When life takes a different direction than we planned…


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Coming About ~ When life takes a different direction than we planned…

This week’s Bublish book bubble is an excerpt that includes part of a family sailing day, when Bruce takes Alexa and the kids out on his beautiful sailboat and temporary home, Belle Étoile (which means Beautiful Star and refers to an old fairy tale involving a quest.) I thought I’d share the intro here as a blog post, since it says a lot about the book, my life, why I write and where my stories come from.

When I write my novels, they are in no real way autobiographical, but I think most authors put bits and pieces of themselves in their story. The things they’ve seen and done, the places they’ve been, the people they’ve known. Sailing on the West Coast of BC (Canada) has always been a big part of my life, as a student, a recent graduate, a newlywed and a wife and mother. We’ve sold our boat now, but weekend and summer sailing trips in Howe Sound, Georgia Strait and among the Gulf Islands formed a big part of my life for many years.

So it’s easy for me to draw on these experiences to inform my novels (and no, I never lost my kid overboard, but no parent sails without entertaining these harrowing thoughts and mentally preparing for them!) Disruption by Design, my most recent release (January 1, 2018) is the first time I’ve used my sailing experience in a book. And more than than, it captures many aspects of living on the West Coast, including marinas, ocean views, old houses and living on the Gulf Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

Daydreaming and Imaginary Friends

In my case, I love travel and adventure because the experience of new places and sights and smells and flavours stimulates my imagination. I can’t really travel or engage in an experience without a part of my mind wandering off and creating imaginary events and people inspired by that moment. Parallel universes are spiralling off in every direction all the time. That’s just the way I’m built. When I was a kid, they called it “daydreaming”. Or “airhead,” LOL.

Fortunately for my readers, and for me, I’ve learned to direct my imaginings in between the covers of books, and learned to find just the right words to describe the movies playing in my head, and how to structure the stories so that they play out in a way that’s entertaining and satisfying– I hope!

While my books are not about me, per se, they are certainly informed by my own life. In my series, Having it All, women who are very committed to their careers struggle in different ways to balance their passion and yearning for authenticity, expression and independence with their need to find love, companionship, family and a sense of belonging. This was for me, and I think for many women of my generation and beyond, a difficult struggle. One that never seems to end. I guess you’d call this a recurring theme in my writing.

Balancing Life and Work, Self and Others

In Disruption by Design, Alexa is a women who is really having a hard time reconciling these different aspects of a woman’s life. She starts out believing that commitment to one arena means sacrifice in another, and gradually learns to find balance and put her own stamp on a life she can truly call her own.

This scene falls close to the midpoint of the story, and represents a change of direction for Alexa, who’s just quit her job, for Bruce, who must come to terms with his self-worth, for their relationship, which moves to a new place, and for the book as a whole, as the plot, tone and setting make a radical change at this point.

A Change of Direction

This excerpt ends with the words, “Coming About!”

In sailing terms, this means changing direction, via a tack or as Wikipedia defines it:

“Tacking or coming about is a sailing maneuver by which a sailing vessel, whose desired course is into the wind, turns its bow toward the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other, allowing progress in the desired direction.”

In common usage, it also means “to come to pass, to happen.”

It seems to me in both cases to suggest forward progress and change, whether in a sailboat or a person’s life. Originally I intended the book to be titled Coming About. Later I thought it was rather too common a phrase to grab attention, but it still encapsulates the idea of the book, or really any story about any character who is at a turning point, a crossroads in their life where choices must be made about future directions. Where one leaves the past behind and boldly heads off in a new direction.

That’s a lot for two little words to mean, but that’s half the fun of writing. Playing with words and their meanings, trying to convey complex or deep ideas with the the right choices and arrangements.

I think my love of the written word has surely got to be one of the reasons I write. Why I learned to write in the first place, and continue to love the process as much as the product. It can be hard at times. Often an idea, image or feeling that we experience emerges from imagination or memory and their are no words that immediately come to mind to capture or express it. That’s the part of writing that’s hard work, and the reason you so often find writers sitting and staring out the window.

To read the Book Bubble excerpt, go to my Bublish page. Scroll to the second version of Disruption by Design and look for the latest #bookbubble.

