Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to the Books Giveaway Blog Hop

I am participating in the Back to the Books Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Buried in Books. This hop is scheduled to run September 1st through September 7th. To enter, all you have to do is follow my blog and leave a comment at the end of this post, letting me know you are a follower and sharing your favorite thing about back to school. It might be the scent of a freshly sharpened pencil, the possibilities represented by a brand-new box of crayons, or simply having more time to yourself now that the kids are away all day. I am looking forward to a great list! For additional entries, you can follow me on Twitter (click HERE), "like" my Facebook fan page (click HERE), and follow my blog Between Birthdays (click HERE). Leave an additional comment for each additional entry. At the end of the week, one lucky winner will be chosen by a random number generator to receive a $10 Amazon gift card. Be sure to leave your email address with your comment so that I will know how to contact you should your name be selected. Click HERE for the links to 300 or so other blogs that are also doing book-related giveaways. All contests begin at midnight Eastern time tonight; any entries received prior to that time will not be included in the drawing.

And while you're at it, click HERE for the opportunity to win a copy of My Memories Suite 2 digital scrapbooking software. This contest also closes at midnight on September 7th.

Good luck and happy blog hopping!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Memories Suite 2/Free Software Giveaway

I have long been a big fan of paper scrapbooking. Although I have done a better job of collecting supplies than actually scrapbooking, I have made memory albums for my brothers and completed a few pages for myself.

But I have also considered trying my hand at digital scrapbooking. My mom has a program she uses to make digital greeting cards, which are highly anticipated among my family members; I thought I might like to do something similar. I have also considered making digital calendars for holiday gifts, or even digital photo albums for my high-tech sons.

So I was delighted when the folks from My Memories Suite 2 contacted me and asked me to review their latest digital scrapbooking software. While I was at the Scrapbook Cabin, I spent a very pleasant afternoon creating an album for my family chronicling our 2010 Christmas celebration. Here are a few of the pages I created.

This software is so easy to use. It comes loaded with a great collection of papers, embellishments and templates; to add photos, you simply click and drag. Using the auto-fill feature, one can complete an entire album in a matter of minutes; I wanted more control than that, so I selected a template and added my photos manually. But in just a couple of hours, I was able to complete and journal a fifteen-page album. Many more papers, embellishments and templates are available on the My Memories Suite 2 website; many are free, but all are inexpensive. This video provides a great overview of some of the features of the program.

Now that I have taken the plunge, I have lots of ideas for future projects. Digital scrapbooking won't replace paper scrapbooking in my life, but it will definitely take a special seat alongside it.

Now for the exciting news: My Memories Suite 2 is GIVING AWAY a copy of their product - which retails for $39.97 - to one lucky reader. To qualify for a chance to win, simply follow my blog, then visit the My Memories 2 website, choose your favorite paper pack or layout, and leave a comment at the end of this post telling me which one you chose and why. If you're already a follower, just mention that along with your comment. This contest will close at midnight on Wednesday, September 7th.

But if you don't win and you want to try My Memories Suite 2 - and I hope you will! - as a member of their affiliate program, I can offer you a coupon that will give you a $10 discount off your purchase price AND a $10 off coupon for the store - that's a $20 value! To take advantage of this great opportunity, simply click HERE and use the coupon code STMMMS12846 when you check out.

* * *

DISCLOSURE: I received a free copy of the My Memories 2 software for review, but was under no obligation to say anything specific about it; this review was solely at my discretion.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Scrapbook Cabin

I am spending the weekend at the Scrapbook Cabin, nestled in the mountains of Ellijay, Georgia. I arrived just in time for dinner tonight and am finally getting ready to settle in and work on some pages.

Jennifer is in charge of the margaritas.
I am sure I will have many tales to tell by the end of the retreat. But I may not be able to blog about them. After all, there are rules to follow here.

I'll be back on Sunday. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mr. Right?

Tuesday night, weary from a long day of teaching, I trudged into my bedroom, looking forward to nothing more than changing into my pajamas and curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Instead, I found a strange man in my bed.

I threw back the covers to get a better look.

Yep, you guessed it. Meet Mr. Mandolin Man!

Like most of my previous boyfriends, he is beginning to show his age. He is one string short of a set and has a screw loose here and there. But I will do what I can to help him be the best he can be.

