Dogs, Blogs and Logs…Ten Things of Thankful

Vinny.

I haven’t mentioned him in awhile. But he’s the most crotchety dog I’ve ever loved.

He doesn’t like strangers. He doesn’t like kids. He doesn’t like other dogs.

He likes his air-conditioned house. He likes his soft bed. And he has a toy platypus he only plays with when husby and I are both home. He’ll leave it for days and days, in fact, if one of us goes out of town. But as soon as we’re both home? He gets it out and squeaks it.

Funny story about Vinny. We can’t ever take him to the beach again. He was miserable and if he could have spoken to us this is what he would have said,

“You turds! You bring me here to camp at this hot beach? The water is terrible to drink, there are bugs everywhere, campfires stink, the tent is uncomfortable, I don’t like the other campers, the sun bakes my fur, the ocean water is too dirty and too loud. You call this fun!? And to say nothing of…what do you call them? Palmetto Bugs? I will run every time! Do not ever, EVER get me near those blasted cockroaches AGAIN! And if you ever take me to the beach again, we’d better be staying in an air conditioned beach house, and you’d better bring my soft doggie bed, you dolts, or I’ll blow chunks!”

 

Yes, that’s our boy. He made it loud and clear that he does not approve of beach camping. Or swimming at the beach, for that matter. Or the ocean. Just forget it. Stay in the mountains.

Hiking in Western NC
Just keep Vinny in the mountains. He’s always up for a hike.

The Wakefield Doctrine.

I’m thankful I found Clark and all his clarkety thoughts. Plus there’s Almira and the other novel. Glad I’ve known Clark and Denise for years. I always look forward to their posts. And just wanted to give a warm shoutout to them.

 

Morning breakfasts made by the husby.

The mornings are a time where, before work, I like to get all my creative work done. So there’s writing, exercise, journaling, meditating and tea making.

I generally just can’t fathom “cooking” breakfast. Dinner? Fine. I’ll cook up a storm. Breakfast? Eh…if I’m left to my own devices, I’ll just grab a piece of toast knowing that it wouldn’t be enough and then I’d have a low blood sugar crash mid-morning.

I know breakfast is my most important meal of the day. If I don’t have some kind of protein, it’s awful. Even if I have the best of intentions, without someone else to cook, I’ll grab whatever I can find and run out the door, though. I just run out of time or don’t think about it.

So, Husby has taken it upon himself to make sure we eat to start the day right. I don’t think I’ve told him enough how much it means to me.

 

My job.

It’s demanding. There are days where I wonder what the hell I’m doing, but I’m grateful to work in a beautiful place with an awesome office, surrounded by dedicated people.

I know that I’m fulfilling a need to help folks who all need help with resources and language learning. I’m interacting with many people, and I know I’m affecting lives. It’s a little intimidating, sometimes, in fact.

Here’s a little story. I was at a conference and I was at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. You know, the office that interacts with the State Legislature and Governor.

I was looking for a bathroom and stumbled into the State Superintendent’s office. I decided not to ask her where the bathroom was. But still…I was marveling at how I ended up there. And I’d just heard her give a speech to a delegation of coordinators and directors of programs across the state.

Sometimes I really wonder how I got here and…it wasn’t really intentional. Between that and having the superintendent of the county schools where I work help me change my car tire a couple months ago, I think to myself, “well, I’ll be! We’re all just humans in this race and we all really do pull our pants up the same way, don’t we?”

work at university
A recent photo of the university campus where I work.

Writing. Novels. Articles. Blog posts. Journal entries.

After writing so much in the past few months, and sort of living in these worlds of ghosts and goblins, of harrowing hauntings and such, it’s time to come up for a breather and soak up the sunshine.

I’m just about finished with the last draft of the second novel before I send it off to my “free” editors. (Haha.) But, I think it’s time to take a hiatus and…perhaps get back into drawing.

It seems I cycle through these things with the seasons. Summer for writing. Fall for drawing. Winter for writing. Spring for drawing.

 

Yoga.

I’ve discovered that I like it so much that I am thinking – just thinking – about getting good enough to become a certified yoga instructor.

I’ve been watching these YouTube videos with Adriene.

