My New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: How Did I Do?

An honest response to the list of resolutions I wrote for myself a year ago.

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Lots of people are talking today about New Year’s Resolutions. I haven’t always set a lot of importance upon them, but at the beginning of this year I did make some resolutions.

Today, I thought I should revisit them and evaluate my “performance”.

 

 

#1. Get 500 followers on Twitter.
Check! I started the year on about 317. Today, I have just over 3100.

#2. Write a review for every book I read.
So, there were two books for which I did not leave a review. They were… how do I say this nicely? The reviews would not have been positive, nor would they have helped to sell any further books.
I did, however, email both authors with my responses and comments. Hopefully they made some changes, hired an editor, and improved the quality of their book.
Goodreads tells me that I read and reviewed 68 books, so that’s a fair effort!
I’m checking that one off, too.

#3. Develop my book blog.Book Squirrel Reading TSF
This is something of which I am very proud. Book Squirrel has spent the year featuring books, authors, new releases, and book reviews. On December 15th, Book Squirrel announced the inaugural Golden Squirrel Awards for Indie books of excellence.
This is a definite check!

#4. Publish two more books.
Done! In fact, I added five (Five! How the heck did I manage that?) more books to my author’s shelf, two in a new genre for me, and two novellas in a wonderful collection of reinvented fairy tales. I also have two poems published in two different anthologies, one on forgiveness and one on fairy tales and folklore. Whew!

#5. Be nicer to people.
In all honesty, I’ve tried. I haven’t always succeeded. But when I wrote this on my note almost a year ago, I had no idea just how much grace or forbearance I was going to need in order to survive some of the treatment I’ve received this year, either.
I want to give this a check, but with a “work in progress” disclaimer.

 

All in all, I think I’ve done okay. Some of these will feed into my resolutions for 2018. I’ll be posting about those tomorrow!

If you have suggestions, or reflections on your own resolutions, I’d love for you to leave a comment below.

2017: My GoodReads Year in Review

There are a number of things I quite like about Goodreads.

 So, I enjoyed looking over the page of stats they collated for me about what I’ve read in 2017.

As a reader, I enjoy Goodreads as book-nerdy social media.

I like being able to organise and “shelve” my books so that others interested in those sorts of books can find them easily.

I like being able to leave a review and a rating for those books so that people who find them can know more about them and hopefully choose to read them.

I like the goalsetting element of the “Reading Challenge” where you set a number of books that you plan to read in a year, and then the website keeps track of them for you.

I like it that my connections there can see what I’m reading and when I’ve left a review.

And I like being able to recommend a book I’ve read and enjoyed to friends with similar interests and tastes.

 So, I enjoyed looking over the page of stats they collated for me about what I’ve read in 2017.
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I have read a wide variety of books this year – short and long, popular and… less well known, from a wide range of genres. Historical fiction, adventure, horror, romance, mystery, thriller, contemporary, fantasy, sword and sorcery, magical realism, urban fantasy, kids’ books, Christmas stories and humour… they’re all represented. I’ve found some new all-time favourites and broadened the horizons of my knowledge and imagination.

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Reading through the highlights and looking at the great cover art of the books I’ve read gave me a lovely sense of achievement and brought back some great memories of books I really enjoyed.

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If you’re on Goodreads and would like to connect, you can find me there at

Things I Have Learned In 2017.

They say you should keep on learning until you die. Measuring by this list, I’m not dead yet.

 

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These are the important lessons I’ve learned in 2017:

 

  • Anyone who supports you, champions your cause, and/or loves you unconditionally is worth their weight in gold.
  • I am very blessed to have a number of people in my life who are worth more than their weight in gold.
  • Not everyone who says “I love you”, “Congratulations”, or “Thank you, that means so much”, actually means it.
  • It is entirely possible to encourage another person when you are feeling completely discouraged yourself.
  • Integrity matters far more than the words that come out of someone’s mouth. Those words, though, can be a fairly good indication of  integrity – or the lack thereof.
  • There are some things which should be left in the past: do not let them define the present.
  • There are some things which some folk will never understand. That doesn’t mean they don’t matter; it means it’s a waste of time and energy trying to talk with them about it or hoping they will change.
  • I will most likely continue to trust people and assume their “goodness” far too readily, and that will most likely continue to backfire on me. Apparently, there are some lessons I never learn.

