Brrr! Baby, it's COLD outside this week-- at least, it is here in the Midwest where we've dropped into the single digits. It's good weather for staying inside if you can. Of course, sometimes we must venture outside... which makes us all the more grateful to come in out of the cold!
If the bitter temps have you chilled, there are a few things you can do to warm not only your fingers and toes, but also your heart and soul. Are you hip to hygge? Pronounced hoo-ga or hue-guh, this is a Danish concept that gained popularity in the U.S. last year and continues to attract admirers. It's all about cultivating a feeling of coziness and contentment. I especially like it since it encourages you to be present in the moment, engage your senses, and share the love with those around you.
On that note, here are a few ideas for bringing a bit of hygga into your home this winter.
1. Curl up with a good book. Any engaging book will do, but what's cozier than a cozy mystery? Check out A Cozy Experience, a site that celebrates cozy mystery books-- and also points to several other blogs devoted to this genre. Follow the links to discover new books, as well as reviews, recipes, photos, giveaways, and more.
2. Sip some heartwarming spicy tea, such as my daughter's favorite, "Invigorating Tea," by the Chopra Center. (Seriously-- this tea was on her Christmas wish list!)
3. Turn on the oven and bake up something warm, fragrant, and comforting--such as apple muffins! Here's a recipe I like:
Applesauce Nut Muffins
~ Preheat oven to 400 F
~ In a large mixing bowl, beat until smooth:
- 3 Tbsp canola oil
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 egg
~ Stir in:
- 1 cup apple sauce
- 3/4 cup apples, peeled & finely diced
~ In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients:
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup white flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (or more)
~Stir the dry mixture into the applesauce mixture, just until moistened. Do not over mix.
~ Line or spray 12 muffin cups, fill & bake for 15-18 minutes
~ Cool and enjoy!
4. Go old-school and write a real pen-and-paper letter. Did you send holiday cards or letters this year? I wanted to, but I didn't get around to it. However, it's never too late to send a personal note. Wouldn't it be fun to surprise an old friend or beloved relative with an old-fashioned post-delivered letter?
5. Get introspective and write YOURSELF a letter. In other words, pull out that old diary or journal. It's the perfect time for some year-end reflecting and planning. What are your wishes for 2018?
6. Grab a blanket & cozy up on the couch to watch a funny movie or TV show. Laughter is a great way to warm the soul. (One of my family's current favorites is Schitt's Creek. Hilarious!)
Those are just a few ideas. I'm sure you can think of more. In fact, if you have a go-to warm & cozy food, drink, ritual, or treat, please share below!
p.s. All photos by the inimitable Scott Hesse. :)
Happy Holly-Jolly Holidays!
Today is the Winter Solstice, which means it is also Yule—a celebration of light and new beginnings. After the longest night of the year, the sun makes its gradual return. That’s good news indeed!
Since this is the season of giving, I wanted to give something to you. In fact, I have both a Gift and a Giveaway to announce.
First the giveaway:
As you might have seen me mention on Facebook, Karen Owen of “Beyond the Bookmarks” is hosting a month-long Facebook event featuring a host of cozy mystery authors including yours truly. You can pop in anytime for Christmas tidbits, ideas, and conversation. Many of the authors are offering giveaways as well. I plan to give away a copy or two of Yuletide Homicide. (This book would make a great gift, by the way, for Xmas, New Year’s... or any ol' time, really!) Check out the "Booked for the Holidays" Facebook page on December 24th anytime between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., central time, to chat with me and enter my giveaway.
And now for the gift:
I tried to think of something I could share electronically, perhaps something you could print or just enjoy on your computer. And, of course, I wanted it to be something related to the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries. So, I came up with the idea to create a little map of Edindale. It's sort of like a picture postcard featuring select landmarks featured in the first three books in the Wiccan Wheel series. (Though, I also snuck in a place that will be featured in Book #4!)
I had a lot of fun putting this together. In truth, it was hard to stop tinkering with it!
Oh, and to go along with the map, I also created a little quiz to test your memory of the three books. Think you can remember where key events took place? You can use the map for reference. Don't worry, the quiz has clues too, in case you need a hint!
