Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Waiting for January 5, 2009

I love going on walks at night with Rick. We leash the Jakester up and enjoy the crisp night air. It's especially fun right now looking at the Christmas lights that don the houses in our neighborhood. Everything is sparkly--like the houses have personalities of their own -- showing off their holiday colors like peacocks in heat. There's electricity in the air.

But I'm really, really ready to move into January 5, 2009. I'm ready for life to go back to normal. The normal where I get up in the morning, feed the dog, drink a cup of java or hot tea, read the paper or a few pages of a book (right now that would be the The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent), do my morning pages, and early on, find my way to my office and write, with my husband happily on his way to work.

But he's not. He's has taken the past two weeks off. We've had such a good time going to movies (which we love), running those errands we never seem to find time to take care of (which is great) and eating out (which isn't--nothing fits, my waist is creeping up and under my breastbone and my pants have nearly all become capris). I've not done anything around the house. No cleaning. Little writing. No exercise.

There are piles of things that need to be put away. The tree needs to come down. Christmas presents need to find homes in drawers, cabinets, or closets, mail is stacked up waiting for me to sort through it, and growing kitties of golden retriever fur swirl on the hardwood floors when I walk by, and I won't mention laundry. Ack!

I need a day at home and I know it will come, but not until Rick's back to work on January 5th. I should be happy that we get along well enough to spend so much time together, and I am -- but I miss my normal. A lot.

So, this morning I got up early. I quietly crept downstairs with my little Alphasmart tucked under my arm to do a little writing. YAY, I thought, I have time to write. The house was church-quiet. I was ready for a pretend normal morning. I fed the dog. I made a cup of tea. I curled up on the couch and took a deep breath. I put the Alphasmart on my lap, poised my fingers ... and then I heard it, the bedroom radio blaring.

I just want my normal back. I'm afraid that when Rick retires, I'll be swallowed up by too many movies, too much food, exploring too many new places, and noise, a lot of it. The real fear is that I'll love it, and then what? Will I stop being me? Stop writing? Stop being my silly independent self?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Oh Chrismas Spirit, oh Christmas Spirit, where are you????

I was listening to the radio yesterday, driving from our house to Alamo, and the DJ said that there is always that moment, a singular moment when you know you know you have Christmas spirit. I can't put my finger on exactly when it is for me, I'd venture to say that it arrives somewhere between midnight, December 25, and the morning of December 26--after the peak, after the excitement, the rush. Who knows why?

Every year I swear that this will be the year we'll dust off the Christmas tree box, lug our artificial friend into the house and then, right after Thanksgiving, maybe even the day after, line up their color coded branches, stick the metal ends into the skinny trunk, string up the lights, oooh and ahhh, and begin to decorate the prickly branches. Then, we'll stand back and admire our handiwork--just as we do every year, but this time, we'll have time to enjoy it before it's time to take it down.

Yesterday morning I emailed our friends to ask if they'd like to come to our house for Manhattans, dinner, and to help decorate the tree. I signed the email Ba and Humbug Luck. Our friends are remodeling their downstairs, (translate no downstairs heat, stove, sink, dishwasher, etc.) We thought they'd enjoy a nice warm house and a Manhattan or two.

And so it would make sense that our heater went out about five minutes after I sent the email, and on the coldest day of the year, with frost on hillsides, rooftops, and grass. The water in the water fountain was iced over, there was snow on the top of Mt. Diablo (which my husband called me outside to see barefooted at 6 am before he left for the gym), and our friends were looking forward to a nice cozy evening with heat, which under normal circumstances we wouldn't be a problem.

When I told them we'd be chilly they still wanted to come. They must have been near desperate for a home cooked meal or a Manhattan. I think it was the Manhattans. My husband makes the best Manhattans.

After drinks and dinner the guys roped the lights around the tree, we all hung the ornaments and then we had dessert in the family room. They brought their two dogs with them, so along with our one and their two dogs we had a full and furry house.

