Archive for the ‘creativity’ Category

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Ellie’s Flowers

October 25, 2016

This was printed in the Summit Daily News. It’s a reminder of the simple, good pieces of life, and because writers get lots of rejection, writing this helped me remember the positive.

Last month, my daughter came home from college for a brief 12 hours; long enough to do four loads of laundry, buy a few groceries, and eat a home-cooked meal. I’d like to say the reason she came was to see all of us, but it wasn’t. Not really. Her main purpose in returning was to show her roommate the Rocky Mountains in all their spectacular golden glory and to summit a peak.

The girls arrived late Saturday afternoon, enough time to do a little shopping and take photos before dinner. On the way to the grocery, we drove by Lake Dillon and showed off yet another Summit County gem. Ellie’s roommate, Becca, hails from the hills of Virginia—beautiful mountains in their own right, but no match for our massive peaks back dropped by a brilliant blue sky.

Becca snapped pictures. Once out of the car, she spun in circles, baffled by which direction to look. “It’s all so incredible,” she said, snapping more photos.

She’s right—we do live in an incredible place. Of course, we have our days: days of drizzle and sleet and snow that make it difficult to drive and too cold to move, but overall, living in Summit County is a privilege. Nature radiates in all directions.

After buying a few supplies for their dorm room, the girls planned to hike and take more photos before dinner. But first, Ellie said, she wanted to see one more thing, show off one more piece of Summit that she had missed while living in Boulder. I wasn’t sure what could be more beautiful than the mountains, the aspens or the sparking lake. But she knew: Frisco Main Street flowers.

During the summer, Ellie was a flower girl, employed by the Town of Frisco to water and weed. She spent eight hours a day working outside, sometimes alone, sometimes with a crew, but always taking care of the flowers.

“They’re still looking good,” she said, filled with obvious pleasure. To her, the boxes of geraniums and baskets of petunias that lined Main Street were pretty, worthy of pointing out. But they also represented something more. The flowers had grown and blossomed under her care. Ellie had nurtured them, and she found pride in their loveliness.

Although I love our mountains and breathtaking views, watching my daughter point out her beloved flowers made me rethink the definition of beauty. There’s no doubt that Summit County has a spectacular landscape, but beauty can be found in small, everyday matters. Taking ownership of one’s job or watching plants grow can provide insight and strength. Splendor found in the simple slices of life reminds us that even on the darkest of days, there is light.

The following morning, Ellie and Becca woke at 3:30 to climb Mt. Bierstadt. They made it to the summit by sunrise. Their pictures were spectacular, but so was their simple, celebratory milkshake at a diner down the road.

It’s hard to beat the brilliance one sees when climbing a mountain at dawn, but there are pieces to life, smaller and less obvious, that are equally lovely. Life’s everyday moments like smelling the flowers or enjoying a milkshake offer the opportunity to find beauty and significance everywhere.

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Character Lessons From an Innkeeper

October 4, 2016

Someone I knew, although not all that well, died recently. In total, I had no more than a dozen conversations with Richard, but his words, his presence, and his energy influenced me. A loss is hard enough when you know someone well, but when you lose someone who plays a small but impactful role in your life, it can be confusing and certainly jarring.

When I heard Richard had died, I was sad; sad for him, his family, and his friends. I was sad for the small hole in my life but also sad for other strangers, who’d known him only marginally, but would miss his presence.

Richard worked at an old mountain inn, which was almost always empty and not at all fancy. I went there to write because the town was quiet, I knew no one, and could get a lot of work done in a short period of time. I had no distractions, except one: Richard.

Sometimes I’d arrive at the hotel last minute, because it wasn’t the kind of place one needed a reservation. Richard would wave his hands in the air, greeting me like a long-lost celebrity. He liked to talk, but I had deadlines and work to get done. Eventually, I learned to plan intentional evening writing breaks to listen to Richard’s stories. I never regretted it.

