Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December Recap

December has been a good month, mostly snowy and cold.  Some things came to an end, like my nano novel and my online writing class.  Other projects have started or rather restarted, like my couch potato to marathon in three years project.  And as we head toward January with its resolutions, and new beginnings, it seems right to look back on this last month and revist some of my posts and your responses.

Thanks Amy for your congratulations on my big win and letting me know I'm always a winner in your heart.  Thanks to everyone for enduring my blabbing about my novel the entire month of November, and sorry that I probably won't let anyone see it ever.

Regarding having to sled on sand, yes, Doug, I am glad that I live where it feels like there is snow six months of the year.  However, I think the recent cold snap of 10 below zero is a little too much!

My stepdad shared a video about the LAD artery, where he had his heart attack and where his stent was put in.

It's called the widow maker's artery and when it is completely blocked, the doc says you've got less than five minutes to get to a hospital.   I'm sure glad that it was only 99% blocked and that his recovery is going very well.

My honey told me that a better title for my winter walking post (or at least this photograph) would have been the Michelin Woman.

Thanks Kristi for tipping me off about the 30-day challenges when I was sharing my attempts to "get fitter".  Expect to see an upcoming post about my experiences, successes, failures and modifications of those challenges!

While talking on the phone with someone about my post on my in-laws' romance, she confessed that she was curious about how much time had passed between the break-off of the relationship and the rapprochement.  My honey says that he thinks a little over a year went by before his father had squared everything away with his family and Robert felt that he could try to find Alice again.  And he really had to look, because by that time Alice was working at Coker College in South Carolina, far from where they had met in Chapel Hill.  How did he find her?  I'm still not sure, except that I know he didn't have Google to help him!

Finally, as always, thanks to everyone who reads these ramblings, whether you comment or not.  It's fun to write knowing I have an audience.  I hope that all of you had many wonderful moments in the month of December, just as I did.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Perfect Post

"Last night I had the strangest dream . . . "
Ed McCurdy

OK, it was the night before last and there weren't any countries pledging to do away with war and maybe the dream wasn't so strange.  Still, it was a first for me.

On and off, for most of Saturday night, I dreamt about this blog.  Specifically, I dreamt about the perfect blog post for today.  It had a great title, at least four paragraphs and a kick-ass ending.  (I always sweat the endings!)

Unfortunately, I can't remember a single detail about the dream.  I know that it was perfect, but I don't remember the title, topic, ending, anything!  I know that I thought about it continually during the night, and my one memory is that I kept telling myself to write it down.  But I was sleeping or at least half asleep, so I didn't write down a word.

Maybe someday it will come to me, because it sits right outside my brain, teasing me with its perfection, like a lyric that I can't quite come up with.  But if I'm lucky, and I stop thinking about it for a little while, it may come back to me.  I'll let you know.

But until that time, I'm putting a notebook, pen and a headlamp at my bedside.  Just in case.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Addicted to solitaire

I'm a little tired and I really just want to go to bed, and I should be writing tomorrow's (today's) post, but what am I doing?  Playing solitaire instead.

I blame Ken Levine, whose sitcom writing seminar I attended in late October.  He recommended playing free cell, a somewhat complicated solitaire game that I had never heard of.  In order to win the game you have to think ahead several moves, just like when you're writing a sitcom.  So I started to play.  And I liked it.

But because I don't often have a long attention span, I started exploring the other links at the bottom of the free cell page.  Yatzhee, spades, crazy eights.  They were all good, but spider solitaire is what I love at the moment.

It's complicated, has just enough rules and an undo button.  Perfect for me! So anytime I say that I'm writing my blog, but my honey hears the click, click of the mousepad instead of the tippety-type of the keyboard?  He knows that I'm playing solitaire and avoiding writing this blog.

Sometimes I keep playing late into the night until I finally win a game.  It's good I can admit I have a problem.  Now I just have to work on solving it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Vanilla Frosting

Puffy snow looks very much like white icing on top of a cake.  Or so says my honey.  And I agree with him.  We went out into the vanilla frosting yesterday afternoon and it was marvelous!  I'm not sure why I don't go cross country skiing or snowshoeing every day . . .

Somehow I'm going to be attaching these skis to my boots more often, because being outside in the woods, listening to the stillness and looking at the snow, makes me happy.

This is a rare snow mushroom, only found where more than a foot of snow has fallen.  It is very uncommon to see one so close to a ski trail.

The day was quite cloudy, which kept the temperature warm.  There had also been a few flurries in the morning so the trees had just a bit of snow captured in their branches.  Gorgeous!  Mother Nature does a lovely job showing off her finery and I will do my best to get out into it more this winter.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Licence to Ski

During a conversation yesterday I mentioned that I was going to go cross-country skiing and I needed to make sure I had my skiing license for this year.

The person I was talking to thought I was joking.  (She does not live in my north-midwestern, crazy-for-cross-country-skiing, state.)  I was not kidding. Here, everyone over the age of 16 that skis on public trails must have a license, also known as a pass.  There are one day passes ($6), one season passes ($20), and three season passes ($55).

Why?  The fee paid by the many enthusiastic skiers helps support the public trail system.  I'm talking a little through my hat here, but I think it pays for buying the machines that groom the trails, helps pay the actual costs of grooming the trails throughout the season, and maybe even defrays the cost of having warming huts for the freezing hordes.  If you are in charge of public lands and you want to create or maintain ski trails, you can apply for a grant from the state.

I don't know how many thousands of miles of ski trails are in the program, but I probably have over fifteen different places to ski within twenty miles of my house.  That includes parks of many kinds, county, regional, state, even some recreational areas.  At least two county parks have trails with lights, so people can ski after work.  Being willing to drive further adds many more skiing possibilities.

