Friday, March 24, 2017

Making the Impossible Possible


Nothing is impossible; the word itself says “I’m possible”. Audrey Hepburn

 

I remember the first day of physics class in college. A man walked in looking like something out of a cartoon: little pot belly, disheveled shirt, the bald spot on his head surrounded by a thin ring of hair that stuck up in every direction. He started writing something on the chalkboard:

“Definitely YES!

Probably yes.

Maybe.

Probably not.

Definitely NOT!”

He asked the class not to raise their hands, but to just think about where on that spectrum they were on the following question.

“Do you believe ghosts exist?”

After a short pause he drew a line between “Maybe” and “Probably not” then said, “Anyone from here down is going to have trouble with this class because if you can’t believe in something you can’t see, you’re going to have trouble believing things do what we say they do.” He then went on to add another fun little wrinkle by saying that some of what we’d be talking about as “laws” of physics weren’t really laws, they were just “hypotheses no one has proven wrong yet”.

Uhm. . .so, just believe it 'cause we say so until we prove differently. Sure. Okay. Needless to say this was not exactly what I expected to hear from a physics professor. LOL

Nice little trek down memory lane, but what’s it got to do with anything right now?

Well, we often limit ourselves because we can’t believe something we can’t see yet. Or we get stuck on a past experience, using that as “proof” that we can’t do something because we didn’t do it when we tried before.

What would happen if an ice skater kept thinking he/she would never be able to execute a triple axel because they’d fallen before and therefore didn’t try again? They’d be right. It wouldn’t be possible to ever execute one.

What if Thomas Edison believed that it was impossible to create the light bulb? Or if the Wright brothers believed it was impossible for man to ever fly? Sure it wasn’t possible at the time, but they proved it wrong. Granted it took a lot of effort and lot of trial and error, but they didn’t let the “impossible” limit their belief or keep them from trying.

We do this often on a much smaller scale, telling ourselves we “can’t” do something before we even start, or setting our goals so low we never stretch and grow.

Before I joined a praise team at church, I didn’t think I could sing harmony if I didn’t have the notes in front of me. I can – I just had never tried. I didn’t think I could ever write a book. It may not be complete yet, but now I know I not only can do it, I AM doing it.

Six months ago, I didn’t believe I could make enough progress in a short time to do well in a body transformation contest, then something clicked and I started to really believe I could. I certainly didn’t have any evidence of that yet. At one point during the challenge, there was a guy who posted this excel chart where he’d crunched all kinds of data and thought he could predict based on his data who was going to be in the top three. I was barely in the top 10 and that only in 1 of the categories he chose. The rest - not even close. I could have believed that because it was something I could see; hard data that “proved” it. But in reality, it was just his hypothesis and it hadn’t been proven wrong yet. I chose to believe I could still win, and that there were many factors he had no way of measuring. You know what? I was right! I proved his hypothesis wrong! I won first place in the women.

The point is, if I kept on with the belief that I couldn’t do those things, I would never have accomplished any of them because I wouldn’t have put forth the effort to do so.

If you already have the proof you can do it, then it’s not going to feel like you accomplished much. But if you aim higher, I assure you it will feel great when you get there. So dream big. Set goals that scare you a little. Then believe you can do it, visualize reaching it, and go for it.

Instead of accepting only what you can see already, instead of acquiescing to the idea that something is “impossible”, listen to the whisper in your mind that says “I’m possible”.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Metamorphosis of Mindset

Like the butterflies that grace my page and make my logo, I have been in the process of undergoing a metamorphosis.

I haven’t updated this blog in too long. Part of that was because of a mental shift that allowed the mundane to take over. I let my passions take a back seat to merely getting through busy days that turned into busy months.

A trip far outside my norm woke me up, triggered the beginning of the emergence from the chrysalis of the old me.

I went to Africa on a dream trip – one that included meeting some friends face to face I had made through online communities as well as a photo safari!!

For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I totally relaxed. I didn’t worry about home or work. I just lived in the moment. And it was awesome!

