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Posts tagged ‘the writing life’

Zero to 50K in 30 Days: An Ode to National Novel Writing Month

NaNo-2015-Participant-BannerLadies and Gentlemen, start your novels!

Fifty thousand words. Thirty days. Sounds crazy, right? Especially when you write out the numbers like that. Yet every year, thousands and thousands of people rise to the challenge for National Novel Writing Month. A mad dash, mad cap (and yes, totally maddening) experience. Take it from me – someone who is 1,048 words into her second NaNoWriMo.

(That makes only 48,952 more to go, in case you’re counting.)

What makes (seemingly) normal people decide to take on such a challenge? There are a number of theories. Too much fluoride in the water. Not enough home cooked meals growing up. Microwaves. Monsanto. Exposure to Common Core math. One too many mimosas at brunch. Or, 10.

I can’t, of course, tell you why anyone else participates in NaNoWriMo. But I CAN tell you why I do. Because this 30/50K model was what finally gave me the courage to sit down and write a novel.

I have wanted to write fiction since I cracked the spine of my first Golden Book. A voracious reader from the second I could sound out Dick and Jane, I always felt I was born to write books of my own. Until, of course, I sat down to actually write one. Oh, I tried. And I had all the right ingredients, so to speak: plenty of great ideas, the ability to actually string sentences together, a highly overactive imagination… But I found I lacked two things: the discipline to keep my butt in the chair and belief in myself.

NaNoWriMo – well, the philosophy behind it – helped me accomplish the first part of that by both giving me a concrete word count goal and awakening my competitive spirit. The process was so much more amazing than I ever dreamed it would be. I actually found myself looking forward to writing each day because I couldn’t wait to see what happened with my characters next. It was like reading an amazing novel only FIFTY THOUSAND times better.

And by the time I typed THE END on that first novel, I had long since gotten over my doubts. I didn’t just believe I could do it, I knew I could. Because right there in my hot little hands was a manuscript with my name on it.

I mean, it was the novel equivalent of a steaming pile of horse dung, but that didn’t matter one bit. Because I did it. I wrote A NOVEL. And if I can write one, I can write more, and they’ll be even better.

As I tuck into this year’s NaNoWriMo, I’m actually starting my third novel. And yes, one of these days I’ll actually take one past the first draft stage. Because I hear that’s when the fun REALLY begins – in rewrites.

Not.

That will have to wait until next month, though. Because right now, I have a novel to write. And if I’m going to make that deadline of midnight on November 30, I better dive back in. I still have 619 more words to write to meet my Day 1 word count. And I refuse to let myself get behind this early in the game.

How DO you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days? You sit your butt in the chair… and write.

And now, without further ado…

Let the novel writing commence!

The Night Air

IMG_7047It was impossible for me to sleep on the plane. I tried, but despite my exhaustion, I was still too keyed up from the day’s drama. Which had started when we discovered our original flight was delayed and only intensified as we attempted to rebook our travel plans in a way that would allow my four travel companions and I to enjoy our much-needed Caribbean getaway.

We wouldn’t have made it without the intervention of the kindest woman on the planet – who happened to be a rep for a competing airline. With her help, we were booked on a flight that very evening. The only problem was we had to find our own way to JFK.

Nothing a pedal-to-the-metal dash from Syracuse to Queens – through Manhattan during rush hour – couldn’t solve. Well, along with a slew of frantic calls and messages to iron out all of the supporting details. Like how we were going to get to our final destination considering we were flying into a different airport and the best way to avoid the $30-a-day parking fee at JFK.

All that scrambling was worth it to know we weren’t going to have to scrap the entire adventure. Because NOTHING was going to stand between me and a rum-laded cocktail on the beach, damn it.

I don’t think I really started to breath again until we were on the ground in Santiago. We still weren’t yet at our destination – a small seaside town just east of Puerto Plata – but we were in the Dominican Republic at last.

The mindless trudge through the airport – clearing immigration and customs, retrieving our bags – is all a blur. As we waited for our rental car, I slipped out of my sweater and into a pair of sandals, and pushed through the double doors that separated us from tropical paradise.

Ostensibly I was looking for our taxi driver. (A necessity since there wasn’t a chance all five of us AND our luggage were going to fit in the modest rental we’d reserved.) But really, I just needed to take a moment to appreciate our journey thus far.

It was 2 a.m. local time, and the fronds on the parking lot palm trees hung limply in the still night air. I inhaled, filling my lungs with the thick, humid air. It tasted both foreign and familiar, bringing me back to the year I lived in South Florida.

