Because I Cannot Be Disuaded

At the end of each year, it has become my tradition to review the goals I set and see how I did, and then to create new goals for the new year. I’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I find it helpful for keeping my focus throughout the year – usually. Life happens when you’re making plans for something else, right? So, let’s see how I did:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

Well, I tried. I did begin to submit to agents again, and while I had favorable comments, I haven’t landed one just yet. So, we’ll be seeing this one again, I’m certain.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

That was very ambitious of me! And I did pretty well. The Afterward has been revised, I finished a novel called “The Year I Went Invisible” (though it needs a great deal of work still). I wrote (and sold!) two new short stories, and I’ve started a new novel that is moving along nicely (it doesn’t have a name yet, though). While I didn’t actually write three two new novels, I still feel pretty good about my accomplishments.

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month. 

I came so close on this! I did find new places to market my work! And I took full advantage of every opportunity! I managed to be involved in 10 events this year! And for some of them, I was even paid! This one might be tougher with only one new book coming out this year, but hopefully, I’ll find some new resources as well.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

I have to cheat a bit on this one, but to me, it still counts. In April, I was one of the presenters at the Writing for Charity event in Provo, Utah. However, I took full advantage of the times I wasn’t presenting and attended as many workshops as I could fit in during the day. Then in September, I joined the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and attended their three-day conference in Denver. It was amazing, uplifting, and something I very much needed to do for myself and my heart.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

And here, I exceeded my goal significantly. I began teaching for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program again after not having taught for them in over 12 years. It is a wonderful, rewarding experience, and I look forward to the classes and my students each week. This coming spring, I will be teaching a class on Flash Fiction, and I have gained so much insight by reading in this area, so I’m very excited to share this with my students.

And so for next year? Well, I’m continuing to try to stretch a bit, but I’m also trying not to set myself up for failure or disappoint. Let’s be realistic: I have a full-time job; I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, and the giant furless mommy cat in my family. I have responsibilities and demands – but I also have a need to write, so I’m trying to find that balance between the real world and my writing ambitions. My family is supportive and willing to compromise (which is easier now that my baby is 19 and only lives here on school breaks), but I need time with them, too. In that realm of balance and ambition, here are the 2015 edition of my goals:

1. I will submit to no less than 5 agents each month.

2. I will write a minimum of 7,500 words each week.

3. I will participate in a minimum of 10 events which allow me to promote my books.

4. I will attend at least one writing event where I am NOT speaking or presenting.

5. I will continue teaching creative writing courses through Lifelong Learning.

Now, I’m adding a new twist: I have printed off my goals and stuck them to the wall next to my desk so that I can see them each day. I am inviting you to ask me at any time to provide a public update on these goals, which I will do. I’m inviting any encouragement, support, chastising, or harassment that you may feel is appropriate throughout the year. And I will thank you now, in advance, for doing so.

Here’s to the new year: may we all follow our dreams and continue to flourish and grow!

dream

Yellowstone 2008

After finishing up my very hectic teaching schedule and waving good-bye to a job that was breaking my spirit, my husband and I and our youngest daughter took the annual pilgrimage to Mecca – Yellowstone.  It has been a family tradition for the past eight years, and we look forward to hauling the tent trailer and eating Dutch oven dinners. My sister, brother-in-law, and niece have joined in for the past few years and made it their tradition, too.

On the drive in through Island Park and Henry’s Fork, we noticed field upon field of wild flowers.  They were amazing! Daisies, Brown-eyed Susans, Yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace – just a remarkable assortment around each bend.  Unfortunately, I had packed the camera inside the trailer, so I couldn’t take pictures except with my phone.  We decided we’d stop on the way home and get some photos of the carpet of color we were seeing. 

As we pulled into the parking lot at the check-in, we noticed patches of snow still lying on the ground.  It was June 30, and yet there were places where the snow patches were two or three feet deep still.  I asked the woman at the check-in desk if they had had a lot of late-season snow. 

