Silverpen Productions Blog

Happy Thanksgiving!

We wish everyone in our Silverpen Productions Family a very Happy Thanksgiving!

We are so thankful for you and the wonderful stories you have allowed us to be a part of this past year, and hope that you and yours have a successful (whatever your version of success is!) year ahead.

What are you thankful for this year?

 


Background Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

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How to Spark Writing Ideas

Let’s face it, writing is hard. No matter if you write for a living or just need to get through some assignments for school or work, finding the right combination of words and transferring them to the page can be taxing. Next time you find yourself taking a step back from your writing or needing a break, do something that will help spark ideas rather than getting sucked into a world of procrastination and distraction.

 

  • Get outside. Stepping away from the computer screen and breathing some fresh air is not only a generally good activity to do for your health, but also for your writing. Take a walk, hike, meditate, go running, or do anything in the outdoors that you find peaceful and quiet. Sometimes when we’re writing we can forget about the outside world as we are so determined to get the assignment done or make something just right. Taking a look around you and seeing nature and real things outside of your Microsoft Word draft will help clear your head so you’re refreshed for when you go back to writing.
  • Talk to others. I used to think “a-ha” moments were something only reserved for television and movies, but then I realized even the simplest conversations with others can sometimes lead you to your next idea or push you past your latest roadblock in your writing. Whether you ask a person direct questions about your writing or just have a chat about how their day has been, anything can spark a new idea. When you step away from your writing, you leave behind the mindset that was having trouble solving a particular problem or couldn’t get past a part of the writing process. When you allow yourself to have conversations with others, any number of mundane conversation points can spark an idea and take you back into your world of writing with a new frame of mind.
  • Take a shower. A lot of people often say that their best ideas come to them in the shower. This is probably because there is very little hindering your thought process - no technology, no distractions - you’re practically forced to think. The sense of cleaning and renewal are also entwined with showering, and most people relate to the feeling of stepping out brand new when they’re done showering, so you can emerge renewed and ready to take on your writing again.
  • Go to sleep. If you have enough time to spare in your writing process to take a break like sleeping, do it. Dreams can be inspiring and full of ideas and the notion of “sleeping on it” helps you become removed enough from your writer’s block or hesitation that you can tackle the problem the next day with a better mindset.
  • Work on something else. Leave your writing behind for other brain-power activities. Sparking your mind in other ways can strengthen it overall. Solve a puzzle, do some reading, work on another assignment or problem, etc. Just get those neurons firing!

 

-Hannah  Kotler

 

 

Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley writing in the sun via photopin (license)

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What Literature Can Teach Us

No matter your feelings toward literature and reading, everyone at some point in their life has picked up a book and felt at least something. That’s because literature has the power to teach us countless lessons and information. Here are just a few things literature can teach us:

 

  • About ourselves. Books and the characters within them often hold a mirror up to the reader’s face, begging you to make comparisons and see part of yourself within some character. Relating to characters, questioning their motives, finding yourself angry at certain actions or any range of emotions you feel as you read teach you more about yourself. You are able to see parts of yourself, both the good and bad, in different characters and evaluate why you may have reactions to certain things, teaching you more about your behavior and likes or dislikes as a person.
  • About the human experience. Arguably the most important and prevalent lesson you can learn from literature has to do with the human experience. Reading a quote from a character and having found yourself thinking or saying those very words before, recognizing a fictional plot as a parallel to a point in history, or feeling a character’s same feelings based on similar experiences all deepen our understanding of the human experience. Even when exploring fictional, historical, or far off worlds that exist in literature, the ability to empathize or understand even a fraction of what the characters go through pulls us closer together as humans. Literature grants an equal playing field and allows people to project themselves into worlds they may never experience in real life; but at least they can know their feelings and experiences are not singular.
  • About other cultures and worlds. Books are great tools to use to learn about customs and ways of life completely different than your own. Considering the amount of research an author does and their ability to delve into a particular world, time, or place with rich description, one can learn a lot about other cultures. Historical fiction obviously works best for this, but even completely made-up stories take inspiration from reality on some level.
  • How to write. Any good writer will often cite books as their primary teacher. Reading literature will help you learn style, punctuation, grammar, plot, description, and everything else. Absorbing as much good literature as possible helps you find your place as a writer and offers endless sources of inspiration for how to craft sentences, characters, and whole entire worlds to play in.

 

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: Maggi_94 Bibliothek am Steintor-Campus via photopin (license)

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What’s Behind the Pumpkin?

 

The American word “pumpkin” originated from the Greek word Pepon, which means large melon. The word gradually changed through the years by the French, English, and then Americans to the pumpkin we know today. It is believed that pumpkins and squash originated in ancient America, even before the prevalent use of corn. Based on early documents, it appears that pumpkins were a major source of survival for the Pilgrims, especially during the winter months. Pumpkins were first documented as served at the second Thanksgiving celebration.

There are multiple theories as to the origins of what we now know as jack-o-lanterns and our modern Halloween celebrations. Early jack-o-lanterns from the Irish and Scottish were actually carved from potatoes and turnips for their Celtic celebrations. The English used beets and added lit lumps of coal inside the hollowed-out vegetables. As the European immigrants settled in to America, the tradition transitioned to the better-suited pumpkins.

The use of pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving was not the only thing that seems to have originated with the Celtic tradition. In fact, it seems that our Halloween traditions in general can be traced back to early Celtic celebrations. Samhain (pronounced sow-in) was an ancient Celtic festival from over 2000 years ago. At the time, their new year was celebrated on November 1, marking the end of summer and harvest with the beginning of the dark and cold winter that was usually associated with human death. They believed that the evening before the new year was when the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead were blurred and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

The Celts believed that these spirits could damage their crops and cause trouble in general. They also believed that their presence made it easier for the Celtic priests to make predictions about the future. They built large bonfires and the people would gather to make sacrifices to the Celtic gods, usually burning crops and animals. They wore costumes out of animal heads and skins and would attempt telling each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their own personal hearth fires from the bonfire to help protect their homes and families from the coming winter.

After the Roman empire conquered the Celtic lands, the celebration began to incorporate some of the Roman traditions. The Romans had two fall festivals - Feralia, commemorating the passing of the dead, and a day to honor Pomona, a Roman goddess of fruit and trees. Her symbol is the apple and this likely is the background of the popular tradition of bobbing for apples. By the 9th century, Christianity was spreading into the Celtic lands and the Catholics blended their celebrations of All Souls' Day and All Saints Day (also was called All-hallows or All-hallowmas, derived from the Middle English word Alholowmesse and meant All Saints' Day). The night before, the traditional night of Samhain, began to be called All-Hallows Eve and eventually morphed into the Halloween we now know.

In America, while Halloween was fairly common in the southern colonies, it was initially very limited in colonial New England due to the rigid Protestant beliefs. But as other European ethnic groups came to America and meshed with the Native Americans, the festivities began to expand, and included parties, fortune telling, dancing, singing, ghost stories, and mischief-making. They also included the Irish and English traditions of dressing in costumes (mainly to avoid being recognized by the ghosts that crossed over into our world) and would go door to door asking for food or money, which evolved into the trick-or-treat custom we know today.

 

 

Want to learn more about the origins of our Halloween traditions? Check out what history.com has to say.

Want to learn more about pumpkins, squash, and how to pick the perfect one? Here's some great info on All About Pumpkins!

 

Background Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo / mythja

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#MeToo – Power in Social Media

Perhaps you've noticed this #MeToo campaign flying around social media right now.

I think pretty much every woman I know would agree with me that they are not surprised by the sheer number of me too's they're seeing on their newsfeed. What would be surprising is if there were many people that could write "not me" instead. Those of us who have been a girl all our lives know that we are under a constant state of scrutiny, criticism, harassment, and unfortunately for some of us, yes even assault. This is sadly nothing new. So why does it take a media storm about Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein to bring it to light? Just because "that's the way things are?"

If we were to look for a silver lining in all this, at least it's that the recent news (and yes, political events, too) are causing women to say, "Enough!" It's time to make a change. It's time to take control.

Any of my regular readers and clients will already know that I have a definite love/hate relationship with social media. There are a lot of reasons I hate it and feel it is causing serious issues in our society and businesses. But there are some definite pros to it, and the #metoo campaign, even with the issues and complaints surrounding it, is one of them.

It raises awareness.

To me, the surprise isn't the plethora of me too's in the newsfeed; it's the reactions of the men in my newsfeed and the conversations this campaign has brought up.

I've seen rebuttal posts saying they shouldn't have to out themselves as survivors of harassment or assault, because men have always seen the gendered violence happening around them and it shouldn't be just our burden as women to speak up. We are not the ones that need to change or become more aware. And if men need to see a huge threshold of survivors to  "get it," then they will never truly "get it." They say that the focus shouldn't be on the victims, and it should be on the assailants and enablers - that's the change we need to see. Survivors don't owe anyone their story and if they don't post a #metoo, it doesn't necessarily mean they haven't been through harassment either.

And you know what? I agree.
To a point. And here's why.

I am proud to say that I know a lot of men that I consider to be well-educated, intelligent, and fairly enlightened men. They help out around the house, they take a large part in their kids' lives, they think that gender inequality is wrong, and they treat women with respect.

What has surprised me is the surprise they've shown in response to the #metoo. I've seen several of my male friends posting that while they knew it was a problem, they didn't realize the magnitude. I've seen some express shock over how many of their "intelligent, well-educated" female friends spoke out. I've seen some express thanks, because they have learned a lot, and I've seen some of them posting articles that have popped up in men's magazines on things like what needs to come next (men - do something) and what to do if you see a female coworker being harassed.

It's a start.

For those women who have been traumatized does it seem too little too late? Sure. But it's a start.

The whole point was to raise awareness and to start a conversation - to spur action. And that is what's happening. For those who are survivors of assault, it is raising traumatic feelings and fear. Some don't want to speak out because they don't want questions. Some are writing #metoo anyway. (Men - here's another tip for you: Don't ask for details. They don't need to talk about it.)

Many women have "only" been victims of harassment in terms of degrading comments, catcalls, unwanted arms around the shoulder, hugs, kisses, etc. It doesn't mean they are completely traumatized (sadly, this is common grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it daily occurrences for many women), but know that it happens - often - and we don't like it.

And it's sad that many of these women are hesitant to write #metoo because they feel that their situation is comparatively "not that bad" and they don't want to take away from the women who have been through much worse hell.

See how society has warped this situation?

Women are banding together to support each other and want to stop the worst violence. But NONE of this behavior is ok. This should not be a part of everyday life in any way, shape, or form. Period. And yes, this campaign is bringing a lot of that up.

But you know what I've found interesting about all this?
The uncomfortable looks I've seen on men's faces when they talk to their friends and say, "Whaaaaaaa? I didn't know you ever had any issues...." Yes. Be uncomfortable. Be angry. Feel powerless. That is how many women feel every. single. day.

But then do something about it! Be mindful of your own actions and words towards women. Speak up if you see something. Don't just bury your head back in the sand. Stop just standing by passively as this happens to your wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend. Take action. You do have power. It can change.

Women have spoken up and taken the first step. What happens now?

I know that some of the comments I've seen are probably right - the people who are the main part of the problem, those guys that scoff at this type of stuff, unfortunately, they will probably never "get it," no matter what happens. But if this opens up the eyes of the other guys and makes them more aware and spurring them to action instead of passively standing by while this happens every day? That to me, seems like a win.

If they are more vigilant for their daughters and guide their sons and speak at the injustice, then maybe, just maybe, someday this will not be such a big issue. If it becomes more accepted to talk about this, to speak up, to be aware - maybe our children won't have this be a part of their everyday lives. Maybe #metoo can take on a whole new, positive connotation and women can finally walk down the street with a little more ease.

If that could happen, this could then truly have some meaning. But we need to remember that just expressing opinions online isn't going to actually change anything. It might raise awareness, but action - action is the only way to bring about true change.

So the question now remains, what are you going to do about it? What is the answer here? Perhaps that should be the next campaign - answering, #what next?

 

Photo Credit: Hugedé Loïc Aix via photopin (license)

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Calling All Teens & Tweens!

 

We have a couple of projects coming up that involve the young adult book market and we want to hear from the young adults that read!
This short survey only takes a few minutes and we would love your help. Please share this with any teens & tweens you know.

We look forward to reading your answers!

Send us a note for more info,
or find the survey here

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Why You Should Take a Writing Course in College

If you just graduated high school and are hoping to abandon all English classes and forms of writing while in college, think again. Here are some reasons why everyone should take a writing course in college.

 

You will most likely need writing in anything you do. No matter your future profession, the ability to communicate well is a necessary skill. From formal write-ups to casual emails and verbal networking, writing and communicating are unavoidable. Give yourself an edge by taking college writing courses so that you can continue to hone your skills over time. The more you write the better off you’ll be, so even if your schedule is filled with math classes, squeeze in that writing class.

Writing courses are a great way to get introduced to college-level work. There is a large difference between high school quality writing and college-level writing. Taking a writing course early on is a great way to introduce yourself to the new standards to which you will be held. The first college paper/essay you hand in will be a great learning experience, and your writing professor should only help you to get better over time and rise to your new expectations. Plus, the high demand of essays in the class should prepare you for the amount of work you will encounter in college and the work ethic you will need.

Writing courses will teach you basics you may not have learned in high school. A writing course will not only teach you how to write better, but also about sources, citations, constructing a strong argument, clarity, and more. You may think writing courses are just for learning how to use fancy words in a pretty way, but there are a lot more technical skills you will learn that are important all throughout college. High school writing classes are usually focused on structure (a persuasive essay versus an expository essay, the five-paragraph essay, etc.), but a college-writing course will actually teach you how to form a cohesive and convincing argument using proper sources and citations. These skills will come in handy in all courses.

You can probably tailor your writing course experience to your interests. If you’re still not convinced to take a writing course or are particularly against a “Writing 101” style class, see if your school offers writing-intensive courses or if a certain class in a different field involves a lot of writing. Look into what each class requires or talk with a professor about their courses. You don’t need to take a standard writing or English class to get a good writing experience; you may find a history class with a lot of essays or a science class with multiple papers throughout the semester. Each subject will offer different skills for your writing arsenal, but the experience is valuable nonetheless.

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: Ikayama Geology Class via photopin (license)

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Family Summer Activites

As the summer continues, it can be easy to fall into a hole of boredom as you and the kids run out of ideas for things to do. Here are some fun family activities to try next time you can’t quite think of something.

 

  • Picnic. Not only is this a great way to come together for a meal, but you can also explore the outdoors together by going to a park, trail, or hiking spot for the picnic location. Expand on this by preparing the picnic food together and maybe trying a new recipe!

