In Which I Channel Beatrix Potter and Write a Tale of The Two Mice in My Shed

If you’d rather I read this story to you (think of it as story time for grownups) click here:

Once upon a time there was a very useful garden shed; it was made of wood and painted red. It had no windows, but it had two big doors that stuck a little in humid weather.

The shed belonged to a blogger named CJ Hartwell.

CJ was a gardener, or at least she liked to say she was a gardener. Between you and me, she kinda let things go to seed.

One afternoon on a frosty October day, CJ decided it was time to pick the last of the apples on her apple tree. She put on her coat and her Isotoner gloves and walked out to her garden shed to get a ladder. For the apples were very high on the tree and she could not reach them.

First, she unlatched the big wooden doors and pulled them all the way open. Next, she pulled out her seldom used lawn mower and her even more seldom used rake. And who do you suppose she saw hiding behind the rake?

Why, it was none other than Ethan, who made the garden shed his home.

Ethan was a mouse.

cute mouse, drawing of mouse

Ethan looked at CJ; CJ looked at Ethan.

Ethan didn’t say anything because Ethan was a quiet, unassuming little mouse. CJ did say some things, but we will not repeat them here because some of the words were naughty, and good little boys and girls ought never to use them.

Ethan didn’t know what the fuss was about, for while the garden shed was a modest home, he did his mousy best to keep it tidy and clean. So he squeaked a soft little squeak, which was to say, “I’ve seen your house, lady. You think you can do better?”

Did it do any good? No! CJ stomped her feet on the floor making a terrible racket!

This frightened poor Ethan something awful. He called out to his very special lady friend, Tiffany, who had come home with Ethan after an romantic evening together in the woods.

At this particular moment, Tiffany was on CJ’s bicycle.

small mouse on bicycle

Mid-stomp, CJ saw Tiffany scurry down the bicycle. She garbled a few more choice words for now there were two mice!

Ethan called out to Tiffany, “Hey babe, over here!” and together they raced underneath the ladder that was leaning against the wall.

Quick as a flash, or rather stumbling in her haste, CJ put the mower and rake back in the shed and shut the doors, latching them tight. She said to herself, “Screw it! The apples can rot!”

Then she went inside her house and opened a bottle of red wine that she had bought at Costco for $8.99. She had two glasses, one for each mouse.

After her second glass, she decided mice in the shed were better than mice in the house, and she was very happy she had a cat in the house.

As for Ethan and Tiffany, they were very happy CJ left. They agreed the less they saw of her the better, but Tiffany did enjoy a nice bike ride now and again.

Later that evening, Tiffany made a nice dinner of mushroom salad with a rotten apple compote. Ethan said it was the best meal he’d ever had.

Afterward they had consensual sex and fell asleep in the bed Ethan fashioned out of an empty box of Milk Duds.

drawing of mice in a bed

It was a busy day after all.

The end.

The Seasons, They Are A’Changin…

This is my first real Autumn in I don’t know how long.

My first, honest-to-goodness, stomping-through-piles-of-leaves kind of Autumn.

park maples

It’s not like we didn’t have Autumn in Phoenix, it’s just that we faked it.

In Phoenix you wear sleeveless shirts in fall colors, switch out your flip-flops for brown sandals, and drink iced pumpkin lattes.

And it’s not like I haven’t lived in areas with four seasons before, it’s just I don’t remember being wowed by the colors. When we lived in northern Arizona, the first snow came sudden-like. Shocking the leaves into a quick drop. When we lived in Iowa and Nebraska, there were too few trees to matter.

Clearly, Minnesota is hoarding all the trees.

Autumn by the river

Real or fake, I love this time of year. In truth, it’s the transition phase between the seasons I love best, and I’m thrilled to be living where it’s so apparent.

I’m not alone in my appreciation; several homes are decorated for Fall. I’m told it’s quite common for Minnesotans to have quirky lawn decorations and from what I’ve seen, it’s true. A home near us has 11 screen doors in front — eleven!

This is a permanent display and I’ve no idea how they mounted them, but I wondered if they’d add anything for the seasons. I’m pleased to report, they do:

Doors

Looking forward to seeing their Christmas display.

Our decor is more understated, but not without its admirers.

