Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Questions and Comments

Hard to believe that another month has come and gone and I am still blogging every day.  Here are my responses to your questions and comments from the overheated weeks of August.

Andrea congratulates me on the accomplishment of wearing shoes, but really wants to know:  how is the running going?

Well, I am still just walking, haven't gotten to any running yet, but I did just sign up for the 5k that we are planning on running together, so now I have some motivation.

tRa notes that:  [The Irish Fair] looks like a much bigger event than the Scottish Festival, I wonder why? 

I think there are a lot more Irish folk and others who identify with the Irish in the United States than there are Scottish people.  It might also have something to do with the multiple beer tents and one whiskey tent sponsored by the local Irish bars.  We don't have any Scottish bars.

MA Reynolds recommends: the experience of a physics slam on ice.

How did I not know about this?  This is exactly the sort of weird, cool stuff that I want to make time for this year!  When's the next one?

Kelly Erskine and Andrea recommend shopping online.

To you both, I can only say that shopping online is still shopping and I just can't bring myself to do it unless absolutely necessary.

Much gratitude to Megan for  excellent technical advice on how to follow my blog, although I didn't really understand most of the words.  I'll be asking you for more advice soon!

Thanks to tRa for uncovering yet another outdoor pageant to add to my list.

A shout-out to Kristi and Kelly Erskine for being fellow mosquito bite sufferers.  We have to stick together.  Maybe the bugs will bite you both instead of me!

Finally, a huge thank you to Kari Jo and all who have expressed their sympathy for my family's loss of Alice, a matriarch and an amazing lady. She will live on in the stories I will tell and write about her in the weeks and years to come.

Friday, August 30, 2013

An Alice story

My mother-in-law loved sweets.  Her favorite treat was ice cream, which she always had in the freezer, a trait her son inherited.  But she wasn't picky. She loved cookies, brownies, sugary delights of all kinds.

A good friend of Alice's told us a tale from a few weeks before Alice died. They had gone for a walk through the assisted living facility and in the sitting room there was a plate with two brownies on it.  Alice took a look at the plate and smiled up at her friend.  "I'll eat one if you'll eat one," she smiled.

And so they did.  Women after my own heart.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Strawberry Music Festival

I don't really believe in fate, but recently, it seems that the universe is forcing me to keep myself flexible.  Reminding me to embrace change, rather than to fight it.  Such it is with this fall's Strawberry Music Festival.

This amazing music extravanganza happens on the Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends every year.  Due to school schedules, we have only managed to attend when I am on leave.  So, it's been six years since we've seen great folk musicians perform in a beautiful forest setting.

Unfortunately, right now that stunning setting is almost completely surrounded by the California Rim Fire.  Camp Mather, where Strawberry takes place, is currently home to some of the many heroic firefighters battling this huge blaze.

These incredible men and women have so far managed to save most of Camp Mather's structures and many of the trees and meadows and continue to work to control this destructive fire.

I am disappointed that we won't be experiencing four calming days listening to music, swimming in the lake,  and meeting people demonstrating the elements of the Strawberry Way:  consideration, cooperation, kindness and generosity.  However, keeping the Strawberry Way in mind, I am focusing on hoping that everyone in the area of the Rim Fire stays safe and that the fire continues to become more and more contained.

It's possible that the festival could be rescheduled at a later date.  That could happen at another location or at Camp Mather.  (Although rumor has it that the fire crews will be at Camp Mather until the winter, as some people predict the fire won't be 100% contained until then.)  We can hope that we will be able to attend if it is held at another time.

So, I'm concentrating on keeping my mind limber and welcoming the uncontrollable.  It must be good for me, right?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Opening Week

Opening week is when all good educators go to the aid of their schools.  The students haven't started yet, but all school employees have begun their work for the year.  There are lots of meetings during opening week.  Usually a welcome back meeting on Monday morning at each of the schools with a video chat from the superintendent.  Then there are meetings throughout the week for grade levels, counselors, social workers, etc.