At first, Richard’s tall tales made me scratch my head. Were they really true? But as I got to know him, I realized they were. Richard lived in the middle of nowhere, but he’d been places. As he poked the logs crackling in the fireplace, he’d tell me about his mother, growing up on a farm, and picking apples. He shared incredible adventures about his time in the military. He told me about quinoa growth in South America and the complicated legalities of water rights. He was a lobbyist with a strong political bent. Richard was not a gossip but knew everyone in town and beyond.

Once, I sat silently as Richard spent an hour arguing with an older man who had opposing political views. They remained civil, agreeing to disagree. Later, I mentioned how it was nice, rare these days, but nice they respected each other’s views. Richard answered in his usual, enthusiastic voice, “Why get angry when someone disagrees with you? If we all thought the same way, life would be big time boring.” He was right, of course. If we all had the same politics, the same religion, and the same interests, life would be ‘big time boring.’

From what I gathered, Richard’s time was anything but boring, but I didn’t realize how significantly his stories made me think about life. Every time I left town, a piece of him found its way into my writing and into my world. Not only did Richard help me realize the importance of taking time to talk and cultivate unforeseen relationships, but he also taught me something about character development; a necessary piece of writing.

As a fiction writer, I use a variety of tools to create believable characters. The enneagram, character sketches, psychology tests, and archetypal profiles all help me build the people in my manuscripts. There are times I want to cheat and make it easier for myself by not doing the needed work to deepen a character. But when I do, the characters fall flat. By living his life fully and deeply, Richard reminded me to make characters complex, rich with detail, and unexpected. A complex character can make or break a story. I think Richard felt that way about life—you make it or break it by the kind of world you build.

I’ll miss Richard, but I don’t regret the time I took to ask a few questions and listen to his stories. He lived a large life. So should we all.

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Quotes!

June 29, 2016

 

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Barn with Art Installation at Djerassi

If you have that unconquerable urge to write, nothing will stop you from writing. –Theodore Dreiser

You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. – Ursula K. Le Guin

Writing is physical work. It’s sweaty work. You just can’t will yourself to become a good writer. You really have to work at it. –Will Haygood

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. –Confucius

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Summer 1977: Can a Kid Survive?

June 14, 2016

The first few days of summer are the best. So good, in fact, that some parents take a day or two off so they might revel in the well-remembered feeling. No more school. No more tests. No more teachers. No more social pressures. No more responsibility. Kids sleep in, hang out in pajamas, and make pancakes. It’s great. Until about the third day.

Summer can become a parent’s nightmare. What if the kids never get out of their pajamas? What if they become zombies? What if they hook themselves to screens with an I-V, and their brains shrivel into peanut-sized capsules?

For today’s parents, the pressure to create a summer experience is on. A child’s summer must be filled with brain-building, developmentally appropriate, and organically filled activities. Life becomes complicated with carpools and play dates and field trips, and before June is over, parents cry for a schedule that does not involve cleaning a kitchen that’s cluttered with bags of chips and boxes of Cheerios. No wonder day camps and summer classes have exploded in popularity.

Call me crazy but how about throwing a TBT day? Throw Back Thursdays to 1977, or for those brave enough, participating in a full week of TBT time travel?

Here’s what it might look like.

Breakfast? Forget about whole-wheat, flax-seed filled pancakes with pure maple syrup and fresh berries. Kids get Applejacks and a sliced orange. In 1977, kids didn’t hang out in pajamas all day so they must get dressed and make their beds. What’s next? That’s their problem, not yours, but here’s an idea: open the door and send them outside. If they’re young, a parent can give them a pail and point to a pile of dirt. There’s no need to sit in the sandbox and create castles by using sophisticated engineering techniques listed in Parenting Magazine. This is 1977. Kids figure it out.

Fancy field trips? Nope. Indoor skydiving and zip-lining adventures have not yet been invented, but there is the library. It might be air-conditioned. Swimming is a crowd pleaser but remember—parents don’t go. Not only is there a lifeguard to watch them flip into cannonballs, but parents didn’t drive their kids places in 1977. During a TBT day, kids ride their bikes to the pool or walk with a group of friends—it gives them time to dry off on the way home.

