skill of natural dialog, and Kelli's passion with punctuation, just to name a few. Then he mentioned my ability to see the details.

Wow. Imagine that. Me – see the details!

What a surprise that was. You see, my "N" is real strong in my INFJ. Strong to a fault. I see the forest, but rarely notice the trees. I couldn't tell you what color shirt my husband was wearing when I dropped him off at work this morning. Nor could I tell you the color or type car that most of my neighbors drive, although I do know a few. I may not even notice when a family member gets a new haircut. I just don't pay attention to those details.

Yet here I was receiving what I feel is a terrific complement. Thank you, Gary! Which got me to thinking… do I really see the details while reading the work of my colleague writers?

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses helps. Since I am so aware of my inattentiveness to detail, I think when I'm tasked to look at or read something, I pay particular attention. And while I read chapters of novels or short stories for the group, I typically have the "big picture" in mind and usually will have read through the selection more than once. So as I read, I look at those details to see if they fit with the whole picture. Anyway, that's what I'm guessing.

Now I'm curious – do you know your Myers Briggs personality profile? If you do, please share it in the comments section and I'll bet we see a truly diverse group of personality types.

Whether it's my writers' group, or any group for that matter, Gary is right. It's all our differences that make us so great; and together, we're all pretty awesome!

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