Throwing Caution to the Wind

May 15th, 2019 11:43 AM

Yesterday, I did something wildly optimistic. I should preface this story by saying that I do believe that I am an optimistic person in general. I’m no Pollyanna, mind you, but I choose to look for the upside in the day to day challenges and the occasional larger grenades life throws at me.

There is one area of my life that I am not an optimist, however. Trying to launch a career in writing. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Ever since I was little, and learned to fall in love with books, I knew I wanted to be the person who wrote a book someone else would fall in love with.

I grew up in a practical middle-class family with a mother who warned me against pursuing a career that would be difficult to succeed in. These are a few of the statements she’d often make: “Very few make it.” “It’s a long-shot.” “Pursue it as a hobby but go into something that will let you take care of yourself if you need to.”

This was actually very good advice. All of it was true, including needing to support myself. When I went to college, I took as many writing courses as I could cram into my English requirements, but my major was Communications. I did pair it with an English minor with a writing emphasis, instead of Marketing like my advisor suggested.

I didn’t end up going into Communications but I did find a career I enjoyed, was well-suited for and allowed me to take care of myself and my son when I needed to. Writing took a backseat to life. I still did it, but only for my own consumption. I never submitted my work anywhere to be published.

A year ago, I decided to get serious about finishing the novel I started in 2001. I entered into one on one coaching with a published author, Kathie Giorgio. I joined a class with her small company, AllWriters’ Workshop &Workplace. I wrote, I revised, I critiqued. I made writing a priority for the first time in my life and I loved it.

I also learned that it’s very helpful to have short works – poetry or short stories – published before trying to publish a novel. I struggled with this for close to nine months. I am not a short story writer. I’ve tried, but they end up too big. I have works-in-progress that started out as short stories and are now sixty pages into being a novel.

I have written poetry, but only for myself. I suspect it’s terrible since I don’t know much about how to write poetry. I do have this blog, where I basically write short memoirs, but they’re written informally and again, for myself, so I wasn’t optimistic that they’d be a candidate for publication anywhere.

After almost a year in coaching, my book is now completed. I’m finishing up my last few revisions and I will be ready to start the process of trying to get it published within a few weeks. The pressure to get something small published, so I have some publication credit that’s recent, was mounting. (I have publication credits but they are from twenty-five years ago when I was doing some freelance writing for magazines and such.)

Two weeks ago, I found an online site which was looking for stories about moms to be submitted for their May issue. I thought about my blog and when I wrote about my mom going into hospice care two years ago. I combined a couple of blog entries from that time, made a few changes and sent it off as a short memoir submission. Normally, I would have my writing coach review it and give feedback before I’d submit anything, but I didn’t have time as the deadline to submit was just a few days away.

The day the site was going to publish the stories came and went and I didn’t hear anything from them. I’d pretty much forgotten about it until I received an email yesterday telling me my story was published on their site. What?!

I immediately went to look and there it was, my words with a photo they’d chosen to complement the story. It’s on a site called The Story Pub. I actually published something. And not a newspaper article, but something creative that was born out of my experience, not recounting someone else’s. This is a first for me.

It. Was. So. Cool.

When I told my husband about it, he asked me if I got paid for it. That wasn’t so cool at all. That’s a blog topic for another day, though.

Even though I didn’t make money for getting my story published, it feels pretty great to think that someone else liked something I wrote enough to put it on their literary website. So what’s the wildly optimistic thing I did yesterday? It’s a little thing, something I wouldn’t normally think twice about, but yesterday, it was meaningful to me. I created a new folder in my outlook inbox entitled, Acceptance letters.

            I’m hoping and anticipating that there will be more.

acceptance

12:30 PM

Sunday Morning Moment

February 24th, 2019 10:40 AM

I think it’s hard to be happy when you know others are suffering. Which makes it extremely hard to be happy in our world today. Politics aside, there are so many people hurting in our country and abroad.

Parents purchase backpacks lined with Kevlar for their children in an attempt to offer some sort of protection, even if just psychological, against the numerous school shootings we live with now.

Wars and violence turn millions of families into refugees, forced to give up everything for a chance to live and to ensure their children have a future.

Natural disasters strike without warning and people lose their homes and their lives. There’s illness and suffering and death. Some I know personally, some I do not, but I feel for them all, regardless.

It feels like one almost has to be unfeeling to be happy in this world. To put up a wall of Teflon to block out all the pain that we know surrounds us every day. There’s a high price to that strategy, though, because Teflon isn’t discriminating. It blocks out everything, pain AND joy, leaving just a flat surface that nothing or no one can penetrate.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure there is one. For me, it’s enjoying the good in the moments, even when those moments are woven with sorrow and worry and loss which are a part of life.

This Sunday morning, a cold, windy, no-sun gray Wisconsin day, I sat down to write in my warm house, with my husband and my pets around me, and I felt incredibly happy and at peace. The world is a hard place now, harder than it’s been during my lifetime, I think, but this moment in my life is good in spite of it.

I am lucky. I am aware. I am grateful.

cat tree

Three cats enjoying the cat tree earlier this week we actually saw the sun for a few hours.

11:04 AM

Happiness in the Form of Bananas?

February 19th, 2019 9:28 AM

It’s been a rough winter for those of us living in the Midwest. In the past month we’ve seen several snow storms that dropped over 10″ of snow each, two back to back ice storms and a polar vortex system unlike any we’ve seen before. For several days our high daily temperatures were -25 degree with wind chills in the -50’s. Not fun.

