Resolutions: The Good, the Bad, and Mine

I’m not a fan of resolutions.

Over the years, I’ve made some of the typical resolutions: eat more healthfully, exercise regularly, get better sleep, put down the iPhone/iPad, etc, etc. And they never stick. Ever.

The fireworks go off, the resolutions are written and then the resolutions are promptly ignored.

The fireworks go off, the resolutions are written and then the resolutions are promptly ignored.

My determination lasts long enough to motivate me to make the list. And then, list happily made, I go back to my regular life.

That’s not to say I’m not a pretty motivated person. It’s just that resolutions never help me get there.

But this year, in the spirit of author Claudia Mills (for the record, I LOVE her blog), I’m going to resolve to do something that seems both good for me AND fun.

I’m going to resolve to do a regular Artist Date.

A photo from my last artist date… in November.

A photo from my last artist date… in November.

The Artist Date idea comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, one of my favorite books about creativity. I credit it - and the Artist’s Way class I took with other artists, who ranged from opera singers and painters, to writers and photographers - with helping me stick with writing books long enough (um, about 10 years) to finally publish one.

An Artist Date is something you do by yourself for fun. It can be short (a ten-minute stop at a clock shop or pet store) or long (an all-day drive into the countryside). It can involve anything, from painting an old wooden table to smelling perfumes at the mall, and from trying out a new restaurant to cross-stitching. It’s playful. You don’t do it for a purpose.

Which is probably why these are so darn hard for me. I like productivity and efficiency… to a fault. And guess what? That doesn’t always (or ever) work when it comes to art.


Getting myself to do an artist’s date is like pulling a tooth. I delay, I hem and haw, I find other more useful things to do.

But when I finally do one, it’s magical. It helps me see the world in a new way. And it’s sneakily useful.

Making any sort of art requires you to dip out of your well of experiences, emotions and images, over and over. To continue making art, you need to fill your well back up again. Which is exactly what Artist Dates do.

So, the Artist Date is not only fun, but very important. And I want to do more this year.

Which leads me to the ‘regular’ part.

Technically, you’re supposed to do an Artist Date every week. But I already know this is too much for me. So, I’m going to try for TWENTY this year. And I’m going to keep a list. (It will probably involve pretty markers and stickers for extra motivation.)

We’ve already plunged well into the new year and, not surprisingly, I haven’t done a single artist date yet.

But that’s okay. There’s still plenty of time. And I’m hopeful that once I start and remember how fun Artist Dates are, this will be one resolution I’m happy to complete.

I’ll let you know. And if it doesn’t stick, there’s always next year.


The BEST Christmas (and book launch)

It’s here! The time of year when my expectations go into overdrive. It’s the holidays, after all. And I suddenly want it ALL.

There are going to be waaaay more presents than that. At least in my perfect Christmas scene.

There are going to be waaaay more presents than that. At least in my perfect Christmas scene.

I want my kids to have an amazing Christmas, the sort that childhood dreams are made of, with presents piled under the tree and a magical Christmas morning complete with fresh baked cinnamon buns and steaming hot cocoa and the sound of sleigh bells.

I want said Christmas to not break the bank.

I want someone else (not me) to don our house with twinkly lights that are pretty and warm and always turned on at the appropriate times.

When I drink hot cocoa, this is what it’s going to look like. Pine cone, powdered sugar and all.

When I drink hot cocoa, this is what it’s going to look like. Pine cone, powdered sugar and all.

I want cozy family evenings filled with snuggles and movies. And ideally a fireplace (it wouldn’t be too late to find a contractor, right?).

I want perfection.

And then I remember. There’s nothing about me that’s perfect. There’s nothing about our lives, our bank accounts, our schedules that is perfect. This little niggly “goal” in my mind, one that’s likely fueled by advertisements and holiday movies, is totally, completely unreachable. In fact, it has its own sinister side.

Because The more I strive for perfection, the less I enjoy it all.