 

  • Movie night. There are tons of fun ways to do this classic activity in the summer. Find a drive-in theater nearby, use a projector and a wall outside, look for nearby venues like parks that host outdoor movie nights, find one playing on cable or Netflix, or just go to the theater!

 

  • Water-based activities. Of course the heat in the summer will make you want to flock to the nearest beach or pool, but an often more local option is water fun on rivers and lakes. See if you have places near you that offer kayaking, tubing, canoeing, swimming, or rafting.

 

  • Check out your town, city, or state’s hot-spots. Often when we’ve lived somewhere for so long, we overlook the many places around us that attract outsiders. What is listed on your town, city, or state’s tourist website? Maybe you have a museum, nature center, aquarium, or outdoor location that is particularly special to your place of living. Check out the local gems of your hometown or make a day of it and take a road trip elsewhere.

 

  • Farmer’s markets and food truck festivals. The summer is great for outdoor and food related events. Look into whether your town or neighboring ones have consistent farmer’s markets throughout the summer season. Larger cities also often host food truck festivals you could try.

 

  • Camping. While the weather is nice, why not take the family outdoors and live under the stars? Find local campsites and spend some old-fashioned fun roasting food on the fire, telling stories, and making the woods your new home. Not much for the rustic life? Set up a tent for the night in the backyard!

 

  • Competition-based activities. Have a friendly battle in the family by trying mini-golf, croquet, bocce, bowling, or board game night.

 

-Hannah Kotler

Photo Credit: Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits Summer vacation via photopin (license)

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Recipe Corner: Blueberry Banana Smoothie

This smoothie recipe is very easy and helps start your day right with two different fruits. Plus, plenty of substitutions can be made to make it just right for you!

 

 

Ingredients:

1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)

1 banana (frozen or fresh)

1 cup milk (Almond or Coconut milk for vegan/dairy-free alternative. Almond Breeze brand unsweetened vanilla flavor used here.)

½ teaspoon agave nectar to sweeten

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup crushed ice

 

Directions:

Place ingredients in blender and blend until desired mixture and smoothness. This smoothie can be made thicker by adding more ice, using frozen fruit or using yogurt in place of or on top of the milk. Makes enough for one large cup and a little more left over!

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photos Copyright (c) Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

 

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How to Stay Motivated

 

We’ve all been there - late night piles of work, the feeling of procrastination overtaking your goals, and that feeling of wanting to give up on whatever it is you’re trying to do. Finding motivation can be hard. Here are five ways to stay on track:

 

  • Always look at the big picture.
    A lot of the time, finding motivation to do little tasks or larger stretches of work can be hard because they get lost in the overall goal. Try to remain clear on what it is you want to do and where you want to end up. These visions should be enticing and satisfying to you, so that you will be more motivated to complete the steps to get there.

    Whether it’s working hard at your current job to land an even better one or get a promotion, studying to eventually achieve the career or graduate school you want, or even cutting back on spending to save up for something you have always dreamed of, it’s more motivating to keep those larger and happier pictures in mind and work toward them than it is to think about doing unpleasant or monotonous tasks in singularity.

 

  • Have a clear path.
    While keeping your “big picture” goal in mind, map out how it is you’re going to get there. Reminding yourself of the overall goal is important, but it can also be scary to achieve if you don’t have clear steps in mind. Have something that you can revisit and make changes to in order to see your progress and feel like you are staying on track.

    Find what works for you! If you like crossing items off a list because it makes you feel like you’re accomplishing tasks, make a to-do list. If you don’t like having a list of every little detail you need to finish because it feels overwhelming, stick to just weekly or monthly goals to achieve in the course of the end goal. Or, if you just want to see what your goal looks like, make a physical representation (a diagram, map, etc.) of how you plan to go from point A to point B and so on to get where you want. Regardless of the method, you will stay motivated in the big picture if you have a clearer idea of how to achieve it in smaller steps.

 

  • Reward yourself.
    Once you’ve mapped out your goal and the steps to get there, make sure to keep yourself happy and interested by rewarding your progress. The first step in anything is normally the hardest, and once you get over that hurdle it can be easier to continue to take steps toward your end goal. But when tasks become difficult or you lose focus, use rewards as a way to stimulate motivation.

    The rewards don’t have to be counterproductive! Celebrate your progress by taking a short break filled with relaxation, spending time with someone you love, or enjoying a quality food or beverage. Don’t fall into a television or phone-watching hole and make your breaks worthwhile!

 

  • Manage your time by scheduling fake due dates. Procrastination often takes over when we know we have more time to do something. We find ourselves saying “I’ll do it tomorrow” because in our mind we still have tomorrow as an option (and a very doable one, at that!) Take this away by scheduling fake due dates and entering them into your calendar. If you act like something needs to be done at a certain date earlier than it actually should be done, you will act accordingly.

    If you have a pile of work on your desk that needs to be done by Friday, write down that it is due Wednesday. Keep this in mind and repeat this sentiment, so that Wednesday will stick in your head as the due date and you will act like it really is! And even if you procrastinate towards the fake due date you will have done more work by Wednesday than you originally would have if you always aimed to complete it by Friday.

 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
    You don’t have to work toward your goals alone. If you are struggling, find the appropriate people to help you and don’t feel inferior for doing so. Even just asking for general life advice or smaller pointers will help you stay on track by including someone else in your goals. Often, once you’ve asked for help or advice, people will follow up on how things turned out. This alone will keep you motivated to keep working because you’ll have to give them answers or feel obligated to show progress when they check in with you!

-Hannah Kotler

Photo Credit: MorseInteractive Entrepreneur Macbook Pro via photopin (license)

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How To Have A Healthier Summer

 

Summer is officially here and while these may not be the months of cold weather flu season, that doesn’t mean your health goes to the wayside. Gear up for the warm weather with these tips!

 

  • Protect yourself from the sun. The summer is known for its sunny weather and it’s great to get outside and enjoy it, but make sure to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Always wear sunscreen for any outdoor activities (not just the beach!) Sunscreen is not only great for preventing skin cancer but also premature aging, spots, or skin discoloration. Not only that, but I think we all know how painful a sunburn can be! Commonly missed spots that still need protecting include your ears, neck, hands, and tops of your feet if you are in open-toed shoes. Also make sure to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and a hat to shield your face and protect your scalp (the top of your head can burn too!).

 

  • Eat on the lighter side. Summer is the perfect time to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into meals because a lot of them are in season. You can make healthy salads using in-season vegetables like arugula, cucumbers, bell peppers, and more. Fruits in season include cherries, blackberries, strawberries, melon, and plenty others that are great for including in breakfasts, as a snack on their own, or in a smoothie! And because of the weather you can grill rather than bake or fry lots of foods, more readily find farmer’s markets available near you, or even start your own garden!

 

  • Take advantage of the warm weather for exercise. The summer is a great time to enjoy fun workouts like hiking, bike riding, walking or running on trails, swimming, kayaking, and more! Staying healthy and active during the summer months is a lot easier and more fun because these activities don’t even feel like a workout. Plus, you get to explore beautiful places around where you live. Grab the family, some friends, or your pet and get outdoors!

 

  • Keep up with your health appointments. The summer is a great time to visit the doctor, dentist, or catch up on any check-ups that might have been pushed to the side during the school year. Those home from college should especially use the summer as a way to get in their yearly visits and vaccinations they may not have access to as easily at school.

 

  • Summer is a time for relaxation. Those in the workforce should take advantage of any vacation time they have to take a trip or at least have some “rest” days. It is vital to get outside to soak up the natural vitamin D as well as the restorative negative ions that nature provides (and that our computers, other electronics, and sitting all day zaps). Plus, breaks are important to your health as they offer a busy professional the opportunity to regroup, refresh, re-energize, and ultimately become more productive. If you can't get too far away from the office, make the most of the scheduled break times you have during the work day by getting outside and experiencing the summer weather, eating healthy foods, and recharging through restorative breathing or meditation!

 

Enjoy the summer and stay healthy!

-Hannah Kotler

 

Photo Credit: bobobahmat 2017. Lviv. Ukraine via photopin (license)

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Tips for Proofreading Your Writing

 

After overcoming the many trials and errors, writer’s block, and stress that goes into writing, it can be easy to overlook one of the most important final steps: proofreading. Proofreading is essential to any good piece of writing, so here are some tips for how to get the most out of your editing process!

 

1. Step away from your work immediately after you are finished writing. Sometimes we can get so caught up in our own work and attached to the sentences we craft that it can be hard to look at each word individually for any errors or syntax issues. I often find when I proofread directly after writing a piece I gloss over words because I already know what is coming next. Stepping away from my writing and leaving time before I proofread helps me forget the flow of the sentences, so I read the piece as if it is new and I can notice more errors.

2. Read your piece aloud. Somehow, the writing we read aloud and the writing we read in our heads are two different works. Reading your writing out loud forces you to hear any awkward phrasing and detect wordy sentences. If you tire of reading any sentences or have trouble saying the words, it is a good indicator to fix them. You can also take this a step further by reading the piece aloud to someone else so they can tell you what doesn’t sound right.

3. Have someone else read your work out loud to you. This is often the method of many writing centers because it is the most open and vulnerable way to explore your writing. I always feel embarrassed when someone reads my writing back to me, but it is a good way to get more comfortable with your voice and really hear what your writing is saying.

4. Have someone else read your writing (or multiple people!). A second set of eyes is one of the best proofreading strategies - it’s why writers have editors, after all. It doesn’t really matter who you get to read your writing, just as long as you listen to any questions they have about certain sentences and any issues they encounter while reading. If the person reading your work is confused about anything you write, have them ask you about it; this will make you explain something possibly in better terms than you were able to write initially.

5. Break it down word by word. One of the greatest editing sessions I ever had was with a professor who read my work word for word. Looking at each word individually helps build a clearer overall picture. This method is meticulous, and therefore forces you to remember all the tiny grammar rules. Reading a piece word for word allows you to examine aspects like antecedents, prepositions, and comma rules because you must look at whether a particular word’s placement makes sense.

6. ALWAYS check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. While proofreading is important for making sure you've created the best sentences in terms of their sound, flow, and clarity, they cannot shine if they are riddled with errors. Pay attention to the little rules and do not rely solely on automatic grammar and spell check. While this is a useful tool, it often only looks at the words themselves instead of the context of the sentence. Make sure spell check does not change the meaning of your sentences!

-Hannah Kotler

Photo Credit: Wouter de Bruijn Day 365+19 via photopin (license)

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A Conversation with Mary Frances Millet – Artist

Mary Frances Millet has been a successful artist for many years, but when she decided to try something new, she was suddenly propelled into a whole new world. She wanted to create a coloring book to celebrate her town, Schenectady, NY. We all know coloring books are hot, but she never expected it to take off the way that it did. She even was awarded a Proclamation from the City of Schenectady.

The books flew off the shelves and she had to print another round. Sales are still going strong, and now she has been asked to do other areas as well (stay tuned). She is also adding in a new coloring book component to her services - personalized coloring books. Using family photos or photos from events, she creates a personalized book for each client that orders.

Mary is also famous for her beautifully painted silk scarves. Customers can custom order one, or choose from her current selection.

Are you interested in learning to paint your own scarves? Or would you like to learn some art tips? Be sure to check out Mary's classes that are offered throughout the area.

 

 

Tell us about your Schenectady coloring book.
It is a 60 page book with hand drawn illustrations and accompanying text.

How did the idea for the project start?
I noticed the coloring book trend not slowing down. I thought it was just a fad but it has become a phenomenon. People are catching on to the fact that coloring is therapeutic; as is all art making. We artists have known it all along.

I went looking for a coloring book about Schenectady since there are so many wonderful things about this town, past, present, and future. I call it the Town of Firsts because so many things were invented here, mostly thanks to the scientists of GE.

Where can people buy it?
The Open Door, Folklore Society, Mikes Hot Dogs, Via Aquarium, Garafalos, Civitellos. Soon to come will be Ellis Hospital, MiSci, Proctors, and more. I have been approached by a publisher so I will have it published this year too.

Where are you from originally and where do you live now?
I am a third generation Schenectady, NY native

What did you like to do growing up?
Draw and paint. And read.

What is your current business?
Creative entrepreneur. I am an artist instructor, designer, illustrator, watercolorist, and silk painter.

How did you get into art?
My parents placed me in art classes at an early age. They were extremely supportive of my creativity.

What is your background/training?
I spent 2 years at an art school in Maryland and many years in private classes with several watercolorists. I also hold a degree in occupational therapy from Maria College and a degree in Sociology from Albany.

What is your favorite part about your business?
Designing images

What is one thing about your business that most people would not know?
That I hate making cold calls to sell myself. I'm learning to be more comfortable with it as I know how important it is. But I hate it.

What other projects do you have going on right now?
OMG, too many. I'm kind of ADHD when it comes to ideas. They come to me day and night. T-shirt designs, coloring books, paintings, scenes for my silk scarves, classes where I teach at Arlene's Artist Materials, Saratoga Art Center, Saratoga Library, HVCC, and my friend and art therapist Heather Hutchison's newest space at CREATE Studio in Schenectady. I get a lot of ideas from taking photographs everywhere too.

How can people find out more about your classes?
CREATE's classes will be on her website. The Saratoga Art Center's class is being developed. Saratoga Library demo on silk painting is May 5. I'm also formulating workshops at Art Fusion in Black Mountain, South Carolina. Information will be available online.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My art! Watching movies on Netflix, spending time with my friends and family and my 4 year old grandson.

What don't we know about you?
I was in the service for 3 years.
I'd like to be a motivational speaker and a stand-up comic. LOL

Any advice for aspiring artists or people that just want to let their inner artist out to play?
Don't give fear space in your head. Just create. Learn how to market yourself. There's a lot of talent out there. You have to promote yourself constantly. But don't forget to rest too.

 

To learn more about Mary, visit her website at maryfrances.faso.com.

 

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Photo Credit: Mary Frances Millet
Photos Copyright (c) Mary Frances Millet. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission and license. 

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Now WBE Certified!

 

Silverpen Productions is proud to announce that we are now officially certified by the state of New York as a Women-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE)!

We have many service options for businesses, organizations, and publications. Contact us today to find out how we can help you make your organization shine!

*Customized services for every budget.*

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Beauty & the Beast – A Blight on Our Society, or A Magical Break?

Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you've probably heard about the little movie that's out now called Beauty & the Beast.

I was lucky enough to catch this one on opening weekend and it has been interesting to hear people's reactions as they've made their way to the theater.

Yes, there's been controversy about what the media portrayed as a big "gay scene." I won't get started on that hoopla since there really wasn't anything to be shocked about. Perhaps that could be another post, or, perhaps the media should look up the meaning of a "scene."

