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Thursday, July 17, 2014


Don't use it's as a possessive.  Don't like participles dangle.  Don't write words with numb3rs (unless you're seven!).

These are some of the useful tips Weird Al offers in his new music video about grammar: Word Crimes.  It's based off Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, but it's much more clever than its inspiration (see how I used it's and its in the proper way there?)

Anyway, here's a bit of fun for your day.  Enjoy.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Procrastination Can Be Lovely

I've been planting a lot lately.  Putting little blips in the ground, covering them up, hoping they sprout.

It's a satisfying endeavor.  I yank weeds out by the root, shaking them free of dirt so they can't rob the precious soil from my seedlings.  Some of the dirt flies back into the ground, a good deal ends up under my fingernails.  I don't mind.  I wear my dirty half-moons proudly, stepping into Home Depot adorned in my grungiest shirt and tennis shoes that are ripping at the seams and stained with earth.  I fit in here, among the project-doers and tinkerers.  We walk around each other with ease, like a group of people at a political rally.  We're all here for the same purpose; there's no need to talk about it much.
Courtesy of

At some point--in between yanking and watering--I wonder what I am doing.  What's the point of all this planting?  Why do I care about the things I place in the ground?

I suspect it all has something to do with my need to nurture.  To care for, to watch something grow, to love.  It satisfies some primordial urge to mother.  And it feeds my desire to root around in the dirt and create something out of little.

And then, there's the progress.  I enjoy watching the tiny heads sprout out of the ground and unfurl into something beautiful or something I can eventually eat.  That tiny sprout will be a radish someday.  And that one, a forget-me-not.  And that one, a beet. It's satisfying to see such measurable progress while my writing is languishing.

And then I realize, that's the point, isn't it?  It's all a distraction from what I should be doing.  It's a way to procrastinate when I should be spending more time with my third novel.  I ignore my pangs of guilt, turn away from my laptop, and go outside to pull some weeds.

Taken on Nicollet Island, Minneapolis
In the past, I might have been hard on myself for my inattentiveness.  I might have been horrified by my lack of writing.  But this time, I decided to forgive myself.  I decided I lend myself a month of flitting around the foliage before I return to ink and paper.  After all, how can a writer draw on her experiences if she has none?  So, for the rest of June, I will experience my garden.  And I will nourish my roots so that something lovely may grow.

What's your favorite way to procrastinate?

Monday, May 12, 2014

4 Lessons from Central America

 Travel can teach a person many valuable lessons--acceptance of differences, adaptation, flexibility--but some places are more trying than others. In some travel destinations, the only challenge might be finding someone to refill your margarita glass, but I prefer to steer clear of those areas, to venture off the well-worn path. It is in these remote places, filled with local flavor and authenticity, that I have found my greatest life lessons.

I am not a stranger to Central America (I lived in Panama for 6 months at one point and have traveled to every country, minus El Salvador), but I hadn't set foot in that fascinating strip of land between Texas and Colombia in a few long years.  During that hiatus, I forgot many of the lessons I previously learned in Central America. Last month, when I exited the San Pedro Sula airport, they came roaring back.

Here are my top four:

1. Practice Patience
Whether you're waiting for the bus, in line at the only ATM in town, or waiting while the hotel clerk figures out why your room is double-booked, it pays to have patience.  Buses don't always arrive on time, meals might take nearly an hour to reach your table, but what's your hurry anyway? It is ingrained in the American mentality that efficiency is the best policy--whisk into a restaurant, immediately order drinks and food, chat absentmindedly with friends while you're catching up on work emails and adding events to your Google Calendar, gulp down your food, pay, run out the door to your evening pilates class.  That's not the way in Central America.  You are meant to sit down, make meaningful connections, stay a while. If you let events unravel at their own pace, you're more likely to find enjoyment in them.

2. Have Trust
I was startled for a moment when a small child clambered into my lap in a severely crowded micro-bus in Guatemala.  Then, I shrugged, put my hand on his back to keep him balanced, and watched as his mother struggled to fit into the tiny space between the seat and the door, while shuffling another child into place. People trust people in Guatemala. It's a novel thing for most Americans--handing our kids off to strangers, allowing someone to take our bags and tie them to the top of a bus, buying mangoes off the woman with a basket of fruit on the street--but this kind of trust is almost unavoidable in Central America. If you want to get from Point A to Point B, and you want to do it on a budget, you'll be crammed into public buses with everyone else. There are tons of horror stories about armed robberies and petty thievery on buses, but I have never experienced that. Mostly, the buses are filled to the brim with ordinary people trying to get to work or visit their cousin in Antigua.