And on this eve of launching my first book (Crow Flight is officially out tomorrow!! Thank you, thank you to all of you incredible launch team members and friends for cheering me on through the process!), I need to apply this lesson to my book launch.

Because of course, my wild imagination can get the best of me, and lead me straight to… Best Seller Lists! Morning Show Interviews! Book Sales by the Truckload!

And if that’s what I expect, most likely, I’ll be disappointed.

But do you know what? Right here, right now, I’m going to reframe my expectations. This launch has been (and will continue to be) a great learning experience - it is my first one. I’m proud of the book and the work that went into writing and rewriting and rewriting some more.

And after all… it is a BOOK! There are many, many amazing books out there that don’t make it to this point.

So tomorrow morning, when that “Buy Now” button turns orange on Amazon, I’m not going to be frantically watching sales numbers. I’m going to crack open my very own FINAL copy of Crow Flight and skim through its pages. I might just walk around town, carrying the book in my shoulder bag (because it’s just fun to do that). And you know I’ll be at our local bookstore, buying the very first copy they sell.

I can make popcorn. And Swiss Miss. And that fire in the background may just be on TV.

I can make popcorn. And Swiss Miss. And that fire in the background may just be on TV.

The same goes for our Christmas. Less striving, more enjoying. And I’m going to remind myself to feel grateful through all of it. Because if I plan on perfection, I end up feeling not enough. But if I practice gratitude, I feel full to the brim.

The bad haircut

I got a haircut for the first time in a while last week. And as soon as it was done, I regretted it.

I wasn’t the only one. “Why did you cut your hair?” my husband asked. “I thought you were letting it grow long.”

I spent that first day looking at it in the mirror from different directions, and admiring friends who had the patience to let their hair grow and grow… as though that would glue the chopped pieces of hair back on. I woke early the next morning and felt my stomach sink as I studied it again - had it turned orange? Why oh why was it so short?

Spoiler alert: the hair cut wasn’t terrible. It was what I asked for. And I realize there are WAY worse things that could happen. But I still regretted it.

Here’s where I went wrong… and how (of course) it applies to writing.

1) I asked for the stylist’s opinion… and valued it above my own. When I go in a salon, the hair dresser becomes the expert because, well, she is. Her hair and makeup are flawless. Her sense of fashion superb. And so I default to whatever she recommends.


I love getting opinions. And I take them all seriously. Which is sometimes good. And sometimes not so good. Because often, I know what I really want in my heart. I’m just afraid to trust it.

And this is so important when writing, especially in the very early phases of writing a book about a maybe-sort of idea. If I share too much, too soon, it is easily squashed. If I ask for too many opinions, my own ideas get smaller and smaller, and feel less and less compelling. This is one of the reasons I’ve learned to protect my work in its early stages and don’t share in writers’ groups right away.

2) I changed my decision at the last minute. I was impulsive. As soon as the hair stylist gave her opinion (at my request, I must add), I decided to go for it.


With writing, I have to be careful about being impulsive. When I finally type “The End” on a first draft, the last thing I need to do is start rewriting. I need space. Time to let the work settle in me. Time to freshen my perspective. Otherwise, I may dive into changes that take the story in the wrong direction or didn’t need to be made in the first place.

3) I focused on efficiency. Cut another inch or two off? Sure! That way, I won’t have to come right back. We’ve been frugalizing for the past few months, and this hair cut was definitely a splurge. The last thing I wanted was to have my new hairstyle look worn-down and unruly in a week or two. But efficiency doesn’t always get you where you want to be.

I love the messy first draft phase of writing because often, I can crank out thousands of words at a time. Until I can’t. If exhaustion sets in, or inspiration fades, those words don’t come easily. And most of the time, that means I need a break. A totally inefficient, unproductive break. A break that involves going for long drives or looking out the window or ducking into little shops downtown.

Efficiency is sometimes good. And sometimes not. And, when it comes to writing (and hairstyles), I just have to learn to trust when being efficient becomes inefficient.