If you're not in a meeting, you're working on getting your room/office ready for the students on the day after Labor Day.  And, of course, a meeting sometime on Friday to finalize all those last minute details.

I, on the other hand, am not going to any meetings or preparing my room. Since it's a bazillion degrees both outside and inside, I am doing very little.

I am grieving my mother-in-law's passing, reading, watching television, napping in the one air-conditioned room in my house, and trying to stay hydrated.  I can no longer chat on the phone or go to lunch with most of my friends because they are all working.

Today my goal is to go to my office and work as well.  I won't have any meetings, but I will write.   Officially a new year has begun for everyone, even those of us on leave.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Heat Wave

It is hot where I am.  The whole middle of the country is hot.  In the high 90s during the day with a heat index (whatever that is) of 100°.  At night the low temperature gets down to 80°.  The weather forecasters say that it will stay that hot for two weeks.  I'm not sure I can handle it.

There are lots of creative ways to stay cool.  When I'm inside, I have a personal fan that moves with me wherever I sit.  Visiting air-conditioned buildings is another strategy.  The library, post office, grocery stores, all of these places are cool.

Water consumption is up and food consumption is down.  Certainly I don't want to apply heat to anything, so salads, cold soups, and fruit are on the upcoming menu.

Tonight for dinner though, my husband and I got lucky.  Our friends belong to a small local tennis club that has a pool as well.  We went and swam first to lower our body temps.  Then we ate some pre-made salads from the deli and bread and cold cuts.  After dinner we swam again.  Cooled us all off nicely.

I'm not sure exactly how I'll deal with the heat over the next two weeks, but I am thankful for cold showers, electricity for fans and window units, and friends with pool memberships.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Home again

Returning from a trip is always difficult for me.  There are a few things to do, but not many.  Listen to the messages, unpack your suitcase, throw your dirty laundry into the basket . . .

There's no mail to check because it's sitting in a box at the post office.  The newspaper will come tomorrow morning, but there's nothing to read now.

And if you happen to come home to a major heat wave, you have to wait for the emergency window air conditioning unit to actually do its job before you can go to sleep.

I feel adrift, floating around in my house, unable to settle.

One thing that is helping to ground me this time is that the friends who were watching the house brought in some lovely fragrant flowers for us.  I can look at them, smell their scent and think about life and death, love and loss.

So even though I am hot and tired and cranky and wandering around aimlessly, I also know that we are loved and that life could be much worse.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

√ Step Number One

I just finished rereading my novel.  According to Walter Mosley in his book, This Year You Write Your Novel, that is the first step of editing.  You reread it, see what you like and didn't like, make notes, etc.  I have to admit I don't remember what the next step is, but I'll be starting it soon.

Rereading the novel was an interesting project and I created a lot of notes.  I had been rereading the book very calmly for the last month or so, reading about 10 pages a day.  But at the end, I suddenly sped up, excited for the ending, wanting to remember how I had written it.  (That's the beauty of losing your memory for details.)

That last day I kept reading and reading and ended up reading the final 25 pages.  I didn't want to stop.  However, I noticed that there were a couple paragraphs that I skimmed.  And as I was speed reading over them, I recalled a post of Ken Levine's celebrating Elmore Leonard.

Ken wrote that one of Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing was:

"Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

That's a good rule to keep in mind, especially when the writer tends to skip those parts too.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rest in peace Alice

My mother-in-law Alice passed from this world yesterday morning.  She was one day over 98.  Alice was an amazing woman.  She preferred to stay positive, dwelling on the good rather than the bad in life.

Alice was well-educated for her time, having a master's degree in botany. Although she didn't work in that field long, she always enjoyed the natural world.  She knew a lot about wildflowers and other wild things and was happy to share her knowledge.

An ESL teacher at her church until she was 96, Alice counted many international students as her friends.  She taught the beginning class and brought many students from illiteracy to being successful at reading and writing in English.

Although Alice was born in Richmond, she was fond of her home in Raleigh and lived there on her own until her 97th year.