This is a gift for subscribers to my newsletter. If you subscribe, you received a link to the gift in your email this morning. If you haven't signed up yet, then you can do so by clicking here: Newsletter Signup Form. You'll receive the gift as soon as you confirm your subscription.
If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me anytime. I hope you're having a lovely holiday season so far. And remember... things only get brighter from here!
It’s that time of year again, when folks in America gather together to share a meal and count our blessings. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking about things I’m grateful for.
In no particular order, here are a few:
~ The cheerful morning sun lighting up blue skies, autumn leaves, and… everything, really! A new day, a new perspective, a new chance to do something good.
~ The Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel. Full disclosure: I don’t have cable and I’ve never actually watched the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Lol. But I love that it exists. I love the idea of a whole channel devoted to mysteries—and especially one that brings cozy mysteries to life. What a great treat for cozy fans!
~ Print Newspapers. Sure, I can get news faster online, but there’s nothing like settling in with a fat newspaper and a cup of coffee on a lazy weekend morning. I like big city print newspapers for their more in-depth stories and regular columns. In the Chicago Tribune, I often turn first to Mary Schmich’s column. Speaking of which… I’m also grateful for Mary Schmich (and Lindy West & Maureen Dowd & Katha Pollitt & so many other wicked-smart, funny, female essayists.) :-)
~ The Internet. It’s easy to take modern technology for granted, but sometimes I’m still struck with amazement at the crazy conveniences we now have. I have a watch that counts my steps, measures my heart rate, tracks my sleep, reminds me to get up and move, notifies me when my phone is ringing, and more. I also have a device named Alexa tells me the weather forecast, plays music on command, and answers about a zillion random questions. And I have a smartphone that does…way too much to list.
But I digress. What I’m most impressed with is the Internet itself. Isn’t it incredible the way we’re all connected with one another? There are no borders, no travel, no hassle… With just a few clicks, you can watch a YouTube tutorial, listen to an inspiring podcast, chat with a friend, or shop for anything under the sun. This year I bought a ring made in Israel and a graphic design made in Russia. (More on that later.) I’ve followed a Hippie Witch in California, shared and received files from my editor in New York, and admired photos of friends around the world. Oh, and I’ve connected with other writers and awesome readers—like YOU!
c~ My family. I have such a supportive and loving family, from my fantastic husband and super cool daughter to my openhearted parents, close-knit sibs, beautiful grandma, and fun-loving extended relatives and in-laws. I’m awash in gratitude here. *love*love*love*
~ NetFlix (Stranger Things, Master of None... & too many others to name, including old favorites & new... all commercial free!
~ Warm blankets
~ Roasted, herbed vegetables (and the delicious aroma that fills the house)
~ Music (all kinds)
~ Books and the writers who write them. I’m thankful for writers who take the time and effort to tell their stories... entertaining, enriching, and educating us with their words. I’m also thankful for libraries, and bookstores, and publishers.
~ And so much more…
I have this thing I do sometimes when I'm walking along in downtown Chicago: I'll look for people who are smiling. You might think that so many people are rushing about with determined, cynical, grumpy, or just plain neutral expressions. But some people actually look happy-- two or three friends laughing; a person listening to something through headphones that makes them smile; someone else lost in their own happy thoughts. It's kind of fun to look for the happy people.
And it's kind of the same thing with a gratitude list like this. Once you start looking for--and remembering--things you're thankful for, you find yourself on a roll. Happy things are all around us.
May you see the smiles & feel the smiles & be the one who smiles.
Trick-or-treat! Can you believe Halloween is here already?! And just like that, the month of October is over.
In a way, this is a season of endings, isn't it? Daylight savings time ends soon. The days are getting colder and shorter, and the leaves have pretty much finished changing colors. Here in Chicago, the leaves are spiraling to the ground in earnest now. People are cleaning out their gardens in preparation for the first frost. Even the potted mums I bought for my front porch are dead and brown already! (Though other mums I’ve seen still look nice. Maybe I didn’t water it enough?)