It’s one thing to see animals in the zoo. And quite another to see them in the wild! I count myself lucky that I got to see all but the leopard of the Super Seven (African lion, leopard, rhino, African elephant, Cape buffalo, cheetah and hyena). I also had a chance to see the Painted Dogs, a rare treat according to the drivers, as well as many other animals.

That vacation trip was a bit out of the box for me; definitely not in my normal comfort zone, especially when my phone did a factory reset and I lost all contact with the few folks over there I knew! If I had stuck with what was “practical” and “comfortable” I would not have gone on that trip until I retired, if then. And with the fast decline of the rhino populations towards extinction, who knows if I would have been able to see them at all.

The trip was oh so amazing, I loved it, and I am so glad I went! It also helped me realize I don’t want to wait for “someday”. If I’m going to do certain things, I need to start doing them now.

When I got home I wanted to continue on some fitness goals I had started before the trip. Some of the photos I took while in Africa would probably meet with good peer reviews like some of my other photos have recently. And I wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo again this year.

I started getting excited about all three endeavors.

All because of a step outside my comfort zone, and a major mindset change!

I did well on NaNo even though it wasn’t an official win. I have had this “author” platform for a while without even finishing one of my novels. I had lost the drive and passion to eventually publish because I allowed myself to believe no one would care anyway. Yet I care. I love my stories and my characters and I want to finish the works in progress and take this to the next steps.

I am doing very well on a Holiday Challenge fitness program, which is just one step along the way to a big, scary, long term goal; a goal I never would have dared reaching for as little as three short months ago.

I even dare to believe that I can grow as a photographer; that people enjoy my work and I should share it.

Without a doubt, I will be a much happier person if I make time for my passions in amongst the mundane tasks of daily life. I will be a better person if I stretch the boundaries of comfort and work toward big scary goals; if I truly LIVE rather than exist; if I believe in myself again.

It’s not just big dreams and rose colored glasses. In order to balance all aspects, I have to have contingency plans for when things don’t go as I wish. I know that. But now I know I CAN and I WILL succeed at anything I really want to enough to put the work into it. I know I am worth the time and effort it will take to reach some of those lofty goals.

I know I will regret playing it safe and staying in that cocoon when I can spread my wings and fly.

As my metamorphosis continues, there may a shift in the content here; a balance of those topics rather than just how my “other” interests inspire the writer side of me. I am exploring avenues that each of these endeavors could take me on, open to ideas I would never have dreamed before. (For example, one person planted the seed of combining the writing with how inspirational I have been with the fitness group; an idea that gave me serious warm fuzzies because it is neat to know I have inspired other people.)

The mindset change didn’t happen overnight, and there is still work to be done, but I wouldn’t be making the progress I am without it.

I love the person I am becoming!



Although this post has been focused on me, I would love to hear about other people who have had similar experiences. How has a mindset of what is possible led to greater things than you could have imagined? Where on the spectrum are you? Are you still in your cocoon playing it safe? Or are you flying?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Will The Next Generation Still Have Monarchs?

Monarchs are the only butterfly known to make an annual two-way migration, and it can be awesome.

I remember going to my parents' home at Possum Kingdom Lake (northwest of Fort Worth, Texas) during the migration one year and seeing them in the pecans. It looked like leaves on the trees until something disturbed them and suddenly there was a huge cloud of butterflies everywhere you could look.

October usually brings several of the iconic butterflies to my yard, but this year I only saw two.

Okay. So what?


Well, this area of Texas is typically part of the annual migration route and the monarch population has plummeted. When you consider only two the entire month compared to six or more a day, it seemed to be evidence of how bad things have gotten.

Numbers Declined Drastically

The monarch population has decreased approximately 90% in the last 20 years.

Although there are people who count every egg in certain parts of the breeding grounds, this is a fraction of the equation. Since they all migrate to the same fir forests in Mexico for the winter, that is where the official population numbers are derived. No one is counting each insect; that would be very difficult since they cluster by the thousands in the trees. Instead, their population is estimated by the amount of acreage they cover.


From a peak in 1996 of an estimated 910 million over 44.5 acres, they were at an all-time low of only 34 million over 1.65 acres in December of 2013.
Graphic by Journey North.

Experts say that the health of the monarch population is an indicator of our overall ecological health as well as the health of all pollinators.

