Did you know that I write?

More than just for this blog, I have actually written a couple novels!

In 2015 I started participating in NaNoWriMo, which is a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. (that’s 1,667 words a day). 

I’ve “won” twice and gave up on a third novel (because it was boring ME to tears). This is my fourth attempt and I’m not anywhere close to giving up on this story.


One of the books is actually on Amazon! You can see it here:


This is an affiliate link: Not only will I get royalties from the book selling, but I’ll ALSO get an affiliate commission. **happy dance** (ha! That’s like an extra three cents!)



I’m actually procrastinating from starting chapter 7 by writing this post. Shhhh don’t tell anyone!

I can’t wait to see how the story ends. This book is a Chick Lit style novel, and it’s pretty fun to write so far. 

If you’re interested in my progress, I’m tracking my daily word count here:


I’m on track to finish before Thanksgiving. Well, finish the 50K words, not the novel. That should be closer to 75K when it’s done, if it’s like a normal book in this genre.

Enough stalling. I’d better get back to my story now… 

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Making Marriage Work

Making Marriage Work

In September we celebrated our 17th anniversary.

I guess that means we have some idea of what makes a good marriage work. After all, I’d marry Josh all over again (in a heartbeat!), and he says the same about me.



A friend asked for advice of what makes a marriage work. We spent some time coming up with things that we’ve found to make the time together successful and enjoyable.

1. Don’t try to change your spouse. You married them for who they were, so don’t try to change it later. It will just cause frustration to both of you.

2. Make each other happy. Learn their love language and practice it as often as possible. Doing so will virtually guarantee they’ll do the same in return.

3. Marriage does take two. You can’t have a strong marriage unless you both want it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight for it if your spouse is floundering, but you can’t make it succeed all in your own.

4. Be each other’s biggest fan. Believe in your spouse even when (or especially when) they don’t believe in themselves.

5. Don’t let anyone else be more encouraging or speak words of life to them more than you do.

6. Keep a positive attitude. I’ve never considered being married to be a struggle because I’m walking through life with my best friend. In the good times or struggles, we remember that we’re better together than we ever could be apart.

7. Keep it fun. Whatever “fun” looks like to you, make sure you keep doing that. It could mean theme parks or haunted houses, building LEGO or going to the beach…fun brings you together.

I want to add a couple caveats to the above list.

1. Marriage takes two. If you’re in a marriage and doing all the work, this won’t work the same way. Your spouse has to want to have a successful relationship too.

2. We both have generations of successful marriages to build on. Our parents and grandparents were all married once, for life. That really does make a HUGE difference. Yes, we do follow the list above, but honestly we don’t have to think about it most of the time. It just happens, because that’s what we watched our parents do.


 What’s the best advice you ever heard for marriage? What would you add to this list? So what do you think?  I’d love to hear your thoughts! charla@charmboxstudios.com

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Feeling Alone

Feeling Alone

I don’t know about you…

But this year I’ve felt more alone than ever before in my life.

Which is a big deal, because I actually lived alone for a couple years, in a country where I was gradually learning to speak the language but every time I left the house I had to turn on my “concentrate hard” and be prepared for all the “but wait, you’re not a Turk” comments from people when they saw my red hair and heard me speaking their language.

2020 has been a wild ride. (I refuse to use all the adjectives we’ve heard all year, so I’ll go with a Disney reference instead) 

And in a time when a lot of my friends are living in places that are still completely shut down, or who are choosing to stay isolated to keep from getting the virus or possibly sharing it with someone else, that isolation is very, well, isolating. 

But even for people like me, who go to Disney, church, and the doctor’s office on a regular basis and see people face to face, I still find myself feeling very alone.


It’s not so much actually not seeing other people. It’s the feeling that I’m experiencing something, or feeling things, in a way that others just don’t get. Like I’m the only one who feels this particular way about things.

Let me tell you, though: it’s a lie. 

And it’s dangerous.

When we think we’re alone, then anxiety can start to take hold, even on people who have never felt anxious.

We start pitting ourselves against the imagined “them,” the people who make it harder for us to get back to some semblance of “normal.” No matter how we feel about…well, about anything…there’s a “them” and “they” seem to want us to fail.

What would you think if I told you we are actually all in this together?

