Monday, December 6, 2010

SCBWI Conference (Part 3) - The Big Finish

I used to have the idea that literary professionals were rather...unapproachable, shall we say.

I don't anymore.

Lest I forget, let me say right now that the workshops and events on Saturday of the conference were very helpful. I even had a one on one critique of the first 15 pages of my manuscript with Cheryl Klein of Arthur A. Levine. For those of you who don't recognize Cheryl's name, pull out your copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and look at the pages at the very end of the book where credits are listed. You'll see her name as the editor for the American versions of Deathly Hallows. (Number 7 isn't the only one she did, either.)

Yeah. I had part of my manuscript in the hands of JK Rowlings' American editor! Crazy. I seriously cannot believe how much insight I gained about my writing in only 15 minutes with her. And she was so kind. That session alone was worth more than the price of the whole conference.

As good as the classes were, though, they were not the highlight of the weekend. I totally expected to get a lot from the events of the conference, but I was not prepared for the experience I had with the people there. I went into it without much expectation in regards to how the people would be, so I can't say it's not like I thought it would be.

Let me give you just one example of the level of goodness there. As I mentioned earlier, they had a raffle planned. Well, the prizes, which were all donated and were very abundant, ranged from cute note cards, to bottles of wine, all the way up to tons of critiques and consultations - for query letters, unfinished manuscripts, finished manuscripts, you name it. These critiques and consultations were offered by published authors, agents and editors of varying renown. Awesome prizes, these! All the proceeds from the raffle were going to provide need-based scholarships to various SCBWI events and programs for SCBWI members.

The response to the raffle was so great that all the tickets were sold out by Saturday morning. Keep in mind this was a small conference with probably no more than 100 people, including the staff, in attendance. That afternoon when the time came to raffle off the prizes there were a handful of people who had purchased what looked like five to six foot lengths of tickets. After meeting some of them, my guess is that their reasons for buying so many were rooted in their willingness to support the scholarship fund as much as hoping to win some of the valuable prizes.

Anyway, just as they were getting ready to start the drawing of tickets, someone on the staff suggested that a limit of three prizes be placed on those who had gotten so many tickets. Now, those people who had so many tickets had paid a lot of money for them and so desereved to have all those chances to win, but every one of those multi-ticket holders thought this limiting of how much one person could win was a good idea. So agreeable and kind of them.

It gets even better, though. Since the tickets sold out so fast, there were people who wanted to buy tickets, but didn't get the chance and were sitting empty handed during the raffle. It so happened that one of the men who had tons of tickets was the first person who hit the three prize limit. When he pointed out that his most recent win was his third, instead of just removing himself from eligibility, he then offered the rest of his still numerous tickets to those who hadn't had a chance to get any. He just passed them around the room telling the non-ticket holders to take at least two each, then added as an afterthought that if someone won with one of the free tickets they had received they should make a donation to the scholarship fund. I swear I felt more like I was at some small town church bazaar than at a professional literary conference. More than anything else, the caliber of people I met at that conference made me want to join SCBWI as soon as I could. (I am now a member.)

Literary professionals unapproachable? Aloof? Too busy to be bothered with an untrained, wannabe first time authors like myself? I don't think so!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Writer's Conference Part 2 - Wherein Tracy learns something about Kristin she maybe didn't want to know

In that whole last post we only got as far as the check in for the reception, but fear not. I promise I'm not going to give a second by second recounting of the whole conference (hereafter called SCBWI. I know. It's a mouthful. It stands for Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators. So you see, they really couldn't shorten it and maintain it specificity.)

Aaanyway, moving on.

When I entered the very chatty, energized room the first order of business was to find Kristin. That was easy since she was sitting by the cookie table just like she said, and she was dressed distinctively. See, Kristin loves her steampunk (think sort of old England) and pirates and dresses accordingly. If you want to see what I'm talking about you can go check out some of her pics on her blog So. Hugs, intros and chit chat with Kristin.

Before we were quite finished with that the organizers were getting everybody's attention to introduce the staff. When this began, and before all the staff had gathered up front, I ended up standing next to Tracey Adams, an agent and owner of Adams Literary Agency. She was definitely on my list of people to meet. However, before I, a lowly, unpublished, wannbe author, could approach her, an esteemed literary professional, (I hope you realize I'm kidding here. While there are certainly positions that deserve respect, people are people no matter what their station in life and therefore deserve to treated with respect, too. In otherwords, while I respect her position as an agent, I don't think she's better than me because of that.) she made contact with me.

Again, can I say friendly? (See the last post.)

While we were all clapping for something one of the organizers had just said Tracey smiled over at me and glanced down at my name tag. Her face brightened, she smiled even bigger and pointed back and forth between my name tag and hers. So nice, these people. She then took her place up front to be introduced with the rest of the staff.

With that taken care of Kristin and I proceeded around the room, looking at the books they had for sale, checking our the table of items to be raffled, working ourselves up for introducing ourselves to these nice strangers, and scoping out the refreshments. That's when we ran into a little...situation, shall we say?

You know the saying "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?" Well, we weren't in Vegas, Kristin, so I'm telling on you. (Actuallly, I have her permission, so don't worry.)

You need to know that Kristin and I are both wives and mothers who, for religious reasons, don't smoke or drink. Because of that I guess both of us are a bit happily naive about liquor. As we were scoping out the refreshments we saw these adorable tiny chocolate cups filled with chocolate liquid.

Who is the genius who thought up this wonderful idea? Chocolate cups? The imagination runs wild with what delights one could fill a chocolate cup - and then eat the cup when you're done with its contents! Brilliance, I tell you.

You can see what's coming here, can't you? Yep. Kristin took one of those adorable little treats. Who could resist? It turns out that what we thought was melted chocolate in those little cups was actually chocolate liqueur or something. Whatever it was, it contained alcohol. To make it worse, if I remember correctly, she even spilled a little on herself. Of course I had to threaten to tell her family and her bishop or I'm sure she would have just kept going back for more. ; )

I had certainly expected lots of different experiences that weekend, but hanging out with a drunk? Not what I saw coming.

Love you, Kristin.