Now I have Christmas spirit. It came right after I'd finished dessert...a very quick, experimental dish--so easy--so simple--so delish that I'm including it here so you can enjoy it, too. I can't tell proportions because I made it up.

Buy Pepperidge Farms frozen pastry cups. Bake according to directions
Cut off tops
Heat 2-3 tbs butter in a large saucepan until bubbly
add 2-3 tbs of brown sugar
Slice two bananas into 1/2 inch pieces
Add bananas to melted butter/sugar and stir. Cook until the bananas are warmed through. Scoop banana mixture into the cups, replace tops, drizzle remaining sauce over top of pasty cup and add a dollop of ice cream. Simple. Delish. Enjoy~

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cinnamon Christmas

Once Halloween hits, I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach reminding me that Christmas is almost here. The legs of time make a gigantic leap over Halloween and Thanksgiving and we’re plunked into a sea of Joy to the World, Silent Night, spending too much money on presents and all thought of what the holiday is really about, vanishes like candy in a kindergarten classroom.

My mind pulls and tugs, trying to hold back time as it ticks, like a bomb, toward Christmas. The holiday buzz begins. Running from store to store like a whirling dervish, buying to buy, wrapping to wrap and giving to give…and because I must. Colorful, glitter-laden Holiday greeting cards point out the ‘reason for the season’ but it, too, seems to get lost in shark-like buying frenzies and grabbing Christmas red sweaters on sale for half price.

How can I keep the focus on what has deep, rich meaning? Staying present and doing something for others less fortunate than myself is what I’ve learned bridges the gap from materialism to making difference during the holiday season. Here’s how it all began.

Each year at the start of the holiday season, I begin baking. It’s really the only time I bake in mass quantity. Strangely enough my now adult daughters do the same thing, as did my Mother. I didn’t want to be like my mom, and well, my girls pride themselves in their own individualism. But, what we do have in common is, we bake, we cook, we have to we're feeding children, adults--families.

When my kids were small, at the ages when baking with Mom was fun, out came the baking utensils, yellow measuring cups, ¼, 1/3, ½, ¾, 1 cup, worn metal measuring spoons, big white Rubbermaid bowls, lots of creamy butter, sugar, salt, flour, cracked eggs hopefully without tiny sand like pieces of shell. Cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg dotted the countertops along with other spices, and the baking began. We’d make cinnamon sugar Snicker doodles, gingerbread boys and girls with red-hots for eyes and m & m’s for buttons, red and green colored Christmas butter cookies, thumbprint cookies with strawberry jam and small loaves of cranberry bread. The best part was licking the leftover batter from the bowl with their fingers and for a moment, I’d worry they’d get salmonella from the raw eggs, which by the way, never happened.

I’d watch their deft little fingers drop cookies into Christmas tins and boxes with pictures of Santa Claus and reindeer on the top, counting to make sure each box had the same number of cookies. We’d pile into the old blue station wagon and drive to the local Homeless shelter, senior housing center or Battered Women’s Alternative, dropping off cookies. Then we’d go home, spread an old red, white and blue snowflake flannel quilt on the floor and eat snicker doodles and drink hot chocolate. We'd watch the Charlie Brown’s Christmas special on television. When I’d ask them what the best part of the day was, eating cookies came first but giving cookies to the folks who were less fortunate than us, they’d say, would make them ‘tickle inside’.

Now, the ‘reason for the season’ is seeing my children volunteer and give back to the community, to those less fortunate, and watch life come full circle.

I miss those days. They sped by much too fast. This year the cookies will be made with the grand kids, and that's just as special.

December CWC Tri-Valley article

Seasoned writers will tell you that after they finish their short story or novel, the road to publication is still far away. Unfortunately some of our little darlings as we like to call them, those words we just love but aren’t needed, must be slashed from the text. But tightening your prose makes your work more powerful and interesting to read.

The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand, is an unsuspecting little powerhouse of less than 100 pages, under ten dollars, and contains relatively easy, but dynamite suggestions which will help you polish your project.

