New Year’s Eve, Almost 2015

Calendars are about to expire, new ones flip into place. As you get older, time moves faster. In 2014, some months zipped by, others dragged.

Seeing these clouds tonight means a change in the weather tomorrow. Rain, most likely

Seeing these clouds tonight means a change in the weather tomorrow. Rain, most likely

What’s interesting about a calendar is that it does more than mark time, it can set the pace.

January and February, lacking big holidays, can drag by because it is also dark and cold (in the Northern hemisphere.)

I remember clearly living in New England and celebrating the mid-February day when I arrived home without turning on my headlights. It was a cause for celebration.

If you keep a journal, you might make some interesting notes today. The mileage on your car–next year, you can see how far you’ve come.  The price of a gallon of gas, a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs. Those items rise and fall and it’s interesting to see if you can find any connections. It’s also interesting to stick a photo of yourself or your family into the journal at the end of the year.

When I was in graduate school, I read the diaries of hundreds of immigrant women from the 1890s. They told about their ordinary days, but finding the descriptions of what life was like, what bread cost, how dress hems got muddy because there weren’t storm sewers–or sidewalks–made for interesting reading.

In those diaries were real stories–and real history. Personal stories about historical events. Without that information, I would have never been able to write a dissertation. Understood the world as I find it now. Some of their wisdom is still with me.

For now, write down the things you want to leave behind in 2014. You don’t need to bring everything along into 2015. Pack light, but bring dancing shoes. It’s going to be that kind of year.

—Quinn McDonald is looking forward to 2015.


Keeping a Journal

Does keeping a journal require keeping the journals?

Do you keep your journals? When one is done (or filled), where do you store it? Do you ever go back and look at them? What are you doing differently in your life than you did 10 years ago? What are you doing that is the same?

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 9.56.56 PMA journal will hold your grudges for you so you can get on with your life. A journal will hold your worries, so you don’t have to let them circle your mind. A journal will hold your big goals, so you can keep following them.

But a journal that gets filled and stuffed in a box and put in the attic–that journal might as well be a cannoli for all the good it is doing you.

Journals are like computers–they hold information, but the genius comes in interpreting the information. Learning from it. Acting on it.

Treasure your old journals. They show how far you have come.

-Quinn McDonald keeps a journal. It talks back to her.

The Magic Week

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a magic one. Work is slow, often slow enough to enjoy some reading, planning, thinking time. An excellent time to take a look at your plans for 2015. I’m against making New Year’s resolutions, for three simple reasons:

How to protect a cactus from a freeze. The secret is knowing what will save a plant and what wastes time and materials.

How to protect a cactus from a freeze. The secret is knowing what will save a plant and what wastes time and materials. Planning for 2015 uses the same rules.

1. They are generally too big or too vague to succeed. (I want to eat a healthy diet; I want to lose 20 pounds, I want to have a better relationship with X.)

2. There are no how-to steps or plans to break the task from bigger to smaller steps. Nothing fails faster than a big plan with no small victories and check-in days.

3. There is no support system. Unless you enroll a support system, your family and friends will not want you to change. When you change, they will also have to change, and they didn’t sign up for that. They will send you change-back messages until you cave and give up.

So what to think about 2015? Start with things that worked well for you in 2014.

We all meet dips in our lives. We don't always get warnings.

We all meet dips in our lives. We don’t always get warnings.

A relationship that went well. A success at work. A goal you met. Anything that worked well. Write it down. Describe it in detail. Celebrate your success. Continued success is built on previous, recognized, success.

Next, look at where you started in 2014 and how far you have come. Overcoming difficulties. Skirting tough times with grace. OK, without grace, but with persistence. Looking back to see how far you have come is a necessary step to keep moving ahead.

It’s tempting to think of the person you would like to be in 2015. Even more tempting to make it a whole new person. But it’s far more worthwhile spending your time finding yourself than trying to be someone new.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach, writer, and business trainer who is planning for 2015 in a week that also includes a lot of reading and sleeping.


Giving and Withholding

There it was on my Facebook feed–another “friend” invitation from someone I don’t know. That isn’t unusual, and most of the people I follow on FB are people I do not know in person. Still, we all have some connection–writing, sketching, collage, some worked at companies I’ve worked at. It’s comfortable–I don’t post super-personal information. It’s not the people, it’s FB itself that makes me leery.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 8.40.40 PMWhat made this different is that within minutes of accepting the friend request, I received another request: to “like” their business page, to join their private group, and for two of them, to contribute to their private fund-raiser.

It confused me. Receiving a friend request is not being invited to someone’s house, but it also seems awkward to ask someone for money you have just friended on Facebook. And yet, I have given money to total strangers–the homeless begging at the side of the freeway or in front of stores. So why not on Facebook?

