Embracing the Hygge Trend

My friend and colleague, Marcia, and I made a pact last fall: this year we would embrace winter. We wouldn’t complain about the cold or how long the season lasts in this state (MN, in case you needed that info). I mean, this is where we live, have lived, and will continue to live so suck it up, buttercups.

The pact came from her sharing with me about the Danish concept of Hygge. Pronounced “HUE-guh”, blog writers for Ingebretsen’s describe it this way:

Hygge is usually translated into English as “coziness.” But devotees of hygge say it is more than that. In fact it is much more, say its devotees – it’s an entire attitude to life. Perhaps it is hygge that helps Denmark and other Scandinavian countries continue to be named the world’s happiest countries.

Scandinavian countries have long, cold winters and hygge is a response to that fact. With up to 17 hours of darkness per day in winter, and 0C as the average temperatures, people spend more time indoors as a result and that means more focus on home entertaining and family.

We also found that also, those in northern countries with long winters, also find ways to spend more time outside – enjoying the cold.

And so, I’ve been concentrating on ways to keep up this goal of embracing the long, cold, winter season.

One of the key things for me is being warm. Dressing warmly when going outside is a no-brainer, but inside? Different story. I don’t like to feel bulky. But maybe I could drape a blanket on my lap? Yes, I can do that. Even better… knit one! I haven’t knit in a long time and I loved the idea of having a purpose to take it up again. I don’t know that I’ll finish this blanket before the end of the season, but I don’t care. As it gets bigger, it will both warm me and make me happy as I enjoy the process. It’s a relaxing thing to do with my fingers while watching the some TV or listening to the audiobook that I just can’t wait until my Monday commute to start up again (the latest one I just finished, btw, is Kelly Barnhill’s MG The Girl Who Drank the Moon – highly recommend, especially in audio. Just beautiful.)

Additionally to keep warm, not gonna lie – we said good-bye to the whole “save money, save energy” BS of 68 degrees inside and frequently jump to 72. It’s so much nicer. (Sorry, Dad.)

Another Ingebretsen’s blog talks about light. One of my favorite things about the Christmas season are the lights. We don’t have enough room to keep our tree up much past the new year, but today, I finally strung up some smaller, white lights:


Don’t they look pretty? Warm and inviting? Hygge in our living room, indeed.

We’re at mid-February and regardless of whatever the groundhog did on the second, we’ve got the rest of this month, all of March, and a good part of April ahead (or all of April, who knows), so I’ve got a few more things I’ve been doing and am hoping to do. Read and write liberally. Eat cake. And maybe get in some snow trail hikes. It may be cold, but the good news is that often means the sun is shining brilliantly. Can’t go wrong there. Some would say they’d rather not ever leave the house during winter, and feeling cozy in my home is very often the most appealing thing, but I also know that I need the fresh air and the light to see me through.

What about you? If you live in a cold climate, what sees you through?

I had a difficult time coming up with a great song to match this post, and a good contender was some kind of Willie Nelson song (honestly, his “Still Not Dead” really almost won, because, funny), but I rather like this FB video shared by a friend recently on animal hugs. It’s a nice representation of another form of Hygge:


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100 Words

Not to be confused with the Ten Hundred Most Used Words (Science) Challenge, I have been participating in a 100 words in 100 days challenge. Writing friend Natalia opened this up to a group of fellow writers who are all trying to just get our butts in the chair and getting those new or revised words going on the manuscripts.

The purpose, of course, is to reinforce the idea of writing every day. For anyone who has followed my blog long enough, you’ll know that I won’t go on to say that Writing Every Day is a rule. For some, it’s a necessity. For others, it’s an impracticality. For me? It’s definitely helpful.

More specifically, doing a challenge like this is key to keeping me in the story. It ties me to the writing itself so that I don’t let it fall away from my daily routine. January tends to be a pretty busy month and it is so easy to say to my writing, “I don’t have time”. But my One Word Resolution for 2018 is BELIEVE and part of fulfilling that resolution is believing in my writing – the process, the story, the road to publication, all of it. In order to believe, I must give it the time it deserves. Some days that’s difficult, but 100 words? I can do that.

Is it working?

Days 1-14 were great. I mean, I was easily getting in at least 100 words each day. A few days I was going beyond, which of course is the hope, but even when I wasn’t, I was feeling engaged in two active manuscripts.

Then I got sick and uuuggghhhh, those three days were challenging, but hey, 103, 114, 102. I DID IT.

On Day 25, I was tired. And kind of stressed out about getting some other things done. I sure would have been happy to just let the 100 words go that day. Did I really want to spend time pounding my head against the table to come up with a few measly words to add to my WIP? I finished a scene the day before and it sounded like a lot of energy to start in on a new one. Or just add unnecessary ones to an old scene because no one said the 100 words had to be GOOD. Or kept forever.

