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bell museum (2)I spent last Sunday doing in-person research for the novel I am writing.

My task for the day was to visit the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. My novel includes scenes that take place in that setting. The protagonist is a student at the U, and has a significant link to the Bell Museum of Natural History. So I went there in person to figure out answers to questions such as:

What path would she take from a class, to the museum, to her home – in a snowstorm?

Where would she live off campus?

In the museum, which dioramas would she see, and how would she react to them?

Not only did I receive more clarity to these topics, but I soaked up the atmosphere of campus life, allowing myself to imagine the life of a student at the U of M in 1972. By the way, I actually was a student there, but this is not my story. As a writer, I was able to see this environment with fresh eyes.

Because my novel is set in the past, I often read books and do online research to answer my questions. But there is nothing like putting yourself in the actual setting (even if the events of your novel took place in years past) to feel your character’s sense of place. It creates a personal connection to the place and people who inhabit it in your novel.

20160112_113459_resizedNew Year’s Resolutions involve commanding one’s self to reach a goal. Intentions are strong but momentum can putter away. I made resolutions when I was younger, usually to lose weight. They never really worked for me. Now if I want to reach a goal, I create an action plan with specific components to get from where I am to where I want to be. This strategy is not tied to a year, and it does work for me.

A few years ago I decided to switch from making resolutions to setting themes for a new year.

Themes are more fun. For example, once I decided to have a theme called “Vincent Van Gogh”. That’s it, no tasks or goals attached. I have learned more about Van Gogh, as a person and his art, ever since.

Last year I decided to find, prepare and master new recipes. Specifically, I wanted to learn how to make rich, savory and tender beef short ribs, a garlicky seafood soup, and cinnamon cardamom bread. They are all now a delicious part of my meal repertoire. This year I plan to continue to expand my recipes and cooking skills.

What other themes do I have for 2016? My main focus is writing. I have begun writing my first novel, which I will tell you more about soon. Also, decorating and organizing my office/studio into the beautiful and energizing space I know it can be. And, swans. Because they are so lovely. I am blessed with sightings of them as they fly over or swim in the river near my house. Who knows where my fascination with swans will take me this year?

What themes do you want to incorporate into your life in 2016?

 

My new inspirational book, Realize Your Dreams: image from sales pageCreate an Action Plan for Life Transformation, is FREE here, as a Kindle ebook, through Amazon.com today and tomorrow, January 16 & 17, 2016.

If you want to live a life that is more fulfilling to you, whether it be with a new career, weight loss, more travel, going back to college, pursuing your passions, speaking up, or more, this is the book that will help you get from where you are to where you want to be. This book will help with ideas, resources, and examples of  action plans, but it doesn’t tell you what to do.  You will learn how to create your own action plan.

Today is the day to give it a try for free if you have a Kindle or a Kindle app to read it on other devices. It is also available as a paperback, but not as a free book.

Please feel free to share with others. If you are interested in writing a book review, it will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

 

image from sales pageMy life has truly been an adventure during my journey of transformation in the past few years. In order to inspire and motivate others, I wrote Realize Your Dreams: Create an Action Plan for Life Transformation.

I am excited to announce that the book has now been written and published. It is available as an ebook for Kindles and as a paperback on Amazon.com. There are chapters on traveling, eating healthy and losing weight, going back to college, finding career success, discovering your passions, and more. I invite you to visit the book’s Amazon sales page to “Look Inside.”

FREE Kindle ebook version of Realize Your Dreams if purchased this upcoming Saturday or Sunday, January 16-17, 2016. Please feel free to pass the word!

 

Happy New Year to all!

Many of us will be gathering with friends and family tonight, celebrating the beginning of 2016, and toasting to a fresh slate of health and happiness in the year ahead.

I am fortunate to be with friends at a home in northern Wisconsin. That has led me to thinking about socializing in the frozen areas of the United States. Hosts have challenges throwing parties in winter that our milder climate friends may not have to think about.

For one thing, where do you put all your guests’ coats? And not just coats. If it is cold outside, each guest has a big, warm coat, boots, a hat, scarf and mittens. If it snowing out, all of those items are full of ice and snow, which will melt in the warmth indoors. Yikes! Where to put them all?  And there could be more than outdoor gear to come inside. One friend remembers attending winter party long ago when it was so cold that she and her husband took their car’s battery out of the car and brought it indoors so it would start later.