I’ve taken to getting up in the mornings and meditating, then doing some yoga, and then spending time either journaling, working on the novel, or writing on something else.

My hardy jade plant.
My hardy jade plant.

My jade plant.

Back in 2012 when I left my teaching job for a self-imposed sabbatical, a parent brought me a jade plant.

I had no idea that she’d done that and it sat in my former office for THREE MONTHS, in the dark, and survived. I found it when I was giving my replacement a run-down of everything before the new school year started.

Yesterday, my cat accidentally knocked it off the wall of the porch and it dropped five feet to the ground.

It survived, intact, with only one or two of the little pods (I’m not sure what they’re called; they’re not leaves) breaking off. Husby added more dirt and nursed it a bit, but otherwise it’s none the worse for wear.

That plant is a survivor and really, is teaching me some lessons about life.

 

iCloud.

So…I have a work computer, a work laptop, a work iPad, a home laptop and an iPhone. I just LOVE that when I do something on my phone – like write something in my notes, it shows up on my work computer.

Or when I need to take my work laptop to a meeting, all my notes and calendar events also show up on my desktop.

Now, I realize this can also be a real drag having all this crossover between work and home, BUT it’s not actually too bad keeping everything separate.

I have separate folders for everything and have notifications set for specific times and events. I do really believe in work/life balance and make a conscious effort to be mindful of when I’m doing either.

 

Amazon Prime.

So…I’ve had Prime for a few years, but I had not taken full advantage of all it had to offer until recently. Mostly I loved the 2-day free shipping.

BUT, I’ve discovered a really interesting series called Man in the High Castle (it’s a thought-provoking show about what might have happened if the Nazis did win World War II) and I’ve discovered all these great curated playlists that you can download to listen to in the car or offline.

I especially love the Zen at Work and the Piano Guys playlists for soothing background music.

Podcasts...hmm...maybe I should make some of my own or something.
Podcasts…hmm…maybe I should make some of my own or something.

Podcasts.

So, anyone who follows my writing knows I’m a huge fan of personal development. I’d love to do seminars about personal development and spirituality sometime.

(And, oh, if you have an idea, I’d *love* to hear it. Would you ever want a webinar? You know…like do a Google Hangout and chat about life…?)

Anyways, I’ve discovered a feature on my new phone where you can download podcasts and listen to them anywhere.

I’m sure this feature has been available for quite some time, but I had a relic for a phone before with virtually no memory storage, so I missed out on these things…

But still. I have a commute that takes an hour and ten minutes out of my day. Podcasts are a way of furthering my own education and development.

 

Ten Things of Thankful – Before the Voyage

Looking back on the past week and a half, I have so much to be thankful for. Writing about my gratitude will tie together – quite nicely – all the different things going on in my life at the moment.

The Meditation Retreat

I continue to feel the effects of so many days of meditation. Being with 28 other folks who were from all walks of life and had all sorts of different beliefs, this validated for me how we can all coexist peacefully – if we but just understand that all we need is to love and have compassion for each other.

Meditation
The quad area at the retreat center. Incredibly restful and peaceful.

The Last Day of Work

I finished the school year. It’s been stressful and tiring and, you know, sometimes I wondered if I was cut out for working in the academic world. Still, working with so many people – from elementary students to superintendents, to parents and church leaders – the experience has made me grow in ways that I can’t even describe. I have a level of confidence I had not known was possible in my existence. I can read and understand people on a different level now. Furthermore, I have a much deeper understanding of the idea of “the boss.” Where I used to question the decisions former principals and directors made, I now have utter sympathy for those in charge having to make unpopular decisions. You never really know what’s going on behind closed doors.

The Novel

This morning, I finished the final “content” edit. I’m going to do one more read-through to try to catch typos and other such errors, but otherwise, I’m going to send it to my editor – my ever-supportive husby – in the coming week. This being a first novel, I’m not looking for any high dollar investments as far as editors and book cover artists. I will publish on Kindle and we’ll just see how all this goes.

