Sunday, February 10, 2019

Word of the Year 2019

Do you have a word for the year?

My oldest son picked "bravery" as his word for the year and I love it. It's kind of a family theme this year, I think.

Bravery encompasses all kinds of behaviors that I respect and admire and appreciate.

Bravery can be pushing yourself to work hard at a physical activity.
It can be submitting to a new publication.
It can be trying new foods.

It can mean forgiving someone - like yourself.
It can mean trusting someone - like yourself.

My middle son exhibited some bravery over the holidays. He received a jigsaw puzzle as a gift and was uncertain about tackling it. He's struggled with puzzles before. They can be frustrating and difficult.

I offered to trade him for it, but he decided to do it. I was so proud of his bravery.

He also didn't want help. I was nervous about that, because sometimes he sets really lofty goals for himself, and doing a 500 piece puzzle all on your own is daunting. He eventually allowed us to sort pieces for him but not place any.

He tackled the puzzle his own way, too, much differently than I usually do puzzles. I stepped back and let him try it.

I didn't need to worry. He did it.

And his feeling of accomplishment was as big as the solar system.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Trying New Things - 2019 Edition

It's always a good time to try new things. But what about trying things that you haven't done in maybe 30 years? Do they count as new?

Let's take ice skating.

During the holiday break, I spontaneously decided to ice skating. I hadn't ice skated in about 30 years. I was never any good at it before and I was nervous about doing it, but thanks to help from two friends, I completed one loop around the ice.

I felt proud and energized.

I do make new year's resolutions but I also like to review my goals for the year. It's taken me about a month to refine my goals.

At first I made a big list of everything I wanted to have happen this year. Then I realized there were some things on my list that I might not reach no matter how hard and how smart I worked. After a second look, I realized there were some things on there that couldn't really be measured as "done" or "good." They were just too subjective or ongoing.

So I divided my goals into different kinds of lists. Here they are:

2019 Goals

Things I can complete
  • Run six races this year (As of today, I've done 1!)
  • Finish my YA manuscript
  • Finish the Rosalie manuscript
  • Go camping 
  • Co-Read a book with each kid 
  • Bake something new
  • Go for a group run
  • Attend a new conference

Ongoing things I want to do well:
  • Moms volunteering
  • SCBWI volunteering (Now I'm the RA!)
  • Writing coach 
  • Writing club 
  • NHSC (Just the spring season)

Stuff I will work hard on but can't guarantee: 
  • Find the right agent
  • Write more for the educational publishing market 
  • Continue to write for Highlights - Achieved in Feb 2019!
  • Continue to write for Cricket magazine 

Monday, January 21, 2019

The 2018 Carnegie International at Carnegie Museum of Art

In January, a friend and I decided to visit the Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art. This special exhibit has been running for 57 years - yes, just like the number of spices in Heinz Ketchup and the exit for Pittsburgh on the PA Turnpike.

I love doodling and creating art projects here and there, but I'm not an artist. And sometimes I struggle to understand modern art. I think, because I'm not really familiar with current trends in art, it's hard for me to place modern art in context and therefore understand how the artist is engaging in conversations or trying to change conversations. I could be over-thinking this! But I try, nevertheless, to appreciate skill, creativity, and beauty. I'm also very honest about what I like and what speaks to me, regardless of if I understand the context.

So here are some the pieces I loved at the Carnegie.

This video by Rachel Rose featured collage art, something I love. In the guide it's called "cozy carpet, giant speakers, and a lonely creature." I'm not sure what the message was, but I loved watching the collages being built in the video.

Dayanita Singh created "pillars of pictures of archives" and I enjoyed the storage devices depicting archives and storage. I used to work at the National Archives and I loved knowing our knowledge was being saved. This photo is of a book wrapped in fabric, I think. The design of the knot reminded me of running legs. 

While looking at another piece that I didn't love, I thought I smelled coffee. I was right. In the next room, "Art Labor with Joan Jonas" featured Vietnamese coffee, kites, and hammocks. The French brought coffee to Vietnam. Now the Vietnamese drink strong espresso coffee with a lot of sweetened condensed milk. These sculptures are coated in coffee beans and are meant to bring awareness to the negative impact of coffee plantations on ethnic minorities in Vietnam. 

Next to the coffee room was a giant glass house surrounded by neon designs. I loved this neon flower box. The devil faced dude doing erotic dances with a giant floppy pencil on the video playing inside the house made me laugh. 

