Hot Summer Days and Silver Linings

It’s been hot this summer, like really hot, like immediately-melt-the-ice-in-your-drink hot. We’re talking humid, stifling, 90-degree temperatures for the last few days.

And our air conditioner is not working. (We’re in the process of fixing it. It seems like it is only in need of a small repair, not actually “broken.” At least, we hope.) So, over the last few days the coolest place in our home has been, well, outside.

It’s easy to “lose your cool” in uncomfortable situations like these, so it is really important to remember that they are temporary, fixable, and only uncomfortable, nothing more.

It isn’t always easy to do.

I was delighted (and distracted) when, while we were sitting outside trying to keep cool, Jonathan and I saw these stormy clouds roll in:

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The air had already cooled down a bit by then (outside, not inside the house!) and sitting outside, talking to each other and reading books (and writing a little for me), we were relaxed and enjoying our evening. I LOVE rain — and especially love rain in the summer, so the idea of a rainstorm helped me completely forget all about our air conditioner trouble.

But it didn’t rain.

Instead, this happened:

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And this:

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We looked at one another, and we knew that had our air conditioner been working properly, we would have been sealed up inside our house, missing all of this beautiful evening sky. We kept watching.

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The shapes of the clouds shifted. The colors became more intense, muted, they brightened and darkened, and danced across the sky.

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And if you look really closely, you can even see the silver linings.

~Melissa

Day 20 of CampNaNoWriMo and still at 14,342 words

I came across this on Pinterest and it reminded me of this project. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/194640015121419009/

FORWARD IS FORWARD, NO MATTER HOW SLOW
It’s Day 20 and my novel is currently 14,342 words. You might think that I would be frustrated or discouraged with my progress. You might think that I should be worried.

I am not.

I actually still feel pretty good about it.

My novel has taken a few turns since I started to draft. I recognize this as a good thing. The characters are telling me where to go, not the other way around. It’s their story. I am following their lead. It is all coming together.

Instead of spending the last few days drafting, as I had intended, I’ve been reorganizing. I’ve been adjusting some of the plot lines and changing the nature of some of the relationships. A few new characters have presented themselves in the process.

The novel is already a different novel than the one I set out to write at the beginning of the month. This one is better. It’s stronger. It’s on its way.

~Melissa

Sixty Books Is Not A Number

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE NUMBER
Sixty Books a journey, not a destination; it’s a mindset, not a competition.

Each person may actually have a different number of books that he or she reads in a year, and the number can vary from year to year. Thirty books can be “sixty books” and so can forty-five, or seventy, or one hundred and fifteen. It’s not about the number.

Sixty Books is an idea that incorporates reading as a fundamental and non-negotiable part of our routine and encourages lifelong learning.

WHY SIXTY, THEN?
If someone reads a book each week, they are already at fifty-two books. sixtySixty is a nice way to round it up.

It’s also an attainable and realistic goal for most of us. Maybe not at first, especially when one isn’t accustomed to reading regularly, but it can be achieved through practice.

Even the busiest individuals have time to read about twenty pages a day. At that pace, considering books at about three hundred pages, a person would finish reading a book in about two weeks. By doubling the effort and making time to read forty pages a day, a person can finish the book in just one week.

Anything more might be too much. Not that it isn’t possible to read more, and to enjoy reading more books, but is it really possible to reflect on it all when we read that much? Sixty Books is not just about reading for enjoyment, it’s about enjoying reading for growth.

And, sometimes thinking in terms of numbers simply helps us better understand abstract thought. The term Sixty Books helps establish a common vocabulary with which we can discuss and explore the idea further.

THE SIXTY BOOKS MINDSET
Whether fiction or nonfiction, contemporary works or classics, we learn something from everything we read.

We learn facts.

We learn about the world.

We learn compassion.

We learn about ourselves.

We find examples and non-examples.

We are inspired.

Sixty Books, therefore, is about absorbing ideas and lessons from each of the books we read and applying them into our own lives. Sixty Books is about growing as an individual and evolving, innovating, updating on a regular basis. Sixty Books is about sharing ideas and learning from one another.

