“The Cloak, The Clasp, The Wolf” (2012), author Trevor Denning’s modern retelling of the classic fairytale “Little Red Riding Hood,” is a well-paced, riveting read.

 Denning’s self-published short story, available on Amazon, takes us on a midnight journey alongside a mountain community’s herbalist healer, Rose. She’s fetched from her home on the cusp of a storm by a small boy named Gabby Lewis to help his ailing Gramma Fletcher in a cabin up the mountain.

Rose stops at a tavern along the way to solicit help, but the men passing a jug there seemingly are too gripped by fear of the full moon and stormy weather to answer her call for help.

So Rose treks to the cabin alone, wrapped in her red cape and stalked by — you’ll have to read the story to find out what — or who.

When I dove into this tale, I was concerned the Appalachian dialect would slow me down. Happily, that wasn't so. I found the plain speech and mountain idioms were endearing and kept me solidly immersed in the hill folks’ world.

I also appreciated Denning’s choice to weave flashbacks together with vivid details about Rose’s trek up the mountainside.

Readers will find this particular Red Riding Hood is no shrinking violet. She blends common sense with a guarded, instinctively suspicious attitude, unlike the tripping, clueless Riding Hood in other versions of the classic. How fitting for a woman raised in a harsh climate, where survival often depends on strength of arm and sharpness of wit.

I’d heartily recommend this short story (Amazon Digital Services, 21 pages) to anyone looking for a clever revival of an old favorite.

Before I go to bed each night, I make the next day’s to-do list. It’s usually a laughably ambitious one, like “write three blog posts + a poem + do research + catch up on reading everything in my newsfeed + clean the whole house + go to the laundromat + see the doctor + grocery shop + read a book."

The to-do list is an essential exercise nonetheless. It’s how I stay on top of my full-time writing job.

What often happens the next morning, though? I procrastinate. And la dee da, it’s 10 a.m., and I haven't started writing yet.

My most productive writing hours are in the morning, when my brain is fresh. (I also can write in the late evening, but that’s a post for another day.)

BUT, sometimes little ol’ perfectionist me gets scared by the more daunting tasks in my writing life: prewriting or writing my work-in-progress. Research. Ripping up the shitty first draft and diving into draft two. Writing good blog posts. Writing pitches and proposals for new projects.

It’s all quite terrifying. What if I mess up? So I procrastinate. Like so:

1. I putz around in my kitchen, washing counters, planning meals or dumping out the coffee grounds and starting a new cuppa joe. Hum dee dum, this is fun.

2. I ignore the priority list and start doing little tasks at the bottom of the list. Promote or re-promote my latest blog post? Yeah, that’s easy! Of course I'll do that first.

3. I get sidetracked with paying bills. Yikes, the license plate tabs need renewing! Yikes, my doctor bill is almost due! I HAVE TO PAY BILLS NOW! Even though I don’t.

4. I start tidying up the living room. This book stack should be organized better. My hubs folded the couch blanket the wrong way after we watched a show last night; let me fix that. I know. Like I said. Perfectionist.

5. I listen to that shiny new folk-rock album I ordered last week. What? This is research for my next music review blog post, riiiiiiight? Yes, but it doesn't have to be done right now.

Share your thoughts

Do any of you fellow creative types struggle with procrastination? If so, I'd love to hear your funny stories or tips for getting back on track. 

I'll share my own tips in a follow-up blog post next Friday.

Because redirection is essential if we're going to write the next Great American Novel. ;)

No, I'm not about to tell you a silly joke. I stole today's blog title from the opening anecdote of the Memorial Weekend sermon at my church, Ada Bible. It was called "Your God Response."

Listen to the sermon here.

Here's a recap: Guest speaker Marcus Bieschke shared about the musicality and beauty of Psalm 19, one of my favorite Psalms ever. According to C.S. Lewis, it's "the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world."

Bieschke is lead teaching pastor at the Crystal Lake campus of Willow Creek Church in Illinois. He is a music lover, just like me, and asked us in the sermon's opening minutes to turn to our neighbor and tell him or her our favorite song. I dislike that game because I have too many favorites, so it was awesome when he admitted he himself has about 83 favorite songs and can't narrow it down.