To make matters worse, Dennis was traveling for work during the weeks when most of the crappy weather hit. Not that I’m not capable of handling crappy weather on my own. I am. But, somehow, crappy weather doesn’t seem quite so crappy when there’s someone else stuck in the house with you to commiserate with. There’s a reason that old adage, “Misery loves company” has survived. It’s true.

Aside from the crappy weather, it’s personally been a bit of a challenging winter. A relative that my mother was estranged from for the last decade, but whom I’ve been debating reaching out to for the past few years, passed away unexpectedly after Christmas. I guess I shouldn’t have waited to reach out.  Now the reason I hesitated, because I was embarrassed that I didn’t keep in contact with her after my mother severed their relationship, seems silly. I should have just told her the truth, that I lost track of her because I was busy working and being a single mother. Not a good excuse for sure, but better than her thinking I was following my mom’s lead and severing the relationship, too.

Another ending that happened this winter, is also a beginning, so it checks both the loss and anxious check-boxes in my psyche. I’m finishing up with the coaching and revising on my novel. Which is a good thing, of course, and what I set out to do last summer. However, that means it’s time for me to start a new novel and with that comes the unknown. Which I hate. You’d think being an author would give you the ultimate control to manipulate your characters into doing whatever you want them to do. You’re their master, their god, and the decision-maker of their destinies.

Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s true that authors create characters and breathe life into them, but after that, the characters take it from there. You can put them in different situations and conflicts and they’ll handle them the way they want, not the way you want. And if you try force it, to say, try to stick to your outline that you foolishly created when you thought you actually controlled the creative process, they’ll dig their heels in and refuse to obey. My book stalled for a year and half because I was forcing a male and female character to be romantically involved. Eventually, I couldn’t move forward in any part of the plot because their relationship wasn’t working. Once I cut over a hundred pages, and changed the nature of their relationship, I came to find out that the male character in the relationship was gay. Well, no wonder it wasn’t working! Once I sorted that out, the characters played nicely together for the rest of the book and plot continued on. I never looked at the outline again.

Now I have to go through that all over again with a new book and new characters. It’s kind of like getting divorced and starting over in a new relationship, trying to build a life and a new family. It’s hard. And awkward and I miss my old, familiar characters.

And how does all this relate to bananas, you ask? After all, the title of this blog entry is Happiness in the Form of Bananas? Today, in midst of my winter doldrums filled with loss and angst and heavy dose of cabin-fever, I received an unexpected bunch of bananas. Not just one or two bananas, but a large bunch of bananas. Much larger than I would ever buy seeing as how bananas are one of Dennis’ top three things he will never ever eat, right up there with sauerkraut and horseradish. When I buy bananas, I buy one or two at a time for myself.

Today I received an order from Peapod, the grocery delivery service. I don’t use them often, but the ground lamb I buy for Charlie’s dog food is four dollars cheaper a pound through Peapod than it is at the grocery store. Considering I buy it in ten pound increments, it’s a significant savings. Since I’m paying for delivery anyway from Peapod, when I order the lamb, I order a few more things for us, too.

Included in today’s meat-laden order (I got 20 pounds of lamb today because it was on sale) there was this lovely bunch of organic bananas.

bananas

I called Peapod and told them I received some one else’s bananas, but instead of sending the driver back for them, which I expected, they told me to keep them. Well, that’s kind of cool, I thought. But what am I going to do with all these bananas?

And then the creativity began to flow. Strawberry banana smoothies? Or how about banana bread? With walnuts and fresh butter? Yum. No, I know! Banana cupcakes with chocolate frosting! That’s it. Yummy and easily frozen in single portions since Dennis won’t eat them. The perfect treat.

Did I mention that Dennis and I have been dieting this winter? Nothing cheers a person up on gray, cold winter day like eating a piece of damned steamed fish. These bananas were a gift. A sign to shrug off the caloric restraints for a moment and go play in the kitchen. Psychotic rationalization of someone who’s tired of being perpetually hungry for a month? Quite possibly. Do I care? Not even a little bit.

So, on this 26 degree morning which is actually sunny and warm, (yes, I now consider 26 degrees a warm day), instead of working on the new book or finishing my revision on the old book, I’m researching banana cupcake recipes which I will bake this afternoon and consume happily later today. Probably before dinner. And then again after dinner.

Thank you, Peapod.

February 19, 2019. 10:22 PM

 

Thanks, Mr. Simons

October 14, 2018 5:51 PM

This weekend, I finished reading a book I started in 1983. It wasn’t even a long book, either. Just a mere 204 pages; but it took me thirty-five years to read it.

Yesterday afternoon, after eating Chinese food from a new restaurant, I inadvertently ate something with either Oyster sauce or Fish sauce. I’m allergic to both, as in it makes my chest tight and makes it hard to breathe as if I’m having asthma, but it’s not asthma. It’s the allergy. So far, knock on wood, when this happens I’ve been able to counter-act the reaction with Benedryl. Sometimes it takes one pill, sometimes it takes two. Yesterday afternoon was a two-Benedryl reaction.

One Benedryl makes me sleepy but I can still navigate the day. Two pills puts me out for hours. Which it did yesterday afternoon, for close to three hours. This is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Last night, around 11:30 pm, I was nowhere near tired to sleep, but I was tired of tv and video games and I didn’t feel like reading the book I’ve been reading, Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. It’s a light, fluffy, fantasy story that’s fine to pass the time for awhile. I just wasn’t in the mood to read it, though.

I was in the mood to read an actual book-book, something with actual paper pages as opposed to my kindle which I use most the time. As I perused my bookcase, I happened upon a book, the book, that I started in 1983. A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

I remember very clearly starting the book in Guided Independent Reading class with Mr. Simons. I loved that class so much that I took it twice (we weren’t allowed to take it three times, or else I would have). All that was required in the class was to pick classic novels from a list, read them in class and have a conversation with Mr. Simon about them when the books were done. That was it. No papers, no essays, no tests. Just a dedicated 50 minutes of reading books of my choice for an entire semester. Did I mention how much I loved that class?