I adore him already. Thanks to my sons, Casey and Nathan, for bringing him into my life!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Virtual Smorgasbord

Maybe I'll fall in love with a chef...
Today I'm blogging over at WritersLiPP about some of my favorite food memories. Earlier this week Megan Stanish shared her recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce and Lindy Chaffin Start offered her take on classic cobbler. Also, in the archives at Between Birthdays you can find the latest addition to my breakfast collection, apple streusel coffee cake. Just click on the red links and let the drooling commence. Let me know what you think!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Georgia Romance Writers: Haywood Smith

A friend is one who believes in you when you have ceased to believe in yourself.
~ Unknown

New York Times Bestseller Haywood Smith has long been one of my favorite authors. Heck, I read The Red Hat Club and Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch back before I seriously considered writing fiction of my own. So I was delighted when a friend who knew I was taking an online writing class emailed me to let me know that Haywood would be speaking at a local indie bookstore back in the summer of 2009. The next thing I knew, I was seated in the coffee shop at Books For Less in Buford, Georgia, soaking up every word this wise, witty woman had to say about her personal journey as well as what it takes to tell a great story. She shared resources she had developed for writing workshops she teaches and told us about a group called Georgia Romance Writers that had provided her with invaluable support back when she was first starting out. I went to my first GRW meeting just a few weeks later, on my 50th birthday. The rest, as they say, is history.

Flash forward to this past Saturday, when I attended GRW's monthly meeting in Decatur, Georgia featuring none other than Haywood Smith. My critique partner, Lindy; my Petit Fours and Hot Tamales blog sisters; friends from Twitter and Facebook; even a few people I had never met before - lined up to give me a hug and a few words of advice and encouragement on the heels of my disappointing critique results. I have never felt so much love in one room before. Sandy Elzie gave me a Hostess cupcake with a bright red candle for my birthday; Bee Snow gave me a couple of pocketbook-sized notepads and pens tied in bright ribbon, party favors from a writing event I had to miss. And then Haywood shared her thoughts on How To Take Your Book From Flat To Fabulous. She made it sound so simple. I thought, "I can do this."

In her introduction, she mentioned that GRW is the most supportive professional organization she has ever been a part of. I have to agree. If it weren't for GRW, I would have given up on this crazy notion of writing a book long ago - most recently a week ago. But look at all I would have missed out on.

Thank you, Haywood. Thank you, GRW pals. Thank you, loyal readers. Thank you all for believing in me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Funday

After all the challenges of the past week, I was sorely in need of rest, relaxation and inspiration and I got all three this weekend. I have already blogged about some of my experiences on Between Birthdays. I also made a "Twist and Tangle Pendant."

It started out with a 23mm Swarovski crystal button, sterling silver wire, and some seed beads.

Then I spent several happy hours wire wrapping an assortment of beads until the button was surrounded and the frame was covered.

I have a penchant for pattern and symmetry, so this project was challenging at first. But I forced myself to let go and gradually reached the point that I found the process to be very relaxing. I focused on the sparkle of each individual bead as I strung it on the wire and slowly began to appreciate the chaotic beauty of the emerging design. It was very freeing. I am already planning my next pendant.

Finally, I heard the witty and wise Haywood Smith speak at the monthly meeting of the Georgia Romance Writers yesterday morning. I will share more about that tomorrow. 

I hope you got what you needed this weekend, too!

Friday, August 19, 2011


Today I showed my "Gutsy" attitude at Writers Li.P.P. and shared the afternoon's adventures at Between Birthdays. Now I'm in my jammies, getting ready to curl up with a glass of wine and a pile of books and read until I can't keep my eyes open.

These are the books stacked next to my bed, in various stages of completion.

A Garden in the Rain by Lynn Kurland
The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff
The Restless Heart by Ronald Rolheiser
Ladies of the Lake by Haywood Smith
Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell
Persuasion by Jane Austen
A String of Expression by June Roman

This doesn't, of course, include the half-finished books on my Kindle. I know it sounds like I have some  serious ADD, but I have read this way as long as I can remember. I love jumping back and forth between fiction and nonfiction, the old and the new, prose and pretty pictures. The downside is that it seems to take me a long time to finish a book. Except I usually finish several at about the same time.

I plan to spend a lot of time reading during this brief hiatus from fiction writing. I honestly can't think of a better way to fill my creative well, and I have no doubt that my work will be better as a result.

What are you reading this weekend?