Seems like a good value to me.  I plan on getting some of my money's worth today!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Earrings

For someone who doesn't really celebrate Christmas, I realized that I have a lot of winter holiday themed earrings. . . and I love wearing them!  This confuses some of my friends and colleagues who hear me say "no gifts" and "bah, humbug", but then notice my head jingles when I walk.

What can I say?  I'm complicated.  Here is some of my beloved Christmas jewelry.  I don't know where my Santa earring is, because I haven't seen it since last year.

The candy cane is simple and fun, but the other two are awesome!  The small Christmas lights dangle nicely against each other, and although they don't light up, I think it was a really clever idea to put them on an earring.  But the jingle bells are my favorite.  They ring softly whenever I move my head, and although that could be really annoying, it isn't.  Instead, it is gentle and pleasant and it makes me smile.

In the future, I imagine that I'll continue my complex life and wear my Christmas-y earrings while not celebrating Christmas.  I like both of those decisions.

And for all of you?  I hope everyone had a lovely yesterday, however you chose to spend it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Square One — Again!

My tailbone seems to have finally recovered from my trip down the stairs on my bottom so many weeks ago.  So it's back to the beginning of the couch potato to marathon in 52 weeks plan.

Yes, it's a return to Week One, Day One, where you jog for 30 seconds and walk for a minute until you manage to eke out 2 miles.  I started yesterday morning.  And it felt good.

Due to my lack of experience jogging outside in the ice and snow, I opted for going to the local YWCA and the treadmill.

This particular Y has TVs on the treadmills, so I got to watch various morning shows while I went the distance very slowly.  And then I walked a mile home, being pretty skillful at walking on ice and snow.

Quite frankly, I am unsure whether I will ever complete a marathon, however, even just doing week one, day one over and over again wouldn't be a bad idea for my health.

Of course, once spring comes and the sidewalks have melted, I'll have to take my walking/jogging/running show on the road.  Maybe by April, I will have managed to make it to Week Four . . .

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Alice Romance

Many people in relationships have a get-together story.  How they met, when they knew they were in love, their first fight.  Today I will tell you what I know about my in-laws' early romance.

Robert liked to tell his version of the story, a sort of a tease, about how Alice saw him in the library and tripped him up with some sort of string or wire to capture him.  The details changed but he always spoke about how irresistible he had been.  The twinkle in his eye was enough to let listeners know he might be exaggerating.

The actual circumstances were somewhat different.  The library at Chapel Hill definitely played a role.  I believe they also saw each other at church. Robert was a young man on the GI bill.  It seemed there was something about Alice that intrigued him.  She was older than he and studying for her master's in botany.  Somehow (without a trap) they started to court.

Then tragedy struck.  Robert's father died and as the oldest boy in a family of seven children, the smallest younger than ten years, Robert had to be responsible.  So he went back to his small town.  Before he left though, Robert went to Alice and let her know that he had to be in charge of his family.   Accordingly, there could be no understanding between them, and there was no contact for some time.

At home, Robert convinced his mother that if she wanted the younger children to get an education they had to move to the big city.  They bought a house together in Chapel Hill.  (Yay GI bill again!)

Once the family was well taken care of, Robert went back to find Alice.  I don't know how much time had passed or where she was living, but he found her and they were soon married.  And they remained married for over fifty years, until Robert passed away in 2003.

There was obviously something compelling about Alice, an undefinable fascinating quality that made Robert seek her out again.  Something kept Alice on his mind, even when there was no communication between them. We should all be so lucky to be that captivating to someone.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Because we had some friends over to celebrate the solstice on Saturday, the public areas of our home are pretty darn clean.  My honey vaccuumed everywhere, including underneath the sofa cushions.  The coffee table was completely cleaned off, except for a few coffee table books.

The heirloom dining room table was also wiped down and two extra leaves were added.  The toilet, sink, and mirror were all polished and new guest towels were put out.  The house still looks amazing today.

But at what cost?  Well, first off, general exhaustion yesterday was one of the prices paid.  I accomplished very little of note the entire day.  Additionally, it was lucky that no guest opened any of the doors to the non-public rooms. Nothing would have fallen out at them, but they would have been shocked by the clutter inside.  (There are no photos in today's post for a reason!)

Now the task is to go into the bedrooms of the house and deal with all the papers, clothes and bicycle parts that we own.  How long will it take?  Ask me again next winter solstice. . .

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Or as my honey likes to call it, forgetsitsboolie.

Feuerzangenbowle is a traditional German drink, mulled wine with rum-soaked sugar melted into it.  Here's how to make it:

I'm just like the guy presenting, although my German accent is thicker.  In any case, we made a feuerzangenbowle last night at my house for our solstice celebration.  We poured more rum on the sugar cone this year, so I was still nervous about explosions.

Luckily we had no need of the fire extinguisher in the background, although we had it at the ready. The wine was very good, as was the chili and cornbread.

Later we went out into the cold and built a fire to laugh at the long midwinter night.
Ha, ha, ha!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Return of the Sun

Snowless Winter Sunrise by Doug Wallick

Happy Winter Solstice!

According to various science sites today at 12:11pm ET the sun appears directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn.  This is the moment when the Earth's North Pole is tilted furthest away from the sun.  That makes today is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

A curious note is that the sunset is already happening later each day.  The earliest sunsets happened around December 8th.  But the sunrises are also happening later!  Today we will have 2 seconds less sunlight than yesterday and tomorrow will have 2 more seconds of sunlight than today.  The latest sunrise will happen sometime around January 8th, but our days will have lengthened by more than twelve minutes by then.

