Travelogue

Blue Suitcase
Ready for anything.

So yesterday was…interesting.

I discovered that

1) the Ohio River had flooded Louisville and Cincinnati and all points in between this past week, which it so rarely does and

2) getting on the plane from Houston to DC for the Pony Club horse management judge training that I rearranged whole chunks of my life to get to was a really bad idea.

My first clue that All Was Not Well was when my flight out of Houston was delayed two hours by weather. The Delta app oh-so-helpfully had a pop-up button that allowed me to rebook myself on a connecting flight out of Atlanta with plenty of time to spare, and I settled in to get a huge amount of work done. (Pats self on back!)

Then they delayed my flight again. No pop up button appeared and there were no later flights available to DC from Atlanta. I crossed my fingers that the gates would be close together.

Then they made me check my carry-on bag. While I might could sprint from plane to plane, the baggage handlers have a ton of other bags to handle, so I quickly repacked my carry on, and wore or carried all the things I had to have for my seminar. So, instead of my nice walking shoes, I then had on paddock boots, a barn coat, and a shoulder bag with about 20 pounds of horse management junk in it. My carry-on/checked bag was almost empty. I took a photo of it, since it had been awhile since I had a record of what this bag looked like, and got on the plane to Atlanta. Texted my husband a funny update about it all. Congratulated myself on how well I’d thought all that through.

Smooth flight. We landed, taxied….and stopped about a hundred feet from the gate. And sat there for 30 minutes while I watched my Delta app for signs that the connecting flight (Only two gates down the terminal!!) was also delayed. Boarding, it kept saying, right up til after I got to the gate to see the jetway door still open — but they had “released” my seat because I wasn’t there, and they put standby folks on the plane instead of me. Texted my husband in frustration. Thank goodness someone listened to me!

Delta baggage handler are stellar because they managed to “expedite” my bag from the Houston plane to the DC-bound plane, so I got to wave goodbye to my almost empty bag and lug my horse stuff down to the long line of folks trying to find a seat out of Atlanta. Two hours later I had learned there were no flights to the northeast part of the country because of a storm but they could get me on an evening flight to Houston Hobby. (My car was parked at Intercontinental on the north side of Houston,but hey, NOT Atlanta.) Texted new flight info back to Houston to husband.

That thing I usually do before packing? Checking the regional weather before I go. Didn’t do. At least I had a way out of Atlanta. Fretted a bit about this expensive round trip ticket to mayhem, but decided to drown my sorrows in more work. (Aren’t I a good little writer!)

Before I got on the plane to Houston three hours later, I called and left a message on the husband’s cell because I hadn’t gotten any return texts. “See you at Hobby at 8?” and watched Justice League all the way back home. (So the day was not all bad. Haven’t sat still long enough to watch a movie in quite awhile.)

Turned my phone on to find a text from my husband in response to my phone call that he’d see me at Hobby on Sunday and thanks for the update!! He had not gotten any of my texts, but assumed the voice mail from me was about my original return date. He too was unaware of the storm on the east coast.

The hour it took for Paul to get to Hobby gave me enough time to discover that 1) Delta employees are really kind. They would bring my bag to my house when it got back 24 hours from when I got back so that I would not have to go to both Houston airports today to collect my car (Intercontinental) and my bag (Hobby). and 2) Check my e-mail to discover that Delta had credited me the entire price of the ticket.

And I now have two entire days I didn’t have before, so I’m headed out to do spring cleaning of the barn and mow the pastures, and brush the horses.

Weather here? Delightful.

Travelogue out.

Julie the traveling fool

When one door closes…

Not that I’m shutting the door on anything just yet, mind you.

But the magazine article writing is going well.

My first article in Texas Gardener comes out in the April/May issue. Look for it at stores near you.

Fiction requires a pretty darn long stretch with no other commitments in it for me to accomplish anything much. I need to clear a few things off my desk first before I can really tidy up the WiP and send it out. I expect to get back to writing my stuff – as opposed to other people’s stuff – within the month. I’ll be back to blogging regularly then.

 

Until then, I’ll leave you with a quote for thought:

“The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say but what we are unable to say.” – Anais Nin

A great exercise to figure out where you don’t want to go is to write, “I am afraid….” over and over again until the sentence rises up off the page and punches you in the gut. Then you’ll know a compelling subject on which to set your sights.

 

Better Water Wise than Ground Foolish

I wish I could call myself a wise woman, but the closest I can get is the effort I’m putting into being water wise this summer.