For his talk at Ada, Bieschke selected three of the Top 500 Songs of All Time, as compiled by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2011. And he held those songs, full of pain, despair and hopelessness, up to the light of Psalm 19, written by King David thousands of years ago.

Here are the songs he chose to compare against Psalm 19. I'm embedding videos in case you haven't listened to the songs before.

No. 3 from the Rolling Stone list: "Imagine," by John Lennon:

Bieschke said he imagines King David sitting down with each songwriter, one by one, and having a conversation about the merits and philosophies behind each work of musical genius.

To Lennon, he imagines King David would have said something like, "This is beautiful. Your longing for a world free of pain and united by peace is a truly worthy aspiration. But let's start with a new premise. God is not the cause of our pain. Sin is. Eliminating Him from the equation won't fix our world. God sees the pain that we humans caused, and it breaks His heart. In fact, he promises that in heaven, he will wipe away our tears, and there will be no more sorrow and pain." (Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4)

I love that. It reminds me of the deep heartbreak I felt when I attended the funeral of a dearly loved mentor three summers ago, and a colleague of his sang "Imagine." It frustrated me to hear that message at a funeral. The lyrics are wistful and beautiful, but they offer no hope to grieving hearts.

No. 9 from the list: "Smells Like Teen Spirit," by Kurt Cobain:

Bieschke imagines King David answering the despair and hopelessness of Cobain's anthem, "Here we are now, entertain us // I feel stupid and contagious // Here we are now, entertain us," with a dose of the soul-reviving power of Scripture found in Psalm 19. 

Bieschke believes King David would emphasize the "special revelation" aspects of the Word of God in his chat with Cobain. The Word is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, firm, righteous, precious and sweet, as listed in verses 7-11. And it has powerful effects on the human heart: refreshing, making wise, giving joy, giving light, offering great reward, etc. That doesn't sound hopeless to me!

No. 2 from the list: "Satisfaction," by Mick Jagger:

"I can't get no satisfaction," Mick Jagger wails, "I've tried, and I've tried, and I've tried, and I've TRIIIIIIIIIED!" 

Well, King David might ask Jagger, "What if life isn't about pleasing ourselves? What if we're here for a bigger purpose?"

What if we woke up each morning to ask, "What can I do for YOU today, God?"

As King David's Psalm ends, we're whacked in the face with truth, AGAIN:

"May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." (Psalm 19:14)

I hope, having read this post, you'll "ponder anew what the Almighty can do," as the old hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" so boldly beseeches.

Read more of my blog posts about music here and faith here.
(Image credit: WorldLifestyle.com)

Today, I would like to share a poem I wrote. It was inspired by the practice of mindfulness, which has helped me cope with depression and anxiety.

I first learned how to be mindful in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction class taught by my husband's aunt, Carol Hendershot, co-founder of the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness.

Some of the most helpful techniques I learned from Carol's class included deep breathing, mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful listening, mindful yoga and mindfulness in meditation

The first practice Carol taught us was called the body scan. Lie down on your back and let your mind drift over your whole body, noticing every part of it. We used a CD recording to help guide us through this practice. 

The body scan put me in touch with the areas in which I carry tension; it taught my mind to be attuned to what my body is feeling and doing (or not doing).

This poem is largely based on the body scan, but also includes aspects of other practices we learned in Carol's class.

Meditations on Mindfulness
By Rachel E. Watson

I meditate.
I scan my body,
noticing everything.

My left great toe, my right great toe,
my ankles and joints,
my parts great and small,
the sections that make me whole.

The winter in my heart,
the spring in my brain,
the fall in the pit of my stomach,
when I heard your life-changing news.
The summer I felt when last
we were together.

In noticing myself, I’m here to observe,
not to judge or to blame.
But the factual truth about noticing,
is noticing won’t let me go.

In the rhythm of my breath,
the rise and fall of my chest,
I find new marching orders.

I reach inside and seize my plough,
ripping up those old, worn cow-paths
and seeding the ground
with vibrant perennials.

A garden I sow
in the earth of my mind—
all because of this little thing
called noticing.


The Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness was founded by Carol Hendershot and April Hadley, two longtime local yoga and mindfulness instructors. 