All those science facts mean to me is that although we are still deep within winter here, later today there will be a shift back toward light and heat.  We may not see its effects soon, but we will eventually.

Tonight there will be a fire in the backyard to laugh at the darkness and rejoice in the return of the sun.  Maybe some of you will be there!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Embracing the New

I like to dance.  Actually, I love to dance.  But I have never really enjoyed watching dance performances.  Recently, however, I have been branching out and I have discovered a fun dance troupe called Invertigo Dance Theatre.  They perform before Shakespeare plays, teach dance in the public schools and have a Parkinson's dance class.

I went to their Winter Party, which was a fun fundraising event.  Here's a "short video to relive the magic!"

It's nice to know that I can still get interested in something new.  Keeps the brain cells working!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Another Blog to Follow . . .

One of my young lucky relatives is going off to Paris on a semester abroad and has decided to write a blog about her experiences.  It's called Paris is Paramount and you can find it on the list of blogs I follow to the right.  I am quite excited to follow her adventures.

I must admit to being completely jealous and remembering my own year abroad in Madrid when I was her age.  It was a great time, and I wouldn't have changed it for anything.

So far, she only has one post up about some of her pre-departure exploits and the blog may be slow to start, as she isn't leaving until after the winter break.  Still, I can't wait to hear about croissants and chocolate, museums and parks, friends and foes.

Of course, Paris may be polluted, crowded, and expensive, as some say,  but I think if the young woman is like me at all, the magical, shiny qualities of Paris will shine through the sometimes dreary reality.  Here's hoping she manages to write about it so that we can share in her months in a foreign land.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


After being caught in a storm of existential angst about my writing lately, it was time to do something concrete.  So yesterday I was a substitute teacher for the first time this year.

After months of not working as a teacher I eased into the job.  I took over for a friend in the building that I used to work in.  It was fun to see many old friends and colleagues, and having a job sure gets you up early in the morning.

However, it was difficult as well.  When I'm not doing it, I forget how exhausting teaching can be.  There were a lot of emotions, anger, hurt feelings and even some crying.  And that was just me!

Enough of the cheap humor, though.  Trying to help students gain knowledge and insight while at the same time helping them grow emotionally and keeping them safe is an incredibly complex job.  At best that's what I was accomplishing yesterday, but I know that I was mostly trying to keep them happy and healthy and safe for a day.  Anything that they learned was incidental to that, although I did my best.

I'll see how it goes, dipping my toes back into the teaching pool.  The hugs from the students are great, although their tears break my heart.  It helps me remember why I need the break.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Missed Possibility

"You can say that you were meaning to do something, 
or that you wanted to do it . . . 
but if you had really wanted to or meant to, you would have . . . "  
something a friend recently said to me

This idea intrigued me greatly.  Granted, we were talking about doing the dishes, but it struck me as true for many of my actions, large and small. Certainly, I mean to wash the dishes more than I actually manage to, mostly because I don't really want to in the first place.

One of my ideas for this year was to volunteer to work at the Sundance Film Festival, and although I kept meaning to fill out the application form and send it in, I didn't.  I kept forgetting to do it, and when I remembered, it was never convenient, so I never did.  And now the window of opportunity has closed.

According to the thought I started this post with, I must not have wanted to go to Utah so badly.  I guess I'm ok with that assessment, but it makes me wonder what I really do want to accomplish with my remaining weeks of leave.  As another friend reminded me on Sunday, my leave is almost half over.

November is over, my online writing class has finished, and the upcoming turn of the earth back to the sun all seem to me to be a perfect time to contemplate the future.  What is important enough to me?  I'll let you know what I figure out.

Monday, December 16, 2013

¡Hasta 2014, water polo!

Yesterday was the last water polo workout for a while.  We scrimmaged for most of the session and I got to spend the entire time defending the goal.

I was on fire!  I blocked a lot of shots and even got my fingers on many of the shots that did score.  Another player called me a wall, which is a great compliment for a goalie.  I would like to say that I was as awesome as Betsey Armstrong, the goalie for the national women's team and the star in the photo above, but I know I wasn't.  Still, my performance made me happy.

Now all I have to do is keep up my swimming and fitness workouts on my own, always a challenge.  But at least I will have warm, fuzzy memories of water polo to keep me motivated.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Goals Instant Replay

Writing about my fitness goal yesterday made me realize that now that November has subsided, I should take a look back at some of my previous goals.

Just for fun, I decided to go way back.  Back to spring 2007 when I was writing goals for the leave I took during the 2007-2008 school year.

There were the goals that I accomplished:

 Attend the Strawberry Music Festival
 Write a novel in November (my first               nanowrimo)
 Live somewhere else for a month
 Finish painting the house

Then there were the goals I didn't manage to complete:

Attend the Girvan folk festival
Take a trip to Cuba
Do an American Hiking Society volunteer vacation building trails
Take guitar lessons
Go on a horse trek vacation

Interesting how many of those goals involved travel, no?  I guess I ran out of time, as I did travel quite a bit, just not to those places.

Weirdly, I also had a list of possible jobs for me to do that year.  They included vending machine filler, postal worker at the holidays, and factory line worker.  I have no idea what I was thinking!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Getting Fit

One of my goals for this year has been to "get fit".  If we look way back at one of my early posts about goal setting, it's clear that I have too many goals and many of them are very vague.

Getting fit is definitely an imprecise goal.  I suppose I should change the goal to something like, be able to do 20 push-ups, swim a mile without stopping, or do a cartwheel without injuring myself.  I'll work on a list.

