Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Traveler's Tale

I forgot to check in online before leaving for the airport last Friday, and by the time I arrived - more than two hours prior to departure - there were only about eight seats left on the plane, each in the center of three. So you can imagine my relief when I discovered I was seated in between a husband and wife.

"I'll be happy to trade seats with one of you; I'm sure you would like to sit together," I volunteered, assuming it was a done deal.

"Oh, no," the woman replied. "I prefer sitting next to the window and he prefers the aisle."

"Gulp," I said.

"Don't worry; I'm sure you'll be able to move after everyone has finished boarding," the man assured me. "There are always lots of empty seats."

So I stuffed my laptop bag and my purse under the seat in front of me, buckled up, and hoped he was right.

Turned out that plane was FULL. There was absolutely nowhere else to go. So I spent the five and a half hour flight to Seattle wedged between these two people, who kept their elbows on the arm rests, shared newspapers and smelly sandwiches, and talked over my head. They did express gratitude that I was neither excessively tall nor excessively wide.

We also played several games of leap frog. Every time one of us had to use the restroom.

This was her second marriage and his first; in their early sixties, they have been married close to twenty years. They were headed to the Seattle cruise port and looking forward to a ten-day Alaska cruise. They seemed happy enough, bantering and bickering and finishing each other's sentences.

Still, is it just me or was this situation weird? Because let me tell you something: I prefer a window seat, but if I am ever lucky enough to fall in love again, I will sacrifice it in a heartbeat in order to sit next to my sweetheart.

Then again, I guess if I am REALLY lucky, he will sacrifice his aisle seat in order to sit next to me.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Weekend in Washington State

I intended to blog every day while I was away - honestly, I did. The truth is I barely found time to sleep, much less to boot up my laptop and go online. But it was all good. This is what happened.

My friend Cindy picked me up at the Seattle airport on Friday afternoon. We had lunch at Pier 57.

Then we rode to the top of the Seattle Space Needle and took in the view of the city.

Next stop was Cindy's house in Olympia. We dumped my luggage, freshened up, and joined a few of Cindy's friends for some nightlife. They welcomed me with open arms. Washington folks are nice folks. 

Saturday morning, we returned to Seattle and visited Pike Place Market.

There were amazing sights at every turn.

The original Starbucks.

There were also a couple of attractions that I found just plain weird.

Rachel the Pig, the mascot of Pike Place Market.

The Gum Wall. That's right; people stick their used chewing gum on this wall. Gross.

It was also weird to be wearing sweaters and jackets and shoes and socks; there is about a thirty-degree temperature difference between Seattle and Atlanta. But it turns out I was really, really lucky; although there was nothing but rain in the weekend forecast, we enjoyed sunshine instead. Perhaps it followed me from Georgia.

After we left Pike Place Market, we spent a couple of hours at the Northwest Folklife Festival

before adjourning to another friend's house to watch the sunset over Mercer Island.

Jet lagged as I was by that time, I did my best to help Cindy stay awake during the drive back to Olympia. We slept in on Sunday morning, then swung by the capitol building,

hit the Olympia Farmer's Market, and indulged in a decadent brunch at Anthony's Restaurant.

Full tummies are happy tummies.

We spent the afternoon at the local theater watching the movie Bridesmaids (hilarious!) and ended the day with a home cooked salmon feast. Ah.

Knowing it would be our last evening together for who-knows-how-long, it was hard to call it a night; to make matters worse, my flight left Seattle at seven o'clock this morning. But we made it to the airport on time and I am back in my sunny bedroom, safe and sound, with a head full of happy memories and a heart full of gratitude for the warmth and hospitality of my new friends in the Pacific Northwest - most especially Cindy. Clearly, God has a wicked sense of humor or I would never have become acquainted with this woman, much less call her forever friend; the fictionalized account of this tale will be my summer writing project. You don't want to miss it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Today's Horoscope

I'm leaving for the airport in just a few minutes, but first things first.

Twitter. Facebook. Email.

And here is my horoscope for today:

The desire to travel, perhaps to visit a close friend, may come up today, Leo. You may put a lot of energy into exploring the possibilities. You might also want to travel to places where you can get some artistic inspiration for creative projects.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Weekend Adventure

I'm off bright and early tomorrow morning to cross another item off my Amazing Life List. Can you guess where I'm going?

Image courtesy of PacHD.com

I'll be hanging out with a new friend - so new, in fact, that this will be our very first face to face meeting. There's an interesting story behind our getting acquainted; indeed, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. But that tale is going to have to wait for another time. Because it's getting late and I still have packing to do.

Check back tomorrow evening for Travel Blog, Day 1!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What I Know For Sure

It doesn't matter how many people tell you you are beautiful or smart or funny or creative.

Unless you believe it yourself, it isn't the truth.

