Tag Archives: Musings

Grammarly Musings

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Spell checker in action

I’ve been editing, tweaking, editing, and tweaking this week; not to mention editing.  Over the years I’ve used a wide variety of tools, such as Scrivener, but have found that, for me, the best combination is MS Word and my brain.

One of the tools I’ve also been using recently is a new one for me:  The Grammarly app in Word.  I’m of a mixed opinion about it.  Do any of you use this app with your manuscript?  If so, what is your experience/impression?

So far, the app is batting less than 1 out of 10; in other words, of 10 “critical errors” that it points out, only 1 of them is legitimate.  I’d say the average is more like 1 out of 15 or 18.  There is also a version of this app, which requires a monthly or yearly subscription, that will expand its range of editing suggestions; but before I go that route I want to know that the app actually works in the free version.  So far, it’s more static than editing aid.

Now to be fair, my manuscript is not the average; it’s got words like en queue (the hairstyle of men in the 18th century), and odd terminology to do with nautical actions or environments.  But some of the errors that it points out, such as those to do with commas, are actually correct (e.g. pointing out the second comma of a parenthetical phrase as out of place).  Most of the time the suggestions that it makes are just downright wrong in the context; it proves that language is a fluid concept, and nearly impossible to intelligently simulate in a computer program.  It also means that we are far better off becoming fluent in grammar rather than relying on ANY program to correct our writing!

Having said that, I still appreciate it because it forces me to think through a decision, whether that be sentence structure, punctuation, or phrasing.  Sometimes it sends me in search of confirmation for a grammatical assumption I’ve made; rarely am I surprised by what I find, but it nevertheless helps to solidify the right way of writing something in my mind.  For the most part, I have the app turned off (a great function – the only reason I still use it!), just running it through sections at a time as my other editing nears an end.

Are there any programs or apps that you use for editing?  If so, what is your experience?  Please share in the comments below!

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Filed under Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts

In Other Words – Make Every Word Count!

I’ve been out of WordPress-land for the past week or so; I’ve been focused on editing and didn’t want to blog until I had something worth writing about.  I thought I’d tell you a bit about what I’ve been working on & thinking about:

One golden rule in writing is to make every word count; along that yellow brick road are all kinds of signposts and potholes.  Signposts are things like “make verbs do the actions”, while potholes are “watch out for unnecessary words” – either for the sake of padding word count (e.g. for a short story or report that needs to reach a certain word count), or words that slip in needlessly.  Examples of unnecessary words are -ly adverbs (if we use the best verb, the adverb will be superfluous), strings of adjectives, really, very, and there is/are/were/was.  Recently I’ve been scanning my current manuscript for the kinds of words that slip in easily while writing in a flow; I have a list of things that I watch out for personally, and one item is “there”.  While I try to catch them as I write, sometimes I will intentionally use them as a “place-marker” – knowing that I’ll come searching for them later, find it, and re-write the sentence or scene with a fresher eye than I had at the time I originally wrote it.  That’s just me – I know myself, that I won’t leave things like that long.  If you’re not sure you’ll catch those sentences you want to improve on later, then mark them with a different coloured text, or an e-post-it, or something that will jump out at you.

Mark Twain - Very, Damn

Here are a few examples of sentences (from my current manuscript) with “there” before and after editing:

…there was a crisp off-shore wind… —> …a crisp off-shore wind blew…

…there was no recollection in his eyes… —> …no recollection flickered in his eyes…

…there was a twinkle of amusement in his eyes… —> …amusement twinkled in his eyes…

…there was no sign of the HMS Norwich… —> …the HMS Norwich was nowhere to be seen…

…there would be dire consequences… —> …dire consequences would follow…

…there was a smirk on the captain’s face… —> …a smirk spread across the captain’s face…