That we all want our country and world to get back to normal, that we all want to be able to stop living in fear again? 

It’s not just wishful thinking.

I have friends on every possible side of this. People who flat-out refuse masks, those who won’t leave the house so they don’t risk exposing the vulnerable population (or themselves) to the virus, and tons somewhere in the middle. 

I know several people who have changed churches over this issue and how their (former) church handled things. 

I don’t even know how many people have changed their schooling plans over this. 

And those who have gone through the virus tend to keep quiet about it during their experience, feeling like they’re going to be ostracized for it. (I read an article yesterday that said 1 in 27 Floridians have had the virus at this point. That’s a lot more people who are in the same boat than most of us realize!)


But all of those are categories with multiple people in them!

No matter now small I go, I could list more than one person or family for each category. 

You. Aren’t Alone.


Stop believing the lie. Stop thinking you’re the only one going through it this way. 

I’m not always a fan of spending time looking for people who agree with me. I think it can get dangerous, because it makes me start thinking the “other side” is even more crazy than I already suspected. 

But in this time? I think you should find places that help you feel less alone. News articles or podcasts that discuss things the way you feel is the most accurate. Not so you can bash those who disagree with you. PLEASE don’t use them for that. But so that you can be encouraged, knowing you’re NOT the only one feeling this way. You’re NOT the only one to take this path and make these decisions. And feeling less alone is an incredibly encouraging, empowering sensation during this time.

Feel free to write to me: charla@charmboxstudios.com

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So What Now?

So What Now?

A newly empty nest…

A job furloughed that may or may not open back up…

A dance studio where your favorite teacher left…

A church you no longer feel connected to…

A curriculum that doesn’t click with the kids…

Something that used to be your passion but now makes your eyelid twitch…

Seasons are a part of life. But sometimes knowing it’s the end of a season is the easy part.
The harder thing is trying to figure out what’s next, and to walk into it without fear or guilt. (in my life, guilt is the much bigger struggle)

In nature, season changes are usually gradual. (Unless it’s 2006 in Buffalo, when the Columbus Day storm graced us with 22 inches of snow that paralyzed the city and ended up causing our car to get totaled.) In Florida, we know that lovebugs are a sign that the temperatures are going to start shifting, and the rainy days are either coming in or going out (depending on if it’s May or September). In Buffalo, the beautiful fall foliage reminded us to get outside as much as we could before we started hibernating.

I wonder if we have similar hints in our lives, but we haven’t gotten as good at figuring them out.
For example…
Last spring I was feeling incredibly burned out. The dance studio where I ran the front desk was stressful (it was time to measure all the kids and start ordering costumes), the kids needed more from me with school, and my health was suffering. I was counting down the hours until spring break started.
Little did I know that Spring Break would last forever….

As the weeks dragged on living at home, I knew very clearly that the fall was going to look very different for our family. I knew my job at the front desk was over, my son realized he was only dancing because his sisters were, and my eldest daughter started getting more interested in drawing and acting than in dance.
And my middle daughter started taking private ballet classes through Zoom and found her passion…

I wish I had solid advice on this. I wish this wasn’t what I was still working on in my own world.
But the best I can suggest is this:
keep taking one day at a time. Spend time figuring out what direction you should be facing right now, and do that. Don’t try to figure out the ultimate destination. It just causes a ridiculous amount of stress.
I talked in my last post about how I knew my time as a photographer was behind me. I still haven’t figured out what my next venture is. For now, it’s focusing on the kids and making sure they’re getting the time and energy they need to for school and life. At some point I may find a new business idea or passion I want to run with, but today, right now, my job is to be there to help my kids with their math, to finish last year’s history curriculum, and to teach them their musical intervals.


Do you have more solid advice than I do? Does this resonate, either with life right now or in the past?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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When I was in school, I was torn between wanting to be a ballerina and wanting to pursue music.

I finally chose music because the clarinet was fully paid for (unlike ballet classes), and I knew my height was against me with my dancing. That, and by 9th grade it was pretty obvious I wasn’t really good enough to make a career out of dancing.

So I went to school for music education. Did very well in it, enjoyed how much my clarinet playing progressed, and landed a job teaching music in Istanbul, Turkey.

