Howdy from Camp NaNoWriMo

On the field of the self stands a knight and a dragon. You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon. The battle must be fought anew every day. ~ Steven Pressfield

Camp-NaNoWriMo-2013-Lantern-Vertical-BannerIn my post “You Can’t Finish What You Don’t Start” I talk about how fear and excuses can stop us from starting on a path toward a goal or dream. That post was written in mid-November 2012 during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). On the day I wrote it, I had tallied 30,000 words toward finishing the first draft of a fantasy novel. And by the end of November I was a sleep-starved gelatinous mass quivering on my keyboard – having survived the last few days on mounds of chocolate and gallons of Mountain Dew – BUT I finished the race and surpassed the goal of 50k words.

I decided last year that I would never do another NaNo in November, but it’s April now and the memory of that past pain has faded, and National Novel Writing Month’s little sibling has begun. Camp NaNoWriMo is billed as “an idyllic writers retreat, smack-dab in the middle of your crazy life.” And crazy is one word to describe this journey.

On day five of Camp, my resolve is already wavering. I’ve written 4,000 words toward my 30-day goal of 30k words divided between five short stories. It hasn’t been easy, but like anything worth doing, sacrifice is necessary. My house is suffering and my husband is already eating toast and dry cereal for dinner. Between bouts of writing, I work on my lengthy to-do list which includes putting together and editing a 16-page newsletter for my writing organization, plus playing interim webmaster for their website. Let’s not forget that April is tax month – yippee!

What was I thinking when I committed to this? Certainly another month would have been better, less hectic, more convenient…but there is no better month, no better time than now. And what does convenience have to do with following my dreams?

I know I can do this. I survived Army basic training. I raised four children. I’ve dressed the dead (that’s a story for another day). I can do this. But commitment is not all it takes to finish such a project. I realize now, five days into Camp, that I simply didn’t plan ahead well enough. I can’t go back, but there are things I can do from here on out to make sure I finish the race:

  • Schedule. As much as possible. But be real and flexible – life happens.
  • Get Up Early. And go to bed at a decent time. Without sleep, I can’t think straight.
  • Creative Time. Mornings are best for me – that’s when I should work on projects.
  • Exercise. A little bit everyday is better than nothing.
  • Kill Time Suckers:
    • Television. Record favorite shows to watch later.
    • Internet. Don’t get sucked in. Make notes to do research later.
    • Email. Check email once a day, and set a timer to do so.
  • Plan Meals and Snacks. Note to self: I can eat dry cereal three times a day, but my husband shouldn’t have to.
  • Use Tools: A calendar, master to-do list, daily to-do list, and giant marker board are my friends.
  • Prioritize: Some things can wait and some things can’t. Do what’s most important first, carry over the rest to the next day, then re-prioritize.

I should have been better prepared going into Camp, but I won’t allow myself to use that as an excuse to give up. It takes a lot stronger dragon than that to drive me completely off course. That said, the focus of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to do what they long to do – to write. To help us move forward on our writing journey. And as I said in my November post, whatever the final word count ends up being, I will be closer to finishing than if I hadn’t started at all.

What is keeping you from moving forward on a dream? What do you do to stay on course?

How Important are Your Dreams?


Keep Looking Ahead…


Take that Step…


You are…


On the Road to the Sun

GlacierNP_2The Going-to-the-Sun Road wound upwards around the ice-carved mountainsides of Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Forests of evergreens, patches of fading wild flowers, and the yellow-orange of still-changing foliage spread out before me along the road on three sides. Even the cliff face on my left, climbing toward an autumn sky, held beauty in its grey hues, and jagged lines and shadows. Mountain buttes hid the foothills of ridges. Ridges bowed before peaks. Each layer a darker shade of blue to purple-grey. All filled the horizon above v-shaped valleys.