Is it just me, or were the leaves this year not quite as brilliant as in years past? Or maybe I just blinked and missed them. Regardless, every fall I think of the poem “October’s Party” by George Cooper. It’s one of my Grandma’s favorites and mine too. The poem is like a grand sendoff for the beautiful autumn foliage. It's a swirling, celebratory holiday bash: “The Chestnuts came in yellow/The Oaks in crimson dressed/The lovely Misses Maple/In scarlet looked their best.”
It’s a fitting farewell. A last hurrah.
Speaking of good-byes, this time of year is also perfect for remembering and honoring departed love ones. This is most obvious with the Mexican holiday Dia de Muertos and the Wiccan holiday Samhain. But Halloween also celebrates death. Just think of all the skeletons, ghosts, and mummies.
However, it's not quite right to think of endings alone. Every ending is also a beginning. The Wheel of the Year doesn’t stop. It keeps on turning in a constant, never ending cycle. Day becomes night becomes day. Fall becomes winter becomes spring becomes summer. Maybe it would be more accurate to think of this time of the year as a transition rather than an ending.
To tell the truth, I’ve always thought of autumn more as a beginning time anyway. This probably hearkens back to my school days when fall meant new classes and teachers, new friends and experiences. Plus, there’s no denying that Halloween marks the beginning of the “holiday season.” Bring on the colorful music, decorations, trappings and treats! Halloween leads naturally to Thanksgiving, which leads naturally to Christmastime. So much lightness to counter those long cold nights.
Maybe I’m also in mind of beginnings at this time of year since the New Year isn’t too far off now. I’m already anticipating the fresh start and new resolutions I’d like to set for myself.
As a matter of fact, I decided not to wait until January 1st to make plans and set goals. I recently bought myself an 18-month planner covering mid-2017 through 2018. I also just bought the book The Twelve-Week Year. Like a lot of people, I have all these ideas and dreams that I’ve been sitting on… and I know they aren’t going to happen on their own! There has to be action, which requires motivation. I’m looking forward to digging into this book and finding out what I’m really capable of achieving.
Speaking of taking action, there’s something else I’m starting this upcoming month. For the first time ever, I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? It’s an annual on-line event that started in 1999 and has grown every year since. The goal is simple: Write a novel—or at least 50,000 words—in the month of November. Anyone can participate. (Got a book in ya?) It’s quite a challenge, but there’s nothing like a deadline to spur you on--not to mention all the support of the NaNoWriMo community. I’ll be working on Book #5 in my series. Wish me luck!
Until next time, may all your endings lead to beautiful beginnings...
By: George Cooper
October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came--
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.
The Chestnuts came in yellow,
The Oaks in crimson dressed;
The lovely Misses Maple
In scarlet looked their best;
All balanced to their partners,
And gaily fluttered by;
The sight was like a rainbow
New fallen from the sky.
Then, in the rustic hollow,
At hide-and-seek they played,
The party closed at sundown,
And everybody stayed.
Professor Wind played louder;
They flew along the ground;
And then the party ended
In jolly "hands around."
Where does the time go? I didn’t intend for this to become a once-a-month blog, but that’s what it’s starting to look like. And this time I don’t have an impending book deadline to blame! I’ve just been busy with… stuff. Some fun stuff like a niece’s baby shower, a brother’s wedding, and a visit to a downstate pumpkin patch. And some routine stuff, like my day job, household chores, and dental appointments.
Oh, and there was a book release mixed in there somewhere! Yuletide Homicide is now officially on the shelves! Actually, it feels a little odd to promote a Yule-themed book at the beginning of autumn, but that’s the publishing world for you. Christmastime books come out in the fall.
Speaking of promotion, I recently gave a phone interview for a podcast called “The Daily Author.” It’s a half-hour radio show that features authors in a variety of genres, talking about their books and their writing processes. It was kind of fun and definitely different. This was my first ever radio interview.
Before we went live, the interviewer, a very nice and personable guy with a somewhat dry sense of humor, advised me to just relax and speak from the heart. So, that’s what I did, more or less. But afterward I wasn’t entirely pleased with how I did. In fact, I realized I could have answered one or two questions way better than I did—including the one in which I was asked to describe my latest book. Doh! And, listening back, I had to cringe once or twice—like when I inadvertently said “stigmatism” instead of “stigma.” Ha! I DO know the difference between the two words. Really.