One Way

  • Just because I often find myself on a one-way street doesn’t mean I have to unpack and live there forever.
    I am learning to see the signs and walk away.
  • There is no shame in tears. They are natural, and they are necessary.
  • People talk about “grace” far too easily. Showing grace to the undeserving is hard, painful, and usually invisible.
  • There is, in fact, an ear piercing that helps with chronic pain.

My Father’s Childhood Memories of Christmas

Today, I took the opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young.

I spent some time in the car with my father today, and as we travelled the presenter on the radio was asking people to call in and talk about family memories and traditions at Christmas time. This was a great opportunity to ask Dad what Christmas was like for him when he was young, so that’s exactly what I did! 

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My father grew up in Holland during the Depression and World War II. His family were not really poor, but neither were they rich. My grandfather worked very hard to provide for his family, and both he and my grandmother managed their resources carefully. 

The house was usually not decorated much for Christmas, but they did have a Christmas tree lit with candles. Dad also remembers the large fir trees that were put up in the churches, almost as tall as the roof.  Some were lit with electric lights, but most were lit with candles. As many churches were built of wood, this was a cause of many fires. I can understand how the sight of such a big tree, lit and decorated, in a church would imprint itself on the memory of a young lad. 

Christmas was a time when family would visit and often put on Christmas plays for one another. It was usually the children, but sometimes grownups too, who  would act out  the story of the first Christmas or plays about Sinterklaas and his companion, Swarte Piet.  A play like this was usually the only observance of the St Nicholas tradition in my father’s family, although for some Dutch families, Sinterklaas is almost as big a celebration as Christmas itself. By the time Dad was a teenager, it was more common for people to listen to stories or plays on the radio than to perform them at home for their relatives.

 

Gifts were generally not exchanged by adults, but the children received a book as a gift.  Dad also remembers that this was the time of year when children of a certain age – probably 11 or 12 years old – were presented  with a Bible of their own by the Sunday School of their church. 

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I can’t imagine how strange their first Christmas in Australia must have seemed to them in 1951. Even then, it would have been such a world away from how we celebrate Christmas now. Commercialism and materialism have seen to that.

2013-12-24-19-07-20.jpgHaving just turned 86, Dad celebrates Christmas on the other side of the world in the heat of summer, with trees illuminated by LED lights, a plethora of Christmas movies and ‘Carols by Candlelight’ concerts on TV . Family is still a focal point for all of us – my grandparents’ values have been firmly imprinted on us in that way, even if we do indulge in giving and receiving gifts that are generally luxuries. Dad, his sisters, and their families are spread across this enormous continent, so visiting happens via Skype and phone calls, while photos and news are shared on social media. 

I do like to think, though, that there is still a sense of wonder at a pretty Christmas tree being lit up at night, and I hope that people stop to hear and reflect on the story of Christmas that goes beyond reindeer, presents and “being good”.

 

Movie Review: ‘Wonder’ (2017)

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Today I accompanied my school’s Middle Year students on a trip to the cinema to see ‘Wonder’, a new film based on the bestselling book by the same name about a boy who has facial differences.Jacob Tremblay plays August Pullman, alongside Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who play his parents. The stage is set when the Pullmans decide that Auggie should start 5th Grade in a mainstream school, having been homeschooled by his mother until then. Mandy Patinkin plays a very wise and empathetic school Principal, Mr Tushman.

What a sad world we live in when a kid gets less attention walking through the city or a park wearing a space helmet than he does when wearing his own face. It’s human nature, I know, but that doesn’t make it okay. This film challenges that “default setting” in a very compelling way.

Auggie’s teacher, Mr Brown, challenges the kids to ask themselves: What sort of person am I?
This movie challenges every audience member to ask themselves the same question. How do I deal with difference? What does my face tell them? What kind of friend am I? What monuments do my deeds leave?