I have to admit, I was a pretty lousy student in high school (okay, and as an undergraduate in college, too). I got by with mediocre grades, putting in as little effort as I could give and still get a C or better. I don’t remember all that much about a lot of the classes I took, but I still remember many of the books I read for Mr. Simon. Lord of Flies, The Good Earth, Green Mansions (I had to keep from crying on the school bus as I finished that one) A Farewell to Arms, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and my all time favorite book, then and now, A Catcher in the Rye. 

Fresh off my reading a Catcher in the Rye, Mr. Simons suggested that I might enjoy another coming-of-age story called A Separate Peace. I enthusiastically agreed and I couldn’t wait to start the book. After several class periods, I couldn’t wait to put the book down. It was slow, it was wordy and I hated it. Absolutely hated it.

We weren’t supposed to exchange books we didn’t like in the class, but every so often, Mr. Simon would agree if we really hated a book. I only swapped out two books in the two times I took the class. A Separate Peace was the first. Catch-22 was the second.

Throughout the years, I’ve returned to the classics I loved, and read a few new ones. One boss I worked for had a beautiful collection of leather-bound Classics with pages edged in gold. The paper was of the highest quality and the books came with their own ribbon bookmarks. The smell when I cracked open one of those books is indescribable. It is the best new-book scent that I’ve ever smelled. She loaned me a few of these books and they were an absolute joy to read. I reacquainted myself with Lieutenant Henry and Catherine from A Farewell to Arms while reading one of those marvelous books. (I didn’t borrow many of them from her because I was always afraid I’d spill on them.)

At one point in the past thirty-five years, I came across a paperback copy of A Separate Peace at a bookstore and bought it and never read it. I, honestly, have no idea how long ago or how many moves it has followed me through. I never read it, but I never got rid of it either.

Last night, as I perused the bookshelf, I happened upon it again. I decided it was high time I gave the novel another look. Worst case, if it was still boring, it would put me to sleep.

I started it last night around midnight and I read half the book before I finally forced myself to go to sleep. I got very little done today until I finished it. I loved it. I understand now why Mr. Simon thought I would enjoy it. Fantastic plot, great symbols, unbelievable writing and definitely in the same neighborhood as A Catcher in the Rye. 

I can see, however, what I was put off of as a 17 year-old reading it. In spite of being short, it’s not a quick read. It doesn’t deserve to be either. The sentence structure is complex, almost poetic in it’s own way. I actually read a fair amount of the book out loud to myself, just to get the full experience of the words and images. I wasn’t patient enough, or motivated enough, to work to get through a book back then in 1983. It wasn’t work to get through it this time, but it did make me feel woefully inadequate with my own writing.

I’m glad I held on the book for however many years I’ve had it, and I’m so glad I finally read it. It’s going to be one of my new favorites. I just wish I could tell Mr. Simons how much I enjoyed his recommendation and have a conversation with him on the writing and the meanings behind the book.

6:25 PM

The Rush of Creating Something New

September 15, 2018 3:37 PM

Earlier this month, I accomplished a goal that I’ve wanted for a very long time. I finished the rough draft of my book. When I typed the words, “The End”, I had written 297 pages, and 91,644 words.  I was very, very happy. For about three days.

After three days, I started missing my characters. I felt like I lost friends that I’d spent years with. Feeling this way makes absolutely no sense because even though the rough draft of my book is complete, the book is far from done. It’s a rough draft. Which means revision needs to happen, many times, probably, to get to the final draft. I am still spending plenty of time reading, editing, rewriting and tweaking my book. I’m with my characters almost every day because I am working on revisions almost every day.

But I’m not creating any more new content. I might add a little extra something to a scene, but the story line is done. I know how it ends. There’s nothing new left, and I miss the rush that comes from creating something new.

I talked with my writing coach about this yesterday, and she said it was common for writers to feel the way when they finish the rough draft. She also cautioned me about starting another book just for the rush of creating. She said that’s how books never truly get finished. They sit in rough draft form forever because the fun part is done.

I can see that, although, I really am itching to start on book 2 of the series. I wasn’t sure there would be a book 2 when I committed to completing the rough draft earlier this summer, but now I’m sure. There will absolutely be a book 2. Even if I write it just for myself. But I won’t start it now. My writing coach is an author who has published many books of her own. I trust her judgement so I’m delaying starting book 2 for now.

But I still have that itch to create. What to do? Make a new quilt? I could, but I have two unfinished quilts already that have been sitting while I dedicated the summer to writing. Write something else? A short story, perhaps? Maybe, but I have a writing submission due to my critique group on Sunday that I should work on first. How about cooking? I like to cook, but I haven’t done much out-of-the-ordinary cooking like recipe testing/creating since I dedicated the summer to writing.

Cooking it would be and I knew just what I wanted to try to make. Deep-fried Swiss and Rye on a stick that I get at State Fair. Earlier this summer, I wrote a post entitled To Fair or Not to Fair, That is the Question, where I discussed my love, no, not love, obsession with deep-fried Swiss and Rye. Us Wisconsin-ites are known for our deep fried, batter coated, heart-attack-inducing cheese treats, but the Swiss and Rye takes deep fried cheesy love to another level. The batter isn’t light and crisp like you normally find on a deep fried cheese curd. It’s thick and flavorful, kind of like the batter used on a corn dog, only rye-ier.

