How old do you feel? Time to Reflect.

Recently, I felt the need to journal and reflect. But where to start? I recalled a social media post I read a few months ago that offered a list of questions. As usually happens, though, I couldn’t recall exactly when I read the post or the people involved in the discussion.

However, the list included the kind of questions Laurie Buchanan, a holistic health practitioner and transformational life coach, shares on her blog Tuesdays with Laurie. I took a shot and contacted her.

note-to-self_finalLaurie generously sent a list of 365 questions that form the core of one chapter of her soon-to-be-published book Note to Self. From the book cover:

Note to Self is about offloading emotional baggage – something that’s especially important when we realize that we don’t just pack for one, we pack for seven of our selves – self-preservation, self-gratification, self-definition, self-acceptance, self-expression, self-reflection, and self-knowledge. Each plays a vital role in harmony, overall health, and well-being.

Exploring one question

I chose this question from Laurie’s list: How old do you feel?

To begin, I catalogued my physical aches and pains of the last three years, including how breaking my wrist caused me to go from healthy to  invalid. The transition occurred in my brain, since the wrist healed quickly, and I recovered full movement. The broken wrist became an excuse to exercise less, to question my balance, to move cautiously instead of with confidence, to begin to see myself as “old.”

Understanding I had no legitimate physical reason to feel old, the catalogue led to an exploration of what I’ve done to regain control of my health – from ears to feet to core strength to weight.

All this led to what society and the media have to say about age. What they say someone who’s nearing 70 years can and can’t do. The decidedly mixed societal messages caused me to affirm that how old I feel can be my own decision, not one imposed by others.

So then I journaled about what I want to be able to do with my life. A long list included things like playing with my granddaughters, traveling, hiking, riding bike, gardening, having enough energy to do whatever I feel like doing. All activities associated with good health.

Concluding that barring serious illness, “old” is a state of mind, I meandered into the positive sides of being “old.” I realized I’m Old Enough:

  • to have enjoyed a good long career doing something I loved.
  • to have made some good friends; to know what a friend means, and to value having and keeping them.
  • to have figured out (finally) what I want to do while I’m still able to do it.
  • to have made lots of mistakes, learned from them, and be young enough to make more mistakes, but maybe handle them better now that I’m old enough.
  • to know I’m lucky to be as healthy as I am, to live where I do, to have the life I have.

While feeling old may be a physically-imposed reality, barring that, feeling old appears to be more of a state of mind. I don’t “feel” 68 any more than I “felt” 40 or 17. If I even know that that means. Some comparative measure against others, societal expectations or my own, I suppose.

After pausing to reflect, I realize I don’t feel any particular age.

I feel like me.

The result of reflection

What a journey, Laurie’s question inspired – journaling for three days and returning in thought to the topic repeatedly since. After pausing to reflect, I realize how much of age is perspective. Reflecting reminded me again to be grateful.

Laurie Buchanan, author of "Note to Self"

Laurie Buchanan’s philosophy is “whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

If even half of the questions unlock such self discovery, I’ll be journaling not for 365 days but for several years. I pre-ordered Laurie’s book Note to Self and I encourage you to check it out too.

How old do you feel? What impacts your attitude about age? What tools do you use to reflect?

Making way for new – Prairie & Writing

We lost a grand old willow tree a year ago. Age and weather took their toll, and it finally had to be removed. Though losing the willow with all the associated memories was sad, the newly opened space made room to expand our prairie. As I’ve worked on this new project, I’ve seen many parallels to my writing life.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The willow made way for the blank slate of a new prairie patch.

The idea of expanding the prairie has been simmering for some time. Yet, establishing the new area has not been as smooth as I’d hoped. Step one required killing off the grass. The herbicide we’d been using with good effect in other applications all of a sudden didn’t work. Ultimately, we invested in Roundup. One application and the grass was gone – along with all the prairie plant seedlings that sprouted in the spring.

Now that the grass is gone and new growth is coming on, I’m reminded of things I learned with my first prairie planting – and now must re-learn – with this new space.