How many books are in your #SixtyBooks? Continue the conversation here in the comments section below or on Twitter.

~Melissa

Book Review: Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky

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My relaxing reading material on the beautiful Horseshoe Bay Beach in Bermuda.
A few weeks before our recent trip to Bermuda, my husband gave me a paperback novel, Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky. Outside, the cover is nearly all wild lavender plants (an absolute favorite of mine); inside, the story is about two old friends, both writers, who reconnect after a long time apart. (I love to read any story about writers and the process of writing!) In addition, much of the story takes place during the summer months on an island off the coast of Maine. All of these things (combined with its light weight and compact size) made it seem like the perfect book to stow away in my suitcase and bring with us on our trip.

These friends who have lost touch over the last ten years, are reunited to work on a cookbook together. The women research and write about recipes and locally grown ingredients — as well as the islanders to whom they belong. As they work on writing the book and meeting their deadline, they reminisce about old times and catch up on the last ten years of their lives. The longer that the friends are together, the tougher it is for them to hold back the secrets that distance has helped them keep. Pride, envy, guilt, and embarrassment have kept them both from being honest with each other, but when dire new circumstances make it impossible to hide the truth any longer, their friendship is forever changed.

This novel is full of twists and turns and complicated characters. Delinsky flavors this book with the right amount of the wishes and goals of the characters, the events and consequences of their respective pasts, and the traditions and lore of the mystical island. The ingredients combine for an enjoyable and relaxing read, perfect for an afternoon on the backyard hammock — or trip to the beach in Bermuda.

After finishing the book, my only wish was that Delinsky gave us some of the actual island recipes the writers include in their cookbook. They sounded delicious!

~Melissa

Day 7 of CampNaNoWriMo and Day 2 of Teachers Write!

CAMPNANOWRIMO PROGRESS
I’m making progress. Definitely. It’s Day 7 of camp and my word count is now 11,039.

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At 11,039 words, I’m almost 25% of goal!

Before I started writing, I set four goals for myself in order to complete this challenge. Some goals are coming along a little better than others:

    1. I haven’t been able to write first thing in the morning most days; I am going to keep working on it. There’s lots of other stuff going on, but I’m not forgetting that it’s still my goal. I’d love to make that a part of my routine every day of the year.
    2. I’ve been writing all over the place. Post-Its, notebook pages, at the computer. That’s going well; when I have an idea, I jot it down. Then, I make sure it gets into the document. It does take a little time to catch up on typing what I’ve already written, but I’m happy that the ideas aren’t forgotten.
    3. I’m also doing a pretty good job at leaving the editing for later. I am very tempted to revise, but I know there will be time for that after the first full draft is complete. Surprisingly, this is the goal I’m having the easiest time with.
    4. I hadn’t been following the outline very well for the first few days. It was too constricting, and too many things were changing as I wrote. Luckily, I found another solution through a second camp I’m participating in this summer called Teacher’s Write!
      • The task from Jo Knowles was “to find a blank page and make a list of what you know about your project, and the reasons this particular one is important to you.” That I can do! I’m hoping that this free-flowing list will continue to serve as my new outline. The other was definitely not working for me.

MORE ABOUT TEACHERS WRITE!
Teachers Writnew-teachers-write-2015e! started yesterday. It’s an online writing program similar to CampNaNoWriMo, but targeted for educators who teach writing and want to become better writers themselves.

I’ve always been a strong believer that teachers of writing should be writers themselves, so I was really excited to join this camp.