GRCFM teaches mindfulness techniques based on the work of John Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zinn's work established a scientific basis for using mindfulness techniques to manage chronic pain, reduce stress and promote whole-body wellness.

Free Information/Orientation Sessions for MBSR Classes

The GRCFM's next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses begin the week of June 8. GRCFM will offer several free orientation sessions to acquaint participants with the specifics of the eight-week course, including rates and scholarship opportunities.

When: 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 25 and June 1
Where: Holistic Care Approach
, 3368 East Beltline Ct. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

When: 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 27 and June 3 

When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 28 and June 4 
Where: Energy Touch Center
, 1331 Lake Drive SE, Suite 100, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Note: I was not paid to write this article; I am not in any way affiliated with GRCFM besides the fact that Carol is my aunt. We took her class and fell in love with mindfulness, and that's why I write. Give it a try! It works. 
Memorial Weekend is not just for barbecues. It's a holiday for remembering departed loved ones who devoted their lives to serving our country.

Lt. Col. Rodney Fausett

My uncle, my mother’s brother, Rod Fausett, was one such man. He died two years ago in April, just two months shy of his 56th birthday.

Uncle Rod had retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2007, after 25 years of military service. Despite all his time in far-flung places during peaceful and turbulent periods, and despite six years of post-Army work as a civilian contractor, it wasn't his job that claimed his life after all.

He died in a motorcycle accident on a bright spring Saturday, April 6, 2013.

Even in retirement, Uncle Rod was serving our country, via his work as a military analyst for L-3 MPRI, a global contracting firm. Had he lived past age 55, I know he would have found a way to keep serving in whatever capacity he could, until his last breath. He was just that kind of man.

Full of life and passion

Uncle Rod was dedicated. Warm-hearted. Articulate. Full of sly wit. Intelligent. A fun goofball. Fond of a good cigar. Wore those trademark Hawaiian shirts whenever possible.

Uncle Rod sports one of his infamous Hawaiian shirts while hanging out with his kids,
from left, Sarah, Jenna and Matthew, Memorial Weekend 2009.
(Photos courtesy of Jenna Fausett)

I never had the chance to know him as well as I would have liked, as he spent most of my childhood in places like Detroit, Florida and Germany, then settled his family in Leavenworth, Kansas, when I was a teenager.

But I do remember a collection of little things, from our trips to Kansas and their visits to Michigan.

I remember his love of storytelling. I remember his fondness for grilling and cooking excellent meals. I remember how he spent hours combing ancestry.com and other genealogy websites for Fausett family records, emailing hundreds of pages of correspondence back and forth with my mom. The project united their curious minds.

I remember his silences. How he could be so quiet, then something would spark that tumultuous belly laugh, and the stoic front would melt into a hundred smile lines.

A deep family bond

As a niece observing his life from a distance, I remember witnessing his bond with his children, Sarah, Jenna and Matthew, and feeling blessed by it. I got the sense that, despite the necessity of uprooting the family for each new assignment, and the pain of divorce and geographical separations, he was the kind of dad who inspired deep devotion and fierce loyalty.

That sense was never stronger than at his funeral. His eldest, my cousin Sarah, read pages of memories she and her siblings had written the night before. My heart ached for her and Jenna, who each would walk down the aisle with their grooms later that year — without their dad to escort them.

His legacy lives on

Even though he's gone, be assured: His legacy lives on in his children.

I see it in Sarah’s wit, intelligence and curiosity, her passion for science — she is a genetic biologist — and her love of travel — she lives in France. I see Uncle Rod’s kindness, sensitivity and groundedness in Jenna, the young mom who lives and works in Leavenworth, Kansas, Uncle Rod’s last base before he retired. I see his often-quiet demeanor and soft heart in Matthew, who works with his hands fixing cars in Lansing, Kansas, not saying much in groups, but quick to smile, fond of a summer fishing trip, and devoted to his mom and sisters.

May you always rest in peace, dear Uncle Rod. May you be richly rewarded for the lives you have touched.
Amos Lee
I recently came across "The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver," a lovely collection of cover songs by various blues, country, folk, pop, rock and soul musicians.

Amos Lee's cover of "Some Days Are Diamonds" is one of my favorite numbers on the album. The song was written and recorded in 1976 by country singer Dick Feller. But it didn't hit the Billboard charts until John Denver recorded and released it as a single in May 1981.