Because there is no personal contact. One person friended me, then immediately sent me a private message wishing me Merry Christmas.  Immediately after that came a request for medical expense money for his family. The photo could be any family, anywhere. The need could have been real, the request legitimate.

The homeless I give money to are people I “know”–also in a different way. I see the same people on the same corners. Tenuous as it is, it is a face-to-face transaction.

No matter what business you are in–from selling your ebooks to your art to your services–the personal connection is the one that will work. But it has to be real. Once people experience you, your service, your offer, your real work, there is something to react to. It can’t be an instant, one-way tag-game for the soft touch. That has never worked, and it won’t work just because FB makes it easier to connect.

Quinn McDonald is a life coach and an instructor. She knows the value of relationships.


Letting Go of 2014

It doesn’t matter if it was a great year or a tough year. Probably some of both. Either way, in a week it will be 2015. And you can choose what to take with you and what to leave behind. Yes, you can. This is not up to your partner, or your parents, or what happened in 1974. It’s your choice.

Screen Shot 2014-12-25 at 11.34.12 PMLetting go means not dragging the worry and tension with you into a new year. Letting go means exhaling and waiting to pull in new air into your life and lungs.

Letting goes means leaving behind. Things that aren’t useful. Things that drag you down. Things that hold you back.

You get to choose priorities. You get to name what it important to you. No one can decide for you. You can’t claim it is important and then turn your back on it. Then it wasn’t important enough.

One year from now, you will not remember if you started the year with clean floors, dusted furniture, or a put-away tree. But you will remember your creative work. The work that expressed who you choose to be. The creative urge you followed that made 2015 different from 2014.

Start to let go of what isn’t make you eager, alive, wonderful and awake. You have a bit less than one week.

–Quinn McDonald is starting to let go.



Starfish on Christmas

This is a time of year for stars and dreaming. And also, realistically, a time that is not always easy. I love this gentle and mysterious poem for Christmas Day.

Starfish1Poem: “Starfish”
Eleanor Lerman, from Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds.

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

Starfish2And then life suggests that you remember the
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you
were born at a good time. Because you were able
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.
Starfish3So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland,
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel,
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Quinn McDonald dreams of stars.

All Is . . .What?

It’s December 24th. There is a fever pitch of last-second shopping, traffic, forced cheer, disappointment, anger, and frustration. I know, I went to pick up my repaired suitcase and ran into it all.

I have a suggestion: if it’s not purchased, let it go.

551475_10153034578247223_8930016540212016415_nIf it’s not decorated, leave it the way it is.

If it’s not wrapped, and you still have wrapping paper, you can make a gift bag from wrapping paper. Otherwise, leave it unwrapped.

If it’s not a perfect dinner, eat what tastes good to you today.

Haven’t sent your cards? Me, neither. Send ’em later or not at all. Or send ecards. Or write a letter in the next few days to people you really care about.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 9.19.46 PMThe important thing is–striving and stress will not bring about the magic of any holiday. Lower your standards. Have some tea. Eat a cookie. Breathe.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 9.20.52 PMEnjoy the art of Toshio Ebine, some of which are shown here. Breathe. You are alive. You’ll never get today back. Stop ruining it with “less than” comparisons. Enjoy who you are and what you have. It is enough. You are enough.

Quinn McDonald will leave the mantel the way it is–no pine boughs. Because it’s fine the way it is.

Easy Treat: Chocolate Covered Orange Peels

Note: While I can no longer eat chocolate covered orange peels, I still have an orange tree. And in hopes that someone else will enjoy these, here is the recipe.

Chocolate covered orange peels are one of my strong childhood memories–a treat for adults, with adult tastes. The orange peel was soft and slightly bitter, coated in a sugar syrup and then in dark chocolate. Aromatic, sweet and bitter, with a soft peel and brittle chocolate coating–it was always a treat.

orangepeel1Now I care for an orange tree, and the pesticide-free, organic oranges have the most amazing fragrance when they are ready to be picked–floral and dense, not at all what an orange tastes like.

So when we eat oranges, we save the peel to make chocolate-striped peel. Here’s how it’s done:

Ingredients: sugar, clean water, orange peels, good quality dark chocolate (Belgian semi-sweet chocolate from Trader Joe’s works very well.)

Pick four large pesticide-free, organic oranges. Mine are navels. Wash and dry them. Score them from top to bottom (stem to blossom end) into four or six segments. Pull off the peel carefully.

orange2If it breaks, you can still use them. Eat the orange, this is about the peels. Cut the peels in long strips. Remove some of the white pith by using a sharp knife and cutting slowly, holding the knife flat and parallel to the cutting board. Do not remove all the pith—about half will do.

4 oranges will yield about 2 cups of loosely-packed peel.