I went around a curve, the traffic slowed to a standstill, and there, blocking the panorama, was a rocky outcrop with a rough-hewn tunnel leading through it. In comparison, the harshness of the lifeless stone and the spiny, leafless trees here didn’t hold the same beauty as what I’d just passed. Behind me, the view was still so awesome I could have stared at it for hours, if not days, if not years (so different from the grassy mesas and the looming shoulders of barren mountains I often hike near my home 1250 miles away).

Glacier_4On through the tunnel, and the vista was again wondrous ahead, this time less so behind. And so, The-Going-to-the-Sun Road shifted before and behind, in varying degrees of glorious – because, really, even the views that held too much brown and grey or not enough mountain or sky, still held perfection in their own way.

During one of those moments in my ascent when I just had to stop and stand and try to take it all in, I thought of how much looking back can ruin my present and my future. The landscape of my past is filled with both beauty and ugliness. But living in the past – whether glorious or gritty – has often been a trap that keeps me from living in the present. At the same time, working busily for tomorrow (even if tomorrow means the end of the day) without enjoying this very day, seems as much of a waste.

I don’t make true New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I’m going to try very hard to do this coming year is to enjoy my every today and hope more in the future.

What changes do you want to make in the new year?

Heroes Among Us: An Interview with a Firefighter

The following is the first of my interviews with heroes I know, with the hope of revealing the ordinary aspects of a hero’s life and to help the rest of us recognize hero traits or tendencies in ourselves. The name of the interviewee has been changed for privacy sake.

Among the many things firefighters are known for, two things stand out the most – their courage and their cooking.

When I first met Dave the firefighter at a family gathering several years ago, I was immediately impressed by his quiet confidence, and then with his show of kindness and affection while he played with his children.

Becoming a firefighter was a natural career choice for him after finishing Emergency Medical Training (EMT) school and working an ambulance for seven years. Sixteen years after making that decision — and having worked his way up through the ranks, starting as a cadet — he’s now a captain with the fire department.

When I asked him how many fires or emergency calls he’s answered so far, he told me he didn’t know. And then he did the math and was amazed by the answer: well over 20,000 emergency calls over the course of his 23-year career. With all of that experience, Dave understands fear and courage. He attributes the ability to face the dangers in his job to training, saying, “All of the initial firefighters that engage in their first fire are VERY courageous…It takes a different type of being to become trained to the point of entering a building knowingly, realizing that death could take you. After the first fire, your comfort level increases.” Continuing to risk their lives becomes like clockwork after that, he says.

Though he agrees with the Moorish proverb that he who fears something gives it power over him, he also believes that sometimes fear is a good thing. It’s “what a veteran must realize when leading a crew, it’s that sixth sense to objectively analyze the situation and make a decision.”

One aspect of his job is keeping people calm in an emergency, and he has practical advice for dealing with others who are fearful: “Be a solid listener. Make a conscious effort not to…be distracted; make eye contact and ensure that the person you are listening to knows that they have your full attention.”

Dave defines courage as acting or performing for the best interests of others, rather than yourself. Like any good husband and father, his own fears or concerns center around his family. Getting injured while responding to an emergency or being caught up in a domestic violence incident on call could lead to not being able to provide for his family. He’s also concerned he might fail to instill strong ethics and morals in his children or to teach them to always do the right thing regardless of hurting someone else’s feelings. And he believes building confidence in children, that they can do anything, is the first building block of courage.

And what about the rumor that firefighters are good cooks? Chores, like cooking and cleaning, are typically shared in a firehouse. And just like the food at a truck stop better be good enough to please the truckers, food served at a fire station has to satisfy a hungry group of firefighters. Dave always enjoyed cooking green chile sausage gravy to complement biscuits and eggs when it was his turn to feed the “troops.” He was kind enough to share his recipe with us.