Autumn at the Hartwell's

Last Saturday when our newspaper was delivered, I saw the delivery girl taking a picture of our display.  (I wonder if we’re trending on Twitter?)

At the website for Minnesota State Parks, you can enter your email address for “color alerts.” The state park in our town, the Charles A. Lindbergh Park, is currently listed at 25% to 50% color.

I think the Hartwell Maple Tree is nearly 60%:

Maple tree

Neighbor Buddy told me not to worry about raking leaves; he’ll use his leaf blower and take care of them for the whole street. The total number of homes on the street being three.  Even so, he’s a nice guy.

(Probably a requirement for anyone named Buddy.)

In my backyard hidden among the leaves is a petunia. I didn’t plant it and there are no petunias in the vicinity. Yet there it is. A petunia.

Petunia
It’s a Petunia Miracle.

I asked someone how long we’d have the color, she guessed another couple weeks.

Guess we better enjoy it while it’s here.

autumn color

Something I did in Phoenix to commemorate the seasons is to change my computer’s desktop background. My favorites pictures included curving paths, usually through woodsy areas or by rivers.

Never in my life have I lived in an area with more desktop-worthy scenes:

desktop picture

Question is, which photo do I use? Current contenders are first, second, and last pictures in this post. Your opinions are appreciated.

Meanwhile, if it’s Autumn where you are, find a pile of leaves and stomp through them with abandon.

If it’s not Autumn where you are, fake it. 🍂 🍃

Meditation for the Easily Distracted

Welcome to Meditation for the Easily Distracted. Before we begin, let’s take a moment to… hold on a second, that’s my phone…

Sorry about that. Okay, let’s silent our electronic devices now and take a moment to situate ourselves in our chair or on the floor. Whatever is most comfortable for you.

Meditation 1 (2)

You can cross your legs if you want to, but considering your knees maybe not.

Getting old really bites, doesn’t it?

To begin, let’s take a deep breath… inhale… and let it out through the mouth – fwoosh… another breath in… and fwoosh

Try not to think about what you’ll have for dinner… or how you need to go to the grocery store… or about that weird spot on your arm… (should probably get that checked out)…

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Or the sound your clock is making… ticking… ticking… ticking… okay, seriously? We can put a man on the moon but we can’t make a quiet clock?

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Let’s quiet our thoughts… unlike the damn clock… and let’s imagine our thoughts as little bubbles… don’t judge them, they’re just little bubbles…

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Watch the bubbles as they float over your head… one by one floating up and down, and… oh, stop looking for the bubbles. There are no actual bubbles…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

I once knew a woman who collected clocks… bet she had over a hundred of them on her wall, ceiling to floor… ding-donging and cuckoo-ing every hour…

Another breath in… and fwoosh

Imagine your thought bubbles rising up and down, sometimes stopping — there’s the one about your dinner plans… really need to see someone about the spot on your arm…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

You know, that clock lady would make a great character for a story… hold on while I write it down… where’s my damned notebook?

Breathe in… and fwoosh

Pork chops would be nice for dinner… maybe pick up some crescent rolls… better get some milk while you’re at it…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

You know what amazed me about the clock lady? All her clocks chimed at the exact same time, down to the last second…

Breathe in… and fwoosh

How long do you suppose it took her to get them set like that?… Daylight savings must have been a bitch…

Breathe in… and fwoosh…

Aw, screw it. I need to go to the store. This has been Meditation for the Easily Distracted. Until next time– Namaste.

And please, get that spot checked out. I worry about you.

Love in the Age of Google

About a week or so ago, I said I’d be working on some unfinished stories I had. Here’s the first one completed, an odd story involving Google Calendar and a budding office romance.

*****

“Jeremy? You got a minute?” Mandy lightly tapped on his desk. It was an open office plan at the Great River Insurance Agency — no doors. Amy’s desk was at the other end, near the copier; Jeremy’s was near the water cooler.

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Did you respond to Mr. Tolleson’s invite yet?”

“What invite?” He opened his laptop and tapped the space bar. “Hey, did you see what moved into the old burger place downstairs? They do street tacos.” He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a flyer, handing it to her. “Wanna try it for lunch? I think they deliver.”