While I'm figuring that out, however, I will keep on doing things to help me get fit.  Most recently, I rejoined the YWCA and today I went my first Zumba class.  Zumba is a trademarked dance aerobic program available at many gyms.  The classes use mostly Latin music.

I had fun, but I also had no idea what I was doing.  If you look closely at this picture, I most resembled the lady in gray at the back of the class.  Her leg isn't kicking, her arms are at her sides and she looks a little confused.  That was me for an hour today.

On the other hand, I elevated my heart rate, danced around with a smile on my face, and maybe I'll even remember a few of the moves the next time.

I'll have to think of a measurable Zumba goal.  Any ideas?

Friday, December 13, 2013


What's a vlog?  It's a video blog!  A charming young woman who sat at my table at the Night of Writing Dangerously puts out a weekly vlog.  Here is her short take on the amazing marathon writer's celebration in San Francisco.  

She's a Canadian high school student, blogs under the name Mouse in Sneakers and is a hoot.  Take a peek.  You might even catch a glimpse of yours truly if you're quick.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Club

My book club meeting is tonight.  Our current pick is Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen.  It's a pretty good book, or what I've read of it so far anyway.  And therein lies my problem.  I am way behind on finishing this book.  I'm not sure why I feel such pressure to try and finish, because my book club is, well, let's just say that no one gets mad at you for not reading to the last page.  Heck, we celebrate however far anyone manages to read.

Yet in spite of that, I'm going to try to finish.  So, instead of crafting a long and witty blog post, I'm going to spend my time reading.  And hope that I'll have something to contribute to the discussion.  Catch you tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Birds of Los Angeles

Much of coastal Los Angeles is basically built on wetlands, so the bird life around the area is incredible.  I already wrote about the least terns, but there are lots of other birds I enjoy watching.  When I was there over the Thanksgiving holiday, I did my best to take photos of some of my favorites. I missed a shot of about twenty pelicans flying in formation, skimming low over the breaking waves, but here are some of the ones I did manage to capture.

A beautiful long-necked white bird fishing.  I love the reflection I was able to catch.  I'm sure some of my readers know whether it's an egret or a heron, but all I know is how elegant it is.

I was amazed when I took this shot how close I was able to get to these birds.  They are a mixture of curlews and sandpipers, I think.  They are all just hanging out, resting on one leg, totally unthreatened by the crazy lady slowly advancing with the camera in her hand.

Sandpipers are some of the coolest birds to watch in action, running from the waves on their tiny legs.  This group was also just resting on one leg.  I love how they are all facing the same direction.  Maybe it was away from the wind?  I've tried to get photos of these little guys in action, but they move so fast, they are always blurry.

There are many more birds that I have no photos of.  The herring gulls on the pier, coots, the many species of ducks in the canals . . .  The list goes on and on.  Luckily, I did get a close-up of a popular star.  This delightful blue parrot is often spotted dining at the premier outdoor restaurants.  He's even waving hello!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winter Walking

It's been cold here in the heartland recently.  And whenever it's the coldest, I'm almost always out walking in the weather.  That's mostly because I refuse to ride my bike whenever it's below 20°, so that means I'm putting boots on the pavement to get where I need to go.

How do I do it?  It's all about the clothes.

Let's start with the feet, very important extremities to keep warm.  There have been many advances in wool socks over the years, so pick a soft or smart version in your favorite color and you're on your way.  We can't forget boots, but they go on last, so we'll return to them later.

In my early years in the Midwest, I favored long underwear to keep my legs from freezing, but now I wear outer pants.  Rain pants, wind pants, snow pants, depends on what I have.  I probably protect my legs the least, but they haven't failed me yet.  And when I get to my destination, I can remove the outer pants easily.

I have to thank my sister-in-law for having the perfect parka.  She helped me figure out what features were absolutely necessary, like a below-the-waist length, a hood, and pockets big enough to hold a book.  Underneath the parka, I'm wearing at least two layers, one of them probably a fleece.  And underneath the hood, I'm wearing a cloth ski mask.

If it's above 10° and not too windy, I don't usually have the hood up and I'm either wearing a ear band or a lighter hat.  I do have a new hat this winter that I love, but it's not proving to be very good for colder temperatures.

The other extremities, the hands, are also vital to keep toasty.  I had a favorite pair of gloves last winter, but I lost the right one, so now I'm wearing a fantastic glove on the left and a claw glove on the right.  (A claw glove has only two large finger spaces for your four fingers.  It's supposed to be warmer than a glove, but have better dexterity than a mitten.  I remain unconvinced.  Unfortunately, it's the best solution for my right hand that I could find in the winter gear box.)

And finally it's back to the feet.  Depending on the depth of the snow and the length of the walk,  I either wear Sorel boots that reach just below my knee, or my newish hiking boots.  Either pair keeps my feet dry.

And voila!  I'm ready to walk in the wintry air.  Just this morning I walked to the gym and back in 0° weather.  Each way took about 20 minutes.

What a wonderful, sunny, brisk day.  I'm glad I'm well prepared to be outside.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rest in Peace, Aunt Chris

Last weekend my Aunt Chris passed away.  Her official obituary has many of the facts of her life.  But I wanted to include some more personal details about my aunt.

Aunt Chris was my father's little sister and an immediate joy to her parents, who had been mourning the death of their young daughter some years previous.  They named her Juanita Christopher, but called her Chris.

She had the most beautiful clear blue eyes.  They were the same blue eyes my father had, but hers were more spectacular.  She loved to laugh and loved to tease.