I'm sure she's repented by now. : )

(I suppose I should mention that even though the cup held only a fraction of an ounce, she didn't drink but about a drop of it.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

In a word - Friendly (Writer's conference - day one)

Well! So much good stuff happened at the conference I will need more than one post to deal with it.

Now, even if you aren't a writer and you are reading this, fear not. This more of a "lovin' life" post. Besides, I believe that when we are working toward our dreams that the feelings involved are so similar that it is almost irrelevant what the dream is. In other words, I think you can relate anyway.

It has been quite some time since I have done anything that has taken me as far out of my comfort zone as going to this conference did. If you know me, you know I'm not much of one to get worked up over things. In fact, I actually like to step out of my safe little zone - keep having new experiences and learning new things, you know? But this conference? I felt like almost like a teenager about to go out on a date for the first time ever. Excited, nervous, curious, hopeful. But then, what if it was a major let down? At least I'm old enough not to have been worried about what they would think of me. That was a bonus.

So - off I went all alone to Virginia City with only the comfort of knowing I would meet there (for the first time) another member of ANWA, the writing group to which I belong.

After checking in at the motel and getting some dinner - a whole story in and of itself - I made my way to the St. Mary's Art Center where an evening reception was being held. From the parking lot I texted Kristin, the other ANWA member, to see if she had arrived. She had. She was upstairs by the cookies. (By the cookies - I knew I would like her.) Now at least I had someone specific to look for.

I took a deep breath, feeling like I was stepping into a whole new chapter of my life, and mounted the stairs to the old brick building. Mind you, all this time I was also questioning myself as to why I was making such a big deal out of this. The grown up voice in my head told me, I am an adult. I have been to other kinds of conferences before. How different can this be from those? I need to act my age (translation: in control, and frankly, boring). Well, pooh on acting my age! I was excited and felt no need to rein myself in. So there.

I did keep enough control of myself to at least appear professional, though.

When I opened the big wooden door I found a very friendly (warning: You will read this word often in the next few minutes, because seriously, these people were FRIENDLY!) woman who directed me upstairs and told me to, "Just follow the voices."

A momentary side trip to describe the art center so you can get the whole picture. It's an historic, supposedly haunted, red brick building fronted with beautiful white columns. The interior is wonderfully maintained, has great, sturdy staircases, wooden floors, and is filled with that distinctive 100 year old building smell. Very cool.

Anyway, when I reached the top of the stairs - BTW, 'follow the voices' was very good advice. The place was abuzz in conversation. - and gave the woman at the check in table my name, another woman, Suzanne Morgan Williams, a published author of 12 children's books and one of the main organizers of the conference, gave me a big smile and said, "Oh Tracy, I've been waiting to meet you."

No kidding.

That was my introduction to SCBWI. Talk about feeling welcome!

My face must have shown my surprise because she went on to explain, "I've been seeing your name for weeks now."

Oh. The benefits of having an 'A' last name. That didn't diminish the warmth of her welcome, though. I later learned that most of the people at the conference knew each other, too, so the fact that my name was new to her helped as well. Can I say again - friendly? I told her that this was my first conference and she practically lit up and went off about what a great group of people the Nevada chapter of SCBWI is, so friendly and willing to talk to everyone.

Yeah, I already picked up on that.

She enthusiastically encouraged me to jump right in and not be afraid to approach anyone. How could I possibly have been afraid anymore after a welcome like that?

I must say, that this 'first date' was off to a splendid start!

More of the reception and Saturday classes another time.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tomorrow's the Day

Tomorrow's the day! Tomorrow's THE DAY!! TOMORROW'S THE DAY!!!

My first writers conference.

I have that can't-think-of-anything-else, feel-like-a-little-kid-the-day-before-my-birthday feeling. I am trying to be grown up and keep my expectations and excitement in check, so if you look at me you might not be able to tell how totally jazzed I am. But that's all just pretend. Inside I am a four year old hyped up on kool-aid and Ho Ho's right now - except I'll be staying in a hotel room unaccompanied by an adult; they don't usually let four year olds do that. ; )

To quote a famed lyricist - Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow!


Monday, August 30, 2010

So Call Me Crazy

As I am sure we have all noticed there are an abundance of competition reality shows out there. Have you ever watched your favorite - American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Top Chef, whatever - and thought about how hard it would be to have someone critique your effort like that? I mean, sometimes those judges can be harsh, right?

So call me crazy.

I actually love having my writing critiqued. I love looking at my work through other people's eyes. I especially appreciate it when I know someone is being 100% honest with me, whether they love or hate what I've done. Maybe it's because I started out singing and acting at a fairly young age and got used to 'getting notes' early on.

I remember sitting on the edge of the stage at the end of rehearsal and having the stage manger or assistant director hand me that little piece of paper with the list of what I needed to do better. It was definitely harder to hear the criticism when I was a teenager, but I got used to it. It didn't take long to understand that it wasn't personal, really. All the director was trying to do was have the best show possible. She/he was doing the whole cast and crew a favor by helping me to see what I obviously couldn't see from my perpsective. After all, I wanted the show to be good, too.

Anyway, the volume of critiques I've gotten through high school, college and into adult life has left me with a very thick skin and a very eager heart when it comes to hearing what others think of my work. I am happy to be grown up enough to know how to filter those opinions so I can use what I feel rings true and toss the rest.

Keeping that in mind you can understand how THRILLED I am to have recently registered to attend my first writer's conference. Aside from all the other cool stuff happening there I signed up for a one on one critique by one of the panel members of the first 15 pages of my manuscript and to have my *query letter discussed by the whole panel in front of all the conference attendees. I am stoked! This panel consists in part of a very successful young adult author, an agent who is near the top of my 'want to query' list, and the editor from Random House/Delacorte who handled the last two Harry Potter books for American distribution. Woo hoo! Even if they rip it to shreds it will be great, because then I'll know what I need to do to get better. If I was more computer literate I would even add a widget on my blog to count down the days until the conference.

So, go ahead. Call me crazy. Are you crazy, too? Or is it just me?