She read the front: Voted Best Street Tacos in East Madison!

“How can they be voted best if they just opened?”

Jeremy shrugged. “No competition, I guess.” He tapped a few more keys. “Okay, yeah I got it: ‘Planning meeting with Tolleson, Wednesday the twenty-second at eight-thirty.'”

“Right. But it doesn’t say what we’re planning. Are you going to accept it?”

“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”

She pointed at the screen. “Look where he has us meeting. Click on it.”

Workplace
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

He did so. “The admin conference room in– oh.”

“Yeah, see what I mean?”

“Well, yeah but…” He peered closer. “He can’t be expecting us to… I mean, it has to be a mistake. Just go in his office and ask.”

“No way! Last time I asked a question he called me a– well, you know what he said. You were there.” She slapped his shoulder playfully. “You ask him. You’re his favorite.”

Jeremy laughed and leaned back in his seat. “Favorite? Tolleson doesn’t play favorites, he hates all of us equally. Frankly, I’d rather go to Nepal.”

“Right?” She shook her head and sighed. “Listen, why don’t you do a quick search. Maybe we can get a cheap flight.”

Meanwhile, in Nepal…

“This is most exciting,” began David Karki, addressing his staff at the Best Nepal Electronic and Export Center in Sanfebagar. “In two weeks there will be river insurance people from…” he checked his notes, “Wees-con-seen, using our Admin Conference room!”

A cheer rose from the table where his employees were gathered.

“I know that place,” said Amir Thapa. He was BNEEC’s accountant and considered an expert on all things American. He graduated from Michigan State.

“What time do they have it?” asked Alina Baral, who handled refreshments.

“Well, it’s set for 8:30 their time, so…”

“Four-thirty in the afternoon,” said Amir.

“Right. Four-thirty.”

Amir was wrong by three hours, but he said everything with such conviction they never doubted him.

Alina frowned. “Do you think they’ll want a meal? I can make rice and tarkari.”

David shook his head. “They’re Americans. Give them pastries.”

“Yes. Many pastries. And be sure to offer bottled water and very sweet coffee,” added Amir. “They like sweet coffee very much.”

Ever since the BNEEC’s conference room began autofilling in the Google calendar location box (the moment you typed in ‘a-d-m-i-n-c’), they were visited by bleary-eyed, confused workers from around the globe. Workers who had no idea why their employer was sending them to Nepal and were too insecure in their position to ask for clarification.

Priding themselves on their most excellent hospitality, the staff at BNEEC formed a Welcoming Committee. In the last month their conference room was used by three groups: a union meeting from Sacramento, two editorial assistants from Toronto, and eight bankers from Southampton.

The first time it happened was last April when they were going over their week’s numbers. Amir had a chart and the others were feigning interest in said chart.

“You’ll see here our numbers are declining in sections three and four, but in one, two, and three they are holding steady.”

David stifled a yawn. Just then three school administrators from Omaha entered the room. Each took a seat, pulled some papers from their folders — school administrators always carry folders — and looked at Amir’s chart attentively.

David cleared his throat. “Namaste,” he began. “We are very pleased to have you join us.” He smiled and held his hands out, palms up. “Please, if you would be so kind as to tell us your names?”

They introduced themselves: Fiona Owens and Vick Alteny, assistant principals at St. Timothy’s High School, and Gerald McNamara, dean of attendance.

“Yes, yes,” David said, nodding and smiling. “Ah, yes, we are most honored to have to join us. Most honored. But please, if you would be so kind, why are you joining us?”

They didn’t know.

“I got the invite last month,” said Fiona. She opened her folder and withdrew a copy of her calendar invite, handing it to David. (She always printed her emails, just in case.)

“Yeah, same here,” said Vick. “Fortunately I had my passport, but man, making the flight arrangements was a bitch, I’m telling ya. Nearly lost hope of making the meeting.”

Gerald remained silent as he looked at the view from the conference room window. They didn’t have views like this in Omaha.

Nepal
Photo by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash

David glanced at Fiona’s invite. “Yes, yes… I see you reserved our conference room.” He passed the sheet to Amir who studied it more closely.

“That’s right,” confirmed Fiona. “We have it for an hour.”