The Possibility of Publishing the Novel

I have now gotten further than I ever have on any novel I’ve worked on. Littering various hard drives and thumb drives, I have an assortment of unfinished novels in different genres. I figured out somewhere along the way that I love to write about scary things – ghosts, the unexplained, supernatural phenomena, and even superhero-type characters – and the possibility of FINALLY publishing has me really giddy. Honestly, I don’t expect much with this first one: the goal was to get over the hurdle of publishing. I’m still not there, but I see the hurdle itself coming up along the racetrack and I have the confidence to jump and clear it. So many times that hurdle came up on my running sprints and I stopped when I saw it. I’ve been training hard to focus on the success of not only jumping it, but briefly looking back to marvel at what I just did.

Discovering Chris Fox’s Books

These have helped me churn out a novel really quickly. Here’s what I’ve read while I’ve been working on my novel (these are affiliate links):

  1. 5,000 Words Per Hour
  2. Lifelong Writing Habit
  3. Write to Market
  4. Launch to Market

As a side note, I didn’t discover some of these books until this 3rd content edit, so some of the tips he talks about won’t apply until the next novel I start – which will be immediately, actually. But still. I can churn out 2,000+ words in half an hour if I don’t let myself edit and I have a clear plan of what I’m doing. I even emailed him to get clarification on something in one of his books and he emailed right back!

The Upcoming Epic Road Trip

So, school’s out and I have five weeks to have some fun. To be sure, I’ll continue writing while I’m on the road, but we’re planning on doing a road trip through Kentucky, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming and then to Colorado. See, at least once, if not twice a year, I head out to Colorado to see family (starting out in North Carolina). But we often drive out there and then drive straight back and don’t have a lot of time to see other things. This year, starting in January, we started saving for an epic journey. We leave on Monday morning. We’ll check out the Badlands, Deadwood (remember the TV show?), The Devil’s Tower, Bighorn Medicine Wheel, Thermopolis (for the mineral waters) and then head on down to Colorado.

Close College Friends

There are people who have lots of acquaintances and then there are people who have a handful of lifelong close friends. The latter would be me. I made three friends – that I managed to not run off – from my days at Colorado College. At the risk of dating myself, I graduated in 2001. We live all over the US now but our friendship has transcended distance and time. We joke that we’ll be the scourge of some nursing home one day, throwing Oreos at staff and having wheelchair races. Hopefully those days are far, far off into the future.

Close Friends Who Graduate

So…out of the group of us college buddies, all of us have completed our Master’s degrees. One even completed her PhD. We run the gamut of people studying different things: I have my Master’s in Spanish. One has hers in Divinity. Another has hers in Psychology. The last just completed hers in Education at our alma mater, Colorado College. While I’m in visiting family and friends in Colorado, we’re also going to celebrate her graduation and accomplishments.

Age and Wisdom

My mom runs an assisted living center out of the house I grew up in. While it is unusual – I just love the look on people’s faces when I tell them I grew up in a nursing home – there are some really neat things about it. One of them is this patient who is turning 106. Yes, you read that right. She’s still pretty sharp and completely fluent in Spanish and English and my mom now takes care of her 85 year-old son. But, to celebrate 106 years of earthly living, my mom’s going to bring in a mariachi band to serenade her. We already have word that various news outlets will be there to witness this incredible milestone. Doctors told her she’d never live past 95. Just look at that miracle!

The Library

For our road trip, we have an assortment of books and CDs to keep us entertained. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been to Iowa and my perception of it is that it’ll be flat with no radio stations. It’s always good to be prepared but open to the possibility that there might be hills and pretty things there, and maybe even a good radio station or two as we pass through. And hopefully no dustbowls!

This has been part of the Ten Things of Thankful Blog Hop.

Working at the Office

It’s the end of the school year and after a week of cleaning, moving furniture and cabinets to store everything for the summer, a CPR class, and starting the process of aggregating data, I am enjoying the “slow down” from the frenetic pace of the year.

Now that the pace has slowed down a bit, I’m devoting at least a couple hours a day of my time each day to finishing the first edit of my ghost story novel. I’m psyched: I’m farther than I’ve ever gotten before. I’m determined to publish to Kindle. And then start another.

I’ll write another post this week about that, but for now….