It ain't over yet

Thanks to everyone who responded to my post on Tuesday. The outpouring of love and support I received was positively overwhelming. Based on everybody's advice, I can see that my thoughts about throwing in the towel were perhaps a wee bit premature. Regardless, I feel the need to take a couple of steps back from my novel writing. I am going to set this manuscript aside for a while, dig into my stack of books on craft, read some great fiction and try to figure out exactly what makes it great, go to the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference, and then start a new project. You can be sure I will participate in National Novel Writing Month again, as well. In the meantime, since I am most comfortable writing nonfiction, I am going to explore opportunities there. It's all good.

Ever since my lovely birthday celebration and my creation of a vision board, I have felt that I have been under some sort of spiritual attack. And I will admit to feeling pretty down and out for a while. This time last night I was on the verge of breaking. What a difference twenty-four hours can make. At this point I am determined to take all the negatives and turn them into one great big shining positive. The middle-aged female version of Gutsy Smurf.

I am going to leave you with a video sent to me by my wonderful friend S.M. Carriere. It made me cry. In a good way.

What would I do without all of you?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dear Jimmy

May 16, 1981
l-r: my brother Jimmy, Me, my brother Eric, my beautiful mother
Today my younger brother Jimmy, Jr. would have turned 50. Instead, he died in an auto accident on a hot July night when he was only 19. The snapshot above was taken the last time I saw him, the day I graduated with my bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. What a bittersweet memory. I miss him like it was yesterday.

Crisis of Confidence

A personalized mug does not a writer make.
A few weeks ago, I entered my first writing contest. I found out a few days ago I didn't final. I cried; even though I knew this manuscript wasn't good enough to win anything, I was strangely disappointed. Well, today I received the critiques from the two published authors who judged my work. All I can say is I am grateful they didn't come yesterday, on my birthday. I thought I couldn't feel any worse; I was definitely wrong.

The first critique wasn't actually terrible. The judge made a few minor corrections to my manuscript and added the following summary:

"I like your voice and style, but feel the story itself needs punching...Try re-arranging the scenes to up the pacing. Good job, and I’d like to read more."

This made perfect sense to me. I write women's fiction; my work is more about character development and less about plot. This isn't the first time I have been told my story is too quiet. At least there was something positive said about my "voice" and my "style." And she said she would like to read more! There is always room for improvement, right?

The second critique, though, has nearly undone any hope I ever had of becoming a novelist. My manuscript was peppered with red marks; it looked like an "F" paper submitted by a high school student. She criticized secondary characters ("I'm sorry, but this guy is more cartoon character than a serious date") as well as my heroine ("This woman is not sane, in my opinion.") The thing is, I actually went out on a date with the character I described, and responded to him exactly like my heroine did. I guess it's obvious what that says about me. Also, along with all the red marks there were several "LOL"'s. I don't know about you, but I find it hurtful when someone laughs out loud at my best work.

Some of the criticisms were valid. I tend get stuck in my characters' heads; I need to work on setting and sensory perception. But along with that, there were numerous questions asked that careful reading would have answered. For example, several pages into the manuscript, I was taken to task for including my heroine's young son in a scene when I hadn't introduced him previously. Except I HAD introduced him. Twice. I was also criticized for including a synopsis, which was a requirement for the contest.

There were literally no positive comments made. This bothered me because I am a sought-after judge for piano events and I think this is at least partly because I can ALWAYS find something positive to say about student performances. But my judge's conclusion? "I don't mean to sound discouraging...Rewrite and try again."

Sigh. These 25 pages have already been gone over by two published authors and rewritten. FOUR times. And rejected  by two literary agents.

Taken literally, this means I have wasted two years of my life writing and rewriting the 55,000 words I have completed on this novel so far. I am honestly beginning to think it is time to let go of my dream of writing a novel and stick to what I know. Writing nonfiction.

Because the truth is I am just keeping my head above water financially. Piano teaching is barely paying my monthly bills and I have credit card debt on top of that. Maybe it's time to take these hours I spend trying to figure out the craft of fiction writing and invest them in building a freelance career. Copy editing. Writing magazine or newspaper articles. Managing social media. Anything that would earn me a dollar or two.

Then maybe someday when I can afford the luxury of "free" time again, I can return to fiction writing again. Just for fun.

These are tumultuous times. Is there any reason I should hold on?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Birthday To Me!!

Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest.
~Larry Lorenzoni

* * * * *

I had a wonderful weekend. My friend Pat flew in from Hood River, Oregon on Thursday to help me celebrate my birthday. 

We did it all. We ate Mexican food; we went shopping; I had my hair done; we got pedicures. Then we put on our  pretty dresses and went out to dinner at Ippolitos Saturday night with some of the rest of my favorite people in the whole world, and followed that up with cake and ice cream and presents at my house. I felt like a princess.

The party continued today; I had to drop Pat off at the airport this morning and be back home in time to teach a full load of students this afternoon, but it was fun to watch each face light up when I revealed that today was my birthday. One family even surprised me with fresh flowers and a soy chai latte and gift card from Starbucks.

As a matter of fact, this birthday has been so much fun that I have decided to continue the celebration until my next one rolls around. Please stop by my new blog, Between Birthdays, to find out more. 

This post concludes with a video of Victor Borge playing Happy Birthday in the style of various classical composers. As the kids say, ROFLOL! Thanks, Theresa, for sharing this with me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The pillows are finished...

... well, three of them, anyway.

Nathan has to catch the school bus at 6:14 and this getting up at 5:30 every morning is starting to wear on me. Especially since my habit is to stay up until midnight or later.

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night; 
But ah, my foes and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay, A Few Figs From Thistles, 1920

I am looking forward to the weekend and sleeping in a little - and spending time with my friend Pat, who is coming to visit from Hood River, Oregon to help me celebrate my birthday on Saturday. In the meantime, I've got frogs to eat. And today three of those frogs look a lot like those pillows in the picture.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I will survive

Monday was one of those days. On the heels of my trip to Mt. Carmel, in a rush to get my piano studio in a state of readiness by the time my first student showed up at one o'clock in the afternoon, I despaired as everything around me seemed to fall apart right before my eyes.

The refrigerator door was left standing open overnight so when I woke up everything inside was at room temperature. My printer ran out of toner cartridge. The vacuum cleaner wouldn't pick up. My toilet tank lever snapped in two. 

The good news is everything is back to normal by now. And I know how to do a few things I didn't know how to do before. Like replace a vacuum cleaner belt and a toilet tank lever. These are valuable skills for a single woman to have. It wasn't easy dealing with the unexpected. But I am grateful for the lessons learned.

By today's end, I was ready for some chocolate. Click HERE for my ninety-second chocolate mug brownie recipe. You won't be sorry!

What do you do to reward yourself at the end of a long, challenging day?

* * * * *

#ROW80 update: I am still plugging away on my novel manuscript, writing a minimum of 500 words a day, but I just can't commit to more than that at this point in time. So I am extending my deadline until August 31st, hoping that James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure will help me work through a few problems I am having. How are the rest of you doing?

Monday, August 8, 2011

High school: the mouse race to prepare you for the rat race.

I've been going through old pictures this summer and, as a result, feeling the need to reconnect with people from the past. "Ag Days," an annual celebration that takes place in my hometown of Mt. Carmel, Illinois (population 8000), gave me the excuse I needed.

I had hoped to drive up on Thursday but Nathan had to be at school Friday morning to pick up his class schedule and meet his homeroom teacher, so it was almost lunchtime Friday by the time we actually got on the road. Everything that could go wrong did; I made a wrong turn in Canton, drove through a thunderstorm the other side of Chattanooga, missed my road in Nashville, then crawled through rush hour traffic there. But we finally arrived at our hotel, the luxurious Super 8, around 8PM. This was the view from our window.

Almost like being at the beach. Except the ocean is made of corn.
We spent a lot of time with my parents.

We feasted on fried chicken and cucumber salad and peach pie with ice cream - summertime delights. I caught Mom and Dad up on family happenings and they filled me in on hometown gossip. For example, I found out that my former high school band director is now the mayor. Who could have predicted that?

Saturday we went to the local Mexican restaurant for lunch. I had sent out a blanket invitation to all my Facebook friends, received a handful of RSVP's, and wondered who else might show up. We ended up with a table for eight.

l-r: Debbie, Carol, Mary, Kim, Jon, Julee, Pam (Nathan took the picture)
Debbie was valedictorian of my high school class. Carol sat next to me most mornings on the school bus. Mary has become one of my best online pals and had said she would be at Tequilas if she had to crawl. Kim graduated with my younger brother Jim so we shared a moment missing him. I had a mad crush on Jon junior year. Julee came to my my wedding and is also a writer and a beading fanatic. 