No pool? Use the hose. Sprinklers are fair game, but there aren’t any fancy slick and slides or super-soakers. Other alternatives? Kids can build forts, which might take all day. Jars of paint and some rocks offer the opportunity for kids to become Picassos. Manic monopoly will likely become a parent’s new best friend—the game can take hours, even days. And when all else fails, a simple deck of cards will do. Even alone, a kid can play solitaire, figure out magic tricks, and build card houses (psssst: engineering skills). In 1977, games rule, especially while drinking red pop and eating marathon bars (the chocolate and caramel kind, not the protein and chia seed kind).

Lunch? Whole Foods did not exist in the disco decade so forget about quick trips for sushi or steamed Korean buns. Stop at McDonalds or ask the kids to make their own sandwiches; peanut butter and jelly or marshmallow fluff, but they could invent something new—like fried bologna and egg with ketchup. Long afternoons? Naps are good. Books are better. Uber-active kids get sent back outside where they invent their own projects. Maybe they’ll build a boat made from milk cartons. Who knows? They’ll figure it out.

Remember, technology is banned during 1977 week. It wasn’t invented. TV screen-time is limited unless there’s a new episode of the Brady Brunch. Game of Thrones and How I met Your Mother did not exist. There were no clickers back then, either. If kids do watch TV, they must get up, walk across the room, and physically flip through channels—all four of them. CBS, ABC, NBC, and PBS were the only stations that existed. Also, television went static in the middle of night.

After dinner (hot dogs, Kool-Aid, Jell-O salad, baked beans, and grape popsicles), kids may find a few neighborhood kids and play flashlight tag, but if they’ve played long and hard enough, they might just collapse and fall asleep.

And voila. Like that, a day is done, and you’ve survived 1977. Good luck the rest of the summer.

 

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Writing Retreats/Workshops

April 5, 2016

I recently attended a fantastic writing workshop/retreat in California.

It’s best summed up by friend and fellow writer’s post that you can read here:

3 Long-Lasting Benefits You Receive from Attending a Retreat

If you’re a writer, I highly recommend attending not just a workshop, but a retreat. They’re good for the soul!

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Writing Barn Workshop

October 12, 2015

Last weekend I flew to Austin and attended a workshop at the Writing  Barn. It was incredible, and although I have lots to say about it, Jennifer did it all for me. She even has pictures. Check it out…

http://jhawks-nest.blogspot.com

It’s really worth the read.

 

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Back to School: What’s Important to Know?

August 17, 2015

Yes, it IS still summer, but students across the country are heading back to school, and although I hate to see big, yellow buses round the corner, a heightened energy resonates with me. It’s a season full of possibility; positive and encouraging.

As teachers begin to set their curriculum, I’ve decided to set my own; as a parent, an educator, and a concerned community member who wants to see our children and our society thrive.

What is important to learn? What goals have we made for our families, our students, and ourselves? In my book, achieving a 100% on a test, winning a race, or landing a lead is fantastic, but not what’s essential or really all that important. So—what is important to know? I’ve created a list.

  • Love: enough said
  • Kindness: it goes a long way
  • Acceptance: of others and oneself
  • Balance: between one’s mind, body, and soul
  • ABC’s- and 123’s: we all need to read and to add
  • Self-sufficiency: learn how to learn on your own
  • Spirituality: find faith
  • Respect: yourself and others
  • Healthy habits: eat well, sleep well, rest well, work well
  • Understanding the world around us: this includes geography, cultural behaviors, religions, politics, and social influences
  • Self-confidence: trust your intuition
  • Nature: spend time outside, it’s life’s best and yet most underutilized teacher
  • Beauty: look for it everywhere—in the slice of an orange, the shape of a cloud
  • Creativity: make time to discover and explore
  • Visualize: dream possibilities
  • Compassion: it also goes a long way
  • Gratitude: enough said

As your kids climb aboard the school bus, keep life in perspective and remember what’s really important.

What’s on your list?