A fiery lady who knew her own mind, Aunt Chris had opinions and enjoyed sharing them with you.  It didn't really matter to her if you agreed with her or not.

Family and her faith were important to her.  She was also a very loyal person.  Purple was her favorite color and she wore it often.  One of her most prized possessions was the certificate confirming the fact of her birth in the great state of Texas.

Aunt Chris didn't let obstacles slow her down.  She lost one leg to complications from diabetes, so she learned to drive a motorized cart.  And she drove it well.

Many generations of the family gathered this past July in Texas to celebrate her 90th birthday.  We had a great time, laughing and talking and just being together.

Juanita Christopher will be missed by all who knew her.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Storyboard Party!

the detritus of storyboard creation
Way back in late November, I shared the valiant tale of my first attempts to create a storyboard for my novel.  I may have implied that I would immediately work on a third version of my storyboard that very day.  

Not surprisingly, that didn't happen.  (I believe I have mentioned my tendency to procrastinate?)

In any case, on Friday and Saturday I attended a class taught by my online instructor that promised more hands-on help for the process.  So here is try number three:

This is a chronological retelling of the events of my main characters, pink for the woman and blue for the man.  Unusual for me to be so traditional in my color choice, but it worked visually.  However, the time spanned seemed too long for a regular sized novel.

So, I decided to experiment with a storyboard for my female main character only, as hers is the stronger story.  With the instructor's support, I chopped off the first two legs and shifted the others over.  The events in the first two legs will be backstory placed elsewhere in the novel.  So, here's my fourth attempt.  The dark pink stickies are present events, and the light pink ones are flashbacks.

Now all I need to do is completely move the scenes around in my novel. Cool, huh?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Sandhill

After writing about all those poor Southern California kids who have no snow and have to sled on sand, it occurred to me that growing up I was one of those deprived children myself.

Although I don't remember the parking lot berms when I was young.  Instead, we had the sandhill.

The sandhill (that's what we always called it) was a on the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Malibu, but before you got to Leo Carillo, Carpinteria, Oxnard or Santa Barbara, all places we occasionally went.  And anytime we went that far north, we begged our mother to stop.

She would only stop when we were going north and had extra time.  We had to be going north because the sandhill was on the right of the highway, and she never allowed us to cross the highway to get there.  We had to have extra time, because we were not fast climbers.

In my memory, the sandhill was huge.  We would walk up to the top, which seemed to take forever.  If we had been planning ahead, we had cardboard to slide down on.  Otherwise, once we got to the top, we would turn around and run downhill at a crazy speed, letting the momentum take over.  What a rush!

On one of my recent trips to Southern California, I drove north on the Pacific Coast Highway and I stopped at the sandhill to take a break from driving and to stretch my legs.  (Full disclosure:  Mom, I crossed the highway to look at the ocean.  But I looked both ways!)

Amazingly enough, in this digital entertainment age, there were two young teenagers climbing the sandhill with a boogie board in hand, ready to slide down.  I guess some things are just pure fun!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Modern Medical Miracle

Fewer than forty eight hours after a heart attack, cardiac catheterization, and a stent implant, my stepfather has been discharged from the hospital.  He is at home, feeling fine, although a bit tired.  My mother says she can't tell the difference from before his surgery.  What amazing things scientists have discovered and doctors have put into practice!

Since he has the normalized blood flow of after the procedure, his heart is working much better.  And the whole family is excited for his return to good health.

Life is precious.  Hug your loved ones.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hug your loved ones

Life is precious.

Last Saturday my Aunt Chris passed away.  She will be missed.  I have been working on and off since then to write a blog post worthy of her. Expect that soon.

Then Tuesday night my stepfather had a heart attack.  He's doing very well and is expected to be discharged sometime today.   The doctors put a stent in his 99% blocked artery.

Both of these events serve to remind me to hug the ones I love, make sure they know I love them, and enjoy their company.

Love and hugs to all of you out there.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Protect our Parking Lots!

Sometime in November when I was away from Southern California, the traditional winter sand berms were built at various spots on the beach in LA.

The official reason for the existence of the berms is to prevent erosion and to keep the sand off of the bike path and Ocean Front Walk.  However, they both run for miles along the shore, and the berms are only in some places. Specifically, they are located in front of the parking lots run by the City of Los Angeles.  My mother remembers a long time ago we raised money for my preschool by sweeping the sand out of beach parking lots.  Obviously, the parking lot protection schemes have become much more elaborate over time.

Never fear though!  In our rush to protect the precious spaces we leave our vehicles, the city has created a new sport loved by many children in the area — sand sledding!

They bring their plastic sleds, round discs and boogie boards to slide down the sand hills.

One popular local blog even announces the opening of the 2013 sledding season.  Although it looks like fun, I look forward to enjoying the original version of sledding — in the snow.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Back Home Again

There's an inch of snow on the ground, not much food in the fridge, and the heat in the house is at 58°, but I'm home sweet home.

I got to experience jet lag sleeplessness in my own bed in clean pajamas, used my favorite pillows and showered in my own still too cold bathroom.

Later today I will pick up the mail at the post office, go to the library, grocery shopping, maybe the gym or for a swim.  I will unpack, do at least one laundry, return the luggage I borrowed, and return to the daily routines that are so familiar.  Soon it will become the same old drudgery.

When that happens, I will try to remember the initial joy I felt at returning home.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I House

The last of my travelogues from my trip to the Bay Area two weeks ago . . .

International House is a dorm for graduate students and upperclassmen at the University of California, Berkeley.  It's affectionately known by all as I House.  It sits at the southeastern corner of campus, high on the top of a hill, with a view of the bay.  About half of the residents are American, and the other half are international students.