Oh, well. Cringy or not, it was still a good experience.
At least “speaking from the heart” wasn’t a problem. That’s what I always do, I think. At least, I always WRITE from the heart—especially on this blog. …Yet, as I mentioned, I haven’t been posting here very frequently. Over the past several weeks, I would start drafting blog posts and never finish them. I also thought about things I could post on social media, but I didn’t follow through.
Why is that? Part of the reason, to be honest, is a little ole thing called the state of the world. With all the disasters, tragedies, and controversies dominating the news, it felt frivolous to talk about anything other than the crisis of the day. (In fact, it doesn’t even seem right to refer to any atrocity as a “crisis of the day,” as if that somehow diminishes its significance.)
But then I have to remind myself of my role here. What is my purpose for blogging and posting on social media? At heart, it’s to talk about writing and books and mystery… and life. But I don’t have to offer a commentary on everything. Like most everyone else, I do have strongly held opinions…which I do share on my personal Facebook page now and then. But this isn’t the place for that. That’s not my role here.
Okay, now that that’s settled! I really would like to post more often. I’d like to be more present and engaged on my various author platforms. I want to keep in touch with my readers—in a totally non-annoying, non-intrusive kind of way, of course! I do think there’s such a thing as too many Facebook posts and too many emails. But there’s also such a thing as too few.
Ah, the happy medium.
I’m curious, though—how often do you like to hear from the people you follow on social media? Once or more a day? Once a week or less? It’s so easy now to block posts and curate our own in-boxes and “news feeds” that, in some ways, it almost doesn’t matter how often people post.
Anyway, at this point, I don’t think posting too often is going to be a problem for me. After all, there are only so many hours in the day, and I do have more books to write! Still, it doesn’t take too long to pop in on Facebook or Twitter. I was thinking I’d try following some weekly themes for a while, like #WordsforWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday, and #PhotoFriday, etc. I’ll also try to get back into the habit of posting more often on this blog.
At least, that’s what I’m thinking now. These are my honest, uncertain, sometimes-rambling thoughts. No filter. From the heart. :-)
I’ve been thinking a lot about patterns lately. Not dress patterns. (I WISH I had the talent to do something with a dress pattern.) No, I mean something more ineffable than that. I’m thinking about the patterns of our lives. For example...
A few months ago, I started wearing a Fitbit to track my exercise and my hours of sleep--and hopefully motivate me to get more of both. It’s been interesting. In the case of sleep, it’s even been eye-opening. (Ha ha.)
Here’s a question for you:
When you think about how much sleep you get each night, do you take a look at the time you go to bed and the time you get up, and add the hours in between? That’s what I used to do. If I went to bed at 11:00 and got up at 7:00... I’d say, boom: eight hours of sleep. Right?
Wrong. Fitbit would subtract all the times I woke up throughout the night. Evidently, it’s quite common to wake up several times during the night and not even remember being awake. (Especially if you've got a partner who crawls into bed after you or happens to gets up in the middle of the night. Sleep, interrupted!) According to the Fitbit, I’m awake an average of 11% each night. My goal is to get eight hours of sleep, and I haven’t done it on a week night yet.
The real problem, though, is not so much the waking-up part. It’s the going-to-bed part. I have the darnedest time getting myself to bed. This makes sense in the days leading up to a book deadline. As I was finishing up my manuscript for Book #4 last month, I allowed myself to stay up way later than usual. Here’s an example of one of those weeks:
According to the Fitbit app, my nightly average that week was 6 hours and 35 minutes. Not good. After I met the deadline, you'd think I should have been able to get more sleep. And yet...I still haven’t been able to get those ever-elusive eight hours. (Except on the occasional weekend when I can sleep in.) Last week, my nightly average was 6 hours 49 minutes. It could be worse, but still.... it's not quite enough.
So, what’s my excuse? What’s keeping me up? You name it-- laundry to fold, books to read, podcasts to listen to, new ideas to write.
So many things.