In his 2013 cover, Lee enfolds Feller's pensive lyrics with his soulful, bluesy voice and gentle acoustic guitar picking. He plays with the tempo and melody, transforming the song from the rollicking version Denver recorded to a more contemplative, emotionally poignant tune.

There are plenty of things to like about Feller's original piano, guitar and strings version, and about Denver's bouncy cover, but Lee's rendition stirs my guts. 

See what I mean below:

"Some Days Are Diamonds"

Lyrics and music by Dick Feller, cover arrangement by Amos Lee

When You asked how I've been here without you
I'd like to say I've been fine and I do. 
But we both know the truth is hard to come by
And if I told the truth, that's not quite true 

Some days are diamonds some days are stones 
Sometimes the hard times won't leave me alone 
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones 
Some days are diamonds some days are stones. 

Now the face that I see in my mirror
More and more is a stranger to me 
More and more I can see there's a danger 
In becoming what I never thought I'd be 

Some days are diamonds some days are stones 
Sometimes the hard times won't leave me alone 
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones 
Some days are diamonds some days are stones. 

Some days are diamonds some days are stones 
Sometimes the hard times won't leave me alone 
Sometimes a cold wind blows a chill in my bones 
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.

This seems to be mostly a song about loneliness, about being separated from your love. But it calls to me for other reasons. I think of it as a good anthem for anyone who deals with mood swings, whether at a normal level or in a heightened way because of a mood disorder/brain chemistry issue. Like me, a person who deals with depression and anxiety.

I am thankful today is a diamond for me. My heart goes out to those for whom today is a stone. Some of you are stuck in a hard time, a cold wind is blowing, and there's a chill in your bones. May you know you are not alone. May God bring you peace and comfort as you walk through the valley of the shadow.

Learn more about "The Music Is You"

If you liked what you heard, be assured this John Denver tribute album is chock full of plenty more goodness. Browse the track listings on Amazon, buy the album on iTunes or find it at your local book and music store.

Read more of my blog posts about music.

I have noticed some writers squirm when the word "prolific" is used to describe them. Why is this? I also have noticed some of us call other writers prolific, but we struggle to believe we could be, too.

I'm puzzling through this conundrum today as I ponder the craft of writing, my Sunday habit of late. I'd like to share a few words of encouragement on the subject.

1. Writing is a commitment. It takes effort. You have to decide for yourself when, how often and for how long you will write. If you are looking at friends' writing lives and wondering how they are getting published so much, the answer is probably simple, yet difficult: They have decided to commit. They have set goals, and they have put their work in front of editors and publishers. Repeatedly. You can do this, too.

2. You don't have to be a prodigy to be a writer. I suspect this is why some writers bristle when you call them prolific. The word can carry a connotation that the published writer is a wunderkind. That the prolific writer is exceptionally brilliant or lucky. But that's not necessarily true. Behind the scenes, the prolific writer has made a difficult choice to do the work, regardless of the cost. And that deserves respect.

3. Writing daily adds up. Let's brainstorm. If I write five poems a week for a year and submit half of them for publication, even if 70 percent of the poems I submit are rejected, I'll have 39 published poems at the end of the year. That's enough to compile into a chapbook of poetry. Wow.

4. Making publishing inroads is hard work. Your writing might be great, but maybe you haven't found a journal or publishing house that's a good match for your style and themes. The writing friends you see getting published might have good instincts about where to submit work. Or they might have been born into a literary family with connections. Or, they went to a university with ties to a publishing house. The good news is, you can develop your instincts. You can network to make more connections. Be patient. It will take time.

5. Prolific, schmolific. Some of the world's best-loved writers are known for the quality, not quantity, of their work. (Think Harper Lee.) The important thing is to write because you love it, not because it gives you status. If love is your motive, you'll stay grounded through everything the world throws your way.

Now go forth and write!

What do you think?

When you call someone "prolific," what do you mean by it? What do you think others mean by it? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below (no account necessary). 
I would like to dedicate this poem to Linda Russ, Pam Elmore and Melody Wilson. You were my "guardians" this week. May I always remember to reach out and grab the hands that are extended. 

