Wednesday, July 31, 2013

July Responses to Reader Comments . . .

As a new blog writer, I am well aware that most of the people that read this blog are people that I know personally. This comforts me. I know that if there are typos or I write an awkward turn of phrase, most of you will still like me.

However, I have a dilemma.  Some of you good readers out there make comments, and I want you to know that I read everything you write and appreciate your thoughts.

Sometimes I want to respond to your comments, but I am unsure how. Would what I write be sent to your email, if you left an email when you made your original comment?  Or would you read a post again to see if I responded?

So while I do research on this topic, I thought I would share some of the wise readers' comments and questions, and my thoughts as well.  Here are my reactions from July:

KJ Miller says:  I can't remember which blogger it was that I read semi-regularly but somewhat recently she was posting that she was so happy now that when she started her blog she only committed herself to M-F instead of seven days a week....

It is true that posting seven days a week can be stressful, and I envision more stress when I am away from internet service. However, I am rather happy that I have committed to posting every day. It is making me write every single day, and I find I am liking the discipline.

On the days I posted informing you all that I was without internet service, tRa wondered:  But ... how did you post? I am so confused.

Posts can be scheduled in advance. Which means that I could have written more interesting posts in advance . . . but I didn't.

Kristi liked one of my novel plots:  Loved your idea from 2011! I've read far too many books where the "spunky", completely anachronistic female manages to convince everyone in the 18th/19th century of women's rights. . . and then finds a rich, handsome, supportive, sensitive man to boot! Although from a plot perspective, how do you keep her from getting and thrown in an asylum within days of arriving??

I have to admit Kristi, that the problem you bring up was definitely a problem in the novel. Also, as I liked the character, I had a hard time having her experience all the crappy things that should happen to a modern day woman in the early 1800s.

tRa asks about the paper from 3rd grade that said I wanted to be a writer and how it might compare to my novels or my blog: 

I not sure where the paper is currently, but I am pretty sure it was a standard answer to the question we often ask of young children, what do you want to be when you grow up.

Finally, I would like to thank MA Reynolds for explaining why Bernoulli is still the man, and yes, Maria, I would love an indoor aloe plant.  Also, thank you Anonymous for the interesting marathon preparation plan.  I'll consider it once I manage to get a sneaker on my right foot.  Wall Drug is the Big Texan of Wall, South Dakota.

Although if I have one request of my anyone that makes a comment, it is to please leave a name rather than be anonymous.  You don't have to leave your name, leave any name, Gertrude, Ernest, Sherwood . . . Be creative! And keep on commenting!  I'll respond again at the end of August.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Texas Food Tourism

There is a famous restaurant in Amarillo that is a crazy, crazy place.  I have it on good authority that the only time locals go there is when they are escorting visitors.  It's called the Big Texan Steak Ranch and one of its claims to fame is a free 72 oz steak as you can see in the photo.  What you can't read in the small print is that you have to eat those 4 and 1/2 pounds of steak along with dinner fixings (salad, roll, baked potato and shrimp cocktail) in under an hour.

If you can do it, your dinner's free.  Otherwise, you pay.  In more ways than one, most likely.

The group I was dining with wanted someone to try the challenge while we were there.  We weren't sure whether we wanted the contestant to succeed or fail, but we were clear that we didn't want any vomit to mar our lovely evening.  (Apparently, that is a not uncommon side effect.)

We got lucky.  This young man from PA decided to go up to the stage and give it a whirl.  The timer is ticking away in the background.  He gave up after about 40 minutes, with little drama, saying only, "that's a lot of steak."  We heard from the waitress that he had managed to eat about 50 ounces of steak before quitting.

In addition to the free show of gluttony, there is a candy shop, gift store, shooting gallery, beer garden, maze, and gold panning station on the premises for anyone who gets bored of just eating.

So anytime you find yourself wanting to see the Texas equivalent of Wall Drug, head on down to the Big Texan.  You'll be entertained.

Monday, July 29, 2013

American Outdoor Pageants

While in Amarillo, Texas for the celebration of my Aunt's 90th birthday party, I had the opportunity to attend a performance of Texas!  (The exclamation point is part of the show title.)

There is something unique yet strikingly similar about the outdoor pageants that take place every summer all over the United States.  They are part history, part hokey drama, part pure patriotism, with lots of singing and dancing.  There is often a love story between young people of two different factions.

Texas! is put on at the Pioneer Ampitheater in Palo Duro Canyon in a beautiful setting.  The action takes place from the stage to the clifftop above. Horses, lightning, fire and the six flags of Texas play important roles in the drama.  The two warring groups here are the farmers and the cowboys.

My love affair with outdoor drama started as a preteen, a time when forbidden love seems exciting and the denial of such love incredibly unfair.  I remember seeing Ramona, the official state play of California.  My clearest memory of the play is the scene directly after intermission when what seemed to be hundreds of Native Americans magically appeared on the cliffside to challenge their Mexican rivals. Dramatic indeed!