“We still had 60 inches just three weeks ago, and got about 12 more two weeks ago,” she told me, as if she had told me that the sky was blue and the pine trees were green. 

“Wow,” was about all I could manage.

All that late-season snow had meant a lot of late-blooming flowers.  In all the years I’ve ever been to Yellowstone (and they are numerous – came frequently as a kid with Mom and Dad), I never remember having seen such a show of color before.   There were clusters of purple clinging to rocks, brushed across meadows, and poking from behind trees.  I found Rocky Mountain Iris, Columbine, and bright yellow stalks of “Eggs-n-Butter” flowers.  Wild strawberries were everywhere, their simple, white blossoms showing up throughout our camp site even.  In a month or so, that will be good eating for the animals in the park.

Speaking of animals, we got up early one morning and drove to the Lamar Valley to see if we could spot wolves (another tradition).  We got to see a large, dark grey male going after a buffalo carcass, then walking so close to the road you didn’t need binoculars or a spotting scope to see him.  Shortly after his breakfast, he was chased off by a pack of coyotes.  The bison were abundant, as were the elk.  We saw several grizzly bear, lots of mule deer, a mother osprey sitting on the nest with her two fledglings, and a mated pair of bald eagles.

We watched Old Faithful erupt before a fabulous dinner at the Old Faithful Inn. After dinner, we walked around the geyser basin, and lucked into seeing the Beehive Geyser go off (it doesn’t go at regular intervals like Old Faithful).

One afternoon we took a swim in the Firehole River. Chilly at first, but once you got in and drifted on the current a bit, it wasn’t too bad.  Of course, getting out was a bit frosty when the breeze picked up.

Yellowstone is an incredible place, and I could visit every year. Unfortunately, my sister and my husband are feeling that we need to expand our horizons a bit.  There is talk of Glacier National Park, or Rocky Mountain National Park.  It’s not that I’m opposed to going to other places, it’s just that I have this great soft-spot in my heart for Yellowstone. But that decision is at least six months away, and I may be able to convince them to do both: Yellowstone and another park.  We’ll see. 

Now – I’m off to wash clothes, repack, and head out in the morning for Vermont to go back to school for a bit!  I’m excited, though by the time I get home I’m going to be exhausted. However, this is the best way to get exhausted for sure.  At least it beats getting worn out from housework!

The Holidays and the Law of Attraction

It is both amazing and incredible the way the universe works.  There are times when I am in awe of the whole complicated, magical process. Christmas day is typically one of those days that I find myself slack-jawed at the intricate workings of the energy that swirls around us.  Perhaps it’s because, as the ancient cultures identified tens of thousands of years ago, the longest hours of the year create a mystical and spiritual energy all their own.

Before waxing far too theological here, let me get down to a few examples.  Several years ago, as I’ve told the story in previous blogs, having each received expensive gifts like digital cameras and cell phones, two of my nieces could do nothing but whine and complain that the gifts were not what they wanted.  For a variety of reasons, my family had a significantly smaller holiday that year, and my kids left the family gathering proclaiming how grateful they were to have received what they did.  There were certain side comments about how ungrateful their cousins had been.  My kids have never forgotten that lesson, and will occasionally bring up the memory to remind us that they got the point the universe was handing them.

Fast forward a bit to about two years ago, just before Christmas.  My husband and I had been married then for about 11 years.  My oldest daughter was 4 when our new family was created, and she has always loved her step-dad with unquestionable fervor.  But about two years ago, again a result of a variety of factors, she made the decision to have her step-father adopt her.  Her biological father, and his wife at the time, did not take the news very well.  But my daughter is a strong young woman.  She was 15 when she made the decision.  She was interviewed by psychologists, lawyers, and a judge who all spoke of her maturity and her emotional control. Her biological dad made threats about her not being able to see her little half-brother.  He and his wife accused her of being manipulated and brain-washed.  But in the end, she held her own and made her case to her biological dad, and to the courts who granted her the gift of adoption.  Three weeks later, on Christmas eve, we received a copy of her new birth certificate.