My mind was on the drive ahead of us. The hour and a half it would take us to drive through the mountains to Costambar. And the two-weeks of much needed decompression before me. It was a welcome distraction from the career transition I was in.

I had no way of knowing how the trip would change my life in so many ways.IMG_7317

…How inexplicably drawn to this island I’d be.

…How it would become the setting for a whole new life, a chance to live out dreams I never dared admit I had.

…How our change of travel plans – which landed us in Santiago in the middle of the night rather than in the middle of the afternoon in Puerto Plata – would cause me to cross paths with my future husband.

I didn’t give him a secomd glance that night – the quiet, unassuming policeman who rode along with his former partner-turned-taxi driver. But the universe had big things planned.

Sometimes, I stand outside and fill my lungs with the night air. It’s laden with the same tropical overtones here in my new home, but also heavy with salt from the sea.

To me, it’s ripe with promise and tastes of untold stories, unforeseen adventures, true love…

and dreams come true.

Bird Droppings: Finding perspective when the unexpected threatens to steer you off course

Not a bad office view, if I do say so myself...

The view from my ‘office’ under the sea grape. Better than my last corporate gig, that’s for sure…

I’m having a bad week. Yes, I realize it’s only Tuesday and therefor a little early to make such a pronouncement. But it fits, believe me. I won’t regale you with the gory details. You don’t need to know, and quite frankly I don’t need to wallow in it, as tempting as wallowing can be. I’ve already given one of my besties an ear full. (Thanks for listening, Liz, and not judging me too harshly for it.)

It all started when a silly little bird took a poo on my laptop. Well, if I’m honest, it wasn’t the bird that was the problem. Nor the milky white substance that scored a direct hit on F10.

No. The problem was me. Because in the grand scheme of life, such an event is pretty laughable, right? It’s even enviable. Since the fact that this little bird even had the OPPORTUNITY to poop on my laptop is something I bet most workers in Corporate America can say is about their cubicle, or even their corner office.

A sea grape tree dripping with unripened fruit.

A sea grape tree dripping with unripened fruit.

But my workplace is a little different. One of my ‘offices’ is under the gnarled  boughs of a mature sea grape. I often sit there in the morning, scribbling in a notebook or tapping away at my laptop in the shade of that beautiful tree, lulled by the symphony of the waves and twittering of birds.

It’s a beautiful spot to do what I love most…write.

Queen of my under-the-sea-grape writing fan club.

Queen of my under-the-sea-grape writing fan club.

There are interruptions of course. The dogs vying for my attention. The occasional ripe sea grape falling on the table. A friend walking their dog on the narrow footpath that is really all that separates our borrowed back yard from the sea. The sirens call of another cup of dark, sweet Dominican coffee.

That whole bird thing, though. That was a first.

I’d rather NOT repeat it. But am I going to let it stop me from enjoying my favorite morning retreat. I feel it’s an acceptable level of risk. I mean, I’ve spent countless hours there and never encountered a bird with such precise aim.

I should be thankful that it wasn’t my head. Or something really important, like the RETURN key. That would have been difficult to live without. (Because, sorry F10, you’re dead to me now.)

Yes, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Because I’d rather dodge bird droppings all day than retreat to a ‘safer’ place like Corporate America.

It’s easy to let one little thing send us off the rails. But as my mother likes to

A favorite quote, snagged from Facebook.

A favorite quote, snagged from Facebook.

remind me: no one said it would be easy, just worth it.

That’s true of all the best things in life – the things worth working toward, worth holding on to. Like my life here in the Dominican Republic and my dreams and goals vis-a-vis my writing AND my new business.

I’m not about to let one obstacle, one challenge, derail my current path – because I know it’s the right one. And I won’t do myself the disservice of giving up on it.

Nor would I give the naysayers – yes, we all have those in our lives, even if they mean well – the satisfaction.

Sorry, little birdie, you just don’t have that kind of power over me.

Now, please excuse me, while I get back to work. We can’t control the world around us, but we can control our reaction to it and our own actions. I know the way forward. It’s forward, one step at a time.

Although, first, I’m just going to disinfect this keyboard one more time…

Nothing grants perspective quite like a gorgeous sunset at the end of a long day.

Nothing grants perspective quite like a gorgeous sunset at the end of a long day.