Then there is The Lost Colony, the longest running symphonic outdoor drama.  Although the play is about the first English colony of Roanoke in Virgina, to see it, you need to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I don't remember it well, although I am sure there was singing, dancing, and a love story.

And there are at least two more outdoor dramas that I know about yet haven't seen.  The Wilhem Tell Pageant is performed in New Glarus, Wisconsin and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.  Although I have missed both of these pageants' dates for summer 2013, I can put them on my calendar for summer 2014.

I am sure there are more outdoor dramas exist than I have listed here.  Do you know of any to put on my outdoor drama bucket list?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Happy 90th Birthday, Aunt Chris!

Yesterday I had the privilege of being in Amarillo, Texas to celebrate the 90th birthday of my Aunt Chris.  There were cousins, second cousins, and friends all there to wish her happy on her big day.  We came from all over the country to talk up a storm, eat good food and enjoy cake.

Aunt Chris is a wonderful woman who has kept plugging along through many challenges.  I hope that I can do as well at 80 as she is doing at 90.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Chris!  See you again next year!


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Better Writing through Blogging

I started this blog a month ago today, on June 27th.  The first post defined what my leave was and was not, and from there has gone on to a variety of subjects.

Before I started writing the blog, I thought the idea was a bit crazy.  I had topics in mind to write about, but I didn't really know what I was doing, or what would happen when those topics were done.

But here we are, a month later, and I just keep writing!

I am amazed at the commitment I feel to posting every day.  I started jotting down my thoughts for this post early on Saturday, but right now it is 12:03am on Sunday morning.  I just arrived back to the hotel from an outdoor pageant, and I won't go to bed until this post is finished.  That's dedication I didn't know that I had.

Often I am surprised at some of the conclusions that I have come to while writing.  I haven't written anything untrue, but it seems that I didn't know what was true until I wrote about it.

This blog has also forced me to become more creative, to think harder about ideas.  I no longer worry about running out of things to write about.  Subjects will continue to present themselves and I will twist them into something worth reading.

The most unexpected consequence of this blog, however, is that it has made me a better writer.  I work hard at crafting my posts, writing and editing and reading and then starting it all over again.  I cut any digressions that don't add to the central theme of the post.  If there is a way to be more succinct, that is the wording I try to choose.  I want the beginning, middle and end to speak to the reader.  The finished product is so much better than my first efforts.

But now it is 12:38am and I am done with perfecting this post.  It is time to go to bed.  Thank you for reading my blog.  Happy monthiversay!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writer's Notebook Quotes

Some of the quotes I write down in my writer's notebook help me figure out normal conversational rhythm.  Others I write down because they make me laugh.  The rest I write down because people are bizarre.

I thought I would share a few of the quotes littered throughout my current writer's notebook. Enjoy!

Girl #1:  I hate even numbers.

Girl #2:  Well, I hate odd numbers.

Girl #1:  Oh my god, you know what number I really hate?  Six.

"Why can't you ask them where it is?" the man grumbled to his wife, as they tried to figure out where they were.

"Now, we don't want any baby T-rex arms" a swim instructor informed the kids in the pool, trying to get them to take big strokes.

And finally, from Garrison Keillor, a professional comedian:

"Is ambivalence a bad thing?  Well yes and no. . . "

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Running, er, Completing a Marathon

If you caught yesterday's post, you may have noticed that I would like to complete a marathon this year.

This has to be one of the most unrealistic, unattainable goals 
that I have set for myself.  So much for SMART goals.

I have a little running experience, but it is far removed from my current life.  I ran cross-country and track in high school, mostly due to a charismatic coach.  I haven't run since then.  I swim, I bike, I walk, I play water polo, all good exercise, but none of them are like running.

Nevertheless, I would like to run a marathon sometime in my life (actually running it would be best, completing it would be good enough).  This year, with the extra time I will have, seems like a good year to try.

Getting into running shape for a marathon takes a LONG time, so I started in January of this year, hoping that I might be ready for a race in October 2014.

I found a website that has a couch to marathon in 52 weeks running plan, and I started following it.  Unfortunately, I could never get past Week One without some sort of problem.  My back spasmed, then I started having pain in my shins, after that my back starting hurting again.  In between all of these problems, I would dutifully start over again on Week One, Day One, running 30 seconds and walking for 60 seconds for two miles.  It was a good workout and a couple of times I made it somewhere into Week Two (run 60 seconds, walk 90 seconds) before some pain or other would stop me.

I had just made the decision that I either needed to stay on Week 1 for 2-3 more weeks than most people, or I needed a Week 1.5 when I broke my toes.

In spite of the danger of my furniture to my running plan, my optimism (some might say stupidity) remains undeterred!

So, when a good friend itching to run a 5K tried to convince me to join her, I immediately said yes.  We have decided on the Twin Cities 5K Run/Walk on October 5, 2013.  I know I can at least walk a 5k as I walked three miles around Lake Nokomis just yesterday.

It's true that I walked those three miles in sandals as I still cannot walk without pain in sneakers, but I am sure that being able to wear closed-toe shoes will come.  Two weeks ago, I couldn't even put on sneakers without pain.  Now I can, I just can't walk in them yet.