*A query letter is a dreaded monster of ancient date. Through the ages it has been known to cause normally sane, even reserved writers to end up on the brink of madness. How, you ask? By forcing them to distill their precious 50,000 - 80,000 (or even higher) word work of art into a one page summary which needs to include word count, genre, author credits/qualifications/contact information, a lovely paragraph of personalization to the agent/editor receiving it, and a synopsis of the book - all in about 300 words. Oh yes, and let's not forget that it's best if it reflects the mood and writing style of the actual novel. And of course, it must be absolutely perfect when it comes to grammar and typing. I dare you to ask any writer how many times they have rewritten their query. Personally, it has been so many times I don't even know the answer to that question.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Aren't people great?

You know those moments in life that may not seem like much at the time, but end up sticking with us? They stand out in our memories as if they have a perpetual spotlight shining on them, setting them apart from so many other experiences that just fade away as time passes.

I had an experience in junior high that caused me to make a conscious decision to be an independant person. I remember the exact conversation, every person involved and even some of the precise words that were spoken. I didn't realize at the time the impact that decision would have on the rest of my life.

Now, let me state that I think independence is a great quality. It's important to know we are capable people who can accomplish things on our own. However, as we all know, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

At the times in my life when the being dependent/being independent balance was out of whack I have always erred on the side of being too independent. I can look back now and see times when I ought to have asked for help, but didn't - times when I should have let people into my life, but did it on my own - times when I could have offered some one help, but didn't notice at the time since it didn't occur to me that they might not prefer to handle it by themselves.

And when it comes to asking for help? Oh, heaven forbid I might be a burden to anyone. But I'm working on this, have been for years.

Anyway, I stepped outside my comfort zone yesterday. You should be proud of me.

I am close to finishing what I hope is my final edit on my manuscript before I send it out and try to snag an agent. Having never done this before I really want someone who knows what they are doing to look at it and let me know if they think it's ready for submission. Problem is I have no connections in the publishing world, so who can I ask?

Well, earlier this summer I won a 50 page critique from Jennifer Griffith, a published author. We exchanged a small handful of emails and she gave me some great feedback. That's a connection, right? Not much of one, but a connection.

So I sucked up all my fear of being a nuisance and asking too much of someone I barely know and emailed her to see if she might have time to help me out. Guess what? Not only was she willing to help me, a complete stranger, but she actually said she was hoping I might ask her to do this since she liked what she read earlier and wanted to know how the story ends!

When am I going to stop being surprised by how happy people are to help each other? This is just the most recent experience in a long line of experiences that keep proving this to me. Many of these lessons recently have come from ANWA, the writer's group I belong to, because I've had so many writing needs lately, but they are not the only ones who continue to teach me that people are as willing to help me as I am to help them.

Surprising, I know.

Aren't people great?

Thanks everyone.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Am I a "Writer" now?

Since I first began my attempt at writing a novel two years ago I have wondered if and when the time would come that I would feel comfortable labeling myself as a writer. Or should I say, a "Writer?"

I began this whole book project kind of on a lark. I was on a pretty intense reading binge and started to muse over the process one would go through in creating a novel. Having spent much of my life in various creative endeavors (singing, acting, playing musical instruments, writing music, etc.), I became curious about how similar or different writing a novel might be from other things I had already done. From there my next thought was, "How does one even come up the idea for a story? If I were going to write, what would I write about?" Once I asked that question it was as if a flood gate opened. A story line with characters so real and fully developed that I felt like I knew them came to my mind. I then owed it to them to try to tell their story. I guess you could say I had three more children that day since these characters started occupying my thoughts nearly as much as my four living, breathing, flesh and blood children do.

For me there was never really a question as to which genre I wanted to write. I love teenagers and have worked with them for most of my adult life so writing a Young Adult novel was the natural choice.

I set out on a new adventure.

It was challenging and thrilling, this act of bringing life to these people and their experiences. I gave up many hours of sleep, writing into the early hours of the morning. I became terribly aware of how much of the mechanics of writing - exact grammar and punctuation - I had forgotten over the years. I knew what I wanted to say, but fumbled with some of the tools I needed to use.

Relearning and learning became the task at hand. I read the blogs of literary agents. I studied writing books, websites and blogs. I participated in critiques groups. I even joined a writer's organization. Still I wasn't a Writer.

My first draft was done. It was then I decided that I would eventually try to find an agent and a publisher for this lark turned obsession. Rewriting and editing provided new and invigorating challenges. My work came closer and closer to being ready to send out into the world. A small handful of opportunities for seeking reprensentation presented themselves before I was really ready, but I took them anyway, just to get my feet wet in the querying pond.

Still I wasn't a Writer. Would I be one when I got an agent? When I had a publisher? When I won an award or hit a bestseller list?

Anyone who knows anything about writing knows that every writer has received lots of rejections. Stories are rampant in author's circles about how this bestseller was rejected by so many publisher's before one finally took it on, about how that well known author wrote so many books and looked for an agent for so many years before at last signing with someone. The moral of these stories being to keep trying, get used to being rejected. It happens to everyone.

I got my first rejection by email. That was okay. It didn't really count because I knew my manuscript wasn't ready to send out. The only reason I queried them to begin with is because they were having what they called a 'query holiday,' meaning no dreaded query letter needed to be written in order to submit to them. A writer only needed to email them the first five pages of their manuscript. They would simply look at the writing sample to decide if they were interested. The thought of not having to write a query letter was too good to pass up. I sent them my pages. They sent me a form rejection. I was not surprised.

My second rejection also came by email. This submission also happened more because of timing than because of being ready. An agent who had just returned to work after being on maternity leave for several months commented on her blog that her inbox was uncharacteristically empty, so if anyone had something to submit now was a good time. This time I thought my work might be good enough to get some interest, but I wasn't sure it was really 'there' yet. This time I heard back quickly. She expressed some interest, but said my manuscript was too similar to books she already represented, therefore she was passing. That was an encouraging rejection.

I polished and shined my work some more. I had more people read it and give critiques. During the polishing I came across the website of a publisher that accepted unsolicited submissions - no need for an agent. Although I do want to have an agent, I thought I would give this method a whirl. They only accepted paper submissions, so I printed up my pages, wrote a cover letter, packaged these up with a large self addressed stamp envelope since I wanted them to return my manuscript if they weren't interested (standard procedure), and a business sized SASE so they could send me a letter of request if they were interested. I signed, sealed, and sent off the dear package. I looked at the calendar to count out six to eight weeks (the time frame stated on their website for how long it usually takes them to respond) then added another couple of weeks to that since it was the holiday season and began patiently waiting.