It doesn't matter if the world perceives you as successful or influential or inspirational.

You can be a living icon and feel dead on the inside.

Folks might shower you with gifts and praise and affection.

If you don't feel deserving, you will dismiss it all with a wave of your hand.

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.
~ Buddha

Yes, that's right. YOU.

Me, too.

In her farewell episode today, Oprah affirmed her belief that each of us has a unique calling, and that it is our job on earth to identify that calling and carry it out.

Only YOU are beautiful, smart or funny enough to fulfill that calling.

Sure, life is hard sometimes, and it is tempting to find ways to numb yourself so it won't be so painful.

The problem is, when you dull the pain, you diminish the pleasure too.

And you squelch the energy you need to be successful, inspirational and influential.

So feel your feelings, positive and negative, then tap into that extra energy and use it to do your life's work.

Accept with gratitude the gifts and praise and affection that will follow.

You deserve them simply because you exist.

Alternately, never let anyone talk you into being less than you are.

Just because someone tells you that you're fat or stupid or boring or worthless doesn't make it so.

You can be poor and successful, obscure and influential, simple and inspirational.

You touch lives every day in ways you might never, ever become aware of.

You are loved in ways that others might never be able to express.

Let your light shine. Like Oprah, be the best you that you are capable of and you will inspire others to do the same.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Folks Let You Down

Sometimes I think I have been dealt more than my fair share of betrayal.

I have been cheated on by more than one partner. Ten years ago, when I made the decision to divorce my husband, my dearest friend shunned me because her religious convictions prohibited divorce; she has not spoken to me since. Some time later, another close friend betrayed a confidence to build herself up in the eyes of mutual acquaintances. I have poured my heart and soul into piano students only to have them leave my studio with no explanation. Once, a date abandoned me at a club, leaving me to walk several miles home in the middle of the night. And then there have been guys who said they wanted to be my friend but secretly wanted more; then, when faced with the reality of my feelings, they ditched the relationship altogether.

I could go on and on; occasionally, I consider abandoning trust, period. If you keep people at arm's length, they are far enough away that they can't hurt you, right? Come to think of it, I am not at all convinced that it is really better to have loved and lost.

In the long run, though, I know I would be the person most hurt by being left alone. And then the terrorists would have won.

If I am brutally honest with myself, there were warning signs in each of the above situations that I chose to ignore. So it is important that I learn from the mistakes of the past; moving forward, I must keep my eyes wide open and trust my instincts. During this exciting period of intense personal growth I am experiencing, I must not hesitate to purge toxic people and behaviors from my life; instead, I must focus on relationships and activities that will lead to personal growth and overall health.

How do you deal with betrayal? What is important to your health and growth right now?

# # #

On a happier note (pun intended), here is the recording I promised of Natalie and me playing Piazzolla's Libertango for two pianos at her student recital on Saturday. Enjoy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Christina's Senior Recital

Christina and Ms. Pam

Earlier this evening, high school senior Christina performed a full-length solo piano recital at Piano Works in Duluth. It was, in a word, amazing.

She is not your typical piano student. She taught herself to play the piano using a software program on her family's home computer. When she felt she could go no further on her own, she came to me, beginning lessons in early 2010.

By that time, she had developed solid note reading skills and her playing was instinctively musical and sensitive. Since then, we have worked on some of the finer points of piano playing: pedal use, complex/syncopated rhythms, phrasing, balance. I have even introduced her to a few pieces of classical music. She played C.P.E. Bach's Solfeggietto in NFMC Federated Festival in February, earning her a Superior rating. 

But she has grown to love neoclassical music - by the likes of Joseph Akins, Stanton Lanier, and David Nevue. Their work was well represented in her repertoire tonight - a recital she planned all by herself, from its conception to the selections chosen to the cover of her beautiful printed program. 

She played with confidence and style, introducing herself at the beginning of the evening and talking a little bit about each piece and what it meant to her before playing. Towards the end, she surprised me by performing some original music, a melody she called The Gift, dovetailed with Stanton Lanier's Captivating in a creative and beautiful way and dedicated to me. It was very touching, and brought tears to my eyes. But my tears quickly turned to laughter as we capped off the show with a duet performance of CS Theme and Variations by Randall Compton. 

It was a night I will never forget - and it reminded me how very blessed I am to be a piano teacher and to work with motivated and hardworking students like Christina, who light up my studio every time they walk into it and who make my work seem more like play.

Bravo, Christina.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tweaking the Goals

With all the extra activities I have going on right now, my ROW80 goal of 1750 words a day is completely unrealistic. I have crossed the 21,000 word mark, which is nothing to sneeze at, but the next three weeks are going to be unusually busy with two more piano recitals and some out of town travel. Not only that, the unpublished Maggie deadline is right around the corner, so I need to get my first 35 pages polished to a high sheen and ready to submit. So for the next three weeks, I intend to revise a minimum of two pages a day in addition to preparing my contest submission. The biggest challenge I am having there is coming up with a strong opening hook; I just can't seem to get that first sentence right. Anyway, wish me luck!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Consummate Saturday

This has been one of the best Saturdays on record.