Even humungous goals begin with small steps.  I'll do my best to keep you updated semi-infrequently as to my absolutely quixotic quest to finish a marathon.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Setting Goals

Setting goals for my leave year is important to me.  At the very least, at the end of the year, my goals help me look back and know that I accomplished some things during the year off.

Months ago, I started a list in my writer's notebook with all the activities that I wanted to complete  during my year off.  I know I will never manage them all. You've already seen my totally unrealistic travel list.

I know very little about goals except that they should be SMART.  That is to say:

R?eally, really cool?

OK, now it's completely obviously how little I know about goals.  It's a good thing that I don't need to know any knowledge to continue this post.  I have goals, way too many goals.  What I really need to do is to figure out how to pare them down, rank them, or organize them somehow.

A friend of mine who also has the summer off has organized her summer goals in this way:

Things to Do Daily
Things to Do regularly
Long Term Tasks
Handyman Tasks
Fun Stuff

And I tried that, but it ended up looking more like a to-do list than an overarching set of goals to plan my year by.

So, I'm thinking of some different categories.  Here they are, with an example of each:

Once in a lifetime activities that I've wanted to do for a long time
(learning to surf)

Fun pastimes I want to do several times during the year

Goals that will challenge me
(run a marathon, or walk a marathon, well, complete a marathon somehow)

Deeds that will improve my health
(exercise every day)

Stuff I already do that I want to keep doing because it makes me happy or improves my life
(write every day)

Tasks that if they were done would be a load off of my mind
(find my digital voice recorder)
Then after I sort all my goals into those groups, I can rank them in order of importance.

Finally, the only thing left is to achieve as many as I possibly can.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Going Out for Lunch

There are a few phrases guaranteed to get all educators' hearts beating excitedly.

Snow Day! works best here up north.

However, right up there is "Going Out for Lunch!"

For non-educators out there, let me say that educators get less than 30 minutes for lunch. Those 30 minutes could be interrupted by students screaming nearby, parent phone calls, administration questions, a student coming to your room to "take a break", or all of these.  Additionally, for your lunchtime ambiance, you can eat at your desk, in the staff lounge, or in the cafeteria with the students.

But it is not the school year.  It's summertime and the living is easy and I can go out for lunch.  It is a privilege.  Going out for lunch now means I can eat leisurely, putting down my food between bites.  I can talk as long as I want to with the friends I am dining with.  I do not have to discipline any students.  I can go to a restaurant, anywhere in the city I want to go.  It is a sweet, sweet thing.

In the northern city where I live, summer is definitely the time to go out for lunch.  You can sit at a patio, or at a lake, and enjoy the breeze and summer air.

Another of the joys of going out for lunch is to eat something a little different, something I wouldn't make for myself, a shrimp roll, steak salad, fish tacos, or peach cobbler.

I have had the opportunity to go out to lunch at least twice since school ended and each time was a fantastic occasion.  Most recently, a friend and I spent more than two hours, eating, drinking lemonade and iced tea, and talking on the back patio of a local cafe.   More than two hours!  Inconceivable! We talked of books, moving, aging, and much more.  I know two hours is longer than most workers get for lunch, but somehow, it seemed like a proper compensation for my many short, short lunches.

So here is my pledge for my leave:  I will attempt to go out for lunch, longer than thirty minutes, at least once a week for the next 57 weeks.

If you live near me, drop me a line or give me a call.  Let's do lunch!

Monday, July 22, 2013

How I became a writer

In what I consider one of my best posts so far, I talk about the important work I want to do this year editing a novel I wrote in 2008.  But it's been a long trip to get here.

I have wanted to be a writer since the third grade.  I know this because I wrote about it on an assignment that I have from that year.  However, back then no one really knew how to teach kids to write.  Everyone just said, "Write a lot."  I did, but because I didn't really know what I was doing, and because it didn't feel right, I didn't write much.

But once I got to college, I did what I did best.  I took a class to teach me how to write.  It was a Creative Writing class and I was awful!  I got a C- in the course, which was the worst grade the teacher could give to a eager student who completed every single assignment.

I didn't know how to tell a story, write dialogue, or describe a scene.  I added way too many digressions to the most basic of stories.  (I still have that problem.)  And since I was a ferocious reader, I knew what good writing was. I was very aware that what I wrote was total crap.

At the end of that semester, I decided that was the end of that.  I obviously wasn't meant to be a writer and I would have to find something else to do with my life.  I loved to read, and I had loved my English classes in high school and gotten good grades, so I figured I would teach.   And so it happened.  Eventually I got a job at an elementary school working with students who spoke other languages at home.

Then a funny thing happened.  Someone somewhere decided that it was important to teach young students how to write.

The way they decided to instruct all of us educators how to teach writing was to pretend we were the students.  We were given writer's notebooks and they made us write "seeds" on different topics.  Memories of our childhoods, noticings from our lives, song lyrics and quotes that meant something to us, lists, poems, responses to literature, jokes, etc.  On subsequent dates over the next months we were challenged to choose one seed and develop it into a longer story.  We revised our work, adding details, changing words, cutting out extraneous threads, and finally we "published" our stories.

