How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I recently competed in the International Speech Contest in one of my Toastmasters clubs. I was fortunate enough to win not only the club contest, but also the Area and Division Level contests. Last weekend, I had the rare opportunity to compete against the best speakers from eight other divisions in District 40 Toastmasters, one of whom was my husband.  While I didn’t win that round, I can honestly say my speech improved with every presentation and based on the comments I received, it still touched a few hearts and brought a few laughs. Below is the blog version of my competition speech.

How Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

I teach in an affluent middle school with over 1,000 kids and I live with a 5th and an 8th grader. And those children are forever telling me how tough their lives are. Like when I assign them homework or ask them to take a shower… #FirstWorldProblems They think I’m soooo lucky to be an adult. And they’re right. I am very fortunate. But we all know life is never without challenges. Like many of you, I have traveled a pretty rough road.

When I was a baby, my mom called me a spider monkey because I was a long, skinny preemie. I weighed just under four pounds and I spent the first of month of my life in the hospital.

By the time I was one or two, it was obvious that I wasn’t developing quite like other kids. I tripped over my own feet and couldn’t control the left side of my body. I was diagnosed with mild Cerebral Palsy. I was clumsy and awkward. I was the kid who wore special shoes. I was the kid who couldn’t run fast and never got picked for kick ball in gym class. I was the kid voted most likely to get stuck in the ball pit at Sea World. No, really, when I was four, I actually got stuck in the ball pit at Sea world. #TrueStory It took two dumbfounded teenage employees twenty minutes to drag me out!

In high school, one kindhearted young man used to walk by me in the halls and growl “ARGH, me peg-leg! And in Spanish class, they used to draw pictures of Super Chicken on the board with a speech bubble that read, “Me llamo Ana.” They made up a dance and everything. Because they said I walked like a chicken. Needless to say, those things didn’t exactly foster self-confidence. (Side note: Yes, I chose the name Ana so that I could be Anna Devane.) #GeneralHospital

When I was seven, my dad decided to divorce my mom. Since I’d listen to my parents fight for years, it was really a relief to be with just my mom. But that still meant I became the child of a single parent. We no longer had the money to buy the name brand clothes and toys. So, I was not only physically handicapped, I was fashion handicapped too. #TeenNightmare Later, while my college friends were bumming money from their parents to go shopping or out to lunch, I was working multiple jobs to pay for my books, insurance, clothes, and food, and helping my mother pay the rent.

When I do tell my kids stories from my childhood, they tend to stare back in wide-eyed horror. #SpoiledButDontKnowIt And I have to remind them that while I may have hit a few potholes, I also saw some beautiful sights and learned a few lessons on the road of life.

First, I learned to work hard. I learned to studied hard, I showed up and gave my best effort, even on my worst day. I made mistakes, but I learned from my mistakes. I got grit.

I also learned to surround myself with the right people. I wasn’t popular in school. I had about two friends. But those two friends were true friends who loved me for everything I was, and maybe everything I wasn’t. I was also fortunate to find people like my high school English teacher, Debi Mansour,  who gave me my first and only D on a paper. Like most of my students, I thought my life was over. I was so mad at her! It took me a while to realize that she did it because she loved me and knew I was capable of more. It’s thanks to others like her, my karate instructor, my dance teacher, my husband, and my closest coworkers, that I’m reminded to focus on what I can do, what I do well, rather than what I can’t. They believe in me but push me to be better every day.

Lastly, I learned to love and respect myself. I used to think I was a total weirdo because I played with Barbie dolls way longer than most kids and one summer I kept a journal with the happenings of three different soap operas. Seriously, who does that? I still love soaps. I go to conventions to meet the stars. Several times a year. So, I’m a little eccentric. But I realize now the “crazy” are what fuel my creativity and heighten my sense of drama. They’re the things that make me a better writer and a more interesting teacher. They’re the things that make me who I am, the things that make me happy. If others think it’s weird, well… As my grandma used to say, “If they don’t like it, they can look the other way.”

Life will never be without struggles. But be willing to accept the challenges. In the long run, the fight is what builds character. Find the people who challenge you and support you, and if you want to be happy with life, be happy with yourself.