First, I went to my monthly Georgia Romance Writers meeting.

I officially received my Romance Writers of America PRO pin from GRW president Nicki Salcedo

I hugged Kendall Grey, who until this morning was just a name and a face on Twitter, and learned that Anju Gattani, whom I "shared" with Carla Fredd at the critique workshop in March, has found a publisher. Yay for hugging a new friend! Yay for finding a publisher!

Next Barbara Vey and Dianna Love presented a wonderful program called "Building Reader Loyalty."

 Barbara Vey and Me

Dianna Love and Me

After their presentation, I bought Dianna's book Blood Trinity, my first venture into paranormal romance. Bryonna Nobles-Stern and several others gave it a rave review, so I am eager to dig into it.

Then, after a quick stop at my Lindy Chaffin Start's house for lunch (thanks for the veggie burger, Lindy!) I was off to Piano Works in Duluth for Natalie Hardy's student piano recital. We played a two-piano piece called Libertango by Astor Piazzolla and then I accompanied her on the final movement of Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor. It is always a thrill to play on that Bosendorfer grand. I will try to post videos next week.

Natalie Hardy and Me 

After the recital, Natalie's family included me in their celebratory meal at La Cazuela in Lawrenceville. I tried their cerviche - delicious! - and had a wonderful shrimp fajita quesadilla. 

Now I'm headed out for a glass of wine and a bit of live music before sleepy time. The perfect finish to a perfect day.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Feeling Your Feelings

I have met some of the warmest, wisest people online. One of my new Twitter friends, Carolyn McCray, is also a blogger; today she posted a beautiful essay about bittersweet memories; click HERE to read it. It reminded me of an important discovery I have made recently, so I am going to share it with you.

Everyone knows you're supposed to feel your feelings, right? After all, they're there for a reason. Well, I'm one of those people who LOVES to feel my happy feelings. Share your good news, invite me to a party, give me a piece of chocolate - I will squeal with excitement, jump up and down, spin in a circle. But tell me some bad news, break my heart, tell me I look fat in my jeans - and I will keep a smile on my face and SWALLOW my sorrow.

The problem with that is the misery isn't really gone; it is still there, in my body, just under the surface of consciousness, simmering. Give it enough time, add a little more heartache, and BAM! all that sadness comes to the surface. Only now it isn't something that can be dealt with in an hour or a day or a week; now it is full-blown depression, and you don't know what do with it.  So you stay in bed all day. Or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Or worse.

According to WebMD, almost twenty percent of adults suffer from depression. Click HERE if you think you might be one of them; help is available. But I am convinced that one of the best ways to head off the black monster is to simply feel your feelings. If something has happened to make you feel sad, acknowledge the despair, cry if you need to, write about it, talk to a friend. Sometimes, you simply can't avoid pain. You have to walk straight through it. But then it's in the past. And you can move forward, knowing that a better day is right around the corner.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


It's been one of those weeks.

There is so much to do; I race from one activity to the next, feeling that I'm not doing anything very well, sure that I am forgetting something critical. But every day, the piano students had their lessons, my family was fed, the dog got taken out, and the household chores were accomplished. And every day, I took a stab at my additional goals - reading, writing, blogging, beading, listing an item in my Etsy store, practicing piano - and accomplished most of them. I love the sense of satisfaction that comes from a day well spent. I love checking items off my to do list.

Even more exciting, several times this week I experienced the euphoria of being fully focused in the present moment. This is unusual for me; there is generally a lot of chatter in my head, to the point that I sometimes feel detached from what I am doing, distracted as I am by the needs of others and the unfinished tasks that await me. But this morning as I practiced a two-piano piece with a colleague of mine in preparation for her spring recital on Saturday, I found myself completely caught up in the music we were making; I forgot to be anxious about the difficult passages lying ahead, and conscious thought ceased. For a few seconds, all I was aware of was the physical sensation of my body at the keyboard and the sounds we were making. It was short-lived but it was amazing.

Later in the day, as I worked on some special order jewelry designs for an Etsy customer, I became so absorbed in the work I was doing that I completely lost track of time. When I sat down at my beading table, I intended to sit there for only thirty minutes or so; the next thing I knew, two hours had passed and I had to stop and get ready to teach. And I had several beautiful pieces - and more inspiration for the next time I sit down to work - to show for my time. It was all I could do to tear myself away.