Are you a sailor? Have you ever been on a sailboat? And are you drawn to either familiar or exotic new experiences in the fiction that you read? Leave a comment below and let me know!

Reading Full-length Fiction: Have You Got What it Takes?


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 Have You Got the Mental Muscle to Read Long Fiction or Are You Flabby?

short fiction versus long: books lined up, cut pages facing out

There has been an undeniable trend toward short fiction recently instead of full-length novels. This has resulted in a resurgence of short stories, novellas, novelettes and serialized fiction in the market. I believe the affordability and flexibility of digital publishing is somewhat responsible for this trend, and it’s not all bad.

Short story collections have a particular readership, and I believe have not always been that popular among the general fiction-reading audience. They have had more often literary connotations than commercial fiction. Another traditional spot for short stories has always been literary magazines. On one hand, I think this trend is a good thing, opening the market to new forms of writing. Also, perhaps luring new readers into the world of online publishing and reading fiction.

short fiction versus long: "I am like a fish in love with a bird wishing I could fly: on white page

Possible Reasons for the Short Fiction Boom

short fiction versus long: racks of books at bookstore

Other reasons why shorter fiction might be more popular and available today are not quite so benign. These include: time to produce, cost to print, time to read, attention span, and the ease of series creation which is better for author platform and branding. Let me expand on these a bit. With the advent of digital and independent publishing, two things have happened to make the marketplace more crowded and competitive. While indie authors arguably have more freedom and autonomy than those publishing through traditional channels, all authors and readers have to deal with the consequences of these shifts.

Firstly, back lists, out-of-print titles and classics are all equally available today alongside more current titles. What we as readers had to choose from in the past was curated by publishers, booksellers and librarians. Today virtually everything is simultaneously and universally available. How does a reader choose? How does a writer get noticed?

I Need to Publish How Many Books Per Year?

short fiction versus long: e-reader

One way for writers to compete is to publish more titles, more rapidly. Some advocates recommend four titles per year or more. The creation of several shorter works also enables the creation of series which can pull readers back for more purchases in a familiar story world. This builds author rankings and earnings. Now while some sub-genres and some authors can sustain this dizzying pace, I believe that the quality of storytelling and writing can only suffer under this kind of pressure. And, as the quality of stories goes down, so does the reader experience. Along with it, expectations for something more.

 

Is Short Fiction the Answer?

One solution is to write shorter fiction. This is more feasible for the author, because writing is after all a difficult and time-consuming task. It allows them more time to get critique and beta-reader feedback and refine and polish their stories. It’s also cheaper to get them professionally edited and formatted. And finally, for those readers who prefer print books, it’s cheaper to print and ship them, bringing their price points down. The battle is between an increasingly commodified product versus what is and arguable should be an art form. But at whatever price, is the value really there?

If you buy e-books, do you think to check page count before buying? I’ve made this mistake myself by making snap buying decisions. With pricing for e-books ranging from free and $0.99 to $6.99 and much higher, how do you know you’re getting what you pay for? Should you pay more for a 250-350 page novel than a 140 page novella? Do you feel “shorted” when you buy what you think is a novel and discover it’s over too soon?

Have I got the wrong end of the stick? Perhaps more shorter fiction, separately packaged, better remunerates hard-working authors for their time and creativity? I still can’t help feeling we’ve thrown out the baby with the bath water.

Long Versus Short Fiction: Pluses and Minuses

There are some unfortunate consequences of this publishing trend.

While the result is that “we” collectively, are producing more “books” I question whether “we” as a whole are getting more to read. While I’m no expert at short fiction, I do know that short stories are their own, completely distinct art form. They are not simply “shorter” versions of what we normally find between the pages of a novel.

What about novellas? (And novelettes, a term recently used to mean some intermediate page length between a short story and a novella.) It’s possible to tell an excellent story in the form of a novella. A recent workshop I attended with author Mary Robinette Kowal explained how good shorter fiction can be written through “proportional pacing.” What this means is simply that each element of the story must be reduced in size (length.) She argues that the proportions of the smaller parts don’t change, only their size does. This effects two elements of story: how does it feel, and how does the character achieve their ends?

In this way, a short story or novella, if well-written, can be just as absorbing and deep as a full-length novel. In fact some of the best classics are rather short (e.g. The Great Gatsby.) How the story is paced and punctuated can have a great bearing on the reader experience. But beware! Not all authors writing shorter fiction are doing so skillfully and artfully.