Often, as I said in my fair post, my husband and I go to the Wisconsin State Fair on multiple days and part of the reason is so I can get the Swiss and Rye more than once per season. For the same reason, we sometimes go to our local county fair, so I can get the Swiss and Rye. This year has been a busy one, and we did’t get multiple fair visits in. Nor did we go to multiple fairs. I got one, ONE, Swiss and Rye this year, which I shared with Dennis. (I rarely share my Swiss and Rye. I wait for it all year and when I finally get it, it’s mine, all mine and I’m not sharing.) I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m addicted to Swiss and Rye, but I’m walking a very fine line and I know it.

Today, I decided to try to recreate the Swiss and Rye at home. I do not have a recipe. I only have the memory of the taste and texture to go by. Since the batter is very corn dog-ish, I started with the corn dog recipe from Cook’s Country, my favorite cooking site.

I tweaked the recipe quite a bit, omitting some of the cornmeal and cayenne and adding more rye flour and some water to loosen the batter up. There wasn’t much counter space left by the time I gathered all the ingredients I needed.

prep

Unlike writing, you can see the tangible effort of creating something when you cook.

 

Swiss and Rye from the fair is huge. You are served a large block of crispy, batter coated cheese. It’s roughly the size of my hand as you can see below.

swiss and rye

The is a picture of Swiss and Rye from State Fair. It’s the pinnacle of fair-food, in my opinion. (picture from Shepard Express)

I decided that my version of Swiss and Rye would be smaller. They’d be nugget sized. So I diced my Swiss cheese into 1″ by 1 1/2″ blocks. I mixed and measured. I whisked and stirred. I carefully heated my oil to right temperature. Once it was there, I battered one nugget of cheese and dropped in the oil.

It immediately started to bubble and all the batter stayed on the cheese, which was a relief. I very rarely deep fry anything, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. After just a few minutes, I pulled out a perfect miniature version of Swiss and Rye.

nugget2

It’s a little Swiss and Rye Nugget! Looks a little like a hushpuppy, doesn’t it?

I anxiously, and with much trepidation, took my little nugget of heaven over to the kitchen table to try it. Would it be close to the fair food perfection I know and love? Or did I just make a big mess in my kitchen for nothing? Only one way to find out. I cut it open.

nugget1

The gooey inside of my little Swiss Nugget

What was the verdict? Not bad. The cheese to batter ratio was a bit off. I now understood why the vendor uses big chunks of Swiss cheese in their Swiss and Rye. The batter is so thick, you need plenty of cheese to stand up to it.

The flavor was good. It had the hint of the Swiss and Rye flavor, but not the full on, in your face, rye pop that I love. In writing terms, the rough draft of the book was done, but it needed some revision.

I added more rye flour to amp up the rye flavor, and then a little more buttermilk and water, to thin it out. The ratio of cheese to batter was a problem since I’d already cut up all my Swiss cheese into chunks. I dug around in the kitchen drawers and came up with some nice wooden skewers. I have no idea why I have them, but I did.

I carefully stacked three chunks of cheese on the skewer. This worked for nine pieces of cheese. A lot of the cheese pieces broke and cracked when I tried to skewer them, so I needed another method to stick them back together to create a larger chunk of cheese. Enter the toothpicks. I was able to thread two chunks of cheese on one toothpick without the cheese disintegrating. It wouldn’t be as big as the skewered pieces, but they’d be better than frying them individually. I hoped.

I brought my oil back up to temp, battered all my cheesy morsels of various sizes, and plopped them into the oil. I’m not gonna lie, there were a few casualties. Some of the cheese broke away from the skewers which meant part of the cheesy nuggets weren’t battered as they bubbled away. They floated in my oil like naked, gooey orphans. I tried to salvage them, and let them cook, but they were messing up my oil too much. Eventually, they had to be plucked from the group and thrown away. That happens with writing, too. Sometimes characters that I really like won’t play well with the other characters, and I have to pluck them out from the story, and get rid of them, too. Being creative isn’t for the faint of heart.

After a few more minutes in the oil, the rest of the cheesy survivors were ready. I scooped them up and popped them on a paper towel.

pic2

There are three chunks of cheese nestled under that crispy, golden batter. This looks exactly like the State Fair Swiss and Rye only a little smaller.

pic1

Finally! The perfect cheese to batter ratio!

I called Dennis is to come and taste test with me. We each tried the skewered ones first. When I cut it open, I could’ve sworn I was at State Fair (minus the crowds, the heat and the juggling the hot cheese while I’m walking.) The cheese to batter ratio was perfect. And the taste? Spot on! I nailed it. It was as good, if not better, than State Fair Swiss and Rye. The breading was crispy but not greasy and with the perfect amount of Rye savory flavor to meld with the hot cheese.

The toothpick ones were good, too. So good that I forgot to take a picture of them. It wasn’t as fun to eat them, however, because they had to be cut open in order to extract the toothpick. It’s more fun to eat Swiss and Rye off the stick, like it’s meant to be done.

We slathered them in dipping sauces (mustard for me, marinara for Dennis) and ate all we could, which, honestly wasn’t that much. These suckers are filling! We have plenty for left overs, although, I have no idea if they’ll be good reheated. If not, that’s okay, we really shouldn’t eat two meals of Swiss and Rye anyway. Actually, this recipe isn’t something I will make very often. I’m thinking the next time will be in January or February, when it’s below zero outside and we need a taste of summer to perk us up.

