Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fighting Fear, One Irish Tune at a Time

Panic at the thought of doing a thing is a challenge to do it.  
~Henry S. Haskins
Kathleen Boyle and Pam Asberry
Last Sunday I had the privilege of spending an hour exploring Irish piano melody with Glasgow based musician Kathleen Boyle. In town for a house concert along with GrĂ¡inne Murphy & Mirella Murray, Kathleen made herself available as a teacher prior to her performance. I am so glad I took advantage of the opportunity.

I almost didn't. Initially, I registered for a group workshop. But due to a shortage of participants--the entire event materialized on very short notice--a private lesson became the only option. I was terrified. Classically trained, I read music well and can play just about anything you might set on the music rack in front of me. But learning and harmonizing music by ear is an entirely different animal. And the thought of doing it with a world renowned Irish musician privy to my struggles made my heart pound and my palms sweat.

Still, I agreed to a one o'clock time slot. Sunday morning, though, our hostess emailed me and asked if she could change my lesson time to three o'clock. Since that would affect other plans I had made for the day, I was relieved to have an excuse to bail out. "Let's just skip my lesson," I volunteered. But my friend didn't let me off the hook so easily. "Come on at one," she said. "We'll make it work." The truth was that three o'clock wasn't really a problem for me. "Okay, okay; I'll see you at three," I caved, filled with fear and trepidation. My only solace was the knowledge that my suffering would last only an hour.

It turned out all my worries were for nothing. Kathleen was warm and encouraging; she taught me a simple tune, George Brabazon, by ear, then showed me how to harmonize it. It was a thrill for me to play the finished piece on the piano while she accompanied me on the accordion.

The concert that evening was delightful, too, and afterwards I stuck around for the session. What fun it was to pull out my whistle and play a handful of tunes with the likes of Kathleen, Grainne, and Mirella, as well as the many accomplished area musicians who joined in.
Kathleen at the piano, Grainne on fiddle, Mirella on accordion, me in the green sweater.
As a result of this rich experience, I am more motivated than ever to develop my ability to play piano by ear as well as to develop a vast repertoire of tunes on the whistle and the mandolin and participate in local sessions on a regular basis. Most important, I am reminded to face down my fears whenever they try to keep my down. I am stronger than they are. I'm not going to let them keep me from my dreams.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Digging Deep

I had a blast last Saturday at the January meeting of the Georgia Romance Writers.

For the first time ever, I saw my name on the cover of a paperbound book, the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales romance anthology Seasons and Seashells. I was practically jumping up and down when our editor Linsey Lanier delivered the box with the copies I had ordered. You can get your own at Amazon for just $5.45!
A couple of friends even asked me to sign autographs on their personal copies. That was a first, too. What a thrill!

I also wrangled signed copies of new releases from a couple of my favorite GRW authors: Out of Warranty by Haywood Smith and Hot-Shot Doc Comes to Town by Susan Carlisle.
Haywood Smith and Pam Asberry
 And I heard a great presentation by Nancy Northcott, author of The Protector Series. Her topic was Staying On Track: Ways to Chart a Career Goal and Stay Focused, a perfect choice for the first meeting of the New Year. One of her suggestions was to review your progress at the end of each month and own the choices you make. It doesn't matter how many goals you set if you consistently let things stand in your way of meeting them. This really hit home for me.

I made a Herculean effort the end of November to finish my NaNoWriMo project and I succeeded. Exhausted, I gave myself permission to take the month of December off and enjoy the holidays with my family. Well, the holidays are over. It's time to stop making excuses.

My work-in-progress The Wishing Box has been reviewed by several published authors. Common wisdom dictates that if one critic says something negative about your work, it might be simply a matter of opinion. But if two people say the same thing, it might be something worth examining. To put it bluntly, my story needs some serious revision. Especially considering that, following the response to my short story "Last First Date" in Seasons and Seashells, I have decided to transform The Wishing Box into a romance novel.

 The last published author who reviewed my manuscript recommend that I read Break Into Fiction. I already owned the book; I bought a signed copy from the authors at a workshop a couple of years ago. I don't think I was far enough into the writing process to understand it at the time, but when I pulled it out the first week of January, I couldn't stop reading until I reached the end. 
This morning, I spent a couple of hours transferring all the templates contained in the book into a Microsoft Word document. For the next few days, I will spend my writing time filling in the templates, plotting and scheming. Then I will be ready to begin my (hopefully) final incarnation of The Wishing Box, using what I can from the previous version and adding new material as needed. My short-term goal is to have the first twenty-five pages ready to submit for GRW's Virginia Ellis Workshop before the February 17th deadline. It won't be easy, but I'm ready to dig deeper than I ever have before and write the best darn novel I am capable of.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Word for 2013: AUTHENTIC

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

We are three weeks into the New Year already, and it's taken me this much time to decide upon my word for 2013.


