Setting sails

Setting sails
Friends Good Will


"Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us." Isaiah 26:12

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Toastmaster Fun

Earlier this week, I received a phone call asking me if I'd be willing to attend a Division Contest as an alternate competitor. Today, I brought home a sparkly first place trophy for participating in Table Topics.  This means I can look forward to another level of competition when the District holds its convention in two weeks.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First Book Proposal Sent This Morning

This morning, I took a deep breath, and clicked my email send button, to deliver the first of four requested book proposals to the first agent who asked, way back in September 2009.

Friday, September 24, 2010

ACFW Indianapolis Conference 2010

I've come home from my second writer's conference with hope, and a budget-shrinking number of excellent books. I was quite surprised to be recognized by people I'd only met once, a year ago. It feels good to be able to joke about novel characters, and have one's listeners not only laugh, but truly understand.

On the second day of the conference, by foolishness of  my own doing, I managed to lose the binder that held all of the business cards I'd received the previous year. I asked at the hotel front desk and at our group's lost and found, as well as retracing my steps to the mall, though the security guard and his dispatcher said the cards had not turned up there.

God was good, and I could get replacement cards from some of last year's contacts. I was prepared to continue with those, but on Sunday, just before lunch, another group member interrupted my conversation to hand me the binder again, with all the cards inside.

It's time to read, and write reviews.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Substitute Computer!

It's amazing what sorts  of things can be accomplished when a computer dies. Now I have another one, and my withdrawal pangs are over.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Wednesday, In Utter Words Toastmasters Club Celebrated

We used the second meeting of the month to hold a party in honor of becoming a President's Distinguished Club. Toastmasters dignitaries joined us, and inducted this year's roster of club officers. We also inducted our new members.

I received pins signifying my completion of the Competent Communicator manual, and becoming this year's Vice President of Membership.

On Monday, I was Eleanor Roosevelt

Relax please, it's not a sign of a mental disorder.

I've moved on to working in an Advanced Toastmaster's Interpretive Reading manual, and this was the assignment on interpreting a famous speech. Usually the words famous speech bring up an instant list of Presidents and civil rights leaders. I didn't want to force my audience to listen to their forty-sixth reiteration of anything, so I went looking for something different.

The first one that caught my eye, on collecting books, was too short to fulfill the requirement of  using eight to ten minutes of speaking time. The next, by a famous fantasy writer, just didn't "feel" like the right material. Then, I found Eleanor Roosevelt's speech to the District of Columbia Library Association.

I read it, keeping track of the time using the stopwatch on my phone. Then I settled in to do some necessary editing, to fit the time constraints. After several days of cautious trimming, the length was suitable. Toastmasters aren't supposed to act, but I went looking on the web for any video of Mrs. Roosevelt. Maybe I could incorporate a gesture she was likely to use.

Seeing the few existing video clips also gave me ideas of what she might wear. This was one of the assignments that encouraged the presenter to appear in costume. The more I watched, I began to chuckle. I could improvise with items in my own wardrobe.

On Monday, I was a sight in navy blue: a long pleated skirt, shell, and blazer, highlighted only by my approximation of her double-strand pearl choker. I wore a white curly wig I'd originally purchased for another occasion, and a hat atop that. The photos my friend took are not going to appear on the internet.

I'm discovering it's harder to hold an audience's interest when the speaker must break eye contact to read her material. Still, some of them set aside their lunch to listen. Eleanor herself didn't have Toastmasters experience. She always read her speeches, and rarely appeared to make any eye contact with her listeners.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tonight, my friends gave me a standing ovation

It was generous of them. I've completed giving ten speeches to fulfill the Competent Communicator status in the In Utter Words Toastmasters Club.
I gave two speeches tonight, one between 5 and 7 minutes, and the other between 8 and 10 minutes. In doing so, I've helped the group reach  President's Distinguished status for the first time. The longer speech was about how I got started on my first novel manuscript.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tonight, the Kindle arrived.