  • There are plenty of seeds waiting for their chance. Even though I killed off all the desirable plants that emerged in the spring, more emerged mid-summer. Some may even bloom this fall, though they’ll have to survive the deer who relish these tender shoots.
  • Weed seeds are also waiting for their chance. Rounds two, three, and four of dandelions, pokeweed, and thistles keep popping up.
  • There’s always something new to learn in a prairie. At this point, the difference between invasive and non-invasive plants. An invasive species pushes out and replaces a native plant. A non-invasive plant may move in but won’t take over.
Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they'll move on.

Mullien appear invasive at the moment, but they’ll move on.

Mullein, is one non-invasive plant. The new prairie is awash in these wooly-leaved plants. Even though they are plentiful now, I am not concerned that mullein will crowd the prairie next year for two reasons. (1) This season’s plants will not have time to seed before winter, and (2) Even though there were a dozen or more mullein plants in the old prairie last year, only one returned this year. Invasive plants like Queen Anne’s Lace will crowd out all else if you let it. Pretty though that flower is, I pull these out as soon as I see them.

Prairie & Writing Parallels

I’m at a point in my writing life where I’m looking ahead to what’s next. Looking at the prairie and my writing, I can make these observations:

  • Like the prairie seeds, there are plenty of new ideas waiting to sprout. In only a few minutes this week, I recorded half a dozen ideas for writing projects ranging from memoir to novels to children’s books.
  • As I work through editing my work in progress, I find weed seeds in the form of crutch words: “that,” “just,” “seem,” “very.” It takes diligent maintenance to root these out and keep them from marring an otherwise well written story.
  • In the prairie and in writing, I’m always learning something new. If I took up the children’s book idea, for instance, I’d be learning an entirely new genre.
  • Ideas for writing projects pop up and move on as do plants like mullein. In this case, however, I’m looking for that invasive idea – the one that will not let go of my imagination – the one that stimulates my writing passion. Unlike invasive weeds in the prairie, the writing idea with staying power is one I’ll nurture and grow.
    Prairie beauty - coming in two to three years.

    Prairie beauty – coming in two to three years.

Both prairie and writing take time and hard work. Both may yield beautiful results if I’m wise in choosing and have the patience to nurture.

So that’s what I’ve been thinking about – in the prairie and with my writing life. What’s going on in your creative life? And how does nature inspire you?

The Mystery of a Mystery – M.K. Tod

M.K. Tod wrote and indie-published two successful historical novels set during World War I. Her newest novel Time and Regret – published this month by Lake Union Publishing – stays true to Tod’s historical expertise while branching into new territory – mystery.TodMK-TimeandRegret-22790-CV-FT

Writing in a new genre stretches an author, and as a fan of her historical writing, I’m pleased to report that Tod not only stays true to her historical fiction core but also does a fine job weaving in a mystery. To read my review, click here.

I asked her to share her thoughts on why mysteries are so appealing and how she worked that into her new novel. This is what she said.

The Mystery of a Mystery
by M.K. Tod

Attracted by the front cover, you take the book off the shelf, peruse the brief description on the back and decide, yes, this is my type of book. A mystery.

Mysteries conjure excitement, the thrill of danger, the nail-biting question of will they or won’t they solve it in time. And then there’s the thrill of sleuthing as you become the detective, the cop, or the amateur accidentally stuck in the midst of a crime.

My new novel – Time and Regret – is a mystery with multiple timelines and a romance to sweeten the deal. In writing it – my first mystery – I’ve had to think a lot about this genre’s enduring appeal.

What is it about mysteries that makes them so satisfying? Why do some people read almost nothing else? Author Melissa Bourbon Ramirez offers this opinion: “I think one reason people love reading mysteries is because they are a safe thrill, kind of like roller coasters when you’re a kid.  They’re a safe adventure, as well.  Just as in any other type of book, we get to visit exotic or interesting places.  You can see the dark side of people, but you know that justice will prevail.  Good will overcome evil.”

