Baby steps

Take One

February 27, 2013

“Take the first step in faith, you don’t have to see the whole staircase just to take the first step.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

What’s the first step you need to take today to reach one of your goals?


Random Monday Musings

February 25, 2013

So how is everyone? I feel like I’m just getting back into my routines after last week’s jaunt to Texas to see my friends. My thoughts are still flying here and there until I can capture them and put them into some sort of organized pattern. I think I’ll use today’s blog post to clear out a few of those random thoughts…

I do not like reading a long book on a tablet. Apparently, I need a visual way to see that I’m making progress, and the backlighting on my tablet bothers my eyes after a while. I seem only to be able to read a few pages before my hands get tired of holding the tablet and my eyes feel dazzled, even though I’ve already turned the illumination down as low as possible. Perhaps I should wear my sunglasses?

It’s just wrong to be sunburned, hot and sweaty in February. That’s what happened to us this weekend at our son’s track meet.

That's my boy.
Few things make me feel more cheated than waking up six minutes before my alarm is due to go off in the morning.

Watching shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives after dinner is not a good idea unless you need to gain 15 pounds. I’m just sayin’.

I do not recommend watching the movie Flight before, well, flying. If there’s any turbulence at all, you will be convinced a part of the plane is about to snap off. I speak from sad experience.

I do recommend getting together with old friends for a weekend of revelry and confession. Thank you Kerri, Brynda, Becky, LuAnne and Melodie for being my friends!

It’s good to go away, but it’s great to come home. I always appreciate the comfort of my home more when I’ve been away for a few days.

What’s new with you? What have you been thinking about lately?


We Go Home, Satisfied

February 20, 2013

Photo courtesy Anja Ranneberg

Elizabeth Bishop, one of our greatest American poets, once wrote a long poem in which the sudden appearance of a moose on a highway creates a community among a group of strangers on a bus. Here Ronald Wallace, a Wisconsin poet, gives us a sighting with similar results. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]


Australia. Phillip Island. The Tasman Sea.
Dusk. The craggy coastline at low tide in fog.
Two thousand tourists milling in the stands
as one by one, and then in groups, the fairy penguins
mass up on the sand like so much sea wrack and
debris. And then, as on command, the improbable
parade begins: all day they've been out fishing
for their chicks, and now, somehow, they find them
squawking in their burrows in the dunes, one by one,
two by two, such comical solemnity, as wobbling by
they catch our eager eyes until we're squawking, too,
in English, French, and Japanese, Yiddish and Swahili,
like some happy wedding party brought to tears   
by whatever in the ceremony repairs the rifts
between us. The rain stops. The fog lifts. Stars.
And we go home, less hungry, satisfied, to friends
and family, regurgitating all we've heard and seen.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Sustenance" from For A Limited Time Only, by Ronald Wallace, © 2008. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. The poem first appeared in Poetry Northwest, Vol. 41, no. 4, 2001. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Audur Ava Olafsdottir

Maybe I Should Call These Reading Un-Challenges?

February 18, 2013

My 2013 reading challenges are off to a good start. I’ve already read six books (out of 24) from my To Be Read (TBR) pile and two books for the Vintage Mystery Challenge (out of eight), with a third in progress. Having to wait around in the jury duty pool in early January wasn’t all bad! (For a complete list of books I've read for the challenges, click here. I update the list every time I finish a book, and it can always be found by scrolling down the sidebar at right.)

I haven’t been adventurous at all with this year’s reading challenges. I do need to do the TBR challenge if I don’t want to be entirely overrun by books and the Vintage Mystery Challenge isn’t so much a challenge as a way to discover new authors in my favorite genre. Next time I should choose a challenge that really is a challenge, perhaps? I don’t know. Reading is such a pleasure and relaxation for me, I hesitate to turn it into a true “challenge.” I have enough of those in my life. Perhaps instead of more challenging challenges, I might participate in the various read-alongs I hear about that don’t last a whole year?

But enough about why my challenges aren’t really challenges—let’s talk about books.