There are many more things to say about her, and many stories to be told, but know that Alice will be missed by her family and her friends.  May we all follow her example, and dwell on the positive in all our lives.

Friday, August 23, 2013


A young friend of mine recently requested a paddleboarding excursion for her birthday.
So we went to a local lake and rented some paddleboards.  It was a hot day, so we thought it was perfect for an adventure.  To make things complete, we even stopped on the way to the lake for some ice cream, so we would have fuel to make our paddleboards glide on top of the water.

What we didn't realize is that it was also a very windy day.  We started out fighting the wind, and then decided to let it blow us down the lake.  That was much more pleasant and way easier.  After 10 minutes, we were practically on the shore.  So we turned around and spent the next 50 minutes of our hour rental trying to get back to where we started.  Luckily we did make it there, but we were close to exhaustion and almost out of time.

Which made me notice a trend.  When I try new things, they don't necessarily go well on the first attempt.  (See zipline post.)  However, I always learn some new fact, like don't go paddleboarding when it's windy, that will help me if I try again.  

And I will try again.  Because I liked standing up on a paddleboard and being on a lake on a sunny day is a perfect way to spend some time.

Go out there and be bad at something new.  You might just like it!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Today is the first real day

Yes, that's right.  Today is the first real day of my leave.

While I am off doing leave things — sleeping past six am, seeing family and friends, eating cake — my ELL colleagues are in an all-day meeting.

random photo of a meeting from the internet
Before I was just doing summer things — trying out a paddleboard, riding my bike, going out to lunch, taking an afternoon nap — but now all those things are officially part of my leave.

Because if this were a normal year, I'd have to be in that meeting too.  I'm sure that the people leading the meeting are doing their best to make the information interesting.  However, the fact remains, those people have to sit inside in a chair somewhere, and I don't.

And I'm really happy.  I feel a little bit guilty, but not too much.  Now please excuse me, but I've got to go work on my novel.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Shopping is horrible.

I hate shopping so much that I only do it when I absolutely have to.  I dislike shopping so much that my stuff has be falling apart before I replace it.

At the moment, I should really buy, in no particular order:

I really need a new seat
a bicycle seat
running shoes
pants that zip into shorts
tea kettle
bath towels
office desk

One purchase I did make recently was a new bicycle helmet.  I don't even remember how many years ago I bought the last one.  18?  26?  No clue.  It was in really bad shape.  I had been talking about needing another helmet for at least three years.  But since that meant shopping, I managed with the old helmet.

Finally, my husband convinced to go to a bicycle shop with a good selection of helmets.  I bought the third helmet I tried on. Get in, buy, get out.  That's my motto if I absolutely have to go shopping.

It's blue, my favorite color, and I really like it.  I guess getting new stuff might be worth shopping sometimes.  Now I just have to figure out how to try on a bicycle seat in less than ten minutes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Good Day

Even when not everything in your life is going well, you can still have a good day.  Recently, on a gorgeous sunny day, we went for a bike ride to one of our cities' beautiful lakes.

It was a windy day, so the sailboats and windsurfers were in their element. The canoers, kayakers, and paddleboarders were having a noticeably harder time.  We sat in the shade, enjoyed the view, and even took a short nap.

By chance, we stumbled across a logrolling competition.  My broken toes meant I had to miss logrolling classes at this same lake, but it was fun to watch the women roll.

On the ride home, the wind was at our backs, and though we arrived tired, we were content.  It was a good day.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Canoe Repair on the Fly

Recently, I wrote a post about not going canoe camping in the Boundary Waters this year.  However, I had been stockpiling stories that I was going to post ahead of time to keep you all entertained while I was away from the all powerful wifi.

Here's one of my favorite tales, highlighting my husband's awesomeness.

Two years ago in the middle of a lake, the bolt holding my canoe seat sheared and broke.  After much swearing, I sat myself in the bottom of the canoe and got on with the job at hand, which was paddling down to the end of this dead end lake, hoping that the campsite at the end of it was empty.

It was pretty uncomfortable kneeling in the bottom of the boat and as I paddled, I became increasingly grumpy about how difficult the rest of the trip was going to be for me.

