Sunday, January 29, 2012

Learning to Stop and Smell the Roses

Have you ever had one of those weeks when no matter how fast you work, you can't keep up? That was this week for me. Every time I accomplished something, three more things popped up. By Friday, I knew I needed a break. But sometimes it's really hard to pull away. On a recent trip to Thailand, I had a moment of self-reflection I try to remember on weeks like these.

One evening after a long day of work, I set out for a run to Lumphini Park in Bangkok. Cranking up my iPod to drown out the scream of rush-hour traffic and breathing in the scent of exhaust mixed with chicken drippings, spoiled fish, and meat skewers simmering on the street venders' grills, I ducked inside the walls of the park, grateful for the stretch of green amid the crowded cement city. I followed a track around peaceful ponds and sparkling pagodas, weaving in and out of families out for an evening walk, tourists riding cruiser bikes, and couples strolling hand in hand. I ran for about a mile, until I realized I was the only one running. Everybody else was just walking around the path, enjoying the afternoon. And here I was, trying to get a workout in. What does that even mean--"get a workout in?" Why am I so obsessed with "getting a run in," or "squeezing in a spin class?" What kind of life is that, dashing back and forth to the gym, never having enough time to sit and breathe and just let my thoughts wander?

Slowing down to a walk, I eyed a stray calico cat sitting in a marigold garden looking at me like, "What are you doing?" I popped out my ear buds, tucked them into my waistband, and listened instead to the sounds of the park: the birds singing in the Banyan trees, the leaves rustling in the gentle breezes, the children practicing on little bongo drums and the calming, cheerful notes of the xylophone. When I stopped and looked around, I noticed how many people were sprinkled through the park doing yoga. I picked my way through the gardens to a stretch of green beside a slow-moving river. I sat down on the grass and, for the first time in over a year, I started to remember what it felt like to stretch and go into that quiet space where everything slows all the way down. And I laid back on the grass, closed my eyes and breathed in the sound of the birds and the floral-scented air.

Have you ever had an experience like this? Do you frequently find yourself getting swept up in a mad whirlwind of to-dos? How do you pull yourself out of it?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Moonlight and Golden Palaces

Each year, to celebrate his birthday, the King of Thailand opens the gates of his Royal Palace to the public at night for one week only. A huge celebration stretches for blocks outside the gates, but inside the palace grounds the street noise swirls away. Swells of locals and tourists funnel through ancient archways, their voices hushed in reverence as they glimpse the sparkling temples and golden palace glittering in the moonlight for the first time. I had the incredible good fortune to be working on a project in Bangkok when this event happened recently. It didn't matter that I was shoulder-to-shoulder, taking slow teeny-tiny steps with thousands of others who turned up.  It was one of the most spectacular and magical places I have ever been. Have you ever been to a place that was so beautiful, it took your breath away?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter Writing Festival

Last week I signed up for my first writing festival ever. I saw this festival advertized on Twitter and thought it sounded like fun. It's managed by the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, a group of romance writers who came together after being chosen as RWA's 2009 Golden Heart Finalists to blog and share their collective journeys to publication.

Writing can be pretty lonely at times, and finding a community of over 200 writers who are all working toward the same goal is incredible. The festival is unique in that participants earn points by meeting personal goals instead of signing onto a huge collective goal like writing a book in a month. I think this festival is more appealing because meeting a personal goal is more manageable and you feel a sense of satisfaction as you make real progress each day.  

But the most ingenious part of this festival is the "writing sprints." Three to four times a day, a moderator opens up the "sprint chat room" where a dozen or so writers come together to spend the next two hours doing intensive twenty-minute intervals of sprint-writing. You get to chat in between each sprint and support each other and help each other out if you get stuck on a plot point, or POV, or character development, or even research. It's incredibly motivating. I cannot believe how much I've accomplished in just the first ten days of this festival. And most of all it's FUN because you get to make friends while you're doing it!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Icelandic Folklore and Friday the Thirteenth

In my ongoing search for new fairytales, I recently stumbled across a great one in Iceland. Even though it's after Christmas, Friday the Thirteenth seemed like an appropriate day to share this story. 

In the dark, wintry days leading up to Christmas in Iceland, the children of a giant troll named Gryla--famous for her love of stewed children--come down from the mountains to cause trouble in the sleepy villages. Instead of stockings hung over the fireplace, Icelandic children set a single shoe on the windowsill where one of the thirteen Santa's, or Yule Lads, is supposed to leave a small present inside. But it takes a long time to cross over the mountains in all that snow, and the Yule Lads don't exactly share the generous, good-hearted spirit of jolly old Saint Nicholas. They might leave a present in the windowsill, if they feel like it, but only after they've taken a little something in return.

The first of the thirteen Yule Lads to stir up trouble each year is Sheep Worrier. Thirsty from his trip in from the mountains, he sneaks into sheep barns in search of fresh milk. His brother, Gully Gawk, prefers to hide out in the cow barns waiting to walk off with a bucket of fresh cream. Stubby is the smallest of the brothers and the first to set out from the mountains as his stubby legs make it hard to walk in the snow. My personal favorite, and the one in the middle of the picture above, is Spoon Licker. He steals wooden spoons covered in tasty batter. Pot Licker snatches dirty pots and pans to lick the leftovers from the bottom. Bowl Licker hides under the kitchen table until the cooks turn their backs and then he grabs the bowls and licks them clean. Door Slammer likes to slam doors as loud as he can, just because it's fun. Skyr Glutton runs off with armfuls of Skyr (a dairy product like yogurt) and stuffs himself until he's sick. Sausage Stealer sneaks into the house after everyone's fallen asleep and steals sausages from the freezer. Window Peeper lurks outside the house and peeks in when no one's looking. Door Sniffer follows his nose to the houses baking sweet-smelling cakes and snatches them off the counter where they're cooling. Meat Hook uses a long hook to reach down the chimney and grab whatever meat is roasting over the fire. And, lastly, Candle Beggar steals all the candles in the house to light his way for the long journey home.

The story of the Yule Lads is beautifully told and beautifully illustrated in Brian Pilkington's THE YULE LADS: A Celebration of Iceland's Christmas Folklore. Click HERE to find it on

Sometimes the best folktales and fairytales are discovered in different countries and cultures, hidden just off the beaten path. Have you stumbled across any unusual fairytales or folktales in your travels abroad? Or have you ever been to a place that felt so magical, you almost expected an elf to walk out of the woods or a fairy to pop out from behind a moss-covered rock?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

What's Your Favorite Fairy Tale?

Do you have a favorite fairy tale?  Did you grow up reading one of these magical stories over and over again?  I'm always looking for new and interesting fairy tales, so unique and foreign tales are welcome!  Of course, classics like Snow White and Beauty and the Beast are welcome too.  Just tell me what it is and why you like it in the "comments" section below and you'll be entered to win a free e-copy of The Selkie Spell!  I'll announce the winner at 8 o'clock on Monday evening.  Good luck!