We are never too old to do a report card

A writer's development path


Resume, or vitae–they both mean the same thing. A summary of one’s personal history and employment experience. 

Everyone trying for a job in today’s market needs one, and it is quite the task to put an effective one together. I tend to believe that everyone should try putting one together at least once in their lifetime if merely for the experience of the exercise itself. 

As I sorted through my bookshelves a few weeks ago I turned up a lot of folders, notebooks and tablets that I’ve accumulated from spirituality, creativity, women’s and writing conferences, training sessions, workshops, etc. I keep notes and resource materials religiously and I decided I wanted to see what my path looked like since I turned in the direction of an intuitive and creative writing lifestyle. The picture at the top of the blog post is what I produced from that process, and it was not only revealing, but empowering. I am extremely fond of that particular word. I believe it to be a word that will take us great distances when we become regular friends with it. 

Formal resumes must meet certain specifications to catch the eye of future employers today. You have to “spin” them to read properly for the job you are targeting, so you mustn’t necessarily put everything that helped shape and prepare you for the sought-after job on your formal resume. 

That’s why I like this new document format that I dubbed the “personal development plan” so much. It is a form of report card for your eyes only, and you can lay out a document that will allow you to analyze quite personally what you have—or have not—done that has shaped the zone you occupy currently. 

It allows you take stock of all the effort you’ve made since commencing the current career path you are on . . . or the one you hope to be on after you complete the “must earn pension check first thing”—or the “I don’t want to wait until it’s too late thing . . .” You get the idea I’m sure.  

I like it done in chronological order by month and year, with the earliest thing you can remember—first. Once you have it all together, sit back and study it with honest eyes. Really look at the dates and their spread. 

  • What years did you show great progress? 
  • What years did you not take any forward-moving steps at all? 
  • Why? 
  • What was going on that kept you from doing so? 
  • Will you allow that to happen again? 
  • How do you feel now that you look back on it? 
  • Are you smarter? (If you answer yes!–great. If you answer with anything else, explore that maybe?) 
  • What do you think needs to happen next?
  • Who might you call in to assist you?

This isn’t just for a writer. It can be for anything you want to grow or change. 

It can also be the pat on the back you might need. Perhaps you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels and not making any headway? A document like this might be just the thing you need that allows you a little personal brag time as you plot your next step. 

How about trying your own report card?


The impromptu glass of Sangria and breathing lessons.

Sangria and summer were meant for each other.


“We are always getting ready to live, but never living.” – 

 [Ralph Waldo Emerson] 

The pool area was quiet except for the gentle gurgle of the water filter doing its job from the shaded corner near the hosta bed. The summery ice blue color of the pool’s liner issued a friendly summons to wade, jump, dive or dangle toes. 

On the small patio table sat a large antique silver tray filled with rice crackers and cream cheese/chive spread, freshly baked sweet potato chips and a bowl of honeydew melon, its sweet pale green a stunning contrast to the carroty orange of the potato slices. Lime wedges floated on a thick layer of ice cubes that chilled purple-red sangria in a crystal pitcher as three large-bowled wine glasses waited for someone to pour. 

I would have missed all of this had I let my Type-A Shoulder Demon Angel have her way. 

Our usual Thursday night meeting had been canceled, so my friend Mari called me and suggested I stop by her house around 4 o’clock for a little impromptu pool time. Sue, our other friend who’d suddenly found her evening calendar cleared, was also coming over.  

I hemmed and hawed to myself, remembering I’d already reassigned tasks for myself since our meeting was canceled, and thought I really should pass and stay home and work. Fortunately, It Who Knows So Much Better What Is Good For Me, nudged me: “Don’t be an idiot. Tell her yes.” And somehow—I managed to listen. 

For two delicious, calming, water-cooled hours we three friends munched and drank those beautiful snacks while mingling with that refreshing water in that beautiful pool. We shared childhood swimming lesson horror stories, and before the afternoon was over I came to understand the ultimate importance that breathing plays in the process of learning to swim. (I’d had several years of American Red Cross swimming lessons while growing up; passed every class—and to this day—cannot swim. Slabs of granite can swim better than I do.) 

My heart rate slowed, and that felt good. It had been acting a tad bit hyperactive for the past couple of months, what with my new column and regular deadlines and then the novel coming back with major cleanup required. Do not misunderstand: I love where I am on the path, what I’m doing and all of these opportunities. 