Dotting our I Do’s: Why Two Anniversaries Are Better Than One

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Andry and I tied the knot last Friday. Yes, I know, I know. I’ve said that before. The first time around was pledging our love and lives to one another in front of our family, friends and God. This time around was about getting the paperwork in order.

IMG_8693We chose May 9th as our wedding date because of its special significance. It is, as many of you know, my parents anniversary. It would have been their 56th, in fact. And I felt so blessed that my mother was willing to share it with us. I was blessed, too, that she and some of my dearest friends and family were willing to make the trip to my impromptu wedding despite the short notice, distance and expense.

So you can imagine my distress when I realized, only a few days before our wedding day, that there was a paperwork issue. Actually, there had been several, but we thought we’d worked them all out. But we hadn’t. We’d left one thing in the hands of the lawyer who had been helping us, and as it turned out, he didn’t fully understand what was necessary either. Only rather than telling us that… well, it’s a moot point now. Suffice it to say anyone that has dealt with the apostille process has probably felt our pain.

IMG_8692Mumsy talked me down from my mini-meltdown. She reminded me that a marriage wasn’t about paperwork, it was about our love and commitment to one another. She was right, of course. And we on May 9, we pledged ourselves to one another. It was a small ceremony on a beautiful stretch of beach. We were surrounded by the most important people in our lives, and the two random kids with beach towel capes that are in practically every wedding picture.

After the wedding, I set to work getting our paperwork problem sorted out. This was no small feat given the fact that I was in the Dominican Republic, and everything I needed to do was in New York. But thanks to some exceptional friends – most notably Nancy Brienza Duffy who ran around Manhattan for me and then hand delivered my documents to me here in the DR – we got it done.

Of course, there was still some legwork – translations and other documents

Andry's partner, Martinez, stepped up as our padrino.

Andry’s partner, Martinez, stepped up as our padrino.

that needed to be executed – on this end. Which we put in the hands of yet another lawyer. This one delivered, but on a slightly longer timeline than we had expected. It was starting to seem like our civil ceremony was NEVER going to happen.

And then last Friday, Andry called me. He was in Puerto Plata running some errands and had stopped to see the lawyer.

“How about 4 o’clock?” he asked me.

“Umm, today?” I stammered.

It crossed my mind to say no. To ask if they had any openings next week. I needed more time. We’d never be able to round up our padrinos (best man and maid of honor) in time. Could I get my nails done before 4? And there were my roots to think about!

But then I realized how silly I was being. After all, we’d already waited for months. And if there is anything life has taught me, it’s that you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. So I said the same thing I said the first time he asked me to marry him.

Yes.

 

Affectionately yours,

Señora de Gomez

It's official

It’s official

Andry Bismal Gomez Amarante

y Melissa Stagnaro

May 9, 2015 & August 21, 2015

Our padrinos, Martinez and his wife Rabelis, and our stand-in photographer, Jordy Brito.

Our padrinos, Martinez and his wife Rabelis, and our stand-in photographer, Jordy Brito.

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Home

Late summer/early fall is one of my favorite times of the year in Central New York.

Late summer/early fall is one of my favorite times of the year in Central New York.

We received the less-than-optimal news yesterday that Andry will need surgery on his knee. Apparently he had a fracture without realizing it, and now there’s a piece of his kneecap floating around wreaking havoc.

The patient.

The patient.

Or something like that, anyway. When it comes to all things medical, I’m even worse at it in Spanish than I am in English. Which is really saying something.

I hate seeing my love in pain, and with my own surgery still fresh in my mind, I’m nervous for him. Even though I have to believe he will be in good hands, and that once he’s all healed up he’ll no longer be in the debilitating pain he’s in right now. So, positive thoughts!

It’s not just the fact that Andry’s hurting that has me down. To put it frankly, the timing of it stinks. Because it means we’ll have to put off the long-awaited trip/delayed honeymoon we were planning for this fall. I know, in the scheme of things, the trip is inconsequential in comparison to surgery. It’s just that we were both really excited for what would have been Andry’s first trip to the US and an opportunity for him to meet more of the crazy cast of characters in my life – family and otherwise.

What I was looking forward to most, though, was the chance to show him where I grew up. To introduce him to the 152-acres that raised me as much as my parents did, and to the house where I grew up. Because I truly was bringing him home.

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

A picture perfect summer day in Chenango County.

We’ll get there eventually, I know. But I’m still disappointed. I’ve been getting a bit nostalgic for those familiar rolling hills of late, as another gorgeous Central New York summer passes by without me there to experience it first hand.