And lo and behold, I discovered that I was good at writing.  And I loved it! Thus began my new life as a author.

So if you know me, beware, because every experience I have in life could end up in my writing . . .

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Busch Gardens of my youth

In a recent post, I mentioned that I was reading Last Call by Daniel Okrent to research Prohibition times.

In one of the early chapters, a lot of ink is spilled about Adolphus Busch, the founder of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company.  No surprise, he was virulently anti-Prohibition.

But personally, the name Busch conjures up a leafy place with a large lake and a boat ride from my childhood:  Busch Gardens.

I really don't remember much about it though.

So, I did what we all do nowadays when we want to know more on a subject, I looked it up on the world wide interweb.  And there is a lot of information and pictures on the interweb about the old Busch Gardens in Van Nuys.  A lot of people have a lot of information and they've put it all up.  If you want to know about Busch Gardens history, click here.  Or maybe you'd like to look at a bunch of old photos of the place.  There's even a blog about Disneyland tickets, but the blogger also writes about other amusement parks like Busch Gardens.  I'm not sure you would be interested unless you too spent time at Busch Gardens.

Looking at all these sites, though, I am struck by what must have been a major draw for my father.

Free beer.

Think about it, you take your kids to some place that they'll like with birds and trees and rides, but you get to have free beer in the bargain.  It's a win-win.

Now I know that there are still Busch Gardens amusement parks out there in the world.  And I am sure that they are cool places with animals and roller coasters, but I am positive there is no free beer.

Some small victory for the prohibitionists?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Travel possibilities

Anyone who knows me, knows that I will go anywhere.  It's true.

I even went to Lubbock at the tail end one of my husband's conferences to spend a long weekend there.  His colleagues, who were getting the hell out of Dodge, were surprised that I would come to Lubbock voluntarily to spend time.  But they were wrong.

We had a blast, wandering the streets, drinking wine at the wine bar in town, driving up to Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the US.

I firmly believe every single place has some redeeming quality that would make me want to go there.

That being said, I do have a desire to go some places more than others.  And this year seems like it might be a time to go big.

Sometime in December when I started thinking about this year, I wrote a list of all the places I might like to go, all the things I might like to do.  And here is my wish list, in no particular order:

The Galapagos Islands
Churchill Manitoba to see polar bears
River Rafting through the Grand Canyon
Bicycling around the Bodensee in Germany
Sundance Film Festival
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Florida to see manatees and/or dolphins
Hiking in Scotland
Glacier National Park

I'm sure this is just a fraction of the places that I want to go.  Anyone have additional suggestions or thoughts?

Friday, July 19, 2013

But what do you DO at the office?

It's true that I don't have an actual job that is paying me anything.  (Although just Wednesday, I almost got paid $100 an hour to sit in an airport for four hours, but then I didn't.)

In any case, there are plenty of unpaid things for me to do in my lovely air-conditioned office.

Increasingly, the first thing I spend time on is crafting my posts for this blog. Besides working on making this post the best it can be, I am also trying to write a few posts ahead of time, for when I will be unable to access the internet.  That way my reading public still gets a post each and every day.

I may write in my writer's notebook, thoughts, observations, overheard quotes, plans, goals, etc.

I look at my email and if the stars are aligned somewhere, I might even respond to a few.

I read the blogs that I follow, and surf the web pursuing my varied interests.

I do research for the novel I am trying to edit.  Currently, I am reading Last Call by Daniel Okrent all about prohibition, which is crucial to the setting and plot of said novel.  Although I am still reading the part when people are trying to get Prohibition passed, I am enjoying learning many more details about a time that I thought I knew a lot about.  (Insider note:  Daniel Okrent was a senior creative consultant on Ken Burns' PBS series on Prohibition.)

Lastly, but most importantly, I edit my novel.  What that actually means at the moment is rereading what I wrote oh so many years ago with a baby blue Bic in hand, making notes, writing down questions and comments both ordinary and sublime.

Here for your entertainment are a few of those actual notes:

What time of year is it?
What does he want?
Had the toilet been added on to the house?
When were indoor toilets common?
Not what she would say in her head.  Make it consistent!
If so, he was a lucky man!
This should be a longer scene!

Looking at my notes, it's obvious that I abused exclamation points way before I ever wrote this blog.  It's also clear that responding to these notes is going to make my novel longer, better, and ready for initial rejection and eventual publication.

So even though no one is paying me even one cent to go to office these days, I'm hoping there's a bigger payoff down the line.  Maybe someday it'll even be worth $100 an hour to go to work . . .

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Aaah, back to the office grind . . .

It feels good to get back to the office.

Yes, I really have an office, and it's not in my home.  At home, I am either distracted by all that needs to be done, i.e., dishes, laundry, managing the paper trail (my biggest problem), OR there are too many fun things to do besides working, i.e., eating, reading, watching television, talking on the phone with friends . . .

