Five Things About Gardening

I am writing this post from the laundromat.  Again.  I am beginning to think the laundromat is taking over my life.  It’s not just the driving there, or the waiting, or the frequently broken washers, or the other people folding their underwear.  My need to go to the laundromat is cutting into my time and ability to do other activities as well.  I have two sets of running clothes.  I mean, there are other odds and ends, but only two full sets of comfortable and functional running clothes.  Normally, that is fine, but when those two sets have to last a week, it’s not enough.  I get two runs the two days after I do laundry, then I wait.  Any activity that needs special laundry consideration is currently on hold.  Right now the one that is bothering me the most is my garden.

For eight years, in Okinawa I tried to have a garden.  I didn’t want much, just a couple of potted tomato plants.  I love fresh tomatoes.  Sadly, I could never make it work.  Maybe it was too hot, maybe I just did it wrong.  Why doesn’t matter anymore.  When we found our house here in Belgium, I was thrilled to see there already was a dedicated garden spot and a greenhouse in my yard.  I spent months digging, fertilizing, weeding and planting, just a little every few days so I could have my garden.  I was rewarded with fresh tomatoes, artichokes, zucchini, corn, pumpkins, broccoli, and more lettuce than I knew what to do with.  And this year, I get to do it again.

Unfortunately, digging in the dirt naturally gets your clothes dirty.  Without a working washer, those filthy muddy clothes then sit there, gross, sweaty, and slowly accepting stains, until you can drive it to the laundromat.  I’m trying to hold out until my washer is fixed, but the truth is, I’m running out of time to get things moving.  We’re getting 70 degree days here now, and soon my hours of garden prep will be done in the heat.  Not a plan I wanted to go for.  Until I can get moving, here are five things about gardening.

1. Fresh vegetables

This is the main reason I like having my own garden.  I love the fresh vegetables all summer.  There is a different taste to fresh vegetables.  You can think I’m crazy, but it’s true. Fresh vegetable just taste different.  They taste better.  It’s as though the vegetable knows how hard you worked to get it and is thanking you for it.  Not only do you save money and eat healthy, you know exactly what is in your food.

2. Sunshine

I like being hot.  It’s not just that I hate to be cold (which I do); I actually really enjoy being hot.  I like feeling warm enough you can feel each individual drop of sweat trail down your body.  There is an awareness you have of your body when you are hot.  Your skin is warm enough to almost tingle at the slightest touch.  The heat of the sun lets you know you are alive.  I used to get my sunshine fix at the beach.  Without a close by beach, I have to get my fix somewhere else.

3. Time to think

There is something soothing about repetitive work.  You continue to repeat the same motions, the same actions, over and over again.  You don’t need to think about what you are doing, you just keep moving.  This is when I work out plot points, or run dialogue through my head.  When a story is sticky, some nice, physical labor works great to unstick it.

4. Lessons

Last year my younger daughter worked in the garden a lot with me.  She wasn’t in school, so she helped to pick the seeds, plant the seeds, weed, and harvest.  She was so proud of being able to help.  More than just her pride, was her sense of ownership over her garden.  These were HER vegetables.  She made these with her own hands.  She learned how plants grow by making some plants grow.  She saw what needed to be done, helped in all the hard work.  She learned a little of how much work goes into putting food on her plate.  That is the kind of lesson that teaches gratitude for everything you have.

5. Pride

I’m not talking about the cute pride of accomplishment my daughter had last year, I am talking about full on hipster pride.  Oh, you eat processed vegetables?  Mine come from a local organic garden.  There are never any pesticides or those icky GMOs in MY garden.  I mean, this is as close as I get to being cool.  I kind of have to go for it.

I suppose pretty soon I’ll have to suck it up and start on the hard work to get my garden ready, instead of using the washer as an excuse.  But for now, I’ll just wait on another load.

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For a Good Cause

I interrupt my regularly scheduled blog post to bring a message.  Today should have been a “bragging about what I made” day.  I do have several projects I could share, but this is something that means a little more to me.  Today, I want to talk to you about this man.

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This is my big brother, Marc.  Not a bad looking guy right?  He totally gets that from me.

Not only is he a great looking guy, he is actually an awesome human being.  Let’s break down a few of his accomplishments here.

Marc works with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, raising money and awareness through heath and fitness events, usually running related.  Since signing up with them ten years ago, Marc has completed over fifty events, including 3 Ironman races, runs ranging from a 5K to 50  miles, the Death Ride (as well as many other challenging biking events), and has escaped from Alcatraz twice.  During these ten seasons, he has raised over $30,000 for LLS. 

Awesome right?

As if that is not enough to create a feeling of little sibling inadequacy, he has also worked as a coach for LLS for seven years.  That means in addition to his own training and fundraising efforts, he helps others get moving.  He helps them to devise training plans, raise their own funds, and hangs out on race day making sure everyone makes it in.  That means on a race day, he might run or bike four times the distance of the original race, going back and forth between racers and giving them the encouragement they need. 

If you have run any races in the Greater Bay Area, you might have seen him.

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Now, wouldn’t that help you finish a race?  And shockingly enough, it gets sexier.

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Tell me you have that much confidence.  This is a man who knows he is awesome, and wants to spread the wealth.  Sorry to break it you, but he is taken.

Trust me though, when you see that man coming back to help you cross the finish line, it gives you the strength to keep moving.  We have lived in different countries for the last decade, but I have been lucky enough to do a couple races with him.  A year ago, a group of my siblings did the Petaluma Clo Cow Half Marathon.  Marc could have cruised through that, but we all stuck together walking and running it in to give one brother a PR, and another brother his first finished half. 