It was fun to create something this morning. It didn’t stop me from missing my characters, but it was a good creative outlet, nonetheless.  There is one down side to being creative with cooking. Clean-up. When I’m done writing, it takes me about three seconds to close my laptop and put it away. Cleaning up this disaster of a kitchen took a lot longer than that. It was worth it, though, to bring a taste of State Fair home.

stove after

Glass cook tops are great in theory, but they’re a real pain in the butt to get oil off of.

4:34 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerald Green Leaves

Friday, August 10th 8:36 AM

The fabric of summer has changed for me. It used to mean flowers and birds singing,  days that lasted well into nights, and nights that still wore the glow of the sun long past the moment it dipped beneath the horizon.

It was a time for watching fireflies and enjoying the hum of cicada’s in the hot, sticky afternoons while the sun still hung high in the sky. Enjoying the late summer wildflowers blooming in a cacophony of colors. Colors that serve as a gentle reminder that summer is fleeting and fall is close at hand; golden yellow, dusky purple, deep chocolate brown, and antique white all set against a back drop of green. Rich, bold, luscious colors of green;  forest green, sage green and emerald green.  Deep, mature colors, coaxed out of the chartreuse and lime greens of spring, brought forth by living through the days of summer.

Those things are all still true, of course. Summer is still warm and sunny for the most part. Cicadas still sing and so do the birds.  Wildflowers bloom, and sun still hangs on to the last few precious weeks of soaring high this time of year.

None of the hallmarks of summer have changed. Instead, it’s me who’s changed. For most of my life, I’ve been the young chartreuse lime green leaf, enjoying all the bounties summer has to offer with very little consideration of fall. But now, I’m the forest green emerald leaf. My color has deepened, my leaves are more substantial. I’m aware of what went into the evolution of that leaf from a tender, spring shoot to a substantial leaf, capable of offering shelter from the sun and the rain. Now, fall doesn’t seem as far off as it used to.

Life colors the fabric we’re made of, whether it’s a leaf or a person. We absorb the climate we live in, and the experiences we’re given. We grow and we change and evolve. It’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. Nor is it a good thing. It simply is life; as the lime green shoots of spring evolve into the ripe emerald green of late summer, and, eventually, the vibrant reds and yellow of fall, so we grow and mature through stages in our lives.

This forest green stage of life isn’t bad. It’s a more reflective, more thoughtful stage where intentional deliberation rules the day. The careless choices of yesterday seem frivolous and immature; remnants of another time where summer seemed to last forever and fall was a time of enjoying the pretty leaves with no consideration of the decay inside that caused the vibrant display of color.

One upshot of this stage, for me, is a renewed focus on what I want to accomplish with my life. Perhaps I should say the rest of my life, because I certainly have goals that I accomplished up to this point. The focus of this summer, for me, has been to answer the question, “What comes next?”

Dennis has a job that he really enjoys and it’s given me the itch to return to work. I remember jobs I truly enjoyed and it’s a rewarding event when that happens.  I wouldn’t mind having that again, if I could find that kind of a situation. They’re not easy to come by. And, for me, I know that a job will take the majority of my energy which will leave little left for creating, which is my favorite thing in the world to do, whether it be writing, quilting or cooking. And therein, I found my answer.

The resounding truth, and the only goal I’m sure I want to accomplish, is to finish writing the book that I started back in 2001. I wasn’t quite a lime green shoot of spring when I started it, but I wasn’t the full-blown emerald green leaf I am today, either. I’ve started and stopped writing the book a dozen times, but this time is different. Even though I don’t know if it will ever be published, or read by anyone other than Dennis, I know it needs to be done.

That is what I’ve dedicated this summer to accomplishing. I packed away my quilting, which I do miss. I’m way behind on my tv shows and I haven’t played video games in two months. I hired a writing coach and I joined a critique group.  And I am creating. My goal is to be finished with the first draft by my birthday at the end of August. As of this week, I crossed the two hundred page mark, and I think I am on track to complete the first draft this month. My goal is to complete my first revision with my writing coach by the end of the year.

What happens after that? I don’t know and that’s okay. Maybe it will get published. Maybe not. But it will be done, finally, and I will once again consider, what’s next?

9:34 AM

 

Making Lists

July 21, 2018 11:01 AM

I’m a big fan of people watching and eavesdropping in on conversations.  It’s honestly not that I’m nosy; I really don’t care how other people live their lives. But I do enjoy watching the interactions people have with each other and I often try to guess the nature of their relationships. They become characters in my own little story. I’ve seen a lot of interesting interactions over the years and I’ve even used some of them as inspiration to write actual stories. I’ve decided to set up a separate category on this blog where I can share the interactions I have observed that have touched me through the years. It’s called “Interesting Folks”. This will be the first entry.

Dennis and I went to the farmer’s market in Waukesha this morning and, afterward, we went to a local restaurant for breakfast. It was peak breakfast time and it was crowded, so we took the only open booth. This booth happened to be across from a booth where a woman, probably in her late thirties, sat with an elderly couple. I assumed they were her parents.

The elderly man sat on one side of the booth, the elderly woman shared the other side with her daughter.  Immediately, I was reminded of going out for a meal with my parents. This was always the seating arrangement for us, too.

The first thing I heard the daughter say, in tone that was slightly too enthusiastic to be entirely genuine, was how nice it was to see them once a week. She got no verbal response from her parents. The father smiled, the mother didn’t react — or she didn’t react enough that I could see it out of my peripheral vision.

There was silence until the daughter brought up an entirely new topic of conversation after twenty seconds or so had passed. She elicited a few words from each with that topic, but no real back and forth conversation ensued.

And so it went for their entire meal. The daughter tried various topics of conversation and the parents responded with a few words before the silence returned and the daughter introduced an entirely new topic. I wondered if the daughter had a list of topics stashed in her purse (like I used to have when I went out for a meal with my mom) where she could “check her phone” and glance at it if the conversation really hit a wall. I remember my mom used to carry a list of topics in her purse when her and my father took my grandma out for a meal.