This giant piece of art is not in the Carnegie International, but it's a lovely piece and I loved the Art Deco style and the representation of mythological figures. 

I love this painting of Cape Cod, by Edward Hopper. I'm totally fine with my love of realism! 

The exhibit that really touched me emotionally was "Fruit and Other Things" by Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin. (I learned from WESA that Jon Rubin has done a lot of very cool art in Pittsburgh.) This piece employs artists from Pittsburgh to paint the titles of the over 10,000 pieces rejected from all the previous Carnegie International exhibitions. Watching artists paint these titles, seeing the titles displayed on the wall, and knowing that visitors can take a painted title home, moved me to tears. As a writer, I get a lot of rejections. A rejection isn't the end of the world, but it's tough. It was so powerful to see these titles resurrected and have a little breath of life given back to their dream if only for a moment. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Frigid Five - My First Race of 2019

I just finished my first race of the year, the Frigid Five, held at North Park in Pittsburgh, PA. It was also the first time I'd ever run this particular race. Cheers to working on our resolutions and trying new things!

A friend of mine set 19 goals for 2019 and since I'm easily inspired and love to set goals, I decided I'd set 19 goals, too! Then, because sometimes my ideas are bigger than I can handle, I only came up with 16. One idea that I did have, which I've sort of nibbled at the edges of for awhile, is running a race a month.

That is a really hard goal for me because of scheduling. In months like April and May, the kids' schedules are so tight it's hard to find a moment to eat let alone run a race. And when we're on vacation in June, I just feel like relaxin' not racin'.

But this might be my year. I've already got one done! I'm also fine if I get 6 races done in a year. Any more than that is a bonus.

The Frigid Five

So the Frigid Five wasn't super frigid today, luckily. I've heard it's been very, very cold in the past. It did snow last night and although the county did send plows and salt trucks around, the roads were gritty and slushy. Not the best footing. The race starts at the top of a hill near the Lodge and meanders down hill toward the lake. You go up and down some little hills on Pierce Mill and then make the right turn climbing uphill to the finish. I think it's Ridge Rd. It's a loooong hill. Parts are steep. I've biked up it before - in fact I've done biking hill intervals up it before! And I'm nowhere near a great biker, so I knew I could run up this hill.

My goal was to finish in under 50 minutes. I finished in 48:20, so not bad! I also decided that I would not walk up that last hill. And I didn't! No disrespect or judgment to other racers who did walk. Heck, lots of them walked and beat me up the hill. It's my own mental hang-up that I just can't walk and feel good about it. It's an effective strategy for lots of people. Like I said, it's my hang-up.

As usual, races run by Lightspeed are enjoyable. Easy registration, easy packet-pick up the morning of, nice race premium (it's the light blue buff in the photo) and this race had delicious pancakes and hot cocoa afterwards. I didn't snag an age group medal, but I met my finish time goal, my not-walking goal, and I also met my ENJOYMENT goal.

The Enjoyment goal is an important part of any event for me. There were a lot of things that might have made this event less than fun for me, and then some things happened that made it very fun.

  1. No one could come with me. I don't like going to things by myself. But I did it. 
  2. I had to park at the bottom at the hill and walk up to the race start. I was fortunate to chat with some friendly runners who made it an easy climb. 
  3. I had to get back down the hill at the end. I was so worried I'd be sweaty-cold. But a car was leaving right as I was and I got a ride to my van! 
  4. The slushy, gritty roads made me nervous, but I did fine. It was fine! 

So, one of my 2019 goals is chugging along nicely. I do hope to get a little faster by the time I run the Spring Thaw in February and reach my goal pace for the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile in April! But for today, I'm going to relax and enjoy my achievement!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Goals for the Year - A Review

Well, I forgot to write down my goals for 2018. It's kind of weird, because I definitely had them. I searched around on my computer and found a document of goals from 2016. So let's take a look at that list.

2016 Goals


  • Finish Stalkers
  • Finish a really good personal essay. Get it published.
  • Get an agent.
  • Get some new publication clips.
  • Complete NaNoWriMo 2016.
  • Have a new novel to pitch at conferences.
  • Sell/publish another children’s fiction piece.
  • Sell/publish children’s non-fiction piece.
  • Attend a new writing conference.
  • Increase school visits.
  • Get/keep two steady freelance clients.
  • Read all the Newbery award books. 
  • Read 100 books (again).
  • Run CUCB.
  • Run Pgh Marathon Relay.
  • Try some new races.
  • Run a sub 7:00 mile.
  • Continue to work for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
  • Do a gleaning activity for GPCFB.