Creating an international community is what I House is all about, and over the years many programs have been created to facilitate that goal.  There are coffee hours, language tables in the cafeteria, lectures, and even dance classes.

I House has been around since 1930 with many notable alumni, including John Kenneth Galbraith, California Governor Jerry Brown, and me.  I lived there for a semester and a half, and I loved it until I didn't anymore.  It was a wonderful place with wonderful people, many of whom are still friends, but it was still a college dorm.

Walking through the building felt both familiar and strange.  The great hall, the chatter of the residents and notices on the bulletin boards were the same, but I was different, of course.  I no longer live there or anywhere nearby, I was just a tourist.

It's easy to get nostalgic, remembering many stories.  In fact, both my twenty-first birthday party and my first meeting with my honey happened in that building.  I'm glad I got the chance to experience life there.  Who knows what my life might have been like without I House in it?

Note:  Dedicated readers of this blog will be interested to know that it was this blog post I was working on last week when it disappeared.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Thank God It's Over! is the collective cry heard 'round the world by many of the over 307,000 writers attempting National Novel Writing Month.  Because as much as we love nanowrimo, we are also exhausted from the unrelenting pressure of writing an average of 1,667 words over 30 days.

Last night after dinner, I finished typing at least 50,000 words.  I went to the nano website and validated my novel, thereby "winning".

Now, winning at nanowrimo means that I wrote the words, not that my novel was the best or even that my novel is finished.

I can categorically tell you that my novel was not the best of those written this year, not even the best that I've written over the years.  Plus, it's not finished!

But no matter the quality of your novel, with nano you always learn something.  In no particular order, here's what I learned this year:

A novel with no ending is no novel.

Road trips are a little boring in real life and a lot boring in a novel.

I used "realized" thirty times.  That's at least twenty-five too many.

Writing for a main character of the opposite gender is difficult.

There are a lot of great state parks all around the United States.

I don't know much about lots of jobs.

Write-ins can be fun.

Professional writers work hard.

And that's just what I can think of tonight in my tired state.  I can't begin to imagine the knowledge that will begin to surface over the next few weeks as my brain recovers its equilibrium.  

I'll keep you updated. . . 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Questions and Comments

November has been an absolutely crazy month for me.  I have been away traveling more days than I have spent at home.  My writing this month has consisted of this daily blog, my nano novel, and the class to help me revise my previous novel, all at the same time.  The injuries from my stairway fall continue to plague me, although I am told the faces that I make while groaning are very entertaining.  I'm not sure I have juggled all my November responsibilities well.  But no matter all that, it's time for me to respond to your responses!  So here goes . . .

Thank you Alias, for recommending that I accelerate my rejection rate. That comment made me laugh, even though I plan on trying to do that in the coming months.

MA Reynolds had a useful trick for writing premise statements.  I'll have to try that, especially since the advice comes from a published author.

My 2013 nano playlist has grown by leaps and bounds since I asked for your musical advice.  It now consists of five hours of 78 songs.  I'll be sad to see it go.

Amy Frederick wanted to know who that marvelous fan behind the sign was.

That's my sister!

Congratulations to Kristi and Caitlin who successfully identified the song behind my post on old friends.  I make no apologies to the few who were annoyed with me for giving them that particular earworm.

Thanks again to all of you who respond to my blog in any way, either verbally, through email, or by making comments.  Committing to do this every day has been difficult, but also very worthwhile.  My small band of loyal readers are a big part of why I continue to write.

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC is trapped in North Carolina by a rainstorm.  Plans to have him magically transported across the United States by tomorrow is in the works.
Word Count?  47,491 (one day left, aah!)

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Night of Writing Dangerously

Last Sunday night I participated in a combination write-in, fundraising event and all-around celebration for National Novel Writing Month.  They call it the Night of Writing Dangerously.  The party happens at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in downtown San Francisco.  People come from near and far to attend.

The theme is always noir and many people dress up in costumes to add an extra element to the fun.  As always, the people was what made the entire occasion special. Everyone at my table was fantastic, from the three high school students to the somewhat older college professor and all of us in between.  We had a great time writing, laughing, and eating from the extensive candy bar. One of the writers at our table finished 50,000 words at the party, which meant she got to ring a bell, have everyone clap for her, tweet her name, and wear a crown the rest of the night.

The nano staff and volunteers went out of their way to make the evening memorable. There were prizes for the top fundraisers and a raffle for the rest of us. An open bar and a professional photographer to take author photos for our book jackets.  Individual writing sprints and table word wars with ceremonial hats for the winners.  There were motivational speeches and lots of social networking going on.  Milk and cookies were served at 10pm.  An attendee who is a published author wrote about her experience of the evening.

For me what made the whole elegant affair over the top was the setting. The Julia Morgan Ballroom is located in the Merchants Exchange Building, a historic building over 100 years old. Everything about it from the elevators and the bank on the ground floor to the view from the ballroom windows was spectacular!  I have included some of my favorite photos of that night for your viewing pleasure.  Full disclosure:  I did not take the photo at the top of the blog.  Apparently, I was too busy looking at the architecture, writing, and laughing with my tablemates to take good photos of the ballroom.

Nano Update:  
Plot?  MC is camping in North Carolina.  Somehow I have to get him across the country in the next two days!
Word Count?  45,523 (still a little behind)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanks some more!

I was tired last night, so I forgot lots of things I am thankful for:  nano, snow, studded bike tires, bike helmets, skateboards, chocolate, electric knives, glasses, seasickness medication and so much more!