Don’t get me wrong, the interactions of this family were not at all unpleasant. But they weren’t the effortless chatter that comes from a family that is truly comfortable together, either. I could feel all three of them trying, each parent spoke a little and asked the daughter an occasional question. The daughter was attentive and responsive to both her parents and remained upbeat and enthusiastic throughout the meal. It was the strained dynamic, though, of three people who love each other, but aren’t connected the way they once were and are struggling to find common ground.

As I sat there, I felt the daughter’s struggle; the attempt of an adult child trying to reach out to elderly parents to bridge the gap that has grown from passing years, and diverging lives. I felt the struggle of the parents, too; trying to connect with an adult child with whom there is little in common with now except for shared memories and shared DNA. There was probably a sense of relief for all three, and then a sense of guilt, when the meal was done and they could go their separate ways.

This family reminded me of my experiences with my own parents, especially my mom. After my dad died, I would take her out for a meal two or three times a week. Often, Dennis and my son would join us. Sometimes not. It was difficult to come up with conversation, especially since, if I didn’t see her, I would talk to her everyday on the phone.

Unlike the family next to me, my mom would come armed with her own topics to introduce when the silences fell heavy on the table. She probably had a list in her purse, too. I found a list of topics to discuss with me that my mom made and saved, next to her phone, when I was cleaning out her house.

Cats

Tony

The Americans (one of mom’s favorite shows)

What you made for dinner

I kept it, tucked away in a shoe box, along with her glasses and the small stack of recipes she still used.

Is it sad, that a mother/daughter relationship gets relegated to a list of topics of conversation on a piece of paper? It is. I know it doesn’t happen in all families, but it did in mine. And, I believe based on what I saw today, it does in others, too.

I wanted to reach out to the daughter and tell her I understood the struggle, the responsibility, and the loss, that she was probably feeling. Nothing underscores how far life has taken you from a parent than having to grasp for common ground in which to share.

I was reminded of my mom earlier, today, too, at the farmer’s market. I saw the beautiful bouquets of flowers that were for sale, and it reminded me of the times that I bought one for her. It made me miss her, even though our conversations didn’t come easy in the end.

Was I right about the interactions of this family at the restaurant? Maybe they were acquaintances and not even family at all. I’ll never know, but it doesn’t really matter. They touched me and made me remember my mom, so whatever the true relationship is, they’re a family to me now.

11:59 AM

 

One Step Closer

July 28, 2018 8:49 AM

I did something earlier this week that I never thought I’d do voluntarily. I booked a trip to New Jersey.

Not that I have anything against New Jersey, per se’; okay, I really hate Newark, but there are parts of New Jersey that are very nice. I used to work for a company who had its headquarters in New Jersey, in the same general area where the Real Housewives of NJ is filmed, and I’ve traveled there plenty of times on business.

Dennis works for the same company, and several times we were on the same business trip. This allowed us to extend our time there to do some sight-seeing when the work was done. We spent a weekend in New York once, and visited the top of the World Trade Center on August 10, 2001.

We’ve been to Ocean City, where I bought a cool hat that Dennis has since procured as his lawn-mowing hat, and we went to Atlantic City twice. Once was a planned trip and the other was impromptu when we found out our flight was delayed for an unknown amount of time. (In my experinece this happens a lot in Newark). Dennis and I had already checked our luggage, so we rented a car with only the clothes on our back and drove to Atlantic City for the night and caught a flight back to Milwaukee late the next night.

It was fun to be spontaneous and see where the road took us so to speak. In this case, however, the road took us to a really seedy, not-so-clean Days Inn in a scary part of town. It was the first (and last) time I slept in a motel with bars on the windows. We saw drug dealers on the corner when we pulled into our motel. I know they were drug dealers because I saw a guy hand off a packet of something and take money in exchange. There were also prostitutes hanging around the exterior of motel, at least I assume they were prostitutes. I didn’t get official confirmation on that one. In spite of the unexpected environment we found ourselves in for the night, it was still a fun experience and one I’m glad we did. As a bonus, our luggage, which traveled to Milwaukee without us, was still there waiting at the airport for us in airline storage.

Some of my favorite memories of New Jersey is the food. They have, hands down, the best Italian food anywhere. And the New York Pizza. Ohmygod. There was a little pizza place that delivered to the hotel I always stayed in. I’m hoping it’s still there (and that I can remember the name.) While it’s tempting to book a trip to New Jersey just for the food, that is not the reason I am going.

Nor am I going to Atlantic City this time, although, it was tempting to tack an extra day on trip and stop there for a night (with a reservation in a nice casino hotel, of course). The reason I am going to New Jersey is the next step on my quest for the swim spa.

Dennis needs to go to New Jersey for a couple of nights in July for his job. The main swim spa manufacturer I’m interested in has its main show room in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is not far from New Jersey. I’m basically, piggy-backing on Dennis’ trip so I can visit the swim spa store.

Instead of flying out the evening before he needs to be there, Dennis and I will fly out the morning before he needs to be there. We will drive to Philadelphia and I will try out all the varieties of Endless Pools that are in our price range. I have the sensible, secure one-piece suit all ready for the test swims. (Click here to read about what happens when you use a swim spa in a tankini).

After we try the pools, I’m hoping we can find a place to get an authentic Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. (Please leave me your recommendations for good places in the comments). Dennis and I are planning to drive to northern New Jersey that afternoon, in time to have an Italian meal that night. And another Italian meal the next night. (Okay, so maybe the trip is a little about food).

