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A Writer’s Conference, Some New Ideas, and Several Awards

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the All Write Now Conference in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

The conference was held at the University Center on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University.  Perusing the schedule, I circled the workshops I wished to attend.

First hour, Brian Klems, Senior Online Editor from Writer’s Digest spoke on “25 Questions You Need Answered Before you Seek an Agent or Self-Publish a Book”.  His handout included information on the ‘how’s, whats, and where’s’ of resources on getting your book published and building social media platforms. Along the way, he gave personal examples of his road to publication, and humorous stories living with three daughters.

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Second hour, Robert Yehling presented a workshop on “Keys to Writing Conversational Dialogue: The Driving Force of Your Fiction and Nonfiction”.  His workshop explained how the right dialogue is so vital in writing, because the reader directly relates and ‘hears’ what humanize characters. He gave personal experiences of meeting autistic surfing great, Clay Marzo, which served as the anchor for Robert’s biography on Clay, Just Add Water.

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After lunch, literary agent at Speilburg Literary agency, Alice Speilburg, held a workshop on “Narrative Pull: How to Keep Agents and Editors Reading”.  Alice’s suggestions included starting with a gripping opening, follow with an inciting incident, rising action, tension, climax, falling action, and finally, resolution in your story. Other steps to ‘build a tight rope’ included placing your main character in an eye-opening situation, keep your character looking forward, among others.

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The last workshop of the day, Karen Sargent, debut author of “Waiting for Butterflies”, presented “Marketing Strategies: Extending Your Reach and Preparing for a Book Launch”. Karen went over topics such as Who’s Going to Buy Your Book, The Truth Is, Hanging out Online, Building Book Buzz, Social Media Graphics, Book Launch, and Resources. This lady has such a plethora of information, it made my head spin! Her suggestions and resources could keep you busy 24×7!

After taking a break to grab a cappuccino and tea with co-author and friend, Pat Wahler, (Midnight the One-Eyed Cat) at a local coffeehouse, we returned to attend the awards ceremony for the contest winners.

I walked away with four awards – First Place for Nonfiction, Honorable Memorable for Nonfiction, and Second and Third Place for Poetry.  I snagged the Grand Prize drawing (free registration next year), and the main door prize drawing (a $50 Southern Writers Business Ad), as well. I believe I wore a path in the carpet walking up to receive the awards, which proved a bit embarrassing.

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All in all, it was a great day, and rejuvenated my creative juices! Once home, I submitted a query to a publisher, and received a request for a full manuscript.

You never know what life has in store for you. Be ready for surprises!

Peace out and keep writing,

And check out my inspirational book of photography and poetry, Folly Beach Dances, which includes contributions from five-award winning Missouri women authors, including myself and husband.

xoxoxo

Sheree

 

Oysters and Pearls

Recently, I’ve been listening to Jimmy Buffett’s Encore 2 CD set of hits while taking the canine kids for drives around town, running errands, or heading to appointments. I’ve played this CD so many times, it has deep groves in the vinyl.

As I was singing along to “Oysters and Pearls” one afternoon, the chorus was stuck in my head.

(Chorus)

Some people love to lead
And some refuse to dance.
Some play it safely, other take a chance.
Still it’s all a mystery
This place we call the world
Where most live as oysters
While some become pearls.

(Chorus)

Some never fade away, some crash and burn
Some make the world go round, other watch it turn.
Still it’s all a mystery
This place we call the world.
Most are fine as oysters
While some become pearls

Hmm…Oysters and Pearls…

Haven’t some of us been both, at one point in our lives?

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When I won the Da Vinci Eye Award for my ‘healing’ coffee table book, Folly Beach Dances, in 2015, published by Ocean Spirit Photography, I felt like a pearl – so proud, so confident, to have collaborated with five talented Missouri women authors, my husband, and a wonderful designer, to ultimately publish this inspirational book of poetry and photography.

When I realized I wouldn’t be able to bear children, I felt like an oyster, even a failure. A deep chasm was left in my heart.

But quickly, I felt like a pearl again, when I was able to mentor a select group of youth at O’Fallon Christian Church for three years. And what awesome adults these kids have grown up to be – Riliegh, Sidney, Tyler, and Ben.

Some say the key to life is moderation. “You need to crack open the oyster to find the pearl.” (author unknown)

I like that a lot.

So maybe, in our own way, we’re oysters on the outside?