Is Shorter Better? Is It Even Good?

Digital publishing makes short fiction more available to readers than the traditional publishing industry could ever do. However, do we understand what we are sacrificing when we default to shorter fiction because we can’t be bothered to dig into the longer stuff? And are we willing to do this?

So while it’s possible to write a wonderful, rich reading experience with short fiction, not all the short titles out there are delivering on this. But even those that do will often do so at a cost. They necessarily must strip out many of the elements that longer fiction accommodates, and that make it a rich and valuable experience.

short fiction versus long: serpentine row of open books on the ground

Effort Worth Investing In?

It should be no secret by now where my personal bias lies. I strongly favour long fiction for several reasons. These include: depth of characterization (via backstory and internal dialogue), subtlety and believability of character arcs, complexity of storylines, inclusion of secondary characters and subplots, detailed, evocative description of places and events, and far more immersive emotional experiences. As well, longer fiction accommodates literary artistry such as layering of themes and weaving of stories into stories by referring to larger events, other literary or art forms, tying in of mythology and symbol, etc.

Not the exclusive domain of literary fiction, these things can be a part of an entertaining and engaging work of commercial fiction, too. I would argue they should be. Do we really want society to be relentlessly dumbed down because we are too busy, lazy or distracted to put in the time, attention and thought to reap these rewards. Do we not believe that quick and shallow forms of entertainment ultimately disable our ability to hold complex ideas in our minds and to indulge in the luxury of deep thought and analysis. Is this a cognitive and social (d)evolution that we welcome? Will it benefit humanity and enrich our lives?

There is no question there are cons to long form fiction. These obviously include the overall time it takes to read a work, the necessity of sustaining our attention if we are able, the degree of immersion into the fictional world in which we have chosen to invest our time. On a more practical level, there is also the cost of editing, production and printing, influencing price. But I would argue that it’s not only worthwhile, but essential to invest in longer fiction.

short fiction versus long: stack of vintage books

Fans of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Historical Fiction are, of course, more accustomed to the heftier tomes. They understand implicitly that this is the price for the payoff of complex world-building, a critical part of these genres. However, long fiction in every genre can just as easily be fit into busy lifestyles… if readers are willing.

 

Lost Attention Span

The true difficulty, in my opinion, is lost attention span, and the endangered mental ability to allow oneself to become immersed in a fictional world for a sustained period of time. With more people spending more of their time on the internet, flitting from social media to reading blogs and short posts, to consuming film and video, they’ve become accustomed to passively taking in increasingly small bites of superficial or fragmented visual messages. Some of this is okay in its own right. However, the problem with this is twofold. One, of course, is that we are continuously reinforcing the neural pathways for processing this kind of information in this way. And we are incrementally LOSING the ability to sustain attention and hold complex ideas in our heads where they can percolate.

Is Short Fiction causing us to LOSE the ability to sustain attention and hold complex ideas in our heads?

 

short fiction versus long: note by walnut: "use your brain"

The second part of the problem, from my perspective, is that the nature of what we consume influences the ideas we have, and the way we think about them. If everything is dished out in tidy bites that require little to no effort, analysis or synthesis, how will these intellectual functions be nurtured?

Although every demographic age-group since the baby boomers has been progressively affected by changing forms of media, I’m particularly worried about the youngest cohorts who have grown up so utterly immersed in online and largely video media.

With this lost ability comes unknowable and immeasurable changes in society. Less time is spent making connections, pondering deep ideas and building a cultural repertoire of reference material. Furthermore, I wonder if something priceless is lost in the shallowness of their relationship with fictional characters who for generations have helped build “character” by exponentially expanding the lived experience of the avid reader.

All Hope is Not Lost

short fiction versus long: dumpster with books on top, sign on side says "think before you speak. READ before you think."

An interesting contrary trend is emerging in entertainment media, however, that gives me hope. If only those involved in the publishing industry, from creators to consumers, can put it together. I’m referring to the explosion of passionate viewing of series programming on subscription channels such as Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. I’m gobbling up this content as voraciously as anyone.

