Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Annual Extra

From "Geoff Teall on Riding Hunters, Jumpers, and Equitation." P. 49
When I was helping hunter / jumper judge and trainer Geoff Teall write his book, he brought up the concept of the Annual Extra. The annual extra was one thing he determined to add over a year -- in addition to his regularly scheduled program -- thus making it part of his routine.

I love this idea. This year, I am going to implement an Annual Extra in several areas of my life.

* Professionally, I'm going to start sending out a newsletter.

I'll continue blogging, aiming for regular updates every Monday, because I like the longevity and permanence of a blog. I've met so many wonderful people through the magic of internet searches that bring them to my posts. (Of course, if net neutrality becomes a thing of the past, blogging probably will too. Guess we'll cross that rickety bridge when we come to it.)

Major, the MuseLetter Mascot
Blog posts are forever. But I want the opportunity to interact in a little more timely and personal way with people. Hence: the monthly MuseLetter. [You've signed up for it, right? If you're reading this on your phone, you may have to click "View Web Version" at the bottom, but there's a nifty MuseLetter signup form. It would be cool if you'd join me on this little adventure. I solemnly swear not to waste your time.]

I want a place to share cool things I've discovered while researching my latest projects, odd or quirky books and movies that lie far off the beaten path, portraits of fascinating people I wish I'd learned about before, and more. I figure if such things inspire me, they'll likely inspire others.

* Creatively, in addition to the two books I intend to write, I'm going to finish "ANTHEM," a concept musical honoring American women.

This is a big stretch for me. My songwriting has always been something I've pushed to the back burner. Writing the songs is one thing. That's fun. Letting other people hear them -- that's way out of my comfort zone. But it's something I'm going to tackle this year. Because: growth.

* Personally, I'm picking up the guitar. Again.

Telling myself I'm going to learn to play it. Again.

Last year, I did fair-to-middling with this decision. Until about March. Then, erm, well, let's just say my good intentions became paving blocks on the highway to Hell.

But I mean it this time! I've trimmed my fingernails ("too long; can't practice" is relegated to the trash-heap of 2017). I've loaded GuitarTuna on my phone to practice chords when I'm sans instrument. I've re-searched and re-found and re-bookmarked the YouTube tutorials I need. I'm gonna do this!

Why am I telling you this? Two reasons: 1.) Telling the world of my plans makes me more accountable. And 2.) perhaps you, too, would like to join me in my Annual Extra extravaganza.

What extra thing do you want to make a regular part of your life in the next twelve months? What additional skill would you like to have? Do you want to write a novel? Make a film? Learn a new language? Maybe you'd like to keep a neater house, have a container garden, or learn ballroom dancing. Your Annual Extra could be "write an actual letter to someone every week and send it" or "take up watercolor" or "become proficient in C++." Whatever it is, here's your official green light. Make it happen. Blessings to you as you put another wrinkle in your brain in 2018!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

10 Free Gifts for Everyone on Santa's "Nice" List: 2017 version

Happy Holidays!
"Watch me make this bone disappear..."

Merry Ho-Ho!

Two years ago, I posted the first "10 Free Gifts" list. This year, I thought the time was ripe for an update.

Feel free to dispense these gifts to those you know and love. Spread the holiday cheer!

1. 2017's Best Jokes for Dog Lovers
Q: What kind of dog does a magician have?
A: A Labracadabrador!

Q: Why did the poor dog chase his tail?
A: He was trying to make both ends meet.

Q: What do you call a dog in the snow?
A: A chili dog!

2. Best DIY Noisemaker For Kids Who Do Not Live in Your Home
The "Popsicle Stick Harmonica" is the gift that keeps on giving. It's simple to make, so you get to spend some quality time with the Little Ones. It requires no glue or glitter (HALLELUJAH!). It makes genuine noise which is neither digital nor accompanied by flashing lights. And it's *fun.*

You'll need:
*  Two popsicle sticks that are the same size. (Used popsicle sticks that once held Dreamsicles work just as well as anything else. Just sayin'.)
*  Two small rubber bands.
*  A strip of paper the same size as the popsicles.
*  A toothpick, broken in half.

--> Place the paper between the two sticks. Wrap a rubber band tightly around one end.
--> Slide one half of the toothpick between the paper and the bottom popsicle stick, all the way to the rubber band.
--> Place the other half of the toothpick between the paper and the top popsicle stick at the free end and wrap with remaining rubber band.

Hold popsicle stick harmonica horizontally and blow through it. Voila!

3. A Real Classic for Lovers of Literature
During the month of December, the University of Chicago Press offers GALATEO as its free ebook. (This link will work through the end of 2017. After that, it will take you to a different, but still free, ebook. It's like freebook roulette!) Written in the early 1500's by Giovanni Della Casa, for the benefit of his nephew, "GALATEO, or The Rules of Polite Behavior," is both fascinating and funny. It's an acerbic look into the etiquette and customs of early Renaissance Italy.

4. Start a Painted Rock Craze
Painted Rock Hunting is a real thing, from Louisiana to Washington. Why not start your own hunt? First, find some rocks and paint them. (Yes, really.) If you've got a house full of family wondering what to do if they can't talk politics, set them to painting too.

Then, later, either go for a walk en masse and hide them (the rocks, not the family members) for strangers to find, or hide them yourself for the family to discover. Though especially intriguing for the little ones, this is a great way to get people off the couch and outside.

