Tag Archives: 4ChicksandaMuse

BOUNCE! From one thing to the next

16 Oct

Yes, I know it’s October, but I’m BOUNCING back to our September power word because I’m still processing that one!

I met with my Chicks recently and we had an interesting discussion. We talked about all the things we have going on. As much as we lamented having Too Much To Do, the reality is we all still wish we could do more!  But we know we simply can’t.

In reflecting now, I acknowledge I need to say “no” a bit more, so I can focus more. But, I must let go of the idea that life will fall into a nice, neat, orderly plan.  My closet, yes. My life, no. (Maybe this is why I like organizing closets so much.)   There are so many things that are a true “yes”, that if I let go of, would diminish my life considerably.

MichaelMaggs Edit by Richard Bartz

MichaelMaggs Edit by Richard Bartz

My writing works this way too, sometimes.  I’m working on a middle grade contemporary novel this year, but I had a chapter book that I wrote a long time ago and never felt confident about sending it out.  Now that more agents are seeking chapter books, it was time to bring it back out.  So, I BOUNCED back to it.  Revised it. Polished it.  Sent it to my beloved early readers.  Read the feedback. Revised some more. Polished some more and now…I’m querying!  And, I have more energy with that off my plate to BOUNCE back to my middle grade novel.  In fact, I’ve already added a couple thousand words.

I’ve embraced the fact that my list will remain long: family time, volunteering with my kids’ schools, cooking healthy meals, my consulting work which is satisfying and keeps me engaged professionally, writing, being an active critique group member and of course, time with my Four Chicks.  But I will stop beating myself up for how I get it all done.  The way I get it done is by bouncing from one thing to the next. It’s not neat. It’s not linear. And, it’s not pretty.  But you know what? It gets done.

So, I say it’s okay to BOUNCE, as long as you finish things along the way.  Just keep BOUNCING and learn to enjoy the ride.

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PADDLE! Tandem in Marriage

6 Jun
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Marriage is a lot like paddling in a tandem kayak.

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“Daddy’s yellow boat” offered my husband a solitary escape to tranquility.

Not long after my daughter was born, my husband took up kayaking. There was a major problem, however: the kayak had only one seat. This was intentional. The early months and years of parenthood are enough to make any semi-sane person develop cartoon blood-shot swirly eyes if they can’t ever get away from the diapers and screaming.

Nevertheless, I protested the single sit-inside-style boat. After all, as a new mother I was the one who had the greater demands on my time, I argued. Being affectionately dubbed by hubby as “the cafeteria,” I was forced to stay open 24/7 including nights, weekends and bank holidays feeding and caring for our new tiny roommate. At the time, I was also working full-time. If I couldn’t escape for a relaxing half-day paddle through a Florida mangrove, why should he?

Now that we are in our seventeenth year of marriage, a lot has changed for both Michael and me, including my narrow views on kayaking.

  • Everyone needs to paddle on their own sometimes. In retrospect, my husband really needed that time alone. I, too, needed alone time and independent interests (which the Chicks have helped me honor), but instead of carving these out for myself then, it was easier to try to keep him from doing so for himself. Graciously allowing it for him meant acknowledging my own needs, which as new moms we all tend to minimize. That said…
  • The lure of lush Hawaiian islands to be reached and explored stayed in our sights as we paddled out to sea in tandem.

    The lure of lush Hawaiian islands to be reached and explored stayed in our sights as we paddled out to sea in tandem.

    Marriage works best in tandem. When baby was old enough to be left with grandma, Michael first coaxed me out into a tandem kayak during a trip in Hawaii. There was something very satisfying about paddling together, in the same direction, toward a common landmark. If you want to turn in the same direction, both rowers must communicate. Otherwise you’ll either go in circles or get driven by the current.