What’s interesting about immersion and commitment to serialized storytelling is that, to me, it resembles long fiction more than feature films ever did. Serials provide a luxurious platform for long arc characterization, plenty of flashbacks to build motivation and reveal character, multiple character arcs and interwoven storylines, the exploration of themes that either run through a series or are explored episodically, and complete immersion in fictional worlds.

This trend toward serials has also begun to have an impact on fiction, as more authors are releasing episodic stories, either on platforms made for this, such as WattPad, on websites, or via digital publishing. And if this is what consumers are gravitating towards, is it because they’ve forgotten how to read full length novels?

Today’s long fiction is written more to the appetites of modern consumers as well. They no longer resemble the long-winded and slow-moving tales of George Elliot, Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy, wonderful as those works are. Novels have always, after all, come broken down into convenient, bite-size chapters.

Reader Survey: Do You Read Short Fiction or Long?

I’m genuinely curious to know how you feel about this subject, so I’ve created a mini-survey with ten short questions so I can get a sense of it. Please click and respond to the survey and I’ll report back on my findings. Also please comment below to get a discussion going. Thanks!

If you think you have what it takes to read a good, long novel, perhaps you’d like my latest release, Disruption by Design, just out January 1, 2018. It has 422 pages! Instead of feeling guilty about it, I invite you to lose yourself in it’s many complex twists and turns and enjoy the ride!

Author Interview Podcast

Author Interview Podcast


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My First Podcast Interview

This week I had a ton of fun chatting with Booktastik’s Dione Lister. You’ll find my book special listed there under New Releases, along with a lot of other great deals. And today the podcast of my author interview is live. I talk about my latest book, my last book, my next book, and about my writing process. As well as other things, like inspiration, process, community and cats.

Check it out here!

Author photo M A Clarke Scott

Fairy Tales as Real Life Lessons for Women


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Forging a Better Version of Yourself Through Fairy Tales: Lessons for Women

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her seminal 1992 book of fairy tales, Women Who Run with the Wolves, says of stories: “In a very real way, we are imprinted with knowing just by listening to the tale.” (p.387)

 

Women Who Run with the Wolves

 

Participation mystique: Just like living it

 

Termed “participation mystique” by Jungian psychologists, this notion has more recently been scientifically proven by brain researchers. Your brain really can’t tell the difference between experiences you live through and those you read about someone else living through, even if fictional.  Here’s an article in The Atlantic about it. And another in Science.Mic.

 

For a person like me who makes stuff up for a living, and loves fiction more than life, this is incredibly validating.

 

Thus we can read stories and fairy tales to expand our experience. The lessons we learn through fiction are real and applicable to the lives we are leading. This is the very purpose of myth. To pass along the wisdom of the ages. To learn from our “elders.”

 

In this book, Women Who Run with the Wolves, there is a particular story – a dark fairy tale – that Estes believes “deals with most of the key journeys of a woman’s psyche.” It’s one that seems to have particular relevance to women, such as myself, who wake up one day in mid-life and wonder: What happened? How did I get here? Has this happened to you, too? Do you wonder about the choices you made, the lies you told yourself, the sacrifices and compromises that marriage and motherhood and life seem to have demanded of you? Do you look in the mirror and ask: Who am I?

 

Do you look in the mirror and ask: Who am I?

 

The story’s called, “The Handless Maiden.” By reading, and slowly absorbing, this tale, we can experience, vicariously–through “sympathetic magic”– the transformations the character experiences over her entire lifetime. That’s a lot of wisdom to help you with your own life stage challenges.

 

Did You Sign Away Your Self? Time to Toughen Up, Ladies

 

There is no way to compress all of Estes wisdom into a brief blog post, but I’ll try to highlight the key points. Likely I’m doing her careful arguments a great disservice, but this is meant as an introduction only. Hopefully if this intrigues you you will seek out and read the book, if you haven’t already. Estes suggests taking quite a long time to read the story. Maybe even months. This  time is necessary because the lessons of the tale are very, very deep in a woman’s psyche, and you can’t just shake a stick at these parts of yourself and expect understanding, or change.

 

These deep lessons take place in a female psychic underworld, where we learn knowledge and language from the “Great Wild Mother” who wants to toughen us up to prepare us for life in the topside world of everyday. But we have to go down there to receive these lessons. Way, way down there.