It reminded me of a poem I wrote while living in Western Colorado. It was an anniversary present for my parents. But in the writing of it, I realized where my heart truly was. And it wasn’t in that junction between the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains and the High Plains Desert. I moved back to Chenango County less than a year later.

I’m not in the same situation today. I absolutely love my life in the Dominican Republic. But that doesn’t mean a part of me doesn’t miss Home.

 


 

 

HOME

 

I miss

the scent of the fields in summer,

newly cut hay

and tiny wild strawberries

baking in the sun.

 

I miss

the wild iris

blooming

in the high grass of the pasture.

The forty-watt glow of lightning bugs

dancing at dusk.

 

I miss

fingers of rain

tapping me to sleep

on the panes of glass above my head,

the silence of night

broken

by an unexpected storm.

 

I miss

the spearmint taste

of water from the spring.

The roar of water

rushing in the creek.

 

I miss

spider webs

glistening

with heavy morning dew

on lilacs

long grown from bushes into trees.

 

I miss

the cool stillness of the woods

soft pine needles

cushioning my feet,

near the Indian well.

The snort of a buck

startled from the brush.

 

I miss

the scarred trunks of shagbark hickory

standing tall at the tree line,

flanked by walls of stone picked

from a hundred years of fresh-plowed fields.

 

I miss

sitting on the stone patio

with the long shadows of late afternoon,

cup of tea in hand.

I miss Home.

© 2007 Melissa Stagnaro

This is Home.

This is Home.

Counting My Blessings

I took this photo over a year ago off my favorite spot on the beach to hunt sea glass. A year later, and we're living in the house, behind which this was taken.

The Universe moves in mysterious ways: I took this photo over a year ago off my favorite spot on the beach to hunt sea glass. A year later, we’re living in the house, behind which this was taken and I walk this beach every day.

When I sat down to write this morning, I wasn’t feeling all sunshine and happiness. In fact, I was as close to my breaking point as I’ve been in what feels like a long time. (Even though, in reality, it was probably only a week.)

I’m not going to go into the gory details. We all have challenges in our lives and I don’t need to bore you with mine.

Suffice it to say that, as I started pushing my pen across the page, I felt…overwhelmed…by just about everything. But I can’t let it get to me. I’ve come too far in my journey for that.

Shenanigans at our friend Kerri's wedding. Katie - stunning in red - with our friend Maureen on the left and yours truly kicking up her heels...

Shenanigans at our friend Kerri’s wedding. Katie – stunning in red – with our friend Maureen on the left and yours truly kicking up her heels…

Even if I was feeling inclined to wallow, I can’t. Because my friend Katie arrives in a few short hours. That alone makes today a GREAT day. The next week is going to be filled with belly laughs, high adventure and, per her decree, plenty of ‘frolicking’. I’m excited to introduce her to my life, the love of my life and this beautiful country and culture that I’ve adopted as my own. I’ll be doing both her and I a disservice if I don’t throw off this funk. So I hereby promise not to let anything put a damper on the next seven days.

I know exactly what I need: to change my perspective. Instead of dwelling on those negative thoughts – itemizing what I don’t have and what I haven’t yet achieved or accomplished – I need to count my blessings. Celebrate what I DO have. Because those blessings are numerous and bountiful. Too numerous to even count, really.

Here I sit, under the gnarled branches of a massive sea grape tree, not twenty yards from the Atlantic Ocean, listening to the symphony of the waves crashing on the reef and on the shore like an old school round. As I watch, the harbor pilot guides a giant cargo ship through the narrow channel into the Puerto Plata harbor with practiced ease.

It’s going to be hot today, already close to 90 at 9 a.m. But from where I sit, there is such a beautiful breeze that it feels fresh and cool. There’s a dog at my feet that adores me so much that she’s curled up here even though she has a whole yard to play in. I can already taste the perfectly ripe flesh of the avocados that Freddy has promised to bring me this afternoon.

Home sweet (borrowed) home.

Home sweet (borrowed) home.

Freddy, in case you’re wondering, is basically my new best friend. Partially because he keeps me in mangoes and bananas and whatever other fruit happens to be in season, but also because he and his brother take care of this oceanfront property where the love of my life and I are lucky enough to be housesitting.  It is home for us in a way no other house has been for me, other than the 150-year old farmhouse where I grew up. I know it will only be temporary, as the owner has it up for sale, but we will enjoy it as long as we can. The fact that we’re here at all, makes me have to pinch myself. Because I dreamed about living here the first time I walked by – on my first trip here to the Dominican Republic last January.