I almost simply counted the words in the above paragraph. I’ve allowed myself blog post words to count, since I’m trying to revive this aspect of my writing, too. Instead, I jumped to another scene that has kind of been all over the map and wrote an unexpected character reaction. 137 words of it. Phew.

On Day 26 I analyzed whether or not this challenge really was working. Sure, I’ve been s-l-o-w-l-y getting scenes written (two weeks on a single scene, really?), but am I truly engaging with my characters and the story? Am I making effective headway? Is it working if I’m literally stopping at word 100, 101, or 104? And is it worth it if I am stressed out about it?

And then that same day I kept going past 103 and got to 471 in a single sitting. I have yet to break 500 words in a day, but February opens up a bit and there’s hope.

I’m digging in.

It is working because yep, some days are a struggle, but I’m always glad I got the words in and even though that one scene took two freaking weeks, it’s a pretty good scene. The persistence paid off.

The few of us doing this challenge together are cheering each other on, and that helps. And if I skip a day, I know I’ll be bummed. On the other hand, the whole point is to just start right back up again because 100 words? I can do that. Who cares when I achieve that goal because the true goal is just to KEEP WRITING.

I can do that.

Almost one month into the new year is often when those resolutions slip away – what keeps you motivated to start again?

And I will write 100 words

And I will write 100 more….

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I skipped a year between Invest and Commit, but I kind of love this progression for my One Word Resolution.

I’m not great about true resolutions and am more an advocate for specific goals that arise whenever they are appropriate. Some of that is the educator in me – my new year has often started in September, not January. Also, I’ve spent a lot of time teaching students about how to make goals specific and achievable, which frequently New Year’s Resolutions are not. I’ve seen how often they fail (both my own and others’). If you are like one friend of mine, and develop a meticulous plan to achieve your resolutions, then Bingo, you’re in business. Unfortunately, I am not that detail-oriented.

I can also be a bit contrary, and therefore I rebel against this whole idea of MUST HAVE RESOLUTIONS FOR A NEW CALENDAR YEAR. I know. We all have our annoying traits. That is but one of many of mine. Heh.

I’ve jumped aboard the One Word Resolution thing, though. I like having a single, overarching motivator that I can mold and shape past, present, and future goals – both personal and professional.

I felt uncertain and conflicted about a lot of things last year, and so I chose COMMIT to help me choose paths for a secure vision. I think I did a pretty good job with that one. In a year that had my nation swirling around me tumultously, I focused on my one word, which helped ground me and make it through.

My nation is still in a downward spiral, so I still need grounding. This year I choose BELIEVE. Believe in myself. Believe in my choices. Believe everyone’s stories. Believe we will stand strong and hold one another up. Believe that we can make change. Believe that I can make change – however small it might be. Believe that I will find a publishing path. Believe that I can keep writing. Believe that I what I write will reach someone who needs it. Believe that my children will continue to grow in strength and kindness. And so on.

I’ve made the investment in both personal and professional areas of my life, committed myself to move forward in those areas, and now I must believe that I can fulfill those commitments successfully, in one way or another.

I like the direction I’m headed.

What about you? What one word have you chosen? Why? How does it connect with what you’ve already worked towards or accomplished?

For my song, I’m going with Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder”:

I was dreaming of bigger things

And wanna leave my own life behind

Not a yes sir, not a follower

…I was lightning, before the thunder

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Reading Stats: 2017 In Review

Because I can’t ever stay on top the trend or curve of things, here I am, arriving a beat late with a year-end review of my reading stats.

Oh well.

This wrap-up isn’t about how many books I read this year. Some like the challenge of reading a certain number, but I stress myself out enough with trying to write enough, that I shy away from setting a number for books read. Last year, however, I read a post by Rachel Manwill over at BookRiot.com that included a reading tracker that I liked to help me with seeing where I fell in my range of reading. Mostly, I wanted to know if I really was reading #ownvoices, but I downloaded Manwill’s tracker and modified to match what I most cared about. I included gender of author, #ownvoices, category (Adult/YA/Middle Grade), genre, and mode (print/audio).

Some of my basic stats are below. I realized that I had technically read more than the 78 books tracked, since I did not include re-reads, of which I had many more than usual this year.


Author Gender – I didn’t have any that were explicitly self-identifying as non-binary, so that stat is unknown.


Mode – Print vs Audio


Category: A=Adult, YA=Young Adult, MG=Middle Grade



It is no surprise to me that female authors outpaced male authors for my stats. For some this is part of the challenge they’ve undertaken, but that has never been an issue for me.