The audience feels sympathetic to Auggie long before they see his face. When he says, “I know I’ll never be an ordinary kid ordinary kids don’t make others run away from playgrounds” it’s like a punch in the stomach that leaves you winded.

As the movie rolls on, we also see that the “regular” kids like Auggie’s sister, Via, have their own challenges with acceptance and friendship, even without the extra challenges that some kids face. Over and over, this film reminds me again just how cruel kids— and people in general— can be, in so many ways.

The journey of discovering who is real and who is not is often painful and traumatic. Together, Auggie and Via realise that they are each other’s best friends, and lean to rely on each other for the support and love that they need to get through each day.

The development of genuine friendship reminds us that looking past the surface to really see someone is what makes a crucial difference to anyone, but especially those who are so aware of that surface. There is also a painful reminder that even the nice kids can make mistakes when they focus on appearances instead of who someone really is.

This movie delivers so many powerful lessons about accepting others and even more about accepting ourselves. In both cases, we need to learn to live according to the precept established by Mr Brown in Auggie’s first lesson in 5th Grade: “When you have.a choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”

It sounds simple— perhaps too simple. But is it?

The hardest part may be in finding the willingness to step out of our comfort zones and open our own minds to each other and the possibilities that our differences bring.

Everyone old enough to understand the difference between kindness and judgement should see this film.

Barbarians: who knew?

What does a teacher do when a student calls another a name that is just plain wrong?

Yesterday one of my students called another a ‘Philistine’. I know he meant to suggest that his friend was uncultured and ignorant, and that is what many understand the word to mean.

So, being the time-and-knowledge-generous history nerd that I am, I took a break from our study of World War I and explained to my class that what he meant to suggest is not what the Philistines were at all.

The Philistines were a cultured and wealthy civilisation that lived in Canaan between the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and the biblical kingdoms of Judah and Israel. They lived in and between five cities: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath. The same region bears the name ‘Palestine’ today – a name derived from the Philistine civilisation. The ancient Philistines enjoyed enough military prowess to hold their own against Lebanon, Syria and Egypt at different times, fighting with spears, straight swords and shields. When not fighting wars, they lived in elaborate buildings and made their own pottery.

It doesn’t really seem consistent with the idea of ignorance, does it?

Sadly, this is not the only case of such name-calling being so ironic.

Barbarian is another term which is used quite wrongly. It’s used to suggest that someone is wild or uncivilised.  Historically, the Barbarians were any number of Germanic tribes that moved throughout Europe in what many refer to as ‘The Dark Ages’, even though they weren’t so dark at all.

Barbarians
The Barbarians. https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/416794140495615038/

Really, if you look at them, they don’t look so incredibly different from one another, nor from the folk our history books tell us were our own ancestors. It may surprise you to know that the Barbarian tribes included the Angles, Saxons and Picts who set up shop in Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire and eventually became some of the most devotedly civilised people on earth. The Gauls became the French, the Geats became the Swedes, and the Danes went on to give us Hamlet, pastries and an Australian princess.
(Disclaimer: I don’t know if the part about the pastries is true, but they must be called danishes for a reason… right?) 

The Vandals, for example, may have left a trail of destruction in Gaul and Iberia, but they only made a bit of a mess of Carthage before taking it as their capital and making extensive renovations. As a military power, they had skill and knowledge – you’ve actually got to hand it to anyone who could not only withstand the power of the Roman Empire, but also hold their own in so many battles over such a long period. And when they weren’t busy fighting the Romans, they were highly cultured, enjoying music and poetry. They conducted a lot of industry and trade in their North African kingdom. It really was not about breaking or ruining stuff at all.

The Goths, oddly enough, did not sit around in dark clothes wearing black makeup. The name “Goth”  was derived from ‘Geats’, the tribe famous for its honour and pride in the Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf,  as told in the oldest English poem in existence.