Funny, isn’t it, how the Universe has a way of granting wishes we don’t even realize we’ve made.

I am blessed to be able to do what I love – CREATE! When I allow myself the luxury, anyway. Even here – far from the trappings of my former corporate existence – I find myself being stingy with my inner artist. I convince myself I have other obligations that must come first. But do they really? And I am forever finding excuses why I can’t sit down and write or create when that’s exactly what every fiber of my being is straining to do.

The why behind this is complex, but I’m working on it. Well, working on working it out and getting past its arbitrary barrier, anyway.

Fear is a big part of it. Fear of taking that first blind step off the cliff – even though the Universe has already made it abundantly clear it’s here to help me fly. I just have to take that first step.

There is also fear of failure. For some reason, it feels safer to let a dream be just that – a dream that we never really try for. Because in pursuing it, we take a risk. That risk is seeing a cherished dream crash and burn. So, rather than risk that failure, we never try. Of course, following this course of action (or, more precisely, inaction) we sabotage any chance of success.

If we can get past the fear, there’s still doubt to contend with. For me, that leads to second-guessing the Universe. Not quite able to believe my good fortune in being here and living this life, I question whether I deserve it. No matter how much positive reinforcement I receive!

But I’m working through all of that. Really, I am. I have started to listen closely for the messages the Universe sends, and then I do my best to follow its instructions. They always lead me in the right direction. The challenge is in both hearing through the other noise out there, and being willing to accept the good that comes my way. I work hard, too, to keep up my end of the bargain. For every step I take in the right direction, the Universe rewards me ten-fold.

So, yes. I could sit here and wallow in self-doubt, self-depreciation, self-pity and fear. But I won’t. Because I BELIEVE – in myself AND the Universe. I choose to embrace the positive. When I do, positive things happen. The Universe is generous like that.

Even now, when I’m experiencing a crisis of personal faith, I will keep positive. I’ll listen for the Universe to guide me, but at the same time keep putting one foot in front of the other. The Universe likes momentum.

I’ll fill one more page, line by line and word by word. I’ll reach out to one more contact. Never forgetting, always appreciating, the blessings I have already been shown. And always ready to receive whatever good the universe decides to send my way.

Because I BELIEVE…

…in myself.

…in this path that I’m on.

…in the power of the Unverse to help me dream big.

…in the ability of the Universe to make wishes – whispered in my dreams and carried away on the night breeze – come true.

Yes, I BELIEVE.

As I type these last words, rain drops have started to fall. For some, that may not be a good sign. But here, where it has been close to three months since we’ve had rain, every single drop is a blessing.

For me, it’s yet another sign that the Universe is listening.

Maybe I should have told Katie to pack an umbrella…

Mother Nature's Blessings: A gift from my friend Julie Gates.

Mother Nature’s Blessings: Photo credit to my friend Julie Gates.

This is (Almost) 40: Counting down to the big 4-0

This is me, scheming. I hope you're ready for me, 40!

This is me, scheming. I hope you’re ready for me, 40!

In roughly two weeks, I’m going to be 40. I know, I know… I don’t look a day over 39, right? Believe me, I find it just as hard to believe as you. I mean, didn’t I turn 30 like 30 minutes ago? How did an entire decade fly by since I was last crying in my cups about having a milestone birthday!

The good news, I suppose, is that I don’t FEEL old. Not that 40 is old. Maybe at one point in my life, I thought otherwise. But believe me, I’ve revised my opinion on that matter significantly in recent years. I now consider 80 to be middle age. So by that standard, I have plenty of good years left.

Many of my good friends have gone before me, over this invisible wall into our 40’s. They’ve done it with style, grace and, in some cases, copious amounts of alcohol. I’m hoping to more sneak over the line while no one is looking.

My 30’s were, in all honesty, a mixed bag. Some of it really sucked. Like losing my dad. But there were some great times, too. Like taking my mom to Ireland for the first time.

I’m going out with a bang, though. I mean, I do get points for moving to the Caribbean, finding and marrying my soul mate AND writing 2.5 novels (even if they are still in first drafts) – all in my 39th year, right?

The problem isn’t so much leaving my 30’s behind. It’s figuring out how to top them in my 40’s. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling restless. Like there’s a big question mark over my head. I keep asking myself, “What’s next?”

The view from my 'desk chair', aka the hammock. Definitely not complaining...