During the day, I am planning to enjoy eight plus hours of uninterrupted writing time in the hotel.  That just doesn’t happen here at home very often. And I’m hoping to find that New York pizza place again and have them deliver pizza for lunch at the hotel. (I’m going to need that swim spa to get installed pronto with all the weight I’m going to gain on this trip!)

While we will have a car, and I could drop Dennis off at the office in the morning and keep the car myself during the day, I don’t think I will do that. I drove in New Jersey once, up into the Catskills in NY, to an outlet mall with a girlfriend from work. This was before google maps and GPS’s on our phones and in our cars, and I managed to get us horribly lost on the way home. Instead of ending up in northern New Jersey where our hotel was, we ended up in Newark, circling the George Washington Bridge for an hour. I finally decided to drive away from the George Washington Bridge because I knew I didn’t want to cross into New York. However, I had no idea where I was going, and we didn’t bring a map. All we had were some handwritten instructions to the outlet mall given to us by a co-worker.

Driving west, away from New York, landed us in a super bad part of Newark. We saw a guy running full-bore down the street being chased by another guy. We were afraid they had guns and we’d get caught in the cross-fire. It was 11:00 at night, and we were the only car around so I ignored all speed limits and stop signs in that neighborhood. I was too afraid to stop and I figured if there was a cop around, he had more important things to do than to pull me over for a traffic violation.

Eventually, I got my bearings and we started to go north, toward the hotel. Gradually, the neighborhoods got less scary. When it felt safe enough, we stopped at a convenience store and bought a map which guided us back to the vicinity of the hotel. We ended up having to call the front desk at the hotel to have them talk us in the last few miles.  It took us forty-five minutes to drive to the outlet mall and three and half hours to get back to the hotel.

I suppose with technology, driving in New Jersey this time wouldn’t result in the adventure it did the last time I drove there. But I’m not taking any chances. Dennis can have the car and if I get stir-crazy in the hotel, I’ll Uber to a Starbucks. Or an Italian restaurant for lunch.

I never liked traveling to New Jersey for work, but then again, I never much liked traveling anywhere for work. I’m looking forward to going back to New Jersey, this time as a tourist. I always seem to come back with a story whenever I visit there. Who knows what adventure I’ll find this time around?

nj

Whenever I drive out of the Newark airport the theme song from The Soprano’s always runs through my head.

9:41 am

 

Charlie the Survivor and Sammy the Protector

June 20, 2018 4:19 PM

It’s been a busy, busy week. Dennis has been away on a business trip since Sunday night, so it’s just been me and the menagerie at home. I know some writers have great bursts of productivity when they sequester themselves away in a hotel alone for several days so I thought I’d give that a try this week.

I have to say, I got a lot of writing accomplished on Sunday night through yesterday. I worked on a story that I haven’t touched for four or five years and I made significant progress. I also did lots of research for it, which means I googled things like “what countries don’t have extradition treaties with the US?”, “what countries have anonymous offshore banking”, “what countries operate offshore gambling casinos”, “how to open and get money from offshore accounts”, and “what places are safe to live in the Caribbean”. (Hello, nice Mr. NSA agent. I’m writing a book. Honestly!)

If Dennis and I get audited by the IRS next year, it won’t be a coincidence.

Since I was putting in 10 to 12 hours a day writing, I didn’t bother to cook for myself. One of my meals was a frozen chicken pot pie made by a grocery store that I bought and froze a few months ago. I had that last night. As I was eating it, (it wasn’t very good) I wondered if the chicken was ok in it. It wasn’t terrible, but it tasted a bit off. For future reference, if you have to ask the question, “is the chicken good?” the answer should always, unequivocally be NO!

I was pretty tired last night, so the dogs and I were asleep by 11:00 which is early for me. At 12:30 I woke up, not feeling so well. I had to turn on the light, which I normally don’t do when I get up so I don’t disturb the dogs. Nothing I could do about it last night, I woke both of them up.

As I continued to feel worse, I went into the bathroom and was sick. Now normally, I wouldn’t write about such an event, however, it truly showed the difference in the personalities of the two dogs. As I was being sick, Sammy was right there next to me doing the doggy-equivalent of holding my hair back. He was so nervous that he was dancing around me and rubbing up against my legs. Charlie, The Survivor, on the other hand, was still in bed, sending death glares my way for waking him up and leaving the light on.

That’s the thing about survivors, they are able to detach from anyone and anything as long as they are taken care of. I suspect that’s why Charlie was able to detach from my mom and settle in so easily at my house when she died. Same thing with the kennel. He missed me, but his needs were met so life went on. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m probably Charlie’s favorite person. As long as I keep the light off and puke quietly so I don’t disturb him.

Today, Sammy has rarely left my side. Thankfully, being sick was a short-lived event, but I still only got about four hours of sleep. Two of the cats and Sammy were wide awake and ready to play at 5:30 AM this morning. I’m really looking forward to longer nights and shorter days. If you’ve read this blog before, you know why. If you haven’t, you can find out why here.

I’m moving a little slower today than usual. I had some errands I needed to run this morning and while I was out I decided to stop at the library and pick up an actual book to read outside this afternoon (as opposed to my kindle). Sometimes it’s good to have a real book to curl up with. It was a curl up with a book kind of day.

So this afternoon, instead of making more progress on my writing, I’m lounging on the swing with the dogs. Sammy has been close by the entire time.  Every time I cough, he jumps on me and peers into my face with anxious eyes to see if I’m okay. (I assured him that I am, I just have allergies.) Talking to my animals is not abnormal for me, I do it all time. Not usually to the extent of describing my medical diagnosis, however. I guess that’s what three days of solitude with only animals to talk to will do to a person. Good thing Dennis gets home tonight.