The first book I read this year was from my TBR pile: The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, originally written in Icelandic and translated by Brian FitzGibbon. The Greenhouse follows Arnljotur, known as Lobbi, a young man from Iceland, who leaves his home, father and autistic twin brother, to restore an old garden in a remote village monastery in an unnamed country in Europe. Lobbi’s mother, with whom he shared a love of gardening, has recently died in a car accident.  On top of that, during one impulsive night, Lobbi has fathered a child with Anna, an acquaintance. Anna is raising their baby daughter, Flora Sol, without much input from Lobbi, who doesn’t really know what his role with Anna and Flora Sol should be—though he’s more clueless than unwilling. After he begins work on the monastery garden, Anna and Flora Sol come to visit. Anna wants to continue her studies and needs Lobbi’s help to care for the baby. During their time together, Anna and Lobbi begin to build a relationship, and Lobbi slowly learns how to nurture the people in his life as tenderly as he nurtures the flowers in the garden. I loved this book. It was a quiet and gentle story, with interesting secondary characters, such as Lobbi's father and the film-buff monk Father Thomas. It was a page-turner in the respect that I enjoyed that world so much I could hardly wait to get back to it.

My first Vintage Mystery read was Georgette Heyer’s Why Shoot a Butler? In a twist on a murder mystery cliche, a butler is the first victim. Amateur sleuth Frank Amberley must help the baffled police find the murderer before they arrest the young woman Frank is falling in love with. Reading this type of cozy mystery feels like slipping under a fuzzy blanket with a good cup of tea (I always crave Earl Grey tea when reading books or watching movies set in England). I love Georgette Heyer’s historical novels, which she’s better know for, but the few mysteries she wrote also contain her trademark wit and humor. I plan to read at least one more of her books before the challenge is done. I love the covers of these editions as well—wonderful vintage artwork.

By the time you read this, I’ll be in Texas catching up with a few girlfriends I used to work with, as well as my roommate before I got married, and maybe even my old boss. If you hear a lot of laughing and carrying on coming from the general vicinity of Dallas, that’s us. In addition to the talking, laughing and eating I expect to do, I should have some good reading time on the flights to and from. So please excuse me while I go choose what to take with me—my clothes are already packed, but the books…that takes me longer to decide…

What did you do this weekend?


Link Love--the Sequel

February 15, 2013

Grab a cup of coffee and come surf with me!

Don’t you just love the internet? I do. It’s full of fun, interesting, educational and inspiring information (of course, it’s full of a whole lot of junk, too—I do my best to ignore that). I don’t know how I’d procrastinate without it.

Here are some links for you to explore that I’ve found interesting or entertaining and that I want to share with you. Happy Friday, and enjoy!

Visit Inspiration Peak for thought-provoking quotes, poems and stories.

Request a daily “Pause for Beauty” email from Heron Dance by clicking here. A Pause for Beauty is a daily e-journal, and each morning email contains a nature painting and a reflection or poem.

I really enjoyed this post from Dani at Positively Present. (Her whole blog is packed with good stuff.)

Need some help compiling a Life List (more cheerful than a Bucket List, don’t you think?)? Visit Go Mighty. Read others’ Life Lists, see how they progress with their goals, and if the spirit moves you, request an invitation to become part of Go Mighty, “a place to outline your goals and dreams, track your progress toward checking them off, and find inspiration to challenge your personal status quo.”

Watch this video by Brendan Burchard. He notes that the very things that make us happiest are often the very things that cause us discomfort. 

If you like looking at beautifully soothing and peaceful photographs, click on over to The Murmuring Cottage.  I secretly fantasize that I live in that world of cups of tea, drying herbs, embroidery and sketching, cozy fires, sleeping kitties…you get the idea.


Where You Come From

February 13, 2013

Photo courtesy Chelsee Tysoe
 “You don't have to go looking for love when it's
where you come from.”—Werner Erhard


I Can Do That

February 11, 2013

Remember how happy I was to get my office back?  Every day I enter it I get a little thrill of satisfaction. Followed quickly by an emotion I was not expecting:

Abject and overwhelming terror.