We were all connected with band in some form or another so we had music in common, too. There was a great energy in this little group. Our outward appearances have changed a little bit and we have done some living in the almost 35 years since graduation, but we are still the same people on the inside and it was surprisingly easy to be together. It was great to reminisce about the past, share our high school experiences, and relate to each other as adults.

Nathan and I never made it to the Ag Days celebration, but we hardly missed it. In the meantime, I intend to plan another Tequilas reunion the next time I am in town, only I hope to fill up the restaurant next time. Who says you can never go home again?

* * * * * 

Please stop by Petit Fours and Hot Tamales on Tuesday, where I will blog about 17 Things I Wish I'd Known in High School, and I'll see you back here again on Wednesday.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Getting Jiggy With It

I stepped outside my comfort zone again today.
African Trade Bead Bracelet

Inspired by this tutorial, I used an odd assortment of African Krobo beads/African trade beads/African Christmas beads* I had collected to make a bracelet. It is a departure from my usual style and was a lot of fun to create. I love wearing it!

Africa is calling me...

I spent the rest of the day organizing my beading and sewing supplies and getting my piano studio ready for the new school year, which starts Monday. What happened to summer vacation? When I was a kid, we got out of school before Memorial Day and we didn't return until after Labor Day. What is this world coming to?

My birthday is just a few days away, and I am germinating the seed of an idea for a project I plan to launch on August 15th. Stay tuned!

*The term "trade beads" refers to beads used in place of currency. In Africa, trade beads were used by Europeans to trade with the native people for slaves, services and local goods. Most were produced in Venice; others came from Holland and Bohemia. Christmas beads - sometimes called "peace beads" or "love beads" - date as far back as the mid-nineteenth century and are Czech-made. Imported from Ghana, they symbolize peace and goodwill. Solid and striped, opaque and translucent, crafted from glass or plastic, some of these beads have tiny imperfections, which add to their charm.

Pillow Talk

I made a pillow today.

It doesn't look like much. But this was the first sewing project I have attempted in a long time. I'm not altogether happy with it, lumpy as it is, the result of attempting to recycle the stuffing from the old pillows. So first chance I get, I'm going to pick up some pillow forms, redo this little guy, and make one more just like him. Then I'm going to do two in turquoise, two in a smashing print, and use the print to make a little window valance. When everything is finished, I will post another picture.

It felt good to sit at the sewing machine again. I used to sew a lot. I was 22 or 23 when I took my first sewing class back in Peoria, Illinois - Stretch and Sew, anybody else remember that? - and soon after that I bought my first Bernina sewing machine. We moved to Raleigh a couple of years later, and during the hiatus from piano teaching, I got a job in a chain fabric store. I hated working there - hated the red apron I had to wear, hated the erratic schedule, hated the condescending behavior of management - but the retail experience helped me get my foot in the door of the local Bernina shop a few months later. My boss there was great; she made sure I received extensive training in the workings of all the sewing machines, allowed me to use my generous employee discount to upgrade to a top-of-the-line model and purchase a serger, and exposed me to many new sewing techniques: English smocking, heirloom sewing, machine applique and embroidery, quilting. It wasn't long before I started teaching classes myself.

I made clothes for myself and gifts for family and friends and, later, clothing for my kids. When I was pregnant with my first child, I sewed most of my maternity wear

and bought yards and yards of blue and white calico and made a crib set and matching curtains for the nursery.

I even made two smocked baby gowns - a white one with flowers in case I had a girl, a blue one in case I had a boy.

I never got to use the white one. But I still have it. Maybe a granddaughter will wear it one day.
As my children grew up, I made clothing for them, too. I especially enjoyed sewing fancy outfits for pictures and special occasions.

And Halloween costumes were a lot of fun.

Josh and Casey
But by the time Nathan came along, I had started home schooling and sewing necessarily became less of a priority. Mostly I did small machine quilting projects and made Christmas presents. One year I even managed to sew matching jammies for the boys to wear on Christmas Eve.

Josh and Casey
After my divorce, though, sewing really fell by the wayside. I had good intentions; I even set the sewing machine up in a corner of my bedroom. But hemming jeans and stitching patches on Cub Scout uniforms was about as good as it got. Finally, I decided the space could be put to better use, and I packed everything away and almost forgot I had it - until last spring, when something compelled me to paint my piano studio purple and turn part of it into a creative space for myself.