When we got to the empty campsite, we set up camp and took a look at the canoe seat.  Everything was fine except for the the bolt.  But it was kind of an important part of the seat.

Never fear, my husband convinced me.  He thought he could fix it with one of our extra tent stakes and some rope.  (We always have rope with us.  He insists.)

So I decided to let him give it a shot.  And fix it he did.  I don't really understand how it worked, only that it did.   He replaced that bolt with a tent stake and some of his magic rope.  Amazing!  It easily lasted the rest of the trip, five more days.

This story illustrates why my husband is not only wonderful, but also why he is an essential part of my post-apocalypse survival plan.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The 6 prongs of mosquito defense

There are many flying pests that bite, but the mosquito is the most common one where I live.  It's also the most annoying.  And I am very allergic to its bite.

So, I have a multi-layered defense system that enables me to go outside in mosquito-infested territory, also known as my backyard.

1.  Hide available territory.
Wear long pants and long sleeves (in light colors the scientists say) at dawn and dusk (prime mosquito time).

2.  Chemical warfare.
The mosquito repellent that works best for me is 3M's Ultrathon in lotion form.  I think that this was originally developed for the military, and it is hardcore chemicals.  But it rocks!

3.  Swift action to treat wounds.
I use AfterBite, an easily obtained ammonia based medicine in a skinny applicator.  If I apply it topically on the affected area soon after the attack, my personal anecdotal evidence has shown that itching is reduced by more than 50%.
4.  Repeated wound treatment.
Each evening I apply topical Benadryl to any bite area that continues to itch. (These are typically bites that missed an AfterBite treatment or are directly in contact with clothing that rubs.)

5.  Bandages.
After applying the Benadryl, I apply waterproof bandaids to protect the above mentioned bite areas from clothing or my own fingers.  (By the end of a weeklong Boundary Waters trip, I look like the walking dead covered in tattoo bandaids.)

6.  Oral Medication.  (Only mandatory on camping trips)
Before going to sleep I take oral Benadryl.  I read somewhere that you are not supposed to use the topical Benadryl and the oral Benadryl at the same time, but I do it only for a few days each year, so I figure it's ok.  And if it's not, I'm not sure I want to know.

(Prongs 4-6 ensure a night's sleep uninterrupted by itching.)

There you have it, my personal Star Wars defense system against mosquitos.  Am I missing any steps?  Let me know!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Newsflash on the pedal pubs!

When I wrote about pedal pubs, I didn't know that they were dangerous.

On Thursday a pedal pub tipped over while turning at the bottom of a hill.  Two people were injured seriously enough to be taken to the hospital.  You can read a serious article about it in the Star Tribune.  

You can also read one blog's opinion on the top 10 jokes about the crash.

The crash seems to have ignited many comments on the facebook and the twitter, perhaps explaining better why neighbors hate those darned pedal pubs.

While I certainly hope that those wounded in the crash recover from their injuries quickly, it is difficult not to laugh a little bit at the situation.

If I do ever go out on a pedal pub, I'll try not to forget my helmet.

Friday, August 16, 2013


One of our local pools has a small zipline.

This is not me.

I have been wanting to go on this zipline all summer, but it had never quite worked out.  Until today.  I went to water aerobics and then paid a little extra to stay after and experience the zipline.  I was a little worried about being able to hang onto the crossbar, as my upper body strength is not, well, my strength.

It was a total disaster.  

Why?  I decided to try my best to hold on to the crossbar until it hit the bumper toward the bottom of the pool.  And I did!  At which point, my toes flung forward, my body went horizontal, and I dropped into the pool below.  

Back flop.  

Boy, did it sting!  And then the combo of a ring and that darned crossbar gave me a blood blister to boot.

On the other hand, it was a total success.

Why?  Well, I went on the zipline.  And I survived it.  And I learned a lot. First, make sure you bring your contacts so you can see well.  Second, build up your upper body strength, your arms won't hurt so much later that night. Third, take off your rings, as you will be gripping that crossbar tightly.  Last, and most important, drop down into the pool feet first before you hit that bumper!