For example, Rand recommends doing a word search/find for all the words that end in “ly,” specific words such as that, was, like, or specific names that might be overused. When you find them, you can decide whether or not the word should stay, go, or be replaced.

He also advises reading your text out loud. Listen for glitches, stilted and awkward conversations, or repetition.

Both Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and David King, and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, site problems, pose solutions, and at the end of each chapter they provide examples for you to edit or questions to ask yourself about your own work to help improve editing skills.

As writers, sometimes we’re too close to our own work to catch redundancies or notice that in chapter five the protagonist has red hair and in chapter 23 his hair is suddenly salt and pepper. If you fit into that category, ask your critique group for help, hire an editor, or have a few trusted friends read your material.

Remember, when shopping for an agent you want to submit material that is squeaky clean and error free. Hopefully the above suggestions will set you on the path to both.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Scrabble Guilt

At last month's Bunco game, I sat next to a woman with perfect hair--stylish, fun, a little sexy, highlighted in such a way that it didn't look like a paint by number head--which is my big thing with highlighted hair--sometimes it looks too uniform. We began chatting and I found out that she's a hair stylist (surprise??) and she loves to play scrabble. So do I.

She told me about a web site, scrabulous.com, that she plays every day. So, when I came home that night, I sat right down at the computer only to discover that the site is defunct. Big disappointment, but not to be deterred, I googled 'scrabble' and found other, many other, scrabble sites...all of which I wish I'd never found.

You don't even need another player--your opponent is the computer. It means that while I'm playing scrabble with a machine I can avoid doing the things I probably should be doing. It feeds right into the procrastination hole like nail filler.

The good news is I've learned new two letter words. And I've won one game. Only one--it's never good when a machine is smarter than you, is it? Also, if it takes too long to create a word, you run out of time and then have to wait to see if your opponent i.e. the computer, will give you extra time. So far it has, I guess it feels sorry for me.

Right now, it's 7 pm and it's time to relax so if I'd like, I could play scrabble. But, I think it's more fun to play when I'm not supposed to, don't you?

Give it a try, you'll wish you didn't :)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'm back...

I had all but decided to give up my scribblescrabble.blogspot but then Kelly, editor of the California Writers Club Tri-Valley Writers newsletter, wrote an article about blogs and lo and behold, I saw that she gave my blog address for all members to check out! Now I'm ashamed! Not really...

I didn't really want to give up the blog (mostly because I couldn't think of a catchy name if I wanted to start another blog--fresh--without the big gap in time), but I'd gotten so lazy. My last entry was in the middle of October for gosh sake, the motivation factor was pretty low. But I do believe in omens and Kelly holds me to a higher standard so I'm back. And in a snap, too. I read the newsletter about ten minutes ago and thought oh %*&# I need to write something!

Being held to a higher standard because someone else sees that in you is a great motivator. It's sometimes the only thing that will make me write if I'm feeling really dreadful and can't get out of my own way. Fortunately, that doesn't happen often to me. I love to write. I write every day, although not on the blog. And granted, most of the writing might not make sense as I scribble scrabble my way through the day, but the point is, I do it. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, suggests writing every day, just three pages. Three pages doesn't seem like much at all especially after you read Carolyn See's book about the literary life and writing one thousand words a day. And that's what I've been doing on my little Alphasmart, which by the way, is the handiest and dandiest writing tool I own. Check it out at www.alphasmart.com and see what you think. It gives me the freedom to write anywhere. Uses a couple of AA batteries that last (no joke) 700 hours! I don't mean to sound like an advertisement for them, but it is a dynamite machine. It automatically saves, has a thesaurus, spell check, will cut, paste, copy, houses eight files which hold up to twenty-five pages each ...and more.

So if per chance you happened to stop by my blog to read, please say hello by leaving a comment and feel free to read some of my past blogs. Once again, I'll try to get back on track with entertaining little stories about the writing life, my grand children, yoga, books, and life's challenges and mudslides.

It feels good to be back:) Thanks for dropping by!