Put 2 cups of clean water in a small saucepan–about 2 quart size. Bring to a boil. Put the orange peel in, wait for it to barely boil again. Pour out the water. Repeat for a total of three times. This removes the bitter flavor of the peel.

orange3Drain the peel. While it’s draining, make the sugar syrup. Use twice as much sugar as water. For the 2 cups of peel, about 2/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water will make a good syrup amount. Pour the sugar and water into the same saucepan as before. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add in the cooked orange peel. Stir. Keep stirring until the liquid is completely absorbed. The sugar will form crystals on the bottom of the pan.

Immediately pour the peels onto a sheet of parchment or a large platter. Using a fork, pick apart the peels into individual pieces before the sugar coating hardens. The ideal peel will be soft and have a crunchy coating. If the sugar syrup remains sticky, you can slide it into a 200-degree oven for a half hour.

orange4Melt about an ounce of chocolate (more or less to taste) by putting it in a microwave-safe container and heat it at high heat for 30 seconds. Stir to check for consistency. If it isn’t the consistency of sour cream, heat at another 10-second interval until it is. Using a small spoon pick up about half a spoon full and pour a stream over the orange peels. Using a fast back-and-forth motion, you’ll web the orange peels in chocolate. Let it dry and they are ready to eat.

And if you are diabetic or shun sugar, you can always use those yummy peels to make orange dust.

-Quinn McDonald has fond memories, which will have to be enough for now.


Shifting Words

Teaching grammar and writing is a fascinating job for me. I get to track down word meanings and how they change, watch the language grow. English is a flexible language, and for all the exceptions to rules, crazy spelling and grammar twists, the fact that the language develops new words to cover new experiences is exciting.

CoughspellingTen years ago, we could not live without the phrase “floppy disk.” Today? It’s long gone. That’s how fast our language develops, uses, discards words.

For language, that’s healthy growth. Some other words that have changed meaning or are entirely new:

Doxing. An internet practice of outing sources or protected witnesses or hackers. Usually done by other hackers.

Bail-out: Used to mean taking water out of something, like a boat, to keep it afloat. Now it means pouring public money into a Wall Street company to keep it afloat. Notice that it used to mean taking out of and now it means putting into.

Like: Used to mean “to care for or about,” but now means “I saw what you posted on Facebook and don’t want to comment,” or even “I hate what is happening to you, but showing solidarity.”

Linked: Used to mean you were probably in trouble, as in “Your name has been linked to the embezzlers.” Now it shows you know a lot of people in businesses related to yours.

Favorite: Used to mean that something was special, unique, at the top of the good heap. Now it means, “I’ve seen your Tweet, and want you to know I’ve seen it.” Often not associated with being pleased at all.

Tag: Used to be a children’s game or a piece of paper affixed to an object to give more information. Now it means grabbing attention for items that might otherwise be ignored. If you’ve ever been tagged on Facebook, you know you have to look and sometimes wish you could have ignored it.

Follow: Used to mean to walk behind someone, sometimes a bit creepy. Stalkers followed you. Now used as a path to popularity: “I have 1,500 followers on Facebook.”

Break: Used to be something bad, a result of a clumsy move. Now, if you do it to the internet, you are an instant idol, for a nanosecond or more. “Your post broke the internet, dude!”

–Quinn McDonald loves watching the language change. But she is still a stubborn user of the Oxford comma.



Bring Back the Light

December 21 is the shortest day of the year, for those of us who live to the North of the equator. The North pole is pointed furthest from the sun, and experiences 24 hours of night. The South pole gets a full blast of sun for 24 hours.

Darkness wasn’t valued until the invention of video games and it wasn’t until I moved to Phoenix that I began to like the shorter days that bring us relief from the griddle of summer.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 12.33.24 AMOur ancestors so disliked the dark, they brought artificial light into their lives in as many ways as possible. Sometime in the late 1400s, people decorated trees with apples and nuts to keep the birds alive (and worth eating) and then added candles to the trees, to chase the darkness.

The Yule log is a large piece of oak that is lit to scare away the darkness (and accompanying evil spirits) and burns for days. In some traditions, the remnants of last year’s log is used to light this year’s log. Notice all the light being brought out to brighten the gloom of winter.

Hanukkah candles, which represent the miracle of a small amount of oil lasting for eight days starts with one candle and gets brighter until the last night when a total of nine candles light up the room. (The extra candle burns every night and is used to light the others.)

We are a heat-seeking, story-telling, light-loving people. If the sun and earth don’t cooperate, we’ll invent candles and blinking lights and fireplaces to provide heat and light. If I had my way (and aren’t you glad I don’t run the economy), we would celebrate the winter holidays–all of them–with candles and lights and song and food and forget about the crush of buying presents and the day after Christmas sales.

It’s the dark days of winter. Brighten up someone’s life with a smile or a small kindness. It will bring more warmth to your heart than a plaid slanket.

Quinn McDonald wishes you a joyous Solstice.