Being in the middle of one of the worst droughts in Texas history has brought out some odd behaviors. People water their front yards during their designated days of the week, and then set timers to water under cover of darkness — or, worse, brazenly water the back yard during the day, mistakenly thinking no one can see them. Others, like my neighbors, water 24/7 to try without trying to hide this, rationalizing that it’s okay to do this because it’s a personal well and thus is not covered by the water restrictions enacted just over the city limits.

I must seem very odd to them. I do not water my grass at all. (Which must be why there is none found in my yard right now, or much of my pasture.) Usually this works out all right, because Nature does her wonderful thing with the rain clouds and the grass (and my neighborhood) is happy. Right now though, with just under five inches of rain at our place since last October, it is becoming quite clear that we are not going to achieve balance between keeping our farm alive and being conservative with our water use.

Currently at our place, talk over the fence with the neighbors generally starts with a “Howdeedoo” and progresses rapidly to, “Did you hear they got rain over in Tomball?” Or, worse, “Did anyone get the forecasted rain?” Underlying these conversations is the quiet desperate feeling about the water table level in the aquifer under our feet and how that relates to the depth of our well pump.

Those neighbors who water 24/7? Not considered smart right now, because we’re all much more concerned with having running water than whether there’s grass in the field.

Conservation measures:

Don’t water landscaping just because it’s pretty.

Use soaker hoses rather than areal spraying. (Less water loss due to evaporation before the water hits the dirt.)

Water during the cooler hours of the day. (Ditto above.)

Use water from dish washing to water beloved landscape plants. (Check what kind of dish soap you’re using and try a mild form that is biodegradable.)

Flush less often. Seriously, low flow toilets only save so much water. If you flush ever other time rather than every time you’ve doubled your water savings.

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.

Ditto while you shampoo your hair or soap up in the shower.

Don’t install a backyard pool — use the neighborhood one instead. This provides a social outlet as well as a place to exercise and cool off.

Help keep my well flowing — be water-wise. My family and my critters thank you.

The Great Divide

I am in the middle of several big life changes. Some of these are welcome — and expected. Some are neither. I am going from Mother of Dependent Children to Mother of Adult Children. (Our youngest just graduated from college.) My husband has actually uttered the word ‘retirement’, so I might be transitioning from Self-Employed Writer At Home Alone to Writer Looking for a Quiet Place to Work. Our parents are getting older (and wiser) as we creep across middle age and I have to recognize one day (May it be far, far away!) I will be one rung closer to being The Matriarch.

 

Some days it’s easier to think about my own personal life transitions than to craft a good transition from one scene to another, or even to wake up my character in the morning.

 

However, to make it all the way through a manuscript, one must segue from beginning hook through the muddled middle to satisfying end. Writing transitions can take several forms. If you are looking for transitional words or phrases, here’s a great site with helpful hints on that topic. I’m talking about transitioning between scenes.

 

The Shuffle:

“Doran needed some caffeine in the worst possible way. There was no way she would be able to face the meeting that morning without some stiff fortification. She tossed back the covers, threw her feet over the edge of the bed and managed to stand on both feet. She glared in the general direction of the kitchen, wishing for the first time that she had someone living with her who would start the pot brewing rather than having to do it herself. Stumbling into the shower, she braced one hand on the wall and turned on the hot water. The alarm went off again before the hot water even began spouting, so Doran steeled herself and stepped under the needle sharp spray of the cold water.

Doran continued stumbling to her closet, then her car, then into the office…yadayadayada…”

OK, you get the idea. I needed to wake Doran up and get her out the door to that important early meeting. My prose met her (Or was it my?) lack of mental acuity and hit shuffle mode pretty quick, getting nowhere fast. Some days it’s the hardest thing to get your character across the room without becoming a complete bore.

Since the purpose of this scene was to wake Doran up and get her ready for that all important meeting, The Shuffle slowed us down–– not putting us in the middle of the action.

Here are two other ways that work better.

Full Steam Ahead:

“Van Morrison was all about Crazy Love when Doran’s fingers finally slammed the off button on her clock radio. She squinted at the digital readout, trying to figure out why she’d set the alarm for five a.m.

“Botheration!” she exclaimed, throwing back the covers and vaulting out of bed. She shed clothes on the way to the shower, where she stepped in, scrubbed down, and shut off the water long before the water had warmed to a human temperature.

Ten minutes later, briefcase in hand, Doran pulled the door closed behind her.

Twisting the key in the ignition, she focused in on the clock on the dashboard. She breathed a sigh of relief as she backed out of the garage. She’d have enough time to hit the coffee shop drive-through and still make it to the meeting on time.”

Don’t you agree that this one works so much better than the first?

Dead Halt:

“Putting her head down, Doran closed her eyes.