The view from my ‘desk chair’, aka the hammock. Definitely not complaining…

I don’t know the answer to that, nor am I even sure why I’m asking the question in the first place. Not to brag or anything, but I have a pretty awesome life. I mean, I just married the man of my dreams. I live in one of the most beautiful, culturally intoxicating places on Earth. I spend my days writing, which I love. My ‘office’ is a patio roughly 20 yards away from the Atlantic Ocean and my ‘desk chair’ is a hammock. So, really, I can’t complain. I’m not complaining.

I just… I think I’m ready for some new challenges. What that entails, I’m not quite sure yet. I do know that it’s going to involve starting a new blog about my adventures here in the Dominican Republic, and launching my own business. I’m still working out the details on both of those undertakings, as well as 38 other goals I’m going to set for myself. Because, yes, as corny as it sounds, there will be 40.

So stay tuned. Because there will be no 39-and-holding for this girl.

Here’s to turning the big 4-0!

But first, you’ll have to excuse me. I only have a couple of more weeks of my 30’s to enjoy. I plan to make every second count.

Not to brag, but this is the view from my 'office'. See, really! I'm not complaining.

Not to brag, but this is the view from my ‘office’. See, really! I’m not complaining.

Feliz Año Nuevo: Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

That beautiful tropical vista I was talking about, at sunrise.

When I drew back the curtains this morning, I couldn’t help but smile. Before me was a tropical vista that just doesn’t get old. Palm fronds swaying with the breeze against a backdrop of blue sky and even bluer ocean. Yes, 2015 is going to be a great year. I can feel it already.

Not that 2014 wasn’t pretty darn fabulous. It was, in so many unexpected ways, quite possibly the best one yet.

I’m not saying it was entirely without ups and downs. It had its trials and tribulations, I assure you. But these days I choose to live a positive life. And to do so, you can’t dwell on the negatives. They’ll consume you if you let them.

The defining moment for me happened a month or so ago. It was right after Thanksgiving and I was missing my family like crazy. I could feel the old doubts and fears creeping back. Past failures, would-haves, should-haves and a list of to-do list items I’ve so far left ‘un-checked’ started swirling in my head. I was dangerously close to feeling sorry for myself. But this vista before me – the same one that helped me greet 2015 and that is before now as I write – helped me pull myself back from the abyss.

That day, I started to take stock of the past year. And much to my own surprise, I found I had a lot more items to add in the ‘accomplishments’ column than I initially thought. 2014 has been a very busy year. Busier than I remembered, even.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

The love of my life, on one of our many adventures.

See, I learned a new language. (Spanish, of course. And while I’m far from fluent, I can communicate better every day.) I not only discovered paradise in the Dominican Republic, I moved there. I met the love of my life. I watched my nephew walk down the aisle with the love of his life. I helped celebrate my Aunt Kathleen’s 60th Jubilee. Finally, after carrying the book around for more than a decade, I worked my way through The Artist’s Way – healing and awakening my creativity every step of the way. I picked up a paintbrush again after a very, very long hiatus. I wrote a few poems. I went kayaking for the first time. I ‘hoed’ out the accumulated detritus of (most of) my past lives. I started freelancing again (and might even have some income to show for it in 2015). I dragged my mother first to the Dominican Republic and then to Ireland, the latter of which was fulfilling a lifelong dream for her. I started this blog (although I continue to be negligent in posting). I even lost 20 pounds.

Well, before I went home for the holidays, anyway.

And, after years of telling myself I couldn’t, I started writing fiction. And I have two (really horrific) first drafts to show for it.

The fact that they are utter shite is beside the point, really. I learned so much in the process. And I proved to myself that I could do it. That, along with the fact that it was more fun than I ever imagined, made my little experiment a roaring success. And I can’t wait to do it all over again. Novel #3 is burning a hole in my head as we speak, eager to spill out on the page.

So, yes, that’s on the to-do list for 2015. As is taking up a hatchet in one hand and a scalpel in the other to have a go at its predecessors, who are currently aging like a fine wine. I make absolutely no promises that either will ever see the light of day, mind you. But it will be good practice for my future experiments in fiction. Because now that I’ve started, I have no intention of stopping.

So, yes, 2014 was a very good year. I’ve had so many adventures. I’ve explored. Made new friends. Learned anew how to forgive, to heal, to fully appreciate life. There have been challenges along with the triumphs, but the laughter has far outweighed the tears for the first time in a very long time.

Every day I am filled with gratitude and more of a sense of prosperity than a fat paycheck ever provided. And every day, I count my blessings.