But I digress.

Some other complaints I've heard about the movie is that: Emma Watson's voice wasn't strong enough to carry the movie; why are we celebrating bestiality?; the movie portrays the lesson that looks and personality don't matter when you have money and prestige; it's demeaning to women; Disney is just trying to make a buck (which, aren't they all?); and the list goes on.

Now, we all know that many people loved this film (and with good reason), and we all know there are people out there that just love to always raise a stink no matter what the issue is. But, I felt it important to play devil's advocate and address some of these issues.

Yes, Emma Watson's voice was not of Broadway superstar caliber, but it was nice. It was sweet and on the "normal" side, just like her character was supposed to be. Belle is portrayed as a fresh-faced, no makeup, no fuss kind of girl, which is very different from the rest of the women around her at that time. It worked. And I don't feel it detracted from the overall soundtrack because everyone else did have an incredibly strong musical presence. Alan Menken is famous for his catchy, sweeping scores and the cast did this justice.

In terms of bestiality... it's a fairy tale. We all know he's really a man who has been cursed. It's not an actual animal and there are no make-out scenes or anything like that. Ever hear "the suspension of disbelief"? It's a key component of theater and entertainment. This is obviously not a movie based in reality. We've watched much worse as kids. Chill.

As for money and power being the determining factor in picking a mate, I think perhaps people are missing the point. She could care less she was in a castle. She was only there to save her father, and she tried to get away - more than once. It wasn't until she began to see the Beast for who he really was - after they began to have real conversations and learned about each other's lives and interests - did she begin to respect him and care for him. It was the mind inside that drew her interest - not anything else (although, let's face it, the library didn't hurt).

And demeaning to women? Anyone who follows me knows I am a proud supporter of women's rights. We are all "mighty girls" and it's time to show it. So for me to say that I didn't feel this was demeaning, means something. The time period this was supposed to be was a very repressed society for women. So of course those viewpoints from the villagers would be included. But didn't you notice how she took control of the situation at hand?

It was Belle that ran after her father (twice) when she realized he was in trouble - alone, without a second thought. It was Belle that stood up to the Beast when he was being a jerk. It was Belle that came up with her own escape plan. It was Belle that "tamed the beast" and saved the castle from the curse. Not once did she ask a big, strong man for help.

And let's not forget that the movie showed she was an inventor, always one step ahead of her father, an advocate for expanding the knowledge of women, an avid reader (rare for a woman then) with an incredibly sharp mind, a woman who scoffed at the advances of the strongest and most handsome man in the village because he could not keep up with her intelligence. These things seem to celebrate the power of women, not demean them. It seems she has proven that she is "more than just a princess." I'm failing to see the issue here....

This movie was visually stunning and magical in every sense of the word. It offers audiences the chance to escape from the crazy, disheartening world we are currently living in. It gives us a break from our everyday stress, allows some of us to relive moments from our childhood, floods our senses with the power of the arts (Something that everyone needs. The arts are life itself, it has been said, and proven true many times over). It offers us two hours of magic, which this world so desperately needs right now. There's a good reason why Disney is making that big buck right now.

My opinion?

Sit back, relax, and enjoy! Let yourself be entertained for a couple of hours. The cynicism of the world will still be waiting for you when you get out. Just let yourself enjoy the power of a story until then - just like when you were a kid. It's amazing what a little magic can do!
Photo Credit: chris.alcoran Song as old as rhyme. via photopin (license)

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7 Life Lessons from the Oscars

 

As one of the "artsy" kids, the Oscars were always like my Super Bowl. I had big dreams and knew I was going to work in Hollywood someday. The Oscars - Hollywood-bound or not - always represented to me that crazy dreams can and do come true.

As I got older and became more aware of the politics behind the scenes, I noticed that some aspects had changed about the Academy Awards, and it wasn't just my own personal viewpoint. But they still remained that symbol of hope to me; that moment of fantasy turned reality. Even though I am not as involved in "The Business" [Hollywood] as I once was, I still enjoy watching the Oscars. It always brings back a flood of wonderful memories and a reminder of who I once was. It's a way to reconnect with my younger self and both my past and current dreams. I don't think I'm the only one that feels that way.

But last night, I enjoyed watching the Oscars much more than I have in recent years. I was worried it would be full of political outcries, as everything seems to be these days. Although there were some very pointed messages throughout the evening, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, it was just a night of love. Message after message of love and acceptance and coexistence. And that just added to my warm, happy glow that had surrounded me while watching. I realized that good old Oscar had several important life lessons for us this year. Here are just a few takeaways from the 2017 Academy Awards:

 

  • Love. We are all on this earth together. We are all human. And we are all entitled to basic human rights. Spread love, not hate.

 

  • It's time to come together. There is something to that whole agree to disagree thing. We don't all have to have the same opinions. But we certainly don't need to have a shouting match to try to prove whose side is right. Everyone has his/her own opinion and that's not going to change. I've said it before, I'll say it again - "United we stand. Divided we fall." It's time to come together and unite our country. Listen, truly listen, and try to understand someone else's point of view. You don't have to agree, but have a real conversation, not a shouting match, and learn where the other side is coming from. Or, don't have a conversation at all and just "hold your neighbor's hand," so to speak, and show what really makes this country great.

 

  • The arts are life. The arts are a part of everything. If you can't first think creatively, you won't be able to solve a problem, invent the future, or heal the present. Viola Davis summed it up very nicely in her speech: "I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life." We can not really understand the meaning of our lives without the experience of the arts. We can not heal our souls, experience a new point of view, escape from our problems, imagine our futures, or realize our dreams without the arts. They allow us to step outside of ourselves and discover something new. They allow us to find our empathy, to experience all emotions. They allow us to live more than just our own life; we are able to experience much more. The arts may seem frivolous on the surface, but they are indeed the breath of life itself.

 

  • It's ok to dream your dreams. Dreams do come true, but you first have to dream them! Sing in the rain, beat that drum. Put in your work and keep going. Never stop trying. Never stop dreaming. Always go for the gold.

 

  • Mistakes happen. Even a meticulously planned out, massive-budget production like Oscar night can still have a huge, shall we say, "snafu" right at the most pivotal moment. Heartbreaking? Yes. The end of the world? No. Mistakes happen. That's part of the human existence. Own up to it. Be gracious and humble. Try to fix it the best you can. There's always next time.

 

  • Don't Give Up. No matter how many knocks you take, keep going. Don't give up. Don't stop working for it. Don't stop trying! Stay focused. Keep going. Remember, not even Meryl Streep actually wins the award every time. It's not about the award itself, as nice as it is. It's about the journey - the process. It's about your growth and experience, your strength and your attitude. Prove that you have what it takes. Go after your heart's desire. Don't give up.

 

  • When in doubt, laugh. Life is hard. And especially these days, life can be really scary too. But if you can find the humor in the situation, you can muddle your way through a little easier. Laughing is a condition that the human soul needs. To laugh - to feel - that is proof of life. Ease your load, laugh, and you just may find yourself waltzing among the stars.

 

Today is for the dreamers. Thanks, Oscars!

 

Related Articles:

Just a Thought: How to (Really) Make America Great Again

Focus on the Love

Just a Thought: Let Love Be

 

Photo Credit: ventonero2002 Oscars via photopin (license)

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Business Owner Spotlight: Dale Klein from Profitable Speech

Dale Klein, founder of Profitable Speech, LLC, has been helping local business professionals sound their best since 1994. A vibrant, sought-after speaker and author, Dale works with a variety of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to major hospitals, as well as individual professionals.

Originally from the Bronx in NYC, she now resides in Clifton Park, NY. An active child, she enjoyed ice-skating, bowling, dancing, skateboarding and being in the Spanish Honor Club in school. After college, she lived in California to simultaneously attend graduate school and begin work in her field. (One of her jobs was on Catalina Island, requiring her to commute to work by helicopter!) After receiving her advanced degree in Speech & Language Pathology as well as a certification in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), she had a progression of career changes from Speech/Language Pathologist to Healthcare Administrator and now an Entrepreneur.

Her mission through Profitable Speech is to ensure people in business are memorable by sounding their best in any situation. She has an extremely diverse client list with a variety of ages, industries, and physical locations. Her favorite part of the business is the ability to help these professionals further their success in a tangible way. Landing the ideal job, accepting an award, delivering an exceptional presentation or business pitch to gain new clients, learning how to network and share what’s unique about them – these are just a few of the rewards a client can expect when working with Dale.

Besides publishing her book, In 30 Seconds Speak Like You Mean Business: You Are Your 30-Second Commercial!, Dale is continuing to expand her business to reach professionals outside of the area as well as outside of the country, through video conferencing and Skype. She has recently released a completely redesigned website, produces monthly podcasts and weekly blogs full of useful tips and advice for business professionals, committed to her third year of mentoring a young professional through the Young Professionals Network of the Capital Region Chamber, and has been asked to facilitate a statewide meeting this month for SUNY’s Center for Public Health Continuing Education.

Outside of work, she shares her life with her husband, Steve, and their two canine sons – Leo & Sammy. She enjoys reading novels, solving word puzzles, and going to the movies.

Her advice both for business owners and those just joining the workforce?
“Strive to help others when you can. Always provide more than your clients expect. Remain focused on the person or people in front of you. Speak with confidence!”

Be sure to check out Dale’s website, www.profitablespeech.com, for more information about her services and to receive some free tips that you can use today to make sure you perform your best!

Not sure if you could use Dale’s services?
The ideal Profitable Speech client is someone who is:

  • Networking
  • Interviewing for a job
  • Preparing to be interviewed by media on radio/TV/internet
  • Accepting an award
  • Conducting a meeting with one person or a group of people
  • Giving a presentation or pitch of any kind (live or virtual)
  • Speaking on the phone or a conference call
  • Trying to manage fear of public speaking

 

Photos are copyright protected and should not be used without prior permission & license.

 

Other Business Spotlights

 

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Just a Thought: How To (Really) Make America Great Again

It doesn't matter who you voted for in this past election. No one really won. This was the nastiest election in my memory, and in more ways than just the usual sludge.

I didn't write about the election up until now because I needed some time to process my thoughts about the whole affair. I love my country, but have been very frustrated with what I've been seeing lately. Some days I feel like we have been dropped into an alternate reality - and it certainly is not a better one.

What has happened to our world?

There's so much more hate and senseless violence circling around. Respect for others and our surroundings seems to have vanished. Everyone is trying to be heard, but no one is listening.

Our country is at a different place than we've ever been before. Nobody knows what to expect. It doesn't matter if you're happy with the election outcome or angry - the future is most definitely uncertain. And with uncertainty comes fear. For some, the thought of our imminent future is downright terrifying. I've heard a lot of people saying that there is nothing we can do. The system is rigged and it doesn't matter how vocal we, the people, are. Nothing is going to change.

I'm not a political expert so I can't say with any certainty if that's true or not, but what I can say is that there are still some things in our control. And as small as they may seem, yes, they can make a difference. We can control how we act, how we treat others, how we listen, how we set an example for our children, how we support (or not) the causes closest to our hearts. Life is scary enough. We don't need to live in a world of angry isolation on top of it.

It's time to band together.

I think regardless of your political beliefs, there is one thing we can all agree on - we all want to see America become a better place. We all want our country to be truly great, for everyone. So here is what I propose. To see a change, you need to be the change. And if we all strive towards taking these steps every day, then we will see America become great again - regardless of what the baboons in Washington are doing.

  • First and foremost and always - Be Kind. You don't have to agree with everyone around you. You don't even have to like them. But still be kind. Everyone has struggles in their lives. You never know what a person may be going through and what makes them act or think the way they do. Life is hard enough, and like it or not, we are all in this together. Let's not make it even more difficult. Refrain from name-calling. Hold the door for a stranger. Smile. You don't have to go out of your way (unless you want to), but make a moment in someone's day a little easier. Or, at the very least, show kindness by not making it harder!
  • Have respect. Everyone has their own opinions. And let's be honest. No matter how much you might throw something in someone's face, most of the time, their opinions are not going to change. You can believe whatever you want. So can others. Respect other people's right to have their own opinion even if it's not the same as yours. And even more importantly, respect other people's rights in general. We are all human. We are all in this thing called life together. Learn to coexist. Live and let live.
  • Knowledge is power. Research and learn about things. You can't make the world, your community, or even your house a better place without first learning the things you don't know. And with the new agency blackouts, it will be even harder to get accurate information. Dig. Find answers. Learn both sides. Think for yourself. Have accurate knowledge before moving forward with anything.
  • Keep an open mind. This does not mean you need to agree with others. This only means that you acknowledge there are other viewpoints and methods. You don't have to agree - Just listen.
  • Get off your phone and look around. The world does not exist behind a screen. It's what is outside your window that really counts. Take a good look around. What is really happening? Don't rely on the increasing fake, and/or sensationalized news headlines. Don't just take what someone else is feeding to you. Get out there and live it for yourself! Make your own opinions based on what you see in front of you. Be a part of humanity, not a part of the internet.
  • Change the Facebook newsfeed. Facebook used to be about cute pictures of our kids or vacations. My newsfeed used to be filled with things that made me smile. Now, most of my feed is filled with one disgraceful "headline" after the next and people fighting over who is right or wrong, or predictions of the doom that is heading our way. You know what? No one knows what's coming. All we have is today, so let's take that gift and enjoy it. Post things to make people smile. Leave the crap for dinner table conversation if you must. The government and media now has this incredible power because we gave it to them. Stop clicking on it. Stop sharing it. Stop letting it "trend." Why continue to spread the stress? Let's let happiness trend again for a change!
  • Be the good. Strive to do something "good" every day. Pick up trash on the road. Help someone that needs an extra hand. Plant a tree. Surprise your significant other with dinner on a hard day. Visit someone who is lonely. Create a piece of art. Give out compliments. Buy from a small, local business. Give a friend a hug. Pay for a stranger's coffee. Make people smile. Spread happiness.

The election is over and now it's time to live our lives in this new age - together. This is OUR country, so let's make it the way we want it. We don't have to rely solely on our government to dictate the happiness level in our lives. If we want America to be great again, then we need to do it together - as one, unified.

We need to push our differences aside and show that we are still the strongest nation in the world. "United we stand. Divided we fall." There is no right or wrong side here anymore. We are all American. So let's stand together in an act of love and truly make America great again.

Just a thought.

#BeTheLove #BeTheGood #America

 

Related Articles:

Focus on the Love

Just a Thought: Let Love Be

 

Photos are copyright protected and should not be used without prior permission & license.