I’ve spent enough time on the sadness of last Christmas, so I’ll refer you to previous blogs to relive the details there. 

This holiday was remarkably calm and enjoyably loving.  My wonderful husband and I spent the Solstice at a jazz and blues club we love going to.  Christmas eve was spent at my mom and step-dad’s house with my sister and her family.  We raced wind-up toys down the wood-floored hallways of her house.  The wind-up nose was beaten by the pull-back-and-release car, but the bowl of sushi was certainly the most entertaining of the race entrants.

Prior to the holiday, I had been thinking about one of my step-brothers quite a bit.  One of them lives in Georgia with his darling wife. They sent cards and warm wishes to us and are planning a trip to visit soon. My other step-brother, who I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, has been rather withdrawn from our family for the past few years as a result of being incarcerated at the Utah State Penitentiary. He sent gifts to his nieces and nephew for the first time in nine years.  We were surprised and touched by his thoughtfulness.  He had also sent his dad a picture he had drawn in prison, and we were all impressed with my step-brother’s growing artistic skill.

There was a huge snow storm on Christmas eve, but we braved the weather to spend time with my family.  On Christmas morning, the kids rose early and we tore through the few presents under the tree.  Everyone already knew what Santa’s big gift to us would be – a week-long trip to a resort in Puerto Aventuras in the Yucatan Peninsula.  We leave in six weeks.

After gifts, we all got ready and headed to the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital.  This had been a tradition for many years as my dad was the chairman of the hospital board and conscripted a long-time family friend into the role of Santa every year.  Last year was difficult as much was made of my dad’s passing and the visit to the hospital being in his honor.  This year, the kids wanted to pay tribute to their grandfather, but also to resurrect the family tradition.  It was wonderful to see the eyes of a certain young man from Matamoros, Mexico, as he opened his iPod Nano and realized what he had received.  This was a highlight, as it is every year, that creates that proverbial “warmth of the season” everyone talks about.

But the best was yet to come –

After the hospital and breakfast at IHOP, we arrived home happy and tired.  As we came in the door, my son began talking about what he wanted for his birthday.  I knew by his tone he was being playful, but I cut him off and reminded him that his birthday was still six months away.  Then he grabbed me and said “No, wait, you gotta hear this.”  I listened as he announced that he wanted me to adopt him.

Tears welled in my eyes and I was truly speechless for a few moments.  The first words that came to me were, “We don’t have to wait until your birthday for that.”

Then he hugged me tighter (and he is pretty big, and really strong, so I really was breathless!).  “Okay,” he said. 

The smile on my face nearly reached around and touched behind my ears.  “Okay,” I said.  “We can call the lawyer tomorrow.”

So a call went in to our attorney this morning.  The wheels are in motion. 

Did I mention that my novel coming out next spring is about a 15-year-old boy who chooses to have his dad’s girlfriend adopt him?  I haven’t talked about the plot with my kids much, and it is true that I have wanted this for years, but my husband and I always believed that if and when the time was right, the kids would make that choice on their own.  This kid has been mine since I started babysitting him when he was four months old (I was unemployed and my husband – though we weren’t married until nearly two years later – needed a babysitter as he had just been granted custody of this boy).  I fell in love with this kid the minute I saw him, and no one could tell me he isn’t mine already.  I know he knows that, too.  All we’re really doing is securing a piece of paper that let’s everyone else know it as well.

No doubt his biological mother will react much the way my ex-husband did.  No doubt there will be some rough times in the days to come.  But much like his sister before him, my son is strong and level-headed.  He has a heart of gold, and he isn’t afraid to share that with others who return his love.