"According to a recent White House report, pollinators such as monarchs contribute more than 24 billion dollars to the US economy, by promoting fruits and vegetables as well as agricultural crops like alfalfa. Pollinators also keep forests healthy by pollinating many species of trees." (vtdigger.org)

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has even changed their land management because of the monarchs. According to AnnaMarie Krmpotich, Monarch coordinator for the FWS Midwest Region, "by helping save this one monarch butterfly, we could help save hundreds of other species". That list includes a dozen species of butterflies, including the endangered Poweshiek skipperling and the threatened Dakota skipper. From there, it goes up the food chain to several species of grassland birds, deer, even humans. (sctimes.com Ann Wessel 9/4/15)
Clark Gardens October 2014


Causes of Decline

The decline now marks a statistical long-term trend, and can no longer be seen as a combination of yearly or seasonal events. And the smaller population leads to trouble recovering from such events.

Weather extremes, especially drought and excessive heat in the breeding grounds and cold spring temperatures that delayed migration north, are definitely factors. And this year’s strong El Nino could cause problems if it brings its typical drought to the fir forests where the monarchs spend their winter.

Illegal logging of the oyamel fir forests in their overwintering grounds means less area for them. And numerous sites have been replaced with housing developments. Concentration of the entire population in even smaller areas makes them more vulnerable to a single storm, drought or fire.

Large-scale use of systemic insecticides, such as neonicotinoids, within the breeding range kills pests and beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies. And there are always natural enemies such as disease, predators and parasites.

But experts agree that the main culprit is the wholesale killing of milkweed.

Although there are many plants the butterflies can use for nectar, common milkweed is the key to their survival. It is the only plant on which the eggs are laid, the only plant the larvae eat, and the source of the chemical that makes them bitter to predators – their defense mechanism.

The development of genetically modified herbicide-resistant corn and soybean has led to more crops being sprayed with total herbicides (think RoundupTM) to kill other plants, such as the milkweed. In 2013, 83% of all corn and 93% of soybeans in the United States were herbicide tolerant. That’s nearly 155 million acres.

That has virtually eliminated the monarch breeding habitats in the corn belt. And since several generations are born and die along the migratory route, milkweed is needed at every site where they reproduce along the way.
Taken at Butterfly Island in Clark Gardens


What Is Being Done

In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety, the Xerces Society, and monarch scientist Lincoln Brower filed a petition with the US FWS seeking endangered species protection for monarch butterflies. Although they do not technically qualify for this protection yet, they are considered threatened. 

The FWS has plans to promote wildflowers that are nectar plants (such as goldenrod and aster) along pipelines and electricity lines. And they are working with the National Wildlife Federation to grow milkweed along the main migration routes. The aim is to restore more than 200,000 acres of habitat through the spring breeding grounds of Texas and Oklahoma, and the summer breeding areas in the corn belt.

Also in 2014, The Natural Resources Defense Council petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to review its rules regarding glyphosate use, the type of herbicide in question.

Monsanto, the makers of RoundupTM, are also getting involved. Per their website, they are collaborating with non-profits, universities, researchers and others to find ways to improve and protect the monarch habitats across North America. (Monsanto monarch page)

There was even a proposal by some groups that biotech companies could engineer a glyphosate-resistant milkweed variety. But personally, I prefer less engineering and more natural methods of conservation.



Hope and What You Can Do

Gail Manning, an entomologist at Fort Worth Botanic Gardens told The Fort Worth Star Telegram, “The numbers I’m seeing are definitely down this year”, confirming what I saw in my own yard.

But the numbers were up slightly in Mexico in December of 2014. And Chip Taylor, founder and director of Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas, said this is shaping up to be the best fall migration since 2011.

So why the lower numbers here?

That is probably due to unusually warm weather here. Folks watching the migration on the far western side of the typical route may have also noted lower numbers as the monarchs had to avoid hurricane Patricia. So the path narrowed a little this year.

That narrower path is probably the reason friends still in the Possum Kingdom area said they saw thousands of monarchs this year. One commented that they even had to pull over to the side of the road to avoid hitting them at one point because of the number of butterflies.