Tightening up the wording makes the sentence less clunky and more precise.  Making every word count is not about reducing word count, although that will be a natural consequence sometimes; at other times, by changing the sentence to mean more precisely what you want to convey, it may result in the word count actually increasing.  Just make sure that the words you use carry their weight.  Waffling, rambling & repetition will not win us any brownie points; I could easily go into detail about the ropes of a ship of sail, but it would probably bore most readers to death!  Sometimes “less is more”; it’s enough to say “ropes”.  If I describe a surgeon’s table and list the instruments he’s about to use, it may be TMI (“too much information”) if using the word “instruments” is enough; if I want something more specific, then I could name a tool at a particular moment in the scene.  Though I like the (audio) book “The Host”, by Stephenie Meyer, my one gripe with it is what I call the “roll call” scenes – where the characters present are listed, as if in a roll call.  It’s TMI – it would be enough to say something like, “those I counted as allies were with me”.

Other times, a list of words may become a linguistic collage, painting a picture in the reader’s mind of a character, or a place, or a mood.  A classic example of this is Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky; most of the words are nonsensical, non-existent words, but they nevertheless paint a clear image in the reader’s mind.

It’s why writing is never an exact science, and why, as a writer, I can always learn something, always hone my skills.  If I ever become satisfied with my own level of writing, to me that’s a warning sign that I’m missing a significant moment of improvement.  That should never stop someone from publishing – from letting their baby grow up and go out into the world to make other friends – but in the writing and editing process, be prepared to let go of pet scenes, or even some characters, in favour of an improved manuscript.  Making every word count requires that we learn to recognise what counts, and what doesn’t.  So keep writing, and keep honing your skills!

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Filed under Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Exercise

The Ultimate Final Exam

DIGITAL CAMERAAfter 11 months with an exchange student here with us, our life is now beginning to revert to its previous “business as usual” state.  That means that I can schedule my time, my days, and even weeks, and actually see those goals come within reach and grasp them.  It means that I can sit down at my computer, and write 10 hours straight if I’m on a roll!  It’s suspiciously quiet here now, but that does not mean something’s afoot this time… unless the cats are up to something.  With all of her exams through the school year, I was reminded of a list I’d seen years ago; when I shared a similar list in my previous post, I decided to track this one down and share it with you.

This ought to keep you entertained and out of trouble, while I dive into my fifth novel’s manuscript with a fresh eye (since I haven’t really seen hide or hair of it since April…!).  Enjoy, and have a great week!

Warning:  I take no responsibility for snorted drinks or explosions of anything out of your north or south ends

The Ultimate Final Exam

  Read each question carefully.  Answer all questions.    Time Limit: Four hours. 

 HISTORY:

Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America and Africa.  Be brief, concise and specific.

  GEOGRAPHY:

Predict the position of the tectonic plates as they will appear two billion years from now. Be prepared to prove your results.

  MEDICINE:

You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze and a bottle of Scotch.  Remove your appendix.  Do not suture until your work has been inspected.  You have fifteen minutes.

  BIOLOGY:

Create life.  Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system.  Prove your thesis.

  PUBLIC SPEAKING:

2500 riot-crazed aborigines are storming the classroom.  Calm them.  You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

  ART:

Give an objective analysis of the relative significance and quality of the works of the major artists of the past three millennia. Be specific, and prove your analysis with detailed examples.

  MUSIC:

Write a piano concerto.  Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum.  You will find a piano under your seat.

  PSYCHOLOGY:

Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment and repressed frustrations of each of the following:

  • Alexander of Aphrodisias
  • Ramses II
  • Gregory of Nicea
  • Hammurabi

Support your evaluation with quotations from each man’s work, making appropriate references.  It is not necessary to translate.

  SOCIOLOGY:

Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world.  Construct an experiment to test your theory.

  COMPUTER SCIENCE:

Write a program that will end world hunger and homelessness. You may use the computer console next to you, however use of a modem or any other communications device is prohibited, as is the use of electricity.

  ENGINEERING:

The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk.  You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room.  Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

  PHYSICS:

Explain the nature of matter.  Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

  ASTRONOMY:

Create a miniature stellar fusion reaction, and describe in detail the effects of close-range stellar radiation on human flesh.

  POLITICAL SCIENCE:

There is a red telephone on the desk beside you.  Start World War III; report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.