*

*

The next morning Doran arrived at the meeting on time, even if it Fred called it for such an unholy hour of the morning. The good thing about only having enough time for a cold shower before she arrived was that she was awake enough to take on the questions she knew were coming.”

This transition is a complete blank in the middle. I stop with one set of actions and the next set are clearly happening in another place or time. I left off the part about her getting up because then I could move right into the action in the meeting. With this kind of transition, you use a series of hard returns in the middle to show the reader that Time Has Passed. (I used stars in place of the hard return so that you could tell that I meant to do that…)

 

If anyone has another favorite way to move their characters through the empty space between scenes, share!

 

Happy Writing.

Payoff!

There is no better reason to garden than my supper this evening.

Spaghetti squash, just off the vine.
24 small yellow pear tomatoes, halved. (A fraction of what I picked today.)
three cloves of garlic (dug out of hydrator from spring harvest)
bell pepper (Picked this afternoon.)
salt and pepper to taste (Grocery store)

 

Cook squash in 375 degree oven for an hour.

While the squash is cooking is a good time to clean out your fridge, or sort the garlic to pull out your starts for the garden…or sit down with a glass of wine and finally read the paper…

 

When you have ten minutes left on the squash:

Saute garlic in oils of your choice. (I use Texas-grown olive oil from the farmer’s market.)

Add bell pepper and chopped tomatoes. (I used the yellow pear tomatoes because I have a bazillion of them — yes, I am bragging!)

Saute until tomatoes begin to collapse.

Top with chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Oh, and for dessert?

 

Blinded

So I was potting up a bunch of seedlings the other day and found that I was short on popsicle sticks. (AKA coffee stirring sticks from the coffee shop — I use them, then take them home with me for further use…)

What could I use to id these darned plants so that I could tell them apart when it came time to plant (or share) them? I looked up at the ceiling and found no inspiration, looked at the walls, no inspiration. But wait, what is that under the potting bench? A set of broken mini-blinds that I’d forgotten all about. I’d saved them for just this purpose over a year ago and there they were ready for me to pull out the scissors and snip them to just the right length.

Voila!

I heard about using old blinds as plant markers from Farmers Brad and Jenny at Home Sweet Farm in Brenham, Texas. I had the pleasure of working as an intern/working share member for them for over a year. Learned tons of stuff about plants and good dirt, but the mini-blind tip sure saved me this time.

How to get free mini-blinds to use as plant markers? Freecycle. When Brad and Jenny ran out of plant markers, I posted a want ad on my local freecycle for broken mini-blinds and got back five replies with offers of broken blinds, enough material to make thousands of plant markers. (Remember that on Freecycle it is good etiquette to Offer three times for every Wanted post!) I prefer plastic mini-blind slats, but the metal ones work too — lighter colors are easier to mark and to read.

Happy gardening!

Commatosis

Comma pic from the Comma Police

I suffer from a disease that afflicts many good writers, who have not yet had it beat out of them by concerned critique partners. See?! Even with three published novels, I’m still sprinkling extraneous commas freely in sentences that have no need of them. Strike that comma!

It all goes back to the horrid English teacher I had in middle school who tried to teach us grammar by having us diagram sentences to improve our grammar usage. Just the thought of having to diagram my work put me off writing in general for years. I actually believed her rather than running in the opposite direction like any sane person would have done.

And yet… much as I now hate to admit this, she had a point. It is helpful to know how to properly place those prepositions, phrases, dependent clauses — and those pesky commas.

This poor woman, who shall remain nameless because she was probably actually a great teacher, (except for telling me things I didn’t want to hear) gave us a rule of thumb that you ought to place a comma where you take a naturally take a breath when reading. I internalized her words about commas. Not until I began attending a critique group did I realize I had a real problem. My work came back with red slashes through fully half of the punctuation liberally sprinkled throughout my pages.

Remember Teacher’s admonition to place a comma each time you take a breath?Writing excites me. Evidently it also literally takes my breath away. I had no idea that breathless anticipation wasn’t an asset when writing.

So I am here today to confess: I use too many commas in my work. Far, far, far, too, many, commas.

What to do about it? I did an internet search and came up with quite a few really good grammar sites. I signed up for daily grammar and spelling tips which arrive via e-mail. I read humorous essays by other writers about their own affliction with commatosis. And I found a couple of things that actually helped.

The best of these are the witty, well-written Grammar Girl podcasts. These tend to stick with me better than anything else I’ve found. I bought her book, but honestly, the podcasts are the next best thing to sliced bagels.

Oops! Another of my personal problems raises its ugly head — mixed metaphors.

Happy Writing!