From this moment forward, every decision I make is true to who I am, to what I love, to where I see myself one/five/ten years from now.

How do I spend my money?
What food and drink do I put into my body?
How do I spend my days?
How do I interact with others?

This is easier said than done. Constant effort is required to keep those wheels from falling back into the deep ruts worn over many years of living. The biggest battle is with myself, as I attempt to break free of the confines of the many roles that have defined me so narrowly. And too often I remain silent in the face of controversy, keeping my true self hidden, allowing others to assume things about me that may or may not be true. Somehow, I must find a way to celebrate who I am while giving myself permission to be much, much more.

Similarly, I want to give everyone I come in contact with the opportunity to be their own authentic selves. Whether I'm having a conversation with a friend, teaching a piano lesson, or dealing with an angry driver on the road, my goal is to assume nothing, to expect nothing, to meet each individual with openness and acceptance and love--even when it seems they don't deserve it.

This is my quest.

What is your word for 2013?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dreaming of Books Giveaway Blog Hop

Today I am blogging over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales, asking myself if I am doing what I truly love. Click HERE to read the post; leave a comment at the end for a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card.

I am also participating in the Dreaming of Books Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Reviews By Martha's Bookshelf. This hop is scheduled to run January 18th-24th . 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 a little bit about the last book you read: title, author, and a brief synopsis. 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) or friend me on Goodreads (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 the 150+ other blogs that are also doing book-related giveaways. All contests begin at midnight Eastern time tonight (Thursday); any entries received prior to that time will not be included in the drawing.

Thanks for joining the fun!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

EXHALE by Kendall Grey

Story blurb:

The man of Zoe Morgan's dreams isn't only real, he's interested. In her. But her boss wants her too, and is leveraging his unsolicited advances with the threat of blocking the huge promotion she's after. When he places a spy on her research team, the intense stranger discovers more than he should, and Zoe fears hiding a relationship with Gavin Cassidy from her boss is the least of her worries. The whale she must protect has been marked for death, and Zoe's old enemy Scarlet is eager to deliver the killing blow. To both of them.

Australia's Sentinels must find and lock the door into the Dreaming before Fyre Elementals launch another attack on innocent dreamers. But corruption and distrust abound, and Gavin believes someone on the Sentinel council is in league with the Fyres. As he reluctantly embraces his new role as council leader, Gavin must not only keep Zoe safe from Scarlet's vengeful clutches, but organize a Sentinel defense strong enough to prevent a full-blown Elemental war--with a traitor fighting by his side.

Picking up where Inhale left off, Exhale takes us deeper into the story. We learn more about Zoe's and Gavin's pasts, the events that made them who they are and make it so difficult for them to be together in the present. For me, the characters become more multi-dimensional--more flawed and more human, yes, but also more realistic and sympathetic. And now they are together not just in the dreaming but also in the Realis, and the dangers they face as they attempt to keep the Wyldlings safe AND protect the whale that has been marked for death are almost overwhelming. The twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat until you turn that last page, leaving you desperate for book three of the trilogy. And guess what? You don't have to wait!

That's right! Just Breathe is hot off the metaphorical presses and available for your favorite e-reader!


Barnes & Noble

Here's a teaser:

After a terrible accident rocks the foundation of their relationship, Australian Sentinel Gavin Cassidy and whale biologist Zoe Morgan call it quits. Gavin can’t forgive himself for shattering her trust, and being with the sexy rock star is killing Zoe. Literally.

But love—and duty—are powerful motivators, and alliances are forged in the most unlikely places. With the key to salvation locked inside the mind of an unconscious child, Gavin must find another way to snuff out the Fyre Elementals before millions of humans die, or make good on his deal with the devil and lose the one he loves. Again.

Come back on February 6th when Sometimes It's Cloudy, Sometimes It's Clear joins Kendall Grey's blog tour for Just Breathe. In the meantime, click HERE for more information about the blog tour. And click HERE for more information about the entire trilogy. Happy reading!

*NOTE: This series is intended for readers over the age of 18. Author Kendall Grey will donate all profits from the sale of the JUST BREATHE trilogy to programs that educate people about whales and the challenges they face.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

December Projects

I love giving (and receiving) handmade gifts. And I went all-out for Christmas 2012. I was all I could do not to share these with you back in December, but since the intended recipients of these items also read my blog, I decided it would be best to wait until after the holidays. 

I gave my niece a pair of sterling silver garnet Swarovski bicone earrings.

January birthstone.
I made beaded holiday serving sets for seven members of the extended family of which I am an honorary member. 

Following this tutorial, I made Words With Friends inspired pillows for my little brother, my most formidable opponent.