4) I forgot that it’s not as bad as it seems. That first day with my new haircut, I was kind of mortified. I pulled my hair up, then loosed it back down, wondering what I had done.

But I had forgotten that sometimes, you need a few days or weeks to settle into a new haircut. When I finally washed my hair and dried it properly, I was surprised to see it wasn’t that terrible. It had some good points, really. And some room to grow. And it rather looked like me.

Same thing applies to a writing... especially when it comes to feedback on my writing. I have to take it in, give it some space and time, and then filter it through who I am and what I know to be true. Once I do that, I usually find the big changes that seemed impossible actually aren’t that hard.

So there you have it. Today is a new day, and I don’t mind my hair cut much at all. I suppose you could say it’s growing on me. After all, hair always does.


STEM Spotlight: NCAR Associate Scientist

I’m so excited to pull back the curtain on what my scientist-artist friend, Molly McAllister, does for work. As an associate scientist at NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research), Molly is a true left brain/right brain thinker and excels at sharing the nitty-gritty details of science in an understandable way. And, she keeps it all fun!


1. Describe what you do: I’ve spent my career supporting scientific researchers, policy makers and the public in their pursuit of better understanding the physical world. Right now, I support people around the world who are using a massive, cutting-edge hydrologic model that predicts how water interacts with the landscape after it falls from the sky. This model helps scientists and the National Weather Service predict stream flow, forecast flooding, manage water supplies and study climate. For instance, when Hurricane Harvey hit, the model was used to help determine where it was wet, where it was dry and where emergency services could go. I work as the connection between the people who develop the model and the people who use it.  

2. How and why did you get into this field? Growing up, I loved watching storms rolling in from across the acres of my family farm. The towering clouds, the crack of the thunder, the pitter-patter of droplets or ice. And then, the beautiful colors that arced across the sky as the sunlight filtered through. At night, I would lie out on my trampoline and gaze up at the Milky Way, always searching for Orion's belt so that I could peer into the Great Nebula and witness the birthing of a star. 

Simply put, I’d go outside, look up and wonder. I’d think, ‘Wow, how did the stars get there?’ Or, ‘Look at the clouds – how do they form?’ My love of light and water, in all of their forms, and my innate curiosity eventually led me to study remote sensing, which is about using different wavelengths of light to understand the environment around us. Those same curiosities led me to my work now with a water model. 

3. Describe an interesting application of your field: Everything gives off energy and has a spectral signature, or a certain way that light reflects off of it - you do, I do, the cat does, that rock does. We try to build sensors to read those different signatures for the planet so we can see what it’s telling us – where it hurts, where it’s okay, where it needs help. 

We can determine things like crop health, whether an ice sheet is going to fall apart, if an area is experiencing drought. You can literally see the earth breathe by watching the evapotranspiration of the Amazon rainforest or visualizing global CO2 levels.  

photo by Vanessa Bauman

photo by Vanessa Bauman

4. What's your typical workday like? I start my day outside by biking twelve miles to work. Then at the office, I work with a team of scientists and software developers to document their software. I help people understand how to use the model via email and in person, and I work with our sister agencies to coordinate hands-on workshops. 

5. Describe your workspace: I have my own office with a stand-up desk, which is very important to me, and a large window that overlooks a big tree. I have a plant named Franti and colored boxes that are in Chi directions to make sure energy flow is good. I have photos of places I’ve traveled (I’m also an avid photographer and traveler), and photos of different forms of water (clouds, rivers, snow). Our building is filled with office spaces, lecture halls, and a cafeteria, areas that are designed for sharing ideas and having discussions. 

6. Do you have any favorite scientists, engineers or programmers?
Einstein, for sure, and also Leonardo da Vinci. Not only was he a genius, but an artist, scientist and inventor. I like to think of myself as a fellow polymath, or someone who excels at a lot of different subjects. Some people are specialists, but I gravitate to variety. Art is just as valuable as science, and there’s an art to science and a science to art. A mathematical proof is a work of art. It is beautiful.