Mostly I have been beading. But when my sofa pillows started to disintegrate and I saw the price of new pillows - and couldn't find anything I liked, anyway - I decided it was time to start sewing again. I found the perfect fabric, fifty percent off, dug my notions out of storage, and set to work. I was afraid I might not remember how to thread the machine, but really it was like riding a bicycle. Although I don't recall what some of my tools and supplies are used for, maybe that will come back to me too, as I sort through fabric and patterns purchased long ago. I have some really great stuff.

I am already planning my next project: a pair of monkey print flannel pajamas. With the heat advisory here - and no end in sight - I guess I can take my time on those.

Have you ever had the experience of returning to a hobby after a long time away from it? What was that like for you?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Please click HERE for the Back to the Books Giveaway Blog Hop! I apologize that the linky tool didn't get you there! 

* * * * *

No, I'm not talking about housework. I do powerful little of that these days. I'm referring to tying up loose ends.

HA! That reminds me of macrame. I've been tying knots in nylon cord and leather to make bracelets recently. Uh-oh - I'd better get off that track, or this post will never get finished because an idea will pop into my head and the next thing you know I'll be downstairs at my beading table instead of BICHOK.*

Loose End #1: My ROW80 update.
I'm behind. Sadly, woefully behind. But I'm writing 500 words a day on a bad day; that ain't too shabby. And if I do a couple of marathon sessions, my novel STILL might be finished before my birthday. At this point in time, all I can do is the best I can do. AT LEAST 500 words a day.

Loose End #2: Lose it! 
In two weeks, I've lost 2.4 pounds and earned the Exercise Buff badge for exercising at least three times each week (it was actually four). Yay, me!

Loose End #3: Eat That Frog!
I am still very much engaged, eating lots of frogs every day - accomplishing more than I would have ever thought humanly possible, yet still falling short of my goals. But like my friend Jennifer said, this diet seems to agree with me, so I am sticking with it.

* * *

Today was a tough one; it started with a fight with the bank (I lost) and ended taking Nathan to the emergency clinic with a broken toe. In between, I beaded like crazy, cut out fabric for the first sewing project I have done in years, and wrote a blog post for Writers LiPP that will appear on Wednesday. I hope you will read it because it is a real reflection of what I see when I look in the mirror these days.

* * *

I'm going to end this post with my theme song. There are a few lines that don't quite fit - for example, I do not smoke cigarettes - but for the most part I can totally relate. "What it all comes down to is that I haven't got it all figured out just yet. I've got one hand in my pocket and the other one's playing the piano."

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

*butt in chair, hands on keyboard

Monday, August 1, 2011

Where did the summer go?

My friend Pat sent me a link to a wonderful article called Increase Your Intelligence: Five ways to maximize your cognitive potential. I encourage you to click HERE and read the whole thing; it's well worth the effort. But in case you don't, here's the condensed version:

1. Seek novelty.
2. Challenge yourself
3. Think creatively.
4. Do things the hard way.
5. Network.

That's my life in a nutshell.

* * * * *

This is the last week of my summer vacation - yep, school starts here in Gwinnett County, Georgia on Monday, August 8th - so I am scrambling to complete the absolute essential items on my summer to-do list, like organizing my piano studio/putting together all the back-to-school paperwork and giving my sorely neglected house a deep cleaning. The rest will have to wait until who knows when. I am also beading like crazy - I took a couple of classes recently, and become so obsessed experimenting with the techniques I learned that I missed a few days of writing altogether, so my word count is significantly under where I hoped it would be at this point in time. But I am giving myself credit for writing anytime I manage to eke out at least 500 words, and I have over 100 items for sale in my Etsy store to show for the beadapalooza. I hope I don't sound defensive when I say I am doing the very best I can.

As always, I am struggling to maintain balance. And I know it's going to be even harder next week when I resume full-time teaching. But I developed a checklist to help me keep track of tasks completed in all the areas that are important to me; I might miss an item or two one day, but I try to never let the same activity slide two days in a row. It's the best system I've been able to come up with; maybe it's as close to maintaining balance I'm going to get in this complicated life I lead. If you'd like to see my checklist, just ask and I will email you a copy; it would be easy to edit to include YOUR most important tasks.

What are your end-of-summer goals?