The most recent race I did with him was last September, The Baxter’s Loch Ness Marathon.  Now, frequent readers may remember I spoke of the race I did not train properly for, but was too stubborn to not run?  Yeah, that was this one.  Not only was I not trained, but I got a light twist in my ankle around mile 9.  At the start line, Marc and I agreed not to try to stick together; I didn’t want to slow him down, and he agreed to meet me part way back to cross the finish line with me.  When I started hurting, there were two things that kept me from getting on the quit bus (and they did keep asking if I wanted a ride).  First, I didn’t want my kids seeing me ride into the finish line.  No matter how much it hurt, I wanted them to see me finish.  Second, I knew Marc was going to try to meet me a few miles from the end, and I didn’t want him walking back to meet no one.  So I kept going, texting my husband mile updates as I went.  Well, as it turns out, he didn’t get a message after I told him I twisted my ankle.  They had no idea if I was still moving or if I had given up.  Marc came back anyway, adding about six extra, very hilly miles to his marathon day, just to make sure that I finished.  (And he even helped me push past a couple other people so I didn’t end up dead last.) 

He got me through that day. And he doesn’t just do that for his family.  He does that for so many people, because that is who he is.

Awesome, right?

Now, if this is not enough to impress the non-runners out there, let’s talk a little bit about everything else.  Marc, is also a published author.  He has two novels out now, The Illegal and The Tao of Me.  He has written three other novels, is working on two more, and occasionally writes for local magazines and newspapers. 

I mean, come on.  This is the person I want to be when I grow up.  If I wasn’t contractually obligated to love him through family bonds, I might be trying to plot his death right now, just to make myself feel better.

Just look at this guy.

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He knows he rocks. 

So, you are probably asking yourself, what is the point of this?  Am I just bragging that my brother is better than your brother? 

Well, maybe a little.  I mean, after all, this is just one of eight siblings.  Just imagine how awesome the rest of us are. 

There is an actual reason for this posting.  Marc is currently up for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Greater Bay Area Man of the Year.  As awesome as he is, he needs a little help getting there.  Voting is done through donations; one dollar donated equals one vote for this awesome guy.  I don’t know who the competition is, but trust me, this is the guy.  I know not everyone has discretionary donation funds, but anything would help.  Send in a couple dollars to support an amazing person, or share his story with any rich friends you may have.  Every little bit helps, because even if he doesn’t win, the money goes to a great cause.  If you don’t think I’ve sold him well enough, look at his page www.teamforacure.com and hear his side of the story.

I know every set of siblings are a little different.  Some of you might be assuming I am doing this out of some sort of kid sister idol worship.  I can be honest.  There is a little of that.  Marc is someone who pushes you to be who you want to be.  He is the reason I finished writing my novel, and a large driving force behind me pushing through when publishing efforts get frustrating.  There are many people who support me, but he holds me accountable.  He put me on a deadline, and makes sure I meet it.  He makes everything sound like a great idea, no matter how crazy it is.  We need to keep him busy with fundraising efforts because he might be able to talk you into letting him walk into world domination.  Trust me.  He’d suggest you put him in charge, and later you would wonder slightly why you agreed, but you still wouldn’t change your mind.

The greater reason I am campaigning for him right now is because if I help him win, in any small way, I can help cut him down to size.  Sure, he became Man of the Year, but he couldn’t have done it without me. That makes his win, my win also.  What greater joy does a sibling have than being able to rub something like that in their brother’s face?

Plus, I selected all of the pictures.  That’s right, he gets to see this with you.  That’s reward enough.

Alright, one more look.

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If you or anyone you know has anything they can donate to his cause, please visit my site, http://www.mwoy.org/pages/gba/bayarea14/sbradford and throw a few dollars his way.  He is worth it.

 

Showing Some Love: High Heels in New York by A.V. Scott

Once again, I am unsure if it is the right thing to do to post a book review.  When I began reviewing self published books, I thought it would be easy to find many with great worth and merit.  The authors I had read previously were wonderful and talented, authors who I wondered why they did not have a publishing contract.  I assumed many self published authors would have quality product which simply was considered unsellable for one reason or another.  Maybe they wouldn’t stick out in the market, or they fit into a niche that was currently over saturated.  Maybe they just gave up before they found the right agent.

These last two, have broken my spirit a little.  It is beginning to make me want to abandon this foolish plan.  I hate to agree with whoever turned these people down (since that might mean conceding ground to those who turn me down) but I can see the problems.  Please be aware, this particular review is full of spoilers.  I don’t actually recommend this book, but if you plan to read it, you may want to wait to read this.

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When I selected High Heels in NYC by A.V. Scott,  I was torn between fear and hope.  There was a disclaimer stating that many reviews were for a previous edition, and the current edition had been heavily edited.  I was honestly afraid for the state of the previous edition by about the third chapter.  I was aware this was a series book, but I have neglected to finish series before, so I was not worried about that.

When I began reading, I was first struck by the similarities between this story and another series.  Both began with a shoe designer, worried she was pregnant by her boyfriend when she did not wish to be, with a promiscuous actress as a best friend, and both discover the boyfriend was up to no good.  This is where the similarities end.  While one story joins everyone at the beginning, struggling to find success and frequently broke, this book had wealthy and decently successful people.

One of the first major problems I had was a problem of perspective.  The author did not seem to know what story they wanted to tell.  One chapter would be in the first person with the shoe designer, Melissa Del La Rosa, followed by a chapter in the third person about Melissa’s best friend Angelina Stevens, or Angie, the promiscuous movie star with a career that has seen better days.  This change in perspective was slightly jarring, and disrupted the flow of the book.  I’m not always fond of books told in the first person who change voices; switching from first to third and back didn’t make sense and was infinitely worse.