That said, you should not, of course, completely let your guard down. Trust, yes. But be street smart as well. Don't wave your money around or keep your cell phone in your front pocket. There's a difference between having trust and being careless.

3. Quiet Your Mind
If you're like many Americans, you have a packed schedule and little downtime.  And, whatever downtime you might have, you spend filling with TV, Facebook, or YouTube cats. Do you ever take the time to sit, be mindful of your surroundings, and do nothing?

When I started my two-week long vacation last month, the lack of distractions agitated me. I found myself sitting in the middle of a four hour bus ride to Copan, alternately looking out the window and fidgeting with my guidebook, attempting to keep up small talk with my travel partner. Silence bothered me; the lack of productivity bothered me (I could have been writing or updating my Twitter account, or...). I stopped. I realized where I was and what I was doing, and focused on relaxing.

It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Focusing on relaxing.  But it's what I had to do for the first few days to stop myself from feeling antsy and unproductive.  Eventually, it wasn't so hard to keep my body still, focus on my breathing, and watch the scenery as it slid by. Now that I'm back in the states, that kind of quiet is difficult to find at times, but I'm making a concerted effort to pursue it.

4. Open Yourself To New Experiences
You could travel to Central America and get by just fine on pizza and burgers, only speak English, travel only by charter bus, and only visit obvious tourist attractions. You could. Or you could try that thing on the menu you've never heard of, engage locals in conversation, attempt to order food or ask directions in Spanish. Either way, you'll probably be perfectly happy and have a nice time on your trip.  However, if you choose to be a little daring, to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone, you'll likely enjoy a fuller, richer experience...and you'll find a whole set of adventures, tasty food, and interesting people to add to your life's fabric.

Happy travels,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Am I an Impostor? (Overcoming Self-Doubt)

Thank you to Margaret Smith for her guest blog.  Margaret is a career coach, author, and professional speaker with over thirty years of experience in corporate leadership and sales. Find out more about Margaret at her WEBSITE.
It happens to even the most accomplished among us: That nagging feeling that it’s only a matter of time before we’re found out to be frauds. Thoughts like ”I don’t actually know what I’m doing here,” or, “I’ve done well so far, but eventually they’ll realize they made a big mistake hiring me,” are token examples of someone experiencing this phenomenon. Which begs the question: Where does this intense self-doubt come from?
Known as the Impostor Phenomenon (IP), it is more prevalent than you might expect. (You can view a small test see if you have the IP traits HERE.) In her new book, THE EMPRESS HAS NO CLOTHES: CONQUERING SELF-DOUBT TO EMBRACE SUCCESS, Joyce M. Roche, president of Girls Incorporated, both reveals why many of us have such thoughts, and lays out practical ways to combat them.
Roche writes that conquering self-doubt lies in ”learning how to metabolize external validation to turn it into the core strength of internal validation.” In other words, instead of letting your negative thoughts define who you think you are, focus on concrete successes you can point to in your life and let those fuel your sense of self-worth.
A few more points on overcoming self-doubt:
1. IDENTIFY THE SPECIFIC PARTS OF YOUR LIFE THAT MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE AN IMPOSTOR, AND TALK TO SOMEONE YOU TRUST ABOUT THOSE SPECIFIC THINGS. The simple act of verbalizing your fears shines light on the faulty thinking you used to create them.
2. FOCUS ON THE EXTERNAL FACTORS OF YOUR PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCE INSTEAD OF YOUR INTERNAL THOUGHTS. You’ll see your track record for what it really us: there will be both successes and failures, sure, but be sure to give yourself credit where credit is due.
3. WEAR YOUR FAILURES AND SETBACKS AS BADGES, NOT BLEMISHES TO COVER UP. As cliché as it is, our failures really are what propel us forward by showing us exactly what not to do, and failures are usually closely followed by successes.
Roche, Joyce M., and Alexander Kopelman. THE EMPRESS HAS NO CLOTHES: CONQUERING SELF-DOUBT TO EMBRACE SUCCESS. San Francisco: Barrett-Koelher, 2013.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Art for novel #3: A sneak peak

Well, hello.

Welcome back! You, sir or madam, follow my blog or my Twitter account or my Facebook page.  Here's my way of saying thank you!  I am giving you a sneak peak of the very first drafts for the artwork that will be included in my third novel.  It's a dark mystery about a man who creates elaborate paintings while high on a drug called the white wizard...but where do his paintings go?  And why does he get the feeling that some of the bizarre dreams he's been having are actually true?  Stay tuned!  Find Frank comes out next year.  In the meantime, enjoy a preview of the art-to-come:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Have you smiled today? (It may make all the difference)

Ron Gutman is an expert on an unusual subject: smiling.  In his research, he found that people who smile (wide and often) are significantly more successful and tend to live longer, healthier lives than those who do not.   Smiling also has the power to encourage, unite, and inspire.  Several studies indicate that smiling is contagious.When someone smiles at us, we are likely to respond in kind and feel a boost in our mood besides.