“We’re a little early,” admitted Vick. “There should be two others. Dr. Harrison is the one who set up the meeting and I think our bookstore manager is supposed to come.”

“No, Ursula isn’t coming” said Fiona. “She couldn’t get her passport in time.”

“Oh, that’s a shame.”

“Do you have any bottled water?” asked Gerald.

After two more such visits (a liquidation firm in London and a medical supply group from New York), something had to be done. It was not the loss of their Admin Conference room that concerned David, as they could always meet in the break room. It was their failure to provide a proper welcome to their guests.

Amir, who was also the IT man, worked on it. Soon their calendar for the Admin Conference Room showed the outside meetings as well as their own. They saw when the room was overbooked and, if they weren’t able to contact the organizer and ask if they truly intended on meeting in Nepal — “We’d love to have you, of course, but…” — then other arrangements were made. Other arrangements being refreshments, accommodations, a tour guide, and, if they intended on mountain climbing, a Sherpa.

As their brochure stated, “Offering the best meeting experience in Upper Nepal!”

Two weeks later, in Madison, Wisconsin…

“Where the hell is everyone?” demanded Mr. Tolleson, addressing an empty conference table at the Great River Insurance Agency.

His secretary entered the room carrying copies of the agenda. “Margorie called in sick and Ed is on vacation,” she explained. “I believe everyone else is in Nepal.” She pulled out a chair and sat down. It was her job to take minutes at all meetings, regardless if people showed up or were in Nepal.

Mr. Tolleson stared at her. “Nepal? What do you mean, like the country?”

“Yes sir.”

“Where is that? India?”

“No sir. It’s in Nepal.”

“Well, why in God’s name would they be in Nepal?!”

“You sent them there, sir.” She opened her tablet and wrote at the top: GRIA Planning Meeting, Present: Mr. Tolleson and Elise Hargrove, Absent: Everyone else.

“What– What do you mean I sent them there? I did nothing of the kind!” He pointed at her. “You’re the one who sets up meetings.”

She shook her head. “Don’t you remember, sir? You were angry because I set up the last annuities meeting on the day you told me, because you said I should have known what you meant–”

“Oh for God’s sake! When do we have meetings on Saturdays? You should have known–”

“And then you wanted me to set up this meeting, but then said…” she flipped her tablet and read the last entry, “Never mind, I’ll send it out myself. You’re so f… effin’ incompetent…” she glanced at him. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’d rather not read the rest out loud. In any case, you said you would send the calendar invite yourself.”

She stood and handed him a copy of the invite. (Elise printed all her emails as well.) “So you see, sir? You sent it out. You sent them to Nepal.”

He stared at the page and sputtered, “Oh… this is… how can… what kind of stupid idiot goes to Nepal?!”

“I hear it’s quite nice this time of year.”

“Why didn’t they say something? They could have asked me, the stupid $@&% idiots!”

She walked to the door. “If it’s all the same to you, sir, I’m going to take the rest of the day off. Beings how there’s no one here.”

She didn’t wait for his response. She also didn’t show him the text she received earlier from Mandy:

text from nepal

All thanks to Google Calendar…

Elise had a marvelous day off and everyone else returned to the office two days later, relaxed and bursting with interesting stories. One month later, Jeremy and Mandy moved in together.

Mr. Tolleson was transferred to a branch in Dayton, Ohio. He never called another meeting.

conference room
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Note: Earlier this year at my previous job, the administrator I worked for set up a meeting and accidentally located it in Nepal. We had a great laugh over it. But I got to thinking, what if there’s an office in Nepal expecting them and there’s someone right now setting up coffee and donuts? That’s how the middle portion of this story came to be written. (Feels good to have it finished at last.)
On to the next story!

On Apple Trees, Cake, and Planning Ahead for Panic Attacks

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have an apple tree.

Here, look upon my apple tree:

Apple tree 1

Beautiful, is it not?

Better yet, it provides a marvelous view from my kitchen sink.

Here, look upon the view from my kitchen sink:

kitchen window mn

The window screen makes it a little fuzzy, but you get the idea. It’s a damn fine view.

For comparison sake, here was the view from my former kitchen sink:

Kitchen window az

You’re probably wondering why I bothered taking a picture of a brick wall.