However, the main lapse of gratitude in my last post was this:

I am extremely grateful for all my friends.  You have helped me create an amazing community far from my family.  We laugh, think, cry, listen, talk and eat together.  Thank you for just being you.  I love you all much!

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this very American holiday we traditionally overeat, watch football and at some point, think about what we are thankful for.  I plan on doing all of those, but I wanted express my gratitude for so much in my life, from the simple to the complicated.  As it's my first year, I'm staying mostly serious.  Here's my list:

I am thankful for . . .

 . . . my honey, who still makes my heart leap after more than twenty years.

. . . my family, a crazy bunch who for all our differences manage to stick               together.

. . . the fact that my butt is finally healing after my bouncing stairway                     adventure.

. . . food and shelter and clothes sufficient for our needs.

. . . heat and electricity and running water.

. . . living in a place that is not experiencing war or a natural disaster.

. . . beaches, mountains, lakes, and other natural wonders of the world.

I hope there are many things in your life that you are thankful for.  Have a great day off!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Amtrak Coast Starlight

A week and a half ago I wrote about a writing adventure I had on the Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles to Oakland.  I posted many photos of the trip but I still haven't filled you in on the train ride itself.

The train ride started in Union Station, in downtown Los Angeles, a jewel since 1939. There are old, comfy chairs in the waiting room and the information booth is a wonder in wood.  It's a remarkably historic spot and it feels like you're in a movie.  Of course, this being LA, they were actually filming something outside.

The first part of the train ride is through the San Fernando Valley with interesting views out the windows.  The scenery is city after city after city with the Verdugo Mountains in the background.  Then the train goes through a pass between these really cool rocky hills to somehow get from the valley on its way to the coast.  There's even an old-fashioned train station in the middle of nowhere that we sped by.

And suddenly we were in Oxnard, then Ventura, and Santa Barbara.  The train followed the coast most of the time.  Our seats?  They were very comfortable and there was tons of leg room.  The chairs had a foot rest and a tray table.  The aisles were wide, although the train was fairly bumpy. There was a snack bar on the observation car.  At some point between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, three of my fellow writers and I went for lunch in the dining car.  The food was pretty good and we continued to enjoy the sights we saw.

One of the most unique areas that the Coast Starlight goes through is Vandenberg Air Force Base.  Most of the base is undeveloped, although the buildings that you do see are the color of camouflage.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take any photos, so the base will remain unseen.  Shortly thereafter, the sun set, so the rest of the train ride was in the dark.  We arrived at Jack London Square in Oakland a half hour late, so the trip took almost twelve hours, many more than the drive would have taken.  On the other hand, we didn't have to drive.  We could sit in our chairs, drink wine and eat, write our stories, and stretch our legs whenever we wanted.

I would definitely take this train route again, but I would go in the summer, when it would be light until late, and I wouldn't miss anything outside my train window.

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC is about to day hike the beginning of the Appalachian Trail
Word Count?  41, 708

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Ramp

Yet another rave restaurant review from my travels last week in the Bay Area . . .

My friend and I went to The Ramp, an old style San Francisco restaurant south of the new ballpark, on the waterfront.  The restaurant has been around since the 1950s, but it is being encroached upon by new developments all around.

The food was good, a breakfast burrito and a scramble with vegetables that we shared.  The day was cold but clear and the sun warmed us whenever it wasn't behind a cloud.  And the setting was simply marvelous.  Our table looked out onto the bay and there were sailboats and freighters all around.

If I lived anywhere close, it would be one of my go-to spots, but since I make my home far away from any ocean, I send out my good wishes for this wonderful hangout.  If you're ever in the neighborhood, stop by and enjoy!

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC is still visiting his sister
Word Count? 39,497

Monday, November 25, 2013


One of the major ways that the writers who participate in Nanowrimo meet and support each other is at write-ins.  A write-in can be active and social, or very quiet and focussed completely on writing.  Yesterday my niece and I went to a write-in that had both of those aspects.

The setting was beautiful, a library at an institute of higher learning.  About 50 people were there trying to write enough words to catch up, stay even or get ahead of the daily nano average.  (If you are on track, you should be have already written 40,000 words).

Yesterday's write-in had periods of quiet writing competitions called word wars.  At this particular write-in, there were four word wars, each lasting thirty minutes.  Each "war" had prizes for the most words written, least words written and at the end of the write-in a final prize for consistency in word count over the four word wars.

As I am behind in my word count (and so is my niece), we welcomed the chance to spend some time concentrating on our writing.  Although we arrived late, my niece had the distinction of winning all three of the word wars she participated in and gaining the nickname 'scary'.  Both of us wrote lots of words, talked with other nanoers and generally had a good time.

Thanks to the organizers and other participants for an awesome write-in!

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC is visiting his sister where she goes to college
Word Count?  38679

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I give up

It's late at night and I want to go to bed.  I have just spent the last forty five minutes struggling to write a post that I wasn't even that happy about, but it was something!

Then two seconds ago, when I was trying to finish it up, it disappeared.  I think that I might know what I did to make it disappear, but I'm not positive.  I do not have the energy or the inclination to write it again, at least not at this moment.

So I'm going to bed, and tomorrow when I wake up, I'll start over and hope that I write something brilliant, amazing, and best yet that doesn't disappear.

See you tomorrow!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Keep the Old

Last weekend in the Bay Area, I had the good fortune to hang out with some friends from long ago.  And last night, here at home, I had dinner with other good friends that I used to work with.  Although in both instances, there had been long gaps since we had last seen each other, our conversations were immediately comfortable.