(Photo credit: environmentalaska.us)

In the Belly of the Bird
By Rachel E. Watson

The great white shark surges up
to snap my tightrope in two,
plunging me deep into the belly
of the icy upper Pacific—
shark- and whale-infested waters—
and I really, truly,
believe I cannot swim.

But then a rescue copter
calls out to me from above:
“Kick your legs,” the pilot says.
I kick until I feel my legs give out.

Just before my limbs fail me, 
the guardian ties a rope
to the chopper’s landing skids
and starts to descend
down to the mooringless waters.

Extending a strong arm,
she pulls me up.

I am now in the belly of this bird,
not in the belly of the waters.
Hours elapse before that sinks in.

A soft, fleece blanket has been wrapped
around my shoulders—who did that?
I’m not sure I’ll be able to thank her
because my whole body is shaking.

I’m not on that tightrope,
I’m not kicking in shark-infested waters.
The stinging smell of the saltwater cannot harm me,
although its briney taste still pierces my tongue.

I have to retrain my brain
to look at the horizon, 
to converse with the pilot
and to thank my guardian.

The shore is hours away.
I don’t have to swim there.
And that is enough.

© Rachel E. Watson 2015.

The Avett Brothers' 2007 album, "Emotionalism," was made for people who experience anxiety.

Well, I haven't asked the band for comment, but I'm pretty sure I can read their minds in this case. ;)

Here's why I care: I also struggle with anxiety, in addition to my battle with depression that I discussed Sunday. I just received an anxiety disorder diagnosis this morning, and the doctor put me on short-term and long-term medications for it. I also plan to explore it more at my next therapy session.

This isn't really a surprise. I have always known I tend to be a worrier. I feel anxious in crowds. My skin breaks out in hives when I have to speak in front of a large group — I'm so thankful for turtleneck shirts! — and I sometimes have panic attacks when I feel overwhelmed.

Like this morning, for instance. I contacted my therapist and a good friend who also experiences anxiety, and they both recommended I see my doctor and get a prescription.

If you can relate to any of the above, and if you also happen to like folksy/bluegrass/rock music, I strongly recommend you listen to The Avett Brothers' "Emotionalism" album.

Maybe don't listen to it right in the middle of a panic attack. For that situation, I recommend hymns. Or total silence. But once you are feeling stabilized, listened to "Emotionalism."

It seems almost every song on the record extends honesty and compassion toward folks who struggle with anxiety.

One song rises to the top: "Paranoia in B♭ Major." With a humorous, swinging tempo and witty lyrics, it perfectly captures my own experience with anxiety: The stress dreams, the worry about what other people are thinking of me, the sometimes debilitating tunnel vision that threatens to beat me up.

(Don't worry, anxious readers! It hasn't beat me to this day. :)

Have a listen, scan the lyrics below, and, please, feel blessed that someone gets you:

"Paranoia in B♭ Major," by The Avett Brothers

I keep tellin' myself that it'll be fine
You can't make everybody happy all of the time
I found myself in a place that I never been
A place that I thought that I would never be
There's people looking back at me

I keep having this dream; I'm at a party
There's people throwing drinks and screaming telling me that I don't belong
Lately life's been the same I find this comfortable place
With all my friends then my friends start telling me that I've always been wrong
And I'm so tired of being wrong

There was a time I could move there was a time I could breathe
The crowded spaces filled with angry faces
It didn't once cross my mind
With paranoia on my heels; Will you love me still
when we awake and you find that the sanity has gone from my eyes?

I got secrets from you, you got secrets from me
Because you're so worried about what I'm gonna think,
Baby I'm worried, too
But if love is a game, girl, then you're gonna win
I'll spend the rest of my life bringing victory in
If you want me to

I am so happy I discovered this song just recently. Everything about it — from the lead vocalist's irritable tone, to the melody that steps downward each bar, then spins back up unexpectedly, to the falsetto "la la la" antics at the song's end — speaks to the inner life of a person with anxiety.

How is it that songwriters and performers can breathe such honesty and fun into such a dark topic? I don't know; I'm not a songwriter. But I know good art when I see it. And this is good art.