  • You rest; I’ll paddle. Forging through powerful Pacific waves, my arms screamed at me to stop. That’s the beauty of a tandem kayak. You can take a break to rest on your oars while your partner keeps paddling. Other times, you need to let them rest while you work harder to keep the vessel moving forward, or at least not too far backwards or off course. There is no score card. We’re each doing the best we can at any point in time. So if one rower feels they need to rest, the stronger one must keep paddling for them both. It’s harder, yes, but it doesn’t last forever. Each rower finds strength at different times, and no rower can–or should–paddle without breaks. The important thing to remember is…

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    Behind each smiling photo of a married couple are struggles. Two people row together and in turn to get through a sea of challenges from family and work to health and emotions.

  • We’re still in the same boat. We may be struggling, individually or together, but we’re in this together. If we get turned over, we’ll tread water and get back in. We’ll keep paddling until, eventually, we reach land. Even if it’s not the idyllic island we intended, we’ll both be glad for the shared break on a sandy beach.

I hope you enjoyed the Chicks’ month of PADDLE! And to committed couples everywhere: happy paddling!

For the rest of June, come DIVE! with us into summer.

SPROUT! Encouraging Other Artists

3 Apr
Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Artists of every botanical species can sometimes feel alone in a cold, harsh world.

Seedlings come in all varieties. Whether newfound ideas or individuals, they are important artistic sprouts for us to encourage. When either a creative project or a creative person is first placed into our lives, we as artists—regardless of where we are in our own journey—can help both them and ourselves grow by our openness, attention and support.

In the past week, I’ve met not one, but two amazing women. For the sake of privacy and universality, let’s call them Young Sprouting Artist and Young-at-Heart Sprouting Artist, or “Yo” and “Yah” for short. If either reads this post, she’ll know who she is.

In each instance, a casual conversation quickly escalated to an immediate connection. I had a hunch I knew the reason, and in both cases, my artistic intuition was subsequently confirmed. After a group exercise class at the gym, stay-at-home mom Yah eventually shared that she is a prolific painter who longs for her first art show exhibit spot but feels discouraged by obstacles. Under even more unlikely circumstances that I won’t detail here, young elementary school teacher Yo eventually shared how she longs to write a Young Adult novel but also feels discouraged, perhaps by her own inner critic more than anything else.

I wanted to reach out and hug Yah and Yo. Mind you, my artistic journey is far from its own apex. Nevertheless, I was overcome with a desire to encourage and support each of these beautiful women. In those honest moments, my artistic soul screamed within, wanting to affirm to them: “Yes, you are an artist! And you are not alone!”

That’s how and why we 4 Chicks dreamed ourselves into online existence. The support and love we experienced for each other’s creativity was so powerful in changing our own lives that we wanted to share it with others. But before all that, we were four extraordinarily ordinary moms who giggled at calling ourselves “artists.” Here’s a quick Chick Quiz to give you an idea of our transformations over the past three years:

  1. Which Chick has written four YA novels? (Hint: the first one, Olivia Twisted, comes out November 2013 from Entangled. Oh, and this fabulous, funny Chick also won a prize at the last SCBWI conference for her costumed impersonation as Honey Boo Boo.)
  2. Which Chick has written multiple picture book manuscripts, finished one novel and started another, while taking on exciting new roles as a college professor and seminar leader? (Hint: she never has a bad hair day. That should give it away.)
  3. Which Chick won a national contest to have a children’s book published and is working on an historical novel based on the life of a female pirate? (Hint: she wrote Addie and Ollie in one evening but has been writing the novel on and off for…much longer.)
  4. Which Chick edited our theme song video, started running triathlons, marathons, Tough Mudders, and is currently studying to be a nutritionist and personal trainer.  (Hint: her muse name comes from all the creative parties she throws at her house and also for hosting our monthly meetings. Yes, her rattan pool furniture is our “set.”)
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Like healthy grass, the roots of healthy artists grow horizontally, strengthened by the support of other shoots and reaching out themselves.

Tomorrow I’ll be at a nearby community college, where I was asked to attend a fine arts student expo to speak casually about the blog, blogging and freelancing with those looking to pursue artistic careers. Coincidence? No such thing. After being so deeply inspired by Yo and Yah, I’m more excited than before to share whatever artistic seeds I’ve learned along the way.

Have you met someone recently who could use your artistic love? Or is it your own germinating idea? Either way, cherish your sprout and help it grow together with you.