Plus, my office has air-conditioning, which is important in the summer months.

OK, full disclosure, it's not just my office, it's an office for many people.  I am a member of CoCo, which stands for coworking and collaborating.  I have privileges to be at one of their sites three days a week, and use the common areas, the kitchens, wifi, printer, etc.

And all that stuff is important to me, but they have social events too!

Back when I was starting this journey, it was often suggested to me that I just use the local coffee shop, or the library, somewhere with free wifi.  And I think for a lot of writers that would work just fine.

But I am definitely a social being and interacting with others is a vital part of my day.  And even though there were only a few people in the office today, I knew two of them, which was surprising to me as I have only been a member for a few weeks.

There's always a host at CoCo, so we had a nice chat and she let me know that there was a freshly made pitcher of iced tea in the fridge.  Moments later, I was greeted with "So how's my favorite person on leave?"  And that was from Chris the Bartender,  a really nice guy who helped me load my first photo in my post on Schrödinger's Cat so long ago on June 29th.

Being able to network, asking others for help, having a quick conversation, or simply knowing that someone's paying attention, all that tells me I was right to join CoCo.  It's my office and belonging there makes me happy.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Farewell softball 2013

The last game of the 2013 softball season has finished.  We got beaten even more soundly than usual.  It didn't matter.  

We had some good catches in the outfield, and our infield play ranged from excellent to decent.  We made one double play, and almost made a few others.  We stretched ourselves on offense around the bases, and made it through the batting order at least twice.  We even had a retired player out there in the outfield backing up the other outfielders.  We still lost 27-4.

Losing doesn't ever seem to matter though, at least to us.  What does matter is the players and the relationships between us.  And the laughter.  And the support.  And the beer.  We're an amazing mix of young and not so young, the sporty and not so sporty, the experienced and not so experienced, but together we work.  (Well, ok, we don't work that well on the field, but we sure do have fun . . . )

Sometime in the distant past there was a winning season and maybe even a championship (obscured in the smoky haze of long ago), but lately it has just been losses.  And spectacular losses at that.

But we ignore that.  We rejoice in the positive, the hit, the unexpected catch, the times we rise above and get it so right.  We cheer each other on no matter what.  The missed catch, the ball between the legs, the hit directly at a fielder, the bunt that wasn't supposed to be a bunt.  We've all made those mistakes and we don't really care, because it's a gorgeous summer evening and we're outside and we're playing with our friends.

So farewell softball 2013.  We'll be back next year ready to lose yet win!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Childhood Food Memories

Food tourism is one of my favorite pastimes.  And there is no better type of food tourism than that which evokes my childhood memories.

I had a chance yesterday to visit one of the places that I ate at a lot growing up.  It is the original Hot Dog on a Stick just south of the Santa Monica Pier.

There are many reasons to love this restaurant.  Can I call it a restaurant?  Sure, why not?  There's the awesome lemonade, the colorful hats that the workers wear, the cool sign on the red wood.  But one of the best reasons for you to love Hot Dog on a Stick is because the hot dogs are REALLY good.  And they don't put 'em in the oil until you order 'em.  Yeah, that means that you have to wait a few minutes for your food, but it is totally worth it!

See for yourself — I savored every bite of the two hot dogs that I ordered.  However, one of the best reasons for me to love Hot Dog on a Stick?  When I eat here, I remember my Dad.  We would often spend some time playing Skee-ball on the pier, ride on the historic merry-go-round, play on the rings at the original Muscle Beach, and of course, eat at Hot Dog on a Stick.  Thinking about it now, I wonder if he was indulging in a little nostalgic food tourism himself.  This cool shack has been in the same spot since 1946, so it was there when he visited California after WWII, and he must have eaten there a lot when he lived on the beach less than a half mile north.

So the next time you eat something, be careful, you may be making memories . . . 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Aloe - miracle plant?

Sunday was another lovely day spent with family.  There was much hilarity, but also some sunburn.  Luckily, a nearby friend has an aloe plant in her front yard.  Aloe is a gift to the sunscreen-challenged among us.

My friend taught me what to do the last time I got burned, so I knew the routine.  I broke off some of the leaves, then brought them home and put them in the freezer to cool.  After a little while, I brought them out and cut off the prickly spines on either side.

Last I asked my sister-in-law to peel apart the aloe leaves into two parts and spread the inner aloe goo all over my back.  The coolness and the aloe combine to start the healing process.

I wonder if I could grow aloe in a pot in my front window?  Just seems like a good idea to try to have a miracle handy.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Mode

I know that this blog is supposed to be about my leave and how I am going to spend it, and I promise you it mostly will be . .

But right now I'm still in normal summer mode, which for me means going back at least once during the summer to where I grew up in Venice, California.

Every day I'm happy that my toes are in good enough shape to walk down to the beach, traipse through the sand, and get into the water and play in the waves.  I love so many things about this place. . .

my family, my friends, the canals, the pier, surfers, the marine layer finally burning off into sunshine every day, waves crashing, the feel of wet sand under my toes, the way the ocean smells, the new butterfly garden, tall palm trees, knowing how to dig up sand crabs, the list goes on . . .