I fell short of my writing goal yesterday and haven't written a word yet today, but on Monday I really felt like a novelist as I continued the revision process. I reduced three pages of twaddle to one succinct paragraph, corrected several instances of telling, and improved some wooden dialogue. Unfortunately, I got stuck in the middle of a scene shortly after all that and I still haven't quite figured out where to go. I've got to figure it out, though, and soon, because the clock just keeps ticking. I'm not content to be merely an author. I want to be a PUBLISHED author. And until this manuscript is perfect - or as near perfect as I can make it - that isn't going to happen. Manishi, Imani and Aldith, where are you?

These moments are unpredictable but I am beginning to think that all it takes to make them happen is to show up every day and get to work. To do one thing at a time and do it well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mary Jane Grizzell

Today I had the pleasure of attending my local piano teacher's association spring luncheon. It was a wonderful morning of food and fellowship, sharing and inspiration; as always, I was struck by how hard-working, dedicated, loving and generous this group of ladies is.

Yes, I was in a roomful of females. In the field of music, most private teachers are women, although higher education is dominated by men. One exception to this was my piano professor during my years at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale,  Mary Jane Grizzell.

Mary Jane Grizzell, January 1982, following my graduate recital.

My freshman roommate and I left tiny Mt. Carmel, Illinois and arrived at SIU in August of 1977 in a pick-up truck, our belongings packed in chicken boxes gleaned from Don's Chick 'n' Burger, the hometown fast food restaurant where I worked during the summer between high school and college. In those days, I was terrified of my shadow; I had decided when I was seven years old that I wanted to be a piano teacher, but at age 18 I had no idea what that meant or how I would get there. 

By the time I graduated with my master's degree in August 1982, I had performed three full-length solo piano recitals, gained a working knowledge of piano literature and a solid foundation in piano pedagogy, as well as practical experience as a teacher. Mary Jane was an integral part of all of this; she truly helped make me the pianist and teacher I am today, and I am forever grateful to her.

Mary Jane with fellow student Akiko Ohashi and me, September 1982,
 prior to our induction into Mu Phi Epsilon

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she received national recognition as a pianist at age 18, graduated from the Eastman School of Music, and taught at SIU for many years. An outstanding pianist with a deep love of teaching, she was also my friend. She gave me a key to her piano studio in the music building so that I could practice on her beautiful Kawai grand nights and weekends, allowed me to catalog her extensive library of piano ensemble music as a research project, and invited me to her home on more than one occasion for dinner and sharing. She inspired me with her energy and enthusiasm for my chosen profession and with her appreciation for travel and her gracious - but never extravagant or pretentious - lifestyle.

We kept in touch for many years, always exchanging letters and cards during the holiday season. She remained supportive of me as I established piano studios in Peoria, Illinois and Raleigh, North Carolina, went through a messy divorce, and started teaching again here in metro Atlanta. At the same time, she expressed concern about my heavy workload here and appreciation for the annual pictures of my sons and me. That's why I was alarmed when I didn't hear from her this past December; recently, I learned that she passed away April 1st. I don't know the circumstances surrounding her death, only that I loved her dearly and will miss her every day as long as I live.

Thank you, Mary Jane, for your love, for your example and for all the lessons you taught me. As I follow in your footsteps, I pray that I might be half the teacher that you were, and that one day, my students will remember me half as fondly as I remember you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Clearing the Cobwebs

It all started over spring break. I transformed the big room downstairs into a completely different kind of space; instead of being "just" a piano studio, it is my creative haven now. In the process, I purged boxes of books, bags of trash, and craft supplies I will never use, leaving behind only the items I truly want and need, taking time to organize them carefully. Now, whether I am teaching, beading, sewing, or writing, I am nurtured by my surroundings: the purple walls, the inspirational quotes, the jewelry-making ideas tacked to my bulletin board. And when I need a particular book or craft supply, I can quickly find it, as there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. It feels good. It feels RIGHT.

Now I am doing the same thing with my personal life. For example, I recently ended a several-month relationship that simply wasn't working for me anymore. The truth is, it never did, but I am queen of making the best of a bad situation. Now that it is over, I feel nothing but relief, so I know I made the right decision. I am sleeping better; I am more productive. I am healthier, physically and emotionally. I feel good. I feel RIGHT.

No longer committed to a doomed relationship, I am once again open to new possibilities. But I am feeling a wee bit protective of myself. I have been hurt one too many times; my heart is a bit guarded. Friday night, I turned down a date including a handsome guy, a limousine, a nice dinner and dancing. I decided I would rather stay home and catch up on some reading, writing and television. It felt good. It felt RIGHT.

Today, on the other hand, I have a lunch date with a new guy. There is no fear. Only excitement. It feels good. It feels RIGHT.

I don't really believe in astrology, but I find it interesting. My horoscope today said this:

This period is about keeping your distance and putting your relationships into perspective to see what they're really worth to you, Leo.

Which is exactly what I believe I need to be doing right now.