I had the lovely Sandra Hayward contact me for a guest post. She’s a newer writer and I like to help a person out when they’re starting out. She’s written some sound advice that I would tell a first-time manager…like myself! She doesn’t have a website, yet, per se, but writes for Edubirdie.com (link below).

She saw the content on the blog here and asked if she could share some of her expertise. I can say after my first year of managing staff, I hoped I did all the things she mentions below. But still, being a leader of a crew of folks is time-consuming and requires a lot of energy and professionalism.

And now, let me turn the stage over to Sandra.


 

Tips for Managers: How to Improve Work at the Office

By Ashrafhage (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Current studies are not as uplifting for the US managers as it may seem at first sight. Their employees consider 40% of them as inefficient and bad bosses.

Whenever you think your relationships with your staff are running smoothly, consider and evaluate several key factors that enable the most efficient communication and feedback.

According to a Gallup Pollone in two U.S. adults said they left their job to get away from their manager”.

Managers find their backs against the wall when good employees leave. Compensation is not always a good solution to the problem as efficient communication is vital.

Considering the fact that the current marketplace offers comparatively equal salaries in particular segments, other factors appear to be of main priority for the staff. Here are some useful “seeds” to plant, letting managers keep employees to showcase growing productivity and development.

Efficient Retention Strategies

Implementation of efficient retention strategies is useful for both reducing costs and keeping employees engaged, featuring a creative and motivated approach to every responsibility they are assigned.

  • Engagement. Managers should provide maximum tools and chances letting employees develop their skills as well as pick up some new abilities that are beneficiary in their work.
  • Praise them when necessary. Giving a praise will hardly lead to high costs. At the same time, it will mean a lot to your staff, recognition of a well-done job is obligatory.
  • Track the needs. Keep in mind that your every employee comes with changing needs that you need to track and meet; it helps to build a loyal approach letting them know that managers do care. We all call for a piece of stability in our lives, don’t we?
  • Let people do their best. The idea is to create an appropriate environment letting employees express their innovative ideas and solutions; don’t limit them in actions and encourage for development.
  • Let employees trust you. Your staff will be much happier in case it can fully trust you; it means that you are a reliable leader.
  • Get rid of weak employees. Whenever you detect a weak spot in your team you should eliminate it at once; all your co-workers are supposed to be of the same proficiency and expertise level.

Clear Deadlines and Priorities

Establishing clear deadlines is vital unless you want your employees to flounder. They will never know about the priorities on a given project are unless you inform them; these easy tips will let you set accurate deadlines and increase productivity.

  • Specify the exact date and time. Try to be as specific as possible because whenever you set a “next week” deadline, do not complain if the task is completed on Friday, not on Tuesday. Indicate the very date and time you need the job done.
  • Set the priorities. Your employees must be aware of assignments that are of main priority, so try to steer clear of old-fashioned “ASAP” formulations.
  • Always set true terms; avoid establishing false deadlines as it will result in more problems.
  • Regularly update the schedule. An updated schedule is vital especially when you deal with long-term projects; always create a clear vision of every process.

Note that every change deals with loss for every employee. Some of them are more likely to resist those changes even if they come with obvious improvements. Managers should make intelligent and accurate decisions letting their staff cope with all new introductions.

The same thing with confrontation poor performance of your team. The latest KEY Group survey revealed that only 31% employees think their managers are consistent with their expectations.

To be sure, efficient workers don’t like working with people who aren’t. An accurate balance is necessary. That will eventually come with eliminating all your weak spots and establishing an efficient team with high productivity potential.

 

Sandra J. Hayward is a Miami Dade college MBA graduate that is interested in academic research and writing but does not want to depend on the rigorous schedule. That is why she has been collaborating with http://edubirdie.com for a while time as a freelance writer and enjoys her flextime.

 

Picto Project Week 2 | Winter Leaves in Charcoal | Declining a Photography Job

winter leaves inspirations

If you’ve been following the Pictorialization Project at all, you may recall that I shared this image last week.

However, I started a charcoal version and just completed it.  I feel like this charcoal rendition is better than the one I did last week of the lake.

winter leaves charcoal drawing

I am also working on a painting, but I dare you to guess the inspiration photo.

I have some news to share regarding my photography…

I did not take the job.