As for me, I’m proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. I am a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a published author. I have learned and taught ballroom dance and earned a brown belt in Kenpo karate. Okay… it’s not a black belt. But I’ve come long way from that timid girl called Super Chicken. Folks, this chicken has crossed that proverbial road, bumpy as it was, and you all can, too. Join me on the other side!

My Life in Poetry

I’m currently enrolled in a class called “Teaching World Language Through a Social Justice Lens”. One of our assignments was to write a poem that examined the perception (line 1) vs. the reality of who we are. Summing up all that you are in just a few short lines is not as simple as it may seem. I thought I would share the result of my introspection.

 

Cathryn

Kusner

Thompson

A fun-loving, confident woman

Creative and Strong, yet insecure

Wife of Eric, mother of two, friend of many.

She lives. She learns. She laughs.

She is frustrated, but hopeful.

Seeking honesty, respect, and support,

Vexed by fools, no sense of duty

Proud to work hard and still love harder.

She admires those who fight, but are not afraid to feel.

She is tough, but soft. She is real, but dreams.

She is everything and nothing.

She is I.

I am she.

Writing in the Rain

img_3321What do you do when your plans of hiking and enjoying the natural beauty of Hocking Hills are rained out? Easy. You visit the local winery, grab a pizza at a nearby restaurant, then find a cozy spot in front of the fire and catch up on all the things you’ve been wanting to do since school started last fall. You nap, you read a good book (The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand) and you finally get back to writing, or at least editing the messy draft you abandoned back in August.

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Of course, that last part, while a productive use of time, was not exactly what I’d call relaxing. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Part of the reason I’ve let the draft go for so long is that I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s not to say that I don’t know how to write. I’ve learned a lot about writing in the last few years. I just don’t know how to write the third part of the Lily Trilogy because the story is going to take an unexpected turn and may end up in a different genre all together. This book is going to force me to grow as a writer, but it is also going to be a challenge. There will still be love, friendship, and romance, but where it ends up may be a bit of a mystery or even create a few legal problems.

But wait… there’s more. Not only am I not sure how to write the story I want to write, it seems the part of the story I have already written may not be the one readers want to read. I’ve only shared the first draft with one person so far. She is one of my dearest, yet most brutally honest friends. She’s been my confidant, biggest cheerleader, and most cherished advisor with both of the first two books. I trust her completely. But right now, she and I are at odds as to how Lily should react to the events in the story. Adopting her point of view could mean cutting tens of thousands of words and reworking much of the current plot. Sticking to my guns might mean that readers are turned off by a main character who is more selfish and abrasive rather than flawed and confused as I intended. It’s my story, but because of that, I may be too close to it to see the issues. Then again, it’s my story. Because of that, I may know the characters better than she. What’s the right answer? Can I find a happy medium? Will I have to cut those scenes I once felt were pure genius in order to make it fit for public consumption? Only time will tell.

There is still one more problem I haven’t discussed yet. I have often heard that when you finish a draft of a manuscript, you should put it in a drawer and leave it alone for a while. The idea is that you will then be able to detach yourself from it and edit it with a more objective mind. You will be better able to “murder your darlings”, as they say, and cut those scenes or pieces that you are so emotionally attached to. The trouble is, when you leave it for as long as I did, you have to read the whole thing over with in order to remember all of the details even though you’re the one who wrote it in the first place. In other words, the editing process has begun again, but it may take a while before version 2.0 is ready to roll out.

So, what was the point of this post other than to inform you that my vacation was rained out? Maybe I just needed to vent. Very possible. But that’s not all. I also wanted to share my journey. I’m not Nora Roberts or Mary Kay Andrews. I don’t knock out several books a year. But I am proof that with hard-work and perseverance anything is possible. If you are an aspiring writer, don’t expect to publish your first draft. Write, re-write, edit. Lather, rinse, and repeat. And with any luck, the final product will be worth the work and wait.

I’m looking forward to sharing the third and final part to Lily’s and Tony’s story. Eventually. I’m not sure how I will feel when it’s all over. I suspect I will miss Lily and Tony. I may even grieve their loss. As silly as it may sound, they have been a part of my life for so long now, that they feel more like old friends than just characters in a book. Maybe subconsciously that’s another reason I’ve been putting off finishing the story. But it’s time. Time to roll up my proverbial sleeves and get to work. I left readers wondering about the mysterious phone call on the last page of book two. We all need closure and another chance at happily ever after. As Tony said, “Once in Love with LilyAlways in Love with Lily.” Time to decide what happens with Forever, Lily.