But I was teaching general music, and my real strength was instrumental music. I did teach two kids how to play the clarinet, and I got all the third graders playing recorder. 

After two years, I came back stateside and looked for a teaching job. Nothing really worked, so I got a couple part-time jobs. Tried again for the following school year and ALMOST got a job in South Carolina (part of my plan to get OUT OF THE SNOW), but that didn’t work either. 

And during all this time, I knew it wasn’t my passion anymore. So I hung up my “music teacher” hat, letting my mom say her daughter was a “retired teacher.” Nice to hear when you’re 25.



I got married and had the three kids. I knew before Jasmine was born that I wanted to homeschool them, but that’s another story for another time.

There’s a long, rambly story on how I got into photography, but I’ll save you all the details. Short version: I did, and ended up realizing I enjoyed shooting dance. So I started taking pictures for our studio in Buffalo, then our studio in Kissimmee, then a second studio in Kissimmee, then our last studio (again in Kissimmee). (seeing a trend here?)

But last year, I realized it was the opposite of a passion. I could feel it sucking the joy out of me. I knew that studio work wasn’t what I wanted to do, and so I hung up that hat.


Occasionally, I pull my clarinet out and play until my lips can’t handle anymore (about 5 minutes), but it’s very rare. 

I struggled with guilt about that. How could I abandon something I had worked SO hard at for SO long? 

But last weekend, a friend talked about how there are different seasons in our lives. 

Music was a season. Dance photography was a season. 

Just like the fact that we look like studio hoppers (but aren’t really), or that we aren’t the type to stay in one church our whole lives. I needed something from each place, and when the time is done there, I move on.

For someone who is deeply loyal, this was a hard lesson to really wrap my mind around. 

Ultimately, it isn’t about loyalty. It’s about recognizing when a season has come to its end and moving on with it.

Like moving out of Buffalo. I needed to live there, to meet people and to have experiences that could only happen there. But I no longer fit in that world (which I did NOT cry about!). 

So I will hold my head high as we venture into the unknown in this year of the unknown, confident that I’m going to learn new and valuable lessons in the next season of my life.


What are your thoughts on this? Do you find it easy to move from one thing to the next, are you a stick-with-it-until-the-end, or are you like me, with a constant tension between the two?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Agreeing to Disagree

Agreeing to Disagree

A couple hours ago I posted a question on Facebook. 

Without mentioning specifics:
Do you consider that you and I agree on major topics, or disagree? (Masks, politics, religion, etc)

I was honestly curious to see how people would answer.

And I loved the feedback I got from it. A lot of “agrees,” some of which I think are right and others are not so much (because of who I used to be versus who I am now). But what made my heart happy was the ones who said we disagreed, but that our friendship was more valuable than having similar opinions.


And in all honesty, that’s why I asked the question.


For every single hot-button issue out there, I know someone who feels exactly the opposite way that I do. 

And not just “someone,” but someone I care for. Someone whose friendship really means something to me.

I find that to be really important.

Because now, every time I catch myself thinking, “How could people think __________?” I realize that a dear friend of mine holds that belief. And because I respect that person, knowing their decision was as well-thought-out and as emotionally involved as mine, I have to stop that line of thinking.

Immediately it changes to “okay, I can’t imagine seeing it that way, but clearly it’s more involved than I was letting myself imagine.”


ALL topics apply. When I get frustrated over people’s opinions of the importance of masks, or when I see a political ad. Whenever it gives me an emotion, good or bad, I remind myself that someone is having the exact opposite feeling to the same thing.


If you don’t have a friend who disagrees with you on major issues, I highly recommend that you change that. (though, I wouldn’t recommend finding one friend with 100% different views. That could be tough to find enough common ground to keep the friendship going). But dig deep. 

Caveat: I don’t TALK about these topics with any of them. But they know how I feel, and I know how they feel. Instead, we focus on the things we DO have in common, and silently but respectfully disagree on the other issues. I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to talking about hot-button issues with people who feel differently, so I am not going to tell you to go out and do something I would never have the guts to do. All I’m suggesting is the importance of caring for someone who feels differently, so you don’t start making “them” into some kind of monster in your mind. That’s when things become dangerous, and especially in a year with a Presidential election, it’s really easy to put everyone into a box: “Smart like me” or “dumb because they disagree.” 

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