Just before I left to attend the last session of the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University class our church hosted, the UPS driver delivered the box. I pulled the tab to open it as I rode in my friend's  van.

As the buyer reviews on Amazon warned, it's a slippery-cased machine. I've ordered a zippered "jacket" to make it easier to hold. Typing on the tiny buttons to search for titles to download needed a bit more patience than usual, but in general it works well. I've downloaded several books, including the newly-released Rooms, by Jim Rubart.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Surprised and Bemused

Yesterday, just before I went to choir, an e-mail arrived. I'd entered a contest to vote  for book video trailers. The random drawing brought up my name, and I'm now waiting for the delivery of a Kindle e-book reader and a gift card. Thank you to KCWC and Misty Taggart!

I'm browsing through Amazon's list of completely free e-books first, and finding several that I've long loved but didn't own, and sequels I didn't know existed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Today's Thankfulness Triggers

1. Given that I live in frequently cloudy Michigan, the sunshine today was a thrill. The grass is trying to green up in response, and the prisms on my porch cast all sizes of dancing rainbows on my walls and floor. I think Pollyanna had something right.

2. I got to leave my snow boots and leather jacket at home in the closet. (Note to self: Treat that jacket to a fresh waterproofing.)

3. The opportunity to intercede in prayer for a friend who is seeking employment and publication.

4. Terrific news: The fall Toastmaster conference is happening in my home town in November. Having tasted the delights of a conference with writing friends, I've developed an eye and ear for mentions of conferences. Of course, I'm keeping track of every penny, so many things are on a future fun list. Actually, that's a good thing, because hope is as crucial as thankfulness.

5. A carry-over from yesterday: I visited my father. He's growing weary in body and needs the care he gets in a nursing home across town, but some of the things I spoke to him about that afternoon, made him smile.

6. The many good friends who choose to include me on spur-of-the-moment opportunities.

7. The chance to stretch my capabilities, even now.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Today I found something lovely in a BBC news article

I scan headlines most often, but this caught my eye. It's the sort of situation that raises echoes of my novel plot.

I also took one of my first nature photos of the spring--a small moth that believed it was camouflaged on a brick pillar at my church.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Cardinal beyond them, singing.

Before my multiple migrations to reach this address, I lived in a home in the woods. There, I deeply enjoyed the birds that visited our feeders, and learned to recognize several bird songs. I'm still terrible at spotting anything in a tree unless it's a hawk or falcon resting on a dead branch.

This time of year brings to mind one of my favorite Bible passages: "See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land."

The thing is, most of the birds closest to this apartment building are starlings and sparrows. Yes, the sparrow finds a place to build her nest in the temple courts, but here they're doing it above my porch, again. When other pairs drop in to squabble over such prime real estate, that's mostly all I hear, all summer long.

But today is mild enough that I can open the patio door; and in the background of the sparrow domestic squabbling, I  hear chickadees, titmice, a drumming woodpecker, and beyond them-- a cardinal, singing. Thanks be to God, who keeps his word and changes the seasons because he loves us.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Are You Interested?"

"Sure," I said.

"Well, I'll stop by so you can carpool with me," Margaret said. "I'll be there by 6:00."

It pleased me that she felt I was up to the challenge. The idea of speaking to Advanced level Toastmasters wasn't particularly frightening. I'd met several of them when I attended a quarterfinal competition as an observer. They're friendly people.

Given the fact that two of my previous three speeches had been given off the cuff, and were still unwritten, the occasion seemed to call for a reprise of my Ice Breaker speech.  So, that weekend I reviewed the text, and considered changing some of the gestures I had previously used.  I prepared a stack of visual aids, knowing that on Monday morning, I'd be attending the Charter celebration for the Toastmaster group that met at the restaurant.

Margaret allowed me to carpool with her to that meeting also, and as we chatted, I recounted my experiences with the canned speech material I'd presented two weeks before. During the luncheon, another group officer sat beside me at the table. She apologized for  having had to miss the previous meeting.