 

The Best Vacation Ever!

I have friends who complain about having to make all the arrangements for their family vacations. They book all the flights, all the hotels, and all the tours. All their husbands need do is show up. For many of them, this is a bone of contention in their marriages. I don’t have that problem. My husband is the best vacation planner ever. He does all the work. My biggest concern is how to fit a week’s worth of clothing in a small carry-on suitcase and how to keep up with him as he speed-walks through seven days of jammed-packed, magical madness. Our recent trip to Walt Disney World was no exception to the rule.

img_0561We explored the wizarding world of Harry Potter and spent time with the Simpsons at Universal. We laughed, danced, and got splattered with goo in the front row at the Blue Man Group. After a full day at the Magic Kingdom, we witnessed the 360 fireworks display from Frontier Land and saw Cinderella’s Castle decked out in all its patriotic glory. At Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest took us to the top of a mountain and Kilimanjaro Safari took us on a trip through the img_0722heart of Africa. We ate, shopped, and polka danced our way around the world at Epcot. Hollywood Studios sent us to the Twilight Zone in the Tower of Terror and through the history of film on The Great Movie Ride. We had lunch in the Beast’s castle, sampled Mexican and German cuisine, enjoyed the music and Shepherd’s Pie at an Irish pub, and were wined and dined at Iron Chef Morimoto’s Asia. And those are just a few of the highlights.

I do buy in to the idea that Disney is the “happiest place on Earth”. It must have magical powers of some kind, because the children didn’t fight. Or at least they fought less than usual and my husband managed his usual lead and averaged thirteen thousand steps a day while still nursing a sprained ankle. As for me…  My ankles swelled and developed what is affectionately called “Disney Rash” from the heat radiating off the pavement. Between the sweat, water rides, and sporadic downpours it felt rather like a week-long wet T-shirt contest and there was nothing sexy about it. And I’m still not certain I won’t end up having a time-delayed stroke from all the colored, flashing lights of the Mickey Mouse bubble blowers I was exposed too on a nightly basis. But, it’s all part of the experience. Good and bad, it’s all woven into the tapestry of memories that will last a lifetime. I’m blessed to have had the time with my loved ones on what the kids are still calling “the best vacation ever”.

How will we—or should I say he—ever top this one? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m going to spend next week getting reacquainted with my couch. I’m going to watch soap operas and start on the pile of books I have left to read. Thank God my kids will be at sports camp for five days, because I need a vacation from the vacation!

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? – Confessions of an Indie Author

The response to my first book was overwhelmingly good. It seems most of you who read it—other than the science fiction fans who were conned into trying a romance—enjoyed it and said you would recommend it to others. You were Once in Love with Lily, but will you be Always in Love with Lily? That remains to be seen. I hope you will be. I think you will be. I know I am. But that’s the thing about putting out the second book. While I’m incredibly excited to share the next part of the story with the world, I also feel a tremendous amount of pressure. Pressure to perform. Pressure to please. Pressure to live up to the hype of the first book.

As many of my readers know, I’m a middle school Spanish teacher by day. I have no degree in journalism. I didn’t dream of being a writer as a child. I let my vivid imagination play out with play-acting and elaborate Barbie doll dramas. I only start writing several years ago on a dare. Because of my lack of formal training, some doubt my writing ability. One of my best friends recently admitted that she only read my first book because she felt obligated and was completely surprised to find out that the story was actually good. So, I had a lot to prove from day one, to everyone, including myself. The thing is, I’m just as concerned at proving myself with the second book as I was with the first. I love the story. My editors loved the story. But what about the public? I still find myself thinking, “I’m no Nora Roberts. What if the first book was a fluke?”