We don’t realize our own potential until we go out on a limb, take a risk, learn how to scuba dive, ride a horse, walk across a ranging stream to reach that waterfall, or whatever it is we crave to get excited about life….and you!

My little kitten, Ireland (aka Tater Tot), sure knows how to live life. She is pure joy! All I have to do is look at her, and the corners of my mouth upturn in a grin. Everything is an adventure for this fur baby. She loves chasing foil balls, talking to cardinals through the French doors, watching squirrels on the deck, stalking her brother from behind the footstool, trying new treats, and snoozing on my lap in the cool of the evening.

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But me…I’ve been playing it safe, except for vacation, when anything is possible.

Why is it for most of us, we hide in our bubble after arrive home from a vacation adventure?

Today, I’m going to make a promise to you, that I’ll try to take more risks in life.

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I’m not sure where this adventure will lead, but I’m going to finish those writing projects that have been collecting dust, explore my local area, dance more, laugh more and be the tree hugger nerd that I truly am.

Hopefully, I’ll feel more like a pearl than an oyster…every day.

Care to join me?

Peace out and love,

xoxo

Sheree

The Spirit of Aloha

My husband planned a surprise trip for our anniversary, and presented me with the itinerary at my birthday dinner. We’d be traveling to Hawaii – three nights on Oahu, eight nights on Maui.

Maui garnered a spot on my bucket list for quite some time, and I was truly excited to visit the land of breathtaking landscapes and exotic flora. Along our journey, everyone we met greeted us with a warm Aloha – a Hawaiian expression of love, hello, and goodbye.

Here are some examples of Aloha I experienced while visiting the islands.

  • The Arizona Memorial – 1,177 men lost their lives on December 7, 1941. The somberness and quiet solitude touched me as I observed the oil still spilling to the surface of the water from the ship. Some say it’s the souls of the lost sailors. I’ll always remember the feeling that overcame me – one of emotion, one of loss – an Aloha goodbye.20170428_092710 oil copyr
  • Al Rodrigues, the 97 year old Pearl Harbor Survivor, we met outside the Arizona Memorial gift shop signing his book. He hugged us so tight when I told him my dad was on the USS Vestal that was moored next to the Arizona.
  • The wild, windy southern shoreline of Black Sand Beach and Makena Beach was a welcome ‘hello’ as we strolled the seashore for shells and photo opportunities.
  • A warm Aloha evident in the latte art in a cup of espresso from Bella Surf Café.
  • The exotic coastline, mixed with the cool evening air at Surf’s Up, a hidden gem and lookout point on a mountaintop. It’s so peaceful there, you can hear your voice echo. The sunsets on the west side of the island are phenomenal.

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  • Rachel and Anthony, a young couple we met at sunset at Surf’s Up. They were loving life traveling this great land, spreading the spirit of Aloha.
  • The white, friendly dog and smiling lady at Julia’s Banana Bread roadside stand along a dangerously, curvy mountainside street.

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  • The brackish cliffs near the Nakele Blowhole, and the untamed ocean.
  • The road to Hana with 617 turns (some hairpin curves) and infinite drop-offs.
  • The hike to the pristine pools beneath Twin Falls, and the way my body felt when I stepped gingerly into the midnight-hued cold water. The rushing sound of the falls was delightful.
  • The tangy taste of a Lilikoi tart at Kula Bistro.
  • The refreshing dessert, named ‘Coconut’ at the Mill House Restaurant. A mix of white cake, chilled coconut sorbet, and coconut meringue mirrored the look of a mini Baked Alaska, and tasted like a cool slice of heaven.

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  • Our farm to table anniversary dinner at Pacific O Restaurant while gazing at the sunset.
  • The fragrant aroma of eight varieties of lavender at Ali’I Lavender Farm high in the Kula Mountains.

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  • The foggy mist on the side of the mountain near the lavender farm.
  • The King Protea in bloom.

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  • The paragliders floating along the mountaintop in Kula.
  • The wind in my hair, and the sun on my face aboard the Trilogy catamaran.

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  • Ladies with plumeria, gardenia, and pikake tucked behind their ear lobes.
  • The romantic sounds of the Hawaiian language and their meanings conveyed through song.

These things and more, I find to be the spirit of Aloha for me – a lingering and everlasting feeling of love, hello, and even goodbye.