Wanna come with me next time?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Holy cow — it's my 50th post!

Thank you.

I am writing this because you are reading it.  There is such a power in writing for real live actual readers, I can't quite get my mind around it.  In workshops on teaching writing to young students, it is a much overstated saying that it is important to write for an audience.  I have always believed that, but I have never lived it.  Until now.

When I wrote about this blog making me a better writer, I was thinking of you. You deserve to have some ink spilled on your behalf.  This blog is all your doing.  (OK, maybe it's a little of my doing as well.)

I have been writing since 2003, but very little of what I have written has been seen by others.  Emails, work related reports, and grocery lists, mostly.

But now, my meandering words are read by at least dozens of people a day!  It makes my heart happy.

I know that you are reading because you comment, or I'll mention a topic I've written about in conversation, and you say, "I know, I read about it on your blog."  How cool is that?

I do listen to your requests and have added another way to "follow" my blog. Although to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what that button does, so if you try it, be sure to let me know if it does what you want it to.  (I am getting better at the technology stuff, but I'm not fully competent yet.)

Once again, thank you for reading.  Comment whenever you feel like it.  I'll be here all year.  Tip your waitress.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Neighbors Against Pedal Pubs

I pass this sign on my bike ride to my office.  It's the only one I have ever seen.  It sits on the front lawn of a house in the middle of a quiet block.  I can't imagine a pedal pub going down this street and bothering these people.  On the other hand, maybe I don't know much about pedal pubs.

For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomenon, a pedal pub is like a giant beer table on wheels that is moved by the drinkers moving bicycle pedals.  They are steered by a non-drinking employee.   I would imagine they could get kinda noisy.

I have only seen pedal pubs on main streets and never very late at night.  Of course, I am not out and about late at night, so if they are, I would miss them anyway.

My husband is against pedal pubs because they take over his bike lane, but it doesn't happen that often, so I can ignore him when he starts to get grumpy.

Pedal pubs look like they would be fun if you wanted to ride around very slowly with a group of friends and drink beer at the same time.  My brother has mentioned that he would like to try pedaling a pub someday.  Whenever I see one, all the pedalers are friendly.

In any case, it occurs to me that the people with this sign in their yard must really dislike pedal pubs.  Because it takes a certain amount of energy to find such a sign, and post it in your yard so that everyone knows how you feel about pedal pubs.

I haven't done the research, so I am not sure why these neighbors are so against pedal pubs, but if my brother and I ever pedal a pub, I'll make sure we don't cycle down their quiet street.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Critical Decisions

There are so many things I want to accomplish each day and throughout this whole year.  It is difficult to figure out how to choose which one to focus on right now, today, tomorrow, next week, next month.

What is the most important thing to do?  How can I make the critical decisions on how to divvy up the available time?

Is the most important accomplishment this year to edit my novel and to stretch myself as a writer?  If so, then I should work on revising and researching the manuscript, making sure to write every day.  I should get business cards made with this blog address on them and network with everyone I know to build my "brand", whatever that means.

Or maybe the most important thing to do is to get in shape by alternating flexibility, cardio and strength training workouts, as well as eating healthily.  If that's true, I should make sure to shop for healthy food, and spend my time preparing those healthy meals.  I should be walking, and swimming and doing yoga, and pilates, as well as lifting weights with a trainer.

But what about relaxing and recharging my batteries, enjoying life?  That way when my year leave is over, I'll be mentally ready to go back to teaching.  In that case, I should be reading all the books I am interested in, listening to my favorite music on the radio, watching good movies and shadebathing at the lakeshore as often as possible.

Yet it could be that this is the year to conquer the paper clutter monster that threatens to take over my house.  That means I should set a schedule for decluttering and stick to it.  I could get my friends over to help, read books that inspire me to keep throwing stuff away, and end up with an organized house at the end of the year.