To add to my anxiety, I’m a people-pleaser by nature. I worry about disappointing my readers. So many people out there have said they loved Lily’s and Tony’s story. They’ve been waiting three long years for the sequel. What happens if the story falls flat? I mean, I laughed. I cried. I lived and loved right along with those characters. I can’t wait to see what happens next. But what if the readers don’t feel the same? Whether it’s my books or my fan fiction, they have come to expect a certain caliber of writing. They want the emotional, romantic, exciting story with loveable, compelling characters. What if I didn’t deliver?

Once in Love with Lily has sold hundreds of copies, four to five times that of the typical independently published novel. It has over fifty reviews on Amazon with 4.9 stars. The reviewers at The BookLife Prize in Fiction had this to say:


Lily cover“A big-hearted romantic melodrama with cinematic movements and charming storytelling makes a familiar trope soar.  In this well-paced storyline, Lillian (Lily) George, knowing her disquieting past, recognizes the value of her current affluent lifestyle until she unexpectedly reconnects with her first love. Zany secondary characters leap off the pages, while the tension created as Lily decides her future keeps readers holding their breath until the very end and hoping for a sequel.”

Alwaysinlovewithlily_Kindle-300ppiWill the sequel Always in Love with Lily live up to the hype? Well, there’s no point in worrying now. There’s only one way to find out. Put it out there and let the public decide. So far reviews are good. But the ball is in your court, romance readers. Go for it! Read it and let me know what you think. You can comment, you can tweet me @catkthompson, or find me on Facebook. Or, even better, leave a review on Amazon, GoodReads, or Barnes & Noble. No need to be prolific. Just click the stars and write a sentence or two. Reviews are what help authors and books get noticed and promoted by the big site algorithms. Every one helps, as does clicking on reviews by others that you find helpful.

In closing, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to my family, my beta readers, and my editors for their support you are the ones who have helped make my writing dreams possible. To my readers, your engagement and enthusiasm help  keep the dream alive. Thank you for being a part of my story.

 

 

 

 

 

#Writer Problems

Your computer updates and deletes all of your bookmarks on Explorer, so months’ worth of research is lost. You are frequently irritated by grammar and vocabulary errors, even on Facebook and Twitter. You’re supposed to be making a career out of writing, but you delete more than you write on any given day. These are just a few of the things you’ll find under the “writer problems” hashtag. But if you ask me, the biggest “writer problem” isn’t something that happens to the writer. The problem is the fact that their families are forced to live in a constant state of paranoia.

Anything they say can and may be used against them in a future novel. If they’re lucky, it was something funny or debonair that will be quoted by the hero. If they’re not so lucky, words they used during an argument will be uttered by the snarky jerk of a protagonist.

Their spouses hear voices. They develop multiple personalities as they walk around talking to themselves in strange accents as they “write” dialog. And the poor things never know if their author partners are just letting their creative juices flow or if their just one step away from a DID or schizophrenia evaluation.

The author’s search history can be downright disturbing. My poor husband borrowed my computer to google something one day and when he pulled up my browser, he was met with one disturbing book mark after another.

• Cancer
• Can I drink beer with one kidney?
• Early signs of pregnancy
• What to Expect When Expecting Twins
• Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

The poor guy didn’t know if I might have cancer or I was pregnant. And the bigger question… If I was pregnant, who on earth was the father, since I had apparently already diagnosed him with Erectile Dysfunction.

Writing is hard work, to be sure. It takes hours and hours of research. You have to live and relive every scene you write just to make sure you get it right. Once you’ve written it, you worry if your brilliance is actually total crap. But at this point, I think I’m glad I’m the writer. At least I know what’s going on in this wicked head of mine. I know why I spontaneously break out in a fit of laughter or burst into tears while staring at my computer screen. Men and women have always had a hard enough time understanding each other to begin with, but my poor husband doesn’t stand a chance.

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Image from The Writer’s Circle on Facebook.

Reasons to Write

by Kate Messner
by Kate Messner

If you are a teacher of writing, a teacher who wants to write, or maybe even a writer who wants to be taught, I’ve got a book for you. I attended an educational conference recently and one of the sessions I sat in on was “Teachers as Writers”. It was a session designed to help teachers discover their inner writers, to share their writing with students and to help them help their students to blossom as writers.

During the workshop, the presenter used two different activities from 59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner. Each of the 59 prompts offers a new approach to a fun writing exercise.