I was surprisingly calm during the waiting. My heart didn't race every time I checked the mail. Some days I didn't even check the mail. The mailbox was still my friend. Mostly. It still had too many bills in it.

The allotted weeks went by. The extra weeks I added went by. Several more weeks passed. That was okay. No news is good news, right?

Finally, about four months after I mailed my sample to them, there it was in my mailbox. My large envelope. I was disappointed when I pulled it out and saw my name and address written in my own handwriting. Oh well. I walked back to my house wondering what kind of rejection letter would be included, a form rejection or a personalized rejection which would mean they had been at least interested enough to give me some personal feedback. Of course I opened this piece of mail first when I got home. There was no letter, just my manuscript. I felt slighted. No letter? Was it that bad? Didn't I even rate a preformulated paragraph saying "thanks, but no thanks?"

Well! Rude.

Then a week or two later it came. A letter. In their envelope. With their company name preprinted in the corner of that envelope. A letter written on their company letterhead. A form rejection. Unknowingly, they had sent me a badge of honor. My very own, printed in black and white kind that I could hold in my hands. Now I possesed something every great writer has - a real rejection letter.

One down.

Am I a Writer now?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Random Cuteness

I have not abandoned my blog. Really.

To me a very important part of living any dream is learning to enjoy the journey toward a goal. Closely related to that is learning to enjoy the journey of daily life. You know, take time be still, stop and smell the roses, and all that?

Well, part of my daily journey to work takes me through some beautiful farmland - crops growing, cattle grazing, the bounty of the earth...ahhhh. I love it. One thing I especially love is seeing the cows. Cows have a very high cute factor. I can scarcely see one without feeling a bit mushy and having to suppress a silly impulse to talk with a higher pitched voice than usual. Kind of like when you see a baby animal. Baby cows? Don't even get me started.

Anyway, it is almost a guarantee that every day as I drive to work I will see at least one cow adding exponentially to it's cuteness by slowly rubbing it's head back and forth across the barbed wire of the fence. I can sense the deep satisfaction of the feeling of a really good scratch exuding from that animal and it's all I can do to keep myself from stopping my car right then and there, traipsing in my skirt and dress shoes through the ditch that separates the pasture from the highway, and giving that cow a hearty scratch and a big hug.

It's a lovely little moment I get to relish virtually every day. Thank you, cows.

I'd love to hear about some of your favorite little moments of the day. Let's share some warm fuzzies.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Do a Good Turn - The Last Week

My, my. Can you tell by my week long silence that it's tax season and I work for an accountant? Time available to blog has been pretty much nonexistent. Now, rather than do a day by day accounting of good turns, which would make for a lengthy post, I'll do a week in review type of post.

EVENTS - Spread the love with sugar, Do talk to strangers, Shopping cart Nazi returns, Remember to love your family, too

Oh, the power of junk food. Alas. Without planning to, I ended up with three days of sugar related good turns. I bought donuts for my class. I bought candy for another class that joined us on Friday morning for a little friendly competition and, because they were 4/$1, I bought boxes of Valentine Conversation hearts to share with people in my office. That's a lot of sugar, but it was fun and all the recipients enjoyed it.

One of my favorite things this week was a conversation I had with a young girl in the post office. She was probably nine or ten and was in line all by herself with three envelopes and a handful of change. In all fairness, she started the conversation, but once did, I really went for it. I wanted to talk to her, but didn't want to say anything first since that may have caused her a moral dilemma if it had bee drilled into her not to talk to strangers. I was quite happy when she turned around in line and asked, "Where do you live?"

That might seem like an ordinary question, but this was a work related trip to the post office and the town where I work is small and only has one post office. It's a safe bet when you're standing in line there that the answer to where someone lives is going to be "Colusa, " but she asked anyway. You gotta love that. Her follow up question was even better. "Do you collect anything?"
"No, not really. Do you?"
"I collect Beanie Babies."
"Cool. How many do you have?" Now, remember, she's a "collector."
"Oh. How long have you been collecting them?"
"Since I was born. My Grandma gave me my first one as a birth present."

By this time I am totally in love with this girl. Who acquires two of something over a lifetime and yet calls themselves a collector? To her "collector" spoke of the importance place these two Beanie Babies hold in her heart. It reminded me of a question posed on one of the blogs I follow. "When did you know you were a writer?" Several of the comments left in response were some variation of, "I'm still not sure I would call myself a writer. I think when I'm published I'll be able to say that." So many of us are hesitant to claim a title, no matter how important something is in our lives, until we receive validation from somewhere outside of us. Why do we do that? Why can't we be a collector if we only collect two in a lifetime, or a writer, even if we're never published?

Thank you for that lesson, little girl in the post office. BTW, the rest of the conversation was equally delightful.

Okay, the shopping cart thing. I am not a collector of pet peeves, but I am realizing I do have one - abandoned shopping carts. A couple of times this week I have corralled carts that someone else has ditched in inappropriate places, like I have mentioned doing earlier in the month. This doesn't bother me too much if a store's parking lot designers are stingy with the number of parking places they are willing to devote to cart corrals. No one wants to walk a half a mile to return their cart. However, the store where I do the majority of my shopping is most generous in their allocation of corrals. Seriously, if you park in the main area of the lot you don't have to go further than two parking places away to find a cart return slot. Two places! How hard is that? I'll allow there may be occasional situations that justify ditching a cart in this particular parking lot, but I mean very occasional.

I know, I know, I just need to let go. This is certainly nothing worth getting my knickers in a twist over, but is it too much to ask for people to take a little personal responsibility and have some consideration for others who may actually want to park in the place they so rudely render useless by the abandoning of their carts?

But, I cannot in good conscience count returning other's carts as a good deed if I'm being a cart Nazi, now can I? I must have kind thoughts of those who will come after and benefit from my action, not acid thoughts of those who have come before and done this selfish thing.

Okay, I'm done now.