The second large problem had to do with content.  There were so many things going on in this story, it was hard to figure out what exactly the point was.  Who is trying to solve the mysteries?  It is kind of a staple of the mystery genre to have the hero or heroine of the story doing something to figure out what is going on.  I think I was the only one trying to figure anything out here.  There was so much in this book, so many details that didn’t seem to serve a real purpose.  It was as though the mystery was the red herring, the distraction from the soap opera like drama.  Let me explain a little more. 

As the book begins, Melissa is running late to meet her friend for lunch, and worried.  She has taken many, many pregnancy tests, all saying she has a baby coming.  She is from a well off family, waiting for her first foray into New  York Fashion Week, and has a loving fiancé who would be thrilled to have a child.  Angie is waiting for her at the restaurant, watching a younger version of herself flirting with the producer of the movie she had thought could be her comeback as a sexy leading lady.  After lunch, they are walking and spot Melissa’s fiancé in a restaurant with a model, Valerie, a bag from Tiffany’s on the table and giving her a kiss.  Melissa makes a scene, storms out, and ends up in the hospital for a hurt ankle.  While there, Angie finds out about the baby.

Melissa and Angie get in a large fight; Melissa is considering abortion and Angie is against it.  They then do not speak from chapter 5, until chapter 17.  According to my kindle calculator, that is 40% of the book where the two main characters are living separate lives.

During this time, Melissa learns there is some sort of an investing scandal her ex is involved in, apparently taking millions from many influential people.  Melissa goes out drinking heavily with her assistant, in spite of her belief that she is pregnant, and her indecision as to what she wants to do.  I have to admit, that part bothered me a lot.  Yes, she was considering abortion, but if her mind was not made up, she should have acted a little more responsibly.  Melissa also continues to get ready for her fashion week show, and finds out her sister is planning to get married.  Naturally, her sister expects her tell their parents and do all the wedding planning, so Melissa agrees.

Meanwhile, Angie is sleeping with a young stud she met at the gym who thinks he may have real loving feelings for her.  She has decided to go looking for her long lost family, and learned she has a sister, who just so happens to be Valerie, the model who was with her friends fiancé.  Angie also gets a minor role in the film she wanted, and ends up coaching the irritating little version of herself who took the role she wanted.  Almost 60% through the book, Angie’s agent is murdered, and the love of her life shows up.

Confused yet? 

Right as the two are about to reconcile, Melissa finds out the money she thought was safe from her ex has been drained.  She throws herself into her work, trying to deal with news from her doctor, and her desperate need for money.  She faints, and is rushed to the hospital, where her Emergency Contact, Angie is called.  Now, 65% through the book, we find out she was never pregnant.  She had ovarian cancer, and had half of her reproductive organs removed.  I was slightly confused by this; I had heard of cancer giving symptoms women had mistaken for pregnancy, but never heard of a positive pregnancy test revealing cancer.  Apparently, it IS a thing.

We are now over halfway through the book, and nothing has been done to look for the thieving ex, and a murder has only just happened.  A police officer has shown up, but we don’t know that’s who he is until the next chapter when Melissa returns home from the hospital to discover she has been robbed.   Miraculously, they find the date book of the ex, which seems to be filled with cryptic codes.  With not much thought, Melissa turns the book over to a police officer.  She makes no effort to solve the mystery, as is expected in chick lit mysteries. 

Angie goes back to work on her movie, where the love of her life is in charge of the horses on set.  An accident gets the star of the movie hurt, and naturally, Angie is asked to move into the role.  This twit of a star happens to be Valerie the sister’s adopted daughter, and the biological daughter of Angie and the long lost love.  To make their relationships even more complicated, the mutual daughter is now engaged to the young stud Angie was sleeping with at the beginning of the book.  I’m sure there will be NO awkward family dinners here.

Melissa goes to her parents house to deal with her sister’s wedding issues, and is informed that her parents are going to sell her condo in New York.  They are having money problems, and they think her life is an embarrassment, so they are shipping her off to run a business of theirs in Mexico.  Apparently they do not care about her feelings, and she just accepts them treating her like a disobedient child.  Her only request is to let her finish fashion week, and try to make her shoe designing work.  The show is a disaster, and Melissa prepares to be shipped off as the family shame.  On her way out, she stops to deliver the only shoe order she had from her show, to Valerie the sister, only to discover her body in her apartment.  Melissa walks out, not saying anything to anyone and goes to the airport to catch her plane to Mexico.  The police catch up with her at the ticket counter and tell her she is under arrest.

The end.

Yes, that is right.  The end.  The only story they managed conclude in the 209 pages was who Angie’s long lost family was.  You don’t learn what happened to the fiancé, the agent, or the sister.  These people are just gone.  It is book 1, but as of right now, book 2 was not available.  I’m not sure where they are going with series, but it is entirely possible they could have thrown in another hundred or so pages and finished everything quickly and easily.

The cliffhanger was irritating enough, but the hardest thing to deal with was the many, many, many, many side stories.  There were more side stories than actual stories.  As a writer, you are supposed to be brutal with your editing.  It’s hard for all of us to take that pen, or that delete button, and cut things we put in our stories.  Obviously, if something is there, we had a reason for it.  But that doesn’t change the truth; every unnecessary word must go.  A.V. Scott needed to be much more unkind to her own work, and cut the extra crap out. This book was two stories, and should have been done as two separate books.  Book one, the designer with the ex who takes off with all her money while she thinks she is pregnant.  The designer than looks for him, determined to find her money and get her life together for the sake of her baby.  In book two, an aging actress looks for her family trying to find love and connections as she works to put life back into her career.  Tragedy strikes the daughter she put up for adoption, forcing her to reveal her true identity and bringing everyone onto a happy little reunion. 