5. Make a Brown Sugar Mocha
Though the Clove Mocha recipe from the 2015 list is my favorite, this is a close second:

* In a drip coffeemaker, add 1/2 cup of good ground coffee or espresso, 1 Tbsp. quality ground cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg. Add 5 cups of water and brew the coffee.
* Meanwhile, mix 1/3 C hot water with 1/2 C unsweetened cocoa till smooth. (OR use 1/3 C dark chocolate syrup)
* In small saucepan, heat 1 C milk, 1/4 C dark brown sugar, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract over low heat till sugar dissolves. Add chocolate syrup to pan and stir till heated through.
* Pour 3 to 4 Tbsp. of brown sugar syrup in the bottom of a coffee mug. Fill with hot coffee. Stir. Mmmm!

6. Best Math "Gotcha" for the Brainiacs
The Challenge: Add "+" or "-" to the first 9 digits in sequence to make a total of 100.
The Solution: 12 + 3 - 4 + 5 + 67 + 8 + 9 = 100

7. Get a Great Night's Sleep
Because it's good to give gifts to yourself on occasion, here's one I highly recommend: Issue a Screen Moratorium for at least an hour before you go to bed. I mean it. Remove the TV from your bedroom. Banish the computer to the office. Leave your phone on the kitchen counter.

Fill the now screen-free hour by reading a book -- a real one, not an ebook. Listen to music. Pet your dog or cat or bearded dragon. Do a little yoga. Take a bubble bath. Find a way to give your brain a welcome break from electronic bombardment. Nighty-night!

8. Use a Furoshiki Gift Wrap
This Japanese wrapping cloth, which has been around since at least the 8th century, is a great green way to reduce the 4 million tons of wrapping paper and gift-related crap that ends up in US landfills every year.

"It's just a piece of fabric, like a teatowel or a bandana, right?"

Well yes... and no. Check out this video as a jumping-off place for the versatile Furoshiki. (Caveat: guard your time well. Furoshiki videos are a massive rabbit hole of awesome ideas.)

9. Make a YouTube Playlist and Share it With Someone Special
It's the 2017 version of the mixtape. Maybe it's a compilation of the Top 20 songs the year your parents got married, or a "greatest hits" version of your dad's favorite old-school standup comics, or replays of the best football game finishes your brother has never seen. (If you don't know how to create a YouTube playlist, here's a simple tutorial.)

Then, share your creation with the one who inspired it. Ideally, you can do it in person. But if distance separates you, let the internet bridge the gap between you -- at least for awhile.

10. Write a Letter
Not an email. Not a text. A letter. It doesn't have to be long. A short postcard or notecard will suffice. Say "Thank You" to someone who may not know the impact they've had in your life. Right an old wrong. Say "hello" to a new neighbor. Tell someone who is going through a rough time that you're thinking of them. Or reminisce with an old friend. Then -- and this is key -- mail that puppy.

It's true, it'll cost you the price of a stamp, so *technically* it's not "free." But it's a great, inexpensive way to spread some serious holiday cheer.

Here's hoping this season brings you warmth, wonder, and wishes that come true.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Widow for One Year

Just over a year ago, on December 3, 2016, I said "goodbye" to my WunderGuy.

I can't believe how quickly the time has gone. In addition to all the stuff that goes along with losing someone: planning a memorial service, spending interminable hours waiting at Social Security, and getting one's financial ducks in some sort of row, the year included a whole cycle of Normal Stuff. Christmas. New Year's. C's fourteenth birthday. Eighth grade graduation. Spring. Dad's birthday. Summer vacation. C started high school. Fall. My birthday. Thanksgiving. And here we are. Full circle.

The year included some memorably good things:

*  Thanks to the marvels of modern medical technology, and the blessing of the Affordable Care Act which allows me to have decent insurance, a routine test that showed some abnormalities turned out *not* to be cancer or anything else majorly devastating. *Whew.*

*  I finally signed with an amazing agent who gets what I write, who likes what I write, and who thinks we will be mutually good for each other's business. (The moral of that story: sometimes you've got to be bull-headed enough to plod forward, even in crisis. You can't get to "yes" if you quit.)

*  I spent a wonderful, carefree day in Chicago with some of my very favorite people, including my lovely daughter who is literally growing up in front of my eyes. We saw "Hamilton," which every single person should do at least once in the next 12 months, if you ask me.

*  My mother, who suffers from severe dementia and other physical and neurological issues, went on Hospice after dealing with pervasive pressure sores. Then -- in a move that stunned everyone -- she rallied! Her wounds healed, in direct contradiction to everything the medical pros expected. She even had a few good days where she knew my Dad and was able to communicate with him. We all know she is not long for this world. But her good days are a blessing.

Each of these events, in addition to other, smaller ones throughout the year, made me wish I could share them with Robert. For me, it's not the high holidays when I miss him most. It's lazy Sunday mornings, or hearing our daughter's handbell choir play his favorite song, or seeing something that references a family in-joke, or laughing at the antics of our dogs -- I miss him in all the little things that add up to make life richer, fuller.

Yet, I'm grateful. For friends. For family. For my daughter who graces me with drive-by "I love you's." For blue skies and orange leaves and fuzzy horses and fresh pumpkin pie and homemade sushi and YouTube videos of silly birds and political pundits. I'm grateful for the years we had together: though our time together was cut short, we had far more good years than many people do.

So, I marked the anniversary of losing Robert by doing the things I normally do. I directed the church choir. I wrote a little bit. Did some laundry. Made dinner. Watched a video with my kid. I was never one of those people who is defined by being married. Guess there's no point in being defined by what I've lost.

In case you needed it, here's your daily reminder to let the ones you love know it. Love may last forever, but people don't.