Last, but not least in this week's wrap up is remembering to love our families, too. Sometimes, well okay, way too often it's easy to see someone so much that we almost stop seeing them. Obviously we love them or we wouldn't plan their meals, do their shopping, wash their clothes, clean their house, plan our lives around their schedules, etc., etc., right? But, do we remember to actually tell them we love them and sometimes do the extra things that show we love them? This week has provided opportunities to do some of those extra little things, culminating tonight with hosting a family dinner for sixteen people in honor of my son who reports tomorrow to begin his service in the Air Force. (Go, Thomas.) Honoring this Eagle Scout son is a very fitting end to this month of doing a good turn daily.

COST - Donuts, candy and mostly dinner costs - about $80
EFFORT - Some activities, not much. Other activities quite a bit.
TIME - Total for the whole week -about ten hours
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, but I'd spread it out over a longer time period if I could.

Stay tuned for one or two final month in review posts next week.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Day 24

EVENT - Compliment day

Yesssss! Things went much better, thank you. I was able to deliver Day 23's flowers and share a meaningful, wordless hug with a young mother showing great grace in trying times.

Here's your tip for the day - Actually saying the nice things you often only think about people makes them quite happy. Just so you know.

It was fun causing smiles. I also got a nice payoff. I told another young mom (not the same one mentioned above) how much I appreciate her gift for being so authentically herself when it can be so easy, especially at her age, to try to squeeze yourself into some mold of what you think you should be or do. She truly is a breath of fresh air. When I told her this, I got to hear a brief version of how she came to possess this great quality. It was an inspiring story that I likely never would have heard had I not taken the time to give her that compliment.

Oh, here's another bonus tip for you - Positive energy breeds positive energy. No kidding.

COST - Absolutely free
EFFORT - None really
TIME - I'm not sure. I didn't time how long I talked to people.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Days 21-23

I am beginning to get a complex. Does a good deed still count if you are thwarted in your efforts? This seems to have been the theme of these last days.

Exhibit 1 - During a very nasty, windy rainstorm my plan was to stop on my way home from work to put gas in the car so my husband wouldn't worry about running out when he took it later that night. I am much more familiar with the gas gauge on the car and how far you can drive when it looks like it's empty. He usually drives a truck which when the gauge shows empty, you're in trouble. So, even though I knew he would have enough , I didn't want him to stress about it. BUT - the gas station had all it's pumps roped off, all 12 of them!

No gas getting for me. I did, however, reassure him he would not run out of gas that night.

Exhibit 2 - I have a dear friend who lives far away who is ill. Although I had just talked to her, my plan was to call her the very next day and see how she was feeling. BUT - she called me literally moments before I was going to pick up the phone to call her.

I still got to check on her, but didn't get to be the one who made the gesture first.

Exhibit 3 - A young mom who lives nearby had a baby in November. Their were complications and the baby only lived four days. I offered my condolences and help at the time, but held off getting flowers. I intentionally waited until today to do that. I know things can get even harder in a situation like hers once all the family has left and the friends and neighbors aren't bringing in dinners anymore. Two or three months out it can seem like everyone has gone on with their lives while you're still stuck wondering if you can ever move again. I wanted her to know that someone, who's not a family member, is still thinking of and praying for her and her family, so today I wrote her a note and got the flowers. BUT - when I went to deliver them no one was home.

Of course, I'll deliver them tomorrow, but seriously. Three strikes, just like that. Come on.

COST - $10.81 for the flowers. Nothing for the other two.
EFFORT - Not as much as it would have been had I been successful. : P
TIME - Ditto the EFFORT comment.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Maybe a better question today is WOULD I DO IT STILL, since the flowers are sitting on my counter, not hers. The answer to that is obviously yes.

Wish me better luck tomorrow. I've been planning to have a 'compliment everyone' day. Perhaps I should do that. Nothing could go wrong with that, right? Right?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Day 20 (Really, this time.)

Sorry about the incomplete last post. We were having a storm that cut our internet service and rather than type the whole post over, I opted to post what had been saved before the connection was lost.

Wrap up of Day 19 -

COST - Nada

EFFORT - Not much. I'm used to cleaning up after six or more poeple, so cleaning up after three is no big.

TIME - 20 minutes tops

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, but I make no guarantees about not pointing out my astounding kindness. ; )

DAY 20

EVENT - Follow through

So, I'm kind of cheating today.

I have a confession to make. Remember the gift card I bought for that widower in Las Vegas with a brand new baby? Well, I found it in my coat pocket a couple of days ago. (The gift card, not the baby.) The day I bought the card I went to put it in an envelope and send it off. Turned out it was an odd size because of it's packaging and wouldn't fit in the envelope I had, so I put it in my pocket until I could get a different envelope. I fully intended to deal with it later that day, but you know how that turned out. At any rate, my good turn for today was to actually get that card into the mail.

I am sure most of us have intended to render some kindness and then at some point let something or other get us off track. Then by the time we think of it again, we feel awkward because we didn't do it sooner, but instead of acting right then, we stew on it a little longer. By that time it's just too embarassing to admit that we have been thinking about it for so long without doing anything about it. Blah, blah, blah...we decide to just forget it and resolve to do better next time.

I learned a great lesson about this when I got a thank you card for a porch swing I had given a friend two years after I had given it to her. I loved that note even more than if she had sent it right away, because by then she had made lots of good memories on that swing. I knew she really did appreciate the gift. No just following the rules of good etiquette there.

So, better late than never, right? This is why I decided that simply following through rated it's own status as a good turn.

COST - $.44 for the stamp, but I think I counted that on the day I bought the gift card.

EFFORT - Next to none

TIME - None extra. I dropped it off when I was picking up my mail.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Follow through as needed? I sure hope so.

Funny side note - I teach a group of eleventh graders a class that meets before school daily. Today I told them about what I'm doing this month and asked them to be thinking of ideas for me. One young lady immediately raised her hand. She happens to be quite a thoughtful girl, so I was anticipating some awesdome idea from her. When I called on her, she sweetly said, "You should buy your class doughnuts."

Be watching for that one later this month.

Do a Good Turn - Days 19 & 20

Day 19

EVENT - Family service

Yesterday ended up being a kind of cloistered day so my family was again the recipient of my good turn. We have dinner responsibilities broken up into three parts since there are three of us at home. Last night I happily did more than my share of the job (and didn't point that out-does that count for extra?).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Days 15-18

In the interest of time I will blend these four days together.