Both decent book concepts for their respective genres.  Neither would have the additional bogged down feeling this book had, and both would have a conclusion. 

I’m not certain what the errors were that were corrected from the first to the second edition, but I think there is still work that could be done.  Of course I might feel a little better if I had been able to have an end to comfort me.  I can only guess that these two stories will connect completely at some point, but I have no idea how yet.

I cannot recommend this book right now.  Maybe it will be better when the follow up arrives.  For now, I have to give this book, one roadmap to explain the relationships, and a vibrator so you can finish yourself off.  The book sure as hell isn’t going to do it for you.

 

As always, these opinions are my own, and no one else’s.  The characters and plot, are not mine, and belong solely to the author A.V.Scott.  No one paid me to say anything for my commentary on this book, either positive or negative.  While I enjoy rave reviews, they cannot be authentic if I never say anything unkind when it is warranted. I do apologize for any hurt feelings this may cause anyone.  My opinions are not meant to discourage a person from following their dreams.  I hope any negative critique can be taken as advice to improve their book.  As usual, I encourage people to not consider suing me for my opinions.  I am entitled to them, just as you are entitled to hate what I have to say.  Suing me would not get you very far, as I am protected under free speech, and I have nothing worth taking anyway.

With all of that said, I am always looking for new self-published or first novels for review.  If the book is a diamond in the rough, I would love to help in anyway possible.  As long as authors are willing to risk my review process, I am happy accept suggestions for new books and share my opinions.

Taking Notes

When I decided to begin blogging, I purchased a simple desk calendar.  During the first few days, I felt as though I had hundreds of post ideas.  Naturally I couldn’t do them all right away; one hundred posts would take a little while to write out, and probably should be spread out over at least a couple weeks.  I didn’t want to post on one topic exclusively, and then run out of ideas for that topic later.  Early readers would count on my consistent discussions on that one topic that I might discuss extensively for a few days and then never mention again.  I knew I would need some form of organization, and I might as well start off that way.

So I opened my little book and I jotted down a few titles.  I tried to stagger the topics; no more than one introspective piece, one exercise piece, or one creative bragging piece a week. This would keep topics from pooling, and it could help to force me to think a little harder on a topic if I didn’t have anything to say that week.  The initial jotting down gave me a decently full schedule for the first month, with a few stragglers moving into the next month.  When something delayed a scheduled post, I could simply slip it in the next available slot.   It seemed like it would work well, and if I tried to keep a plan at least two weeks out, I wouldn’t sit in front of my computer in the morning with absolutely no inspiration. 

This morning, unfortunately, proved that the plan is not fool proof.  I sat down, knowing I had a post scheduled.  I opened my book, and looked at the title. 

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Stretching.  Hmm.  Stretching.  I waited for the memory of the post to return to me. 

Stretching.  It is not uncommon for me to plan something running related on Wednesdays.  Stretching.  I have faded a little away on stretching my muscles during a cool down.  This was one of my foot pain theories. 

Stretching.  I have felt a little stretched thin lately.  Writing, editing, sending letters, schoolwork, housework, family, and frequent trips to the Laundromat.  Maybe I meant to write about stretching past my limits? 

Stretching.  Stretching.  I do get a little jealous when I watch my dog stretch.  She seems to achieve a deep, full body, satisfying stretch the moment she gets up from her frequent naps.  Stretching.

Stretching.  It almost doesn’t even look like a real word anymore.  Stretching.  Maybe I am stretching the English language when I write?

Unfortunately nothing seems to be triggering the original idea.  I honestly have no idea what I meant to write.  It could have been a deep and insightful commentary on modern life.  It could have been a silly thought equating motherhood to the necessity of stretching into many roles.  I really have no idea.  I suppose this is why they tell writers to never go anywhere without a notebook; take notes on everything, because you will not remember as well as you think you will. 

Someday it might come back to me.  I will be sitting in a waiting room, or driving to the store, maybe lying in bed, and stretching will suddenly make perfect sense.  Next time, I think I’m going to write it down better.  Or maybe, the idea of learning from my mistakes is where I am stretching.  Hmm.  Stretching. 

In My Experience

I don’t think I have hidden my love of reading and writing.  I never go anywhere without something to read, and when I finish a book I have a tendency to wander around, slightly lost as if I don’t know what to do with my life anymore.  Usually when that happens, it is because the writing itself is magnificent.  I’m not talking about the story, or the characters, but all of the small details that make you feel as though you are there.  I’m talking about knowing how something feels in the characters hands, knowing how something smells or tastes or sounds.  I’m talking about the writing that turns the novel into a full sensory experience. 

This is usually my goal as I set a scene, particularly if I am making up a place or time.  It is one thing to say my character lives in San Francisco and can see the Golden Gate Bridge from their house.  Many people have been to San Francisco, and even those who haven’t are very likely to know what the bridge looks like.  There isn’t much else to say.  However, if I am making up a magical land, the reader would not have an idea what anything looks like.  Is the grass still green?  What do their houses look like?  Do they have indoor plumbing, or is there the stench of unwashed bodies and sewage?  These are details that can either bog down the story if over done, or draw the reader into the world of the novel if contained at the proper levels.

The question is, how do writers do it?  How do other writers create descriptions of things they have never seen or done?  I’ve never lived in a magical land, and (fortunately) I have always lived in a place with wonderful modern sanitation practices.  I could describe the smell in the same way I would a teenagers bedroom; one part sweat, two parts dirty socks, and one part rotting food.  It might not technically be the same thing, but it is slightly close. 