I'm especially looking forward to having a hot dog on a stick and lemonade while watching tanned, muscular, beachgoers play volleyball in the sand. Life is good!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bernoulli, Bernoulli, he's our man, if he can't do it . . .

Another garbled science post from the Comparative Literature major:

I hate to fly.  When people ask why I hate to fly, I usually answer that I am almost always convinced two or three times during every flight that I will die a fiery death when the plane crashes.  Whenever I leave on a flight, I make sure to tell my husband that if the plane goes down, he should know that I love him and my last thoughts were of him and my family.

From this evidence, most people would say I have a fear of flying.  I guess they're right.  Unfortunately, I live in a city where none of my family or my husband's family live.   Plus, I really like to travel to faraway places.  So, I end up flying a lot!

Because of this condition, I never pay attention to news of plane crashes as I need no new evidence of the danger of flying.  I know driving is much more dangerous, but the news shows don't incessantly cover car crashes.  (It's been a tough week, ignoring all the news.)

What does Bernoulli have to do with my nervousness?

Well, in my liberal arts mind, he's a sciency gentleman who somehow had something to do with the design of an airplane wing, or maybe he was the first person to prove that lift worked?  I'm not sure.  But in my personal reality, it's directly because of this dude that any plane I am in is able to take off, stay in the air and land safely.

(I know, I know, I should have done some googly research that would make me sound smarter, but that would have displaced some other useless information stored in my brain cells.  I mean, look at the guy.  He's from way farther back in the past than I thought.  There's not even a photograph of him!  If he did all the hard science work, why haven't people been afraid to fly for a much longer time?)

My normal method of coping anytime there is takeoff, turbulence, the plane turns by dipping one side toward the ground, weird noises, landing, etc. is to simply chant the full title of this post either out loud or in my head depending on my seat partner.  (My husband looks at me as if I am a bizarro, but with much more love than the strangers who hear my song.)

Recently, however, my unshakeable faith in Bernoulli's ability to keep me flying has indeed been shaken.  Apparently, extreme heat somehow makes Bernoulli's theories less effective, especially for smaller planes.   With the heat wave in the southwest, many smaller planes were grounded.

I'm not sure what this news means for my relationship with Bernoulli, but I might be searching for another guru to lead me safely through the skies. Know anyone I should check out?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Overuse of exclamation points!! or Susie on steroids!!!

At some point since I began writing this blog, I became a little concerned with my apparent enthusiasm for the exclamation point.  It seemed that some sentences didn't really sing with just a period at the end.  They looked better and felt truer if they were finished off with the excited mark, as we call it in first grade.

After I noticed the problem I tried to put an end to the intensity.  I asked for advice.  I asked my husband if the exclamation points bothered him.  And I wanted to know whether the blog sounded like me.  He thought for a little bit and admitted he had noticed the high amount of exclamation points and he thought that I could tone them down, but that the blog did sound like me, just me on steroids.

Then last night we were talking about the blog and the quantity of exclamation points at dinner.  My cousin pointed out that perhaps I was the Huell Howser of blogs.  It's a joke that only people who have watched public television in California would understand, but suffice it to say that Huell had a show about interesting places in California and he loved every, single thing that he ever saw . . .

My stepdad did the Victor Borge sound effect for the exclamation point.  I knew that I had heard it, but couldn't remember where.  If you've never seen this amazing comedian do this bit, it's worth taking a look at.  Here is a clip of Victor Borge teaching Dean Martin all of his punctuation sound effects, and then singing songs, sound effects included.  

In conclusion, I would like to pledge that I will try to judiciously limit the use of exclamation points from now on.  Additionally, you may have noted that in this entire post on my proliferation of passionate punctuation, I only used those darn exclamation points in the title.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Family + Good Friends + Delicious Food = Amazing Evening!

I arrived in LA in the early afternoon yesterday and was immediately whisked away in a car up north where my family had an invitation with old friends for a barbecue dinner.

And what a dinner it was . . .  chips, hummus, mango salsa, green salad, potato salad, ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers, and hamburgers with jalapeños, man were they hot!  Then there were the desserts, ladyfingers with custard and raspberries, watermelon and chocolate cake.  Yummy!

The company was also fantastic.  Many members of my family along with most of the members of the host family.  We've known each other a long time, so it was a joy to talk, tell funny stories on ourselves, laugh and generally enjoy each other.  I even got to lie down in a really cool hammock!

A wonderful evening at the end of a long day.  Thanks to all involved, it was a great first day in LA.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

You wrote a book? Really? What's it about?

I get this question frequently.  And I never know exactly what to say as an answer.  Because I haven't just written one book.  I have written five and a half books!  And they are all completely different.

It's simpler to choose one of the books I have written and give a short plot line in response.  I usually choose the book I wrote in 2008, the one I am trying to edit and ready for rejection by many publishers.  It's the novel that I think is the best, and the only one that I have let anyone read.