EVENT - Better noticing

I have been working on keeping my eyes open to what's going on around me. There are so many things that can distract from living in the moment: phone calls, iPods, thinking about something in the future or the past, etc.. It's easy not to be present in the present. These good turns are a result of being consciously present.

Over the last few days I have given up my place in line for someone, returned an older woman's cart to the cart return for her, gone out of my way to hold the door for someone who has difficulty walking, helped my daughter with her laundry (She's 15 and does her own.), been extra nice to clients at work, and offered to pay for a guy's milk at the grocery store.

The guy at the grocery store was there early on Saturday morning. He was in the refrigerated section of the store holding a gallon of milk and his feety-pajama clad, toddler daughter on his hip, while patting down his various pockets with his free hand. He stopped after taking only a couple of steps, rechecked all his pockets, then headed back to the refrigerator door. He put the milk back and turned to leave. As he came closer to me I asked him if he had forgotten his wallet to which he replied that he had. I offered to pay for his milk. It was obvious that was the only thing he had come to buy. After my initial offer, the conversation went something like this.

Him - "No, that's okay."
Me - "No, really. It's less than three bucks and I even have the right change."
Him - "No. No. I just left my wallet out in the car."
Me - "I know you don't *need* it, but won't you let me do this for you? I sympathize with what a pain it is to have to go to the store on a Saturday morning for just one thing and carry your child all the way to the back of the store, only to find that you've left your money in the car. Let me save you the trip back to your car."
Him - "No. Thank you, though. I couldn't...really."

At this point I felt like I would have been pushing too hard and crossed the line from nice to obnoxious if I continued to insist, so I let it go. Here's the thing, though. Even with him refusing my offer, he still knew that someone noticed him and that his little plight stirred compassion in a stranger. That's a nice thing to know, don't you think?

COST - Nothing. If the milk guy would have let me pay for his milk it would have been $3.
EFFORT - To be honest, the biggest part of the effort for most of these was getting outside of myself. I have been sick for a couple of days and it's really easy to just mope around thinking about how crummy I feel.
TIME - All total less than a half an hour.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, I would.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Days 13 & 14

Day 13
EVENT - Help feed some missionaries

Every so often the women of my church congregation host a luncheon for 30-50 missionaries. Before I started working full time I would cook part of the food and help serve and clean up. Now that's not an option. Rather than leaving the whole thing to the women who are available during the day, I offered to make two dozen brownies. That was something I could bake ahead of time and take over to one of the coordinators the day before. I even went the extra mile and made chocolate\blonde swirled brownies and frosted them, too.

Obviously, I didn't get to see the reaction, but I've never met a missionary that didn't get excited about homemade brownies.

A side bonus to this one - there were a few extra browines left over for my family. They were pretty happy about that.

COST - About $8 for browine ingredients
EFFORT - More than many of the other things I've done this month. I had to plan ahead to have the ingredients on hand and to have the time to bake, cool, frost, and deliver them.
TIME - An hour and a half give or take, not counting the time to cool the brownies.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Sure, why not?

Day 14 -
EVENT- Red Cross contribution

Although, I hadn't planned on giving another charitable contribution so soon, how could I live with myself if I didn't make some effort in behalf of the people of Haiti? I only wish I had the means to do more.

This one was ridiculouslly easy. The American Red Cross has very wisely gone all high tech. They have a set up now where if you text the word 'Haiti' to 90999 you can donate $10 to their relief fund. The charge will be added to your next phone bill. It's that simple.

This is a perfect example of little things adding up. Last I heard, which was at about 6:30 PST on Jan. 14, their contributions for Haitian relief had topped four million dollars. Go Red Cross!

COST - $10
EFFORT - Basically zero
TIME - Almost none. It has taken me way longer to write these three short paragraphs about it than it did to make the donation.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, and more if I could.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Days 9-12

I have a little catching up to do, but it shouldn't take too long.

EVENT - Focus on the Family

The weekend was about the family - single-handed Christmas clean up, getting up early to make breakfast, hosting a family dinner. None of these things on their own was very spectacular, but I did a little extra for someone each time.

On Saturday, I let my lovely, teenage daughter, the only child still living at home, lounge around while I undecked the halls by myself. The undecorating is never as fun as the decorating, is it?

Making breakfast may not seem like it's even worth mentioning, but it is. This is why. I normally get up at 5:00 to start my day, so I really appreciate the fact that our church schedule moved to afternoon meetings for 2010. I have a day to sleep in. My dear husband however, has early meetings related to his volunteer position in the church. No sleeping in on Sunday for him. He is quite the capable type and is used to getting his own breakfast, and I willingly let him while I stay in bed. Last Sunday, I got up at 6:00 so he could be greeted by the smell of fresh cinnamon muffins when he went into the kitchen. I snuck out of bed while he was in the shower, made the muffins, and got back in bed before he was out. He didn't know I was awake until he opened the bedroom door and smelled the muffins.

Later that evening as the whole family was gathered together, I spent some good one on one time with a son I don't get to see as often as I would like.

COST - A couple of dollars for muffin ingredients.

EFFORT - Not monumental, but definitely not convenient.

TIME - Several hours all together

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, but not every weekend. ;-)

EVENT - Write love notes

Monday and Tuesday were note writing days. I wrote a note to my mom and one to my neighbor.

My mom has Alzheimer's and phone conversations are increasingly difficult for her. She lives less than an hour and a half away, but because of my work schedule I don't get to see her anywhere near as often as I would like. I want to be sure she knows often that she is loved and thought of, so I have taken to writing notes to her. It's always nice to get something in the mail besides junk and/or bills and I'm hoping my little effort brightens her day a little when she gets her notes.

Often I think about the difficulties people I know are having and sit wondering what I can do to help. Too often, I can't come up with anything except to pray for them. (Not to diminish the value of that, but if all anyone ever did was pray for people then do nothing to make things happen, not much would ever actually get done, would it?) Anyway, sometimes an encouraging word is the most helpful thing that can be offered, and that I can always give.