I hope that sighting is due not only to the narrower path, but also to an increase in population again this year. I will be watching for the numbers to come out of Mexico, hopefully confirming that.

Even if population numbers are up some, it’s still a far cry from their peak, and they’re still threatened.

But you can help.
  • Avoid using insecticides and herbicides. 
  • Support conservation efforts for all pollinators either in your local area or through national organizations. 
  • Become a citizen scientist and contribute to research efforts to track the monarch population in both breeding and overwintering ranges. (For more information on this, visit xerces.org ). 
  • Check with local botanical gardens for educational and conservation programs through them. 
  • And of course, plant native milkweed. There are several varieties, including some that are more easily contained. A local botanic gardens or nursery that specializes in native plants can help you choose an appropriate variety for your yard in your area.
Small things make a difference.

All photos are my own.
Other resources will be added to a separate page on the blog soon.
At first I thought there were only 2 butterflies in this picture. Look again and you'll see 3.

Do you have stories about the monarch migration? I'd love to hear them. Or feel free to add comments about conservation efforts.










Friday, September 18, 2015

Is Writing Solitary?

Is writing really a solitary pursuit?

Well. . . yes and no.

It is. . .

I’m the only one who can write my story. It’s my fingers, and only my fingers, on the keyboard turning thoughts into words. Well, sometimes my cat tries to help. But, yeah, I’m 
alone in that task.

Even if I had the luxury of a transcriptionist, which I don’t, I’d still have to get the words, thoughts and mental images out of my brain and recorded for them.

It is just me.

And although I can write anywhere, it’s easier with no distractions. The best way to ensure that is to be alone with my computer (or paper and pen) – no people around, no TV, ignore the phone, and definitely no internet!

Again, me alone.

BUT. . .

Without the characters talking to me, there would be no story. I may be putting the words down, but it is the characters, telling me their thoughts and their stories. Many writers will talk about making the characters real. That can’t happen unless readers can picture them really saying and doing the things on the page. Readers won’t have an image unless I can create it as I write the story. So as looney as it may sound, I am never really alone in the room as I write. Sometimes it is just the character I’m focusing on there with me. Other times, it’s them and several others, even from completely different stories, all vying for attention.

Stories also wouldn’t exist without everyday people and events around me in life: an old woman at the rodeo wearing a crazy cowboy hat; the solitary person sitting on a park bench; a funny thing that happened at work one day. I never know when one of those is going to pop up and lend some color to a scene.

Then there are the folks who help me, and that list is long. There’s the writing buddy who talked to me for over an hour to help me through a troublesome plot hole. Or the friend who made one simple comment that sparked the writing juices after too long a dry spell. There are the folks who’ve given me critiques, sometimes painful ones, which have helped improve my writing overall. If you have loved ones living with you, count yourself lucky if they help you make the time for writing by keeping distractions at bay. And no list would be complete without the editors, who return work with so much blood dripping from the pages that I sometimes wonder if the words can be saved. Each and every one of these people helps me craft the story; mold it into something worth sharing.

Sometimes my cat tries to help


I also have to mention the people who help get the story to the public. They spread the word once it’s ready to publish. Then there are the readers. Yes, it’s my story, but I do have to keep the readers in mind while writing, because without them it’s just words on a page.

So in a very real sense, I have a crowded house every time I sit down to write. And I can’t write the best story possible, or even a good one, without them.

That makes writing is a joint project.

But in the end, I alone am the one responsible for making it happen.

I can’t blame the writing buddy if the plot hole still exists, nor the characters for not talking to me if I have been too busy to listen to them. If the words never get onto the page, I have only myself to point the finger at.

So, for me, writing is both a solitary venture and a team effort.


How does this fit with your image of a writer and their craft? If you're a writer, where do you fall on the solitary/team spectrum?

Friday, May 8, 2015

In Celebration of Celebrations!



People will celebrate anything. 

Don’t believe me? Well, now, let’s just take a quick look at this month’s special days.

Somebody decided to go without socks and call it No Socks Day. Since the next day is Lost Sock Memorial Day, how much you want to bet that’s why the person decided to forego the socks?