You see, I’ve just removed my last significant excuse for not spending the time I said I wanted to spend writing. My files and books and computer are neatly arranged at my fingertips. I can close my door, play music, gaze up at all the little talismans I keep for inspiration. I can spread papers all over the desk, all over the floor, even. I can burn the scented candle my husband doesn’t like. There’s no one to bother if I want to go in there to write at 8 a.m. or 2 p.m. or midnight.

What this new division of offices suggests is respect for and acknowledgment that I am working, not playing. But with that respect and acknowledgement comes pressure. Now that I’ve lost my “I have nowhere to work” excuse, I’d better start producing. What does producing look like? Is it pages done? Money earned? A skill honed or a connection made? How will I know I’m productive?

Instead of steadily tapping away at the keyboard, I look in my idea file and have a sudden urge to clean the kitchen ceiling fan. I take out my notebook and pen and stare out the window. I pull out a piece already in progress, hate its guts, and want to chuck it. It’s so hard. Why is it so hard?! I love the feeling of words flowing through me, when my pen lags behind the words spilling out, and my fingers curl into a cramp.

What I’m truly afraid of is: there is nothing inside. There are no words. And if a few dribble onto the page, they will be of absolutely no interest to anyone else. I read writers I admire and cringe at my own awkward prose.

Not long ago, I read a fantastic book called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Now I turn back to its pages for advice. Pressfield writes, “Are you paralyzed by fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do….Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that the enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”

Resistance and fear, huh? Check and check. So what do I do? Pressfield’s solution to Fear/Resistance is “turning pro.” Turning pro means you are now a professional as opposed to an amateur. A professional focuses on the work and its demands. “Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. Why is this so important? Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”

“Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

I can do that. I can practice butt-in-chair using the kitchen timer if necessary. Filling pages with nonsense, if necessary. The only way to overcome the terror of writing Even if it’s morning pages, or a journal entry, or a description of the wren hunting bugs in the shrubs outside my window. I can do that.

Do you ever experience this type of fear/resistance when you want to create something? (Please tell me I’m not alone!) How do you overcome it?


February is for (Book) Lovers

February 08, 2013

If you’re a book lover, February has some fun and worthwhile bookish events. First, February is Library Lovers’ Month, a celebration of school, public and private libraries. This month is a time for the community to recognize the value of libraries and work to keep them strong. Check your local library(ies) for any events planned.

February 14 is International Book Giving Day, an initiative dedicated to increasing children’s enthusiasm for and access to books. Organizers aim to put books into the hands of as many children as possible. Suggestions for those who want to participate include giving a book to a friend or family member, leave a book in a waiting room where children will be, or donate a book to an organization that provides books to children, such as a library, second-hand store, children’s hospital or shelter. Organizations such as Books for Africa, Books for Kids, or Project Night Night are also good places for book donations intended for children.

I have to admit, though, that my favorite bookish celebration in February is tomorrow: Read in the Bathtub Day! I love to read in the bathtub (another reason an e-reader won’t ever completely replace paper books in my heart) so I will be more than happy to participate.

Books and reading are two of my very favorite simple pleasures—so any excuse to celebrate them is welcome. Do you have any special bookish celebrations planned in February?


Love Is...?

February 06, 2013

Love is a warm puppy...

For me, the most worthwhile poetry is that which reaches out and connects with a great number of people, and this one, by Joe Mills of North Carolina, does just that. Every parent gets questions like the one at the center of this poem. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

How You Know

How do you know if it’s love? she asks,
and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help. I want to say
you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare
or social security, but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie, and one truth,
“when you still want to be with them
the next morning,” would involve too
many follow-up questions. The difficulty
with love, I want to say, is sometimes
you only know afterwards that it’s arrived
or left. Love is the elephant and we
are the blind mice unable to understand
the whole. I want to say love is this
desire to help even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tornadoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years, all
those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother. She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Joe Mills, whose most recent book of poetry is Love and Other Collisions, Press 53, 2010. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 16, no. 1, Summer 2010, by permission of Joe Mills and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


The Milestones Just Keep Coming

February 04, 2013

The University of Tampa

I spent much of Saturday with my son attending the “Florida Admitted Students Preview Day” at the University of Tampa, the college he is slated to attend in the fall. Let me just say, I don’t see how it’s possible he’s nearly ready for college. Didn’t he just learn to walk yesterday?