For Hawaiians, the Spirit of Aloha is a way of life – spreading kindness, compassion, and grace. Their values – ‘to care for, and do what’s right’. Sustainability to all natural resources is key in Hawaiian life – evident in the vegetation, the flora, the food, the people, the farms, the animals, and the waterfalls. I felt refreshed by the universal beauty around me, and invigorated by the friendliness of the Hawaiian people.

And isn’t that what life’s about — embracing our aloha, giving back to community, to the environment, and each other?

Peace out and Aloha,

Sheree

Love Letter to My Husband

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As I sauntered into the kitchen this morning in my pink robe and Chocolate Labrador themed slippers, I noticed a single piece of paper placed on the kitchen table were I normally sit for breakfast. My attention was drawn to the big red font on the signature line that read, Happy Valentine’s Day, from Russell.

Taking a seat at the table, I lifted the paper and read the words my husband penned. Countless emotions filled me – joy, happiness, thankfulness, gratefulness, love, forgiveness, and understanding.

Still sobbing, I walked the hallway to the bedroom and stroked the white-gray hair of my friend, lover, and partner for life.

I whispered in his ear, “That was the sweetest thing…that was the sweetest thing.”

Tears still flowing, I showered him with kisses. He smiled.

While I won’t divulge the contents of the letter, he expressed more than once, I was the only one for him.

Do you know how mellifluous that sounds?

You’re the only one for me.

You’re the only one for me.

Despite my many medical issues and lymphoma diagnosis, our difficult years of marriage, the passing of our animal children, and Mom’s dementia, he stayed. Even if it meant cleaning up Mom while incontinent during a dental appointment. I couldn’t do it. But he did.

Through life’s adventures, over land and sea – diving with black tip sharks, our first helicopter ride, visiting countless coffeehouses in this great nation, walking on a disappearing sand bar in the Caribbean, horseback riding, picnicking on the lawn of a home in Eleuthera with Cotton Bay in the distance, collecting seashells, writing an award-winning coffee table book – we experienced these mile markers together.

I’ve never had to want for anything, always feeling secure with Russell. And I’ve never felt lonely, like I did in my first marriage.

People, hold your loved ones tight and close.

Don’t be afraid to show affection – whether it’s a homemade card or love letter, a heart-shaped waffle, a phone call to a family member, a candlelit dinner, or a meaningful look.

Words and actions

can often mend hearts,

touch hearts,

bring hearts together.

Russell, I love you.

You are the only one for me.

You are the only one for me.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Now go celebrate your special day!

Peace out,

Sheree

The Grateful Jar 2016 – What are you grateful for?

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The last evening of 2016, I spent with long time friends, Tina and Mike, and my husband Russell. After a savory dinner and some music, we headed to our favorite coffeehouse in Cottleville, Van Buskirk’s Chocolate Bar for some conversation and drinks.

The mood was festive, with millenials and hipsters hanging out at the bar. Silver ribbons and star decorations hung from the rafters. Familiar music from bands of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s played in the background. Lisa, the cute bartender, ever so stylish in her yarn hat, handed out sparkling glasses of champagne to the fifteen of us gathered that night to ring in the New Year.

I’m sure the four of us were the oldest people there. No worries. Tina and I had fun dancing and singing; the guys had fun laughing at our antics.

As Mike and Russell conversed, Tina and I shared how 2016 was like a roller coaster with its ups and downs. I mentioned to her, how I’d just love to have a day of solitude.

I planned on opening the Grateful Jar after I returned home, a tradition I’d started last year on January 1, after seeing a facebook or twitter post, but for some reason, it wasn’t the right time.

I saved the Grateful Jar for today. A day where the sun was brilliant in the powder blue sky, and snow was packed hard in the  driveway. A lazy Saturday morning — kittens talking to birds outside, and the dogs sacked out in the living room with the hubster.

The Grateful Jar’s purpose – write down good things that happen to you on paper and place them in the jar. They could be surprise gifts, accomplished goals, the beauty of nature, LOL moments or even daily blessings. Then on December 31, open the jar at midnight and read all the amazing things that happened that year.

I opened the new and improved “Count Your Blessings” jar purchased at a home decor store.

– January 4 – Grateful for my husband and three beautiful fur babies.

– Grateful for my long time friend, Tina, who reminds me of the sister I never had.

– Sleeping in my own bed.

– Thankful for long winter walks in the snow with the dogs, and mornings of discovery in January.