Here’s what it ACTUALLY is, though: It’s an ingrained habit. In spite of my best intentions, something always compels me to stay up. Even when my Fitbit buzzes me a reminder that it’s time to get ready for bed, I ignore it. I’ll think to myself, “I’m not tired yet,” or “This is more important.” Or I won’t really think anything at all. I’ll just carry on doing whatever it is I’m doing.
Then, the next morning, when I wake up groggy and less than refreshed, I’ll say to myself: "I MUST go to bed earlier tonight." Day after day, this is what I say. Make that year after year... And so the pattern continues.
And that’s what it is. It's a pattern. We have patterns of sleep, patterns of work, patterns of eating, patterns of behavior. Everything is a pattern.
Of course, not all patterns are negative. I used to have a pattern of faithfully posting on this blog every Thursday morning. That was a good one, except I had to let it go to focus on writing books instead. Then, to help me get my latest book finished on time, I created a pattern of writing during my lunch break every day, and after dinner every evening. Dinner with my family is another daily pattern.
If you think about it, our lives do have a certain rhythm and shape to them, don’t they? The Wheel of the Year tracks the changing seasons, which naturally lend themselves to rituals and traditions-- like spring cleaning, summer vacationing, fall decorating (and fall baking & raking & apple picking & leaf gazing & back-to-school shopping & pumpkin carving & .... yay autumn!)... and winter hibernating. Our holidays and celebrations connect us to the past and the future, while at the same time they bring our attention fully into the present moment-- to our current place in the recurring pattern.
If you want to get even more cosmic, take a look at the patterns in nature. I especially love spirals. From the prints on our thumbs to the stars in our galaxy, the same patterns seem to repeat throughout the universe. It’s so fascinating and beautiful.
On the other hand, if our daily routines start to feel too same-old, same-old—or, worse, like drudgery, that’s not so pretty. That kind of pattern is not inspiring at all. Besides feeling stale, our mundane patterns can seem beyond our control. They can seem predetermined by outside forces: our job schedules, our children’s or partners’ schedules, regular business hours, the clock on the wall, the growl in our tummies....
And yet, not everything is so regimented. I think we have more freedom than we often realize. We can still decide what to do next--or next, after that. Or next, after that. If you’re not completely satisfied with one of your patterns (like me with my sleep habits), you should, in theory, be able to change it.
So, how DO you change a pattern? (No, really. I’m asking. How do you do it?) I imagine you have to first recognize it for what it is, and then replace it with a new pattern. Maybe you have to start by changing just one thing-- and then beginning again every chance you get. Whatever it is, I'm sure it will take time and will power. Perhaps most importantly, it takes self-awareness.
I don’t have the answers, but I do know one thing: Now that I’ve confessed my silly pattern of staying up too late every night, I’m going to try extra hard to change that habit!
Here’s to creating our own beautiful, self-selected patterns. :)
Do you pay much attention to astrology? Read your horoscope? Put any stock in the alignment of the stars?
This is a topic I've been thinking about for the past several weeks. This month has been filled with astrological excitement. There was a partial lunar eclipse on August 7th; mercury retrograde started on August 12th (my birthday!); and, of course, there was that rare total eclipse of my heart-- I mean, total eclipse of the sun (ha ha) on August 21st.
And, boy did people get excited over the eclipse! Did you? In Illinois, lots of folks pilgrimaged to Southern Illinois (which is where our Wiccan Wheel hero, Keli Milanni, lives, by the way) to watch the event in the "path of totality." Chicago meteorologist and hometown treasure Tom Skilling was one of them. I love this moving account of his reaction. (I got to see Skilling in person on a panel about climate change a few months ago. He really is the best.)
Some people even found that love was in the air during the eclipse-- including my cousin! (Congrats, Davi and Greg!)
Up here in Chicago, it was a disappointingly overcast day. The clouds did part in time for some kiddos to get a glimpse of the action. (Sage kicked back in the backyard.) Alas, I was in a meeting and missed the whole thing. (Kind of like I ALMOST missed posting on my blog this month. I've been busy writing!)
As I mentioned, August is my birthday month. (My actual birthday, not my book birthday, which was last month.) That makes me a Leo. But, I gotta say, when it comes to astrology, I don't entirely get the whole dealio. I can kinda relate to Keli (again, our Wiccan Wheel hero), when she said Midsummer Night's Mischief, "Astrology was a little over my head. Interesting to a point, but just complicated enough to make my brain hurt if I thought about it too long.” (Keli’s a Gemini.)