Confession of an Acts Murderer

15 Aug

This is one of about 529 similar photos my son sends to my phone photo album from the Elmo app. Maybe that’s me, lurking with a fro in the sunflowers, waiting to strike.

On the upside, I’ve survived the first four weeks of the Writer’s Digest Writing Your Novel Scene by Scene  online workshop and have written a handful of new scenes that I feel pretty good about. The bad news? Well, I’ve become a serial scene killer.

See, I had written six chapters in the past that I thought were pretty good, too. But now, I can see more in them that I want to change than keep. For example, I’ve learned that adverbs are the devil, at least in dialogue tags. Tab-ewwww. Now I know.

Last week I took on a freelance project that took up almost all of my daytime hours. As a result, I didn’t have time to develop the second scene that was due as assignment by Sunday night, midnight. So what did I do at 11:55pm? I decided to send one of the old scenes with the new one I had completed, explaining to my teacher what I was doing.

My and my new BFF at McD’s. Love me my sausage egg McGriddles and Diet Coke.

When his review came back Monday, I realized I had been ‘caught.’ But in a good way. He was good with the new scene but pointed out valid problems with the other. Rereading the old scene, I was pretty horrified at what I had once thought was passable. But then, I realized that what pursuingthemuse had recently told me was true. It’s a good sign to hate what you wrote in the past. It means you’re getting better!

No more old scenes, I promised my professor (and myself). Not unless I had seriously butchered them first and reassembled better. That’s what writers do, I guess: Create. Kill. Recreate. Learn More. Kill Again. Create. All part of the process of honing this craft of words. Speaking of which, WriteOnCon started today. If you missed it, here’s a great feature on the Importance of Craft.

It’s up to you to reach out

3 Feb

I am reflecting once again on the idea of community in creative work.  We talked about it in our Week 10 video, and literally every day something happens which makes me so aware and so grateful for the wonderful creative community out there.

Last night, I was on a group chat on Twitter called #yalitchat.  If you tweet, you are familiar with this concept, but for those not familiar, the basic deal is this: a chat is set for a date and time and anyone and everyone who wants to discuss that topic joins in the conversation by watching all the tweets with that hashtag.  If they tweet anything themselves, they mark it with that same hashtag so others can see it.

It’s like being in a big virtual room with a bunch of people who are interested in the same thing you are, and you can hear every conversation.

I learn something new, find new people and blogs of interest, and encourage and support others every time I join this particular chat.  It’s a community!  Like a flash mob, it is constantly changing and only temporary, but it’s a community just the same.

This is just one example, but if you feel like you are creating your art in a vacuum and need some support, it’s up to you to reach out.  A critque group, a class, Twitter.  These are just a few of the possibilities.  Carpe diem!

Chicks Chat About Resilience – Week 9

23 Dec

There is a Chinese proverb that goes something like this: Fall down seven times, stand up eight. That ancient writer might have gained that wisdom from me, the Muse. The Chicks are in the process of learning it now. In any endeavor, whether you fear and fail is not as important as whether you try and try again. I am beckoning you. Keep seeking me, and the worry, fear and self-doubt you feel will not be roadblocks but signposts along the way.

Join the 4 Chicks as they chat about Julia Cameron’s Walking in this World: The Practical Art of CreativityChapter 9: Discovering a Sense of Resiliency.

Happy Holidays to you and here’s to a creative 2012!

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Apricot Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Italian Sausage-Rice Pilaf

Ingredients

  • 4 Cornish game hens (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup diced carrot
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced orange zest
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons toasted almond slivers
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 5 teaspoons salt
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups apricot jam
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • KICKED UP DAN VERSION:   ADD ½ CUP COINTREAU

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat and add the sausage. Cook until the fat is rendered, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon of the orange zest and sweat for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook stirring continuously for 3 minutes. Add the raisins, almonds, parsley, thyme, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and place it in the oven and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove the rice from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Place the rice on a sheet pan or a platter to cool.

Combine the apricot jam, orange juice, COINTREAU and remaining zest in a small mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Place the glaze in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Allow glaze to cook until reduced by half. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes.