This doesn’t change how I feel about him.  Like I said, he’s been mine for nearly his entire life.  I didn’t have to give birth to him to have him belong in my heart.  This, to me, is the real meaning of the Law of Attraction: that heart-felt belief that becomes so integrated in your thinking and your emotions that it requires no thought to make manifest and real.  That’s the love I have for my children, for my husband. 

But yeah, I’m really excited!

Holiday Traditions

The holiday season is a weird time in American culture.  It has become an opportunity for many people to use a Christian holy time to exploit commercialism and consumerism to extreme degrees.  While there are many who strive to “Keep the Christ in Christmas,” there are others who are equally happy to boost the year-end sales of every nationally known chain store for the purpose of demonstrating the holiday spirit, or expressing love to others.

My dad was one of the worst when it came to this.

However, about seven years ago, my husband and I had a discussion about what we thought the holidays were teaching our children.  The belief that “more is better” and that Christmas is the perfect excuse to get or give more just didn’t sit well with us anymore.  In addition, my husband and I don’t participate in any sort of organized religion, and we don’t really consider ourselves to be Christian in the traditional sense.  We agree that Jesus was an exceptional person, and exceptionally important, and even divine.  But we also believe that to be true of other transcendent beings such as the Buddha, Krishna, Mohammad, and others.  Why do we not celebrate each of these with the same glutenous thrill?  Because that wasn’t their message.  It wasn’t Christ’s message either.  It’s the message of American retailers who try to guilt-trip consumers into the belief that spending more means loving more.

So around seven years ago we decided it was time to change.  Instead of an orgy of gifts on Christmas morning, we told our children that Santa would only bring a few things, but that he would give our family one gift that we could all enjoy together.  The idea was that this family gift would be the gift of time to spend with each other, and that instead of toys that broke or clothes that would be outgrown, they would receive memories that would last them throughout their lives.

The first year, Santa gave our family a trip to Disneyland.  We went in the spring, when crowds were small and the kids had the run of the park.  We still have the pictures of the three of them hanging out with their favorite characters. piglet.jpgAnd they still laugh about running through the fountain that shot water up at untimed intervals, and how the youngest one got so mad when she g0t wet.

Another year, Santa delivered to us a tent-trailer.  We have hauled it to a great number of campgrounds, eaten smores to the point of ridiculousness, and created new annual traditions around this excellent gift.

Last year Santa blessed us with a trip to Hawaii.  A week of whale-watching, para-sailing,mostlyhawaii-085.jpg hulas, waves, and sand in the middle of January.  It was the perfect gift, falling on the heels of the death of my dad, our Papa. 

And this year, Santa spilled the beans a little early:  The Yucatan Peninsula. Puerto Aventuras, not far from Cozumel and Cancun, is where we will create additional memories.  The ruins of Coba, Tulum, and Chitzen Itza are all on our itinerary for our time there.

Before this sounds like we’ve swapped one form of consumerism for another, let me also note that one year our family got a basketful of games and activities like movie passes, laser tag passes, board games, bowling gift certificates, and movie rentals.

It isn’t about money, or stuff, or expensive trips.  What we care most about is spending the time together, becoming closer as a family, and creating memories that we smile about for years.

We are blessed, and we know it, to be able to do the things that we do.  But even if we couldn’t travel the way we’ve been able to, we would continue to find ways for us to spend time together over buying each other “things” and “stuff” that we don’t really need or want.

Our focus has been, and remains, that time and memories are the greatest of all gifts, and that becomes even more important with each passing year as our children grow and begin making plans for their independent lives.

Our hope is that we are teaching our kids to think beyond the influence of corporate America, and no matter what spiritual path they choose, to honor those beliefs in accordance with their own mandates, not the mandates given by television, radio, or print ads. Personally, I think it’s working.  And my kids have never complained.  What they have done is pointed out the how other kids, like their cousins or friends, can be so selfish and ungrateful at Christmas.  I think it means we’ve done something right, and we most certainly plan to keep on doing it. After all, it’s a tradition now.