His name is Eric. His wife's name is SeDonna. Get it? "E" and "S."
And I knitted a scarf for another special guy in my life.

Loops & Threads Cozy Wool in Sapphire. The same color as his eyes. 5'2" long. Same as me.
The Pattern: Cast on 24 stitches. Row 1: Knit 3, purl 3. Row 2: Knit 1, purl 1. Repeat rows 1 and 2 until desired length.
Another knitting project is still in progress, but if I have frogged it and started it over so many times that I should have finished it at least twice. I don't want to reveal too much, but let's just say that by the time I get this one ready to give this one away, I should be an expert at knitting with double pointed needles.

Did you give (or receive) any special handmade gifts for Christmas? Are you working on any cool projects right now?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Over Too Soon

I started out strong last week: eating healthy, exercising every day, reading, writing, blogging, beading, knitting. Heck, I was even washing my face and brushing (and flossing) before bedtime. Then I got slam-dunked by The Plague, aka The Common Cold, and all bets were off. I spent mornings sleeping and afternoons battling congestion, coughing and sneezing while trying to work, my hands raw from using antibacterial sanitizer so as not to pass the germs on to my piano students. Exhausted at the end of the day, I ate chicken soup and drink hot tea, dozing in front of the television, unable to sleep until the nighttime cold medications finally kicked in and knocked me out.

I spent this past weekend doing little besides eating and sleeping. Finally, this morning I woke up able to breathe through my nose and boy, howdy, I will never take that for granted again. And grateful to be feeling like myself again, I began to push myself back into my daily routines, anxious about the time I had "lost." Feeling guilty that I missed running a 5K I had signed up for yesterday. Stressing about about the lack of progress on my novel rewrite. Beating myself up because I'm going to have to put this quarter's estimated taxes on my credit card. Again.

Then a little while ago, I found out that a woman I know from my childhood, a fellow Mt. Carmel, Illinois high school student and band member, is dying of breast cancer. She was very private about the diagnosis so I had no idea anything was amiss until a good friend of hers posted something on Facebook on Friday. Desperate to reach out, I located her older sister on Facebook and sent her a note of inquiry. Tears streamed down my face as I read the truth. Her family is bringing her home from the hospital today hoping that her last days will be more pleasant spent at home. She is beautiful, brilliant, gifted, and loved by many. I told her sister how sorry I am, that I have lost two younger brothers myself, that life isn't fair. I offered her and her family my love and prayers. It's all I have to give.

And once again, I am reminded of how precious is the dawn of every new day--regardless of the weather, regardless of the number of dollars in my bank account, regardless of how much I weigh, regardless of how fast I can run a 5K, regardless of whether or not I am a traditionally published author. I am thinking long and hard about my own life and the legacy I wish to leave behind. I'm not sure what it will look like in the end. But I am sure that I want to live every moment I have on this earth authentically--on purpose, with purpose, in alignment with the desires of my heart. It isn't always easy; life is filled with uncertainty and there are many aspects of it beyond our control. Our bodies betray us; our exes stop paying child support; love comes and love goes. But that's just part of it.

I'm done with striving, with trying to be perfect and worrying about how my life compares with anyone else's or what anybody thinks about me. Because it's all over much too soon. It's as simple as that.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

BUTTERFLY by Sylvester Stephens

From the back cover:

Shante Clemmons (Butterfly) is a mature-looking, fifteen-year-old foster home reject, who is tossed into the street in the middle of the night after being falsely accused of sleeping with her foster care father. She falls asleep behind a well-lit club only to be awakened by a huge intimidating man who offers her a job as a dancer.

Butterfly becomes the most popular dancer in the club until she decides that she is ready to focus on her education. The upset owner of the club demands she make due on an old debt or suffer the consequences. It ends in a physical altercation, and Butterfly flees for her life. As fate would have it, she ends up in the care of her estranged father’s ex-prison cellmate, Dr. Johnny Forrester, who takes Butterfly under his roof to fulfill a promise he made to her father. With much dismay, Butterfly moves into the Forresters’ home. Despite her many obstacles, she is determined to survive her senior year of high school and then go to college...but will she?

Realistically told from the viewpoint of Shante--street slang and all--this is a powerful story. Through no fault of her own, Shante (nicknamed Butterfly) is alone in the world and, after fifteen years of being hurt by those she loves most and taken advantage of by those charged with her care, she is finding it difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. Her luck begins to change when Dr. Johnny Forrester and his wife agree to take her in as a foster child and raise her as their own. They provide her with a comfortable home, the extended family she has always craved, and unconditional love. Still, Shante has a hard time reconciling her past on the streets of Atlanta with her new life as a high school student in the suburbs of Gwinnett County. Will she be able to overcome the habits and friendships that have kept her down and follow a different path, one that might even lead to college and real success in the future? Or will the temptations to revert to her old, familiar ways prove too enticing? Read this book and find out! It will keep you turning pages until the very end. Recommended!