There's something special about friends that have known you for a long time. I'm not sure I can put it into words.  (Although isn't that supposed to be my job here?)  Old friends, no, let's call them vintage friends, are familiar with who you used to be, at once a past you and the future self that you projected back then.  They know a more complete you.

In any case, we caught up on each other's lives, laughed about all the absurdities of life, and commiserated about our losses.  Spending more hours together solidified relationships that won't go away, no matter how much we neglect them.  Luckily, we can pick them up again when we have the chance and start again to weave the tight web of friendship.  Thank you friends, for letting me back into your lives so easily.  I promise to do the same for you.

Bonus points to anyone who can name the Girl Scout song where I got the title of this post.

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC is finally on his road trip, camping on the beach in Northern Florida.
Word Count? 35,089 (still clawing my way back up)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Alice at the White House

Several people have told me that they very much enjoyed hearing stories about my mother-in-law, Alice.  (They've told me this by email or in person. Not everyone wants to comment on a blog, and of those that do, some are having trouble making it work.)

In any case here is another Alice story, told by my brother-in-law at the memorial.

Alice in 1968
My father-in-law was for some time in his career, general counsel to the Department of Commerce under JFK and LBJ, or as I liked to say, he was some high-up muckety-muck in Washington D.C.  I was always very impressed that I knew someone that had been investigated by the FBI and approved by Congress.

Alice was, of course, less impressed.  Perhaps because Robert was to her, a husband and father to her children.  In any case, as an adult, my brother-in-law was curious about these years and asked them about visits to the White House.  They admitted to having been at the White House on at least one occasion and my father-in-law talked about the people that had been there, and some of the topics discussed.

When my brother-in-law turned to Alice, his mother, and asked what she recalled about the night, she replied, "What I remember is that Robert had two servings of dessert!"

That was Alice to a T, her memories not of powerful people or the important setting, but of her family and sweets!

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC is shopping for supplies for his road trip (leave already!)
Word Count?  32,998 (getting back on track)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My first storyboard

One of the assignments from my online class was to try to complete a storyboard for the novel we are working on.  It was an assignment from Week Four, and the class is now on Week Nine.  Procrastinate much?

Yes, because of my traveling, lack of space, lack of posterboard, and excellent dawdling skills, I was unable to try the exercise.  Until yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, I bought a posterboard from Target.  Who knew they were only 34 cents apiece?  I brought it home and set up a card table in a back room, one of the only clear spaces in my messy house.  I got out the my stickie notes and I got to work.  I tried one version of the storyboard, but it seemed like there was too much action in the beginning.  So I organized it another way, and now there is too much action in the final part of the story.

Then we had our Wednesday evening live chat, which convinced me I need to do a third version of the storyboard today.  One easy fix is to use smaller stickies, they take up less room.  And my story is a complicated one, so I need more colors.  One for each viewpoint in the present and one for each viewpoint in the past.

I'm proud of myself.  I attempted a difficult task and learned something, and now I'll pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again. . .

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC and Dad are poring over maps. . . why doesn't he go on his road trip already?
Word Count?  30821 (falling further behind!)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

La Note

I don't think I have written a restaurant review yet on this blog, but there's always a first time.  On my recent trip to the Bay Area, I went out to eat with a friend.  We went to a sweet storefront in downtown Berkeley housing La Note, a restaurant proven├žal.  My friend always knows the best places to eat, so it was no shock that the food was very good.  What was a surprise was the gorgeous little patio in the back.

We were there for lunch on a warm sunny day, and the outside patio was like a quiet oasis with excellent food.  Our waitress was very sweet and cute, with a thick French accent. She took good care of us.  We had a salad and an omelette with a half a toasted baguette.  Mmm, it was good.

If you live anywhere near Berkeley, check it out!  We need to encourage all small funky eating establishments with excellent cooking and delightful ambiance.

Nano Update?  None, I took the day off yesterday. . .

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bike Path to Nowhere

The new Bay Bridge has a bike path next to it.  Unfortunately, it doesn't go anywhere.  Well, that's not quite true.  It goes partway out into the bay, it just doesn't arrive anywhere.  Not yet anyway.  It stops 2.2 miles short of Yerba Buena Island, an island in the middle of the new (and old) Bay Bridge.

Why?  Because they have to remove the old bridge before they can finish building the bike path next to the new bridge.  Sadly, this won't happen until sometime in 2015 according to the signs.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to ride out on the bike path on my recent trip to the Bay Area.  A friend had an extra bike and off we set to ride as far as we could go.  Unfortunately, we started late and we didn't even make it to the end of the trail.  Two police officers on bikes turned us around because the trail closes at dusk.  Still, the evening sky in the east was gorgeous.

I'm not sure what's on Yerba Buena Island, but I look forward to making the bike ride out there in a couple of years.

Nano Update:
Plot?  Main character and his Dad are discussing his upcoming road trip
Word Count?  30,527

Monday, November 18, 2013

Drinking up Memories

Cities are growing organisms.  The stores, restaurants, and even people in any city appear, sometimes get bigger, sometimes shrink and can also disappear.  It makes no sense for a visitor who has been a long time gone to wander the streets trying to see only what you used to know.

Yet it seems to be second nature to look for what you remember.  And so it was that I found myself at an old favorite coffee shop.  It has it all, really. Location:  across the street from the UC Berkeley campus and a block from where I used to live.  Patio:  lots of seating outside, both in the shade and in the sun.  Plus good cocoa, tasty pastries and fast service.

I guess seeking out the familiar can be nostalgic and delicious at the same time.

Nano Update:
Plot?  MC stops at a state forest on the way home to parents
Word Count?  28,810 (still ahead)