That brings up another challenge. Cars in wintertime can get into all kinds of trouble, from sliding into a snowbank on an icy road to trying to find elusive parking spots. But we are a hardy, friendly group of people in bad weather conditions. I have no doubt that people who otherwise would be at odds (Trump vs. Clinton supporters, say) will happily work together to get somebody’s car out of an eight-foot-high snowdrift, wishing each other well at the successful conclusion of helping a motorist on their way.

When there has been a recent substantial snowfall, you might find yourself dealing with specific parking instructions mandated by Snow Emergency rules. Sometimes you don’t know where to park because each city can announce a Snow Emergency with its own rules. So, when you travel to another city for a party, you have to figure out if you are free to park on the right or left hand side of the street!

Of course one of the good things about winter parties is the abundant cooling space outdoors. No room in refrigerator? No problem! Beer twelve-packs line up outside the front door, on the unheated porch, or on the deck. These outdoor spaces can also be used to keep party snacks or leftovers cold. (Tip: Keep them in a place that outdoor animals can’t access.) If the temperature is well below freezing, you may need to put the beer or food outdoors in a cooler, which might keep them from freezing quite so fast!

Even on the coldest days, many northern dwellers love to get outdoors. Today most of our group is going cross-country skiing. There are plans for an outdoor bonfire later or tomorrow, which brings up another benefit of being outdoors in the winter: NO MOSQUITOES!

Wherever you are and whatever your climate is like, best wishes for enjoyable winter celebrations.

We like to think we are in control of our own time and energy, but sometimes life’s unexpected events cause us to shift priorities and put our own pursuits on the back shelf.

In the past couple years, the illness and passing of some of my family members have taken precedence in my own life. It was a gift to be a caregiver (along with my sisters) for my mother before her death last winter. I mourn Mom every day, and also smile at the good memories we built over the many years we shared.

I have gradually taken back the reigns of control over my own being. In the past couple months, my Realize Your Dreams book-in-progress made it back to my writing desk. I updated it per suggestions made by my editor long ago, added some content, and sent the manuscript back to her for a final editing. I plan to self-publish it as an electronic and print-on-demand book within the next few months.

I am more aware than ever how important it is for me to take writing classes to keep me moving forward.  This summer, I attended a “Writing in the Garden” workshop taught by Angela Foster and Candace Simar. I have since completed one class and just started another one, an online class, at The Loft Literary Center, a marvelous resource for writers.

In order to keep motivated and productive, I will continue to take classes – to stay committed to doing what I want to do – write books!

Photo of Devil's Island Sea Caves in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by Cliff Odendahl.

Devils Island Sea Caves in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – Photo by Cliff Odendahl, Copyright 2013

A few months ago I sent a book draft to my editor and wrote a short story for a local writing contest — my first work of fiction since I was a child. I was in the writing groove.

Then, suddenly, somebody close to me died and I suspended my regular activities while I helped take care of other matters. As time passed and I got back on track with other work and activities, I still didn’t write. Of course, the longer you are away from something, the more difficult it is to pick it up again. I doubt I am the first writer to lose my momentum for a period of time.

The spark to write again came from a workshop I attended at Madeline Island School of the Arts last week. I can’t say enough good things about Catherine Watson and Jane O’Reilly, who guided the class in writing personal stories with descriptive detail and emotion, and my fellow participants who supported each other’s efforts and results.

The school itself is a warm and friendly operation, located on an idyllic setting on an island in Lake Superior. My husband, Cliff, was enrolled in another workshop going on at the same time, Craig Blacklock’s photography class. For months I had been telling people that Cliff and I were going to “art camp” together this summer. We shared a cabin at the school, but with wildly divergent schedules we rarely saw each other except for occasional meals. Cliff loved his opportunity to photograph the beauty of the island and the majesty of Lake Superior.

I was on a high, living in a bubble where writing and learning about writing was my focus morning, noon and night. I am motivated to keeping the spark alive at home by writing in my blog and in my work-in-progress book, Realize Your Dreams: Create an Action Plan for Life Transformation, along with a couple other projects.

The creation of art can be a solitary activity. We can all benefit from opportunities to meet with others, expand our perspectives, learn from great teachers, exchange knowledge and share our own personal work with like-minded people. If you are a writer or an artist who could use a spark of your own – seek out a workshop, class, or conference – anything that will stimulate you and your passion for your work.