I imagine there are many things where I could draw on other experiences to fill in the blanks.  I run, I cook, I clean.  I fell in love, and I have had my heart broken.  I took kickboxing classes in the past.  It was more for fitness, but I know how it feels to hit the bag and meet resistance.  I have never been in a knife fight, but I do have a small collection of daggers.  I sharpen them with a stone once a week, and am well acquainted with the feel of the knives in my hand, or in their sheath on my hip.  I have a set of throwing knives, and while I am not great, I know how it feels to aim and release the knife, waiting for it to hit its target.  I took archery lessons briefly; while it was long enough ago some of the memory has faded, I can still remember the pull of the string.  I can describe these things easily, because they are familiar. I have experience here.

But how do I write about that which I haven’t done?  I have always wanted to learn to sword fight, but I have never held a sword, and wondered if this was the battle I would lose.  I’ve never held a gun, or had a gun pointed at me.  I’ve sat on a horse before, but I’ve never ridden across an open field, wind whipping through my hair.  I know the feel of my knives well, but I don’t know the feel of slicing through flesh, and knowing this was the cut that would end a life.  I’ve never jumped out of an airplane and hoped that the parachute would open, or even worse, hoped I could catch the person falling before me who has a parachute when I don’t.  There are so many things I just haven’t done. 

Some of these things are not experienced for practical reasons.  I don’t really want to have my life in someone else’s hands if I can help it.  I don’t want to spend the money to buy a gun just to know how it feels in my hand.  I want to try skydiving, but I have a paralyzing fear of heights and do not want to risk falling through any substances that may come out of my body when fear overtakes me in the air.

And what is my alternative?  To describe things based on someone else’s words?  What if they don’t know any more than I do?  I can only assume that not every mystery or horror writer has killed someone, just to know how it would feel.  Does that mean I don’t need experience to create an authentic feel?

I know I like having something real to draw on, but I think I have written good descriptions without it.  I’m really wondering how you feel.  How important is personal experience in creating fictional experiences?

Five Things About the Laundromat

My schedule this last week has been a little off.  My washer decided to start playing dead about three weeks ago, and so far I have gone through two repairman visits only to determine the problem is most likely something to do with the water and the pipes in the laundry room.  This means I am now waiting on a new repairman to come and fix everything.  My landlord was kind enough to stop by and check on me.  That is kind of her thing.  She made certain to have our phone number in case she needs anything, but she never calls, she just stops by.  (There is almost a complete guarantee that she will arrive on my doorstep if I am in my scraggiest sweats with a messy house.)  This policy of stopping by announced extends to repairmen she sends over.  There is never any warning, just a knock on the door and the expectation that I can stay while they do their business.  The final effect of this is I have no idea when this plumber will arrive or how long I will be without a washer.

In the mean time, I get to spend some quality time at the Laundromat.  There aren’t very many in the area I live, but I choose to drive twice as far to find one that costs a third of the price and has a couple of American stores nearby.  (I know the American stores thing may be weird, but if you live in a country away from your native land for any period of time, there are certain things you miss and will go out of your way to find again.)  This forty-five minute drive, combined with the minimum 90 minutes of washing clothes means I am looking at 4-5 hours of my day dealing with laundry instead of my normal routine of switching loads around as I do other, more entertaining things.  There can be some advantages, however overall I am not a fan of spending my time airing my dirty laundry in public.

Here are five things from my recent (and as yet continuing) time at the Laundromat.

 

1. Quiet Time

When I plan my time at the Laundromat, I always make sure to bring something to do.  I will have some time in between putting the first load in the washer to taking the last load out of the dryer.  Depending on how much I have and how many people are there, that time can be anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours.  This time must be spent doing something.  I always bring a book, sometimes I bring homework, occasionally I will bring a notebook for story notes.  I never bring my laptop, as I know I will not get any actual writing done, no matter how much I need to get through.  I always have the good intentions to use the things I bring, however I rarely do.  Mostly this is due to the interesting people.

2. Interesting People

It never seems to fail me.  I want to ignore everyone else at the Laundromat and read my book, but there is always one person who just wants to talk.  I can’t help it.   My mother taught me to be polite, which occasionally means having conversations with people when I would rather put my headphones in and ignore them.  Sometimes the people are nice and fun.  Sometimes they are looking for help and information in an area that is new for them.  Sometimes they are just plain rude and I curse my mother for teaching me to be the better person and not tell them exactly where they can stick their opinions.  Sometimes it takes an extreme amount of self control to resist the impulse to start a cat fight in the Laundromat.  I’m pretty sure I was close to biting a piece of my tongue off when another mother began her tirade on public education and how she is just as good of a teacher for her children because you can completely base a homeschool curriculum on Pintrest.  (This is a sore spot.  My mother is a teacher, and I am currently working on my Masters of Education.  I like Pintrest.  I think teachers both post and use some great stuff on Pintrest.  I do not think looking at Pintrest and saying “Hey that’s cool!” is the same as planning age appropriate learning objectives.  Indicating it is the exact same thing is disrespectful to all of the teachers who work so hard to plan and carryout lesson plans all year.)

3. Tighty Whiteys

We all wear underwear.  Well, most of us anyway.  It’s not a secret, and it is not shameful.  However, it is incredibly awkward to have a random guy talking to you while he is folding his stained tighty whiteys.  Where do you look?  I can’t look at the underwear, because then I am staring at his underwear.  I can’t look at my own underwear, because then he might start looking there too.  I can’t make eye contact, because then I am staring into his eyes as he plays with his underwear.  Please.  Either stuff your underwear in the bottom of your basket for later, or pause the conversation.