On the other hand, what about the day to day tasks that seem to never end?  Dishes, reading the newspaper, cooking dinner, folding the laundry, going to the library, grocery shopping?  Then there's connecting with family and friends by telephone, email, letters, and face to face?  I should definitely make time for that!


Sometime in the middle of writing this post, I was reminded of the Cheryl Wheeler song Unworthy.  Here are the lyrics.  She says it much better and more musically than I ever could.  It's too bad there are no available videos of this song out there on the interweb highway.

In reality though, I don't feel unworthy, just indecisive.  And I still need to decide what I am going to do today.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Smacked in the Face

Most people don't willingly put themselves in the position to get kicked, scratched, grabbed and/or smacked in the face with some regularity.  Those people are not me.

No, I am not abused, and abuse is not anything to joke about, so I won't.

However, I am a water polo player.

Playing water polo means that aggression can occur.  Most of it is unintentional.  Sunday morning in the pool, I was guarding another player and got smacked hard in the face by her forearm (before that happened, it was a nice play, Petra).

It stung like the dickens when her arm connected, but after 30 seconds, it didn't hurt and we went on playing.  (For an amusing article about "minor" injuries during water polo, click here.)

Later in the afternoon, though, I realized how many times a day I touch my nose, because it started to hurt!  Pushing up my glasses, scratching an itch, even blowing my nose, all hurt.  But as soon as the pain was gone, I would forgot about it until the next time I touched my nose.

The memory lapse must have some sort of evolutionary purpose, because if we remembered all the silly things that we do to hurt ourselves, we would never leave the house in fear.  On the other hand, we can still do serious damage in the comfort of our own homes (i.e., broken toes).

So I will embrace the forgetfulness, venture out of the house into the danger, and continue playing water polo.  I'll just remember to take my mouth guard along so I get to keep all my teeth.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Irish Fair

Today I will go to the Irish Fair.

I plan on doing a lot of dancing at the Social Dance Tent.  Well, as much as my toes will allow.

And when my toes begin to get sore, I will wander over to the main stage to hear some wonderful Celtic music from the Belfast Cowboys or Gaelic Storm.

Get out of the house, do something fun, and have a great Sunday.  See you back here tomorrow.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Overactive imagination — pro or con?

As a writer, it is definitely a positive to have an overactive imagination.

I go on a walk, look at a house very different from my own and immediately make up complex stories about events that have happened inside.

At a restaurant, I see a mother and son eating together and their invented conversation flows easily from my mind.

Not to mention that I can write a 50,000+ word novel based solely on a dream.  (Which reminds me, I need to remember to write down the slightly bizarre, yet fully fledged plot from this morning's dream.)

On the other hand, in my non-writing life, my overactive imagination has its downside.

When I feel slightly unwell, experience slight abdominal discomfort for example, the gray matter jumps from appendicitis to cancer, and then to death!

If my husband is 20 minutes late bicycling home during a snowstorm, the image I see rapidly becomes a car/bicycle crash, which leads to inevitable death!

It is actually a little disturbing just how quickly my brain heads to death.  But that's only because I have an overactive imagination, or so I tell myself.

I guess the answer to the title question is — yes.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Panta Rhei

That's Greek for 'everything flows'.

We say that around my house when we're trying to be flexible and go with the flow.  And that's what I'm doing at the moment.

It's a tradition to go canoe camping every summer in the Boundary Waters and it's amazing.  There are pristine lakes, the call of loons, and the deep green of the pine forest.  We paddle, hang our food in trees out of the way of bears, skinny dip, fish for walleye and lake trout, generally relax in the wilderness.  If we plan it right, we won't see another human for days.

But this year, with the many stresses of life, it's looking like we might not make it there.

So, I'm going with the flow.  Because in all sorts of other ways, life is really good.  We have food and shelter and love.  Not being able to make a trip is not the end of the world.

Maybe we'll take a shorter trip than planned.  Maybe we'll go later in the year and the water will be colder and the leaves will have started to turn.  Maybe we won't go at all and we'll plan for it better next year.  Who knows?

