Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

Christmas Day, 2011
I am going to try something different this year. I am not making any New Year's resolutions.

I can't even bear to look at the lists - yes, that's PLURAL - I made last year. Because my three-cornered stool - music, writing, and jewelry making - is holding up reasonably well in spite of everything I didn't accomplish.

WRITING: I achieved PRO status in Romance Writers of America, attended two professional writing conferences, completed The Wishing Box, and entered the Maggies.

MUSIC: I taught my students well, gave a presentation at the state music teacher's conference, performed in four piano recitals, and I'm playing the clarinet (again) and the mandolin (sort of).

JEWELRY MAKING: I made 31 sales in my Etsy store, learned new beading and jewelry-making techniques that are taking my work in new directions, and raised $929 for Beading To Beat Autism.

Looking back, though, I believe this was in spite of and not because of the detailed to-do lists I wrote for myself every morning. Because during the month of December, when I tossed the lists aside and went where life led me every day, I was arguably more productive and definitely less stressed than I had been all year.  Let me explain.

One of the reasons I home schooled my children for so many years was so that we could immerse ourselves in learning. Rather than adhere to an arbitrary schedule - reading from 9-10, math from 10-11, science from 11-12, etc. - we followed our own path. We might spend the entire morning on a nature walk, journaling our discoveries, then cuddle up on the sofa after lunch with a read-aloud and classical music. The next day, we might hit the art museum for a field trip, go out to lunch with friends, and then do a whole weeks' worth of math problems after we got home. That kind of lifestyle might drive some people crazy but it worked well for us, and by the conclusion of each academic year, we always ended up where we needed to be.

I think that's why this month ran so smoothly for me. Yes, I have to show up for my piano students at a specific time every day, and I need to put the hours in if I am ever going to find the success I crave as a writer. But everything else is gravy. And if the daily schedule says it's time to work on French and I am in the middle of a difficult passage of my Mozart piano concerto - well, the truth is I am likely to stop practicing, pull out my laptop, and check out what's going on with my friends on Facebook. That's Resistance, and I've got to find better ways of combatting it. I'm not a lazy bum, so I need to stop treating myself like I am, with the time clock and battering ram. Instead, I must trust myself as a creative individual and learn to follow the leadings of my heart on a daily basis.

That said, I do want to develop better daily routines so that my house will stay cleaner and more orderly and I will be healthier and more fit. Toward those ends, I am officially a FlyBaby - you should see my shiny sink! - and I am renewing my commitment to daily exercise - first thing every morning - and starting the year with a 21-day cleanse. I am convinced that if I can be faithful in these small things, big results will follow.

Also, I plan to follow Hollis Gillespie's advice. In her recent newsletter, she listed Fall In Love as one of the top five most common - and stupidest - New Year's Resolutions. "Really?" she asked. "With another abusive, sex-addicted heartless narcissist?" (Hey, has she been reading my blog?) "How about you take a year off from falling in love this year and spend that time writing your book."

How about it, indeed?

How are you planning herald the arrival of 2012?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Day After Christmas

Congratulations to KATHY MERKEL for being selected as the winner of Joseph Akins' CD A Piano Christmas. And thanks to everyone who participated in the Thankful for the Holidays Blog Hop.

I am having a wonderful holiday, throughly enjoying all the bounty of the season - gifts, food, family and friends. And I have a belated Christmas gift for you, my readers: a sample of my fiction writing! Click HERE to read Chapter 6 of The Undercover Librarian, this year's Petit Fours and Hot Tamales group novel. Leave a comment at the end of my post there for a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card. Leave a comment at the end of this post for another chance to win. And if you want to start at the very beginning of the story, click HERE.

I hope you will have as much fun reading and we did writing. I am looking forward to your feedback!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas To All

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.
~ Joseph Campbell

In some ways, I have enjoyed this holiday season more than any other. 