NOTE: I received a copy of this book for FREE from the publisher, Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., in exchange for a written review. There was no expectation that this review be either positive or negative, and I was not given any financial compensation to read the book or write the review. This information is disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 [...] Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Playing with Glass

Since 1975, Doug and Pamela Mayer have been creating architectural glass art in the Atlanta area for spaces near their home and around the world. Together, they form Substantial Lion Glass Studio. Since Doug and Pam are also my good friend Jennifer's father and stepmother, I had the privilege of receiving a behind-the-scenes look at their beautiful home and glass studio in early December.

After sharing a few safety precautions and showing us a few basics, Doug and Pam turned us loose to create our own designs.

Jen stylin' the safety goggles.
I elected to make candle holders from scraps of ocean blue

Blue glass with clear frit for filler.

and pink and green.

As close together as I could manage.
Once the design work was done, Doug and Pam carefully placed our pieces in the kiln for firing.

Doug explained what would take place in the kiln. Making a candleholder is a two-step process. First, the colored glass must be fused to the base glass. Then, the finished piece is placed in a mold so the center can "sag" and create the bottom of the candleholder.

then Pam took us on a tour of the rest of the studio.

Naturally, we weren't able to bring our pieces home with us. But they were worth the wait.

For my bedroom.
For the kitchen.
 This was my first visit to Substantial Lion Glass Studio but I certainly hope it won't be my last. Thanks to Jennifer, Doug and Pam for sharing your love with me.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Snowmen On Parade

The parties are over and the Christmas decorations are packed safely in their boxes. The holidays are nothing but memories and spring break and flip flops are months away. That's where my snowman collection comes in.

First, I throw my blue and white checked snowflake tablecloth on the dining room table. Silver snowflake candles pick up the shiny silver threads in the cloth.

Then the Mitford snowmen go on the buffet

and the Mod Podge snowman candle holder my boys made years ago takes its place on the fireplace mantel.
It seems I have a mouse infestation.
A tin snowman stands guard next to the fireplace


while a jingle bell snowman keeps me company in the kitchen

and another snowman waits patiently to collect our wet mittens.

Let it snow!
You might think they are silly, but my cheerful snowmen do a surprisingly good job of helping ease the transition between the holidays and my regularly scheduled life. Their warm smiles are the best medicine I have found for keeping the winter blues at bay.

Happy winter! Hurry, spring!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Goodbye, 2012. Hello, Shiny New Year.

I have gotten a lot better at living in the moment. Dredging up the pain of the past and worrying about what might be are a literal drag. But I enjoyed reading my New Year's Eve post from last year and I do believe I was onto something. I am very satisfied with all that I accomplished during the year I chose to let go.

WRITING: I attended two major writing conferences, made it to almost every Georgia Romance Writers meeting, joined a writers group, and found a critique partner. I completed two manuscripts and received several requests for partials and one request for a full. And my short story Last First Date was published in an anthology (click HERE). I am closer than ever to achieving my dream of being a traditionally published author.

JEWELRY MAKING: I made 41 sales in my Etsy store, participated in a local craft show, and expanded my offerings into new areas, like stamped jewelry and button jewelry. I am tons of ideas and am excited about adding many new pieces to my shop in the coming months.

MUSIC: I taught my students well, had an article published in the state music teachers newsletter, adjudicated at several area piano competitions and festivals, and played in four piano recitals. Also, I made some improvement on the mandolin and Irish whistle. I am looking forward to speaking at my local piano teachers association meeting in February, meeting with a couple of prospective new students this afternoon, and finding new outlets for performance.

FITNESS: I ran at least a 5K every month, did the Atlanta Peachtree Road Race in July and completed my first half marathon in April. Despite this, I gained six pounds in 2012. Obviously, I need to cut calories and be more disciplined about working out on a daily basis. I intend to live a long and healthy life. It's now or never.

This morning I said goodbye to my eldest son and his girlfriend as they headed out west to seek their fortunes in Los Angeles. This weekend my middle child will pack the rest of his belongings into his car and move them into his new digs in downtown Atlanta. Then my youngest and I will put away the Christmas decorations, give the house a good cleaning, and carry on as a family of two. In the meantime, I am tweaking my daily routines around work and health. But I'm not planning any major changes. All things considered, I feel that I am right where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing in order to meet my most deeply held goals. Looking out twelve months into the distance, I see myself at a fit 115 pounds, going on a book tour with my traditionally published novel, wearing my signature jewelry, and spending weekends hanging out with other musicians playing Irish mandolin and whistle.

What about you? Did you make any New Year's resolutions this year? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2013?