I like seeing that even though contemporary stories are still my mainstay, I continue to read several other genres. “Mystery” was almost entirely dominated by a single author – Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Gamache series. Those books really helped get me through a challenging year. They also contributed to my new audio book numbers, which I never would have had before a year and a half ago. Having a new job with a commute gave me motivation to try audio books again. I’ve loved the alternative mode of reading.

I am most disappointed with my #ownvoices statistics:ownvoices_201720% is a really poor showing, especially from someone who claims to be an advocate. Obviously this doesn’t mean I’m not an advocate, but it really highlights how much further I have to go in putting my money where my mouth is. I discovered one problem is that any time I got a Kindle First email (Amazon Prime benefit of getting a free Kindle copy of a book each month), I consciously chose an #ownvoices author, but never got around to reading them. Goal for this month: start in on that list!

If you are interested, Rachel Manwill has an updated tracker you can find in her BookRiot post from last month. Or here is mine, modified, with a less pretty “results” tab. Haha.

Some of my top book picks for 2017:

A Great Reckoning (A) – Louise Penny

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (A) – Gail Honeyman

The Hate U Give (YA) – Angie Thomas

As Brave As You (MG) – Jason Reynolds

Here’s to another year of great books ahead! List your top 2017 reads in the comments!

I had a hard time coming up with a good song for this post. I decided on “Last Train Home” by the Pat Methany Group because A) it’s a good song and B) doesn’t it sound nice just to hop on a train and curl up with a good book or two as you watch the world go by?

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When Writing Is Hard: 2017 Version

This post of mine came through my FB memories feed last week. I talked about when writing gets hard. Not simply challenging, but “it’s too hard, I can’t do it.” I wrote the following:

“…writing looked like insomnia. I had some great characters lined up and loved them and their stories. My plot was solid enough to get going and had lots of room for good exploration. I had the will to write it, but just… couldn’t. I forced words onto the page like an insomniac squeezes her eyes shut hoping that will force sleep – or words to come.”

I look at that post now and man, I didn’t even know.

On Wednesday, November 9, 2016, I stopped writing.

I didn’t really start again until April of 2017.

And I struggled.

And struggled.

Finally, words trickled out again. I focused on writing that I knew. Characters that I have already loved. Revisions. Re-writes. I tried out NaNoWriMo again.

None of it’s been easy this year, but in the short spurts of good writing, I’ve felt hope in the process return. I’ve clung to the way I feel when I write and knowing that if I can just get myself going on a daily basis again, the words will flow, and my spirit will find ways to keep rejuvenating.

A writer friend shared this article from the Paris Review about why we should continue to write fiction in 2017, this train wreck of a year (broadly, not necessarily always personally, certainly).

“The need to be present, vocal, and accounted for as citizens is especially obvious in 2017. The moment demands constant vigilance and participation—and the idea of turning inward, even briefly, can feel shameful.”

I know I have not been alone in this. I’ve seen lots of posts throughout the year from writers who have struggled as I’ve done.

When I consider how valuable reading has been for me though, I remember why fiction is so important still. It’s an escape. It’s a message. It’s joy. It’s a call to action. It’s a “what if?” It’s a window into making sense of the world around us.

Writing, and the result of writing, is restorative. Fiction is what has kept me sane. I wish I had worked harder to write more this past year, knowing its power. I hope I remember this moving forward, because honestly, I don’t see much external change in the horizon. It’s all gotta come from me.

I have some Great Things in the works. My one word resolution this past year was commit. And I did. I’m proud of the efforts I put into various areas of my life where I needed to focus more on this choice to commit. The year’s not done! I’m committed to making the Great Things — Writing Things – come to fruition.

How has 2017 been for you? For your writing? How have you worked to overcome the challenges?

“It’s time to wake up from this
Yes it’s time to wake up from this
It’s time to make up for it”

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Creative Commons Has Opinions About Your Thanksgiving Clip Art

The other day, a colleague of mine was in search of photos and clip art for a project that went beyond the bounds of the standard “fair use” within education. Teachers are pretty liberal with the “fair use” clause when it comes to their educational materials, btw. All those popular songs I taught my students in Spanish class? Yeah, back in the day, I burned onto CDs 60 copies of that one purchase for all of them to have a copy. IT WAS FOR THE CHILDREN.

Yeah, so if it’s not for the non-profit world of K-12 education, then all that “fair use” and “for educational purposes” nonsense goes out the window. I used to work for a for-profit online education vendor and learned all about the wonderful world of Creative Commons, which helps you search out images that allow you to both modify and use in a commercial setting.

You know how Amazon sometimes has a rush of really entertaining reviews for goofy products? Remember “Bic for Her”?