I have beaded and baked. I have wire wrapped and stamped and dapped. I have written cards and gone to the mall and wrapped gifts and spent time with my boys. I have listened to my students play "Jingle Bells" and tickled the ivories myself and watched all of my favorite Christmas movies. I am looking forward to driving to southern Illinois on Christmas Day and spending the holidays with my parents and my brother and his wife and two of my three children.

A person shouldn't ask for more. So I'm not going to. I am going to revel in what I have - today, right this minute. Naturally, I'm looking ahead the New Year - to resolve or not to resolve? - and what I hope it brings to me. But there is one thing know for sure. In the past few weeks, I have let go of my to-do lists and expectations, and I have been happier - and more productive - than I have ever been before. I can't help but believe that a better life than I could have ever imagined for myself is just a heartbeat away.

I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do What (Only) You Can

Today did not go as expected.

My house is out of control; in my effort to reclaim it, I started deep cleaning the kitchen this morning. But then my 15yo decided he wanted pancakes for breakfast, so I made pancakes and caught up with him while he ate; he has been very scarce since school ended last Friday. I kept trying to return to my chores, but he didn't want me to leave.

So I stayed.

Also, my journaling has been very spotty this month. I was well on my way to catching up when my 24yo stopped by for a visit. I kept trying to return to my writing, but my son had a lot to talk about, from camera equipment to what to buy Grandpa for Christmas.

So we talked.

After he left, I decided I would spend the rest of the day organizing my craft supplies. But then I got a call from a local person needing some jewelry for a last-minute Christmas gift, necessitating a trip to my local bead shop, which happens to be going out of business on Friday. It took some time to say good-bye.

Long story short? I am on my way to getting my beading supplies organized - the sewing, knitting and scrapbooking supplies will have to wait - and I will pick up my journal where I left off tomorrow. But today I took care of the most important things. Like Danielle LaPorte says:

You can only do what ONLY YOU can do.
Do that.
The universe will configure around your very best efforts.

Besides, it's my Christmas vacation.

What is it that only you can do? Can you show up in the moment and let everything else go?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ghosts Of Christmas Past

Josh and Casey
There have been times I have wished that I had spent less money on toys and put more money into college accounts. But right this minute I am happy about every penny I blew to make my children's Christmas wishes come true. Because now they are young adults with grown-up problems and there isn't a darn thing I can do to make any of them go away. At least we have our memories.

Nope. I don't regret a single moment I spent with my boys reading holiday stories, baking Christmas cookies, or doing holiday crafts.  As a matter of fact, I would give a million bucks to have just one of those days back.

Josh, Casey and Nathan, you will not understand the depth of my love for each of you until you have children of your own. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and every good thing in 2012.

And always.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Magic of Christmas

 A storefront on Grand Cayman Island.
Yesterday I bid a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the last of my weekly piano students and kicked my holiday preparations into high gear. I ran out and picked up a few supplies, then stayed up into the wee hours baking cookies and making a couple of gifts. Today I baked more snickerdoodles, put together a batch of peanut butter cookie dough, and wrapped and boxed presents for out of town friends and family. Then I hauled everything to the post office and waited patiently in line until it was my turn. Next time, I'm going to wear a sign saying, "There is nothing liquid, fragile, perishable or hazardous in any of these packages." I bet that poor postal service employee wishes he had a nickel for every time he has asked that question.

I also mailed an envelope filled with checks to Beading To Beat Autism - $919 worth, in fact. Thanks to everyone who participated in this project - to my team who helped me create and sell 300 bracelets, and to everyone who supported us by purchasing our finished products. We believed we could, and we did!

I was hoping I would have the energy to write cards tonight - I actually remembered to buy holiday stamps while I was at the post office - but I don't. I made a pot of chili for dinner and wrote a book review that I was supposed to turn in two weeks ago and I am about used up at this point. I haven't slept much the past two nights and I have been fighting a headache all day. So I probably ought to pay attention to the gentle whisperings of my body, pleading with me go to to bed early for a change.