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A Conversation with Jessie Riley

Jessie Riley

Photo by Mark Morand

Jessie Riley, owner of Kitanie Books, an independent publishing house, knows what it's like to dream. She also knows what it's like to have an invisible illness. What she didn't know was that these two traits would converge to become one of her life's missions. Her recently released, Invisible Cosmic Zebra Collection, is a collection of creative how-to workbooks that focuses on 18 invisible illnesses - using art, humor, and motivation to help those with a newly diagnosed invisible illness navigate those early days and months of confusion and frustration. Aimed for ages tween through young adult (and their parents), these books provide an imaginative starting point to help the reader through their early challenges. Check out their website for more information about these books that are being highlighted in many national publication gift guides!

 

How did you come up with the idea behind your new collection of books?
My life has thrown me a lot of medical hurdles that I’ve had to overcome. At some point, you think to yourself, my god, when is this going to be over? When do I get a break? But then you realize, it’s never going to be over, it’s chronic, and you have to figure out a way to get over that seemingly impossible hurdle of accepting that. Since I’ve been through so much, and right now am juggling all of these different invisible illnesses fairly well, I wanted to give back to those who are just starting their journey to give them some hope. That’s what this project is all about for me. These illnesses that we all have aren’t really “who we are.” Our illnesses don’t have to take over our life and our identity as long as we keep sight of our dreams, our goals, and keep moving forward towards those things that make us happy.

Invisible Cosmic ZebraWhat invisible illnesses are covered in the new collection?
There are currently 18 workbooks available for 18 different invisible illnesses (allergies, celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, concussion, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, Ehlers Danlos syndrome, fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s disease, lupus, Lyme disease, migraines, multiple sclerosis, POTS, PTSD, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome and vestibular disorder) as well as a companion coloring book for all of them.

How can people get these books?
They are available for purchase on invisibleillnessbooks.com, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Where are you originally from?
I grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York but have lived all over: Paris (France); Dunedin, Wellington, Wanaka (New Zealand); Park City, Utah; Santa Monica, California; Burlington, Vermont; Garden City, New York; San Francisco, California; North Shore, Hawaii

Where do you live now?
Saratoga Springs

What did you like to do growing up?
I grew up speedskating with the Saratoga Winter Club. We traveled all over the world for competitions. I tried out for 3 Olympic teams in short track speedskating and came 12th each time.

How did you start your business?
When I originally moved back to Saratoga in 2001, I was deathly sick with undiagnosed Celiac disease and couldn’t work. But I had always wanted to be an artist, so I started to volunteer with the Saratoga Mentoring Program (which used to be very arts based) as a way to get back into the arts. While there, I created a book project for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly that was illustrated by the children in the program. It was such a fun project for everyone involved, so I decided I wanted to do that full time and have been working on making that happen ever since!

What is your background/training?
I have a BA from Middlebury College in English and Film (Screenwriting) and a graduate certificate in graphic design from New York University. But I also studied at lot at various other schools learning about art therapy, dreaming, and counseling.

Healing Arts/Art Therapy Education:

  • Certificate from NIH (National Institute of Health) Center for Mind Body Medicine in "Food as Medicine" (Berkeley, CA)
  • Graduate courses at the American University of Complementary Medicine (Beverly Hills, CA)
  • Graduate courses at the University of Vermont's MA Counseling Program (Burlington, VT)
  • Courses in Imagery at School of Images (New York, NY)

What is your favorite part about your business?
I love doing the actual creating — taking my dreams and manifesting them into book form. Nothing in the whole wide world feels better than expressing your purpose in life.

What is one thing about Kitanie that most people would not know?
My business is 100% just me. I do everything: writing, design, marketing, building websites, sales, managing metadata, social media, campaigns. Every last little thing.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love “forest bathing” – spending time in nature with my camera looking for art. It motivates me to get outside everyday, get lots of fresh air, and it inspires my imagination. I can see myself doing this full time one day, traveling all over looking for art. It’s a lifestyle and a way of life.

Any advice for people diagnosed with an invisible illness?
Hang in there. It gets better. Never look back to your old life because there’s no going back to it. Instead, look forward to what’s ahead, what you can do, and evolve your life into something new. Think of life like the creative process, ever evolving, changing and just try to go with the flow of what’s presented to you next. It’s an experience that will enrich your life in ways you might not have ever thought it could. It’s not all doom and gloom because nobody lives forever. I think of it actually like a gift to help you never ever take anything for granted. It allows you to love life and the people you meet that much more, which is a beautiful thing. There’s no room for pettiness or small stuff. There’s only room for love all the time because you’re suddenly just so happy that you’re alive and get to experience life some more so it all seems so beautiful. Sometimes blessings are disguised as hardship or pain but once you go through the pain, there’s a beautiful place on the other side, so just keep moving forward. Something good is ahead.

Any advice for small business owners (and/or writers) starting out?
Plan for the long haul, but celebrate each small victory. Failure is almost certain so when it happens, just keep moving forward and evolving. Something else will come along down the line if you don’t give up.

 

Learn more about the Invisible Cosmic Zebra Collection at invisibleillnessbooks.com.

 

More Conversations. 

 

Photo Credits: Mark Morand & Jessie Riley
Photos Copyright (c) Mark Morand & Jessie Riley.  All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission and license. 

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Top 6 Blog Headlines

canstockphoto24340885

 

Are you looking for ways to increase the amount of clicks you get on your blogs?

 

Try Some of These Tried & True Grabbers:

"The List" - Lists could be as few as 5 or 50 or higher. It doesn't matter because lists mean traffic. People are always looking for the easiest way to find out the most important info and a list will get you there!

Example: 10 Ways to Stay Healthy During Back-to-School Season 

 

"The Promise" - People always want something. They want to be successful, they want to learn new things. If you can provide them with a promise telling them how to do that, then they will feel much more compelled to read your article.

Example: How to Have a Better Morning 

 

"Facts & Figures" - People like to be able to pull out bits of trivia at dinner parties or networking events, without having to spend a ton of time researching. So give them something they can use!

Example: 20 Fascinating Social Media Marketing Facts

 

"How To" - Everyone wants to learn how to do something. Whether if it is how to make more money, how to fix a car, how to lose weight, or how to write. If you can answer one of those questions for them, you're golden. You're also likely to be shared throughout social media as well!

Example: How to Live with a Meathead

 

"Predictions & Trends" - Future possibilities or current trends pique people's curiosity. Who doesn't want to be able to look around the corner and be the first to know? Give them a glimpse for some extra clicks.

Example: 5 Marketing Trends You Shouldn't Ignore

 

"Best & Worst" - Positive or negative, people are always looking to stay on top of things. So let them know how.

Example: Best Teacher Gifts

 

Photos are copyrighted and should not be used without prior permission & license.

 

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Getting More Headspace: Day 3

28720300880_39aa28b668On the third day of meditating, I felt like I reached a new level of bodily awareness. The strangest sensation overcame me in the middle of my guided session — I began to feel as though my body was made up of one single cell rather than billions of them. This probably sounds a little crazy, but I swear it’s true! My hands were resting on my legs, but they didn’t feel any further away from me than the section of my back that rested against a propped up pillow. It was pretty remarkable — but then again, maybe I was just losing feeling in my legs because I had been sitting cross-legged on my bed for so long…

Either way, I definitely felt a lot calmer than I did before I started meditating. As soon as I began to take deep breaths, I felt so much more relaxed. Ordinarily, we go about our day-to-day lives without acknowledging our breathing, because it happens whether we think about it or not! I think one thing I will take away from meditating is that I will remind myself to take deep breaths if I am ever feeling stressed out during the day.

Something else I observed during this session was that it was not necessarily a bad thing that there was a little background noise while I was meditating. I could hear the barking of my neighbors’ dog, the whoosh of cars driving by my house, and the electronic beeps of my mom dialing the telephone. I found that listening to these sounds with my eyes closed actually allowed me to go more deeply into my body and mind. I think it was because I recognized that the things causing these sounds were happening separately from me, and that I could listen to them and just accept them as a part of my meditation session. I think we as humans are often so affected by the outside world that we forget that there is so little we can do to change the way things are. I am not in any way advocating that we should just sit back and do nothing if something about the world seems wrong or unjust to us, but I personally believe that the sooner I realize that I cannot control everything around me, the happier I will be.

I will continue to practice meditation in my spare time because it has taught me to focus present moment the same way it has taught me to focus on my breathing. To again quote Eckhart Tolle, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” I strongly recommend Headspace for anyone thinking of beginning meditation!

-Ally Donovan

Related Articles:
Getting More Headspace - Day 1
Getting More Headspace - Day 2

 

Photo Credit: Bhudda Bokeh via photopin (license)

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Do I Really Need to Blog?

canstockphoto23439566Short answer?
Yes, yes you do.

And here's why.

I often get this question. I will be setting up a website for a client and showing them where the blog will be, and they'll say, "Oh, I don't need a blog." Or, I'll get someone saying to me, "No one really pays attention to blogs anymore. They are so old-school. Everyone is just on Snapchat or Twitter anyway."

Don't believe it. Yes, you do need to blog - if you want to give your business every chance to be as successful as possible, anyway.

Blogging is a huge marketing tool. It's a very powerful tool that sets "the big boys" apart from those "just playing around." You want to grow your business? Then blog. Blog and share on social media - often.

This will not only grow your followers and expand your reach well beyond what you could do on your own, it will also give you a chance to show your expertise - to prove that you are indeed the right person for the job. Help potential clients out and they will instantly think of you when they need your services. Blogging allows you to build a totally different kind of portfolio, it allows you to connect with your audience in a more familiar way, and it keeps your name and brand at the tops of their minds (and newsfeeds). It's a way to break into these "new" social media sites in a different way that gets you noticed.

Not to mention that a blog connected within your current website also keeps your website - and brand - at the top of Google's search lists. Google loves new content. It shows that you are relevant, that people are following you and interested, which means that Google is interested too. And like it or not, we all know that we need Google to be interested in order for our business to be successful in such a competitive climate. A blog is a GREAT way to keep generating new content under your website's name so Google can be happy.

Want to put some fire into your blog and make it work for you?  Then stay tuned as I will be continuing to post some helpful tips on here throughout the upcoming months. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe so you don't miss it and pass on the link to your friends and associates.

Thinking about a blog but not really sure where to start? Or, do you have a blog already, but are not really sure how to make it work for you? Get some inside tips on how to make your blog a success on Thursday, November 10th, 2016, when I will be presenting on tips for blogging success in 2017. Sign up at: Women's TIES Blogging Success Strategies for 2017.

 

Photos are copyright protected and should not be used without prior permission & license. 

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Getting More Headspace: Day 2

 

25558139133_f8bbbe21c5_mNaturally, I forgot to meditate when I first woke up in the morning, so I had to settle for meditating in the car on the way to the mall with my mom. Luckily, I’ve always found driving to be a very relaxing experience. I can fall asleep in seconds in any plane, train, or car! Once again, Headspace instructed me to take in the way my body was feeling without any resistance. The app reiterated my early hesitations, noting that often people try to meditate with the idea that something has to happen, when the true point of meditation is to just take a little break out of one’s day in order to return to it with a calmer state of mind.

At the end of my second session, the British guide asked, “Do you feel different?” Without a doubt, I noticed that sounds and colors appeared sharper and more intense than before I began. I also felt much more in tune with the present moment. The only way I think I can describe this feeling is by quoting Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Tolle writes, “Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night, awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it? Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest? Or to the song of a blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening? To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still. You have to put down for a moment your personal baggage of problems, of past and future, as well as all your knowledge; otherwise you will see but not see, hear but not hear. Your total presence is required.”

Just as Tolle found that entering the present moment —“the now”— helped him to look at the world around him in a new way, meditating for the second time made me feel more aware of my body and my surroundings. And I am pleased to say that this new awareness of things made it easier for me to accept them for what they were.

-Ally Donovan

Related Articles:
Getting More Headspace: Day 1
Getting More Headspace: Day 3

Photo Credit: Blackbird in the Pussy Willow via photopin (license)

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How To Break Writer’s Block – Option 1

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Writer's Block is a very real thing.

Anyone who has had to stare at a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen knows the panic that creeps up when you need to get something done by a zooming deadline, and absolutely nothing is coming.

img_2759But there's another kind of writer's block too - one that sometimes you are not even aware of. I call it the "Stale Writer."  This is the block that comes when you're slogging through your day-to-day activities, still writing what you need to, but it's not exactly your most inspired work. It's your obligatory writing. It gets you through what you need to get done, but there's not much more to it. Usually, it's the writing that you need to do to pay your bills that month, while your more creative endeavors - the projects that could potentially hold a much higher ROI, shall we say - sit in a dusty pile on the corner of your desk.

That's a very real writer's block too, and arguably, an even more scary one than the blank screen. Because this type of block can sneak up on you without you even knowing - sabotaging your work and your creative name.

img_2737I was reminded of this recently when I took a short trip to the very lovely Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY. Now don't get me wrong - I'm very aware that I have pushed aside some of my more creative and fun endeavors lately, but I didn't realize how "blocked" my brain had become... until my car started climbing that mountain to the "castle," as we have come to refer to it. It was like cobwebs were flying away from my head, and as we climbed higher and higher, my brain felt freer and lighter.

img_2801When I stepped out of the car and took a deep breath, I knew something was different. I instantly felt more... well, more me! The feeling did not pass once I stepped inside either. As I walked through the doorway into this historic place, I felt myself not only transported in time, but in mind. I couldn't wait to turn my phone off and just indulge in all the beauty around me. This was apparently exactly what I needed, and I didn't even know it.

img_2746The next two days were bliss. Instant relaxation, gorgeous views everywhere I looked, a plethora of great food, every type of exercise and activity you can imagine. The weather was perfect, the colors were spectacular, the atmosphere was a constant state of peacefulness. My mind creaked to life and I felt such a rush of creativity that I just wanted to sit down and write until my fingers fell off. As I hiked higher and higher on the trail, every ounce of that "staleness" fell away and I felt refreshed, alive, and ready to not only create, but to push my business in a new direction - to push myself in new ways.

img_2847As I sat on the last day on our little balcony overlooking the incredibly peaceful lake, I knew that I had been missing out. In trying so hard to keep up with everything, I forgot how crucial it is to take a break from everything too. The best way to recharge and revive your senses and creativity is to walk away. Remove yourself from the situation. Change your view. Then watch the juices begin to flow again.

img_2785Yes, spending money and going away is certainly not always an option. But I'm going to keep this experience in the top of my mind and make more of an effort to take these breaks more often than I have in the past. Apparently, it is exactly what I need to push myself forward in a much more productive way than the day-to-day slog, just trying to get through it all.