However, in the interests of putting it all out there, here are short synopses of all the books that I have written so far that have almost never seen the light of day.  If anyone strikes your fancy, let me know and maybe I'll work on editing that one next!

2007 Two Steps Forward:   Realistic fiction describing a widow moving back to her hometown after living away from it for most of her life.  She gets involved in a volunteer program with local high schoolers.

2008 Untitled:  Historical fiction set in Prohibition Los Angeles.  I also call this a gangster love story.  This is the one I am editing!

2009 Untitled:  Unfinished mystery set at a small liberal college.  A body is found floating in the pool and the water polo coach has to solve the murder. Unfinished because mysteries are REALLY hard to write!

2010 Untitled:  Realistic fiction garbage set in the Boundary Waters about a troubled marriage.  Very, very boring . . . no one will ever see this one.

2011 Untitled:  Time travel romance about a woman who likes to read Regency romances magically transported back to the Regency time to discover what a hellish time and place it actually was.

2012 Untitled:  Modern day version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing set in the Twin Cities with Benedick and Beatrice as environmental lawyers.

2013 ???

As you can see, a wide variety of mostly untitled books.  Anyone have any ideas for names?  Send them in!  I can obviously use all the help I can get!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Canoeing & Kayaking on a Tidal River

This past weekend I had the chance to go play on a tidal river in tidewater Virginia and it was great fun!

Canoeing on a tidal river has an advantage over regular rivers.  If you time it right, you are always canoeing with the current.  And so it was on Saturday. We started in the morning going downstream with the regular river current. . .

I was in a solo Old Towne canoe.  We were a group of 4 canoes and 6 kayaks full of experienced and inexperienced paddlers.  We went downstream for a couple of hours and stopped on the banks for a snack and a swim.

About that time, the tide from the ocean had worked its way upriver and was sending us back upstream to where we had begun.  I switched from the solo canoe to a kayak and enjoyed my first kayak trip very much.  We saw a bald eagle and herons, as well as many smaller birds.  We swam again and generally enjoyed being in the sunshine on the river.

I'll go canoeing on a tidal river again anytime!

Monday, July 8, 2013

The great holiday migration

The Fourth of July is one of the few remaining holidays that is actually celebrated on its original day.

Most of the holidays have migrated to the closest Monday to make for a long weekend.  These include Washington's birthday (February 22), Memorial Day (May 30), Columbus Day (October 12) and Veteran's Day (November 11).  This is due to an act of Congress called the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that took effect in 1971.  Who knew?  Even a holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr that came after 1971 was placed on the third Monday in January rather than his birthday on January 15th.

The Fourth of July continues to float through the days, mattering not when it lands.  July 4th is the day that most businesses are closed, people barbecue, and fireworks sparkle.  However, many people choose to ALSO celebrate it on the Saturday landing closest to July 4th.

How do I know this?  I know this because every year I am invited to two such amazing celebrations on opposite sides of the country.  And I can't go to both.  So we alternate.

Last year's party was the West Coast party, a huge neighborhood block party on the street I grew up on.  Hundreds of people, many of whom I know, a bouncy castle, inflatable water slide, dunk tank, rotating bands, margaritas served at one house, ice cream sundaes at another, a cotton candy machine somewhere else. Not to mention a pet parade, a children's craft table, a chili cookoff, and an amazing amount of food!  It'll be good again next year.

This year's party was the East Coast party, a much smaller, but just as wonderful family get-together.  It takes place at a house built in 1812 that has been in my in-law's family since before the Civil War.  This party features canoeing on a tidal river (more on this tomorrow), a sno-cone machine, five dogs running all over the farm, burgers, hot dogs and ribs cooked on a new grill, trying to aim water balloons with a slingshot to hit the barn roof with a satisfying thud, mosquitoes, illegal fireworks, and a lot of hanging out and talking with friends and family.  It was a blast of a fourth of July, even if we celebrated on the sixth!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Nano . . . what?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my goals during my last leave of absence was to write a novel during Nanowrimo.

When I mention this, I often get asked, "What's that?"

Nanowrimo is short hand for National Novel Writing Month.  It is an exercise in novel writing started by Chris Baty in 1999 with a handful of people and now more than a hundred thousand people around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.  At least that is when Nanowrimo traditionally occurs.  The nanowrimo people are trying to get it going in other months as well.

It's all totally free and it's a blast!  If you've ever thought about writing a novel, you should give it a go. All you have to do is sign up on their website, and on November 1st start writing.  There are regional support groups that have write-ins, and a ton of support online.

For me, it was the jumpstart of my writing, and a major reason why leaves are important to me.  I never would have had the courage to try writing a novel while teaching, and yet, since then, in spite of teaching, I have tried to do it every November.

There are some basic guidelines to Nanowrimo, one of which is getting rid of your inner editor while you are writing, something most of us have a difficult time with.  The only way to win Nanowrimo is to write 50,000 words, and the only external prize you get for winning is a certificate and the right to a purple bar which shows everyone you have validated your words.