Because once those cards are in the mail and the house is back in some semblance of order - I'm sure it's been this messy before, but I can't remember when - I am looking forward to being visited by that "Christmas feeling." It's hard to describe it with words, but it's a quiet joy that settles over me for a few fleeting moments every December. I never know when it's going to hit; I might be curled up on the living room sofa reading a holiday book, playing Christmas music on the piano, taking a pan of ginger snaps out of the oven, or stirring grated nutmeg into a glass of eggnog with a peppermint stick. It's one of the best feelings there is, but as soon as I try to hold onto it, it vanishes. Maybe that's part of the magic.

Santa Claus, flying reindeer, snowmen that come to life, snow on December 24th. It just wouldn't be Christmas without the magic. What makes it magical for you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Operation Christmas Tree

Not a creature was stirring...
Our holiday preparations started last Friday, when I dragged Nathan with me to Home Depot to help purchase a fresh cut Christmas tree. The nice folks there bagged our selection and tied it to the top of my car, leaving us with the simple task of carrying it into the house and securing it into our stand, purchased for 75 per cent off at the after-Christmas sales last year.

I kept the tree watered all weekend, hoping to decorate it on Sunday. But somehow the days slipped away from me and I wasn't able to find a moment to put the lights and the star on until this morning.

Tonight after I finished teaching Nathan and I finally got around to hanging the ornaments. So many memories!

Seattle Space Needle. Thanks, Cindy B!
Josh and Casey. I miss those days.
One of our Christmas Craft Day projects from our homeschooling years.
A tag from a Christmas gift I received from one of my very first piano students back in Peoria, Illinois.
An ornament given to me by a piano student just today. Thank you, Hope!
A souvenir from a cruise vacation. Nathan and I agree that this is one of our favorites.
A gift from my dorm-mate. Thanks you, Robbin!
Nathan pointed out that 1979 was a long time ago. I guess it was, but in some ways it really doesn't seem like it.
A beaded ornament created by one of my oldest and dearest friends. She has given my children and me ornaments for Christmas as long as I have known her. Thanks, Cindy J! 
I hope that next year I will be able to see my way clear to spring for a 7-8' tree, because we have so many ornaments there wasn't room to hang them all. Rather than drive ourselves crazy, we stopped even though the second box was only half unpacked. I think you will agree we made the right decision.

I have purchased a few small gifts and made greeting cards, but that is the extent of my holiday preparations otherwise, and quite a departure from the extravagances of years past. But just because I have always done something is not enough reason to continue; as my circumstances change, so does my concept of what is most important. And as I seek to let go of perfectionism in other areas of my life, I am letting go if it here. This year, I choose to focus, one at a time, simply on those activities that bring me comfort and joy. Today, it was the Christmas tree. It's not going to make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but it makes me happy every time I walk by and inhale its woodsy scent and see all the treasures hanging from its boughs. 

Is there anything you can let go of in order to have more time and energy for the most important things?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Something had to give...

It's hard to explain, but something inside me has changed since I returned from my cruise vacation. For the first time since I broke my engagement two years ago, I truly feel like myself again.

I have always maintained that it takes a minimum of two years to recover from the end of a serious relationship, and I have experienced nothing but heartbreak every time I break my self-imposed "two-year rule." So as far as I am concerned, everything that has happened since said broken engagement has been rebound relationships.


And while I'm at it, I am breaking loose from a couple of other ties that have been binding me: Between Birthdays and Writers Li.P.P. There is little to explain, except when something you have created no longer serves you, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to let it go.

At the same time, though, I find myself approaching the New Year with a curious pessimism. While it has been arguably the best December on record so far, filled with lunches and dinners and parties with girlfriends and writer friends and family, all that is behind me now and I am left with long days of soul searching ahead. About my shortcomings as a parent. About my future as a writer. About whether or not I dare to even dream about a romantic relationship with a guy. About the twelve days of Christmas and whether or not I am going to waste another minute of my life making New Year's resolutions that don't get kept.