Kentucky Derby day – I’ll tip my hat to the horse who won the Run for the Roses.

It’s no wonder there’s a No Diet Day when there are days for candied orange peels, roast leg of lamb, coconut cream pie, butterscotch brownies, shrimp, nutty fudge and several other food items.

National Sorry Day – Sorry. I won’t be attending the celebrations for that one.

National Wine Day – Now there’s one I could drink to.

There are also some pretty great folks who get special days in May: International firefighters, teachers, military spouses, nurses, and Memorial Day (for all who died in the military, although now it’s usually for all military). And let’s not forget Mom.

But I wish we could forget Endangered Species day and World hunger day as being no longer needed. Maybe sometime in the future, though.

And that’s just a short list. (Want to see more? Here’s one site to check out.)

With all these special days to commemorate things, people or events, have we trivialized the idea of celebrating?

Memorial Day is just one example. I remember as a kid the flags that people would make a special effort to go put out by the graves of family members who had died while serving in the military – an honor to their sacrifice. Some still honor all military, living and dead, past and present. But for most it seems to have slipped into just another Monday to have a BBQ and the start of summer.

On the other hand, maybe all these special days just point to a simple truth – we need to appreciate more. It’s essential to have fun, share joy with others and help counter the bad things in life.



What would our lives be like without the people who do thankless jobs or those we depend on to keep us safe? Appreciate them while they’re with you.

What does it do to the ecology, and even the economy, when another species is no longer with us? Prevent it!

We need to celebrate the small accomplishments, because without them we’d never reach the big goals.

Yes, we even need to appreciate the little things in life, like the taste of nutty fudge or a good wine, because we need to be in the moment to truly be alive. Revel in today!

And most importantly, we need to create memories and connect with others. Personally, the best way to do that is to celebrate National Laughter Day, but not limit it to one day of the year.

Your turn: I’d love to hear your take on this. Do we celebrate too much or not enough?




Monday, April 13, 2015

The New Design and Thank You's!

My blog has a new design and I'm thrilled!

So far the changes are visual with the new background and header. There have also been a few  behind the scenes with more to come. It is definitely not an overnight process.

I started with my garden last fall.

Yes, you read that right.

I remember a time when monarchs were everywhere in this area during March and October as they migrated between Canada, the US and Mexico. Numbers have seriously dwindled in recent years, and I could imagine a post, or even a series, about my efforts to help. Butterfly pictures would of course grace those.

Later, I was working on an exercise from a book by Emlyn Chand about building an author platform. This particular exercise was about looking for themes in your writing.

I noticed that several of my ideas and works in progress deal with love later in life and second chance romance. This is when an image of a butterfly came to mind.

Then there's this whole process of doing something new, and the introvert in me needing to break out of my safe little cocoon.

Around the same time, my friend and fellow author Mario Saincic was working with an illustrator to develop an icon he could use on his page and books to let people know he supports rhino conservation.

Again, a butterfly image seemed perfect for my own page.

Hmmm. I'm noticing a pattern here.

I recently learned that some of my blog features don't show on certain devices, and one of the fonts I used didn't work on mobile or older browsers.

Time for an overhaul.

Or maybe metamorphosis is a more appropriate term.

But I didn't do it alone, and I want to thank the folks who helped (and are still helping)  make it happen.

Thank you very much to Mario, new friend and fellow author Natalie Herzer, and even my mom for the brainstorming sessions and input!

Thanks especially to Natalie.

She helped me with some of the HTML for a few items, but that's not all.

Out of the brainstorming sessions came the idea to create a monogram that was also a butterfly. After a few sketches of my own, I finally thought I had a great design for a logo. And everyone agreed. But while I was still working on the final version, Natalie came up with another.Her sketch became the basis for the design that now graces the header.

Thanks, Natalie. I love the logo!

From that point, Mario and Natalie have been a dream. Thanks very much for putting up with me wanting you to look at "just one more" layout, color combo, background photo, etc. etc.

Natalie also commiserated with me, and gave me ideas to try, when nothing was working with the new header. It looked beautiful on the PC version. But on mobile? Yuck!