What?  What’s this in reference to?

Well, late last week, I had sent a query letter to a local photography company.  I didn’t expect much; I was marketing myself.

Within 24 hours, I had a response and was on the phone interviewing this company.  Who knew?

I thought it was reasonable to expect that I should have the top-notch program for photographers and artists alike: Photoshop.  They wanted me to buy it ASAP.  I use the free version: GIMP.  I have been quite happy with it.

However, I was immediately worried about this freelance position.  I had embarked on the Picto Project and I’m doing everything I love: writing, painting, and photographing.

I began to worry that I wouldn’t have time to complete this project between teaching and my other obligations.

For a time I set those reservations aside and really entertained the idea of working for this company.

I received another email from this them saying that I needed to get medical checkups, drug tests, waivers and I was to keep the company apprised of my progress and I would not be allowed to work until I had fulfilled all the requirements.  And they were to be at my expense.

There were SEVEN attachments to this email.

Oh, and let’s not forget a two-day unpaid training – and they’d buy me lunch.

All these red flags went up.  I’m thinking, first of all, this is a contractor position and I’m having to foot the bill for a lot of stuff.  I’m sure they’ll find ready and willing photographers to do this, but I for one will not.  What if I go through all this expense and don’t like it?  

And there was something else.

Actually, I considered it a sign.  

 

There’s this great blog called Brain Pickings.  I read this post about doing what you love.

I am doing what I love!  Right now.

Between blogging, writing, painting, photography and otherwise being creative, this is the life I want to live.  Right here.  Right now.

The whole reason I left full-time employment and gave up the security of health insurance and a regular paycheck is because I HAVE to do what I love.

I gave up the good to go for the great.

And I believe in what I’m doing.

However, working for someone else – again – will only set me back.  I do teach part time.  I don’t want anything else to get in the way of my goals.

The photography gig would have done that.

No, I’m sure as hell not getting rich quick.  But I have freedom.

It’s scary and exhilarating all at once.

It’s precarious at best, but infinitely fulfilling.

The stress of not having a steady income is overwhelming sometimes.  But it’s also a shot of adrenaline.  I get a thrill knowing that if I plug away and work hard enough, I will make a difference.

With my photography.

With my writing.

With my art.

And I will not quit until I have.  So, nice of you to take an interest, Photography Company, but I am on another path.

Meeting Ms. America International

Ms. America and Cyndi
Ms. America International and I pose for a picture. What a great honor!

On Thanksgiving, my family has a tradition of getting hors d’oeuvres at the Broadmoor Hotel and Resort in Colorado Springs, CO.  My mom worked there for many years and she still likes to go back and utilize many of the services there.  Each Thanksgiving, my family also goes there for brunch.

It’s a large resort and many, many famous people have stayed there.  I like to tell people that my mom assisted Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush I while she was an employee there.

As we were sitting around the fireplace talking and admiring the Christmas decorations, my mom noticed a beautiful woman walking with her sash that said, “Ms. America International 2012.”

Wow!

After my mom introduced herself, I did as well, and in one sentence I said something like this:

“Hi, I’m Cyndi and I’m a photographer and a blogger.”

I didn’t hold back, did I?

Nevermind my last name, I was so impressed by this woman and had to blurt out what I do for a living – I thought it would be great to get some pictures.  Of course I asked if I could do a blog post about her, too.

Her name is Carla Gonzalez and she won the pageant in California earlier this year and has been travelling extensively.  Of course, this is how I happened to run into her at the Broadmoor.

Her platform?  It made me melt:

“Anti-bullying and Teen Dating Violence Prevention.”

What a remarkable, impressive woman with a Master’s Degree in Social Work to boot.  I absolutely love meeting people with a heart for humanitarianism and who are able to further their cause by the work they do.

In the course of our conversation, I was talking about my photography and gathering ideas for future photo projects.

Ms Gonzalez told me that if I ever do any kind of fundraising for the community, she would be happy to fly to North Carolina to kick off the fundraising efforts.

Of course, when she said that, I knew I had to spread the word about her good works and her willingness to help make the world a better place.