4. Washer Hogs

Some places have very strict policies about how many washers you can use at a time, or how you should deal with items that are left behind.  Our last base maintained a two washer at a time policy.  You could break the policy if things weren’t busy, but you ran the risk of being kicked out if business picked up and you were using too many washers.  Here, there does not seem to be any hard and fast rule, so I try to use common sense and manners.  If no one is there, I use no more than half the washers at a time (it’s a small place, so it’s not that many.)  This means if someone else comes in, they can get started also.  It might mean I take a little longer to run a second batch of loads, but I feel like a better person.  Others do not seem to have that belief and will boldly say they don’t care, they got there first.  It makes me feel like the kid who was a little to slow to the swing set all over again; I’m watching, waiting for a turn, knowing I might be there for a while.  Please people, if you are planning on using every washer, at least go early in the morning, or late at night.  Don’t go during the peak business hours of the day.

5. Forgotten Socks

I kind of love the forgotten items at the Laundromat, mostly because they are never mine.  Sometimes it is the sad and lonely sock, sitting on the washer, wondering if anyone will ever come back.  Other times, it is a full load of laundry, sitting in a washer, unclaimed by it’s owner.  Last week it was a large blue and brown comforter, sitting in a basket.  It is very rare to solve the mystery of the lost laundry, but sometimes you find out to whom it belongs.  I was fortunate enough to see the owner of said blanket come and claim it last week, and let me tell you, I was excited to know the truth.  Someone who worked next door had been washing their bedding while they worked, and had had a family emergency forcing them to abandon their items.  Two days later (when I was there) they came back to claim it.  It was such a minor thing, but I felt like Sherlock Holmes solving a murder.  It made my boring, laundry washing day.

How to Dress Your Sweats, So You Don’t Feel Like a Bum

I don’t read a lot of blogs.  There are many things in this world I want to read, and I do not have time to read them all.  The only solution is to try to maintain a level of quality.  (I don’t think everyone should work to maintain the level I do, simply because it might mean no one reads my blog anymore.)  There are a few things I look for when I start reading a blog before I determine if I am coming back. 

The writer needs to have personality.  I want more than a picture or a how to.  I want to see clever quips, creativity, and mistakes.  I’m not reading a blog because the writer is perfect, I read because they are delightfully human.

The writer needs to be passionate.  I want to know why they do what they do.  I want them sharing because it is important to them, not simply because they will get paid by a business for talking about their stuff.  They should believe in what they say.

The writer needs to have a respect for language.  No one is perfect.  Sometimes a sentence just sounds better when it is grammatically incorrect.  However, it only takes a minute to proofread for obvious spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors.  Take the minute.  And never claim to have swag, or call your pictures selfies.  Just don’t.

I don’t think these simple rules are too much to ask from bloggers.  I’ll read on many different topics, as long as I like the writer.  I read other writers.  I read crafters.  I even read a few style blogs.  I don’t have to do everything they do to enjoy what they say.

Lately I have considered skipping the style section of my reading.  I know that must surprise you.  I am certain that as you read this, you are picturing me sitting at a neat and tidy desk, wearing a stylish and expensive suit.  Not a hair is out of place, and my make up is naturally perfect.  I know I project the image of an intelligent professional.  (Okay, fine, I can hear your laughter.)  The truth is, I am currently wearing my pajamas. 

Let’s be honest.  I stay at home.  When my children are at school, I am cleaning, exercising, or sitting in front of my computer.  After my children return home, I am helping with homework, cooking dinner, and getting kids ready for bed.  I have no reason to dress up.  I could wear a suit to do my writing, but the only person around is my dog.  Lucy doesn’t care what I wear as long as she gets to sit in my lap occasionally, and her belly rubs are on time.  There is no point in wearing a cute dress to scrub a toilet.  So I wear sweats.  A lot.  More than I should.

It’s easy to feel lazy when you are wearing sweats.  When the day is spent dressed for a nap, it’s hard to force yourself to work.  Dressing for comfort makes it tempting to spend the day doing whatever comforts you, including but not limited to, reading all day, watching full seasons on Netflix, or consuming full batches of brownies.

Instead I have developed a few simple strategies to dress my sweats so that I am comfortable, but I do not feel like a bum.

1. Shower. 

I know, this should be obvious.  Even if you are planning to stay home all day typing at your computer, get clean.  You will instantly feel more alive.

2. Sweat.

If you can’t or are choosing not to shower instantly, do some sort of workout.  Nothing makes sweats look useful more than actually breaking a sweat.  Use those yoga pants as they were intended.  Use your trainers to actually train.  Exercise will get your blood moving, give you a chance to think, clear your mind, and make your sweats look intentional.  You are no longer dressed like a bum, you are a busy person who found time for their health.

3. Make an effort.

Do your hair, put on make up (you know, if you normally would), add some perfume.  Make yourself look like you could go out, as soon as you get dressed.  If you feel a little more ready to face other humans, you won’t feel as badly sitting in a dark room hoping you don’t have to see them.

4. Accessorize.

Throw on a scarf, wear earrings.  Maybe wear the jacket that matches your pants.  Cover your unwashed hair with a cute hat.  Add a small touch that makes you feel like you tried, even if you actually got dressed in the dark.

5. Wear a nicer top. 

I might be wearing the sweats with the bleach stains and the hole in an awkward place, but when I wear a nicer sweater I feel a little more put together.  If your pants are scraggy, your top should be all the nicer to make up for it.  Nothing says grown up and serious like a cardigan.  It doesn’t seem to work as well to wear a ratty, holey shirt with slacks, but you do you.  If that is your style, go with it.

 

Of course, as I am choosing to wear sweats at home, maybe I don’t care what anyone thinks when they stop by unannounced.  But dressing up isn’t about what others think when they come by.  Making myself look a little nicer is a way to show myself I am important.  If you feel good about yourself in one way, it can spread into other areas of your life.  If I feel good as I sit, I will focus more on my writing, and have a better chance of writing something of quality.