As I look ahead at 2015, I don’t just think it will be filled with unlimited possibilities. I know it will. Because I’m no longer afraid to live life to the fullest. No longer afraid to take a few risks. No longer afraid to imagine the life I want for myself – nor afraid to actually live it. I know that when I take that leap of faith, my wings are strong enough to carry me over the abyss of fear and self-doubt.

I’m very familiar with that abyss. After all, I lived in it for years. Believe me, I have no desire to ever, ever go back.

What’s changed? Me. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, when I looked ahead at 2014 with trepidation and fear, unsure what my next step would be. In the last 12 months, I healed, I learned, I loved…and for the first time in a very long time – maybe ever – I am truly living and loving life.

The best part? I’m just getting started.

I hope you’re ready, 2015. Because I know I am.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year!

Feliz Año Nuevo, amigos!

Snow Daze: A tale of freezing temperatures, heated mattress pads and karma. (Oh, and nuns.)

A beautiful walk in my winter wonderland. (In case you were wondering, at the time this picture was taken it was 82 degrees in Puerto Plata. Just saying'...)

A beautiful walk in my winter wonderland. (In case you were wondering, at the time this picture was taken it was 82 degrees in Puerto Plata. Just saying’…)

Not everyone has a nun in the family, but I do. My extended family affectionately calls her Aunt Sister due to the fact that she is (a) my aunt and (b) a sister – as in Franciscan Sister of Allegheny. But to me, she’s Aunt Kathleen.

A native New Yorker like the rest of the family, Aunt Kathleen has been stationed in St. Petersburg, Florida for the last thirty years or so. Where the tropical climate has thinned her blood to the point where any drop in temperature below eighty necessitates multiple layers of flannel and fleece.

Her semi-annual visits to the Stagnaro homestead always took place in the warmest months of the year. And who could blame her. Of course, here in Central New York it’s not uncommon for the temps to dip down to the 50’s (or lower) even in the middle of summer. As a result, when we were complaining about the heat wave, she’d be bundling up in all available layers. Then adding a blanket or two to for extra warmth.

Having grown up in Central New York, I found this hilarious. And I often poked fun at my dear Aunt for being ‘soft.’ After all, when you’re from the Frigid North, you don’t think it’s truly cold until it’s at least 20 below zero. (Fahrenheit.)

Now, of course, I regret that supercilious behavior. Especially since it’s come back to bite me in the buttinski.

A buttinski that is currently FREEZING, I might add.

Because as we all know, Karma is a bitch.

Of course, it’s my own fault. No one forced me to return to the Frigid North during one of the coldest months of the year – after spending most of 2014 in the Caribbean. I came up with that brilliant idea all on my own.

Who wouldn't brave freezing temperatures to spend Christmas with this lovely lady?

Who wouldn’t brave freezing temperatures to spend Christmas with this lovely lady?

When I told my friends in the Dominican Republic that I was heading north for three weeks to spend the Christmas holiday with Mumsy, they laughed. Then they laughed some more. When they finally came up for air, they suggested I reschedule my trip to late August.

They meant well, I knew. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it for thirty seconds or so. But I already had my heart set on spending Christmas with Mumsy, not to mention her birthday which is on the 21st. I wasn’t about to let a little personal discomfort get in the way of that. Besides, I was FROM the Frigid North after all. It would take more than barely freezing temperatures to get me down.

If I had listened closely, I might have heard Karma laughing.

I started questioning my decision shortly after landing at JFK. My connection to Syracuse was delayed. And then delayed again. To make it worse, there was a draft by the gate that had my teeth chattering and I felt woefully underdressed for December in my jeans and light sweater.

I was distracted from the siren’s call of the overpriced I LOVE NEW YORK sweatshirts in the gate-side gift shop by a group of middle-aged tourists who sat next to me.

They were wearing shorts.

That’s when I realized it wasn’t quite as cold as I thought. Not the low teen’s as I had imagined, but rather a mild 45 degrees. Which didn’t bode well for the rest of my trip.

The weather channel was going on and on about Winter Storm Damon, the Nor’easter bearing down on the East Coast and I was convinced I was going to get stranded either at JFK or at the Syracuse airport. But the Travel Gods were smiling on me, and I guess they trump Karma once in awhile. Because at 11 p.m., only an hour and a half after I was originally supposed to arrive, my friend Mo was picking me up at the curb in Syracuse.