Because I'm tired of feeling like a failure. I'm healthy and I have big dreams. I'm still hopeful that I'll find a man who can appreciate me and keep up with me; maybe I won't. Regardless, I'm not holding my breath. I'm going to keep seeking my path as a writer and enjoy every precious moment spent with friends and family members. I have much to be thankful for, including each of you who stands by my side every day.

Maybe tomorrow I'll find the strength to put the lights on the Christmas tree.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Going with the seasonal flow

I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
~ Jimmy Dean

Recently, I blogged about my intention to treat my writing like a part-time job. But since I've gotten back from my Thanksgiving vacation, my second job has been beading. I have put in countless hours over the past ten days or so and it has been very satisfying.

First, I had two more beading sessions with my Beading To Beat Autism volunteers. I am happy to report that all 300 of our bracelets are completed and most of them are sold. I hope to wrap up that project this week.

Then my hairdresser invited me to set up a table and sell my jewelry in her shop on Saturday, so I spent every spare moment last week creating a few last-minute items to sell.

It was so much fun I am thinking I would like try renting space at a real craft show or two next year. I enjoy maintaining my Etsy site but when I actually get to interact with my customers it's even better.

I also tried my hand at beaded silverware; I was really pleased with my first attempt.

Although I didn't have time to do anything else before Saturday, I plan to buy an assortment of large serving pieces plates and spreaders and put together some coordinating sets to list in my shop in the next few days.

Anyway, by the time Saturday was over, my house looked like a craft shop had exploded inside it. There were beads and supplies scattered upstairs and downstairs; the kitchen and bathrooms had been sorely neglected, too. I worked all yesterday morning and this morning cleaning up after everybody; by now the main living areas of the house are in reasonably good shape, although everything still needs a good scrubbing. Tomorrow I will tackle my bedroom; I haven't even unpacked the suitcase I took on my cruise Thanksgiving week. Sigh.

But that suitcase has waited patiently for me while I seized so many precious moments--to support a charitable organization with my piano students, to try my hand at a new beading technique, to promote my jewelry design business--and to attend a card making workshop Saturday night

and a tree-trimming party with friends on Sunday evening. And if another opportunity presents itself tomorrow, I have no doubt that suitcase will still be there on Wednesday.

Sometimes you just need to throw the daily schedule out the window, let the dishes pile up, and go where life leads you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So THAT'S what Christmas is all about...

Go ahead and hate me, but I love that local radio station that plays nothing but holiday music between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Anyway, I was listening a couple of mornings ago, and the deejays were entertaining a burning question from a caller. Apparently, this woman had a neighbor with a yard full of Christmas decorations; she said the bright lights were keeping her from sleeping at night, and she was wondering if it would be okay to ask the neighbors to douse the lights.

Every single caller who responded called this woman a "Scrooge" or a "Grinch" and said something along the lines of "seeing the children's faces light up when they see those shiny lights, well, that's what Christmas is all about." One caller even offered to go to K-Mart and buy MORE lights and inflatables to enhance the offending neighbor's display, just to teach the whiner a lesson.

Aren't most children in bed by, say, ten or ten-thirty at night? And just call me silly, but *I* thought the meaning of Christmas had something to do with a virgin birth and "peace on earth, goodwill towards men." I am all for shiny lights and outlandish displays, but is keeping my neighbor awake at night promoting peace or generating goodwill?

What do you think?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thankful for the Holidays Blog Hop

Reviews By Molly and Romancing the Book are hosting the first ever Thankful for the Holidays Blog Hop, and I couldn't resist joining the fun! I am giving away a signed copy of Joseph Akins' wonderful holiday CD, A Piano Christmas. To enter, simply follow my blog and leave your name and email address in a comment at the end of this post. Then click HERE for links to other participating blogs and more chances to win great prizes. This contest will run December 1-25; I will select the winner on Christmas Day using a random number generator. Happy holiday blog hopping, and good luck!