Hmmm.  Maybe I should change from these pajamas, and try this post again.

Mourning

I haven’t spoken to my father since I was sixteen years old. 

I remember the conversation well, though there was no meaning to the words we shared.  He called the house, and I answered the phone. 

“Hello?” I asked. 

“Is Ben there?”

“Yeah, hang on.”  I turned from the phone.  “Ben!  Phone!”

My brother came into the room to take the phone from me.  As he placed the phone to his ear, I could hear the last words I ever heard my father speak.

“Who was that?”

 I’m not sure how he didn’t recognize my voice.  We hadn’t spoken in at least a year before that moment, but I do sound like my mother.  You would think he would remember his ex-wife’s voice.  My brother told me later he thought I might have been a girlfriend.  He still had two sons living with my mother; perhaps he had forgotten about his youngest child.  It’s not like it was a secret he had never wanted me.  Though, to be fair, I am the youngest of eight children, and the third to be born using supposedly highly effective birth control.  I didn’t take the rejection personally.

In truth, I don’t have many memories of my father. 

I remember going to a father daughter dance on my twelfth birthday, wearing matching lavender bandanas around our necks.  

I remember dancing around his house listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks on a Walkman while dusting shelves with a feather duster. 

I remember attending a wedding, though I don’t think it was his.  The wedding itself is a blur, but I remember wanting desperately to wear a pink straw hat, and my mother concerned that I would draw attention to my frequently messy and tangled hair when I started playing.

I remember standing in a room, my sister holding me, and my father holding a suitcase.  I know it was the day he left, but I didn’t realize it at the time.  All I knew was that everyone was very sad.

And I remember the last words he said.  “Who was that?”

I guess you can tell we didn’t have a close relationship. 

I used to think he was amazing.  He was my Daddy, even if I didn’t see him everyday like other people did.  As I got older, I began to see he wasn’t everything I used to think he was.  He wasn’t the father who deeply loved his kids, and would deeply love it if we could live with him.  He was a man who didn’t think of us much, except when he needed something.

I think that was the point when I became angry.  I guess it’s what all girls do when they realize they will never have the love and affection they want from their father.  You can’t get blood from a stone; you can’t get love from an absentee father.  Instead, you get angry.  You wonder what is wrong with you that made him not want you.  You hate him, not because he is gone, but because he still somehow has the power to hurt you.

A year after I was married, sitting at home with my six month old daughter, I received an email from him.  Someone had told him I was living two hours away from him with his grandchild.  He said he wanted to get to know my husband and daughter.  I was shocked.  He hadn’t wanted to know me, but he wanted to know the people who were important to me?  If I hadn’t already been going through a phase of hating him, that might have pushed me over the edge. 

I ignored the email.  I didn’t mean to.  I intended to think about what to say, and answer.  However, I never thought of a single thing to say to him.

Eventually the anger faded.  I’m sure you would expect me to say it was part of my natural maturing process.  Maybe say that I outgrew my fury from being a little lost girl.  The truth is, I worked hard to let it go.  There was no therapy, not even a profound moment that caused me to rethink my feelings.  I just woke up one day and realized I needed to let all of that pain go.  I needed to forgive the people who I felt had wronged me because the only person I was hurting was myself.  I was slowly drinking poison, waiting for my enemies to die.  It doesn’t work like that.

Somehow the lost girl, the one who wondered why she was so unlovable, had learned to accept her father for who he was.  He was the boy who never grew up.  He wasn’t a cute Disney version of Peter Pan, but he wasn’t the evil Once Upon a Time version either.  He was simply someone who thought about himself more than others.  It was a character flaw that drove away many people in his life.  But it was also not my fault, or my problem.

When he sent me a friend request a few years ago, I accepted without much thought.  I didn’t send him a message, and he never sent me one.  Mostly he sent me requests for items in Farmville.  It didn’t give us the close relationship I once craved, but it allowed me to feel as though I had redeemed myself slightly.  The first time he reached out, I wasn’t there.  The second time, I was.  It never lead to a tearful family reunion, but it allowed me to prove to myself that he no longer held the same power over me he once had.  This time, when he was back in my life but not as a father, I wasn’t broken.  I had accepted who he was, and who I was.  The anger was gone.

I’m sure by now you are wondering why I chose to air my daddy issues.  Last night, my mother called at two o’clock in the morning.  The time difference between California and Belgium still trips her up sometimes, so she was hoping it wasn’t the middle of the night.  My father died; we’re not sure when, and we’re not sure how.  Sometime with the last two months, the health issues he had had for years caught up with him, and he passed.  No one was notified.  One of his brother’s heard someone by that name might have died; a little research confirmed it, but that was all we knew.

It’s only been seven hours since I received the call.  I keep thinking I should cry.  When I lost my brother, I shut down, with my brain only half functioning for several days.  So far, I haven’t managed a single tear.  It feels wrong; he helped to bring me into this world, and yet I can’t manage to cry over his death.  I guess it is because I mourned his passing a long time ago. 

He was never the father I wanted.  I never really knew the man he was, not really.  When I accepted that my anger wasn’t helping, I mourned the man I wanted him to be.  I mourned for the man who wasn’t there for my ballet recital, the man who never made it to a single school play, the man who never read a single thing I wrote.  I mourned for the father I could have had, and the man I never knew.  I can’t cry, because that man died almost a decade ago.

I’m not sure if there was a funeral, or if there will be a memorial service.  Other members of his family have not let go the way I did.  There is still a lot of anger and hurt.  I guess that’s why no one was notified; there was no one left who cared.  If I was going to cry over anything, it would the idea of someone dying, old and alone, not knowing who would care enough to pick up the phone and accept the news.  I’d like to think I would have picked up the phone.  Who knows, maybe there would still be a part of me afraid of hearing those words again; Who was that?