– January 27 – Thankful God takes away my anxiety just by reading his Word.

– January – Thankful for my fur baby wake-up crew – a black cat diva, a neurotic Australian Shepherd, and big ole goofy red dog.

– January 3 – Grateful to have a roof over my head.

– Thankful for a wonderful birthday weekend.

-February 2 – Caramel cappuccinos at Crooked Tree Coffeehouse

-February 3 – Extra Dark Cacao Chocolate with sea salt at Kakao Chocolate in Maplewood.

-February 4 – Grateful for cotton candy pink clouds in the shapes of horses and dragons.

-February 4 – Grateful for sacked out naps with dogs, hubby and kitty in the comfort of my sofa on cold winter days.

-Beautiful landscapes of fields, farms, and barns.

-February 3 – Grateful for the shooting star I witnessed in the magnificent night sky at 12:22 a.m., and the incredible night sky blanketed by stars!

-March 3 – Glorious day of a purple sky sunset against silhouetted trees!

-March 14 – Thankful Adeline, the manx cat, showed up on our deck. Thankful we didn’t leave a pregnant momma out in the cold to fend for herself.

-Grateful for Adeline and the delivery of six healthy kitten babies on April 11. Praying for her health and well being.

-Grateful God listens to my prayers – April 12.

-Grateful Adeline’s kittens Patric, Dora, Sweet Tea, Elvis, Ireland and Skye make me laugh every day biting my legs, jumping on my back, crawling up my nightgown, and jumping in Russell’s underwear. (six weeks old)

-Thankful for a house full of love – kitties and kittens.

-Grateful Adeline’s kittens have gone to friends and church family.

-Russell snuck this one in – Grateful for Sheree’s need to be productive.

-Some days I’m just grateful for everything! (March 28) Smiley face

-Grateful my lymphoma is in check.

-Iced cappucinnos and cake pops from Starbucks.

-Grateful for outdoor showers at beach houses in Sunset Beach and the way the cool air feels on my nubile skin.

-May 24 – Grateful for the beautiful orchid I’ve kept alive for more than 1.5 years.

-Dogs riding in cars with their heads hanging out the windows, and ears flapping in the wind.

-My husband gently washing my back in the shower.

-The hummingbird on the purple helicopter plant (Cleome) on the back deck.

-The sound of the 12:30 a.m. train whistling through my open bedroom window.

-My big red dog, Bordeaux, inquisitively memorizing our car trip to the beach.

-Conversations with strangers on planes that last for 2 hours. (Strangers no more)

-When Ireland, our kitten, carries that big yellow artificial Gerber Daisy in her mouth. My inability to catch her.

-My friend Abby snuck these in. Love you Abby!

I am grateful for Sheree and Russ sharing their fur babies with me. Love, Abby

I am grateful for Midnight, Adeline, Elvis and Ireland wait for me to come in at the door. (Three hearts)

I am grateful for my very good friends Sheree and Russell !! xoxo, (smiley face with exclamation eyes) Abby

-Toes dug in chilly Michigan sand, and warm up jackets.

-God’s grace. (heart)

-Backyard bonfires with friends and s’mores with dark chocolate and Reese’s peanut butter cups.

My husband snuck this one in.

-“My wife’s big boobs.”

-Grateful to console friends that need to talk.

-Grateful for Katie Eichhorn’s ‘wedding of the century’ held at Bissinger Chocolate Factory, with all the cousins.

-Grateful for five vacations this year.

-Blessed that Wildlife Rescue Center released 12 baby squirrels on our property.

-Grateful the pain in my breast was nothing.

-Grateful to ring in the New Year with friends, Mike and Tina, and the hubster, Russell.

Alot of people on facebook said that 2016 was a bad year. Well, it wasn’t for me. Sure there were some low periods. Even unproductive times. With all the things that bring a smile to my face, make me laugh, and gave me warm fuzzies, I think it was a pretty good year.

And Lord knows, I love all that chocolate and coffee stimulating my brain!

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Feeling, seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, talking, loving, building relationships…

However your 2016 played out, remember there’s always this year to change things up.

Hope 2017 is a good one for you.

Peace Out and Love,

Sheree

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The Four Trees of Christmas…..

DSC_1030 animals tree copryAs hubby and I stared at the boxes stacked on the shelves in our basement storage closet, he looked at me asking, “Which tree do you want to put up? The 7-footer or the 4- footer?”