Green Chile Sausage Gravy (for 10 good eaters)

  1. Gather up a large pan that holds approximately 3/4 gal.
  2. Place one large “log” of spicy sausage in the pan, cook it down and keep some of the grease for flavor, strain the rest.
  3. Once the sausage is cooked, add in approximately 1/2 gal of milk, bring it to a boil.
  4. In a large cup, place approximately 4 cups of milk, slowly add flour until the contents are very thick, whisk it if possible, lumps of flour are yucky!
  5. When the milk and sausage contents are boiling, slowly pour in the milk/flour contents, until the boiling stops, then stop the pour and whisk the pot to further avoid clumps. Once the contents boil again, do the same. Key here is to do this a few times until the consistency matches your taste.
  6. Once you have the desired thickness, add in approximately three to four cups of thawed frozen HOT green chile. Let this simmer and stir for a few minutes and you’re good! Hint: If your chile isn’t hot enough, you can add black pepper to spice it up.

The Courage of Mothers

To me, mothers are some of the most courageous people I know. In every part of the world, they fight for and defend their children and their homes – many give their lives for both. Sacrifice is a daily offering.

Many women long for the experience of motherhood. They have a deep need to nurture a baby. Their mother’s heart will not let them give up even after the devastation of miscarriage or stillbirth.

Two years before I came into the world, my mother gave birth to my oldest brother. He was born with a handful of physical defects, one affecting his tiny heart. My mother brought him home to a newly painted nursery filled with a secondhand crib, crocheted baby quilts, and the hopes of motherhood. She cuddled my brother, loved on him, nursed him, and made his few days of life as comfortable as possible. Then she tried again – not to replace her lost son, but because she had a mother’s indomitable spirit, a mother’s heart that would not be stopped even by the heartbreak of loss.

It is easier for some people to understand what a mother goes through with the loss of a child she has held in her arms than the loss associated with a miscarriage. But the pain is no different.

In the following excerpt from the website Raising Paityn, Tiffany describes her experience with miscarriage. For the full post, click here.

The grief of a miscarriage is often a hidden pain…not soothed by platitudes…not soothed by logic…but time does bring clarity to grief. My baby is in a better place. I love to picture her in the arms of Jesus, her soul flying from the loving warmth of my womb to his gentle arms. It was an image that I think put me on the first step towards healing.

A piece of my heart is forever missing, flown away to heaven with my baby…I whisper words to the child I never met but I feel I know. I send hugs and kisses and love to the baby I still long to embrace…But for the moment, I sit with my loss in the comforting embrace of the night. Daylight is unfriendly towards grief; sunshine and warmth seem incongruous with the ache of sadness. In the dark, grief sits by me as a friend, acknowledging my right to shed tears and feel this ache in my heart. So I embrace it. No platitudes, no logic. Just tears that bring healing.

Some women will never physically bear a child, but their mother’s heart is evidenced by their love and nurturing of others, whether of adopted children, friends and family, or furry creatures.

And not all mothers are “good” mothers, not all live sacrificially for their children. But for those who do, they are true heroes. And for those who try again after miscarriage or stillbirth, I salute the courage and steadfastness of their mother’s heart.

Bullying: You Are the Boss of You

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

 As long as there are people who enjoy being cruel and have a need to dominate and control others, there will be bullies. Unfortunately, that also means there will be those who are the recipients of their physical and/or emotional aggression. Years ago, only two options were usually offered a child suffering from being bullied: fight back or ignore it. Adults tended to think it was a normal part of childhood. Nowadays, awareness of the extreme result of bullying (such as suicide) has caused parents, teachers, and school systems to take a more active role in preventing and dealing with schoolyard bullies through special programs and education.

There is also an abundance of books and movies for kids and young adults that deal with this issue. Books for parents and teachers, such as The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander by Barbara Coloroso give understanding and guidance regarding bullying – with insight into the role that a bystander (active or not) plays in supporting such behavior. In the book, suggestions are given on how to raise a child to have the compassion and strength of character to act on what is right if they find themselves as a bystander “even at great cost to himself.”