Today I took a couple of minutes to write an anonymous note to a neighbor who is going through a challenging time. In it I acknowledged how hard she is working to get through this time of her life and hopefully conveyed my belief that she is strong and capable. I chose to write anonymously because I wanted to convey the sense that many people are pulling for her right now (which I know is true). I thought if I attached my name to the note it may seem more singular, you know, like it would have only one name and face associated with it rather than a whole host of possibilities of who could have written it.

Note writing is one of my favorite nice things to do. There are power in words and I believe far too many nice words are left unexpressed.

COST - Probably less than two dollars - 88 cents for postage and Whatever the note cards cost.

EFFORT - A bit of mental effort to decide exactly what I wanted to write. Not much effort to do the actual writing and mailing of the notes.

TIME - Probably about 20 minutes

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, and again, and again, and again...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Side note

I learned today about a contest a Mary at Kidlit is having. Send in the first 500 words of your YA or MG novel for a chance to win a critique from her. The entry deadline is Jan 31st. Should be fun. Click on over if you have something to enter. Kidlit Contest

My Do a Good Turn post will follow later today.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Days 7 & 8

Day 7 EVENT - Charitable Gift

Yesterday I made my promised contribution to Heifer International. (see post on Dec. 23) Thanks to Nathan Bransford's challenge and all those who stopped by to comment we purchased a flock of chicks. If you aren't familiar with Heifer International, I would strongly encourage you to go check out their website. Their lofty goal is to end world hunger. Their approach is to not only provide food, but education in animal care, sustainable agriculture, how to use the animals provided to care for the recipient's family and sell the animal products (eggs, wool, etc.) to increase a family's income. One of their requirements is also that recipients "give back" by sharing some offspring of their animals and such with other members of their communities. Immediate help, education, encouraging self-sufficiency, requiring work on the part of the families, and teaching the joy of sharing one's blessings - what a wonderful, comprehensive approach to aiding those in need! As the song says, it truly is a wonderful world.

COST - $20
EFFORT - Only as much as it took to visit Heifer's website and donate.
TIME - If you include the time spent participating in Nathan's challenge by commenting on several other blogs and posting pleas for comments on Facebook, maybe two hours. If you only include the time to make the actual donation, 5 minutes or so (longer with the time I spent wandering around the Heifer site).
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Oh, most definitely, YES.

Day 8 EVENT - Also a charitable gift

Today as I was driving into work i was in tears. The DJs were talking to a man in Las Vegas whose friend had emailed the station about his situation. This man, Jon, has a three year old daughter and, until Wednesday of this week, a pregnant wife. In November he woke up early one morning to find his wife convulsing on the floor. He called the ambulance and she was rushed to the hospital. Turns out she had an aneurysm in her brain that ruptured and leaving her brain dead. She was placed on life support until they thought the baby would be viable. They could offer Jon no assurance of how healthy the baby might be when the time came to deliver him. For more than two months Jon prepared to let go of his wife and welcome his new son into the world. Last Wednesday was the day the medical staff set to do the C-section. His son was born miraculously healthy and 45 minutes later his wife stopped breathing.

Needless to say, with everything else he was dealing with he didn't have the assurances about his baby's health or life expectancy or the wherewithal, while grieving the impending loss of his wife, to prepare for a new child. He had nothing for this baby. His friend had written into the station asking if they might ask their listeners for help. One of the things that was mentioned as a need was gift cards for Rite Aid or Walgreen's to help pay for the prescription formula his son will need for the first year or so.

Today's good turn is a pharmacy gift card sent to Chase Bank in Las Vegas where donations are being received. If anyone else would care to help You can go to the website for 100.5 the Zone and see the Mark and Mercedes link for more information. Apparently Mark and Mercedes broadcast on a station in Sacramento and also one in Las Vegas. The fund that has been set up is called the Jay Jay Fund. Chase has an account set up to receive cash donations as well.

There's so much I could say about the feelings I have about this situation, but I will leave it at this.

COST - $10.44 for a gift card and postage
EFFORT - An out of my way trip to the pharmacy, big whoop.
TIME - 10-15 minutes listening to this man's plight on the radio, another 10-15 minutes to get the gift card and mail it,oh, and about 5-10 minutes looking up the website to get the info on where to send the card.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - How could I not?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Do a Good Turn - Day 6

EVENT - Earn the Miss Congeniality award at the grocery store.

Having spent most of my life as someone who worked part time at home I have been able to plan my grocery shopping for times when it is not a complete madhouse at the store. How nice for me, huh? Well, now I work for an accountant and during tax season I reluctantly become one of the masses that has to go to market during non-office hours. Did you know there are lots more shoppers in the stores at those times? You did? Oh. Did you also know that the higher the volume of people, the higher the potential clueless shopper factor is? Probably. Let's just say grocery shopping has become an opportunity for me to practice maintaining my calm center.

Today, rather than just maintaining myself , I decided to be Little Mary Sunshine. I struck up a conversation with a total stranger and we ended up laughing together over her valiant effort to retrieve the last bag of knock off Froot Loops from the very back of the bottom shelf. She made quite the picture down there on her hands and knees.

Later, when it was time to check out, all the open check stands had the kind of lines that should be reserved for the really good rides at an amusement park. However, the shopping gods smiled upon me and a new cashier came and opened the check stand right next to me. Sweet! With lightening speed I turned my cart toward the golden spot at the front of the next line. Just to be clear, I was in the most logical place to be the first one in that line. I wasn't being pushy trying to get there. Miss Congeniality wouldn't do that, would she? I looked over my shoulder and noticed the lady behind me had less than half as much stuff as I did. She was quite surprised when I offered to let her go in front of me and obviously didn't want to put me out by taking my place in line. In her effort to get through checkout as quickly as possible so I wouldn't have to wait any longer than necessary, she bumped into the display. Several packets of Tic Tacs clattered to the floor. She was apologetic, but I smiled as I stooped to gather them and told her I would take care of it while she checked out. She thanked me again and loaded her groceries onto the conveyor. Sounds cheesy, but I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

Then in the parking lot after I put my things in my trunk I took a minute to gather a couple of abandoned shopping carts and take them to the cart corral. Obviously, I have no idea who will benefit from that apart from the kid whose job it is to wrangle the carts, but at least two people will have an easier time parking than they would have if I left those carts where they were. This is actually one of my favorite kinds of things to do - the kind where no one will know who did it and, in this case, won't even know that it was done. I feel sneaky in a good kind of way. It's fun casting these tiny seeds of truly anonymous service around.