Scandinavia at the time of Beowulf.
Map Prepared by Louis Henwood for ‘The History of English’ podcast, episode 42

They actually had sophisticated architecture and beautiful mosaic art. They made and wore intricate gold jewellery. They were farmers, weavers, potters, blacksmiths. They followed intricate burial rites, making sure that the graves always pointed north.

Related to the Goths were the Visigoths, meaning “Goths of the west” who ruled Spain for a couple of centuries. They built churches that still stand today, decorated their buildings with intricate filigree art and stone arches. They were skillful metalworkers and jewellers.

It seems to me that we do history a disservice by misusing these terms in such a way.  Connotations are not always the easiest things to track through history, but these seem quite unfair. I suspect that such practice grew out of the fear of anything or anyone different, foreign and/or pagan – a concept with which Western society is still painfully familiar.

By the end of all that, the kids’ eyes had glazed over a bit, and there was a fair bit of smiling and nodding going on. I don’t think they will be calling each other Philistines again, though. So… mission accomplished.

 

If you’d like to know more about Beowfulf and the Geats, you could listen to a fabulous episode from ‘The History of English’ podcast. It’s a great podcast, and if you’re interested in the development and history of the English language, or the relationships between language, people, and places, you should consider subscribing. 

Two-sday Surprises.

Sometimes, a small surprise can mean a whole lot more than its face value might suggest.

This morning didn’t seem any different than most when I left the house to head to work, but it proved to hold two lovely surprises.

The first surprise came in the form of a shop assistant who remembered me as her teacher from a number of years ago, and happily recalled the things she had studied and learned with me. An adult now, and with a different hair colour, I had not recognised her, but she knew me straight away.

It was nice to hear that she thought the books we read and the lessons we drew from them were valuable, and that history classes were interesting. It was wonderful to see that she had grown up into a confident, friendly and polite young woman with a lovely personality.

Of all the fond memories she recalled, though, one in particular had a profound effect on me: “You were the one teacher I ever had who showed me that it was okay to just be me, because that’s who I was meant to be. It’s something I have never forgotten.”

Wow! What a privilege to hear a former student say those words. I have struggled for many years with self acceptance, and as a teen I knew full well the agony of not fitting in with a particular crowd. Even then, I had the strength of will to resist peer pressure and not buy into many of the pitfalls that offered themselves to me at bargain prices and opportune moments. But that didn’t mean I was free of the wish to be someone or somewhere else – a desire that has recurred several times since.

Yet, somehow along the way, I managed to communicate something valuable about self acceptance to at least one teen in a similar situation.

I wonder if that knowledge would appease or satisfy those who think I push too many boundaries. Being part of a fairly conservative school, church and family, I take both pleasure and pride in not exactly looking conservative. I don’t intentionally break the rules, but I don’t mind testing their limits. My opinions often differ, and my willingness to assert them can make others uncomfortable. I don’t see that as a problem, though. There is merit in challenging people to see different perspectives and to accept differences. I’d like to think that people might become so used to my differences that I will need to think of something new to do to keep them on their toes.

My second surprise was a note on my desk from ex-students who had a reunion on Saturday night. I attended the reunion: it was a lovely evening of catching up and reminiscing. I didn’t realise, though, that they had left me a love letter on their tour of the school. How gorgeous that they still know how to make their English teacher happy and proud.

One Year of New Horizons.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try.
It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me. 

Promo New Horizons Cover eBookSIBA 2017 badged

What a surprise this morning to realise it has been a year since ‘New Horizons’ was published.

When it launched, I was nervous about how it would be received. People knew me as a poet. Would they be interested in these stories? Would they find them as meaningful and profound as my poems?

It was certainly fitting that these stories are about how people encounter and respond to changes and new situations in their lives. Heaven knows, I was experiencing that for myself at the time.

Since then, it has sold around the world in paperback as well as ebook, and has won the 2017 SIBA Award for Best Short Story collection. It now has a shiny badge on its cover to announce that recognition to the world.

This gave me good reason for positive reflection this morning. There are times when life feels as though it’s at a standstill, or when it feels like I’m not achieving what I want to as a writer.