 

Preparation for real life

 

In the tale, a series of tests and lessons must be mastered, each requiring a cycle of loss, sacrifice and enlightenment representing “women’s lifelong initiation into the renewal of the wild.”

 

Synopsis: The Handless Maiden

The tale, in brief synopsis: A man unwittingly sells his daughter to the devil in exchange for riches. She is too pure for the devil to claim, even after her hands are severed. She leaves home to become a beggar. A spirit guides her to a magical orchard, owned by a compassionate king, who falls in love and marries her. He builds her silver hands. She has a baby. The king goes away to war, and the devil interferes again, twisting messages, until the king’s mother is forced to send the queen away for safety rather than kill her. She is taken in by woods people and lives happily for seven years, and slowly her hands grow back. The king returns and seeks her out in the woods, and they live happily ever after.

 

The Stages:

  1. The bargain without knowing = The end of innocence.  (What poor bargain did you make?) Everywoman gives up her deep self knowledge and power for a more frail self. We trade our wild selves for the promise of riches, but the reward is hollow. We choose superficial riches and gives up dominion over some part of our passionate, creative and instinctive life. We become a sleep-walker, yet this is a necessary step on our journey. A catalyst. The father who guides us is ignorant of the connection between the inner and the outer worlds. Things are not what they appear to be.
  2. The (symbolic) dismemberment, or separation from false life/innocence
  3. The wandering (foraging for fruit symbolic of feminine strength)
  4. Finding love in the underworld (she is rescued, but not yet whole)
  5. Harrowing of the Soul (a time of healing, a shamanistic initiation during which she rediscovers her creative inner strength)
  6. The realm of the Wild Woman (return to society as a fully empowered, adult woman bringing gifts of knowledge, maturity and fertility.)
art by Jeanie Tomanek http://www.jeanietomanek.com illustrating stages in a women's journey via the fairy tale The Handless Maiden

art by Jeanie Tomanek http://www.jeanietomanek.com

For a terrifically written, thoughtful and more thorough analysis of this and other fairy tales, as well as art inspired by them, visit my new favorite link, the extremely awesome Terri Windling’s Blog, Myth & Moor.

“The trials these wounded young heroes encounter illustrate the process of transformation: from youth to adulthood, from victim to hero, from a maimed state to wholeness, from passivity to action. Fairy tales are… maps through the woods, trails of stones to mark the path, marks carved into trees to let us know that other women and men have been this way before.”

Windling concludes her analysis by saying: “Likewise, we’re not meant to remain in the circle of enchantment deep in the fairy tale forest — we’re meant to come back out again, bringing our hard-won knowledge and fortune with us…in service to the family (old or new), the realm, the community; to children and the future.”

 

Inspiration for Writing and Life

 

A better source of inspiration for writing women’s fiction I can’t imagine. One of my novels, a work-in-progress entitled “Coming About,” is a more intentional exploration of a woman’s journey through various stages of this process of metaphysical maturation and self-discovery. It’s about a woman who values her professional success as an architect over her selfhood as a woman. At the beginning, she has figuratively sold her soul to the devil by having an affair with her boss, and must lose everything she values and go on a spiritual retreat to learn how to integrate her inner and outer worlds.

This journey also serves as a metaphor for a writer’s life. What are we, as storytellers, doing, besides entertaining our readers, if not bringing our life’s journey to bear on stories that are a product of our creative imagination. For what purpose? To share them with our community, and our children. As I said earlier, this is the very purpose of myth – and of story. To pass along the wisdom of the ages.

If you’re a writer, have you applied this framework of the heroine’s journey to your writing? And whether you are or not, does this fairy tale speak to you in terms of your own life journey?

 

Too Funny and True NOT to Share


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Febreeze my house by Kristen Lamb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a few as-yet unwritten blogposts to start the year off, but I couldn’t resist reblogging this latest post from Kristen Lamb, who knows us (writers) too well. So many of the comments just add to the hilarity.

Enjoy!

You Know You’re a Writer When…

 

 

Remembering Thanksgivings Past


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apples

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOUNTIFUL BEGINNINGS

I was the child of parents who grew to adulthood on a pioneer homestead in Manitoba. Throughout my life, I took it pretty much for granted that the major holidays would signal a large family gathering, accompanied by some significant feasting, with food that my parents had more or less produced themselves from the land.