Maybe I’m not as healed as I thought.

Getting Speed

I have a confession to make.  I am a terribly slow writer.  Unless of course you are a prospective agent reading my blog.  Then I am quick, efficient and will not ever have any trouble meeting deadlines.  But for the rest of you, on an average day, I write quite slowly.

I’m not certain why it is that I write the way I do.  When I am typing at top speed I average between 60 and 70 words per minute, with sixty being errorless, and 70 having 98% accuracy.  (Okay, I do speed typing tests in my spare time.  I’m a writing nerd.  I accept this.)  This doesn’t give me the quickest fingers at the keyboard, but it is slightly above the average speed of 38-40 words per minute.  (Again, writing nerd.  It’s cool.  Nerd’s are sexy.)  I have the potential to type 3,600 words per hour. 

So if it is not due to my typing speed, what is my problem?  

As far as I can tell, I have two key issues which make my writing slow.  The first, is my slight tendency to be a perfectionist.  I have mentioned before, I hate typos, and I hate leaving the writing when it doesn’t sound right.  This means occasionally, I will retype a sentence completely in order to change the spelling error at the beginning.  I know I could mouse over the error, but usually by the time I remember I am creating needless work by deleting everything, I am halfway done.  Don’t try to change me.  It also means I may choose to rewrite a sentence, paragraph, page or even chapter repeatedly until I get it right.  I like to think these quirks mean I end up with a high quality first draft, but I suppose that would depend on the reader.  I can say with certainty, I tend to turn in first draft papers to school and receive 100% credit.  (Fine, I will wear a large cardboard sign saying nerd for the rest of the post.)  I still work to revise my novel continuously, but I don’t usually feel the need to do a complete overhaul.  I may eat those words one day when an editor tears apart my manuscript.

My other issue tends to be distraction.  I am distracted by all sorts of shiny objects; a good song, changing the laundry, taking the dog out, my phone beeping a new email or tweet, lunch time.  Anything really can pull me away from the keyboard for a few minutes, no matter how well the writing is going that day.  Even when everything is splendid, I am writing quickly and I know it is going well, I still get the need to get up and walk around.  I’m just going to make a cup of coffee.  And change the laundry.  And maybe make a quick snack.  And take Lucy out.  But I am coming right back. 

There is one distraction that does keep me away for a while.  Inspiration.

I know what you are thinking.  What?  How can inspiration keep you from writing?  That’s craziness. 

Please, hear me out before you condemn me.

I always had a desire to be a writer, but I never had or took the time to focus on my writing as much as I have over the last year.  When my focus shifted, placing my creative pursuits in the forefront of my daily life, inspiration seemed to flow regularly.  I couldn’t seem to finish a project without ideas for many new ones spinning in my mind.  For some things, such as quilting, it was easy to keep moving.  I can finish a quilt within a couple of weeks when I truly wish to.  In between, I could sketch and graph out the plans to make the next quilt. 

When it comes to writing, I can be working on a first draft for six months or more.  That is enough time to have ideas for many other novels.  Ideas that I do not want to forget.  They come from various places.  Sometimes it’s a song, or maybe a conversation.  Occasionally, it’s a crazy dream, with one part that might make a good scene in a story, even if the rest is the ravings of a madwoman.  So, I write them down, no matter what I am doing. 

At first these ideas were kept in a computer file.  Some were just a quick tagline, others a slightly detailed plot.  They spanned many different genres, romance, paranormal, fantasy, horror, though they would all one day live within the spectrum of midgrade, young adult and new adult books.  Most of these were beginnings of an idea and no where near ready to consider writing.  Others, might as well have been fully formed and playing on repeat in my mind.  I couldn’t type fast enough to get these ideas out before a new one came along to join it.

I was beginning to worry I would forget the important details before I would have time to write them down completely.  The only possible solution was to begin writing the story out immediately.  It didn’t matter that the novel I was working on wasn’t done, or that a sequel was needed for another one.  This new story was the only one that mattered.  At least until I was halfway through and a new idea was begging to be written.  With the steady flow of inspiration, I should have been writing consistent masterpieces.  Instead I was beginning to acquire a pile of half finished novels, surrounded by half baked ideas.  I needed to do something.

I stumbled upon Denise Jaden’s blog.  Many writers participate in NaNoWrMo, using November to attempt to complete a novel and get themselves one step closer to achieving their goals.  On her website, Denise Jaden had a outline to help writers organize their thoughts.  Theoretically, this will then make it possible to churn out their novel with speedy ease.  How hard can it be once you have the basic plot, the characters, the conflict, the setting, even important scenes drafted in one quick and easy spot? 

So I started trying it for some of my slightly more developed ideas.  Now I have three outlined novels, twelve half baked ideas, and three half finished novels. 

I’m not certain if I have actually made progress.  During the outline process, I did have a few brilliant insights into the potential of the story.  Now, I am excited to write all three of these novels.  Unfortunately I am also honor bound to fulfill my goal of completing the projects I have already begun.  I want desperately to know if using this quick writing technique will be helpful in increasing my productivity.  Normally, I take my idea and just start writing.  I know where I am, and I know where I plan to be in the end, so I just take the journey.  Recently I have been tempted to write out my half finished projects using this outline plan and see what happens.

I know this post is beginning to look like another of my half baked ideas.  Maybe it is.  It is possible I need to start using an outline model for my blog. 

How do my fellow writers feel?  How do you write, by the seat of your pants, or with a carefully constructed plan?  Have you ever outlined a story you were halfway finished with?