Yet in the past year, I’ve achieved more than I ever would have thought or dared to imagine twelve months ago:

  • Three new poetry collections, all of which have been nominated for awards.
    Of those three books, Nova has won awards for 2017 Top Female Author – Poetry, Reality Bites 2017 Best Non-Romance, and the bronze medal for a poetry collection in the 2017 SIBA Awards.
  • Two poems in two different themed anthologies, nestled in amongst the work of some incredible writers.
  • Two macabre/horror titles.
  • Two ‘reinvented’ fairy tales about to be published in a magnificent anthology titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’,  with other stories written by five of the most creative minds I know.

Who knew?

If you’re a writer – published, aspiring, or just for your own enjoyment – be encouraged. You may feel like you’re not achieving much, but you are. You may feel like you’re a small fish in a very large sea, but every small fish has its place and a purpose, too.

If there’s something you feel you’d like to do, or try, but you’re lacking confidence – be encouraged. You will never know what you can do until you try. The only way to find out where any road will take you is to follow it.

My Grandpa used to tell me that there were never any guarantees of success, but there was one sure-fire way to fail, and that was to not try. It’s good advice, and I’m thankful for that lesson – and many others – that he instilled in me.

So here’s to another year and whatever challenges, journeys and victories it brings.

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The Day After Friday.

After the fury of writing  13 short stories on a theme in 16 days between Friday 13th and Halloween, in addition to working and meeting various other commitments as a responsible adult, I spent a day deliberately not writing anything. My brain was fritzed.

November 1st was a strange day for this writer. After the fury of writing  13 short stories on a theme in 16 days between Friday 13th and Halloween, in addition to working and meeting various other commitments as a responsible adult, I spent a day deliberately not writing anything. My brain was fritzed.

What I originally thought was just going to be the one mildly horrific story on Friday 13th turned into a series of 13 short horror stories featuring a black cat named Friday with a penchant for curious events. That darned cat just took over, and kept on presenting me with situations and superstitions to explore and present in different ways. I guess I should have expected that, given how cats tend to have a mind of their own and do whatever they please, regardless of what people think.

I also confess to having fallen in love with Friday. He’s affectionate, loyal and feisty. He’s mysterious – it’s never really clear whether he’s entirely responsible for the things that happen, or whether he’s a catalyst for some greater force of justice, but he’s always there when strange things happen. Either way, I’ve loved having him around.

Promo Friday Stories copy
Friday’s stories are available to read for free at WordyNerdBird Writes until 11.59pm EST on Friday, November 3rd.
After that, they’ll be appearing in a book at some time in the future.  I’d love to have you read them and leave a comment or two in response.

Read Friday’s stories: 

Friday

Curious Things

When A Black Cat Crosses Your Path

The Unwelcome Guest 

Bless You

As Luck Would Have It 

The Flamin’ Liar

The Unreal Estate Agent

Misfortune Cookies

Finders, Keepers

The Cat Burglar

Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls

On Realising How Awful I Look. 

A day with family, holding a brand new baby, can make you see things from a new perspective.

I spent most of today with family, welcoming my new great-nephew to the family. It was a day full of love, laughter and baby cuddles… and lots of photos. 

Holding my beautiful baby boy made me overflow with all sort of love. Seeing my 86 year old dad holding him made us all more than a little emotional. Another picture of four generations – my dad, my brother, a niece and a baby boy – is a wonderful blessing that many families don’t see. 

I have also observed multiple times today how awful I look. That has been my first reaction to every photo I am in. 

In addition to chronic pain and depression, too many months of anguish, stress and anxiety have taken their toll. I have cried every day for at least 250 days. I have feared and I have despaired. And it shows. 

BUT I have also survived. It doesn’t really matter how crapful I end up looking. I’m stronger than everything that has tried and still tries to bring me down.

My heart and soul have bled onto pages and screens, but my words have touched, encouraged and inspired people on the way. My writing have been praised, and my books have won awards. 

So when you look at me or see pictures and think I don’t look so great, you just remember that I’ve earned it.