I am also inspired by the doctor Patch Adams. He connected laughter, joy and fun into the healing process and overall health. That has been a major influence overcoming issues throughout my life. 

7. Any favorite quotes, movies or books? "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” –Einstein

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." –Leonardo da Vinci

“Humor is the antidote to all ills.” – Patch Adams 

8. How has your work helped you with a 'real life' problem? I have spent my life answering questions for the gamut of society. This has helped me find value in saying “I don’t know but I would like to explore this further. How can we work together to solve this problem?” 


9. What’s something else we should know about you: For me, variety is the spice of life. Besides my day job, I also teach water aerobics and pottery. I am an avid salsa dancer. I love the feeling of being suspended in air or water. I take every opportunity I can to be up in the air, hangliding, paragliding, and jumping on trampolines or in water swimming or kayaking.  

Most important, I try to approach everything I do with a sense of joy. There’s a lot of joy and fun in life. Sometimes you just have to find it.



Woot woot! We're building a launch team...

So much of writing a book is quiet, solitary work. You sit back in your office (or bedroom if you’re me) and type out words about imaginary people for weeks, months, years… But now that I have a book that’s actually going to be out in the world, there’s some exciting work to be done to get the word out.

And as much as my writerly self would choose to hide in the closet rather than talk about, well, me, this bit of work is actually cool. Because it means that me and a bunch of YOU get to have some fun.

Right now, I’m pulling together a launch team. Aka, a group of people who want to get a free, early copy of CROW FLIGHT, and help it fly into the world.


And there are more perks than just a free book - I’ll have other fun giveaways to share, and we’ll stay connected as a group, which will be plain ol’ fun.

What’s a launch team?

A launch team is a group of volunteers who are willing to help announce the release of CROW FLIGHT. Basically, you’ll read the book, write a review on Amazon and (if you want!) spread the word through your circles - whether that’s on social medial, on a blog, or simply to your friends.

See, everyone’s doing it. Come join us!

See, everyone’s doing it. Come join us!

Who can apply for the launch team?

Anyone! I realize it’s a big ask, but if it interests you or if you’d like to get a behind-the-scenes look at what a book launch is like, definitely give it a shot. I promise this will be easy and fun.

What DO I do?

1. Read the book. Hooray!

2. Tell people about the book (on social media, in your circles of influence) for a few weeks surrounding the launch (12/11/18).

3. Post a review on Amazon or your favorite bookseller’s website.

What Do I get?

A free advanced digital copy of the book and an insider’s look at what’s involved with marketing a book. Did I mention I’ll also be sharing some fun giveaways? And I will be FOREVER GRATEFUL for your help!

How Do I Join?

CLICK HERE to join. You’ll be asked a few simple questions, just so I can contact you and get to know you.

Thanks so much for your consideration. It means so much!!!

Cunningham Susan Crow Flight cover 20180831.jpg

All I've learned from watching birds

I’m new to the bird-watching hobby. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, but have struggled to make time for. But when a health issue sidelined me this summer, it seemed like a good opportunity to try something new (and non-physical).

So early one fall morning, binoculars and bird book in hand, I drove out to a quiet country road with a seasonal creek and big willows. And I watched birds.

I thought I’d be like this guy. Observing a gigantic hummingbird - a discovery! Hurrah!

I thought I’d be like this guy. Observing a gigantic hummingbird - a discovery! Hurrah!

The crisp, cool air frosted my breath. And I found my first subject, round bellied and still. My bird book at the ready, I pulled up my binoculars to focus in on a… robin. An American Robin, to be exact.

I have to admit, I was hoping for something a bit more exotic. But a robin it was, and so the robin I watched. It gave its chirpy call, then flew its full-bellied flight to another limb.

A few more robins appeared. And then some chickadees. Flitting among the branches, inquisitive and fast. Fun to watch but rather… mundane.

Chickadees are so common they’ll sit on your hand. Just not mine.