Connect with The Avett Brothers

If you'd like to learn more about the band, peruse their tour schedule or buy their albums, visit their website, "Like" their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter

Does this music speak to you?

If you liked this song, I'd love to hear from you. You don't have to spill your guts if you don't feel comfortable doing that. I'd be happy with a "hey, I liked this song" or "no, I didn't really get it." Either is cool, or invent a variation. But don't let paranoia — in B♭ Major — hold you back. ;)

Read more of my blog posts about music.
This is my home office, where I do my writing each morning.

I go through phases where I hate mornings. Where mornings are The Devil, sent to torment me here on Earth. We wrestle for hours, days, months, and it can feel like a losing battle.

My loathing of the sunrise is tied to periods of depression. And I just got through another doozy of those recently, after leaving my seven-year editing job at MLive. I loved that vocation dearly. I loved my co-workers. I loved working in media, improving and sharing the news and features that can help shape us into responsible, compassionate citizens. And I loved coaching other young wordsmiths. Like my colleagues did for me when I was an intern.

I left voluntarily, for a good reason, but that didn't make it easier. And so I grieved. And plunged into a spell of depression.

Depression looks different for everyone and has a myriad of causes. For me, it was caused by grief. It manifested in my inability to get out of bed before 11 or 12 or to do much of anything besides read and binge-watch Netflix shows. I couldn't envision making plans beyond the immediate moment. That phase lasted for a couple of months.

One thing my counselor did to help bring me through depression was to encourage me to set one simple goal for myself each day. The first few times I tried this, the goals were as basic as getting out of bed before noon. Eventually, I progressed to more complex tasks and a greater number of goals each day.

Today, I am healthier, five months into my post-MLive life. For this, I give thanks to God, who provided therapy, a patient husband, my cats, exercise, a great church and several supportive friends and family members. I don't want to oversimplify the healing process, because I am still not fully past the lows in some ways. I still have hard days. But nothing like before.

On the other side of the worst of it, I have rediscovered my love of mornings. I can't say what came first, the lifting of my depression, or my choice to start getting up for the day when my husband goes to work. Likely, one enabled the other, and vice versa.

Either way, I now wake up excitedly Monday through Friday and head to my newly reorganized and redecorated home office. And here are some of the things I love about mornings:

1. I love the sound of birdsong outside my office window.

2. I love my fuchsia lava lamp, glurping and borbling quirkily away in that tiny space between my laptop and printer.

3. I love the time I can spend reading Sarah Young's "Jesus Calling" and looking up the relevant Scripture passages before I step into my work day.

4. I love the writing time, oh! the morning writing life. I am beyond thankful to be a part of this calling. I honestly don't know how I would heal from depression if not for my ability to write through it — and to share my insights with you, lovely readers. It is a precious gift, one I hope I never take for granted.

What can you choose to love about mornings?

Before you dive into the rest of your day, take a minute to ask yourself: Even if I am not a so-called "morning person," what is one thing about this morning for which I can give thanks? 

If you are struggling with depression, you might be surprised how helpful this kind of self-talk can be.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
Jaguar the Magnificent reposes in all of her glorious well-being and badassitude.

I admit it. I'm a crazy cat lady. I'm also not a parent. But I do love children, especially my nieces and nephews. And I love my two kitties.

So, if you clicked through this headline hoping to be offended and voice it, go back to your Newsfeed or to the search engine from whence you came. This post is not for you.

This post is for all of my fellow sillies — blessed as parents or otherwise — especially my fellow good-humored cat- or pet-owners.

(Nancy) Sinatra perches atop our record collection. It's a good thing she isn't a kid.

10 Things People Say of Children That Also Are True of Cats:

1. I don't buy him/her all those toys you see all over the floor. It's the grandparents' doing.

2. Every time I clean up vomit, excrement or urine off the floors and/or walls, I have to remind myself, "I love him/her. I am doing this because I love him/her."

3. Kids/cats today are so spoiled. When I was a kid, we didn't have all this technology. Kids/cats weren't constantly being praised, talked up and/or plastered all over the Internet like celebrities. When I was a kid, children/cats were supposed to be seen and not heard. This world's going to the dogs! (Or is it the cats?!?)

4. I can't figure out why s/he is crying/whining. All the basic necessities are in place. WHAT IS WRONG?!?! WHY CAN'T I FIX IT?!?!?