He points out that we are born smiling and some children smile as often as 400 times per day.  By the time we reach adulthood, 2/3 of us smile less than 20 times each day.  Perhaps if we all made an effort to smile more often (and at each other), the world would be a more pleasant place in which to live.  Especially during this long, brutal winter, smiling more often couldn't hurt!

Take a few minutes to watch this video; I guarantee you'll think about smiling in a whole new light.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

IKEA: Ending Relationships One Bed Frame at a Time

Before you read: Let me make it clear that our relationship did not crumble and die due to assembling IKEA furniture.  It was stretched a bit, and probably made stronger because of our recent experience with the IKEA Brimnes bed frame.  It's most likely even stronger than the cardboard that holds the bottom of our bed frame drawers together.
*    *    *    *   *   *   *   *

So, you want to add more storage to your life?  And you want it to sit under your bed?  Great!  There's a solution for that.  It's called under-bed storage and you can find it at any furniture shop.  But why not IKEA?  It's inexpensive, relatively good-looking, and did I mention inexpensive?  I've purchased many items from IKEA in the past (and am actually fairly in love with my desk), but I've never before had the pleasure/pain of putting together something so elaborate it requires 41 steps and multiple bags of screws/washers/nuts/twirl-a-gigs.

But the trouble began even before we opened page one of the manual (which, incidentally shows various drawings of unisex people either smiling because they are doing things correctly, or looking perturbed because they aren't following the directions or things are going horribly wrong.  A telling start.).  You see, we wanted a black bed frame.  The rest of our furniture is dark and (call us snobs) we wanted it to match.  The problem, however, was that the Brimnes under-bed storage bed frame only came in one color: white.

We sighed and bought it anyway, along with several cans of black spray paint and primer.

The next few months were filled with unpacking the boxes, laying out the parts, figuring out which parts faced the outside and actually needed to be painted, and then getting to town with a painting respirator mask and spray paint (all in the basement, of course, because it is negative insane degrees in Minneapolis now).  When we were nearly finished with the project, we ran into a friend who works at IKEA.  Our conversation went something like this.

"Oh hey."
"How's it going?"
"Great. Did you buy that bed frame you two were looking at a few weeks ago?"
"Sure did.  We're now in the process of painting the entire 8,568 pieces black."
"Well...I don't know how to tell you this, but..."
The sentence dangled.  We exchanged worried looks.
" comes out in black next month."

With time and counseling, we overcame our deep depression and finally soldiered ourselves to build the damn thing.

It was all going swimmingly (slowly, but swimmingly), until step 28. You only have to google "Brimnes step 28" to see that we were not the only ones to encounter the man-eating, lava-spewing, hydra-headed beast that is step 28 (and its cousin, step 29).  In this step, the assembler is expected to fit several triangular screws into round holes.  Ready go.

We tried forcing them in manually, we tried screwdrivers, a drill, a pair of pliers.  We tried cursing at them; we tried cursing at the diabolical engineers who designed them.  Eventually, we tried the internet.  There was one consensus: use brute force.  We did and eventually, the screws scraped into their homes.

Only 12 more steps to go.

Eric, looking thoroughly defeated
We looked at the clock.  Four hours had slipped by and our alarms would be sounding in a matter of hours.  We went to bed.  Fortunately, it held up. 

A couple days later (after we regained the will to keep at it), we got around to assembling the drawers.  They were mostly fine, except the cardboard bottoms didn't fit into a couple of the slats and needed to be shaved down.  We finished attaching drawer slides to drawers and wooden sides to cardboard bottoms and finally, we had drawers!  ...with lily-white handles.

We looked at the handles we had forgotten to paint and shrugged.  "Another day..."

Two weeks later, they are still sitting on top of our (IKEA-brand) table in the living room. We'll get to them eventually, but for now, we are taking in the lessons we learned from our experience, which can be summed up as:
Dobby approves

1. Set aside about 80% more time than you think you need before assembling IKEA furniture
2. Laugh about errors/finger pinches/cuts/shoddy directions/each other's mistakes
3. Be forgiving to yourself and your fellow assembler
4. Step back from time to time and remind yourself: It's only furniture.

Thanks IKEA, for the life lessons and extra storage!