Somehow, though, I forgot about the zit words I was supposed to be gleaning from the novel manuscript, the interview tapes that needed transcribing, the hostas waiting transplanting, the tree line clean-up work, the ironing, the laundry folding and blah, blah, blah. It never ends you know. It never will. 

I watched a leaf make its way from one end of the pool to the other, carried by the filtering current. Steady, calm and gradual. 

When I returned home I told my husband I could not remember how long it had been since I’d done anything that spur-of-the-moment, and it felt shocking to realize that I let task lists and notes/plans on the calendar ride herd over me to the extent that they do. I assure you I do enjoy life and a good many fun, entertaining activities, but I had to give myself a failing grade that evening as I realized how often, and even worse, how easy it is for me to deny myself some ad hoc downtime and fun for the sake of what I think I must/should/have/need to be doing in place of it. I really thought I was smarter than that. 

The extemporaneous pool/sangria moments didn’t interfere at all. I missed no editorial deadline; I did get a few more zit words killed off in the manuscript. The laundry didn’t get up and leave, and neither did the hostas.  

That sacred time we allow ourselves every now and then to throw off the daily numbered task list sitting on the kitchen island is the best gift we can give ourselves. That Emerson guy was so dang smart, wasn’t he. 

Thanks, Mari, for reminding me how easy it really can be. Maybe next time I can practice my new breathing lessons. 

Mari P’s Delicious Sangria

(as it appears in the Cedar Rapids Garden Club’s Recipe Book) 

1 bottle of Iowa wine (such as White Oak Vineyard Country Road Red)

1 can of Mendota Springs Lime Sparkling Water

Slices of one lemon – or – 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime

Secret ingredient: one box of Berry ‘Juicy Juice’

Put all ingredients in a glass pitcher.

Stir to blend ingredients. Add ice to fill. 

(Additional note from Mari: I used 1 cup of regular grape juice and a fruity wine from The Wide River Valley Winery from Clinton, IA this time.)

What of you remains?

I had an interesting conversation with a doctor the other day.

He’d recently undergone a temporary health-limiting episode that forced him out of the daily rat race, cocooning him at home with time, space and quiet in which to examine a few things. 

He said he found himself wondering if he were to die tomorrow, would he be able to look back on the way his life played out and be satisfied. This is nothing new, of course. This has been going on since people learned how to record their thoughts on walls—or paper. 

He realized he’s been doing good things. Things like running his practice, keeping his bills paid, attending to the health and welfare of his family and patients. But however good that all was — is — he realized he wasn’t so sure it was going to be enough by the time his ticket gets punched for the last time. 

That constant yearning–There HAS to be more–isn’t there?–is never far away, and medical conditions make the best impetus for forcing people into that perspective-observation mode.

Of course I am going to pose the question to you. 

How satisfied are you with what you’ve done to date? 

There’s been a new melody dogging you in your mind lately. Have you captured it yet–on paper or in your recording software program? 

Have you finished those poetry lines that came sneaking around the corner as you listened to the news? You know the ones that wouldn’t let you drift off to sleep with ease that night? 

How about that story of when you were 12 years old that your daughter asked you to write down over two years ago? And you said you would. 

And all of those novel notes you’ve been collecting. Are you just collecting them for the hell of it or are you going to take off and play at the keyboard and see what’s there?

Have you given that dialogue that came floating in through the kitchen window the other day an owner yet? You knew you liked the voice as soon as it appeared. 

Do you really think that unfinished quilt waiting on the top shelf in your bedroom is going to finish itself? You’d specifically asked your mother to stitch her initials and the date in the corner.

And working with the paints makes you nervous you say? So what. That picture you showed me last week has something in it. Screw the nerves. Get back at it.

Always wanted to try fusing glass? Or work with clay? Or take voice lessons? Or see if Baked Alaska is really simple to make?  

My brother, the only one I have out of the two I started with, starts chemotherapy in a couple weeks. He has been recording guitar arrangements on some computer software gizmo that he likes to play around with for several years now. A long time ago he earned spending money in college playing for a rock ‘n roll band. That band will be inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this coming weekend. He’s been faithful about sharing his new musical renditions with many of us on CD’s that he runs off from his “home recording sessions” in his den. We like getting them, and we expect to receive many more. 

