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Monday, February 27, 2012

Deadlines

Do you work well under the pressure of a deadline? I do. If I have all the time in the world, I put things off. (Just ask my husband. I drive him crazy.) When I have a deadline—even a self-imposed one—I do so much better and accomplish so much more.

Some people are very organized. They plan ahead, parse out what needs to be done when and seem very relaxed when the deadline arrives. Like my sister who packs a whole week before leaving on vacation. Me? I’m still washing the clothes I want to take the night before leaving. Or how about the hostess who has the table set before the guests arrive—even family. I’m working on that. When we had several family members over to celebrate my husband’s birthday, I didn’t wait for my four-year-old granddaughter to “help Nana” set the table—maybe because we were using my good china. Not really. I had decided I wanted to enjoy the company instead of doing tasks that could be done ahead of time. That was so not my normal routine.

My daughter puts me to shame with how organized she is. Once we were talking about an invitation to a wedding and she said she always puts the respond card in the mail the day after it comes. Holy cow! I’m usually trying to find the card right before it’s due. That got me thinking about how I deal with mail. Organizers say to touch a piece of mail once—toss it, pay it, file it. Yeah, right. I am getting better about tossing junk mail. Deciding between what’s junk and what needs to be paid is the easy part. It's the "I might want to do something with” mail that's the hard part. Of course, I’d rather “junk” the bills, too, but credit card and utility companies frown on that.

I try. I’m trying harder to be organized. But I think I’m missing a relay in my brain. You know, the one that triggers an immediate reaction to a task. On second thought, I do have a reaction. My brain says “you’ve got plenty of time, you don’t need to get started yet.” Then, I always underestimate the amount of time a task will take. If I’m supposed to leave at a certain time, I try to do one too many things before then race around at the last minute.

Now here’s the weird thing. I procrastinate terribly in my personal life only. It’s different with my work. At every job I had, I could see what needed to be done, worked up a schedule and completed the task ahead of time. I do the same with my writing. Instead of my boss telling when a task needs completion, I set my own deadlines. When you self-publish, you don’t have an editor (or agent) setting deadlines for you. Posting this blog each Monday is a self-imposed task which (so far) I’ve been able to accomplish. I’m amazed at how much I can accomplish when I have a deadline. Now, if I could only parlay this into my everyday life.

How about you? Are you organized or a procrastinator?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reading Your Own Obit

Have you ever “Googled” yourself? I used to, periodically, to see if there were any reviews of Switched or if someone was selling bootleg copies of my book. But, I would get busy and forget to check so I set up an alert that sends emails any time my name or the name of my book comes up on the Internet. I know my name is fairly common, but I didn't expect to read that I died—five times in the past couple of weeks. That’s a little freaky.

I feel like Mark Twain protesting that “reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Apparently, five people named Diane Burton have recently passed away. Naturally, I checked the obits. Wrong middle names, wrong maiden names. Whew! They weren’t me.

Several years ago, I was at a conference in Chicago and the big to-do that weekend was how Romantic Times reported an author (who was attending) had died. No mistaken identity, either. She was such a good sport and had a good laugh over it. Three fellow authors who frequently performed musical parodies at conferences wrote one about her. It was an amusing finale to the conference.

I’m not making light of death. Having lost three close relatives within eighteen months of each other, I know how devastating it can be. Maybe joking about death makes it less fearful. Wasn’t there a comedian who said she read the obituaries each day and if her name wasn’t there she knew it was going to be a good day?

Anyway, I’m still here. And it’s a good day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cupid or Scrooge?

Some people think Valentine’s Day was invented by Hallmark and Hershey’s. Is that the equivalent of “bah, humbug” in February? It could be just a bright break in an otherwise gray month. Or, is Valentine’s Day a time to celebrate love? I think it’s a little of all three. God knows, we need a little brightness in February where the monthly amount of sunshine is measured in minutes. If you don’t live near the Great Lakes, consider yourself lucky that you actually see the sun, and see it often, this month. Without being too cynical, Valentine’s Day is a boon to the flower, candy and restaurant industries—not to mention greeting card and jewelry stores. That’s not to say I would turn down a bouquet, some Lindor truffles, or an invitation to dinner.

As a romance author (what? you thought I only write space adventures?) I’m fond of any celebration of love. Romantic love, filial love, platonic love. There’s not enough of it in the world. Experiencing love, of course, is the best. Coming in second is reading about love. In a time when the news shrieks of war, strife, murder and mayhem, isn’t it great to lose oneself for a few hours in a story with a happy-ever-after-ending?

Some say romance stories are unrealistic, that life isn’t happy ever after. I agree, to a point. In all good fiction, there has to be conflict. The story would be pretty boring otherwise. Real life has conflict, too. Relationships have their ups and downs, trials and sufferings. But relationships also have times of happiness, joy and contentment. And that’s what Valentine’s Day celebrates.

At this time of year, many blogs are devoted to stories of romantic love. One author, Michele Stegman, offers up stories each day in February of how lovers met. Interestingly, many of the stories include how long the couple has been together. At a time when one out of two marriages end in divorce, how refreshing it is to read about people who are still together after twenty-five, forty, or more years. Those people have found not just something special, they found someone special. Michele’s blog is at http://michelestegman.com/thoughts  If you haven’t already read it, my story was posted on February 9th. I told part of that story back in November when Nancy Gideon interviewed me for her blog. Both times, it was fun reminiscing about a pivotal moment in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the love of my life. So, Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie.


Monday, February 6, 2012

Winter

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. Maybe hate is too strong. How do I intensely dislike winter? Let me count the ways. Winter is:

            bone-chilling cold that cuts right through clothes, making joints ache
            ugly piles of snow filled with debris dug up by the plows
            clearing the driveway only to have the aforementioned snowplow bury the end
            white-knuckle driving in a blizzard where you follow the taillights of a truck and hope it doesn't go into a ditch because you will, too
            walking through slush that seeps into boots, leaving frozen toes
            gloomy, gray Michigan skies filled with thick, dark clouds
            dreaded utility bills that skyrocket in January and February

So, why do I love winter? I must be crazy. Winter is:

            waking up the day after a blizzard to a pristine landscape when the sun affirms all is well again
            the beauty of snow covering all the ugly brown, dead grass
            the sun glistening off ice-covered branches
            Mom attaching a garden hose to flood a low area in our backyard so my sister and I could ice skate; doing pirouettes and pretending to be Sonja Henie or Carol Heiss
            cross-country skiing with my husband and kids, striding through freshly-fallen snow where the only sound is the swish of the skies followed by "Mo-om, I'm cold. Can we go in yet?"
            seeing my husband and friend ice fishing in a tent where if you open the side flap it looks like a two-seater outhouse
            the power and majesty of Lake Michigan waves churning and dashing against the beach
            enjoying the warmth of Florida, at least for a week

Winters are different now from when I was younger. I gave my skates to my daughter years ago and sold the unused cross-country skies at a garage sale. Being retired, I don't have to drive in blizzards. Now, my favorite winter activity is hunkering down like my pioneer ancestors. Of course, they didn't have the conveniences of central heating and electricity. We have six more weeks of winter, more or less, depending on whether you pay attention to Punxsutawney Phil, Staten Island Chuck, or Howell Woody. It's been a very mild winter here in mid-Michigan. Will it continue? Or are we in for blizzards in April?

Wrapped up in soft fleece with a good book and a cup of chai latte is my idea of a fun way to wait out a blizzard. Or, better yet, writing. An afghan around my legs, the computer on my lap, my feet up in the recliner, and my head on a starship or a planet far-far-away. That's how I enjoy winter.

What do you love or hate about winter?