If you are looking to break through a writer's block or a "stale writer," then I suggest leaving your tools behind and going someplace new. If this is not an option, then don't worry, I have more writer's block tips coming soon!

And if you are looking for a wonderful artists' retreat type of place, then I highly suggest Mohonk Mountain House. It is a perfect oasis for any type of artist, providing never-ending "scope for the imagination" and nourishment for both the mind and body.

Happy Creating!

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Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photos Copyright (c) Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

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Getting More Headspace: Day 1

Meditation is something I have always wanted to try. We’ve all heard that this practice supposedly reduces stress, but it can also improve your concentration and ability to multitask, which makes it the perfect addition to the life of a busy professional. Not only can meditation alleviate the daily agitations of a workday — the enhanced focus and mindfulness it provides might enable you to excel in ways you never thought possible!

For me, the reason I have not made more of an effort to meditate in the past is that I was unsure of how to go about it. I had an image in my head of a serene person sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat, but I didn’t know what was supposed to happen beyond closing my eyes and arranging my hands into an “om” position. So, when I heard about Headspace, a phone app that teaches users how to meditate for ten minutes a day, it seemed like the perfect way to begin. With such a short time commitment, this app is perfect for anyone managing a hectic schedule or household.

Still not convinced that you have time to meditate on top of taking care of your kids and preparing for your 10 a.m. meeting? Here are a few more reasons why you should set your alarm ten minutes earlier than normal to meditate:

  • Meditation can change brain physiology in a way that slows down the aging process
  • Its ability to relax you (by lowering blood pressure) is tremendously beneficial for your cardiovascular and immune health
  • It will increase your happiness, self-awareness, and acceptance of the world around you!

For my first Headspace session, I put my headphones in, sat on my back deck, and listened to the step-by-step instructions told in the voice of a pleasant British man. (Something about British accents is very soothing to me — probably because I spent a semester abroad in England.) The app instructed me to begin with my eyes open — just to take in my surroundings before shifting my focus to breathing. I was told to take deep, slow breaths and try to notice how my body changed with each inhale and exhale. Next, the app instructed me to appraise how my body felt “from head to toe.” If I noticed any stiffness or soreness, I simply acknowledged it and then moved on to the next part of my body. This idea of acceptance and making peace with the way things are has become central to my practice.

When the app instructed me to “let my mind wander” (as opposed to counting my breaths), I was surprised to find that my mind was blank. For someone whose thoughts are usually going a mile a minute, it was refreshing to just take in the sounds of nature that surrounded me. I opened my eyes much calmer than when I started, with a simultaneous feeling of that all of my senses had been heightened. (Kind of like waking up from a power nap.) I vowed that the next day I would meditate first thing in the morning to start my day on a good note.

-Ally Donovan

Related Articles:
Getting More Headspace - Day 2
Getting More Headspace - Day 3

 

Photo Credit: Woman practicing yoga on the beach via photopin (license)

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Office Renovations

The Silverpen Productions office is getting a new look while some repairs are being made.

The contractors should be here off and on over the next few weeks and there will be some days that we will be without a connection while they are working. We will be continuing to check in on our messages whenever we can, but please be aware that there might be some days that we may be slow to respond.

We apologize for any inconvenience, but rest assured that the team is still busy working and we are very excited not only for our new work space, but also for the fun new projects in the fall lineup!

As always, thank you for your support!

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10 Ways to Stay Healthy During Back-to-School Season

Back-to-School HealthBack to school season is quickly approaching, and we bet we can guess what’s on your mind: the thrill of new school supplies, new shoes, and seeing good friends for the first time in months. As weeks of popsicles by the poolside fade to sweater-clad, blustery days, the ever-present threat of the flu and common cold lingers in the background. But don’t worry—we’ve got the guide to keep you staying healthy all year round.

1. Get enough rest. This one is kind of a given, but fatigue really does increase your susceptibility to illness. In fact, we should all try to get enough sleep even if we’re not concerned about getting sick - seven to nine hours a night is ideal for optimal health.

2. Drink lots of fluids. Another given, but so important. Stay hydrated during back to school season with green tea - to reduce free radicals - Emergen-C - my mom swears by this Vitamin C booster - and good old fashioned H20. If you really want to give your immune system a boost, cut out the sugary stuff; even a small amount of soda can reduce your white blood cells’ ability to fight bacteria.

3. Wash your hands before you eat and right away when you get home. This might seem a bit excessive, but it’s always a good idea to get rid of any germs you may have picked up during the day, especially if you’ll be touching food. Thanks to this rule being lovingly enforced when I was a kid (looking at you, Mom), it has become second nature to me. But I think it’s a good habit to pick up regardless of whether or not it’s flu season, so consider telling little ones to do the same thing!

4. Keep a supply of antibacterial wipes If you regularly wipe down germy surfaces, it will greatly decrease your chances of catching anything—think kitchen and bathroom counters, your desk, your bedside table, as well as your phone screen and computer keyboard. Side note: this post is definitely confirming my suspicions that I am indeed turning into my mother.

5. Don’t share towels, glasses, or utensils. Sharing is caring, right? WRONG. Though it might be tempting to have a sip from someone’s water bottle or let them spare you a bite of their food, it’s better for you and those around you to refrain from it.

6. Eat ALL the fruits and veggies. Nutritionally dense foods like leafy greens and bright berries are loaded with antioxidants that help you stay healthy. Looking for more ways to incorporate produce into your diet? Try having a small side salad in addition to your normal dinner, or a yogurt, granola, and fruit parfait for an easy breakfast or late-night treat.

7. Stress less; laugh more. While stress hormones can suppress the immune system, sharing a hearty chuckle with friends and/or loved ones decreases number of stress hormones in the body, and increases a type of white blood cell that fights infection! Laughing isn’t the only way to decrease your likelihood of getting sick—mediating, deep breathing, or even listening to music can serve the same purpose.

8. Exercise. Make an effort to move for at least 30 minutes a day. It stimulates the lymphatic system, increases oxygenation, and ups the number of leukocytes (immune system cells that fight infection) in the body!

9. This one you’ve definitely heard before: Install a humidifier. I have personally never owned a humidifier, but I have friends and family who swear by them. If your home is especially dry, you might want to consider it—flu and cold viruses thrive in low humidity!

10. Drink red wine. Over the past couple of decades, medical researchers have concluded that a glass of red wine at the end of the day can actually be good for you. In addition to its cancer-fighting properties, red wine lowers your chances of having a stroke or a heart attack. You - or the kids - can also reap a lot of the same benefits from drinking dark grape juice!

-Ally Donovan

Photo Credit: Day 22 - Tea with lemon via photopin (license)

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A Conversation with Louis Torres

We all know that I am a huge supporter of small business and using local resources. So I have decided to start a new Spotlight feature on this blog to highlight local businesses and entrepreneurs.

For our first owner spotlight, I would like to introduce Louis Torres from Louis Torres Photography. If you are looking for a guaranteed fun day at your event, hire Louis! Not only is he fun, his artistic creativity shines through all his work, providing you with incredible photos for your wedding album or even business portfolio.

His passion for his business radiates in everything he does. He describes his career as, "a fulfilling one by capturing special moments for generations to come." The moments he has captured so far are special indeed, as you can see on his website. Read on for more about this local photographer that has been voted as "One of the Most Influential Photographers" in Photo District News Magazine. 

-JC

Louis Torres - Photo by Christopher Becker

Louis Torres - Photo by Christopher Becker

Where are you originally from?
Brooklyn, New York

Where do you live now?
Historical Halfmoon, New York

What did you like to do growing up?
As a young kid, we'd play tag through dark alleyways, which was fun because you could hide in so many places and they'd never find you! We would also spend hours playing games like buck-buck, stoopball, kick-the-can, and Skelly! These are all great games kids played in Brooklyn, regardless of the block you lived on.

What is your business?
Wedding and Family Portrait Photography

How did you get into that business?
At the age of 15, I was a sponsored skateboarder and wanted a camera so my friends would be able to take photos of me skating. Fortunately, they were all terrible photographers so I switched gears and decided to photograph my friends instead and that's how it all started back in 1989.

What is your favorite part about your business?
The absolute best part is having fun with my clients. Making them laugh, being silly, and taking photos they feel capture who they genuinely are. Anyone can take a formal photo where no one is smiling - that's easy! Instead, I focus on making couples and families laugh out loud with my silliness and I capture their real smile. The kind of smile you see when your best friend tells you the funniest joke you've heard all week. That's my goal every time I pick up my camera.

What is one thing about your business that most people would not know?
As a photographer, the fun and exciting part is spending time taking photos. What most never get to see are the numerous hours photographers spend in editing images. I've had days where I'm in my zone editing photos until 3am because I can't stop working. If I'm on a roll, I just keep going until I'm done editing hundreds of photos for a client.

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What tips do you have for wedding couples – either while they are planning their wedding, or on their actual wedding day?
For couples, they should focus on hiring wedding vendors who are fun and will add to the excitement of their wedding day.

Tips for couples on their wedding day: your wedding day will be perfect, everything you've planned for will work and don't stress out so much. It's finally the big day, you've been planning for it for months and months, and it's going to be a great day! Relax and enjoy it.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spare time? What's that? I'm kidding! Actually, I've been playing guitar for 28 years and play out of my Marshall JCM800 halfstack everyday. I'm currently obsessed with the A Minor Harmonic scale so I basically practice trying to sound like one of my guitar heroes, Yngwie Malmsteen. At times, I'll have fun trying new things like learning the lead guitar section in Michael Jackson's "Beat It", that was originally played by Eddie Van Halen, or anything by White Zombie since they have lots of fun songs like "Thunder Kiss 65".

What do you like about being the feature photographer for Clifton Park Neighbors magazine?
There's nothing better than meeting some of the business owners I've captured. They all have incredible businesses they're passionate about and I think it's important for our neighbors in Clifton Park to know that. The business owners who advertise in CPNM really care about our community and I think it shows in the photos I capture of them. We also have the absolute best staff at the magazine who are fun to work with.

What do we not know about you?
Before photography, I was a Bondtrader at Deutsche Bank in New York City executing trades for a $10 billion dollar fund. On most days, I would trade between $200,000,000 and $425,000,000 – It was incredibly stressful but I'm glad I had the chance to work on wall street during one of the biggest runs in the history of the financial markets.

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Any advice for aspiring photographers?
Yes! Practice your shooting style and hone in on your editing technique! As a photographer, your goal is to continue learning your craft as the months and years go by. As you naturally become a better photographer, the next step is to take gorgeous photos and have happy clients.

Any advice for small business owners starting out?
Your passion and drive is everything! Never ever stop! Write down your daily and weekly goals and read them out loud every morning! If at some point you see that something needs to be tweaked in your business, make that change as soon as possible then keep going! When I started, I wanted to quit dozens and dozens and DOZENS of times. What helped was reading my goals or the little notes of encouragement I had written weeks earlier. When you're down and feel defeated, have a Snickers, then breathe, meditate, and get back on your feet. You're going to do just fine.

 

Want Louis at your next event?  Check him out at louistorres.com or call him at 518-605-6565!

 

Photo Credit: Louis Torres Photography & Christopher Becker
Photos Copyright (c)  Louis Torres Photography & Christopher Becker. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

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Hemingway’s Top Five Tips for Writers

Ghost WriterIn his book titled Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Larry W. Phillips writes,

“Throughout Hemingway’s career as a writer, he maintained that it was bad luck to talk about writing — that it takes off ‘whatever butterflies have on their wings and the arrangement of hawk’s feathers if you show it or talk about it.’ Despite this belief, by the end of his life he had done just what he intended not to do. In his novels and stories, in letters to editors, friends, fellow artists, and critics, in interviews and in commissioned articles on the subject, Hemingway wrote often about writing. And he wrote as well and as incisively about the subject as any writer who ever lived…”

A recent trip to Paris and to some of Hemingway’s old haunts — Shakespeare & Company, Deux Magots, Brasserie Lipp — inspired me to read one of the author’s most memorable works: A Moveable Feast. I found that the commentary that Hemingway provides on his writing and his writing process in this novel heavily influenced the way I thought about my own writing.

 

1. Remind Yourself Why What You Are Writing Is Important to You. 

A Moveable Feast is comprised of a series of short, autobiographical stories that paint a vivid picture of Paris and give a great deal of insight into the author’s private life. In the story “A Good Café on the Place de Saint-Michel,” Hemingway describes going to a café to work on a story. His writing session goes so well that he refers to the story as “writing itself.”

As a writer, I can definitely relate to this; during my three-week writing seminar in Paris, there were days when I felt like it would take me hours to write one sentence. On other days, I could invent metaphors and dialogue with no trouble whatsoever. If there is any advice to be taken away from this, perhaps it is that we as writers should delve as deeply into our writing as possible. When we figure out why we care about what it is we are writing, perhaps we will find that our words and ideas flow freely and come without us needing to force them.

 

2. Write Every Day, But Allow Yourself to Renew & Regenerate.

One of my favorite tips from Hemingway comes from “Une Generation Perdue.” The story reads, “I had learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

I love this idea because it reminds me of something my professor reiterated to me and the other students in my workshop time and time again: WRITE EVERY DAY. Even if you think it’s horrible, even if it’s nothing more than a description of what you ate for breakfast, WRITE; it is helping us hone our craft even though we may not realize it. I also love the idea of writing being a well, because it implies that the world contains a never-ending supply of inspiration to feed our writing!

 

3. Hone Your Senses.

In the story “Hunger Was Good Discipline,” Hemingway writes, “all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry…all your perceptions were heightened. The photographs looked different and you saw books that you had never seen before.”

Now, I’m not advocating that we starve ourselves for the sake of being good writers. But Hemingway was definitely onto something about the importance of looking at the world more closely, as he seemed to find it easier to do when he skipped breakfast. Just sitting in a café allows one to observe an endless amount of external stimuli. Here is an excerpt from one of my stories that grew from sitting in a café for a couple hours and jotting down sentence fragments in my notebook:

“Carine’s preference for the cramped, rustic café was another source of confusion for those who knew her well. But she felt more at home amid Loustic’s old-fashioned décor than she ever would in some sleek, modern, coffeehouse serving several different kinds of espresso bean. With its squat wooden tables, booths covered by blue and white geometric-patterned fabric, and exposed brick that merged to meet patterned wallpaper, Carine had always thought that the café felt a bit incomplete—but not in a bad way. It was as though it belonged to an artist, who had high hopes for the space when he moved in, but never managed to finish decorating.