About three months ago, give or take a day, I got a wee bit concerned about our move from Arizona to Minnesota.

I started thinking that at some future point — say, in February when it’s 30 below here and 70 in Phoenix — I’ll think to myself, “HOLY FREAKIN’ COW, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!”

So in preparation for that event, I took pictures of all the things in our Phoenix home that drove me nuts. Hence, the picture of a brick wall.

(Just curious, what’s that say about a person who plans ahead for panic attacks?)

I also have shots of my kids’ rooms (cleaning is not their strong suit), our “music room” (it was more a catch-all room), and – my personal favorite — a stack of dirty dishes one of my kids left by the empty sink.

The question is, will looking at a picture of dirty dishes ease the pain of moving away from my kids?

Um… yeah. It has. (I’m a monster.)

Anyway, back to the apples. I’ve no idea what kind they are except they are wonderful for baking. (Score!) Also, I’ve come to a better understanding of why commercial growers use chemicals. Up close and personal, my apples are not pretty.

Tell me, would you pay good money for these apples?

applesNeither would I. Yet they’re delicious in your morning oatmeal with a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar.

So far I’ve made a couple pies, muffins, several bowls of oatmeal, and a wonderful cake that I will share with you in a moment.

(*gasp* She’s actually sharing a recipe?!)

This weekend I plan on picking the entire tree; I believe it’s time and the bugs have had enough of a feast. I foresee a batch of applesauce and apple butter in my future.

But first, cake!

This cooler weather (54° this morning) put me in the mood for baking. I scoured my cookbooks for recipes using apples and found no less than five for cake, all a tad different. I took what I liked best from each (more apples and spices here, less oil and eggs there, ooh a glaze!) and came up with this one. It turned out marvelous and it works either as a coffee cake or a dessert.

By the way, the town in which I now live has the best coffee. Really! It’s a downtown shop called Reality Roasters. Their beans might cost a little more, but dang, they’re worth it.

Just the thing for this cake. ☕

Apple Cake with Butterscotch Glaze

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Apple cake

This is a rich tasting cake but without a lot of oil and eggs; Perfect for a cool autumn morning with a cup of coffee or as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups diced apples, unpeeled (about 5 or 6 baking apples)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda*
  • Granola or rolled oats for topping (I used Full Circle’s oats & honey granola)
  • Glaze (see below)

Mix together sugar, oil, eggs and apples. In separate bowl mix together flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. Add to the apple mixture, stir well and pour into a greased 13 x 9″ baking pan. Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of granola or rolled oats. Bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Prepare glaze while cake cools.

Butterscotch Glaze: In small saucepan over medium heat, stir together 2 Tablespoons butter, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-n-half. Bring to a boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Let cool slightly and drizzle on top of cake.

Can serve warm or cooled. 🍂

*I know it sounds like a lot, but the two teaspoons of baking soda is correct. 🙂

 

Quantity Over Quality: Master the First and You’ll Achieve the Second (Theoretically)

There’s a story of a ceramics teacher (and if I had the gumption I’d find the source for it) that carries a lesson for us all. It goes as follows:

It was the end of the year and the teacher gave the class two options for their final project: they could choose to have their work graded by quantity or quality. Those who chose quantity were challenged to see how many pots they could produce in one week’s time. It didn’t matter what the pots looked like, only that they were completed. The students who chose quality only had to make one pot, but it had to be the best pot they could create.
Half the class chose quantity and began churning out pots right and left. As soon as one was done, another was started. And so on. All week long.
The other half of the class spent their time working out their designs, analyzing their methods, pondering and planning and pouring over every detail, in order to create their one perfect pot.
At the end of the week, the results were graded and an interesting discovery was made. Not only did the “quantity” group produce the most pots, they also produced the best quality pots. Over and above the “quality” group.

Reason being, or so we can infer, they focused on the process rather than the results. And because they kept churning out pot after pot, they were learning and correcting errors as they went.

Ceramics teacher
Let’s pretend this is the ceramics teacher. He’s kind of cool, don’t you think? (Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash)

The article wherein I found this story related it to our own creative endeavors. Whether writing, painting, quilting, woodwork, music — anything we do where we hope to improve — the key is to focus on quantity over quality. Push yourself to produce as much as possible.