"I heard part of how that went," she said. "Pretty much the same thing happened to me when I made my first canned speech."

As I recounted more details, I suddenly decided to switch that evening's speech topic. It meant I'd need to do some furious scribbling to be ready by six. In the end, I stopped with one legal page full of scrawling. I wished I hadn't already turned in the manual containing the canned speech. It would have made a wonderful prop.

Shortly after we arrived at the meeting site, one of my pastors entered the room. He'd been interested in hearing me speak, and I'd informed him of this chance on quite short notice.

An officer of the competing group handed me a visitor's information folder.  Good. I'd hide my page of notes inside, and use it as a substitute for the canned speech text. My presentation would occur during the second half of that evening's agenda. I settled back to listen to the competitors speak.

I remembered them both from a competition the previous year. After an intermission, it was my turn. The ContestMaster introduced my speech as Canned Speeches, Dangerous Things. I shook her  hand and reached the lectern without tripping on thin air. An  excellent beginning.

"Who would like to give a canned speech?" I asked, waving the folder in one hand, and began to recount my comedy of errors. This time I didn't bother to keep my place in the haphazard notes. I maintained eye contact, and let the story roll on. Somewhere around the half way point, I realized my audience was laughing for me.

I liked it.

By the time I reached my concluding thoughts the red timing light had been glowing for some while. Caught again by the length of an unpracticed speech, but I wasn't competing that night and therefore disqualified. I wrapped up the presentation, saying: "I committed the unforgivable act of not repeating my main points in my conclusion then, and I don't have time to do it now, either."

Then the applause began, and seemed to go on much longer than the usual polite response when a speaker is ready to leave the stage.

Will I present another canned speech? Yes, because I've stumbled into most of the pitfalls now, and understand how to avoid them.

My Dream Career

The week after delivering that canned speech, I  had a much more pleasant opportunity. With three other Toastmasters, I spent part of a Tuesday and a Friday coaching some fifth and sixth graders at a local school. The chamber of commerce is sponsoring a speaking competition for children at that level, and one of the leaders of my first Toastmaster group has a grandson in the competition. He and six or seven others were interested in any tips we could give them on relaxing when facing an audience.

As Toastmasters, we were surprised with the wide variety of responses to the My Dream Career topic, and the maturity and stage presence some of these children already showed. We may return to the school sometime nearer to the date of competition.

While we left the building I asked Margaret, "What was that opportunity to be a guest speaker that I had to turn down earlier this week?" The night she'd requested was the same as my church choir practice.

"Oh," she said. "I do still need someone to be a target speaker for a group that's holding their club competition for the area contest that's coming up.  This one's on Monday. Are you interested?"

Murphy's Lawyer...the opening statement.

I carpooled across town with a friend, secure in the knowledge that I'd phoned the restaurant meeting place to ask that the handicapped access ramp would be shoveled clear. But, when we arrived, it appeared that nothing had been done.

After attempting to make ourselves understood to the Korean-speaking gentleman with the snow shovel, we decided to park as near to the ramp  and portico as we could get.  My friend left the driver's seat to unload my walker from the back seat of her car. As I opened the passenger door, gravity deposited a small avalanche from the portico roof, directly into my lap. I hadn't even set foot out of the car! No wonder the ramp area looked as though it had never been cleared.

I scraped the snow from the top of my portfolio, packed it into a ball, and tossed it over the top of the car door into the parking lot. The edges of my printed speech were damp and already wrinkling. I scooped more snow from around my feet, and tossed that aside also.

By then, my walker was waiting in the deepening pile beside the car. "Hurry," Paula said.

Toastmasters behave professionally. We do not stand in restaurant parking lots and scream. I had to give this speech, even if I was going to be desperately dependent on my printed copy.  Look at the bright side, I told myself. With the page edges wrinkling, you'll be able to turn them more easily. There's almost no chance of flipping two at once.