In fact, I've always felt a slight disconnect with my sun sign. Leos are supposed to be natural leaders: brave, strong, exuberant, out-front kinda people. The famous example always mentioned is Madonna. Me? I'm a low-key, introspective introvert. Sure, I guess I'm a leader in some contexts, but I rarely seek the limelight. I usually wield my influence (such that it is) behind the scenes.
On the other hand, when I look up other people's signs, I DO see some truth in their descriptions. For example, my daughter is an Aries: creative, ambitious, loyal, excellent sense of humor? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. My sister, the Libra: understanding, caring, an excellent debater with a keen intuition. Yes, to those. My other sister, the Virgo: keen mind, delightful to chat with, remarkable memory. Yes, to those, as well.
Not long ago, I learned that there's actually a lot more to astrology than your sun sign. Among other things, there's also your moon sign. Theoretically, the position of the moon during the exact minute of your birth can provide additional insight into your personality. (My moon sign is Taurus.)
But this raises the question that's been bugging me. It's the HOW and the WHY of it all. If astrology is a pseudoscience, where is the (supposed) science part? Why should the movement of the planets have any bearing on our lives at all? I had a hard time finding answers to these questions, until I happened upon this website: www.whats-your-sign.com.
I actually can’t believe I haven’t come across this website before. I use signs and symbols in the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries quite a bit. In my personal life, I believe in signs and omens too. I don’t always remember to pay attention to them, but it’s always pretty cool when I do. So, I’m looking forward to exploring this new-to-me resource. It seems to have a wealth of information.
As for astrology, the website author quoted Hermes Trismegistus who said: "That which is below is like that which is above. That which is above, is like that which is below. All to do the miracles of one thing only."
As she goes on to explain:
“If we return to our understanding of the universe as a large energy (macrocosm) identically reflecting humankind as a smaller energy (microcosm), we may come to a realization. We may realize that knowing about astrology is more than just memorizing zodiac sign dates, or zodiac houses and facts. It's more about connecting ourselves with the vastness of the universe in which we live. It's about gaining broad vision from a unique source of wisdom.”
Now, THAT makes a certain kind of spiritual sense to me. After all, as I learned from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, we humans are made of star stuff. Maybe astrology is just a way to tap into and interpret our connections to the universe.
Well, it’s a thought, anyway!
What do you think? Do you see any meaning in your star signs?
The Wiccan Wheel Mystery Series officially turns one today! It was born on July 26, 2016, with the release of Book #1, Midsummer Night's Mischief.
To celebrate, I decided to give away one signed advance reader copy of Book #3, Yuletide Homicide. Book #3 comes out on September 26, 2017, but one lucky reader will get an early copy.
Enter for a chance to win below.* The winner will be selected at 12:01 a.m. (central time) on Wednesday, August 2, 2017.
**BOOK GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS**
The Book Giveaway Raffle begins on Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. and ends on August 2, 2017 at 12:00 a.m. CST. Open to residents of the US and Canada only. One winner will receive one (1) paperback Advance Review Copy (ARC) of YULETIDE HOMICIDE, by Jennifer David Hesse. Winner will be selected randomly via Rafflecopter.com and will be notified by email. Each winner will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. Jennifer David Hesse will send the prize to the winner directly. The prize offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. The winner’s entries will be verified. Jennifer David Hesse is not responsible for any technical failures, nor for any lost, broken, damaged, or stolen prizes. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery of prize, unless otherwise noted. Facebook and Twitter are in no way associated with this giveaway. By providing your information in the raffle form, you are providing your information to Jennifer David Hesse alone. She will not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of contacting the winner. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send me an email!
I’ve always been a little envious of professors who get to take a sabbatical. To me, it’s like they’ve won the lottery. They get to take a whole (paid!) year off from their regular jobs to go off and pursue some passion project. How lucky is that?
I decided to give myself my own one-week “sabbatical” this month—aka, a vacation. My husband teaches at a jazz camp downstate, so my daughter and I decided to go along. We stayed at my parents’ house and enjoyed lots of quiet time. It was our own little writers retreat. (My daughter writes too.)