Here are my creations from our brief session. They are not earth-shattering pieces, but they were thought-provoking exercises and they are proof that you don’t have to write a novel to be a writer. Anyone can write with a little push and a little inspiration.

Six Words on Me
Teacher, writer, speaker, wife, mother, friend.
I am a crazy Spanish teacher.
I am a novelist by night.
I’m mom to two great kids.
I love my sometimes silly husband.
I speak well and speak often.
My friends make my world fun.
Plainly pretty, slightly plump, wildly entertaining.
General Hospital fanatic, Team Scorpio forever!
I laugh often and laugh loudly.

A Poem of Home
Home is where your memories lead you.
Way back…
To a much simpler time and a better place.
With some homemade cookies and a warm embrace.
Warm summer breezes and grandma’s face.

Are You Wiser Than a 1st Grader?

Have you ever dreamed of doing something, but let someone talk you out of it? Have you ever had a dream that went unfulfilled because it seemed silly or because life’s responsibilities got in the way? If so, you may not be wiser than a first grader. We adults believe ourselves to be experienced and wise, when in fact, there are some very important lessons we can, and should, take from our kids.

Dream. Children dare to dream. They believe they can do or be anything. Astronaut, president or Michelin star chef. My daughter is a classic example. She thinks she’s going to grow up to build the first combination homeless shelter/animal shelter/food pantry. The practical adult in me asks where the money is in that, but in her mind, that doesn’t matter. She might just earn the money as a dancer or singer since she’s clearly better than Taylor Swift. She believes she can change the world. Her life is full of possibilities. She is limitless. She can do it all. Even make her own “ chocolate” cookies with flour, butter, and Hershey’s syrup. She doesn’t care if it doesn’t work. She doesn’t give up. She tries again, because she still believes she’ll find a way to do it. She doesn’t care about “rules”. Eventually she will find the “right” way, or invent her own new way.

Desire. Kids find their passion and run with it, no matter what others think. My son has loved learning about animals since he was old enough to talk. He was so interested in them that it almost became an obsession. He refused to read a fiction book until he was forced in the second grade. He is that funny kids who stops at the zoo exhibit and instructs other on-lookers about the genetic make up of the Okapi. He loves Pokemon and Skylanders. Never mind the fact that when he tries to explain these games to me I can only stare in confusion. He likes hot tea and the color pink, even though that isn’t “normal” for boys his age. He doesn’t care if others think he’s silly. He just knows what he likes. That’s the beauty of a kid’s mind. It doesn’t matter what others think of them. At least until they’re in Middle School!

Determination. Children find a way to do what they want. They let know obstacle stand in the way. Until they are old enough to “know better.” One day we made a tub of cookies. Audrey wanted those cookies so badly she could hardly stand it, but they were supposed to be for a bake sale, so we hid them on top of the fridge where we thought she’d never find them. We should have known then that our strong-willed girl wouldn’t rest until she got what she wanted. Later that day, while we were watching television and she was supposed to be sleeping, she snuck into the kitchen. She climbed on a chair, pulled down the tub, and stole away to her room. She crawled into her closet and shut the door, and there she stayed until she had eaten every last one of those cookies.

Stolen cookies might be a silly example. And to be clear, I’m not really encouraging you to lie, cheat, or steal to get what you want. But when was the last time you wanted something so badly or worked so hard until you got it? Somewhere along the way, we grow up. We become “wiser”, but along with that wisdom comes a loss of innocence and the idea that we “can’t” do things. These limitations seem real, but they are often self-imposed.

Today, instead of asking you to think like mature adults, I’d like to encourage you to be more childlike. Find your passion. Believe that you can do anything. Or at least try it. And when life tells you that you can’t have any cookies, find a way around it. I never thought I would be a published author. But with a dream, desire, and determination, anything is possible. Take up painting. Take a cooking class. Do something you’ve always wanted to do, if not as a profession, than for pleasure and fulfillment. If you’re waiting for the right time to begin a new project, if you’re waiting for some kind of sign, I’ll give you one!