Season the hens with the remaining salt and pepper on the insides and out. Stuff each hen cavity with about 3/4 cup of the cooled rice and place in a roasting pan. Use a pastry brush to spread the glaze on the hens and place them in the oven.

Roast the game hens for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and spread another layer of glaze over the hens. Return the hens to the oven and roast for an additional 15 minutes. Remove the hens from the oven, spread the glaze over the hens, and return to the oven.

Continue to cook for 30 more minutes, or until an instant read-thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 160 degrees F, and inserted into the rice registers 140 degrees F.

Serve the hens with any extra rice pilaf.

Slow Down and Feel Strong – Week 8 Task

18 Dec

In this chapter of Julia Cameron’s book, Walking in This World, one task in particular spoke to me.  The title was: Slow Down and Feel Strong.  Even though my work is finally slowing down at year end, I still feel myself in a rush.   It’s almost like the end of a 100 yard dash, where you’ve crossed the finish line but the momentum keeps your body moving forward and you just have to keep moving your legs so you don’t fall flat on your face.  Actually, a better analogy would be a small child who, at the end of the day is exhausted, yet they get even more wound up and are literally running mindlessly in circles. Yes, that’s what I feel like at the moment.  So, if I’m truly to enjoy these holidays, I need to slow down. 

The task is to write down a list of 5 areas in your life where you feel a sense of haste and pressure.  Then, to determine if your urgency is misplaced or if you can reset your timeline, and ultimately to slow down, be more in control and not make yourself crazy!  Here is my list:

1.    Reading.  This one is odd.  And a little sad.  Reading is one of my very favorite activities.  I couldn’t wait until the end of the semester so I’d have time to read some books for pleasure.  But am I finding it pleasureable?  So-so at best.  Why?  Because I am literally racing through them.  Just let me get to the end so I can see what happens.  Oh, and check it off my list.   That’s the subliminal refrain I can hear if I slow down for just a moment.  I’m skimming, not savoring.  Ugh.  

This one I definitely need to change my timeline on.  And go back to enjoying reading.

2.   Home ‘refurbishment’.  I know why I’m feeling skitchy about this one.  Because we just finished a major project but there are other, smaller ancillary projects that spun off of it.  You know how it goes – you remodel your kitchen, then it’s obvious the living room needs painting.  And the dining room, and the den.  And then, oh, those window coverings could use a little perking up.  And on it goes.   And I just want it done because I’ll be hosting for the holidays and I want everything to be just right.  

Okay, if I’m being realistic, this is one I can change my timeline on, too.  The truth is, my guests will have a good time no matter what color my living room wall is.

3.   Holiday cards.  I usually like writing and sending holiday greetings.  But I’m rushing through it this year and to be honest, it’s not doing anything for my holiday spirit.  This one I can’t change the timeline on if I actually want people to receive their cards before Christmas.   I’ve already blown the beginning of Hannukah deadline, but I can still make it by the end of the 8 days.  

I could just say ‘forget it, I’ll make them New Year’s card instead’.  But I’m not going to.  This timeline stays.

4.   Eating.   Now, this one sounds really odd, but with everything else going on, I find the very last priority in my day is eating.  I sometimes literally forget to eat lunch or breakfast.  This has never, and I mean never, been my m.o.   Not only do I get painfully hungry and grumpy if I don’t eat often,  I truly love good food.   The thing that makes me such a picky eater is the same thing that makes me go all When Harry Met Sally over the perfect heirloom tomato salad or lemongrass risotto – I can taste every flavor x10.  But now?  I’ll realize among my working, painting, cleaning, making meals for everyone else, rushing to the store and drycleaners and so on that I never made time to eat.   And when I do eat, I just shovel it in.   But don’t worry about me.  I’m not wasting away.  I’ve actually gained 5 pounds in the last few months. 

This is a basic self-care issue.  I need to and I will slow down, make sure I eat, and enjoy my meals once again.

5.   This blog post.  I know, this one’s a little bit of a cheat.  But since it’s 5 minutes until midnight and I said I would get this out “today”, I have to make a choice. 