I figured I would get lots of writing done this week. At home, distractions abound. If I had taken a staycation, I’d have felt obliged to clean and de-clutter, pull weeds, read the newspaper, and tackle any number of projects that have been waiting for my attention. Plus, it’s more quiet and peaceful down here.
It’s been a nice week—I’m on the tail end of it now. But I didn’t actually get as much writing done as I expected. Besides working on my manuscript, there were also meals to prepare and eat, laundry to do, family to see, and a Fitbit watch that kept reminding me I should get up and move now and then. We’ve also been dog-sitting and house-sitting for part of our stay.
Yeah, I suppose there’s no such thing as a completely distraction-less vacation. Even at a real writing retreat, you still have to eat, sleep, and move your body. Maybe even talk to another person or two!
I’m reminded of that old Twilight Zone episode where the character played by Burgess Meredith wants nothing more than alone-time to read his beloved books. Then, a nuclear bomb hits while he’s sheltered in a bank vault. He survives—and so do all the books in the town library. So, his dream came true: He’s the last man on earth, free to read without interruption. Only then (spoiler alert), he steps on his glasses and can’t read a word. Oh, the irony!
I guess the best we can do is make the most of our free blocks of time—an hour here, ten minutes there. This is why I carry a notebook with me just about everywhere I go.
Still… I am enjoying the break from my regular life. Summertime was meant for vacationing. Perhaps most people would use a week-off to take a trip. (Lately, I keep hearing about people I know going to Hawaii. Now, that sounds special!) But not everyone uses their time-off for travel. One of my brothers-in-law took this week off from work to play a new, immersive computer game with his sons.
And me… I take a week off to write. Mostly.
What would you do with a free week of time?
* Landscape photos by Scott Hesse
My husband and I started taking a tai chi class a few weeks ago. It's something we talked about doing for well over a year and kept putting off. There seemed to be too many obstacles. (Okay, excuses.)
Where would we go? How would we pick the best place out of so many choices in our city? When could we find the time in our busy schedules--consistently, week after week? What would our daughter do while we were away at class?
Finally, one day, I decided to go on line and try again. I searched for a place near our home, found a beginner's class that would be starting soon, and signed us up.
Just like that.
We've been going for six weeks now, and it's worked out just fine. Turns out, it doesn't matter if we have to miss a class or two. Each class involves lots of review time, where we practice the prior week's moves. And it doesn't matter if I'm feeling tired after a long day at work. The class proceeds at a slow, forgiving pace and even includes a built-in tea break.
Oh, and our daughter is old enough to stay home alone for a couple hours. Plus, she's welcome to come along and watch our class anytime if she wants to.
All those obstacles weren't so big after all.
I have to say, though, that learning the tai chi moves is more challenging than I expected. It's not that the actual movements are difficult, but remembering the sequence of the steps, and the precise positioning of the hands and feet, takes a lot of practice. So far, I still feel pretty awkward each week. But I'm keeping the faith. I think it will get easier in time.
Anyway, I guess it's a good thing I finally signed us up. Otherwise, I'd literally NEVER get the hang of it!
As they say, all journeys begin with a single step. And it's that first step that's often the hardest. This goes for just about anything, really: writing a book, planning a trip, cleaning a closet. Whatever it is you want to do, if you can just make yourself take that one first step, well... then you're on your way.
So, make that call, book the reservation, block out your calendar. (Sign up for the class!) Get the thing on your schedule.
Sometimes that's all it takes.
Then you take the next step, and the next. Assuming you know what the next step is! If not, then you ask. In life, as in tai chi, questions are encouraged. (Or you can always, you know, Google it.)
Is there something you've been meaning/wanting to do?
P.S. I looked up the saying above and found that it was actually Lao Tzu who said: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." This is so fitting, because Lao Tzu is known as the founder of Taoism... and the tai chi class I found is Taoist Tai Chi. Go figure!
A nature-loving, mystery-reading, magic-seeking, daydreaming kinda gal, Jennifer is the author of the Wiccan Wheel Mysteries.