My horoscope yesterday said this:

You could receive some sort of windfall today, Leo. Use it wisely. Consider buying some time to figure out what you want to do with your life. It's likely that your career isn't exactly ringing your bells these days. You're ready for new challenges and opportunities. Meditate on what would make you happy and then take a systematic approach to achieving it.

Which made me think somebody has been peeking into my windows. Unfortunately, the windfall didn't happen - unless you count a late tuition payment from a piano student as a windfall. I used it to buy groceries instead of time. But I am working diligently on the rest.

Fearless and free. That's who I want to be.

Monday, May 16, 2011

To Kill A Mockingbird

This book has been on my to-read list for years, so thanks to everyone who voted for it to be our first online book club selection. 

If you have never read the book before, you can find a summary HERE. (Spoiler alert if you are in the middle of it!) I wish I could say I find it hard to believe that such things could ever take place, but the fact is they did - and do. There are many parallels between the trial of Tom Robinson in the book and the Scottsboro trial in Alabama, and bigotry and prejudice are still very much alive in this world, especially in the rural south. Click HERE for some historical background information on the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, narrated by "Scout" Finch, six years old when the novel begins. I love Scout for her insightfulness and courage; I love her father, Atticus, for his wisdom and his unconditional acceptance of her and her brother Jem. A glimpse into what it was like growing up in rural Alabama in the 1930's, the work transcends time and explores timeless issues: good versus evil, social equality, racism, education. For example, as a former home schooling parent, I was struck by how much Scout despised school, and with good reason. Still, she learned to play the "game," although the most important lessons she learned took place outside the school building. 

This book left me with a clearer understanding of several truths:
  • There are both good and evil tendencies inside each of us.
  • Challenging circumstances can help us to become our best selves.
  • Innocence is precious and must be protected.
I marked dozens of quotes as I was reading in this book, but here are a couple of my favorites.

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. (Atticus, Chapter 11) 

She seemed glad to see me when I appeared in the kitchen, and by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl. (Scout, Chapter 12)

Tell me a little bit about your experience with To Kill A Mockingbird. Did you love it? Hate it? Who were your favorite characters and why? What did you take away from this book?

# # #

Please leave your comments at the end of this post, and then pop over to Petit Fours and Hot Tamales, where I am blogging about reading today. What a coincidence!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Farmer Pam

Someday I will plant a huge garden and fill it with heirloom vegetables, savory herbs and colorful flowers.

This year, I am settling for a few pots on my deck.

Yellow Cherry Tomato, Red Cherry Tomato, and Roma Grape Tomato.

Mild Jalapeno Pepper.

After I got home, I realized I had forgotten to buy marigolds. One should always plant marigolds next to one's tomatoes. It's natural pest control. I will take care of that asap.

I also splurged on a new bird feeder. The one I had before should have been called a "squirrel feeder"; the one I bought today is supposed to be "squirrel proof." I'll let you know whether or not it lives up to the claim.

Fingers crossed.

# # #

I didn't get any writing done today - shame on me! - but my word count is 16,626 to date, putting me well ahead of where I committed to be (10,000 words) here at the halfway point in A Round of Words in 80 Days. So I am hereby upping the ante and raising my daily word count goal to 1750 words. If I am successful, I will complete my revision by the end of the challenge. 

Failure is not an option.

Please come back tomorrow for our online book discussion of To Kill A Mockingbird. I am really looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Online Book Discussion POSTPONED

As of seven o'clock last night, I was just getting started on Chapter 11, so I was up until past two o'clock this morning finishing To Kill A Mockingbird. Heart full, eyes brimming with tears, I attempted to log into my Blogger account and get our online book discussion rolling.

Alas, Blogger went down yesterday, and I was still unable to access my account this morning; click HERE for Blogger's explanation of what went wrong. Sadly, the post I wrote yesterday, in which I listed my seven Ultimate Favorite Things, is still missing as of this writing; I can only hope that it isn't gone forever. And I am faced with the decision of whether or not to move my blog content to a "safer" site - although I am fairly convinced that there is no real security anywhere on the internet - and deal with the learning curve inherent to that process.

In the meantime, I have backed up my blog. I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn't done that before. Honestly, it never occurred to me that it could simply disappear.

So, while I wait and see whether or not Blogger is able to fully restore my content - and to give a couple of ne'er-do-wells (you know who you are!) the weekend to finish reading, I am hereby postponing our online book discussion of To Kill A Mockingbird until Monday, May 16th. In the meantime, I hope you all have a great weekend!


As you can see, my seven Ultimate Favorite Things post has been restored, although it is showing up as posted today. Regardless, I'll take it!