What will you leave behind for someone else? 

What’s really stopping you?

My youngest daughter made the above plaque for me after she listened to me share some recent book world publishing statistics. She must have seen my resolve sag, thus this sweet little reminder. 

In a brief nutshell there are some book sites that estimate there are 1,500 new books published every day. One agent blog that I read recently stated that they read 10,000 novel query letters in 2010 from wanna-be’s—and didn’t take on one single manuscript from that pile. But enough of this— 

The above two words belong to you as much as they do me. 

Whatever it is you have to, want to, need to do—own these two words. 

If you’re working on a novel, know that all you have to do is work on it today—or tonight. But you can work on it. 

Maybe you want to see if you can get through this day without that drink, or that cigarette, or whatever your trapping devil is. You can work on that today. 

The need for sugar and sweets is strong during this cold winter, but you can try for this one day without an overload of it. 

You can get on your treadmill or exercise bike today. 

You can apologize for shooting your mouth off to your spouse or office mates. 

You can set food out for some stray cats. Hells bells, feed the deer, too! 

You can donate some food to the local food bank. 

You can save that $20.00 bill instead of buying another batch of lottery tickets. 

You can plan your garden already. 

You can call your mother just to check on her. 

This is just today. 

You can.

Weaving Through a December Tornado

Has your kitchen ever looked like this?

This was our kitchen two years ago. A blizzard was moving in with ice pelting the side of the house as I sprinted around that kitchen trying to finish off baking. I needed to get a Christmas box packed and delivered to the UPS terminal before the roads got any worse that day. Luckily, I made it without any mishaps on the road.

I’m back in the race again this month, only this year I added in several freelance assignments that have to be handed in by December 20th, travel to NW Iowa for a book signing on the 18th, moved up a writer’s group holiday gathering for the 11th, and volunteered to help with an additional holiday celebration on the 12th. I don’t have all of my shopping done yet either.

So last week while I was box diving, the name I have for the activity where I paw through rickety, bent-up boxes containing all sorts of saved shrapnel in the form of old letters, photograph albums, and corsage corpses, I turned up an envelope aged to the color of weak tea. Its postmark said: Lake Park, Iowa, November 17, 1976. It cost my mother thirteen cents to mail it.

Evidently I was dealing with headaches at the time. I don’t recall them but the opening paragraph in her letter reads like this:

      I think part of your headaches might be caused by frustration because you always have so much lined up for yourself to do and if it doesn’t get done, it bothers you. I wish that you would ease up on yourself. Take it from me–it just isn’t worth it in the long run. Just take care of your health and do what you can get done and forget about the rest. We are all going to leave this world with something left undone!

Reading that bit of advice from my mother smacks of synchronicity in light of the approaching hoard of activity. The trick is to weave. It helps to have a laptop sitting on the kitchen table. While I’m waiting for a pan of something to bake, I can be drafting from my materials spread around me. I think my mother would be proud to know I’ve learned to avoid that fretting part that probably gave me those headaches a long time ago, and just get on with the weaving part.

I didn’t turn down the writing jobs because I didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities or income.

I didn’t shy away from throwing a party last week because I treasure time with friends that I don’t see very often.

I hired someone else to dust and clean the house while I enjoyed working on the article assignments and baking delicious, fun things for my guests.

And there isn’t even a glimmer of a headache in sight. Weaving is a good thing.

Nourish the Magic (with fruitcake to boot!)

I offer you the gift of the attached video.  It epitomizes what it is that I love so much about the approaching holiday season, and about maintaining the child still in us.

The smell of Christmas spice is lingering in our house this morning. Over the weekend I baked fruitcake. I used two different recipes yielding six “bricks” as some fruitcake haters might call them. We don’t call them bricks around here—my family likes fruitcake. One recipe uses absolutely no “scary stuff”—those sticky, candied fruit peels. It requires only dried fruits of all kinds and three kinds of nuts. The other recipe has some of the scary stickies in it—and chocolate chips. Quite fun.