The solution to that one, typical of such problems, came to me later when I was working on something else. Such is the way the mind works. LOL

Again, some additional changes are coming. Be patient with me and check back occasionally; it's a work in progress.

Oh, and that background photo - you'll see it again only not the muted version. I'm going to proudly display it on a new page soon. Hint - it has a surprise in it!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Another First

I'm trying something new this week.

I've co-hosted a book giveaway before, but have never been a host for a blog tour.

And today I am! Granted, this is only one blog among many for this whirlwind tour featuring Barbara Freethy's series about the Callaway family. But it's still exciting for me.



About the Callaway Blog Tour & All Its Great Prizes!

This is the week you finally meet the Callaways! Not only are they all over the web as part of their extraordinary blog tour, but they are also out and about in your neighborhood. That's right; we're celebrating the print launch with Ingram by throwing a party all over the world! Make sure to follow this tour closely for your chance to win gift cards, swag, autographed books, and other incredible prizes.
All the info you need to join the fun and enter to win amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment—easy to enter; easy to win!
To Win the Prizes:
  1. Purchase any of the Callaway novels by Barbara Freethy (optional)
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity (go here)
  3. Visit today’s featured social media event (that's where the HUGE prizes are)
About The Callaways: The Callaways were born to serve and protect! In Barbara’s new connected family series, each of the eight siblings in this blended Irish-American family find love, mystery and adventure, often where they least expect it! Each book stands alone, but for the full enjoyment of the series, you might want to start at the beginning with On A Night Like This! Get the eBooks via AmazonBarnes & NobleiBooks, or Kobo.
About the Author: Barbara Freethy has been making up stories most of her life. Growing up in a neighborhood with only boys and a big brother who was usually trying to ditch her, she spent a lot of time reading. When she wasn’t reading, she was imagining her own books. After college and several years in the P.R. field, she decided to try her hand at a novel. Now Barbara is a #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author loved by readers all over the world. Her novels range from contemporary romance to romantic suspense and women's fiction. Learn more on her websiteFacebook page, or in her Street Team.



Although I did receive a free copy of On a Night Like This, the first book in the series, I wouldn't post a review if it were not an honest one.

So without further ado. . .

Sara comes home to celebrate her dad's birthday, but is not welcomed warmly. Quite frankly, her father's reaction is cold and rude. Even after the reason for his attitude is revealed, I had a little trouble empathizing with him. It's no wonder that Sara, a lawyer on the path to becoming a partner in the firm where she works, has never felt like she could do enough to earn his approval.

Aiden arrives at the family home next door just in time to save Sara and her father from a fire. However, he's dealing with a problem of his own. He's the leader of a smokejumping crew, and his best friend just died on the job under his leadership. His dad and older brother, firefighters themselves, push him to tell folks what really happened and defend himself against the accusations that it was his fault. But Aiden can't remember what happened clearly, and until he can he refuses to talk about it with anyone.

Brought together again after a decade, these two have to deal not only with their current issues,  but also a shared history; one that Sara sees as another rejection while Aiden believes he was protecting her from himself.


My Rating

I've read family series books by a few other authors and was looking forward to meeting a new family.

There are a couple of things that kept this story from earning a 5-star rating from me.

The first was the Point of View (POV) shift to that of Aiden's sister Emma. Usually if a book uses a POV in addition to the main characters', it reveals something about them or is related specifically to their story. But Emma's section of the book really had nothing to do with this story. It's just something that takes place chronologically at the same time.

And that leads me to the other problem that reduced the rating. When starting the book, I did not know it is NOT a stand-alone story. If you want everything, including a mystery introduced withing its pages, tied up in a neat little bow by the time "The End" appears, you will be disappointed.

What saved the 4-star rating was Barbara Freethy's comfortable story-telling style and the characters themselves. This family is not a picture perfect image - they squabble and argue; tensions occasionally run pretty high. And where other reviewers may think Sara's feelings toward what Aiden did a bit overdone, I find it real. People do sometimes hold on to hurt for a very long time. I appreciate characters that aren't perfect; they're easier to identify with. And that is the element that pulled me into this story.

I like this family enough to want to keep reading!




a Rafflecopter giveaway