My Ultimate Favorite Things

It seems I have won another blog award - this one the "Stylish Blogger Award." Thank you, Shawna Riley! The rules require that I list seven facts about myself; however, I did that just a few days ago. So, just to show just how stylish I really am, I decided to list seven of my Ultimate Favorite Things. Hey, if Oprah can do it, so can I!  Here goes.

1. Olay Quench Daily Lotion Plus Shimmer with Cocoa Butter

This is my favorite moisturizer of all time. It leaves my skin soft, smooth, and shimmery. I love me some glitter.

2. Starbucks Tazo Iced Chai Tea Latte

Black tea infused with cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper added to milk (I prefer soy milk) and ice. In the wintertime, I order the same beverage, only hot. Dee-licious!

3.  Benefit Big Beautiful Eyes Palette

The most expensive item on my list, this little kit is worth every penny. It includes everything you need to create perfectly contoured eyes: primer, base shadow, contour shadow, liner shadow, and two brushes. Suitable for everyday.

I am big on hand sanitizer, but it contains alcohol, which is very drying to my already dry, aging hands. This is the perfect solution: hand sanitizer that moisturizes. I keep a tube in my purse and a tube in my piano studio. Genius.

5.  Old Navy Flip Flops

At $3.50 a pair or 2 pairs for $5, I dream of owning a pair in every color (and living someplace where I can wear nothing but flip flops).

Not only for blondes, these products protect my hard-earned hair color and hairlights. Lathers up delightfully and makes my hair soft and shiny. Smells good, too.

I never met a Nonni's Biscotti that I didn't instantly fall in love with. They satisfy my urge for both crunchy and chocolaty and all for just over 100 calories. I have paired them with both my morning coffee and my evening pinot noir with equally satisfying results. 

Seriously, folks. These are products I truly love, that I use frequently, if not daily. Are any of them your favorites, too? Did I leave out anything that you absolutely cannot live without?

The rules of the Stylish Blogger Award also require that I pass the award on to five blogging buddies. Here are the winners:

2.  Patti of Patti Nielson
3.  S.M. of An Author's Journey
4   EEV of Eev's Blog
5.  Vanessa of Vanessa K. Eccles

These are wonderful blogs, written with much love and offering something for everyone. I hope you will stop by and say hello!

Again, here are the rules:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 5 new-found blogging buddies.
4. Contact the winners to congratulate them.

Finally, don't forget that TOMORROW is our online book discussion of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. I may be up into the wee hours, but I am determined to finish! I hope many of you will stop by and share your thoughts. Until then, happy reading!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writer Wednesday

Busy day. I added 1744 words to my novel revision for a grand total so far of 13, 551. My confidence is growing with every word I write. I am learning things about my characters I didn't know before; my story is taking new twists and turns. Am I having fun yet? DEFINITELY.

Also, I am blogging at #amwriting today. Click HERE to read my post. If you have time, create an account and become a part of the community. It is a great place to find inspiration and connect with other writers.

And now I am off to rehearse some two-piano music with a colleague in preparation for her upcoming recital, followed by several hours of piano teaching. Life is good.

As always, thank you for your encouragement and support!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lost and found. But mostly lost.

Last Thursday, I grabbed a must-read book off the shelf downstairs and brought it up to my bedroom. At least, I *THOUGHT* I did. Now I can't find it anywhere. It isn't in my bedroom, it isn't on the bookshelf, and it is nowhere in between. I know because I have retraced my footsteps at least two dozen times.

Maybe the dog ate it?

I have combed the entire house. I have looked EVERYWHERE. In the refrigerator. In the garbage. In my closet and under the bed. In drawers and in closets. Even inside my car. 

The sad thing is, unless I am able to locate this volume before the weekend, I am going to have to replace it. 

Which practically guarantees I will find it. As soon as the replacement arrives.

* * *

I have a long history of losing things, and a few miraculous stories of recovery.

Several years back, I set a sterling silver ring sitting on a store shelf while I tried some hand cream. I forgot to put it back on my finger and left the store without it; I returned just minutes later to retrieve it, but it was no longer on the shelf. I assumed that someone else had picked it up and walked off with it, but left my contact information with the shop owner just in case. To my great surprise, I heard from her months later; they had done some remodeling, and spotted my ring on the floor behind a shelf. In retrospect, I'm not sure which was more surprising - that she found the ring or that she actually remembered me and still had my phone number.

A couple of Christmases ago, I received a Starbucks gift card from one of my piano students along with their annual holiday greeting, but when I went back to the days' mail to grab the card and put it in my wallet, it wasn't there. I searched high and low for it, to no avail. More than a year later, I pulled a pocketbook I don't use very often out of my closet and, lo and behold, that Starbucks card was tucked into an old wallet hidden inside the pocketbook. I have no recollection of putting it there, but apparently I did.