Last week when the temps hit 70 degrees one day I got a jump on the season and strung our Christmas lights across the bushes in front of our house. I also went browsing in a floral shop that is decorated for the Season already, and I bought this new snow globe. I picked it up and put it down twice before I decided to give myself permission to buy a new Christmas decoration. We hardly need another thing to be packed away after the day has come and gone, but this globe pulled me in when I turned its switch and watched the lights change color against the snow glitter inside. That evening when I saw the way it lit up the room with its “quiet” way, it reminded me of why I will never grow up completely. I don’t want to miss out on that simple magic.

I cringe when I hear people in the stores say things like, “Christmas isn’t that far off . . .” ‘Oh, I know . . . I’m just dreading it.’

Are you kidding me?! What’s to dread? Christmas isn’t the problem. We have a choice: allow the super-commercialization to clobber us and our debit cards over the head, or guard our time and energy for what really resonates with us.

There’s nothing Pollyanna about my approach here. I have a brother-in-law facing “suspicious” medical unknowns this week. My sister-in-law experienced a near-fatal medical episode a while back. A church I’ve been a part of for many years will decide this week if they need to close their doors; people will be losing their jobs. Friends of mine are dealing with job burn-out and are nowhere near retirement age. I am mindful and concerned for all of them.

I hope you haven’t grown up so much that you no longer ‘get it,’ and I also hope you will keep this snow globe handy for when things get crazy for you.

AUTHOR NOTE: The video was made while listening to the music of W.G. Snuffy Walden’s arrangement of “The First Noel,” as recorded on the CD titled: A Windham Hill Christmas. My family and I own a broad range of both Mr. Walden’s work as well as other Windham Hill musicians/products.

Feel like giving the eternally maligned fruitcake another chance? See if this recipe works for you.

 “No scary sticky things” Fruitcake

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. allspice

½ tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. cloves

½ tsp. mace

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ cup melted butter

2 eggs

¾ cup black coffee (cold)

½ cup brown sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup dried fruits (cherries, cranberries, craisins, peaches, apricots, etc.)

1 cup chopped dates

1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, almonds or pecans—your choice)

1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

¼ cup rum or brandy (apple cider could be used, but why?)


 Mix the melted butter, eggs, rum and coffee together.

Add brown sugar and mix well.

Add rest of dry ingredients and place in a sprayed and floured loaf pans. I use two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans.

Bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until done. Test with a cake tester.

NOTE: Do not use glass baking dishes for this.

After cakes have cooled for 10 minutes, remove them from pans; allow to finish cooling, and then wrap well and freeze until needed.

A little trail time maybe?

I found the following item on pg. 272 of the October 2010 edition of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine the other day in the Better Health NEWS Section by Sara Altshul:

Scientists at the University of Essex in England found that all it takes is five minutes of strolling in a wooded trail, raking leaves, or performing almost any physical movement in a natural outdoor setting to produce a significant uptick in mood and self-esteem. “Humans largely live inside, but because of our evolution as hunter-gatherers we may feel more relaxed and connected moving out in nature,” explains study coauthor Jo Barton, Ph.D. What’s more, this temporary boost may safeguard against problems like depression. So treat yourself to “recess”–even if it’s brief.

I’ll share a bit of poetry I created a few years back. Maybe you won’t agree with some of the sentiment, but the abovementioned research seems to support it to some degree:

 Too Much/Not Enough

I think people talk too much, listen too little,

    rush too often,

    and waste their energy.

I think people spend too much time hypnotized by TV,

    watching a computer,

    or impaled on a phone. 

I think people talk to avoid themselves

    because they hate the questions,

    and fear the answers.

I think people ask too much, too soon–

    maybe too often.

    I think others don’t ask enough.

I believe people could change.

I believe they could spend time peeling oranges,

    staring out windows,

    smelling new flowers and poking in the dirt.

I believe they could chop vegetables, make soup

    and eat together,

    then lose themselves in kitchen sink bubbles.

I believe they could watch a bumble bee

    work for what he needs, then depart,

    no worse for the wear.

I believe they could fly kites,

    observe their tango with the wind,

    trusting it to carry them where it will.

I believe people could read for three hours a day

    and watch TV for one.

    I believe they could read things that scare them for the path presented.

I believe they could take long walks without self-help recordings

    or stock reports plugged into their brains,

    and finally hear the voice within their feet.

I believe people would see how air, sun and earth

    wait patiently for them,

    eager to bond with their core.

All they have to do is stop talking so much.