Eventually we all grow up and leave school behind, but schoolyard bullies often grow into adult bullies. This kind of behavior is less in-your-face physical and more subtle, but still just as harmful. It can manifest itself in its simplest form in a relationship where one person continually takes advantage of another through manipulation, often using the friendship (and the possible loss of it) as a weapon.

We can try to understand bullies. Most have a need to control because they have little control over their own lives – and those they perceive as weak or different become easy targets. Many are raised by dominating, controlling parents, and bullying can become a natural path. But no amount of understanding can excuse this behavior. Whatever the reasons, a bully chooses to treat people a certain way, just like the rest of us do.

As adults, we have choices that children may not have or may not know they have, or don’t have the strength to make. We can choose not to be bullied, deciding instead to avoid or ignore those kinds of people without harm to our once-fragile childhood hearts. We can end an unhealthy relationship with a controlling partner or friend. The power to change a situation that we’re unhappy with is within each of us.

The trick is remembering that change is as easy as you make it. The trick is remembering that you are the boss of you. ~ A.S. King

But things become more complicated when encountering bullying in the workplace. Our job might depend on getting along with that awful person giving us the stink-eye from the desk across the room. And if it’s your demanding supervisor…that’s an even tougher situation. We still have choices, whether it’s being nice to the person to keep the peace, confronting the person in an assertive but non-aggressive way, or taking the problem through the chain of command. If bullying turns into outright harassment, most workplaces have rules in place to deal with it. In any case, moving on might just save your physical and mental health.

But no matter what, keeping in mind where the fault lies is key. You do not deserve to be treated with scorn or disrespect. No one else is the boss of you, but you.

October is National Bullying Prevention month. What do you think is the best way to handle or prevent bullying?

Fear Less Fridays: Can Bravery Be Taught?

Even with my limited military experience, I know the value of training. Like taking a weapon apart and putting it back together, over and over, so you can do it and do it right without really thinking. Take care of your weapon and it will take care of you, kind of thing. Various forms of combat training, mock emergency exercises, gas mask drills – all for the goal of solidifying the important things into your brain so when you need to, you and your body react with little or no hesitation.

I used to volunteer with a white-water rafting company. I trained with the rest of the staff before rafting season, and during the season we trained groups of clients in river safety before each trip. Weekend after weekend, and year after year, it all got drilled into my brain. And when I actually fell out of a raft one day and found myself trapped underneath it and spinning in the current at the base of a small waterfall, my body did what my brain had been trained for – and I did exactly what was necessary to escape, without panic.

Knowing the value of training is also the reason I always read through the emergency procedure literature on an airplane before takeoff and watch the flight attendant demonstrate getting out of a seatbelt and putting on an oxygen mask. I look at the pictures and go through the steps in my mind, imagining myself opening those emergency doors and escaping. I want my mind to be ready, just in case, so my body responds accordingly.

The armed forces, police, firefighters, and emergency/rescue workers train hard, and sometimes for years, in order to respond correctly in the face of danger or disaster. Many of these people will tell you, when asked about their bravery, that they are just doing their jobs the way they were trained to do them. I can see this might be true the first time a person is tested, but what about after that?

It takes real bravery to face an enemy more than once, whether the enemy is found in nature or a fellow human. Doing so could be grounded in training, as well as camaraderie – watching somebody else’s back, not wanting to let your buddy down. Often, I think, it’s also the result of truly knowing what the right thing is, and doing it. Otherwise, ordinary people wouldn’t rush into burning buildings to save strangers.

But where do the roots of such bravery come from? Maybe from parents or others that children admire, teaching them by their words and actions to love their country, respect life, do the right thing, and make a difference. These are the children who grow up to choose vocations that take them into danger or to dedicate their lives to helping others. Or to simply live ordinary lives with grace and conviction (which ultimately leads to a better world).

We may not be able to teach bravery but perhaps we can plant the seeds of courage.

Where do you think courage comes from?