Although we reaped the rewards at these special times, our everyday lives benefited from the work my parents did every other day of the year, too. It may have seemed to me as a child that they simply waved their arm and all that bounty magically appeared on the table, whereas now I understand how much it was the product of their bent backs and a not insignificant amount of wisdom passed down through the generations.

A NEW TRADITION OF GRATITUDE

I had to leave home, to go to university here and there (actually the further I went the more I discovered), before I came to appreciate what we had at home.

In particular, I remember two Thanksgivings.

The first was during my undergraduate years. One year when I clearly had decided I couldn’t afford the time or money to go home for the holiday, I was invited, along with my roommates, to join a large group of likewise “homeless” singles for a Thanksgiving feast. This was my first encounter with someone else’s traditions. Looking back, I can clearly see how insular I was, how little exposure I had to cultural groups outside my own. I still find it difficult to understand why someone would want cornbread, mushrooms, apples or oysters inside their roast turkey, or curry spices on the outside. 8^* But never mind.

On this particular occasion I was astonished, enlightened and delighted with the sheer variety of dishes that were brought to the pot-luck Thanksgiving feast I attended. All the familiar items were there (well maybe not pyrogies, I can’t recall now.) But certainly there was roast turkey and stuffing and myriad root vegetables and squashes. There were also things I had never had, that others deemed de rigeur: brussels sprouts, for example. (imagine that!).

And as many kinds of pie as one could dream of: not only pumpkin but apple and pecan as well.

But despite the disorientation and titillation of learning new things, there was one thing that was familiar, and perhaps even more accentuated in that strange setting: gratitude.

Somehow, I suppose because we were all displaced, the sense of appreciation, not only for the bountiful feast, but for the warm and generous companionship, was uppermost in my mind. Perhaps it was simply that none of us took it for granted. In my memory, it was one of the warmest, richest, most emotionally fulfilling holidays of  my life.

the last tomatoes in the gardenRECONNECTING WITH THE BOUNTIFUL EARTH

A few years later, when I was further from home in the middle of grad school, I was taken in hand by a new friend and co-worker, along with my own room-mate at the time, and swept away to a rural area outside of Montreal for the Thanksgiving weekend. This was a part of the country with which I had no familiarity.

Not only the customs, but the very geography, were new and strange.

Our hosts ran a small pig farm. They were gracious and welcoming, immigrants themselves to Canada. Highlights I can remember include accompanying our hosts in borrowed galoshes as they fed their livestock and harvested from their fall garden most of what we would be eating that evening, including late tomatoes, squashes, greens and brussels sprouts. We were sent on a long country stroll down a grassy allee of trees under the rainbow canopy of colourful Eastern leaves, armed with a bag of wrinkled apples to feed the horses who met us at the bounding fence, anticipating the sweet treats we brought.

fall leaves, country walkGRATITUDE TRULY FELT

Later, we warmed ourselves by a wood fire inside the cozy farmhouse and sipped wine while our hostess prepared the meal. My senses were alive. It was as if I had never experienced hospitality before, never seen food pulled from the dark soil and lovingly transformed into beautiful and delicious dishes, never tasted such a sumptuous meal, never felt such warm companionship, never felt such gratitude.

How odd, when in fact that is exactly what I had grown up with.

But perhaps without experiencing it out of my familiar context I would never have come fully awake to the wonders of a country harvest, and food lovingly harvested, prepared and shared with loved ones. Nor of the delights of opening ones home and ones arms to strangers.

It is a Thanksgiving weekend that I will always remember, and consequently why I prefer to be in the country at this time of year. Also perhaps why I feel a special urge to open the door and  include those outside my immediate family at the table. I certainly never again took for granted the skills, traditions and loving generosity of my own family.

So this weekend I’d like to say thank you. Thanks to my parents and family for all that they gave me and all that they taught me. Thank you to all those friends and strangers who opened their homes, tables and hearts to me over the years. And thank you to the earth that provides us all we need and more. If only we are able to pause and remember to appreciate it.

How about you? Do you have a special memory that you cherish – a moment in your past when you woke up and really felt gratitude for everything you were given?