I gripped the handles of my walker and shoved it through the ankle-deep snow toward the restaurant door. I'd taken maybe three steps, and the portico roof baptized me a second time with another avalanche that landed in my collar, and slid from my shoulders.

While my friend struggled to contain her laughter, I pushed on.  I dripped my way into the restaurant, thankful that we had arrived early. Slowly, other members of the group trickled in. Many fewer than usual. The weather deterred some, and employment obligations kept others away.

When the woman who was scheduled to introduce me as the speaker of the day arrived, she admitted to leaving the introduction I'd prepared and emailed to her a week before in the printer tray at her office. 

Lesson one from Murphy's Lawyer: When you are scheduled to speak, always bring a printed copy of your introduction to the venue.

A newer member came in, and volunteered to give the group his Ice Breaker speech during the meeting. I glanced at the printed agenda, which gave me five to seven minutes speaking time (the length of a standard speech) and said, "That's great, Patrick. I'll look forward to hearing you after I give my presentation."

If a higher-ranking Toastmaster officer had not been sidelined by job demands, we would have avoided the next sequence of error.

Instead, Paula took over the task of introducing me, and I launched into the rewritten script of the speech Evaluate to Motivate. Regretting each time I had to break eye contact with my listeners, I worked my way through the concepts. I moved from one page to the next, knowing I looked like a first-time speaker too panicked to emerge from her notes.

Between paragraphs, I sneaked glances at the timing cards. As the designated timer flipped the card from yellow to red, I rushed to read the conclusion. This is not the optimum way to deliver a speech, and my group members knew it. One person commented, "I wish you could have spoken a little more slowly. I missed a point in my note-taking." Another man brought up my lack of reiteration. But there was nothing to be done about it, and the speech had gone over the seven minute limit.

All the way home, my friend Paula repeated her belief that I'd done a good job presenting the material. She hadn't needed to keep her eyes locked to her notes, and she saw the other group members lay aside their chopsticks and silverware to listen to my words.  I'm still unsure how much they learned, but perhaps part of it will stick with them.

Murphy's lawyer had one last laugh. When I entered my apartment and picked up the original text of the canned speech, I opened the cover and read: Members presenting these materials may use ten to fourteen minutes of speaking time.  Murphy's other law? Always take at least a second look at the introduction of a canned speech.

Monday, March 8, 2010

So long since you've seen me here...

Short February was packed to the seams with activity. Much of it connected to my enlarging role as a Toastmaster. I've become a Sergeant at Arms for one club, and organized the location for an officer training session.
Sergeants at Arms are responsible for all the behind the scenes set up work that allows a meeting to run smoothly.
I also made myself useful by presenting the material in what's known as a "canned speech." Usually, doing that is something reserved for more advanced Toastmasters than I am, but I was the only one who volunteered. I think the others knew what was ahead of me, and didn't want to go there again for another T-shirt.
Toastmasters International provides material on specific skills that members of each club must develop to excel at public speaking. This canned speech pointed out the subtleties that form an excellent, inspiring evaluation. I believed the process of presentation would be simple. Foolish, foolish, inexperienced me.

I knew I had nearly two weeks to prepare, and that all the necessary concepts were in the text. All I'd have to do was become familiar with it, right? So I settled back to make a serious dent in the pile of library books I'd requested to complete the requirements for my fiction proposal. Page, after chapter, after novel, the time rustled away until it was Saturday, the 20th.

The presentation was scheduled for Monday, February 22! I opened the cover of the speech text. The introduction  contained a phrase that caught my eye.
"Use this as a guideline."

It should have set off shrieking alarms in my brain. I turned the page. DULL ideas, DRAB vocabulary, SOPORIFIC phrasing, HYPNOGOGIC cadence! Could I back out of this task? If I didn't present this material, the club would never gain the skills the members needed. If I did present it in this form, I'd put them to sleep. What a disaster. The only way to salvage the situation, and my integrity, was to rewrite the concepts in each paragraph, from the opening word to the closure.