5. I worry whenever they go outside. Will they get lost? Or worse?

6. Every kid/cat has a different personality. Just when I think I have my parenting/ownership tactics down, there's something new to learn. ¡Ay, caramba!

7. You shouldn't let the kid/cat eat your poinsettia plants. In fact, you probably shouldn't buy poinsettias. (I know! Sniff, sniff!)

8. If things are getting too quiet, you might want to check to see what they're up to. Hopefully they aren't eating tape or chewing on electrical cords.

9. Kid/cat-free vacations, if you can get them, are the best. For once, I'll actually get some sleep instead of being awakened at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 a.m. — or all of the above — for feedings and/or no reason at all.

10. The best reason to be awakened in the middle of the night is to soothe an anxious heart. We cat owners/parents are so lucky we get to share our calming-the-amygdala tactics with the less fortunate, the least of these, the little ones.

Hope you have a great Friday! Enjoy your pets and/or kids today!

Read more of my cat-related or kid-related blog posts.

I discovered a delightful singer-songwriter prodigy on Spotify the other day. You might have heard his ad that plays on stations similar to his. If not, I'd like to share him with you.

His name is Jacob Whitesides; he's a young Tennessean. He's got a voice like John Legend meets Jack Johnson meets a less-annoying version of John Mayer.

When I called him a prodigy above, I was serious.

Whitesides taught himself how to sing and play guitar at the age of 13 — quite early in the context of modern lifespans. Prodigies in Mozart's day blossomed at 4 and lived to be 40, if they were lucky. (Mozart wasn't lucky.)

Four years after picking up that first guitar, Whitesides has kept going. And going. He has 1.58 million Twitter followers, multiple other high-traffic social media channels, and an EP. He still doesn't have a record deal, but, NBD, he created his own label, JW Records.

It seems like he doesn't need the traditional methods, if you ask me.

Here's one of the six songs on his EP. It's about youthful yearnings to communicate your love in a way that will be understood and received.

"Words," by Jacob Whitesides, age 17

I wanna tell you you're beautiful,
In a way that you have not heard before,
But I don't think it's gonna work,
Cause I'm not good with words.

I wanna tell you you're the reason why,
The earth spins and the stars hang in the sky,
But I don't think it's gonna fly,
Cause I'm not good with words.

If only I could find a way,
To say it like them poets say,
Sing a sweet and simple serenade,
Directly to your heart.

If only I could speak aloud,
Just what I feel when you're around,
I'd finally confess my love in verse,
But I'm not good with words.

If I was just like Shakespeare,
Whispering sweet sonnets in your ear,
I'd tell you everything you want to hear,
But I'm not good with words.

If only I could find a way,
To say it like them poets say,
Sing a sweet and simple serenade,
Directly to your heart.

If only I could speak aloud,
Just what I feel when you're around,
I'd finally confess my love in verse,
But I'm not good with words.

Sentences or conversation,
Oh words they only bring me complication,
And when it comes to love,
I'm useless just full of bad excuses,
And confessions gone unheard.

If only I could find a way,
To say it like them poets say,
Sing a sweet and simple serenade,
Directly to your heart.

If only I could speak aloud,
Just what I feel when you're around,
I'd finally confess my love in verse,
But I'm not good with words.

This song speaks to that still-scared place inside many adults that wonders, "Will I be accepted just as I am?" and "Are my methods good enough?"

I think we all go through these phases, whether in adolescence, or over and over in adulthood.

Thanks to Jacob Whitesides, we have another voice in the music world affirming we are not alone.

I can't wait to see the places you'll go, Jacob. Your talent and heart — and even your looks — remind me of my little brothers. God bless you on your journey.

Connect with Jacob Whitesides

If you want to buy his EP, you can visit Whitesides' beautifully designed website, JacobWhitesides.com. He also is on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine. (This "old lady" is getting tired just linking to all these sites!)

Share your feedback

Have a listen to his other music on YouTube. I'd love to hear from you: Which song(s) do you like? Why?

Read more of my blog posts about music here.
Hey readers!

Thanks to all of you who participated in my first-ever blog-hosted book giveaway contest! I received 10 delightful entries, from pictures of a participant's own home office to photos found all over the Internet.