I felt a little of this when delving into the world of free-for-all-to-use image galleries of Thanksgiving images. Fear not, if you choose to use something offensive (and boy, there sure is a lot out there for this holiday), the contributors to the OpenClipArt.org database will set you straight.

This photo is all wrong, but it sure looks all friendly-like. (Also, note one of the tags: “propaganda”. Ha!) :


Image credit: openclipart.org


You know, just your random Native American “hanging” out with some Pilgrims. In case you didn’t know, those guys he was hanging out with kind of ruined everything after that day, and “that’s a quick history thought”:


  Image credit: Openclipart.org


Vegetarians are not to be left out, either – “this guy is handing a murdered bird over…” Also, if you are ever searching for a picture that depicts “dead” – this user has tagged this one to help you out:


Image credit: Openclipart.org




Image credit: Openclipart.org


May you all have a relaxing Thanksgiving and use all your clip-art wisely!


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Audio Book Hangover

For the past six months, a man named Ralph Cosham has been my traveling companion during my daily work commute. He doesn’t pay for gas, never offers to drive, and never buys me a Dr. Pepper. He doesn’t even thank me for the ride.

Instead, I thank him because what he has brought to my commute is far more valuable. He has brought the characters of my new favorite mystery series to life. He is the audiobook reader for Books 1-10 of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series.

For several years, I have not had much of a commute (if at all, since I had a few in there where I worked exclusively from home), so audiobooks were not much on my radar. Last year, I started a new job and now my morning commute is 40-50 minutes in the morning and about 30 in the afternoon – perfect for being able to still do one of my favorite things in spite of dealing with annoying traffic. It’s hard to get crabby with a slowdown when it means I can listen to yet one more chapter. I’ve had pretty good luck with books I’ve chosen to listen to, but then I finally started the Louise Penny series and Ralph Cosham took a seat and stayed there.

Obviously, the books have had something to do with it – they are beautifully written and I adore the characters. There’s something magical, though, when the right reader comes along – and is the one who gets to do all of the books in the series. He’s developed the characters in my mind right along with Penny. Cosham is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

You know how when a book is so-so-so good that when you finish, you have that ache? It’s a little bit of sadness that it is over, even though it’s also contentedness about the ending? That book hangover? That’s what I had with finishing book 10, The Long Way Home. Honestly, that particular book is a little bit of a let down after her stunning How the Light Gets In, but still good and I savored it because I knew it was the last one that Cosham reads due to his death in 2014.

And while I was able to keep watching the Harry Potter movies in spite of the unfortunate choice in actors to portray Dumbledore after Richard Harris’ death, I don’t have it in me to listen to a new reader for books 10 and beyond of Penny’s. So, I’ve been sad.

Here is what Penny had to say upon Cosham’s death back in 2014:

Just received the desperately sad news that Ralph Cosham passed away yesterday. I’m so sorry to have to tell you – I know for many of you it is like losing Armand. For Michael and me, we’ve lost a cherished friend. I can barely bring myself to believe it. His wife Beverly and family and friends must be devastated. I tried to post a photo of him, but for some reason I couldn’t, so the best I can do is this link to the last interview he gave just over a month ago, to the Washington Post. Oh, Ralph – dear man. Our thoughts and prayers to Beverly and family. And our thanks, dear Ralph, for your kindness and warmth and intelligence, your passion for your work and life. Thank you for bringing Armand et al alive, forever. But mostly, thank you for your friendship. We love you.

“I know for many of you it is like losing Armand.” < — THIS.

And now I am reading, not listening to, book 11, The Nature of the Beast and doing my best to slow down – because that was another joy of listening to these good books, a slower pace to savor and enjoy – and not forget what Armand Gamache sounds like and eagerly await for Jean-Guy Beauvoir to say “Sure” or “Pretty sure” because Cosham had a way of saying those minor phrases for Beauvoir that just… fit.

Sometimes watching a movie that came from a book feels risky, for lots of reasons, but one of them is losing what a character looked or sounded like in your head, but in this case, I am almost worried that I’ll lose the sound of these characters going to print. Some might think I am abnormally attached to Cosham’s portrayal of these characters – I mean, a whole blog post about it? I don’t care. This is what reading is all about. Entering another world and these days, it sure is a needed escape. I appreciate an audio book reader who can make it happen just as well as if I read it on my own. It’s a gift I happily extol.

For all of you audiobook connoisseurs (pause for a moment to applaud myself for spelling that word right, the first time, all on my own), have you gotten attached to certain readers? Share in the comments!

Instead of a video, I think it’s more appropriate to have a sound file instead. An excerpt from chapter one of Cosham’s last Penny recording (link, in case the embed didn’t work below – https://soundcloud.com/audible/the-long-way-home)

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