I wasn't so lucky with my first cell phone, left in a public restroom stall; a nice pair of sunglasses that disappeared one day at the beach; a silver Skagen watch that slipped off my wrist somewhere between a cruise ship and my car parked at the port. And still missing are my Zoppini charm bracelet, which I spent a couple of years and a ridiculous amount of money completing; a cherished black leather jacket; and my diamond stud earrings, a long-ago gift from my ex-husband. I keep hoping these items will turn up in an unlikely place. But as the months and the years go by, the possibility seems less and less likely.

Maybe if I were better organized/less scattered/twenty years younger, I wouldn't lose so many things. As it is, I might need to develop some preventive strategies.

A place for everything and everything in its place. Never leave personal items unattended in a public venue, even for a moment.

Or maybe, like Uncle Billy in It's A Wonderful Life, I should try tying strings around my fingers.

Do you have any lost and found stories or helpful strategies to share?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Four Agreements

Have you ever read The Four Agreements? I did, a long time ago, and had kind of forgotten about it until author Suzanne Brockmann mentioned it during her talk at the Georgia Romance Writers meeting back in March. I own the book, so I made a mental note to pull it off the shelf and re-read it, then forgot all about it again until a long-distance friend brought it up a couple of weeks ago while we were on the phone. So in between snatches of We Are Not Alone and To Kill A Mockingbird and at least six other books I have going concurrently, today I cracked the cover of The Four Agreements.

In this book, shaman and healer Don Miguel Ruiz shares wisdom passed down from his Toltec ancestors. The four agreements are these:
  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don't take anything personally.
  3. Don't make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.
Now, when I saw the phrase "Be impeccable with your word," I assumed it was referring to the importance of always telling the truth. But there's more to it than that; this actually has more to do with the way we use words to talk about others or ourselves. The things we say are powerful, and can have very long-lasting effects. I wish I had a nickel for every time I called myself stupid or lazy or fat or ugly or a failure or any one of a thousand other terrible names I would never call anyone else; I would be a millionaire many times over. Sadly, much of this self-perception is based on words that others have used against me. My piano students do the same thing; just this afternoon I had an eight year old boy tell me he isn't any good at the piano and a teenage girl tell me how stupid she is. It was heartbreaking.

This definitely dovetails with my blog post from yesterday and I think this is just another way we all keep ourselves down - with our words. Name calling is abusive and negative self-talk is counterproductive; I am going to call myself on it just as I forbid it in my piano students. From now on, only positive messages are allowed inside these four walls.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to digging into the rest of the book. But I am going to take my time and give this lesson some time to digest before I move on. 

Are you guilty of being less than impeccable with your word? How do you overcome the habits of a lifetime? Have you ever read The Four Agreements? If so, what was the most powerful lesson you learned from it?   

Sunday, May 8, 2011

We Are Worthy


It's been a strange week-end.

I will spare you the details, but a bad date, a mild case of food poisoning, and Mother's Day were involved.

And it hit me like a ton of bricks that I am my own worst enemy.

I am still processing all the data; I haven't quite figured out what it all means.

But there's one thing I know for for sure.

The Universe is trying to tell me a thing or two about where my priorities should be.
  • My family.
  • My physical health.
  • My work.

And where work is involved, I've got to figure out a better way. The "tripod" of music teaching/beading/writing is wearing me out, yet I seem to get farther and farther behind as the months go by. I can't work any harder so I've got to work smarter.

Because the only person I can count on to take care of me is me.

I have some great ideas that I must make time to explore. While I'm at it, I need to learn how to ask for help when I need it. 

And I need to purge my life of toxins - negative people, time wasters, chemicals.

Because they are sucking the life out of me and I need all that energy for JOY.

Danielle LaPorte posted a great article several months ago which included a declaration of deserving. I copied it down and intend to spend some time mulling it over.

Because I want what I want, I deserve to have it, and SO DO YOU.

Let's stop it with the self-sabotage. And claim all the good things that are there for the taking.

# # #

A bit of housekeeping:

I added 1217 words to my revision today, for a total of 10,794. Fellow ROW80'ers, how are you coming along on your WIP's?

And our online book discussion of To Kill A Mockingbird is scheduled to begin Friday. Who is with me?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Those Who Can, Teach

It's a cliche, but often teachers learn as much from their students as their students learn from them.

And although this post starts with music education, it ends with writing, and it's really about life, so I hope you will bear with me until the end.

My piano students are hard at work on their recital pieces right now. They are looking forward to demonstrating their musical prowess for family and friends on June 11th, and have demonstrated a willingness to go the extra mile and work on music that is much more challenging than their typical weekly fare.

Today, for example, I was helping a young lady worked on a simplified version of Beethoven's For Elise. She begged to learn this piece, even though the original is much too difficult for her at this stage of her musical development, so I found an arrangement with the highly recognizable main theme in the right hand with an altered left hand accompaniment - still plenty challenging for her. She has played mostly five-finger patterns up in the past, but now she has to reach all the way up to an octave; not only that, the piece also requires the use of the damper pedal, too, the finer points of which she was unacquainted with before now.