“Today, Loustic’s staff was playing exclusively Beatles albums, probably in an attempt to cater to the multitude of English-speaking students that frequent it. Normally, Carine was too absorbed in homework to even notice what music the café was playing, but today she listened to everything. She heard the tinkle of a customer searching through her change purse, and the decisive jangle of it being thrust onto the wooden counter. She heard the scrape of glass plates as they were stacked on top of one another, the slam of a refrigerator door, and the grating of a table being pushed and pulled into place.”

 

4. Jot First. Write Later.

I want to bring up another point about keeping journals: I have found that keeping a journal is much more beneficial if I jot down notes (lists, words, even doodles) rather than full, coherent sentences. Writing notes means we can return to our notebooks, think even more deeply about our initial observations, and elaborate on the base, sensory observations we have scrawled down.

 

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Go To the Depths. Dig Deep Enough To Hit Your Own Nerve.

Hemingway brings up another fascinating idea in “Hunger Was Good Discipline.” He writes, “I started to think in Lipp’s about when I had first been able to write a story after losing everything…. What did I know best that I had not written about and lost? What did I know about truly and care for the most?”

This is something that I am sure a lot of writers struggle with. Sometimes writing can take us to a very emotional place — especially if we can relate to the subject matter on a personal level. As a writer, I have found that my best writing occurs when I don’t shy away from past experiences or existential questions. Though it may be difficult, writing about topics that are painful and scary will get easier over time. As Hemingway says, “It only takes time and it only takes confidence.”

Have confidence in yourself, have confidence in your abilities, and never stop writing!    

-Ally Donovan

Photo Credit: Ghost Writing Old Typewriter via photopin (license)

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Focus on the Love

25036039995_8a45dbb50f_bI am sitting here struggling with what to write. I‘m supposed to be writing an editor’s letter or next month's cover article, but I can’t seem to keep my mind focused. To just ignore the latest tragedy going on in our country and keep it “business as usual” seems wrong somehow; but I also don’t want to dwell on it because unfortunately, it keeps happening and the cycle needs to stop.

The 4th of July is a symbol of this country’s independence and is celebrated every year with much fanfare. This year felt different to me. Perhaps it’s because I feel as if this country has felt far from free recently. There are so many issues going on with so much hate and bitterness surrounding it all. It’s easy to get caught in all the negativity and the game of spouting ideas on what to do. There is obviously no easy fix and it’s frustrating. Seeing the “commentary” on social media is also frustrating. These rigid views and a feeling of “us vs. them”, or “me vs. you” is part of what is causing the insanity going on in our world lately.

I know that many people feel far from patriotic these days. But as hard as it is, we need to take a step back and look at the overall picture. Yes, our country has some mighty big problems right now, but many of us are still very lucky. We still generally live wonderful lives. We live in an area where our needs are taken care of, while there are so many other people struggling to survive in appalling circumstances throughout the world.

We may be frustrated with the “politics” of our country, but we still can go out and vote and our voices can be heard (even if it feels that things are rigged and our votes don’t mean anything).

We may be sick over the needless violence and tragedy that is blasted in front of us all too frequently now, but we still have ways to help. There is still good around us. There are still ways that we can be the good.

We may feel hopeless, but we need to look at the love. After each one of the horrific events our country has faced in the last few years, there has also been an outpouring of love. In an instant, the rest of our country has banded together in support, helping in any way they can.

To see this spreading of love instead of hate is what gives me hope. While there are many fears about the shaky future ahead of us, there is still hope. There is still light. There is very obviously still humanity and good left in the world.

Let us continue to show our love throughout this summer and the year ahead. Let us be kind to one another, regardless of the circumstances. We don't need to agree. We just need to coexist in harmony. Let us be the change in the world that we are so desperately seeking. Love is contagious, a spark of light in a world of darkness, and is a true source of freedom. Now that is something to celebrate during these dark times! Love is the cure. Let us spread it far and wide and see where it takes us.

I choose to focus on the love!
#bethelove #bethegood

 

Related Article: Just a Thought: Let Love Be

 

Photo Credit: I 💙 Bokeh via photopin (license)

 

 

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How to Have a Better Morning

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I’ve always enjoyed waking up early to enjoy the morning. I love coffee. I love sitting at the kitchen table with my dad as the first few rays of light glint through the trees in our backyard. I love lounging on my deck with a good book, listening to the sounds of birds chirping and leaves rustling in the breeze before the heat of the day sets in, before we remind ourselves that there are projects to be completed, people to see, and errands to run. Mornings have always felt separate from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, which is why they are so sacred to me.

One of my goals this summer is to make the most of my mornings. (At least, the mornings when I don’t have to drag myself out of bed and go to work!) I’ve only recently adjusted back into the Pacific Coast Time Zone after living in Europe for four months. So, instead of waking up at 5 or 6 in the morning, I am now back to rising at my early (but not too early) hour of 8 to 9 a.m. It’s just enough time for me to get a decent amount of shuteye, but not enough to make me feel as though I’ve wasted the day. I always wake up in the morning with the intention to be productive, but if I don’t have any pressing work to do, I can easily to fall into the downward spiral of eating cereal on the couch and watching New Girl until noon…

Don’t worry if this sounds like a typical summer morning for you, or if most of your mornings involve rushing out the door to get to a meeting on time or making sure the little  ones have breakfast. There’s still plenty of time to form a morning routine that will set the tune for the hours that follow. For me, having a good morning is about as essential as eating breakfast. If it’s rushed and stressful, the rest of the day will probably feel the same way. Here are five steps I am taking to make the most of my mornings, and make the most of the rest of my day as a result.

Meditation. Instead of reaching for your phone first thing in the morning to check your texts or emails, try lying in bed for a few more minutes, or even finding a comfortable place to sit up straight. Then, close your eyes and breathe deeply. If your mind begins to wander, just focus on your breath. It doesn’t matter if you do this for a few minutes or a few hours—even meditating for a short period of time will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day ahead.

For those of us with especially packed schedules, trying to fit in a morning meditation session will probably feel more like a hassle than something to enjoy doing. However, I’ve heard of a great app called “Headspace” that provides guided meditation for only ten minutes a day. The best thing about this app is that you can use it anywhere or any time of day because all you need is your phone!

Drinking lemon water. I have started doing this every morning after reading about all the health benefits of this powerful drink! I heat up a cup of water in the microwave, mix it with the juice of one lemon, and add a few dashes of cayenne pepper. Drinking lemon water on a regular basis can help to rid the body of toxins, boost your metabolism, and lead to an overall improvement in your physical and mental well-being.

Reading or writing. I try to start my mornings off with a little bit of inspiration, either by flipping through a magazine or reading a few chapters of whatever book has my attention at the moment. If I write, I tend to jot down notes or phrases—story ideas or fragments of my dreams from the previous night—rather than structured sentences. I will usually make a to-do list as well, which helps me to prioritize my day.

Having a healthy breakfast. We’ve all heard it before: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Luckily for me, breakfast is also my favorite meal of the day—right after dessert, of course. My morning go-to’s are scrambled eggs with avocado on top, or a big bowl of oatmeal. I always add fresh fruit to whatever I’m eating, too. Lately, I’ve also been making sweet potato pancakes when I have extra time in the morning. (I know this might sound weird, but they’re delicious and only need three ingredients! I fully intend to post the recipe here at some point.)

If you’re the type of person who needs to eat on the go, try this quick and easy smoothie recipe for rushed mornings:

Ingredients:
1 banana (fresh or frozen)

1 cup of strawberries
1 cup of blueberries
Handful of spinach or other leafy greens
¼ cup milk of choice (I usually use almond milk)

Blend until smooth and enjoy a filling, nutritionally-packed breakfast to go! I recommend topping with nuts or granola for extra flavor.

Catching up on the news. While I’m having breakfast, I try to skim the paper or read a few top stories on the New York Times website. Though it might not be the most uplifting part of my morning, I like to know what’s going on the world so I can form opinions about important issues, ask better questions, and have more interesting conversations with people who also stay informed.

Since sitting and reading the paper isn’t always an option on busy mornings, I recommend listening to the NPR podcast “World Story of the Day”. This podcast usually isn’t more than five-minutes long, so you can easily stay up-to-date on current events while you’re getting dressed for work or during your morning commute!

 

How do you plan to make the most of your mornings this summer?

-Ally Donovan

 
Photo Credit: Yawning - Little #Dalmatian (Kira) via photopin (license)

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Best Teacher Gifts

School's OutThe struggle is very real. You want to show your child's teacher how much you appreciate their hard work and greatly underpaid year of molding your child's academic future. But how do you do that in a meaningful way that hasn't already been done 100 times before from all of their classes past?

While contemplating this very question for my own family, I asked my many teacher friends for their inside opinion on the do's & don'ts of the end-of-the-year teacher gift. Here is what they had to say:

 

#1 - NO MUGS! While this may seem like a great idea, they have a million of them. Just don't do it.

#2 - Skip the "Best Teacher Ever" and personalized gifts of that nature. While these types of gifts are special and appreciated, let's be honest, they only really stay special until the next round of kids come through and they end up getting the very same thing again. Each year's previous version either has to end up stored in a box or tossed away.

#3 - Candles and chocolates are also things they get in plenty, so again, while appreciated, you might want to stay away from those if you're looking for something that will stand out a bit more.

#4 - Terrariums are a great gift that they can use either in the classroom or at home. I love these ones from Heavenscent Floral Art. They send just the right message for the end of the year!

#5 - If you know a little something about your teacher and his/her activities & family, you might be able to do a more personalized (but yet useful) gift like a beach bag filled with towels to use with their family at the pool for summer fun.

#6 - Overwhelmingly, if you want to give a physical gift, gift cards are the way to go. Even though they are sometimes viewed as impersonal, every teacher said that they are ALWAYS appreciated and needed. You can choose to do stores that would help out in the classroom like Staples, Barnes & Noble, or the local parent/teacher store. Or, you can do something more for the teacher's home like Lowes, Target, a local greenhouse, or a favorite coffee shop. Some schools carry a list of their teachers' favorite stores & restaurants. If your school does not have one, ask your PTA/HSA to see if one could be organized. Or, you could also have your child ask his teacher her favorite places to go.

But the #1 thing they ALL said?

A NICE NOTE! (or 2)

Have your child hand write a special note to their teacher, whether if it is included with a gift or not. And if you want to take it one step more, send a letter to your school's principal about how much you appreciated your teacher that year.

Schools all too often hear about all the things they do wrong, and do not often enough hear about all the wonderful things they do RIGHT and how much they are truly appreciated by all us parents. That means more than anything after a long year of hard work!

Happy Summer Vacation!

 

Photo Credit: Fort Edmonton Park via photopin (license)

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They Want to Do What?!?

Incensed. That is the word I would use to describe what I felt when I found out that the City of Saratoga wants to replace the historical Music Hall with offices...

Those of us involved with the arts world know just how important the arts are. There is now a lot of scientific proof about how they affect so many things in our world and our bodies in a positive way. Nothing else really compares! And yet, we are seeing arts programs quickly disappearing from schools. Movie houses are closing down left and right. School music programs slashed from the curriculum. Dance studios forced to close their doors. The list, unfortunately, goes on & on.

Living in such a historical town as Saratoga (hey, it even says on the signs, "Health, History, Horses"), a place known for its involvement in the arts as well as horses, a place that has significant historical significance, I naively never thought I'd see the day when they would erase such a significant part of its history.

Originally, the Town Hall Theatre (also known as Broadway Theatre) opened its doors when the City Hall building was first erected in 1871. The original theater consisted of "an attractive stage, a balcony extending across the rear and sides, and boxes for the orchestra section and balcony," according to an article by former City Historian Evelyn Barrett Britten in 1952. Including footlights, green rooms, and of course scenery, the theater not only was home to local theater companies, but also saw singers, musicians, vaudeville acts, magicians, minstrel shows, and motion pictures. Famous actors, directors, and musicians have played within those walls, including Louis McHenry Howe, advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Irish tenor Chauncey Alcott; and actors like Sarah Bernhardt and David Belasco.

This article describes what the city is proposing for the space, but incorrectly states that the current Music Hall is not a part of the theater's history because it's not the original theater. He's partly correct in the sense that it is not the whole theater. The original theater took up both the second and third floors of the building. The current third floor was the original balcony part of the theater and connected to the building's bell tower, both of which were removed in 1934 for safety reasons after the building was not properly maintained. The current Music Hall is the remaining part of the theater. Dave Wolf, owner of the Saratoga Savoy Center of Dance and the organizer of the hugely popular Diamond Dance held in the Music Hall every month, had a very good analogy. "Just because the second floor of the hall has already been destroyed and the hall was given a different name, does not mean it isn't the same old hall! If I demolish half of your house, is it suddenly a new, different house?"

He makes a good point. Just because the theater is smaller than it used to be originally, doesn't mean that it isn't still the same theater and no longer has historical significance!

The article also states that the hall "is currently underused." It may not be used to its full potential, but the space is still very much used. The monthly Diamond Dance is a large event that hosts a live swing band and a huge & fantastic wood floor for dancing. Originally running on a Saturday night, Wolf was told back in 2013 that they refused to rent the hall on weekends. He moved the event to a Friday and children and adults of all ages still attend the event with attendance numbers that are regularly well over 100 people. It is absolutely magical to be there in that historical space, listening to that classic music, and watching multiple generations laugh and dance together. To me, that melding of the arts, cultures, history, and generations is really what Saratoga is all about - transcending the centuries, uniting us all in a shared experience.

The Hall is also regularly used for productions of the Saratoga Children's Theatre, a group that has become an invaluable resource for our local youth interested in all aspects of theater. In a time of witnessing the arts being stricken away from our youth, this organization is providing the entire Capital District an amazing opportunity, often bringing in NYC actors for workshops, incorporating top area choreographers, and providing educational trips for their students.

In this rapidly growing city, I find it hard to believe there isn't another solution for these extra offices they need. Especially after reading this article released just this past April, when they were proposing an actual theater district. Public Works Commissioner Skip Scirocco stated, "The time is now to give back the city a beautiful part of its history; something for future generations. The creation of a vibrant theater district will spur economic activity downtown, create jobs, raise tax revenue, and be a substantial boost to our arts community and the quality of life for our residents. We want this to be new, innovative, and modern, but we want to keep the historic connection too. The city is so well-suited to this idea, being a community of the arts."

Well, I'd have to agree, but given this latest turn of events, I'm left wondering what the hell happened? How did we go from a proposed theater district to tearing down our only historical theater just to make space for a few extra offices?!?

If you want to help preserve this important piece of Saratoga history, then today is the day. This isn't finalized yet and Mayor Yepsen will be in meetings with the commissioners before anything is signed, so please let her know how you feel about this ASAP and tell her that we want the arts - and history - to stay in Saratoga!

Emails and phone numbers here.