I have a lot of family visiting (including my husband and I) in Colorado Springs.  My cousin Paul was more than happy to get his picture with Ms. America, too:

Ms. America International and Paul Ibarra

But on top of the twenty or so photo ideas I have milling around in my head, I’m also thinking about what sort of photo project I could do where it would also involve fundraising to help a local charity.

This is where ideas from my readers would be great!  I had mentioned something before about food kitchens and photographing the faces of children who need a helping hand, but that idea is still a nebulous conglomeration of thoughts floating in my head.

In any case, it was great to meet such a pillar of human excellence and I hope to come up with a charitable act that would allow Ms. Gonzalez to help kickoff a fundraiser in Asheville, NC.

I Am NOT Inspiring

Dream / C. Calhoun 2012
I created this fractal as a representation of following your dreams.


Back in June, I closed my office door, said some good-byes and handed in my keys.  I had been teaching at my school for five years.

I was going to another teaching job in the fall, part-time, but it wasn’t 100% certain that I had the job.

I still left the old one.

Why?

For so many reasons:

I needed to be creative.  
I knew I had a decade or less of “teaching” in me – I knew that I would give it everything I had.  Like a flame that had waxed and then waned, I knew I had to rekindle it in a different venue.
I was already writing for HubPages, and had the prospect of a part-time teaching job.  
We had already reduced our expenses.
I knew that what I was making as a writer wouldn’t be enough to cover the bills.
I had some savings, but…
I took a leap of faith.

There were so many reasons to stay.  
For goodness sakes, I had relative job security.
I had a steady job with steady income, though let me tell you, it wasn’t much.
I had a few bills to pay, though not many.
I needed to eat.
I needed a place to live and I wanted to keep my house.

Still Dreaming / C. Calhoun 2012.
Do you have what it takes to follow your dreams?



I stood, that last day, as I turned out the lights.  I peered into my tiny office-that-was-a-closet – a dark hole, not unlike one that I felt I was walking into.  I didn’t know where that hole would lead.  I didn’t know what the darkness would bring.

I’m not a coward, but I wouldn’t call myself the mark of courage, either.  

I just knew that I had to follow my bliss.

I knew that I had to be true to myself.  Maybe it was having someone die in my arms when I was 15.  Maybe it was witnessing my dad having a heart attack, needing quintuple bypass surgery and later contracting prostate cancer.  Maybe it was my brother dying in a car accident last year…and leaving a mess behind.  Maybe it was the miscarriage I had last year and my cat dying the same day.

I don’t know.  

I just know that you never know.  You never know when it’s your time.  You never know when you will say good-bye – or not – for the last time.  You never know when you will pass to the other side.

So, I quit my job.  To follow a dream of being a successful writer, artist and photographer.  The community college job didn’t work out, either.

Self-Portrait: Thinking / C. Calhoun
I have a dream.



I have NO IDEA where I will go or where this dream will lead.

I have NO IDEA if this is some drummed-up pipedream.

But I do know this: I will have tried.  Each day, I try.  I write.  I take photos.  I do arts and crafts.  

I am following my bliss.

I’ve had a few friends say – in a loving way – that they’re jealous of what I’m doing.  They were smiling when they said it, and I know that they weren’t lying.

I can say that following your dreams is not easy.  If it was, I’d see everyone living out their dreams.

Society expects you to follow the rules.  Good, upright, educated people just don’t walk out on their jobs.  Good, intelligent people stick things out.  

I did.  

But I wanted to try this.  

I will not, I repeat, I will not look back on my life and wish that I had endeavored to follow my dreams.  I AM my dream and I have to protect it.

Thus, I’m not inspiring.  I am only following what I believe I’m here on this earth to do.  No, I don’t know what that looks like with 100% certainty.  But I do know that a truer life is one in which you are true to yourself.  

“I’m broke, but I’m happy.  I’m poor but I’m kind.”  Alaniss Morrisette used those words in a song that I feel like epitomizes my life.

I will go boldly into that future.  And I will hope that others are true to themselves and follow their dreams.  

But I, I am not inspiring.  But now, I am an writer, artist, photographer…and some kind of crazy homesteader.  I’ve got one hand in my pocket…and I’ll be fine, fine fine.