It took her several weeks just to learn the notes, first hands separately, then to coordinate both hands together and even out the rhythm. Finally, we added the pedal. That's what we focused on this afternoon; although she has been practicing using pedal for about three weeks now, she didn't quite have it. Sometimes she would pedal correctly, sometimes not; what was frustrating to both of us was that she couldn't tell the difference. But today, everything clicked; she finally reached the point that she could recognize this for herself. Then, and only then, was she able to pedal correctly with consistency - or catch herself immediately if she made a mistake and correct it, without any prompting from me. I made sure she knew how proud I was of her for persevering; it was a huge hurdle she leaped, and she will use this skill throughout the rest of her life as a pianist. She was beaming as she left my studio after her lesson; I was on the verge of happy tears.

The whole experience reminded me of what I go through as I struggle to finish my first novel. There is so much to master: plot, character, scene, setting, point of view, dialogue. And it isn't enough to be good at just one of those elements, or even one at a time; it is the combination of ALL of them that makes the book worth reading. And as surely as I have seen my piano students master difficult pieces - provided they DO THE WORK - I trust that I will eventually become a master storyteller. Of course, a good teacher streamlines the process. I am thankful every day for my piano students and their families, who place their trust in me; I have likewise been blessed to find many wise teachers as I travel down this road towards publication. Thanks to all of you who have helped me along the way.

And just as I am patient and loving with my students, knowing that they are doing their best - even when they don't practice as much as they should, or are distracted by things going on in their lives, or just plain don't feel good for whatever reason - I am learning to be patient and loving with myself, even when I fall short of my own expectations. Every morning provides an opportunity for a fresh start.

The beginning is always today.
~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Whatever it is that you aspire to achieve, whether it's baking the quintessential chocolate chip cookie, crocheting an afghan, growing heirloom tomatoes, playing For Elise on the piano or writing a novel - or all of the above - I hope you won't let anything stand in the way of going for your dreams.

Magic is believing in yourself. If you can do that, you can make anything happen.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Remembering Mackenzie

I found this charm when I was searching for beading supplies recently and ordered it, along with a tiny emerald crystal, May's birthstone, to glue in next to the footprint. I have been wearing it next to my heart all week as a tribute to my daughter Mackenzie, who was born seventeen years ago today with a very rare genetic defect called Trisomy 13. I miss her every day, but I feel a special emptiness on her birthday. Today, as the hours ticked slowly by, I couldn't help but wonder how life would be different if she had been healthy and survived. Would we play piano duets together? Would she be the beta reader of my novel? Would she enjoy making jewelry, too? Would we have shared that dark chocolate bar after dinner?

As a result of last year's post, I "met" a wonderful woman named Melissa, who also had a Trisomy 13 baby, and started a blog for him, called My Baby is an Angel. I had never spoken to anyone else who had been through that experience, and it meant a lot that she wrote to me. I have enjoyed getting to know her through her writing on her blog and on Facebook. She is a tremendous resource for anyone experiencing a difficult pregnancy.

I am truly blessed. I have three wonderful children, work that fulfills me, loving family and friends - even two sweet young ladies who claim me as their mother on Facebook. But I am selfish. I want Mackenzie, too. Instead, I must content myself with a handful of memories and the occasional whisperings of her spirit. And I am reminded to make the most of every moment - to be loving and generous, authentic and open.

To be the kind of woman Mackenzie would be proud to call her mom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Writing and Editing

Nathan Bransford holds the key.

I am beyond tired. I have managed only five or six hours of sleep the past several nights, and my days have been unusually busy and chaotic. This evening it all finally caught up with me; those last couple of piano lessons were hard to teach, and I am nodding off over my laptop as I try to write. So I'm going to make this brief. But I absolutely had to share some links with you before I drift off into la-la land.

The first one was waiting for me on Twitter this morning: How I Edit by Nathan Bransford. Since I am hard at work on the revision of my novel - over 1000 words today - I hoped this would be useful to me, and I was not disappointed. I especially appreciated the revision checklist he linked to from a 2009 blog post.

A little more sleuthing led me to his post from yesterday, How I Write. This was also excellent; I might write a similar article based on my own writing process. But for me, the best part of this article was the link to a previous post explaining the meaning of the phrase high concept. I have read those words a thousand times times but I really couldn't wrap my brain around their meaning. Until now.

Turns out the man has a book coming out on May 12th; obviously, he is doing a lot of things right. Click HERE to see the trailer. This is a must-read for me, even though it is a far cry from my typical choice. Do you feel the same way?

And there you have it. I hope you benefit as much from Nathan Bransford's wisdom as I did.