Shelley Widhalm

Archive for November, 2018|Monthly archive page

The Gratitude Tree (with Some Writing Advice)

In Being Thankful, Gratitude Tree, Thanksgiving, Writing, Writing Advice on November 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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The Gratitude Tree is a great exercise to figure out what makes you thankful by placing leaves on the metal branches.

Each year, my family and I write on cutout leaves what we’re thankful for and put them on the Gratitude Tree.

The tradition, in its third year this year, is something we do at my mother’s assisted living facility during the Thanksgiving noon meal of the traditional fare of turkey, the sides and pumpkin pie. The volunteer director of activities greeted the 75 people in the room Nov. 22 and asked them to write down one thing but to choose something that isn’t obvious like family or friends. She gave us a half-hour while we started eating and then walked around the room holding up the Gratitude Tree, a metal centerpiece with wire branches, which we filled with the leaves.

I had to think, because my obvious ones are family, friends, writing and having a job. I also love coffee and had put that last year, along with my dog, Zoey, my apartment and my business, because we weren’t limited to just one leaf, and I took four of the leaves left in a small pile on our table.

Starting the Day with Gratitude

We started eating, and I couldn’t think of what to put that isn’t obvious. I thought about how I start my day—with running and drinking coffee—and how both give me energy as my happy kick starters.

I run to boost my metabolism and get rid of my pain—I have fibromyalgia—and I drink coffee for the caffeine rush and mental stimulation. In other words, I’m thankful I don’t have to take medication and can use exercise as treatment, and I have coffee to look forward to once I’m out the door and started with my day. Both serve as a form of motivation to get going and part of my going is writing.

My mom wrote, “The first sip of coffee in the morning,” saying she likes the taste and how it gets her going, too. My brother, Brian, put Mountain Dew, because that’s how he gets his energy boost. For my brother’s wife, it’s “Music and Movies.”

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My family poses in front of the Gratitude Tree. From left are my sister-in-law, Kim, my brother, Brian, my mother, Mary, and me, Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services.

I saw from the activity that I have a deeper level of thankfulness—I, too, work on daily gratitude and repeating my list of things that give me a thankful pause.

Reflecting on what makes us thankful is incredibly important for positive mental health. Writing out that gratitude is helpful and a great reminder when negative thoughts interrupt and dampen the holidays or the start of a day. I like to run toward positivity full of energy, filling my writing cup.

If you like to write, what do you love about writing?

Thankful for Writing

Here are a few reasons I’m thankful for writing. Writing is a way to:

  • Have a hobby or job that results in a physical product.
  • Be creative, even for a few minutes or a few hours.
  • Express yourself and figure out what you really think or feel about something.
  • Make connections with memory or experiences that you might not otherwise make by thinking or talking.
  • Play around with words and language—it’s similar to a puzzle where you have to figure out what and how to write.
  • Improve your use of language and ability to effectively get your message across.
  • Tell stories and disappear into another world.

It’s interesting to see what you create out of the blank page, though intentional about your form, such as something short, like a blog or poem, to something spanning the length of a book. Writing is a process of discovery that also gives you a sense of accomplishment, just like running for a certain mile or time count. It’s a pleasure just like that first sip of coffee.

What parts of writing make you grateful that you love to write?

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Coffee and Writing and How They Relate

In Espresso, National Coffee Day, National Espresso Day, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Tips on November 11, 2018 at 5:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services compares coffee to writing in honor of National Espresso Day on Nov. 23.

I’m addicted to fancy coffee because there are so many aspects to the experience.

A bit of sweet with the bitter of espresso, the heady smell of freshly ground espresso beans and the smooth texture give coffee that appeal of wanting more.

The well-known National Coffee Day was Sept. 29, but National Espresso Day is Nov. 23, created by PartyExcuses.com, “365 days—thousands of excuses.”

My excuse, I have to admit, is to tie coffee to writing.

Espresso is an Italian-style dark, rich brew pressed out for a smooth finish. It’s the base ingredient in café lattes (my favorite is an iced caramel latte, summer or winter), cappuccinos and macchiatos.

Espresso and Writing

To celebrate Espresso Day, have a shot of espresso to mark its invention around the 1900s and pick up your pen, no excuses, to start describing the world around you, helped by the extra alertness from the caffeine.

It’s a matter of wanting more, such as two or three shots of espresso in the small latte. That’s like adding description to plain writing to make the process fun with the key ingredients of observing, absorbing and noticing details. Use the senses to observe and then choose words carefully to absorb, making sure every word has a purpose to move the writing along.

Achieving great writing is similar to using fresh beans in espresso—if they’re old, the taste is bitter. Descriptions that are trite, cliché-ridden and lacking detail can suffice but won’t give the reader that buzz that heightens the experience of drinking and reading.

To get more technical (but still keeping it fun), verbs are a key component of description, much less so than adjectives, which qualify a noun or noun phrase to provide more information about the object being described. For example, “the caramel sauce drizzled in a wavy path down the whipped cream” is more descriptive than “whip with caramel.”

Adjectives, when used, should be kept simple and not layered, such as the “extra skinny, extra hot, light foam, light whip latte with extra caramel.” Just say you’re picky.

What to Avoid in Description

There are a few other things to avoid in descriptions, such as:

  • Using adverbs, which weaken writing when they are not specific. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. For example, saying that your character slowly walked across the room (here “slowly” modifies walked) does not give the reader as good of a mental picture as: “She shuffled to her bed, falling into it after working 12 hours without caffeine.”
  • Writing in the passive voice, using “he was,” “they were” and the like. The passive voice slows down the action, while distancing the reader from what’s being said.
  • Using general words, instead of concrete details and specific nouns and verbs. Coffee and coffee cup are general nouns, as opposed to a pumpkin spice latte and an orange mug with leaves on it.

Description is what fills the pages of a story or gives a poem form. Without it, the action falls flat, simplified into an outline of this happened, and then this and this. Or the poetic devices would be readily apparent without that wonder of captured memory and observation.

That’s why I like my coffee fancy.