Chickadees are so common they’ll sit on your hand. Just not mine.

I waited there for a good 40 minutes. Observing robins and chickadees. And I wondered: why did I drive out into the countryside to look at birds I could’ve observed from my own backyard?

And then I remembered two things a real birder had told me.

First, he said when you start out birding, you need to spend lots and lots of time observing common birds. In other words, robins and chickadees. Then, when you come across something different, you recognize immediately that it’s just that - different.

And second, he said that though he’d seen hundreds of species, his favorite bird was always, “Whichever one I’m looking at.” Because every bird is beautiful. You just have to take the time to look.


I looked again at that robin. Then researched it on Wikipedia, surprised to learn a few things about these black and red birds. For instance: robins sleep in big groups at night (where does this happen and why have I never seen that?)… they keep their nests tidy and clean up after their young by carrying waste away… they aren’t duped like other birds into raising young from the eggs of parasitic cow birds… and they don’t mind people - they’re smart enough to realize we aren’t a threat.

I watched the birds a bit longer, suddenly enjoying these common feathered friends. And resolved to never ignore the ordinary. Because even the ordinary, when you look at it close enough, turns out to be - you guessed it - extraordinary.

If you're an aspiring writer, don't read this post

Seriously. Just go along with your life and pretend you didn’t see this.

Still here? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m in the throes of preparing for my first-ever book launch. Just last week, I had to approve final edits of the manuscript. That alone was worthy of one session with a therapist because this is it. This book, that has been in flux for years, is now finished.

And there are no take backs on this one.

The fact that it’s more or less approved, is a feat worthy of celebration. (Though it’s not printed yet, so I suppose I could still make an adjustment or two… and there are always second editions. Did I mention I have issues with commitment?)


There’s this next stage in the publication process called launching and marketing your book. And as I’m working through a phenomenal online class all about this stage, there’s one tidbit of information that I didn’t expect.

Writing your book is about half the work. Launching and promoting your book is the other half.

Say what?

See this guy? He’s telling me everything I need to do. And it’s a lot.

See this guy? He’s telling me everything I need to do. And it’s a lot.

I’ve always dreamed of being a published author. I didn’t always let myself admit that dream - it’s not terribly practical and there’s a lot left up to chance (will you find an agent? will that agent find a publisher?). But anyway, I expected all of the writing-type work. The early mornings with my steaming mug of hot chocolate, fingers flying along the keyboard. The pulling of hair and moping around the house as I figured out what the story really was. The revisions and edits and reworks and chopping of chapters. The final edits, looking for those last few slip-ups that are so hard to see.

But I didn’t expect this whole other half of work.

Maybe a tiny part of me did, but not to this extent. Figuring out my “brand.” (Too bad the Nike swoop is taken, that was a good one.) Creating a website. Optimizing said website so people can find me in the internet netherland. Prepping for interviews - in which you have to talk the whole time about yourself. Egads! Setting up an author page on Amazon, creating a launch calendar, and figuring out how to email newsletters… the list goes on and on and on.

Search engine optimization. If only it were this easy.

Search engine optimization. If only it were this easy.

I’m grateful to have a fantastic resource that’s helping me figure out this process. But it’s still work. A lot of it.

So to encourage myself, I’m creating this list of reminders:

1) This is part of the business of publishing a book. It’s a job and guess what - all jobs have aspects you don’t particularly love. So get over it. And do the work.

2) It’s okay to put some writing work to the side for right now. You can’t do everything, and it makes sense to choose this other work for the time being. But it won’t always be this way. You’ll get some of this figured out, and be back to that (mostly) happy place of writing.

3) The amount of things you could do is overwhelming. You won’t be able to do it all.

Take heart knowing that whatever little bits you do, it will have a positive impact and make a difference.

4) This is a learning process. And you LOVE learning. So embrace it. Pretend you’re back in college. Give yourself homework assignments and a nice big sticker chart that shows your progress. (No, I didn’t use sticker charts in college, but if I had, I probably would’ve been happier.) And make rewards for hitting milestones: a latte and crumble bar at that coffeeshop downtown; a night at the movies; a day off.