It's all good, because everything flows . . . 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Summer Boys

Because I have no schedule, I am free to do whatever I want to on any given day.

So when I found out early Tuesday morning that there was a baseball game I should see that same morning, I went to watch the game.  Turns out that the son of a friend of my mom's was playing baseball at the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series.  I relished the opportunity to see young men representing the town of my birth play baseball in the city where I live now. 

And what a beautiful day and game it was.  The sun was shining, there were few clouds in the sky and those young men played quality baseball.  The finals of the RBI World Series will be played today (Thursday August 8th) at Target Field.  The juniors play at 1pm and the Seniors play at 6pm.  I can only hope my team makes the playoffs and then brings it all home.

Play ball!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Right Toes

I am very excited to give an update on my broken toes.  No surprise, they are healing.

I have now reached the milestone of wearing closed-toe with very little pain. Those are my feet in my old ratty sneakers.

But the best part?  I also successfully wore my Patagonia fishing boots for about four hours on Monday.  Why am I so happy?  Am I going fishing?  No!  But my Patagonia fishing boots are what I wear while portaging in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).  My boots keep my feet safe on uneven ground, they dry quickly and my feet are never uncomfortable.

So in order to go camping in the BWCAW, I needed to be able to wear my boots.

And now I can!  Yeah toes!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cousins can be challenging . . .

. . . or why I have a new gadget on my blog interface.

Recently, I wrote about the joy that my cousins bring to my life.  Today I would like to briefly mention how cousins can also challenge you to improve.

When my cousins heard about this blog, they wanted each posting to have an email alert.  I argued that regularly posting every day should be enough. Besides, I thought to myself, I have no idea how to do that.  It sounded difficult.

But because they are my cousins I was willing to work hard to please them. First, I did research, which led me to try to read very techie information about feedburnerrss, and user interfaces, most of which was not helpful.

The next idea I had was to create a practice blog, where I could change how things look and preview the differences without altering my actual blog.  That was easy to do.

Finally, I decided to try to "add a gadget".  Lo and behold, one of the available gadgets on blogspot is "follow by email".  I clicked on it, and put it on my blog template.

So now there it is, at the top on the right hand side.  If you want to, you can type in your email address and follow this blog that way.  I am hoping that if you put your email address there and click submit, you will get an email for each post and inside the email will be a link.  Let me know if that is what happens.

A final thank you to my cousins.  I hope after all this that they will be the first to follow me on email!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Becoming a judge . . .

. . . for the Minnesota Book Awards?

I got an email the other day announcing the first call for judges.  I have always wanted to be a judge for the MN Book Awards, but never have.  However, before you can even apply, some decisions have to be made.

First off, there are eight categories of awards:

Children's Literature
General Nonfiction
Genre Fiction
Memoir & Creative Nonfiction
Novel & Short Story
Young People's Literature

According to the application, you are supposed to have "professional experience, volunteer experience, or in-depth knowledge related to the category for which you are applying".

Under those rules, some categories are immediately ruled out for me (i.e., Poetry and Minnesota).  The only category I have "professional experience" with would be children's literature, having worked in the first grade for the last five years.  Unfortunately, it's not the category I am most interested in.  

Which category intrigues me the most?  Novel & Short Story (the category I would like to win someday), or Young People's Literature (a category I read a lot.  Does that count as in-depth knowledge?  Probably not.)  Then there's Genre Fiction, the fun stuff: mysteries, romance, sci-fi, graphic novels, fantasy.  (I have very little experience or in-depth knowledge here.)

You must also decide between being a preliminary round judge and a final round judge.

What's the difference?

Big amounts of reading difference!  For preliminary round judges:  Depending on their assigned category, judges can expect to review 20-65+ books.  That is a lot of reading!  Additionally, the description also states that candidates should have experience and a comfort level with reviewing a large volume of books within a relatively short period of time.  You get less than a month to do that reading?  Not sure that describes me, although I could probably manage it for the Children's Literature category.