Feel free to comment below with what the Music Hall means to you, and of course share, share, share this article to help spread the word. Let's make sure that we don't lose such an important resource for this town!

Info on the excitement of the re-opening of the Music Hall in 1993 here.UPDATE 6/17/16: The City Council unfortunately approved this option and has sent it to OCA. It is now up to the State whether if they will approve this course of action, or tell the City to come up with a new plan

Info on the excitement of the re-opening of the Music Hall in 1993 here.

 

UPDATE 6/17/16: The City Council unfortunately approved this option and has sent it to NYS Office of Court Administration (OCA). However, it is not yet finalized, so there is still a lot we can do. The decision is now up to the State whether if they will approve this course of action, or tell the City to come up with a new plan. So while continuing letters to the City Council is still good, it is best to focus our efforts on a higher level at this point. Below are a bunch of links for other people you can contact about this. 

Also, be sure to sign the petition and join the Save the Saratoga Music Hall Facebook Group to stay up to date on all the latest news and ideas. The information there is being updated regularly, so that will be your fastest news source.  

There is a committee of people currently working behind the scenes with several different plans in the works. Stay tuned!

 

WRITE TO OCA:
(They will NOT look at emails, but they will read faxes!)

Ron Younkins
NYS Unified Court System
Office of Court Administration
25 Beaver Street - Eleventh Floor
New York, NY 10004
FAX: 212-428-2190

 

SIGN THE PETITION HERE

 

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE OTHER OPTIONS THE CITY DISCARDED  (Note that removing the irreplaceable Music Hall was the 2nd most EXPENSIVE option, not the cheapest as they have been making it seem...)

 

OVERVIEW OF THE MINUTES FROM THE CITY COUNCIL MEETING

 

LIST OF ALL OUR REPRESENTATIVES AND THEIR CONTACT INFO:

Senator Chuck Schumer
https://www.schumer.senate.gov/contact/email-chuck

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
https://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/contact/

Representative Elise Stefanik
https://stefanik.house.gov/contact/email

Representative Paul Tonko
https://tonko.house.gov/contact/

Representative Chris Gibson
http://gibson.house.gov/contact/

State Senator Hugh Farley
Farley@nysenate.gov

State Senator Kathleen Marchione
marchione@nysenate.gov

State Assemblyman James Tedisco
http://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/James-Tedisco/contact/

State Assemblywoman Carrie Woermer
woernerc@nyassembly.gov

 

 

Related Article: The Diamond Dance Turns Diamond - Again

 

Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photo Copyright (c) 2016 Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

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30-35 the New 90!

Birthday CandlesThe past few weeks I have been drifting into thought about the journey through life and how our number of years on this planet in no way reflect how old you actually feel. My grandmother recently turned 95. We have been very close my entire life and it has always been a benchmark of sorts at our birthdays since we are 60 years apart by 1 week. With turning 35 this year and so many articles, stories, etc. talking about 40 being the new 30, 50 is the new 40, and so on...I must say that the last 5 years of my life I have at many times felt like I was running parallel with my grandmother as she navigated through the challenges of 90 to 95.

Exhaustion, forgetfulness, repetitiveness, feeling like you are in a tunnel and yet so many grand spikes in happiness with births of children, watching them view and learn about the world; feeling totally on beat with your spouse; accomplishing career related ventures I never even dreamed of; recognizing how lucky I was to have amazing parents/parents-in-law; and feeling so thankful for those handful of absolutely precious friendships that kept me balanced even during the most difficult stretches of life.

The light switch went on when I thought about what my now 95 year old grandmother was like when she was 60-75 years old. All through my youth, when I had not a care in the world, my grandmother had already been through the ups and downs of raising 5 kids, the loss of her husband, and all of the happiness & grief that transpire in such a duration. I never felt an ounce of that from her - she did not feel worn out or beat down or negative or exhausted. Quite the opposite. She was calm, patient, wise, always ready for a game and fun. The roller coaster of life does not run parallel with age.

My realization at 35 years old is to be OK with being where you are. As my Mom lovingly says in the heat of difficulty, “this too shall pass.” And sometimes that is all you need to hear. Age 32 might feel like 90 for some of us and others might not experience that until they are 38 or 45 or never. The path we choose, the timing, our own attitude and a bit of luck dictate our level of happiness and our outlook. Motherhood and career can put you in the trenches for weeks & months on end and yet there are always a few “dancing in the clouds” days peppered in where you accomplish something great or you feel like you have conquered a major parenting hurdle (sleep? potty training?), which makes the travel in the trenches not feel quite so difficult.

So as April roles in and the journey into the back half of my 30's begins, I am going to focus more on the small choices - the little things that bring happiness, joy, and fun to myself, my family, and my friendships. Adulthood & parenthood are not about being perfect, it’s about being present.

I am proud of the choices and path we have taken. I am so happy and thankful for my husband, kids, family & friends. And although weathered, I am recognizable, and with all that’s transpired in the past 5 years, I’ll take it!

-Sara Hewitt

 

*Photo Credit: 05 Birthday via photopin (license)

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Recipe Corner: Sweet and Spicy Roasted Carrots

 

This recipe for carrots roasted with honey and Sriracha is incredibly easy to make. I think roasting vegetables brings out their best flavor and this recipe can easily be adapted for all different kinds of vegetables. It could work with green beans, asparagus, broccoli or even butternut squash. These carrots are also delicious leftover in salad!

 

Serves 2 as a side dish

Carrots (should be about 1 1/2-2 cups when cut)FullSizeRender
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp-1 tsp Sriracha
Dried rosemary
Salt to taste (about 1/4 tsp)
Pepper

 

Preheat oven to 435 degrees. Trim carrots and cut into thin slices. Mix together olive oil, honey, and Sriracha in a bowl. Add in carrots, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Toss so that the carrots are evenly coated. Heat an ungreased cookie sheet in the oven for 5 minutes. This will make the carrots nice and crisp. After 5 minutes, lay the carrots flat on the heated pan. Bake until tender, about 20 minutes, turning halfway through.

-Emilie Nadler

 

Photo Credit: Emilie Nadler
Photo Copyright (c) 2015 Emilie Nadler. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

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Everyone Can Draw

PainterAt Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, after I’d read two chapters of Sandman, the adult graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman, I happened to walk by a box that read, “Everybody Can Draw.” The message slapping my face: all I needed to draw fantastically in the way I saw in that graphic novel lay before me in this single kit, which included a DVD lesson, sketchbook, and illustration materials. I bought it on the spot, because I myself have written children’s stories I’d love to be able to illustrate on my own. And who doesn’t dream of being a great artist, someone who can make their hand dance and put the world on paper? I thought this kit would make learning to draw a nonissue, fairy dust to make me Rembrandt. After all, I loved art in high school.

Weeks later, I whipped out the kit. I popped in the DVD. This makeup-ridden, blonde, Australian woman appeared on screen and proclaimed, like the title of her DVD, that EVERYONE CAN DRAW. She went about the steps, first naming the different materials I should use, then going into pencil experiments, to basic shapes, to shading, to finding shapes in everyday objects, to measurements, to still life, to people, to animals, and then she told me how I can branch out into color and non-realisms. The process for her was so simple that she made it sound like a hamster could draw. However, my first reaction to the DVD was that she gave it the wrong name. The DVD should’ve been titled, “She Can Draw.”

I didn’t stand a chance in her wake. She’d been practicing the techniques before she grew a decade old. For her, drawing was natural and relaxing. For me, drawing was foreign and arduous. My hand can’t flick and dance the way hers does because of a difference in the time we’d devoted to the skill. In the end, I realized the kit never claimed to be fairy dust. The kit claimed everyone can draw, and that is the truth, to an extent, but it’s missing an end line. It should say, “Everyone Can Draw, But If You Want To Draw Well, It Will Take A Great Deal Of Practice.”

The video did give me a nice guide for this practice. I’ve told myself that every day I’m going to draw one object. I’ve started with basic shapes, like cones and spheres, and hope to work my way up to teddy bears, and then to the scene at the park where I normally write. I’ve been practicing my writing for years in a similar way. Every morning I wake up and write my dream, every day I write ten jokes, and every night I write a journal; throughout the day I commit as much time as humanly possible to my fiction, but those other three obligations are a constant.

The idea of practice dates back thousands of years ago to the philosophies of Aristotle, who lectured about habit and learning through repetition, so it’s not just a bluff your music teacher once taught you. To learn any skill, you will need to know what you’re practicing (so maybe pick up a DVD of that skill’s basic staples, before you start trying to play the guitar with drumsticks, or trying to write a story without a plot). Because everyone can do anything, but to do that anything well, it will take a great deal of practice.

-Adam Berg

 

Photo Credit: DSC_2550 via photopin (license)

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Letter to My Kindergartner

On the BusI put you on the bus for your first day of kindergarten today. You were overall so excited, you were beaming; but I could still see some anxiety in your eyes. Could you see it in my eyes?

I question if I did enough for you.

Are you really ready? I know you’ll be fine with the work, but what about everything else? Have I prepared you enough to handle the mean girls on the playground? Are you confident enough with all your social manners? Are you confident enough with me to know you can come to me with anything? That I will always be here to guide you and support you with whatever you need?

I know I’m a good mom – that I’ve done the best I could with my situation – but I still question myself. I couldn’t spend as much time with you as I wanted because I had to work. Was the time I could get in enough? I had all these things planned that I wanted to do with my baby before going off to school, and there are still so many things left on the list we didn’t get to. It’s amazing to me how the rest of life can get in the way and suddenly you blink and the time has passed. Did we at least get through the right things?

There are so many things I want to teach you.

Things that should come from me and not someone at school. Did I build enough of a foundation for you? Did I give you the tools you need to make it through the rough waters of life? Are you confident in the morals of our family? Are you confident in yourself – do you truly believe that you have what it takes to do whatever you put your mind to? (Because you absolutely do!) That you are more than capable to take on this new world and all the crazy highs and lows that go with it? Do you feel a sense of obligation to yourself, your family, and your God to live in a way that honors your being and your roots?

Will you remember the talks we’ve had? Will you know when to run from strangers or from danger in general? Will you know when to run toward something great and push yourself to achieve the accomplishments you’re striving for? Will you take necessary chances to push yourself to new limits, or will you hide behind a wall of safety?

Do you know truly how very much I love you? How you are my very being?

Did I pack enough for lunch for you today?

A constant stream of questions filled my head as I watched you peacefully sleep last night. They choked themselves in my throat as you climbed those high steps into the big, scary bus that took you away from me, down the street and out of my view. I packed (and re-packed) your bag with your supplies for the day. I packed your body with healthy food to give you physical strength. I’ve packed in as many hugs and kisses as you would put up with (and then a few more anyway). Did I pack your early life with enough knowledge and special moments between us? Moments to carry you through the exciting journey ahead of you?

I put you on the bus for your first day of kindergarten today. And all I could do was stand helplessly on the side of the road, blowing a kiss as you entered a new phase of your life.

There’s no turning back.

Now, we just have to grow together and take what each day presents us one step at a time. I will be with you every step of the way, my baby. Know that I will always be there. Know that I did my best at the time. You are my everything. I am so proud of you. I love you.

Have a great day at school. I’ll be right here….

Love,
Mommy

 

Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photo Copyright (c) 2015 by Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved. 

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

This post was originally published by The IF Factor and has been used with permission. 

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Bailey’s Corner: Ride the Waves

Bailey WavesThey actually took a vacation this summer. BEST FREAKIN' WEEK EVER!!

I got to be outside, non-stop, all day long. The sun was shining. They weren't in front of the computer all day, and there was water as far as the eye can see. That water never stopped moving and I never stopped playing. It was like I was a puppy again! I'd chase that ball in and out of the ocean until my legs started shaking, then I'd keep chasing it some more. Bliss.

She kept telling me to take a break - that I wasn't a puppy anymore. But I wouldn't listen. Granted, I was so tired at night, I could barely crawl into bed. And my legs and hips hurt so much I couldn't even straighten them out all the way. But I'm not gonna let a little thing like age slow me down. After all, it is merely a number, and a number by itself doesn't mean anything. A mere number can't hold you back from what you want to do in life!

Yes, perhaps some things can seem a little harder when you're older. But I've learned that you only need to look for a different way - not necessarily change your plan all together. I have learned, shall we say, to ride the waves.

Take for instance, the actual waves this summer at the beach. At first, I tried to go after that ball full steam ahead as soon as he chucked it out there. But some of those waves made it a little difficult to keep going all day.

No problem. I just waited a second longer, waited for the wave to start moving out, then I'd jump in when all was calm. Grab the ball. And by the time I was heading back, a new wave was rolling in. So, I'd just let go and let it take me all the way to shore. Easy.

Sometimes in life you just have to "ride the waves." Don't let them be obstacles on your journey. Make them into your easy pass. Just float on top until you get to where you want to go. Otherwise, they'll just pull you under, and you can tread water all you want, you'll get nowhere fast.

Ride the waves. Enjoy the view. Float from one adventure to the next. And smile. You're at the beach. Enjoy the ride!

 

 

Photo Credit: Silverpen Productions, LLC
Photo Copyright (c) 2015 Silverpen Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

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The Right to Ditch?

 

SP welcomes our new contributor, Adam Berg! Adam is a writer from the Millennial age, and brings a fresh perspective to some of SP's activities.

TinderTechnology, over the past two years, has vastly changed the way people meet each other and form relationships. As of 2014, Tinder, a dating app, where users "like" or "dislike" pictures anonymously of possible matches, announced that over fifty million people use the app every month, and every day twelve million people are matched. What makes this app unique is its utter shallowness. A user sees up to six pictures of their prospective match; if they like someone’s photos, and that someone in turn likes their photos, they get a match and can then chat with the hopes of possibly meeting. Some people use the app for one-night stands, while others are looking for quality relationships. Since Tinder, many other apps, such as JSwipe and Coffee Meets Bagels, which have similar features, have been successfully created.

This technology has had insurmountable effects on current forms of communication. For starters, people have an easier path to find a romantic partner; however, that ease comes with the price of only meeting those others who use the same service. Dating sites are not a new thing, but as technology evolves, such services have gained a much faster pace. Unlike Match.com and its competitors, who take the time to pose questions to its customers that will help them find someone who matches their personality and interests, Tinder and its competitors have a near total focus on appearance. The effects of this shallowness on the fifty million, the majority of whom are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-two, are quite obvious, the worst of which being self-esteem issues from not acquiring matches, as well as lacking the proper knowledge necessary before meeting a new person.