There are a lot of inside jokes around Nanowrimo, and one is that if November is National Novel Writing Month, then December is Nanofimo, which stands for National Novel Finishing Month.  Then again, I guess I heard that March is Nanoedmo, National Novel Editing Month.

But I guess I need way more than a month, because I am slow and lazy and I am going to also write a blog post a day for the rest of my leave, so I officially declare this year Sunoedye, better known as Susie's Novel Editing Year.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!

Today is a national holiday in the United States of America, 
so I am taking the day off.  

If you like history, read the actual text of the 
Declaration of Independence here.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Important versus Urgent

In yesterday's post, I wrote about my past leaves and my discovery that having goals led to a more satisfying leave experience.  This leave is no different and I have more than one page in my writing journal devoted to possible goals.

However, the biggest, top priority, number one, non-negotiable goal for this year is to revise my novel so that by the end of the leave it is ready to be sent out to publishers for rejection.  (Initial rejection seems to be required before the novel can become a hit of Oprah proportions.)

And when I say my novel, it is not the realistic fiction novel that I wrote in 2007.  Because the following year, I did it again!  I wrote another novel!  Even while I was teaching!  And I really liked that novel.  I even let some of my family and closest friends read it.  At the time, I did ask them to only tell me what they liked about it, knowing that I was too fragile to hear criticisms.

But now I am ready to add, change, revise, hear negative and positive criticisms, and generally make it better.  And I have already started the process by starting to reread the novel, adding my thoughts and questions in soothing sky-blue ink.

My challenge, though, is highlighted by this unattributed quote from my Happiness Project journal*:

"All too often, what's important gets pushed aside 
while we deal with what's urgent."

Today, in no particular order, my urgent includes:  do the dishes, speak with my mom about a future trip, fold laundry, find an overdue magazine in all my mess, take a trip to the library, send emails to friends and family, make a doctor's appointment, clean off my dining room table, write tomorrow's blog post, eat . . .

How does the important deal with all that urgency?  I'm not sure myself.  I guess I'll figure it out along the way, and whatever I figure out, I'll post here.

*Apparently, once you tell people that you are a writer, you receive mostly journals as gifts, as I have gotten four in the last few months.  I love them each and every one!  Thanks, everyone!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Third Times a Charm

This is not my first rodeo . . . I mean . . . leave of absence.

I took my first leave during the 2001-2002 school year, after five years of working at my school district.    Before teaching, I hadn't worked at any job longer than a year.  My usual plan was to work as an office temp, save up my money and then go traveling.  That worked well until I met my husband, a fan of stability, and it worked out that I was ready to settle down a bit. However, after five years of teaching, I was ready for a break.  No plan, no goals, just free time.

I don't remember much about that year though.  I know that we were deep in canoe wilderness on September 11.  We didn't hear about the terrorist attack until Thursday from a passing fisherman and even then we weren't sure if what he said was true or whether he was crazy.  50/50 we thought at the time.  We did notice a distinct lack of planes in the night sky though.

The following week, my father fell, so on September 18th I was on my way to Los Angeles to help.  That's what I mostly remember about my first leave of absence, going to LA a lot to be with my Dad.  I'm sure I did lots of stuff, I went to Paris for a week with my family and I know that I acted as a substitute teacher for my district, but at the end of the leave it felt like it had flown by and it wasn't clear what I had accomplished.

My next leave came after another five years of teaching (a pattern?) during the 2007-2008 school year.  And because of the lessons of that first year, I realized that I needed to have more of a plan to counteract that feeling of loss at the end of the leave.  I wanted to be able to look back and be sure about what I had done.  So I wrote a whole page of goals, but decided to choose three important ones.  That way, at the end of the year, if I had done nothing else, I could look back and make sure that I had accomplished three important things.

Ironically, I can only remember two of the three goals I chose:

1.  Write a novel during November for nanowrimo.
2.  Live somewhere else for a month.

And I did those things.  I wrote my first novel in November 2007, a piece of realistic fiction that I haven't let anyone yet read. And then that winter, we went and spent a month living in a very small town in northeast Iowa on a backwater of the Mississippi.  It was a cabin as nice as our house and we often saw bald eagles in the trees at the river's edge.

I did other things.  I worked again as a substitute teacher and went to Spain for eleven days.  But at the end of the year, no matter what I had done, I knew I had accomplished some of my goals.

And now after five more years of teaching, I am again on a leave of absence. The current leave is always the best leave!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Denial - not just a river in Egypt!

Hello all!

I spent most of Saturday upbeat and not at all concerned with my two broken toes, as I think I was under the impression that they wouldn't slow me down at all.

In contrast, most of Sunday I tried unsuccessfully to remain in that state of upbeat denial.  I know now that I have failed.

I know that the two broken toes, as small as they are, will slow me down.  I am not sure yet exactly in how many ways, except for one direct consequence.  They are the reason that this blog post is so short.

I'll be back tomorrow with a longer blog post returning to the subject of my leave, but for now let me say:

Even tiny broken bones hurt.