Begin

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made. Go ahead, fellow Toastmasters. Consult your manuals. Check the Toastmasters International site. No, you are not crazy. The real slogan still reads Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made. But I think most Toastmasters would agree that the organization helps us to grow in a great number of ways. We become better speakers, true leaders, and in many cases, real writers. If you google the topic, you will find an assortment of articles and podcasts about it and testimonials from individual members who have become published authors. It stands to reason that Toastmasters would be beneficial to those of us looking to publicize and promote our books. But I’d like to share with you a few of the ways Toastmasters helped me with the writing process itself and allowed me to take Once in Love with Lily from a fun, little National Novel Writing Month project to a published novel.

First, crafting speeches gave me an edge when it came to structuring my story. In the beginning, I struggled with the story arc. While the action was intriguing, it lacked the proper flow. Then one day, my editor, fellow Toastmaster Eileen James, said to me, “Think about how you put together a good speech. You begin by thinking about the end. Where do you want to go with this speech or story? What is the intended ending? Now, how do you get there? Remember to tie the ending back to the beginning to satisfy the audience’s need for cohesiveness.” A novel is a bigger project than a speech, but it still has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Once I started thinking of it that way, I was able to put together a story that was grounded, but showed growth, as the characters learned real lessons.

Second, through my experiences as an evaluator, grammarian, or ah-counter, I learned to become a good listener. This can be very helpful when coming up with ideas for stories. (Consider that fair warning that anything you say can and may be used against you in a future novel!) In addition, it helps to create realistic, natural-sounding dialog. I’ve become accustomed identifying patterns of speech, accents, verbal ticks, colorful quotes or phrases. I’m not that creative after all. I could never have come up with something like “He’s all hat and no cattle.” But bits like that are the things that make characters real and, I hope, make the dialog come alive on the page.

Third, as early as project four in the Competent Communicator Manual “How to say it” we are taught to look at word choice, to choose words that paint a vivid picture and convey the most accurate visual or explanation possible. If I hadn’t known “how to say it”, I might have kept descriptions simple with something like: “As she walked down the streets of New York, she couldn’t help but notice how crowded and noisy it was.” But thanks to my Toastmasters training, I came up with this:

She headed down 8th Avenue through the throngs of people already crowding the streets. “Ah, New York,” she thought. “The honking taxis, the charming street vendors with their poached sunglasses and purses, and the faint smell of homeless that lurks just off the main drag really give it a certain je ne sais quoi.” She crossed the street against the light along with the natives, leaving a gaggle of tourists in the dust. (Excerpt from Once in Love with Lily by Cathryn K. Thompson)

Which example did the better job of transporting you to the streets of NYC? Of course, the second example would be pretty wordy for a typical 5-7 minute manual speech, but in a novel there is room to elaborate.

I can’t say that Toastmasters has taught me much about romance. There is a code of ethics to contend with, after all. But it certainly has helped me to hone my writing skills, to tell a story with a goal or lesson, to depict true-to-life characters and conversations, and to choose the best way to say it when it comes to setting the scene or conveying emotions. I never knew I had an author in me. Maybe you do too. You never know when or where inspiration will strike. When it does, Fellow Toastmasters,  take advantage of your already vast experience. Write it down. Develop it. Tell your own story. Even if you have to publish it under an assumed name! Show the world what Toastmasters has done for you.  If you’re not a Toastmaster, visit a club near you and experience it for yourself. Toastmasters: Where Leaders… and Authors… Are Made.

This Is Not a Setback

NaNoWriMo Week Two

My goal for week two was to work on closing some of the gaps in the story and make some strides toward completing my draft of the sequel to Once in Love with Lily. The good news: I did just that. I worked my way through the first several chapters and added new material to help form a more cohesive story as well as add some tension where needed. The bad news: I had to murder a few of my darlings. Some of my favorite scenes had to be cut to tighten things up and I ended up with three thousand fewer words this week than I had at the end of last week. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “You’re going the wrong way!” It may seem that way, but I assure you, this is not a setback. It’s all part of the process. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

My goals for this week:

1. To continue editing and adding, but actually make my word count go in the right direction.

2. Research and Development. I can’t give you too many details just yet, or this post would need a spoiler alert. But, I can tell you that Lily is going on location. She’s headed somewhere I’ve never been. So, it looks like I’m going to need some inspiration. YouTube and Pinterest, here I come… Again!