Want to improve your writing? Push out story after story. Your drawing? Create five or more drawings every day. Your photography skills? Take pictures everywhere you go. Really annoy the hell out of everyone you know.

You get the idea.

This concept was driven home to me a few days ago. I was working on a project, actually it was the “Bible Stories in Text” project I mentioned before, and I wanted to include some limericks and silly rhymes for it.

How hard could that be?

Turns out pretty hard. I spent one hour alone on Jacob and Esau and still didn’t like it. I was about to give up when I thought of the ceramics story. For the next hour I produced five more rhymes. None of them particularly good, but at least they were done. I shut the laptop and left to run some errands.

I had to go to my credit union because like a dope, I left my debit card in the ATM when I last used it. (No worries, nothing bad happened other than a dent to my ego.) On my way home I decided to stop at the park and sit on my favorite bench, the one under the willow tree. And though I never noticed it before, this time I read the inscription:

In Dick's memory

There was something about “Tuesday Bridge Club” that tickled my fancy. I grabbed my notebook — another article I read said you should always carry an idea notebook — and jotted down:

written in notebook

Soon 15 more lines appeared under it in some semblance of a poem. (I’m guessing since I spent the morning in rhyme, it just naturally flowed out that way.)

Not knowing anything of Bridge, I googled the rules and added a few references; once I got home I finished it up and within the next hour had that bad boy ready to post.

My point is, I’m fairly certain that had I not spent the morning focused on those silly rhymes, had I not pushed myself to produce several even though I was dissatisfied with them all, Dick’s tribute poem might never have happened.

Of course I can’t prove any of this, but it feels right and I believe it so. Plus I’ve got that ceramics teacher backing me up.

Here, let’s look at the guy again:

Ceramics teacher

Quantity over quality.

Now in truth, none of this is too surprising. If you want to improve at writing, write. If you want to improve your singing, sing.

All together now: Duh.

But the fact is, however much we know this truth we still fail to put it into practice. Or at least, that’s the way it is for me. Maybe you’re self-disciplined to the core, wake every morning at the crack of dawn and write 20 pages before your first cup of coffee. In which case I don’t like you very much and I think you should go away now.

For the rest of us, we need reminders to keep going in spite of the drivel we produce. To push on, produce, finish our stories and trust the process. Let go of our need to produce lovely rhymes or charming stories, to let go of our desire to like everything we’ve written. Eventually — hopefully — we’ll like what we’ve written, but we’ll probably produce plenty of crap before we get there.

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. — Anne Lamott

I have a stack of messes. About five or six unfinished stories I found while unpacking, one of which I barely remember. Each one began in a fever of creativity, that much I remember, but as soon as the going got rough they came to a screeching halt. As I look at them now… well, they’re not horrible. Some spots are quite good, others maybe not so much, but overall they don’t suck.

So here’s the thing: I’ve decided I’m going to dig them out, one by one, and give myself a timeline for finishing them. Let’s say one story per week.

They may appear in this blog — that part I haven’t decided yet. I’m not in the habit of printing much fiction here, so I’ll give it some thought.

(Okay, technically, I suppose there’s fiction here. For instance, I have no idea if Dick liked white wine or if he was a bourbon man.)

Mainly I thought that if I told others what I was doing — Hey guys! I’m spending the next 6 weeks writing 6 stories! —  I stand a better chance of actually doing it.

The key is, and golly I sure hope I remember it, is to finish them even if I don’t like them. Because maybe by the sixth one I will.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever shown you the cover of my idea notebook:

my idea notebook

I’m not expecting too much here, believe me. I just want to get the stories finished. And if you’re reading this, I expect you have something unfinished to work on as well, or some skill you wish to improve?

Quantity over Quality: Ready, set… go!

In Dick’s Memory, From the Tuesday Bridge Club

In Dick's memory

He was a good man, was Dick Heinrich,
He played a fine hand; he took many a trick.
He never bid short when he should have bid long,
He never lost his cool when his partner bid wrong.

Every Tuesday night from six until nine
The four met at Patty’s for cards and white wine.
Besides Patty and Dick, there was Jack and Simone,
None of them married, they all lived alone.