COST - Again, none.
EFFORT - A little. I had to get over myself and talk to a stranger, twice. Then there was the whole (cough, cough) exhaustive effort of stooping to pick up Tic Tacs and wrangle two whole carts all by myself.
TIME - Maybe ten minutes for all of it combined.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Do a Good Turn Day 5

Sorry to have left you mid-sentence on the day 2-4 post. I hit the wrong thing and posted instead of finishing my saved draft.

So, a quick recap and finish of day 4. I thanked my chiropractor and his staff for being open late enough for me to get off work at 5:00, drive the 40 minutes or so it takes to get to their office and still have time for an appointment. They were surprised and appreciative of my little gift, and neither of them had ever tasted a vanilla steamer from Starbucks, so they got to have a new experience, too. Yum, yum.

TIME - 5 extra minutes to drive through at Starbucks
EFFORT - Not much. I, yanno, had to sit in my car for a few extra minutes and deal with a tiny bit more traffic getting in and out of the shopping center. Whew, tough stuff.
COST - Less than $5.00 for two drinks

JAN 5 - Day 5

This morning I had the pleasure of working out next to an older woman who was studying her Bible and taking notes as she walked on the treadmill. When I was done with my workout I turned off my iPod and commented to her that it was nice to see someone reading their scriptures.

What followed was a lovely conversation about the value we both placed on such an activity and a moment of shared faith between two strangers of differing beliefs. (Though we are both Christians, I could see from the title on her Bible that we belong to different churches.) It was very cool.

COST -Zippo, unless you consider having to take a faster shower than usual as a cost, which I don't.
EFFORT - A little, I tend to be more reserved about talking to nice strangers than I ought to be.
TIME - 5-10 minutes
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Are you kidding? I already chastise myself for not making this kind of effort often enough. Most people really are nice, you know?

Other cool things - I recently read an article about two guys who attend Purdue and spend an hour or two once a week standing outside one of the campus buildings complimenting every person who walks by. They just want to brighten people's day in what are tough times for many. Their mother's must be very proud of their sons' thoughtfulness.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I am running into technical difficulties and will finish the Days 2-4 post tomorrow.

Do a Good Turn - Days 2-4

Whoops. Can you tell I'm not used to posting every day?

So. Backtracking a little -
JAN 2 EVENT - Invite a friend to the movie.

On Saturday I made an effort to be more thoughtful than usual by inviting a friend I don't see very often anymore to go to the movie. (BTW, The Blind Side is a great movie.) She didn't end up going, but she was grateful that I asked.

TIME - About a 10 minute phone call

EFFORT - Almost none

COST - none

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, and I definitely need to.

JAN 3 EVENT - Niceness at church

What easier place to be nice than at church. I have been a part of the same congregation for many years. One of the great things about it is how often it changes. As new people join us it can be very easy to get in the rut of using the limited amount of time available for visiting at church to talk to people I know and love, but usually only get to see at church. So this Sunday I intentionally looked for someone I didn't know and not only introduced myself, but sat with her during Sunday school and our womwne's meeting.

It turned out she is from England and is the friend of a woman I love dearly. That woman has a responsibility to teach a children's class and so wasn't available to sit with her visitor. How grateful I am that I could be there to keep her friend company. I accidentally ended up doing something nice for two people instead of one.

TIME - About 2 hours, but I was at church anyway. Fifteen to twenty minutes was actual time I spent talking to her.

COST - None

EFFORT - Just what it took for me to look around, notice someone new, and not be afraid to talk to a stranger.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Yes, I certainly need to do this more often.

JAN 4 EVENT - Medical staff appreciation
Today I found myself driving home from work having had no interaction with strangers to whom I could be of service. My chiropractor and his receptionist were the only people I would be seeing before I went home for the night. By default they got elected to be the recipients of my good turn. On my way to their office I went slightly out of my way to stop at Starbucks to buy two vanilla steamers.

They were surprised and appreciative when I gave them to them and thanked them for bring open late enough for me to be able to get off work at 5:00, drive

Friday, January 1, 2010

EVENT - Take a little gift to the Racquet club staff.

To start things off I decided to show some appreciation for the staff at the gym I attend. Recently I was checking their holiday hours and noticed they would be open today. At first I was surprised, but then realized they facilitate what is one of the top new year's resolutions. Still, I'm pretty old school in my thinking regarding who should have to work on holidays. In my view holidays are a time to be home with family and/or friends unless your job is critical, like medical and emergency personnel and such. Having a gym open on New Year's Day, not so critcal, you know?

Anyway, when I was making blueberry muffins for my family this morning I made some extra to take to the gym staff. I also made some mint brownies and sliced up some oranges from our tree - figured I'd hit various levels of nutrition for them to choose from. You should have seen their faces when I walked in, sat the plates and a thank you note on the counter and told them they were for them. There were three staff members behind the counter and all of their faces literally lit up. It was very cool. It was such a little thing for me to take a minute to say thank you with a note and a little food, but it obviously brightened their day. One of the girls even said, "You have no idea how happy you just made me with those blueberry muffins," and called me the world's greatest member. I've been told that food isn't love, and I get that, but with their reactions, that's a hard argument to make. To them today, food was definitely love.

BTW, I opted not to workout at the club today since, if I had my way, they would be closed. I didn't want to give them one more reason to think it's a good idea to be open today.

TIME - About 15 minutes, not counting the bake time since I was baking for my family anyway.

COST - $2ish for the muffin mix and a few cents of gas money to drive to the club and back.

EFFORT - Not much, though I did make a special trip to the club just for this purpose.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN? - Absolutely. In fact I may plan on doing something similar for them periodically.

Other Cool Things - There's a 13 yr old quarterback who has raised over $6500 so far to help feed the hungry. (13 yrs old!) He calls his program Pennies for Passing since he gets donations for how many passes he completes. You can read about it on His name is Colton Roe and he's from Chantilly, VA. Go, Colton!

Question - Do you have any activitiy ideas for me? I plan on doing lots of spontaneous things, but I want to have some planned, too.