The winner is Dick Buist, who sent me this awesome submission:

I picked it because it reminds me of the Bat Cave. It also reminds of a space in the recent movie "Kingsman: The Secret Service," a spy comedy-thriller starring Colin Firth. (Watch it, if you haven't. It's very enjoyable.)

If I were offering a second-place prize, which I'm not, it would go to this entry from Jerry Seim:

It's the perfect space for an introverted writer! But not quite as perfect as the Bat Cave. :)

Also, I want to applaud the three of you who sent me this photo — Melanie Pickett, Pat Buist and Hannah Hansen:

It didn't rise to the top in this field. But I still love it. It reminds me of Belle's library in the 1991 Disney movie "Beauty and the Beast." I love Belle — always have, always will.

My next giveaway

If you'd like to be notified about my next book giveaway, which will be a random drawing rather than a contest, join my mailing list by entering your email address in the field at the bottom of this page.

Thanks for playing, friends!
Here's a question for you this lovely May weekend: What's an often-overlooked weapon in your arsenal as a creative person?

For me, that oft-disregarded resource is exercise. In fact, I've written a whole essay about that in Friday's guest blog post over at the Breathe Writers' Conference blog. I hope you'll check it out. 

Share your perspective

What is YOUR secret weapon for enhancing your writing life? It might be exercise. Or, it might be something else. I'd love to hear about it here in the comments or on the link to this post on my Facebook author page.

Look for more of my Breathe guest blog posts in June and July at BreatheConference.com. I'll be writing about "How People Watching Feeds My Imagination" and "What Breathe Means to Me."
Gil Bender (Owen Wilson) roams the streets in "Midnight in Paris."

It's been awhile since I've written a movie review, amid all my other writing pursuits.

I could not, however, overlook Woody Allen's brilliant little gem, "Midnight in Paris" (2011).

My sister invited me to view it with her (she wanted to see it a second time before she had to return it to the library), so I went and watched it with her on Monday.

The characters 

The story is about a fictional American writer and filmmaker, Gil Bender (Owen Wilson), who visits Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams). While in the city, he experiences world-alteringly weird and cool stuff. 

Gil is The Best. His name proves it. If you're a writer or creative type, or if you appreciate creativity, you'll love this guy. He is smart, witty, humble and not terribly ambitious, but he persistently pursues his craft. Which is why he's in Paris to begin with. He wants to write The Great American Novel as an ex-pat, like so many before him have done. Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway. The list goes on. 

But his fiancee won't move there with him. She wants to live in Hollywood forever, getting rich off Gil's filmmaking career. 

Inez is The Worst. If you're a decent human being of any kind, you'll think rich, spoiled Inez, and her indulgent and clueless parents, Helen (Mimi Kennedy) and John (Kurt Fuller) should all be pushed into a lake. 

Inez is cloyingly flirtatious with an old college pal, Paul (Michael Sheen), whom the group bumps into at a restaurant. (Cue foreshadowy, ominous music).

At every turn, she thwarts Gil's plans to gather inspiration and spend time alone writing. She belittles his ambitions. She only cares about jewelry and shopping. She is That Girl, a broad-strokes caricature of a shallow, self-absorbed woman. 

The conflict

Here's the thing: Inez feels very real. That's because Woody Allen gives her a legitimate desire, the desire to be loved and admired. He then twists it like a snake bite until we are writhing in agony, seething in frustration with her and even with lovable Gil. They keep miscommunicating, reinforcing a cycle of blow-ups and hang-ups. 

The love and beauty

The movie's thumping heartbeat, though, is neither of these two vibrant lead characters. The film's sweet and tender core is its loving homage to literature, music, art and the character of Paris. The streets are filled with it, at all hours of the day — especially after midnight. Gil discovers this in an original and thrilling plot twist pretty early on in the film.

You'll have to watch the movie to fully know what I mean. I can't say more without spoilers.

Meanwhile, check out this clip from one of my favorite scenes. (Warning: It does contain spoilers. In my opinion, though, the spoilers won't ruin your appetite for the movie, if you decide to watch it.) 

Confused? Delighted? Want to watch the whole thing and find out more? Good. Mission accomplished. :)