I thanked the good Lord for the fiction writing skills I'd developed in the last decade and set to work. I sent up more thanks in the wee hours of Monday morning when the printer still had enough ink to print out a draft. There was just one problem. I never had a chance to practice. Carefully I slid the fresh copy into the outermost pocket of a portfolio to keep it from crumpling.
When I woke some hours later, Murphy's lawyer had arrived. It was snowing. Hard. (More later.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blessed with Ironies

Well, it's Wednesday. Now to see  how it's possible to be thankful for events so far this morning. I went through a somewhat tedious process to become eligible to ride the handicapped bus service in my home town. Their method of operation involves phoning a day ahead to make a reservation.

Tomorrow I need a ride to my church building to attend the Dave Ramsey class. So, I phoned the bus office. I gave them the information, and was promptly informed that the bus cannot take me to my church in Byron Center, because I no longer live in Byron Center.

I do have a wry sense of humor, but this stretches it more than a little. Most of my church members attended this class last year, when it was held on the same night as choir practice. This year, the group is much smaller.

I've left a message with the pastor who usually is there to  lead the group, and I'll see what happens.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Causes for thanks: A fifteen-foot desk, and a strong east wind.

In the last few years I've come to the conclusion that it's past time to cease disparaging Pollyanna and her attitude. Gladness and thanksgiving truly aren't hokey. They  train our minds to hope.

Yes, it's easy to be cynical about politics and the economy. They don't function as they should, because the world is broken.  We aren't in control, and our efforts to exert control are flawed. But we do still have the gift of our private thoughts and the opportunity to choose.

So, why am I thankful for a fifteen-foot desk, and a strong east wind? The desk supports green plants that were gifts from loving family and friends, and my perpetual piles of projects in progress. (A little too much alliteration, possibly?)

I've got library books to read for the comparative analysis for my book proposal, writing craft books, materials from a course my church is offering, and hand scribbled sheets of score paper that may some day really be a song.  There's also a Toastmaster speech I must prepare.

I'll be the first to admit that the stacks look a fright, but my favorite college professor once scolded me, saying: "God did not create you to be bored." It all means that I know people, and interact with them. Most of them seem to enjoy my company, despite my physical limitations.

I'm thankful that I'm capable of completing each project. Some may take more attempts than others, or some assistance from others, but I am not helpless.

Yes, I weary of the repetition of some chores, dish-washing and cooking most specifically, but I've learned to stand in the middle of my kitchen, and deliberately give thanks aloud for having food in the refrigerator to cook, electricity to operate the refrigerator, a stove to cook on, pans to cook in, and table ware to eat from. If by then my grumpy mood hasn't faded, I go on with my vocal thanks for any other area in my home or on my schedule where I have incomplete work.

You see, I've lived in close proximity to the mental and spiritual poison of critical complaining, and I don't enjoy the changes that can make in me. Since attitudes are so catching, and I've had my previous experience, I choose now to approach my life through the question: "What did you thank God for, today?"

Oh, that strong east wind? It's been making my wind chime ring continuously, and it's blowing in snow that will eventually make a photography opportunity. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

This Thursday's Child

I've got a long way to go, and sometimes it feels like I've just missed the bus or the plane connection. Still, feet and fingertips were invented first. By God, who knows his plans from beginning to end. I'm an adult, and I'm sure that on the day of my birth there weren't many who thought my reaching maturity would happen.

During the last fifty-two years, I've overcome a birth weight of barely over two pounds, and have learned to cope with spastic cerebral palsy.

Where my physical coordination is lacking, God gave me an affinity for words.

For a little while, I considered titling this blog Writing My Way Out of My Glass Box, but that's wordy, and not too memorable. My Glass Box was already taken. The current title, Sunny Lane Musings, suits the outlook I'd like this blog to have.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Welcome to February

Thank goodness for writer friends who'll arrive and follow another friend's blog while she's writing the first post.