  EPISTEMOLOGY:

Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position.

  RELIGIOUS STUDIES:

Prove or disprove the existence of God, without the use of religious texts over a century old. Be specific, and include a discussion on the possible true meanings and uses for the Tetragrammaton. Also be prepared show how your proof relates to the national debt and the Watergate scandal.

  ECONOMICS

Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt.  Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas:

  • Cubism
  • The Donatist controversy
  • The wave theory of light

Outline a method for preventing these effects.  Criticize this method from all possible points of view.  Point out the deficiencies in your point of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

  PHILOSOPHY:

Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance.  Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.

  GENERAL KNOWLEDGE:

Describe in detail.  Be objective and specific.

  EXTRA CREDIT:

Define the Universe; give three examples.

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New Year’s Resolutions

new-years-resolutions-3It’s that time of the year again, when people talk about “New Year’s Resolutions”, as if the turning of the yearly calendar will somehow magically give them the impetus to make changes.  Rarely does it work that way, however.

A work colleague of my husband once upon a time trained to be a competitive  cyclist, and he said that once one makes the decision to give up in a race – for whatever reason – it makes it all the more difficult to persevere thereafter… once resolve caves, winning it back is harder work than ever before.  The same can be said of life, and resolutions.  If our daily goals don’t match our long-term goals, those long-term goals will never be reached; if we give up or cave in, we’ll find daily excuses why we can’t reach for the goal “yet”, and we’ll have a growing sense of guilt that makes us less willing to face the challenge.

Resolutions at the beginning of the year are usually related to a desire to better oneself; but resolve is something that’s built on a day-to-day basis, and should be a process.  If you set a mental goal – such as going to the gym twice a week  – which is not in agreement with your heart’s desires, then it won’t happen; our mind and heart need to get aligned in order for us to reach any target.

So I say, rather than making a resolution, become resolved.  Take baby steps to reach a goal; those steps might be to go on a walk once a week, or to take the stairs instead of the lift, or to purchase an exercise bike and put it somewhere in your home that’s a motivating place (e.g. near a window with a nice view), and then resolve to build up your stamina gradually with an initial time limit, stretching it as you feel you want to rise to the challenge.  If your goal is to write more, then decide on a specific amount, and take those baby steps – make space in your schedule, or learn how to utilize “limbo” moments toward your goal; carry a notebook and pen, and use them.  If your goal is to appreciate those around you more, then begin to focus on the positives, not the negatives; learn to compliment more and criticize less.

Whatever you want to see change in your life, go for it!  If you fail today, pick yourself back up, dust off your knees, and try again tomorrow.  Anything worth reaching is worth the effort, and every new day is full of opportunities.

Have a wonderful year, and may you look back on 2017 with satisfaction, knowing you’ve grown in positive ways!

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Musings on Adapting

frog-serenityAs I write this, it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’ve just had a relatively peaceful 3-hour nap in my recliner (minus the minutes spent being walked on by one of our cats until she got settled, minus the minutes spent coughing).  “A nap at night?” I hear you ask.  Yep.  Due to the fact that I’ve been sick for nearly a month with another respiratory tract infection ranging from upper to lower, naps are all I get right now; 3 hours is actually good!  I’m very grateful for the comfortable recliner we were finally able to find this year here in Switzerland, because at the moment I can’t sleep horizontally (I start coughing if I try)!  I won’t go into the arm-long list of medicines/respirators I have to remember every day/night; it’s just that the best healer, rest, seems to elude me.  I try to look on the bright side, and so I am grateful that I can still breathe (mostly) on my own; I can still walk, think, talk and climb our stairs; I’m not dependent on someone else for my mobility; and though I have no sense of taste or smell at the moment (which makes my cooking an adventure for everyone else!), I can still hear and see and feel.  I’m not telling you all of this to garner sympathy – not at all!  If you’ve been around this blog for a bit, or have gone looking through my cupboards of past posts (make yourself at home!), you’ll know that this isn’t my first, nor is it likely my last, battle with health issues; some are minor, such as this, and some have been major.  But no matter how challenging it may be for me, I know that it’s nothing compared to the hurdles faced by those with chronic diseases, incapacitating disabilities, or bodies that formed incompletely (thus creating their own unique issues).