And, the choice is…no pushing back the time.  Finish it and hit ‘publish’.  And that’s what I’m going to do.

Organize Like a Blogger

27 Nov

It’s after 3 a.m., and I should really be sleeping. Instead, I’m riding a wave of satisfaction at my latest effort to organize the roughly 75 years and 200 historical characters that are connected to my historical fiction novel. Oh, and the caffeine high from the hard-core Cokes my dad left from Thanksgiving might be playing a role.

At any rate, I’ve tried Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, even index cards in an attempt to harness the information overload. I even started using Scrivener’s writing software, which I do like. However, in the flurry of new information I’ve acquired in recent weeks, I’ve realized that I still haven’t found the ideal way to incorporate new facts and cross-reference effectively. Perhaps, that is, until now.

First let me backtrack just a bit to a few weeks ago. A client who just moved recommended me as a potential resource for an internal communications campaign for which external resources were being considered. I had a weekend to submit a proposal. Instead of cracking open PowerPoint, however, I decided to create a private blog, which was the intended delivery vehicle of the communications anyway.

As I told my fellow Chicks, I put all of my Chick training to good use. In just days, I was able to create a really fun, stylized proposal in just a matter of days. What’s more, I gained a deeper understanding of the organization between pages (not date of writing related) and posts (critical to date of writing). To me, the result felt very cool, very functional, and above all, very organized for future growth.

So tonight, I decided it might be fun-ctional to apply this concept of a private blog to my Goliath project–the “I-T” to which the antecedent is always understood by my Chicks and my patiently enduring husband to be “my never-ending historical fiction novel”. I spent hours just making a start, but at least I have a good general framework for building it out. And knowing that only I can access and view the blog makes it feel like an extension of my brain. But a LOT tidier.

This could be a turning point for me. Besides the potential of becoming vastly more organized with this project than I’ve been to-date, I’ve decided that even if I don’t live to see the fruition of this novel actually written to completion, I’m going to start enjoying the mystery clue-collecting process more. Who knows where this could lead next? And who cares, now that I’ve remembered why I started on this project? I really do love it and am determined to bring order to the historical chaos swirling around my major characters.

Truth be told, I work better when I at least FEEL organized. In fact, I don’t even like to sit at my computer at all unless and until my house is clean and organizing around me. This explains my lack of productivity over the past six months, when the process of moving out and moving in has me wanting to make everything perfect around me. The boxes are unpacked, but perfect–that’s gonna take some time (and money). Meanwhile, moving my equally intimidating pods of historical facts into my private blog-abase is giving me a serene sense of clutter conquest. At least on the screen, which is where I need to stay focused.

The Winner is…..

10 Nov

Thank you to all our new subscribers, existing subscribers and those following us on Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.  We’re so glad to have you “here” as part of our creative community.  Also, we are pleased to announce the winner of our first giveaway – writer JA Humm.  The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is winging it’s way to her now.  Don’t forget to check out her blog!

What wishes have you granted yourself this year?

24 Oct

I marked another item off the list!

Call it a ‘wish list’.  Call it a ‘bucket list’.  You have one, don’t you?  If not on paper, then at least in your head?  I have one, or many actually, in various forms.   I’ve created them at a number of times over the past couple years that the Chicks and I have been working through Julia Cameron’s books

I wasn’t thinking about those lists yesterday, though, when I met with the Chicks to record our theme song.  I was too nervous! 

All that was going on in my head was:  I’m not a singer!  What are people going to think?  Why did I agree to this? 

I almost pulled out.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I came, I sang, I conquered.  My fear, that is.   What a great feeling! 

Thanks to Tracey for so many things, from writing the song to arranging our recording session to serving us lunch to reminding me that singing for an audience was on my wish list.    It made me realize how many things on my wish list I have ‘granted’ myself in the past year, from singing ‘in public’ to taking a photography class to joining a writing group to finishing a novel (with Vivi).  It’s so empowering.  With this kind of momentum, who knows what’s next?

What wishes on your wish list have you granted yourself this year?

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