My first Teachers Write! assignment was to sit down for a few minutes and list out things that I’m wondering at the moment. Here’s my list:

I wonder…

  • If I can grow lavender on my balcony
  • How much sun does lavender need to grow
  • Why lavender smells so good
  • Whats on sale at the grocery store today
  • What people are doing in London right now. Australia? Mexico?
  • Why I was born in the US and not somewhere else
  • What cell phones will be like in two years. Five? Ten?
  • How some people can stay so positive all the time and others don’t
  • Why certain people can push our buttons despite our best efforts not to let them
  • About what it would be like if none of us had the sense of sight? The sense of smell?
  • What if everyone lost the same sense at the same time? Or if we all developed a new sense at the same time?
  • Why so many people are sick
  • Why some people refuse to take better care of themselves
  • Why it’s so easy to develop bad habits
  • When we are going to find a cure for cancer
  • What will things be like when we find a cure
  • What the weather is going to be like tomorrow
  • What herbs and spices I have in my kitchen to make bread tonight
  • If I’ll have any time to do some yoga later

On the second day, our assignment was from author Phil Bildner to: “Find a fresh place to write. People watch. Create characters or character traits based on those you see.”

Because I’m already working on the other project for CampNaNoWriMo (and a good 11,039 words in), I did what I encourage my students to do all the time — connect a new assignment to other assignments. I observed people for a while and the observations I recorded and the ideas they sparked gave me new ideas for the existing characters in my novel. Some of my observations translated into new directions for the story. This is a really excellent exercise because good writers are great observers.

PROOF THAT STUDENTS CAN DO THESE EXERCISES, TOO
After I worked on yesterday’s exercise for Teachers Write!, I came across an old notebook and flipped open to a random entry. You have no idea how many times I blinked and rubbed my eyes at what I saw! Sure enough, there was a very similar journal entry from when I was eight years old in third grade! Talk about kismet.

I always wonder about…

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My journal page from 3rd grade!

I always wonder about what I would do with one million dollars.
I also wonder what I would look like with my hair cut.
I wonder if I had my own house.
And if I got all A+’s.
What it would be like to be poor.
Or live in Mexico.
Or to be a in an accident.
Be on TV.
Or in my Mom’s and Dad’s shoes.
I wonder what it is like in Texas.
Or fourth grade.

(I find it interesting that I was wondering about Mexico in both lists!)

~Melissa

Some men bring home flowers…

Some men bring home flowers; my husband brings home books.

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The very first flowers that Jonathan bought for me when we started dating. :)

Please don’t get me wrong. I really do like flowers and the way they look and smell, warming up the house, but my husband knows that I like books even more. He knows how much I love to read and how much I love to be surrounded by books.

I am a lucky girl.

To me, there is no more thoughtful or meaningful bouquet* that he could give than when he comes home with a new book, one that he picked up off of a shelf or ordered online just because he thought I would enjoy reading it.

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Some recent additions to our growing collection.

Before we met, we each had our own collection of books. Now that we are married, so is our book collection.

Each time he brings me a new book, or we find one together, the book represents something we are building together, something that started as two separate entities and is now one.

Whether hardcover or paperback, a brand-new bestseller or a used bookstore-find, each of those bouquets are all beautiful to me, and they brighten up our home more than any bunch of flowers could.

~Melissa

*When we really think about the definition and the origin of the word — how it comes form Old French meaning a “clump of trees” and how it represents something that is to be ceremonial or presented as a gift — isn’t a bouquet, after all, really the perfect way, literally and figuratively, to describe a book?

Day 2 – 7,612 words

7,612 WORDS SO FAR
This idea is now officially a work in progress!Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.48.57 PM

(I’m not so sure how much sense these few thousand words make just yet, but they’re there, all in one document, in some kind of an order. They’re a beginning.)

As I promised myself, I’m not doing any editing work until I’ve finished writing the entire draft. There will be no second guessing character names. There will be no wondering if certain paragraphs are really necessary. There will no looking back, whatsoever.

42,388 WORDS TO GO
Looking forward — all the way to the end of the goal — is, well, kind of daunting. I know that the momentum of the first two days isn’t likely to continue throughout the month, but it is still a really good start. I like this idea and the way it is forming; I like the characters that are emerging. I feel good about this project.

And tomorrow is another day.

How is your writing going? Any tips or suggestions for this determined writer?

~Melissa