One of my friends met someone on Tinder. He drove half an hour to meet his "match" at a restaurant. Midway through his entrée, he realized they were not working out at all, probably because they went on a date solely based on looks and had no idea if they shared any interests whatsoever…. shocker. He needed a break and decided to use the restroom. In the restroom, he noticed a window. Through the window he climbed, never to see his "match" again. Walking to his car, he blocked her number, deleted her contact, and unmatched her from Tinder. If you were wondering, the answer is no: he left not a cent behind for the meal.

Not to defend ditching a date, but in this age, where people use WIFI more and more to meet random people, ditches aren’t merely bound to happen, they happen. Many times, when you meet someone online, it turns out they are not the person they portrayed to you (I know, again…shocker). Millennials call the practice of using doctored photos and misinformation to trick someone into meeting you "Catfishing." When people meet face to face, suddenly reality comes shining through. Perhaps those six pictures you saw of them hid the fact that he has track-marks and missing teeth or that she wears large sweaters in the summer and picks her wart-ridden nose before shaking your hand. Sometimes, at the bottom line, people look out for numero uno and don’t want to waste hours of their lives on someone they know doesn’t stand a chance after the first second. Is ditching defensible, though?

For most Millennials, when asked, the answer is a yes, but do it gently. Why that is I imagine is because of the current pop culture of the generation, where rappers compare all women to prostitutes and magazines on shelves are about self improvement, sports, and celebrities (I’ve never seen a magazine at CVS that read, “Top Ten Ways To Help Your Neighbor” or “This Month’s Best Charities”). Due to Facebook, Twitter, and other similar addictions, the younger generation can’t help but focus on elevating their status in life; although, this selfish drive's foundation can be blamed on the standard practices of America’s competitive educational system and capitalistic society…but that’s a different discussion.

Instead of climbing through the window, my friend could’ve easily said to his date, “Listen, I don’t think this date is really working out.” And pulled out the money for the meal. Chances are, she was feeling the same way. If she actually thought the date was going swimmingly, oh well, she can’t win them all. He should’ve offered her an apology and bid her a goodbye rather than an invisible middle finger.

In another scenario, the one where you know instantaneously she or he isn’t going to make the cut, and you’d rather not spend another second near their BO, cigarette breath, or spider-tattooed face, you have two options. In option one, you take a deep breath, realize you’re not the most important person in the equation, and spend a short date with them, perhaps in a way that helps them realize you aren’t right together. In this option, you might find out that their ability to make you laugh shines through their BO, and maybe they fill you in on their terrible day and acknowledge their BO, and give a reason for their BO; maybe their teeth are missing because they got in a fight while saving a woman from a mugger (you never know). Your second option is to ditch, and I say that is your right—we are in America—and the question is just the type of character you have and the person you want to be in this world. But, just as advice, so that you’re not as rude as my friend, when you’ve begun walking away and are about to get into your locomotive of choice, send them a simple text that says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s going to work out.” Plain and simple. In either option, you still make the split: one is slower but not cruel, the other is faster and rather cruel. Which option is better? Only you decide. They say Band-Aids hurt more when you rip them off slowly, but I know plenty of people who prefer ripping their Band-Aids slowly.

-Adam Berg

Photo Credit: Tinder via photopin (license)

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Just a Thought: Let Love Be…

Peace, Love, UnityThe world feels topsy turvy to me lately. It's like someone turned things around and started shaking - like a snow globe. Everything is upside down and backward. Everything - even the weather.

Everywhere I turn, I see hate. The media thrives on it. Fuels it. Creates it. Whether if it is politics, religion, diets, Hollywood, fashion, human rights, football, food - Everyone has something to complain about. Looking at my newsfeed lately has left me feeling drained and weary.

Why?

Why is there so much more hate in the world lately? Is it just that social media allows an easier and larger platform? Does it give people a feeling of empowerment to voice these rather loud opinions in a way they would have never considered a decade ago? Or is it more than that?

I don't know if the reason is really important or not - that certainly is a subject for another day. Regardless of the reason, the fact still remains that there is unabashed HATE everywhere.

Yes, there is a lot going on in the world today. Yes, there is also a lot of change. And change can be scary. But let's take a step back for a moment. Let's put our opinions on these issues aside and take an unbiased look at them - Do they REALLY affect us or our own individual lives? For the vast majority - NO. Does it matter if so and so gained a few pounds or heaven forbid went out without makeup? No. Is it really a big deal that a few footballs were softer than usual? No. Despite any opinions you may have on transgender, does Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn change your own life in any way? No. (Not unless you are a part of the Jenner family....) Does marriage equality change anything in your own family? No. This list could go on and on and on, since every day I see an issue in my feed that is causing quite a stir. Yes, we all have our opinions on these "Trending" subjects, but do they all need to be so public? What happened to live and let live?

My grandmother recently passed away and it caused me to think more about her life than usual. She was a woman that was very strong in her beliefs. She had a very clear picture in her mind as to what constituted "right" and "wrong." She did not always agree with those around her - even some of her own family. But love always won out. She didn't spew hate everywhere. She greeted each person she met with a smile and a kind word, and usually a joke. She was a devout Christian and lived a life that showed it. True Christianity - one that tried to emulate Jesus' teachings on Love thy neighbor; God is the only true judge; Do unto others as you would have others do unto you; Letting your own life (not just your mouth) be a testament.

Was she perfect? No. None of us are. And perhaps that's my point. NO ONE IS PERFECT. We're all just doing the best we can, trying to live our own lives in a way that hopefully feels authentic to us. It does not matter if we believe in religion (any religion) or not. We should just believe in basic human rights. We should just worry about ourselves. I find it hard to believe that all these people have such perfect lives with so much time and absolutely nothing else to do than to spew their opinions and hate over everything. I'd like to know why we feel so entitled to do this now?

Life is crazy enough lately. Perhaps we should ban together in support. We don't have to support something we don't believe in, but let's support the human race. Let's just focus on ourselves and live our own lives the best we can, without having to constantly feel the need to prove that our way is right. Let's allow each other to find our own way and to live our own lives without so much commentary from everyone else. Let's agree to disagree and just do the best we can. Let's let love win for a change and instead of filling the newsfeed with hate, let's greet each other with a smile and kind word. Let's let love just be... without an argument or commentary. I think we could all win in that scenario.

Just a thought.

 

"Hate: It has caused a lot of problems in the world,
but has not solved one yet."
-Maya Angelou

Related Article: Focus on the Love

Photo Credit: A heart drawn in the sand via photopin (license)

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Father’s Day Gift Ideas

Dads

 

Father’s Day is right around the corner. Make your dad’s day extra special with one of these gift ideas! Finding something right for dad on his special day can be challenging but remember it’s not the amount you spend that matters but the effort you put in.

 

 

  • Does your dad love family movie night? Put together a gift basket with a new DVD or a Netflix to TV hookup, popcorn, and his favorite candy. Plan a night for the family to watch a movie together and enjoy the treats.
  • One of the best gifts for dad is a coupon for your time. Show dad you care and give him a coupon for an hour of yard work, help around the house, a day of doing only what he wants, or my dad’s personal favorite, an hour of no complaining!
  • Another good idea is to find an old family photo or print out a current one and find a nice frame. This can be a perfect decoration for your dad’s bedroom or office.
  • Is your dad an avid BBQer? Get him ready for grilling season with a new apron and grill tools. Your dad will be set for the summer and ready to show off his barbecuing skills!
  • Does your dad love music? Get him tickets to a concert happening this summer. There are tons of fun outdoor concerts of varying prices going on throughout the area this summer. Check out the CPL summer events page for some suggestions!

You could also get your dad a board game for game night or a coffee grinder with new coffee beans to try. Though a necktie can be a little generic, a bow-tie wrapped around your gift as an extra little something is a nice decoration as well as being useful.

Whatever you get your dad, remember, what you get doesn’t matter as much as him enjoying his day. Often the best gift can be a Father’s Day spent with the family doing what he wants to do!

 

-Emilie Nadler

 
Photo Credit: Fatherhood via photopin (license)

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DIY Flower Arrangements

FullSizeRender

 

Get in the swing of spring!

Nothing brightens my day more than fresh flowers. As spring sets in and flowers are blooming, here are my simple instructions for making your arrangements beautiful. I find flower arranging to be meditative and stress relieving, so my number one piece of advice is not to worry! Flower arranging should be fun and any mistake can be quickly fixed—that’s the best part!

Before you begin, think about what kind of look you are going for with your arrangement. Is it for a dinner party or just everyday decoration? Do you want it to be fancy and precise or a little more wild and loose? I tend to like flower arrangements that are less refined, so I usually opt for a mixture of flower varieties and do not use flower frogs or rubber bands. My favorite arrangements are ones that look natural—like they just came out of the garden. I like them to be colorful and have lots of texture so that every angle of the arrangement has some interest. Also, think about the vase you are going to use. My favorite vases are canning jars, which look amazing and are super cheap!

After you have chosen your flowers and vases, the first thing to do is trim them. When I’m working with just one flower variety, I usually leave on more of the leaves and greens to keep some interest in the arrangement. However, if I am working with a few different flower varieties I will remove most, if not all, of the greens.

Once I have trimmed my flowers, I like to lay them out on a flat surface by type so I know how much of each variety I have. Then I start by arranging the flowers in my hand one by one. This allows me to get an idea of what the arrangement is going to look like as I go and I can fill in any holes as they arise. Once I think I have enough to fill my vase, I cut the blooms to size. Always make sure to cut the flowers longer than you think they will need to be—you can always cut them again but you will not be able to make them longer!

Next, I put the flowers in the vase and trim individual blooms to get the look I want. My best tip for creating your arrangement is try to make it so that each flower’s best feature is highlighted and each bloom gets some of the spotlight. I try to vary the heights of the flowers with the outer blooms shorter than the ones in the middle of the vase so that each flower can be seen. While I do try to have a front side of the vase in mind, I like to make sure the arrangement looks good from all sides.

The final step is to enjoy your beautiful creation!

-Emilie Nadler

 

 

Photo Credit: Emilie Nadler
Photo Copyright (c) 2015 Emilie Nadler. All rights reserved.

Photos are not to be used without prior permission & license.

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Bailey’s Corner: Find the Hidden Treasures

Bailey TreasureI love early spring. Know why?

Because regardless of the temperature, there's still piles of snow around. And each new day I find new treasures. As the snow begins to melt, a different layer is revealed. They may complain that it's just different layers of my poop that have accumulated over the winter. But I know better. The poop is just guarding all the hidden treasures!

I find something new each day - perfect chewing sticks that fell from the storm a month ago, the kid's toy she thought she lost, scents from a whole bunch of animals that wandered through our yard over the winter, the Christmas tree that disappeared in the blizzard, large amounts of tennis balls that fell in a snow bank and never found their way out. The other day I even found a flower trying to push its way up! The list could go on and on.

Every day they let me out has a fresh adventure waiting for me. New growing scents fill the air each day. An old toy becomes new again. New life and a new start emerge from the piles. It might appear ugly outside until nature finishes cleaning itself, but if you actually take a look around, you'll find all kinds of hidden treasures. Take a minute to really notice your surroundings. What do you see? Dig a little - what can you find? Even within yourself - what kind of treasure is waiting to be found?

It doesn't matter how the day starts, or what it may initially appear to be. It doesn't matter if it is cold, dark, sunny, stressful, too long, too short, etc. - Each day holds a "hidden treasure." We just need to open our eyes, stretch our paws, and search. It's there somewhere. And when we find it, we are as rich as a king - even if only for a day.

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The McDreamy Dilemma

SPOILER ALERT - If by some miracle you have not seen Grey's Anatomy this week, or have not already heard what happened, STOP READING.

 

2728815059_15d062062eThe internet was buzzin' after Thursday night's episode of Grey's Anatomy. People were outraged that Shonda Rhimes not only decided to kill off yet another character from the show, but the beloved McDreamy himself!

Yes, I am a fan of the show and have watched it from the beginning, so certainly I am attached to these characters.

But let's take a look at this just from a writing perspective. Was it smart to kill off one of the most popular characters of the show and one of the few remaining original characters at that?

While the episode was well written (although, not the best episode they ever had), and while it certainly created a buzz, in my humble opinion, I think it was a dumb move.

The show has been losing viewers over the last couple of years. We all know that it is drawing to an end - It has already been stated that they are planning on ending it after 2 more seasons. Wouldn't you want to keep as many viewers as possible over your last 2 seasons?

Derek Shepherd earned the nickname "McDreamy" for a reason. He is written to appeal to women as the perfect guy. And women across the world love him for it. Many people have continued to watch the show mainly because of him. Now he's gone.

Perhaps his storyline was done. Perhaps he just wanted out. It doesn't matter the reason. Killing such a beloved character at this point in the series is not a smart move. There are plenty of other ways you could write him out that would leave it open for him to be back for the finale, or to still be part of the storyline without actually being on the show. Keeping it a little more open ended - whether if he ever appeared on the show again or not - would keep viewers watching. It would keep viewers happy.

Now, if Shonda didn't already have the habit of killing off almost every character she wanted off the show, would my opinion on this be different?

I think it would. It would make Derek's death much more shocking and traumatic. It would hit the viewer's core even more. We wouldn't be ready for it, and it would send us reeling. We would want to keep watching to see how Meredith would survive.

But since there have already been a ridiculous amount of deaths on this show, quite frankly, this wasn't much of a surprise. Of course she would kill him off - she killed everyone else off (except Christina). Of course Meredith is going to survive and move on - she did with everyone else.

Was I upset Derek died? Sure, I love that character like everyone else. But did I have the ugly tears while watching it like I would have expected in other circumstances? Nope. I was fully expecting it, and I was quite annoyed. This show has proven that it has some fantastic writers. Some of the opening/ending narrations have been darn near genius in the past. So I KNOW they have good writers. So I KNOW they could have created a better storyline. So I was annoyed that they took the easy way and killed him just everyone else. Derek deserved better. The show deserved better.

Was the episode itself well written? Yes. Was it the best written episode I've seen from them? No.

It was a fitting way for McDreamy to die - a hero. I would expect nothing less. It was an interesting choice to have the great neurosurgeon's brain being what ended up killing him. Nice move. It is within Meredith's character to be strong and stoic like her mother. However, that said, I felt it was weird, especially considering the final song that was playing, that Meredith didn't lay down next to him one last time. To hold him, as he always held her and supported her, while he passed away. That last part of the ending left me unsatisfied, and it seemed like there should have been a bit more than just hearing the great McDreamy's last breath.

But that is just this one writer's humble opinion. What did you think? Was it a fitting ending? Was it a smart or stupid move in the overall arch of the show's story? Do you think viewers will still watch till the end of the show?

It certainly will be interesting to see how it ends up panning out....

 

Photo Credit: Patrick Dempsey via photopin (license)

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