“Neither.”

Somehow, putting up a big tree this year, didn’t seem that important.

A small green tree, about 2 feet high, partially decorated, rested on a storage box, with names of our fur babies. It needed some tender loving care. I carefully removed the tree, and set it outside the closet.

A 2 ½ foot tall white, snowy-covered pine tree (more trunk than branches) stood on the floor, decorated with red garland, next to a foot-high pine tree with burlap-sack covered base. I smiled gazing at the trees, and placed the two outside the closet.

On my favorite glass coffee table in the basement sat a mostly-brown, prelit tree with tiny cylindral-like lights at the branches tips. I lifted the tree, and placed it next to the other three trees.

Hubby assisted by carrying the boxes filled with ornaments to the dining room on the main floor.

The first tree, or ‘fur baby tree’, was missing some names of pets, past and present. Light aqua, pink and red ornaments caught my eye. I wrote the pet’s names in metallic permanent marker on the shiny glass balls until all fur babies were accounted for. I hung snowflake ornaments on the branches, and draped hot pink ribbons on the tree, which rested on a stark white window bench in my office.

The second tree – or marine life tree – was just for hubby and me. Although there begged too many ocean-themed ornaments to pick from, I carefully selected momentos such as the scuba diving ones – bees, reindeer, and people; glass fish ornaments given to me by friends and family; a handcrafted stained glass scallop shell made in Charleston, and a couple ships in a bottle. This bright, happy tree rested on the modern Danish buffet table in the dining room.

DSC_1037 sea life tree crop copryI draped a red tablecloth dotted with a black tree pattern, on a small round glass table situated near the French doors in the kitchen. The location was perfect overlooking our backyard, trees, and the field beyond.

On this table, I placed the skinny white snow-covered and meek burlap-based trees next to each other. At the base of the white tree, I leaned a ‘nativity’ matchbox scene, gifted to my husband by a friend at Starbucks. In front of the tiny nativity scene, I placed the Willow Tree angel nativity scene – Joseph, Mary with baby Jesus, a shepherd holding a sheep, and the ox and two lamb. These trees were for Jesus.

DSC_1038 jesus tree cropAnd although we didn’t have a huge artificial masterpiece with treetop touching the ceiling, the simplicity of the four trees became meaningful – each in their own way.

So Christmas isn’t about the ‘stuff’, it’s about what’s deep down in your hearts.

It’s about thanking God for everything he’s done for us, and giving up his SON for our sins.

It’s not about US.

It’s about paying it forward to others – in the form of a cup of coffee, opening a door for someone, helping them out with their medical bills, saying a kind word – whatever you can manage.

There’s a poem I discovered online called “The True Meaning of Christmas” by M. S. Lowndes. I’d like to share it with you. Please enjoy.

Jesus Christ was born this day
So many years before
He came a servant to the lost,

Though he was Lord of Lords
We celebrate this joyous time,
Reflecting on His birth
Not born in a mansion, but a stable
As if He had no worth
He came so He could identify
With the human heart of man
And gave His life as a sacrifice,
Offering a better plan
A plan that reconciles us back
To our loving Father God,
Bringing hope and redemption from
Sins ruling, iron rod
For this is the only reason that we
Should celebrate this day,
To become focused on anything else,
Would take the meaning away
So let’s arise with joy in our hearts
And share it with everyone
The meaning of Christmas will always be
The birth of Jesus – God’s son

Coffee, and Currents

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For National Coffee Day, I’d like to share a poem I read yesterday from my devotional, “Coffee With God,” by Sarah Arthur.

She talks of how people run around like crazy, reminding her of a gerbil running on a wheel, or even an electric current zipping about.

Like Sarah, sometimes I feel I keep busy with stuff – some important writing goals and assignments, but sometimes time fillers…

Often times we don’t really recognize what God calls us to do. Help each other. Donate our time. Volunteer. Drive granny to the doctor. Rescue those poor dogs from the shelter. Walk for Freedom.

When you plan your day, or your weekend, will it include serving others or helping someone along the way?

Here’s that poem Sarah Arthur penned. Let me know what you think.

The current in me

is strong enough

to power a small life.

See: I zip around

my daily loops

with potential to shock

to make fingers tingle

and hair stand on end.

But if you were to

shut off

my circuit

unscrew the box,

take both ends

of my wires

and scrutinize

you would find

I only follow

 

the path of least resistance.