5) It will get easier. When you publish your next book, the writing will be just as hard - but this will be all setup. Yay! (And ignore the sinking feeling that there’s likely lots of work that will continue. Your future self will take care of it.)

6) Remember why you’re doing it.

Yes, you love to write, and it’s so neat to have written a book. But this isn’t about you. It’s about your readers. That high school girl who’s kind of smart and feels a bit awkward about the fact that she likes coding. Who wonders if there’s actually a guy out there for her. Who’s figuring out what she’s all about. Because all of this work is about getting this book into readers’ hands. Where it actually lives and breathes, becomes a part of their minds and hearts.

So. If you’re a writer who hopes to publish a book one day, maybe it isn’t terrible if you read all the way to the end of the post. I’m feeling a bit better about the whole thing myself. Might just be time to give myself a sticker and put on an episode of Gilmore Girls.

This is where I want to be. Thinking about the next book. Not marketing this one.

This is where I want to be. Thinking about the next book. Not marketing this one.

Around my heart: The Pericardium

A two-walled sac hugs my heart (yours, too).

The pericardium, aptly named:

Peri, or around; Cardion, or heart.

The outer layer – fibrous, rigid – bears the brunt of the work. Holds my heart steady to avoid its swings, tethers it in the expanse of my chest cavity. Keeps it from beating right out.

orange peel

This layer is tough, just enough for safety purposes. Like the hard peel around an orange, it shields my heart. From infections, so prone to developing in nearby lungs. From my heart itself, which could overfill with blood and too big. My heart may be eager, but this fibrous layer knows everything has its limits.

Inside that hard exterior is an inner layer, cushioned and kind. After all, to do its work, my heart cannot have friction building up with nearby tissues. Even the strongest parts need a bit of softness.

Like anywhere, things can go wrong here, in the pericardium. Fluid can build, cysts can grow, layers can swell. Nothing is perfect. Nothing is guaranteed.

But still my heart pulses. And still my pericardium guards every beat.




The Secret Life of Seagulls

I'm not sure how you feel about seagulls. Love 'em. Hate 'em. Don't care. At all.

I've always seen them as a bit pesky. With all the caw-cawing and waiting for dropped food and such. Kind of like I used to see crows, until I learned that, far from being pesky, they're just really, really smart. Turns out seagulls aren't so dense either. Check out these seagull facts and see if maybe your "eh" turns into "love."

seagull feeding

-Gulls have been seen using tools: for instance, a herring gull used pieces of bread to bait fish. When dropping clams and mussels onto rocks to crack them open, they know to drop heavy ones from lower heights and lighter ones from higher heights. And they're crafty, able to steal fish from other seabirds. Like pelicans, which have to drain water from their beaks before swallowing their catch: gulls wait nearby, and move in for the fish when they have an opening.

-They use a complex system of communication - lots of different sounds, and body movements, too.

-They can drink sea water: glands above their eyes flush excess salt out through their nostrils.

-They eat almost anything: fish, sea life, bugs, rodents, eggs, dead animals, plants, trash. To figure out what is edible, they have to use some brain power. 

-Gulls are fantastic fliers. Don't take my word for it: watch as they hover motionless on a windy day.

-They have a highly developed social structure and nest in large colonies. They work together to mob predators and intruders. And while seagulls are monogamous, pairs sometimes split (usually over disagreements about raising a family). Divorcees may suffer social costs a few years after the split.

Not sure if that's enough to change your mind, but I'll look at these birds differently the next time I'm at the beach.

I'll probably look at pelicans differently, too: a few weeks ago, while I was sitting on the deck of a rented beach house with my cousins, one pelican flew overhead and unloaded on me. I was splattered from head (the gunk just missed my eye) to toe (my pants-legs were covered). Just call me Princess of the Pelicans.

seagull flight