My point is this:  I’ve gotten adept at adapting.  I’ve learned over the years to have grace and patience with myself when things don’t go according to plan; when schedules get tossed out on their ears; when I can’t do things at my usual break-neck speed; when goals get deferred by circumstances beyond my control.  I’m not the kind of person who can just sit around doing nothing – even when my energy is rock-bottom, I’ll still find things to do.  When I don’t have the energy to write or even take care of household chores, at least I have the capacity to read, or listen to audio books while I do crafts (at the moment, I’m crocheting pencil toppers for Christmas boxes next year – I make them when I have time, so that by then I’ll have 100 or more).  If anyone knows any great audio books, please let me know!  I’ve had a new laptop for a few days now, just waiting to be set up; no matter how much I’d love to have the energy to tackle transferring data and programs, I’m realistic enough to wait.  The fact that I could get it is a reminder that I wore out the other one – i.e. I got a lot of writing done on that poor thing over the years that it served me well!  It’s also a reminder that my husband provides well, for which I am amazingly grateful… I don’t have to hold down a nine-to-five job regardless of my health!

Life is about adapting; it’s about change, seasons coming and going, and cycles.  Flexibility and attitudes make the path smoother or rockier, depending on which we choose.  I choose to be grateful, and I hope that I can encourage others to do likewise.

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Musings about Advent

For those of you in highly commercialized countries (I won’t name names, but the initials are USA, for one…), before Thanksgiving is past, Christmas decorations have hit the shop shelves.  Before Christmas is really digested, Valentine’s ads appear.  I hope that you’ll bear with me, as I contemplate a holiday between your Thanksgiving, and Christmas:  Advent.

In today’s global village, people around the world are aware of holidays such as Christmas and Easter, though it might not be a part of their indigenous culture or religion; they may even celebrate them, though that be more of a marketing incentive rather than a religious one.  I grew up in Kansas, and though we were aware of Advent as an event leading up to Christmas, we never celebrated it – we rarely, if ever, had an advent calendar, or advent wreath of candles.  Here in Switzerland, Advent is like an extended Christmas; our personal advent calendar contains small gifts, and of course chocolate; this year, with a teenager in the house, I also included gag gifts. Our particular form is the Tischibo bags, hung from a rustic red metal heart frame with hooks.

What is the history behind Advent?  What is its true meaning?  Advent, which comes from the Latin Adventus (which is actually a translation from the Greek word parousia), had two meanings:   In relation to Christmas, it is the inner preparation for remembering the first coming of Jesus as a babe into the world as a human, so that he could fulfil God’s plan for salvation for all.  For Christians, the second meaning is a time to reflect on, and prepare for, the Second Coming of Christ, which will be the end of time for Earth (no one knows the day or hour, and so the Bible tells us to be prepared – like someone on call needs to be ready to go when the call comes).  As an event, it begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas; this year that would be the 27th of November, as Christmas itself falls on a Sunday.

There are several expressions of celebrating Advent:  The calendar, the wreath, and  devotions.

The calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th century, and usually begins on the 1st of December.  They can take on any form imaginable, from a simple paper calendar, to gift boxes, or gift bags labelled 1 – 24.  Consecutive numbers are opened one per day from the 1st to Christmas Eve.  Sometimes the calendar includes a Bible verse and a prayer or Christian devotion for that day of the Advent.  There are even some towns that become living Advent calendars; this tradition began in Stockholm, Sweden.

The wreath, usually a horizontal decoration placed on a table, is made of evergreen boughs (real or synthetic) with four or five candles, representing the four Sundays prior, and Christmas day.  The four are usually red, with the white Christmas candle centred.  One candle is lit on the first Advent Sunday, with an additional candle lit each week.  The concept originated with German Lutherans in the 16th century, though the modern form didn’t catch on until the 19th century, likely in conjunction with the calendar.  For a detailed history of the wreath, click here.