Mo is pretty awesome. Not only did she brave the freezing rain to come get me, but she also had the foresight to bring a warm coat, crank up the heat in her car AND turn on the seat warmer in the advance of my arrival.

Due to the late hour, we headed back to her place in Mexico. (Which, for those of you unfamiliar with New York State, is on Lake Ontario. And therefore, slightly colder than its namesake waaaaay to the south.) Bless her heart, she even had the heated mattress pad pre-heating in her guest room.

The plan was that she’d take me home in the morning, but Karma – under the guise of Winter Storm Damon – hit over night.

By mid-morning, a sizeable stretch of I-81 was closed. Once I heard that, I knew I didn’t have a chance of getting home that day. So, despite the fact that there was only about six inches on the ground outside of Mo’s cozy little cottage on the Little Salmon River, we resigned ourselves to being snowed in.

This is how Central New York says "Welcome Home." Did I mention it was 82 in Puerto Plata that day?

This is how Central New York says “Welcome Home.” Did I mention it was 82 in Puerto Plata that day?

Which wasn’t exactly a hardship. At least not for me. I can’t vouch for Mo, who had to play hostess for an extra day. And what a hostess she was! When the subject of food came up, there was no scrabbling to throw together a meal from canned goods. Mo simply dug into her freezer and the next thing I knew we were dining on bacon-wrapped filet and Cajun shrimp, paired with excellent red wine. With cheesecake for dessert.

I woke the next day to find snow still falling, but I-81 had been reopened so it was time to go home. Thanks to my little sojourn at Mo’s – and the storm – I was ready. After all, the frigid temperatures and cold wind are a lot easier to take when the world looks like someone has given a snow globe a good shake.

And when I finally walked in the door Thursday afternoon – roughly 48 hours after leaving the Dominican Republic — the warmth of my mother’s greeting made it all worth it.

The early Christmas present she had waiting for me didn’t hurt either: a heated mattress pad of my very own.

As I type this, it’s about 50 degrees colder outside than I’ve become accustomed to. But that’s okay. Because the world outside my frost-covered window looks like a winter wonderland and my mother’s jazzy holiday music is floating up the stairs.

I’m taking it in from where I sit, on my bed, tapping away on my laptop – all bundled up in one of my favorite Champion sweatshirts (circa 1995) with slipper socks on my feet and a fleece throw tucked in around me. And the heated mattress pad cranked up to its highest setting.

Do you think that maybe, just maybe, I can talk Mumsy into a Caribbean Christmas next year?

I find a little Dominican hot chocolate with a splash of kahlua is almost as effective as that heated mattress pad for keeping the cold at bay...

I find a little Dominican hot chocolate with a splash of kahlua is almost as effective as that heated mattress pad for keeping the cold at bay…

 

Look Who Remembered How To Blog

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This deserted stretch of beach is located on the north coast of the Samaná Peninsula, just east of Las Terrainas. With places like this to explore, is it any wonder I’ve forgotten to blog for a few months?

Ok, ok. I know. It’s been awhile. Months as a matter of fact. Sure, I’ve teased you with photos and vague Facebook statuses. But I’ve deprived you of all the juicy details of the adventures I’ve been having in paradise.

Sorry about that.

In my defense, I’ve been busy. Busy having all of those adventures I’ve been teasing you with. Busy exploring my home-away-from-home (a.k.a. the Dominican Republic). Busy studying Spanish. Busy spending as much quality time as humanly possible with the love of my life, who I had the fortune to meet eight wonderful months ago. (Thank you, universe!)

In short, busy living every moment of every day to the absolute fullest.

One thing, though, has kept me the busiest of all. Writing. True, little to none has trickled down to this blog. But rest assured, I have been writing.

And I haven’t forgotten about you. Really I haven’t. You, my dear readers, have kept me motivated, inspired and scribbling away even when all I’ve wanted to do is…well, anything except actually write. And I plan to repay you for being the best friends and family a scatter-brained writer could ever have.

I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. How on Earth could she possibly repay me for being so awesome?! (Well, at least that’s what Liz and Julie are thinking, I’m sure…) Well, I plan to do it the best way I know how: by sharing my random observations and crazy adventures. Because I assure you the last few months have been anything but dull. And I know you’re dying to hear all about it.

You’ll get a taste of some of those projects I’ve been working on before long, too. I promise you that. But for right now…

Stay tuned, my friends. The Accidental Blonde is back. And, thanks to the tropical sun (and a slightly overzealous emergency highlight), she’s blonder than ever.