Well, I haven't finished Stalkers yet. Or gotten a really good personal essay published. I don't have an agent.
I do have some new publication clips. 
I've sort of stopped worrying about NaNo, but I don't see that as a problem. I've finished novels without it being NaNo. 
I have 2 novels to pitch at conferences now and I'm working on my third. 
I've sold and published many more fiction and non-fiction stories so that a CHECK.
I did attend a new conference this year. Yay!
I haven't done school visits beyond my own kids' schools, but that's OK. I have also worked with two clients in 2017 and 2018. So that's nice. 
I'm still slogging through Newberys and I've read 100 books. 
I've done the CUCB, no new races, no relay this year, and no sub 7 mile. 
I've stayed with Moms and I'm proud of it. I haven't done the gleaning activity. 

2019 Goals
I have some ideas for 2019. I'm thinking about a race a month. I want to finish the novel I'm working on. I plan to do some more educational writing, so put that on the list! 

I'll probably make an official list at some point. 

Do you make a list of goals for the year? 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Book Stats from Goodreads

There are some things I'm really, really good at doing.

Reading is one of them. Goodreads agrees.

If you're interested in a fun infographic about the books I read this year (so far, because I'm still reading) you can check it out here.

Here are some of my book stats from Goodreads. I love books, I love stats.

This first graph tells you how many books I read each year.

This graph tells you the years of publication of the books I read. Yes, most are in the 2000s. But take a look at the very bottom right of the graph. Yes, I read a book published in 1410. You can hover over these dots on Goodreads, but these are just screenshots.

Thanks for the data, Goodreads. Now back to the books!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

My Grandfather's Hats

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house while I was growing up. They were my mom's parents, Marjorie Rose Walterhoefer Shaffer and Eugene Shaffer Sr. My grandfather, whom I called Gonky, never went to high school or college, but he was a steady reader and even a writer. He had an office in his basement and had two typewriters. I loved typing on those typewriters. He wrote stories for my children and I saved them. He also wrote a short non-fiction essay and I'm sharing that here today.

Eugene Shaffer, Sr.

My fascination with hats began with the Boy Scout Campaign Hat. The leaders and boys both wore the same hat and that made me feel grown up. I was so proud of that hat.

At that time I did not realize the role hats would play in my life. At different times the hat would give me a different identities.

In my seventeenth year World War 2 was going full blast and I couldn’t wait to join up. I traded my Boy Scout hat for the round white Navy hat. I wore that hat cocked to the side and with a very salty air.

Returning to civilian life hats continued to give me identity. Baseball caps became the hat of the times. Caps with sport team logos identified the city or state you were from. The Baltimore Orioles were my favorite.

Working as a heavy equipment operator I received hats from the manufacturer of the equipment I was operating and they identified me as the operator of that equipment. Later we were required to wear hard hats. They identified you even more. Different trades wore different color hard hats. Some companies put different color strips on the hats to identify the different trades.

When I retired I got involved with the DE Sailors Association and I was proud to wear a hat that identified me as a former crew member of the USS Bostwick DE 103. I am sure people noticed but did not comment. It wasn’t until my wife bought me a World War 11 Veterans hat when we visited the USS Yorktown that things started happening.

I took my wife to the doctor’s office and parked on the parking lot in back of the building. When we came out I noticed a paper stuck under my windshield wiper. I thought right away someone had hit my car and left a note. When I read the note, I was very surprised. The note read, “ Dear Sir, I saw your hat as you passed my car. I want to thank you for my freedom.” It was signed  “A grateful citizen.”

Others have gone out of their way to say the same thing. Once while walking on the beach at Bethany Beach, Delaware, a young man came running out of the water when he saw my hat. He was a Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy and said he was proud of the job the service men did for our country in WW2.

Sometimes the thanks I receive are simpler. While pumping gas in my car a very young man in his twenties came over to shake my hand and thank me. More recently, my wife and I were at a restaurant. A lady came over to the table and asked if I was the man with the WW2 Veteran hat. I said I was and she said, “ I really admire you vets and thank you for saving our way of life.” I thanked her for taking the time to say so.

My hats have said a lot over the years, but none say it any better then my last one. I am grateful people remember. God Bless.