But on Tuesday nights they played in pairs
Every week sitting in different chairs.
Jack would bring cheese and Simone would bring bread
(Good crusty bread, it ought to be said).

Patty made her dip, leaving Dick to bring wine
And he never complained though he brought it every time.
It’s no wonder they liked him, he was always so giving;
It hit them all hard when he was no longer living.

In memory they established this bench and this tree
And they’re seeking a new partner to bring Riesling or Chablis;
So if you like Bridge and you know something of wine,
It’s Tuesdays at Patty’s — Mind your bidding and you’ll be fine.

What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

My friends, look upon this book:

book ideal bookshelf

My Ideal Bookshelf — I found at the library. It’s a collection of writers, actors, musicians, artists — cultural movers and shakers — talking about their favorite books.

As I read it, I was struck by a couple thoughts. For one, I’m woefully under-read. Not only have I not read most of the books listed, many I’ve never heard of. It’s shameful, really.

Another thought: this book is strangely voyeuristic. Like you’re peeking into their personal lives and getting a sense of what makes them tick.

But really, isn’t that what our bookshelves do? They tell a story of our interests and hobbies, our upbringing and education level, even our fears or obsessions.

And tell the truth, when visiting someone’s home, don’t you look at the titles on their bookshelves and judge them just a little, based on what you find? (Yeah, me too.)

Knowing full well you’ll probably judge me for this, I’m going to pull out a few of the titles on my shelf that I think describe me best. These are the ones I either read over and over again, or I’m deeply sentimental about them. So much so, that moving them from Phoenix to Minnesota was a no-brainer.

(Note: Nearly all links lead to abebooks.com, my favorite site for buying used books.)

My bookshelf and me

On the far right is my Betty Crocker’s Boys & Girls Cookbook. I think it was a gift when I was in the fourth grade and I credit it for igniting my love of cooking. Right next to it are Anderson’s Fairy Tales and Blackbeard’s Ghost. I read those two over and over again all through my youth, and to this day have a strong preference for fantasy. Oh, and that fat book toward the left without a binding or cover? That’s a book of poetry, both silly and serious, that my dad often read or quoted from. I believe it explains my penchant for dark humor:

Willie saw some dynamite,
Couldn’t understand it quite;
Curiosity seldom pays:
It rained Willie seven days.

Next up, let’s consider my teen years: That Certain Something, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and way over on the left, Dr. Zhivago. Probably the weirdest collection for a teenage girl to be found. That Certain Something is a book on developing charm, of all things. You might say it was the first self-help book I ever read. It even has a quiz at the end to see how charming you are. (Note: for those of a certain age, the author was Arlene Francis — she of game show fame.)

As for Jonathan LS … well, as a matter of fact, yes. I was one of those teenage girls who thought Jonathan was deep. Truly deep, man.

seagull

Dr. Zhivago is when my serious reading began. It took three attempts and a course in Russian history before I finally understood the novel was waaaay more than a love story. I felt oh-so-smart when I figured it out, and in the process learned some books are worth a second (or third) try.

From there it was an easy jump to other classics, my favorites being The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. And then there’s Giants in the Earth, by O.E. Rölvaag.

Never heard of it? Neither did I until I heard a portion of it on the radio. I immediately ordered two copies, one for me and one for my dad. Reason being, the book is about Norwegian immigrants to the Dakota territories and it opens with a man walking ahead of their ox-pulled wagon — the same story my dad told about his grandfather.

Later when my dad was hospitalized with congestive heart failure, I visited him. He brought up the novel and I found out things I never knew — like how his dad would tell him stories of trolls and other folk tales, and I learned more details about his mom’s depression after his dad died (in the book, the main character’s wife suffers from mental illness). My dad passed away a few months after our impromptu book discussion. Some books you enjoy, some you recommend, others hold treasured memories. Giants in the Earth is all of those things for me.

Closing in on our Final Five, you’ll see there’s Lanterns & Lances by James Thurber. I’ve mentioned before this served as inspiration for the Feeding on Folly moniker, and as I said in my ‘about me’ page, I’m a huge Thurber fan. This book doesn’t include his most well-known writings, but it’s about 60 years old and it smells lovely.