Besides, I think Sammy and I have taken our relationship to a new level. He’s now Sammy The Protector to me.

Now I have a Protector and a Survivor. That’s a pretty good combination. Between the two of them, I think I have all my bases covered.

7841A4DF-90CF-40DB-83EA-27F8BFB34339

This is my view from the swing. Sammy is sitting on my stomach and Charlie is wrapped around my feet. Life is good.

4:50 PM

 

I Always Knew I was an Odd Duck

Tuesday, June 5, 2018 for Saturday, June 2, 2018  11:40 AM

If you ever have the opportunity to see someone’s dream come true, you should take it. It’s an amazing experience and one I had the privilege of doing last Saturday. I’ve been meaning to blog about it sooner, but catching up on the week’s worth of chores that accumulated while we were in Las Vegas has kept me from writing.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll remember that I wrote about a writer’s lecture I attended in May. You can read about it here.

While at the lecture I learned of a writer (the one with the cool shaved hair style) who was having her first book published. She wrote a fantasy novel and it is being published by a small press who accepts fantasy works.

Since my novel-in-progress involves time travel, it, too, is considered in the fantasy genre. Before I even knew what her book was about, I was interested in learning more about it. Her publisher could be a resource for me if I ever finish my book. I learned she was having something called a Book Launch at a small coffee shop in Waukesha on June 2nd where she would sell paper copies of her book.

I’ve never been to a Book Launch before. I debated not going since we just got back from Las Vegas and I was tired and had tons of laundry to do. In the end, though,  I decided to ignore the mountain of laundry and go see what it was all about.

I’m so glad I did! There were probably twenty-five or so people who attended it, and I think I’m the only one the author didn’t know. She introduced herself to me and I think she was a bit surprised I was there. I was, in fact, the only person who attended the book launch alone.

This author had a good size family and there were several tables filled by them. She also had members from her writing critique group there and her employers. I’ve decided that I need to make more friends. If I ever am fortunate enough to do launch a book I think I will maybe get four people to attend. Five if my writing coach’s husband attends.

The author said a few heartfelt words about the inspiration for her book. She allowed her vulnerability to show through and I had to choke back tears. I couldn’t be the only one crying at this happy event! She read an excerpt from her novel and then signed books at the end of the event.

The energy in that room was absolutely amazing. The author was (pardon the cliché’) glowing with pride and with excitement. She was witnessing the culmination of a fifteen-year dream come true and I was there to share in her joy. It was pretty awesome.

At the risk of sounding like a new-age crazy person I have to admit that I am a big energy person. I often pick up on the energy of people and of places. I’m drawn to a few, I’m put off by more. This event and the author, drew me in the same way as the writer’s lecture drew me in last month. On the rare occasions this happens it’s truly magical.

I always thought I was an odd duck in this respect, my ability to feel the energy of people and places. Then I found a test that proved I am.

There is a personality assessment used by psychologists and counselors called the Myers Briggs test which breaks down personality types into 16 groups. I was first introduced to the Myers Briggs test by a boyfriend twenty years ago. We were having problems and his counselor suggested he ask me to take the Myers Briggs test. Which I did, but I didn’t find out the results then. My boyfriend said it gave him lots of insight into me, though. That didn’t stop us from breaking up. Twice.

I took the Myers Briggs again in a week-long seminar at my local college for people looking to change careers. This was about 10 years ago. As the instructor was handing out our test results, she told me that I was the first person she’d had in her five years of teaching who had my particular personality type. INFJ.

What is INFJ? It stands for Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging.  We make up roughly 1-2% of the population. We are called “mystics”, “empaths” and highly intuitive. In short, we’re big on picking up on the energy of the world around us. Apparently, there are a few other odd ducks like me out there after all.

INFJ types are not shy. Introversion does not equal shy. Introversion means we recharge our emotional and creative batteries by spending time alone. I will stake my small talk abilities against an extroverts any day. I’ll just need retire into my own world for a few hours to recharge when I’m done.

At the book launch on Saturday, I was invited by several ladies to share their table when I was sitting alone. Normally, I accept these invitations, however, I did not accept on Saturday. I could already feel this was a special event and I just didn’t want to be distracted by making small talk from experiencing it.

I hope the nice ladies that invited me to sit with them weren’t offended. One of them was a therapist so maybe she figured out I was an INFJ immersed in the moment. I hope so.

It’s a bit vampiric, I think, to attend another author’s book launch and feed on the positive energy her hard work produced. It was invigorating, though, and also inspiring. I went back home and made some deep cuts and revisions that needed to be made to my book. I’m going into one-on-one writing coaching this week, so moving forward with the novel has been forefront in my mind and I think attending that event helped me make the changes I needed to make in my book, but didn’t necessarily want to do.

Are you curious about your personality type? The actual Myers Briggs test is quite involved and is administered by professionals. However, here is a link to one I’ve taken several times on the internet and it always tags me as an INFJ the same as the actual test did. It takes about 10 minutes to take.

If you turn out to be a fellow INFJ message me in the comments. I’d like to meet another one of the 1-2% walking around out there.

I’m about half way through the book I bought at the book launch. It’s called Pick Your Teeth with my Bones by Carrie Newberry and it’s excellent! The writing is far better than many of the books I’ve read from the big name publishing houses. It’s about a shape-shifter girl (NOT a Werewolf — they are different!) who is forced to face the creatures who killed her mother and sisters. It’s fast-paced, funny and a great read.  You can purchase your own copy off Amazon.

book cover

12:50 pm