A final round judge's duties are merely to read the 4 books chosen by the preliminary judges as finalists, and then "engage in thoughtful deliberation with their panel to select one award winner."  I could probably do that . . .

So, what do you think?  Any advice for a wannabe judge?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Music at the Barn

Yesterday I went to Barnfest with some friends.  It was an all-around great day.  The weather was gorgeous, sunny yet not too hot.  We sat on a slight rise close to the sound man with an excellent view of the stage.  And the day was full of good folk music.

The experience reminded me that one of my goals for this year off is to have music in my life more often.  One wonderful way to do that is to make an effort to see live music.  Barnfest was a great chance to hear a variety of talented musicians in a beautiful rural setting.

Of course, even though all of the musicians were talented, I still had my favorites.

One group I especially enjoyed was the Roe Family Singers.  They are an old-timey band who managed to play both a Bill Monroe tune and a Carter family song during their 30 minute set.  Plus, one guy played the saw and there was clogging! What's not to love?

Michael Johnson had some really lovely songs and his patter was quite humorous too.  My favorite quote was his example of the funny things people say in Nashville, "Well, if you're anything like me, and I know I am . . ."

However, my favorite was the headliner of the day, poetic singer-songwriter John Gorka. He has managed to elevate awkwardness between songs to an art, and the lyrics of his songs blow my mind.  I will have to try my best to listen to more of his music.

The day was also a reminder that this year I want to play music as well.  So, today I will get my guitar out of its dusty case, see if I can find some very simple songs and start working on callouses on my fingertips.

Stay tuned for more musical adventures!

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Fire has been an elemental force in people's lives for many years.

In one form or another, fire has cooked our food, heated our homes and fried our lungs.

Nowadays, most people only get to see an open fire when they are camping. Luckily, we have some friends with a fire pit in their back yard.

We always enjoy going to their house for excellent food, fine wine, good conversation and a fire.  Last night was no exception.

Anyone who thinks they can improve the fire is welcome to try.  However, they need to be ready to have their every action second guessed by the peanut gallery.

Conversation runs free around the fire.  Often the talk is quite philosophical, and ranges from love to death to hit songs from the '50s.

Although being on leave means I have time for the big things that I want to do, it also means that I get to do lots of little fun things too.  I hope I have time for many fires over the next 56 weeks.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cousins = Gifts

Cousins are gifts.

Maybe not all cousins are gifts, but mine sure are.

Walking into a room with people you haven't seen for three years or even twelve years and falling into an easy conversation, laughing and joking as if you had seen them just yesterday is amazing.

Being able to talk easily for hours about all sorts of topics is marvelous.

Managing to see your cousins more often than that and build close relationships with them is wonderful.

You share DNA with your cousins, but that seems academic.  My relationship with my cousins feels more primal than that. Cousins are a gateway to all the relatives that have come before and to those that will come after.

Both of my parents moved away from their hometowns, but not all of my cousins did.  It's great they can share their insider knowledge of those places to me, a stranger to those cities.

Older cousins know your grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even your parents in a different way than you do.  My oldest cousin was born when my Dad was a kid and she has an insight into him in a way that I could never have had.  A different pair of cousins lived with my newly married parents for a summer, and they have shared their memories of that time with me. Somehow that makes their memories mine as well.

Younger cousins are a great way for the youngest in a family (me) to try out the job of older sibling or role model.  We get to tell them family stories from before their birth and try to show them what is important in the family.

Cousins are like a less intense group of siblings.  They have often known you for a long time and still choose to fit you into their lives.  I appreciate my many cousins on both sides of my family.  May we forever remain close!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Humdrum Lives . . .

". . . if we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'. . ."

                       Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen, in Singing in the Rain

This quote is written on the second page of my very first writer's notebook.  It is one of my favorite quotes from one of my all-time favorite movies.  But it's not enough to read the quote.  To understand its brilliance, you must hear Jean Hagen deliver it in the distinctive voice she used in the film.

Here it is for your listening pleasure:

So if one of my posts brings a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes me feel as if my hard work ain't been in vain for nothin' . . .