As I Live and Breathe, A Sense of the Morning, and Here Be Dragons were all accidental discoveries. Either found in used bookstores or at a “friends of the library” sale, they weren’t my usual choices of reading but became instant favorites. As I Live and Breathe is a sweet, humorous tale of the author and his wife in the ’40s and ’50s. A Sense of the Morning contains essays on nature, but it’s so much more than that. This book reminds me how to look at the world with a sense of wonder. And Here Be Dragons… well, that book taught me way more about the world than any science class did. If you have any interest in evolution or plate tectonics, or even if you don’t have interest, read this book. It explains things better than anything else I’ve read.

That leaves us with Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Hands down, my favorite book on writing. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself and thinking I’ll never write anything good, it helps to think of this book and picture Lamott whispering over my shoulder, “go ahead, get that shitty first draft done.” (Hmm. Might be time to reread this one.)

And there you have it, 15 of the books from my shelves. I could have shown you more, but these are the ones I feel influenced me the most – either as a writer, a reader, or simply as a human being (if being human were so simple).

And now it’s your turn. Think about the books you’ve read that made you who you are today. They might be ones you prominently display on your bookshelf, or it may be you read it once and can’t get out of your head.

List them in the comments below or, if you have a blog, write about them on your site and link it here. I’d love to get more book recommendations. After all, I’ve got some extra space on my bookshelves just aching to be filled.

my bookshelf for featured photo

Thoughts on Squashed Snakes, Self-Publishing, and the End of the World as We Know It

What with one thing and another, mostly another, I found I was without a blog post for today.

I mean, sure, I wrote things. A feeble response to an online article I read, the beginnings of a short story that went nowhere, and a silly thing about the Biblical character Job calling Heaven’s customer complaint line. Funny, but too long for a blog post and I wasn’t sure how well people knew the story of Job.

Anyway, rather than skipping this week and ruining my record of posting in a timely manner two weeks in a row, I’m going to toss out some random thoughts that were cluttering up my brain.

Here goes:

Thought One

I wore boots yesterday and it’s still August. What’s more, I’ll probably wear boots again today. Ain’t life grand?

My boots

Thought Two

There was a squashed snake on the side of the road the other day. I saw it while walking to the post office. It was a pretty one, slender and long with bright yellow stripes. No idea what kind it was, but it looked like it nearly made it across the street before it was squashed. Poor guy.

snake in the street, alas
I’m not showing the squashed part, only the pretty part. You’re welcome.

Thought Three

I need to buy a rake. It’s not for leaves, though we know they’re coming. It’s for all the acorns. Our yard is full of them. So many that when you walk in the backyard, you don’t walk so much as roll. And I think the squirrels here are lazy. They don’t seem to be working very hard at storing food for winter. (Maybe they know something?)

acorns

Thought Four

So this is how it is. You write something funny about the Book of Job and think, gosh this is great. This is worthy of publishing. And so you check the submission guidelines for humor sites and magazines. That’s when you discover there just isn’t the market for snarky humor pieces about the Book of Job like there used to be.

Thought Five

I need more boots. I only have two, both black, one short and one tall. These were the ones I thought worthy enough to pack and able to withstand Minnesota weather. I’m thinking I need multiple types. Money is no object! (Who needs food?)

Thought Six

Back to the squashed snake. Why was he crossing the street? The side he left was woodsy and green. The side he was heading toward was rocky. Had he been satisfied where he was, he might still be alive today. What possessed him to leave his happy home? Was he unfulfilled as a snake? Was the weight of his responsibilities too much to bear? (*Gasp!* Did he, like our squirrels, foresee the future and found no reason to carry on?!)

Thought Seven

Maybe what I should is bundle together my Bible stories in text, Samson’s online dating snafu, and the piece on Job — add a few more texts and alternate stories — then self-publish the whole lot of them.
Hmm. It might work. I’ll have to think about it.

Thought Eight

If the squirrels and snake are onto something, if we have but a limited time on this earth — okay, I guess we always knew our time was limited, but let’s say it’s more limited than we thought — does that change anything? Does it change how we live, how we act, or how soon we snatch up boots on sale?
Or work on the book we have percolating in our head?
Hmm.
Excuse me. I should get back to work.