Author Nancy Curteman has a different take: “Mystery readers are intelligent people. The mystery story appeals to their sense of curiosity. They enjoy action. They love to analyze the psychological makeup and motivational drives of characters. Most mystery readers are as interested in how and why a crime is committed as they are in who committed it. Sifting through clues and red herrings as the story progresses adds challenge.”

Other reasons have been put forward: to understand the behavior of criminals and the criminal mind; to live the intense emotions involved in crime; to vicariously experience a world of suspense, secrets, excitement and danger; to create order out of disorder and justice out of crime.

And then there’s the detective—typically a flawed but heroic figure who overcomes major obstacles while often making a mess of his or her own life. We can see ourselves in this individual and we root for them to successfully solve the crime while resolving some of their own life problems.

Here’s the premise of Time and Regret.

Time and Regret: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and is suddenly aware that someone is following her.

When I set out to write Time and Regret, I didn’t fully appreciate the expectations involved. Gradually, I added more to the story: more subtle clues, more plot twists, more danger, more violence, more dead ends. I made my heroine more conflicted and gave her a difficult childhood and I added flaws to my other characters. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote the ending.

Does it work? Will it satisfy the needs of mystery readers? Readers will be the judge because another thing I’ve discovered is that no two readers are the same—and that is the biggest part of the mystery of writing.

Find Time and Regret on Amazon:

Amazon US 

Amazon Canada 

Amazon UK 

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Happy birthday, National Park Service

The National Park Service marks 100 years this week. One hundred years of preserving our amazing natural resources. One hundred years of educating people on our great outdoors. One hundred years of giving joy to the millions of people from all over the world who visit the parks each year.

It’s a good deal when the one having the birthday gives the gifts, though that’s what the National Parks are. A gift. To celebrate this anniversary, here are pictures from my recent visits.

Bryce CanyonUtah boasts a multitude of striking natural landscapes. Wind carves away earth to reveal the tall, skinny spires of rock called Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Canyon Lands UtahLooking down on Canyon Lands National Park, Utah, one gets the impression a dinosaur left its footprint.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TennesseeA mama black bear and her two cubs meandered in front of our car at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

Acadia National Park, MaineAcadia National Park, Maine, offers rugged Atlantic Ocean views and tasty crab rolls in local restaurants.

Shenandoah National Park, VirginiaThe Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, provided beautiful vistas, hiking, and a whole lot of wind. I’m not posing so much as trying to control my hair.

Glacier National Park, MontanaGlacier National Park, Montana, in June? Maybe not the best choice. Snow clogged mountain roads while rains closed valley roads, keeping us indoors much of the time. Cloaked in mist and clouds, the mountains were still beautiful. And we did spot both a bear and a moose.

Death Valley National Park, CaliforniaWater should not have been a problem in Death Valley National Park, California, but a record-breaking rain of 1/4 inch the day before we arrived flooded the valley. This impressed on me better than any ranger talk that Death Valley has no river outlet. Rain sheets off the mountains and accumulates on the floor with nowhere to go.

Badlands National Park, South DakotaStriations in the hills of the Badlands, speak to millennia of geologic history. The first time I visited the Badlands – 40 years ago – I thought this must be what the moon surface looks like. At that time, there was no visible greenery. Since then, invasive plants moved in and patches of green are everywhere.

White Sands National Monument

Though White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, is designated a monument, not a park, it’s one of the most visually stunning places I’ve visited in the past few years. Wind moves the dunes a few inches every day, often covering the roads, which have to be plowed to enable traffic to move. The white sand created a visual/mental disconnect for me since I visited there in February when we still had snow in Iowa. It didn’t help to see other visitors snowboard and sledding down the dunes.

Since the National Park Service was established, it’s grown from the one park – Yellowstone National Park – to include over 450 parks, monuments, parkways, historic sites, and seashores. Whenever and wherever I travel these days, I check to see if there’s a national park or monument along the way. They’re always worth the time.

Are you visiting the National Parks? If you haven’t, I hope these pictures whet your appetite. If you have, which have you enjoyed the most? Please leave a note. Then go have a piece of birthday cake.