The devotions are readings from the Bible accompanied by a prayer, to prepare the heart and mind for the Reason for the Season – the coming of Jesus as a man to Earth.

If you’ve never made an Advent calendar or wreath before (there is still time to prepare one!), or you want to try something new, below are a few examples I’ve collected from Pinterest.  Please share in the comments below what kind you use, or what your traditions around this time of the year are!

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Musings on the A-Z Challenge

After a month of daily posts, A to Z plus weekend excursions into “Odd Jobs”, I can say that it was worth it; I’ve enjoyed the challenge of writing to a word limit, which meant that I could really only focus on one aspect of any given topic… that’s not something my brain does by nature, as it’s usually deep into networking ideas and possibilities long before I’ve finished typing the first sentence.  Along the way I’ve enjoyed spending more time surfing around cyberspace, discovering other WordPress blogs, reading into what makes others tick.  At the same time, I’ve felt the detour of time usually spent in writing manuscripts, editing, researching, and even housework and administration bits and bobs.

Would I do it again?  Probably.  When?  After my next novel is published, and I have more time again!  The feedback from my beta readers is starting to come in, and my own read-through has begun with the fresher eye of passed time and distance, so some other things in life will slide onto the back burner once more.  Through the challenge, I’ve been reminded of why I only post 1 or 2 blogs per week:  Real life is busy!

I hope you enjoyed the challenges along with me, and the breathing room once again afforded by my resumed “schedule”!

blogging-quote

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To-Do or To-Be, That is the Question

 

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Credit:  www.acceleo.com

Working at home is a double-edged sword; most people think they would love to be their own boss, to set their own schedule, to pursue their own dreams.  But that’s just it:  You have to be your own boss, and not let meetings, schedules, appointments, to-do lists and sundry responsibilities outside of work consume you; you have to set your own schedule and stick to it, or time will hijack it; you have to actively pursue your dream (and success usually comes dressed in work clothes), or it will never come true.  It’s a lot like writing:  Most people don’t really want to write a book, as they claim; they want to have written a book, and there is a vast difference between the two.

If you’re like me, you’re organized; we need to be, to keep work, tasks and schedules from eating us alive.  Sometimes even with the best of intentions and plans, squirrels still come along… if you have no idea what I mean, just click on the link!  To keep the squirrels at bay, I keep a book of to-do lists.  I have one for my household tasks, telephones, repairs, appointments, administrative issues, etc.  I have as many as it takes for revisions and the like for my current manuscript, as well as marketing lists, etc… plus writing blogs.  Sometimes frankly they can all be overwhelming, and that’s where I need grace with myself.  It’s times like that when having a boss might be preferable, telling me what to do next (I just have to remember the last two bosses I had, and that wistful thought vanishes pronto)!

Despite the long lists, I still need to find time and space to just “be”, and that is a challenge for me.  Even when I’m sitting still, my mind’s going 1,000 RPM, percolating on a plot idea, developing a character or plot twist, thinking about what I’ll make for dinner – do I need to go shopping? – or what the schedule will be once others are home again.  Leaving work at the office is more difficult when home and work occupy the same space.  And, oh yeah, daily exercise would be a good idea too.  I have periods each day that are what I call “limbo time” – too short or chopped up by others to dive into a larger project.  I could fill the “limbo” time of my schedule with a myriad of micro-sized tasks; but I also need to learn to step back, take a deep breath or ten, and not be productive or feel guilty that I’m not being productive.  Such recuperation time shouldn’t be relinquished to the edge of “micro crumbs” of time left over; it is just as important to schedule a time of rest, and should be taken just as seriously as any task, though it often isn’t (I’m getting better at it).