The college visit brought back memories of my own college days, four of the happiest years of my life. In college, I began to find out who I really was, discovered I loved to travel, fell in love for the first time, and met life-long friends (including my husband). Oh, yeah, I learned a few things, too. If my son’s experience is like mine, it’s safe to say that the child who enters will not be the same one who graduates.

Saturday, college officials start by separating parents and kids—fitting because we will soon be separated most of the time (sniffle). I find as I walk away from my son that I have confidence he is (mostly) ready for this step, that he won’t be unduly overwhelmed or nervous, as I would have been at his age. I have only mild feelings of nostalgia/angst—I’m mostly excited for him to move into this new stage of his life.

I can picture him at this school. The smaller class size, emphasis on experiential learning and more personal attention seem tailor-made for him. Not to mention the abundance of food available at all hours on the college’s meal plan. (Actually, I kind of want to go here.)

I jot plenty of notes while I listen to the director of enrollment, the director of career services and the director of financial aid (especially her!). I realize there’s a lot to do before he starts school, whether it’s exploring scholarship possibilities, collecting items for his dorm room or even registering for a class at the local community college to get a head start on credits and the college experience.

As we drive home, I find it hard not to give him advice and make suggestions about what classes and extra-curriculars he might like. Yes, I know him pretty well, but now is not the time for unsolicited advice from Mom. To quote the UT senior who spoke to the parents, “Parents should guide, but the students should lead. This is our time.”

We’ve reached another milestone, another phase of the process of letting go. One more finger of the hand holding Nick’s has been loosened. I haven’t let go, not quite yet. But I have a feeling it won’t be long now.

Everyday adventures

Field Trip Friday: Sunken Gardens

February 01, 2013

Some weeks, just getting to Friday feels like an accomplishment. Therefore, I’ve instituted Field Trip Friday—as a reward to myself for working hard, and as a way to expand my awareness and appreciation for where I live. (Do you find that you take your local attractions for granted? I do.)

Last Friday, my partner in adventure Laure and I escaped to another local garden, Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg. (You can read Laure's post about our trip here.)

In 1903, George Turner, Sr., a plumber and avid gardener, bought the site of the garden. Draining a shallow lake dropped the property 15 feet and provided the rich soil to grow exotic plants from all over the world (and provided inspiration for the garden’s name). According to the Sunken Gardens brochure, his garden became so popular with friends and neighbors that he began charging them 25 cents for a tour. In 1935, the garden opened as Turner’s Sunken Gardens and was owned and operated by three generations of the Turner family. In 1998, it was designated a local historic landmark, and in 1999, the City of St. Petersburg purchased it.

The gardens contain more than 50,000 tropical plants and flowers, as well as a few exotic birds, including flamingoes. Small ponds and waterfalls, an orchid arbor, a Japanese garden, an amphitheater and a meditation garden where yoga classes take place are just a few more of the features packed into this little oasis in the middle of the city. A few photos (click photo for a larger view):

What is this? There was no identifying marker.
Close-up of the fruit (?)

Laure and I walked slowly through, looking at and photographing what took our fancies. After our first pass, we briefly walked through again, sketching. I just did a few pencil sketches, which I still have to add color to.

We finished our field trip with lunch at Fourth Street Shrimp Store Market and Restaurant and a stroll through Haslam’s book store.  (I bought only one book, showing heroic self-control, don’t you think?)

I think Field Trip Friday will happen more often in 2013. What better way to enjoy simple pleasures and everyday adventures than by exploring and appreciating what I have locally, getting out of my normal rut routine, and just plain having fun?

What local attraction(s) have you been wanting to visit?