Some of the things I’ve learned about time management so far are:

  • Know how your time is spent.  If you don’t, it will run through your fingers like fine sand.  In my article on productivity, I mentioned a few helpful apps; they help me track how my time is being used, and it helps me to focus.  Even my breaks are scheduled with the Clear Focus app mentioned.
  • Have a pad of paper nearby to jot down the random thoughts that come. I’ve found that jotting them down quickly helps clear my mind to focus better on the task at hand.
  • Schedule down-time: Take a power-nap, or do something you enjoy like sitting in the sunshine, going for a refreshing walk, or creating something crafty.
  • Create habits. One habit I have is a bit like “clocking in” at my desk:  I set both my landline phone and my cell phone into a holder on the desk, and this little action signals to my mind that it’s “time to focus”.  Another habit might be making myself a tea either before I sit down, or on a break.

How do you deal with balancing work and rest, real life and dwelling in the fantasy world of a writer?  Have you developed any habits that help?  Please share them below – we can all benefit, I know!  The next thing on my schedule is – squirrel! – taking time to swing by others’ blogs, and be inspired.  The squirrel is now caged.

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Loops of Life

Sick and AwsomeIsn’t it amazing that the smallest of life forms can upend your life, change your priorities overnight, and put your schedule, and even deadlines, on hold?  Otherwise known as the flu bug.  It knocked me for a loop or three just after the New Year, and I’ve been battling it off ever since.  Everything, and I mean everything, gets put on hold at such times.

I’m sure you all know that there is no convenient time for a flu, but sometimes it’s easier on the schedule than others.   I’m grateful that it was after Christmas, because on Christmas Day I was at last able to complete the first draft of my next novel!  And later this month I don’t need it, because I get to go and stay in a posh resort overnight, also known as a hospital bed, to catch a few hours of sleep while they remove a few plates and lots of screws from one of my ankles, making it easier to get through airport security.  My bone will look a bit like Swiss cheese after they’re done, which means I get a few weeks of feet-up-and-read-lots-of-books time, followed by the ability to walk, exercise, and get a bit of muscle tone back.  Woohoo.

I began thinking about loops, in the wider scope, while I had some down-time this past month:  They come in all shapes and sizes; sometimes they’re hiccups in relationships, jobs, studies, goals or even social or environmental challenges.  Those loops, we can handle; they’re all essentially first-world problems, so I won’t complain; at least my loops don’t include wondering where my next meal will come from, where I’ll be sleeping tonight, or how to find clean water and a safe hiding place from men with guns hunting me down.  Even though my schedule has gotten thrown on its ear, and I feel like something the cat dragged in, I will count myself blessed.

If you’re going through loops of your own right now, look for the things in your life that remind you that you are blessed, and remember that jumping through loops will make us stronger in the end.

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December Musings

December means a lot of things to a lot of people:  For some it’s a month for slowing down, or baking, or taking time with family and friends, or cuddling up on the couch with a good book while it snows and blows and freezes outside (for those of us in the northern hemisphere, at least); for others it’s a month of work stress in winding up the year-end’s tasks, or cramming in meetings and project plans that need to take off in the New Year; for others it’s stress due to shopping – either because one has no idea what so-and-so wants/needs yet one must give said person a gift, or because of the crowds that seem to defy population censuses for any given town.

For me, it’s the juxtaposition of wanting to cuddle up with a selection of books on the couch between our three cats, settling in with an Earl Grey tea and a blanket and ignoring the world for a day or two, versus reaching my goal of getting the first draft of my fifth novel done before Christmas.  Said draft goal is only realistic if I keep at it, every day, disciplining myself to ignore the urge to kick up my feet and read, and (I will admit it) even ignoring the urge to write for my blogs, until I’ve written 1,000 words toward the completion of the manuscript.  Once that’s done (or the equivalent in editing and tweaking), other things can be given attention.  Important tasks that come at the right time are “priority”, but when they come up at the wrong time and intrude on my concentration, they are merely distractions.

So here I sit, 2:30 a.m. and finally have time to sit down to write to you.   Whatever your December looks like – whether stressful or relaxed, planned to the gills or with room for the spontaneous – remember that each day we wake up is a fresh opportunity to get it right, and each time we go to bed is an opportunity to take a moment to remember the blessings that came our way that day.

Awkward

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