The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Trip of a Lifetime

       In exactly two weeks, I'll be winging off on a trip of a lifetime. The destination, as well as the company, makes it so monumental.

      I'll be going to southern France--a small village outside of Pau--and my daughter and granddaughter will be going with me. (My daughter said she is not going to return... she is sure she will be so in love with France, she'll want to stay forever. However, she know Jason will insist that their daughter returns. That will be a tear-filled au revoir...)

      This is my fourth trip (and surprisingly, never to Paris). On my first trip, I went by myself to visit my French sister. (She lived with my family for a year--through AFS-- when I was a senior in high school.)  On my second trip, I took my son. (At fourteen, he discovered how delicious sangria and all alcoholic liquids were.)  On my third trip, I went with a high school friend who was the Charmaine in the Virginie and Sioux threesome.

      This time, it's going to be two weeks to languish over lunch for several hours--every day--as we talk and laugh and relax and drink. It's going to be time spent at the beach with Virginie's older brother Olivier (who is also my older brother--if life allowed us to choose our own family members). It's going to be two weeks of savoring life and taking the time to enjoy every moment... with the three women in my family I love the most.

     Here are a couple pictures I took on an earlier trip (I would post more, but blogger is being persnickety):

This was taken in the Basque region, which straddles France and Spain
in the middle of the Pyrenees. Those are strung dried peppers
hanging on the upper story of the shop.

Those are the Pyrenees looming in the distance.

Last summer I worked to save the money for the airplane tickets. This summer, I worked (am working--I have one more week) so we would have spending money--money to perhaps rent a car. (Virginie is taking a week off. The other week, we might tool around the countryside during the day while she's at work.) Money to buy groceries. Money to keep our cameras' battery habit satiated...

Luckily, I am fluent in French. I can say, "I'm thirsty." I used to be able to ask in French, "Does this water taste like sh**?" I know what "Ca va?" means and can respond appropriately. ("Ca va.") I know how to say "My name is Sioux," and "Do you speak English?" and "sh**" in French. Beyond that, I'm clueless.

So I'm counting on my nine-year old granddaughter. She's going to be our translator. She and my daughter have some app on their phone (duolingo, I think) and even though they just recently downloaded it, she's picking it up quickly.

Out of the mouths of babes... will hopefully come the phrase, "Where is the toilet?" when we need it. 

What are your plans for the rest of the summer? And if you're retired, don't rub in the fact that the rest of your life is one long summer season... 'cause I don't want to hear it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Face Only a Mudder Would Love

Believe it or not, this is a golden retriever. Actually, he's quite a handsome golden, but with all the rain we've been getting, he becomes a mud puppy... every time he goes outside.

         Some people complain about their dogs not wanting to go outside when it's raining. Sometimes, I wish I had that problem. Once Radar's out for five minutes, he might as well be out for five hours, because after a few minutes, it would be impossible for him to get any muddier...

         This dog loves the water and loves the mud. 
         When he comes in from prancing and galloping in the raindrops and digging in the mud, he's covered from nose to tail with mud... and has a face only a mother would love.

        It makes me wonder if my WIP is the same. Will I be the only one who loves it (or likes it slightly)? Will I think it's a seamless, entertaining and moving story... but no one else will have the same opinion? Right now I'm up to 65,000 words, but have reached a crucial point in the storyline. Will I muck it up? Or, will I be able to successfully navigate around the obstacles so that--eventually--I'll be able to finish it?

       Only time will tell...

       What story do you have about a pet or a kid who did something--and only you were able to laugh about it?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Prompting the Writing

        This summer I'm working with teachers of writing. All day, four days a week, for five weeks. It's pretty heady stuff.

         Every day we start with a daily prompt. Each day, a different teacher chooses a prompt to get us writing for 10 minutes. Then, we share what we've written.

         One day the prompt was a commercial. In it, a father kept doing crazy things with his kids and kept saying, "Don't tell Mom." (It ended with the mother going skydiving and saying, "Don't tell Dad.") The prompt: Begin your piece with the words "Don't tell."

          Sometimes the prompt is a photo on the internet. Once, it was the first line from a novel: "The mouth is a strange place." It's the perfect way to start the day--warming up our writing mind.

          Yesterday we had five columns, and we had to choose one word from each column to use in our piece. As soon as I saw "Mrs. Cassidy," I knew what I was going to write about. (The other words I chose were sink, scatter, swell and iconoclastic.)

          Here's my story:

         "Swell. You're here," I said. A middle-aged woman stood at the door. She didn't look worthy of him. She looked like he had settled. Really settled.
          "Yes? Can I help you?"
          "So, you must be Mrs. Cassidy. When you married him, you got me all whipped up into a frenzy. Years ago, I made a voodoo doll of you, and eventually, scattered parts of it all over the country. You're an undeserving skank and your reign with him--the partridge of all the Partridge Family, the iconoclastic singer of the 60's and 70's--well, your time is up."
         Her mouth gaped open, like a brainless fish stuck in a tiny fishbowl.
         I yanked her by her hair, not even giving her the chance to say another word, and started shoving her in  a direction I hoped would lead in a direction which would lead to either the bathroom or the kitchen.
        Another reason to shout "swell," because we had gotten to the back of the house where the kitchen was. I filled up the sink, keeping my grip on her hair and despite her struggling, managed to hold her head under the water until she was limp and motionless.
        Now I could take my rightful place beside David...

        Why did "Mrs. Cassidy" instantly spark an idea? When I was 11 or 12, I was in love with David Cassidy. When he married the actress Kay Lenz, I was aghast. I could easily imagine a pre-teen crush going awry.

Aaah... the days when all hair was feathered back...

        Certainly there are huge holes in this story, and if I was interested in revising it, there's loads of work to do. However, I benefited from warming up with a little creative spark.

        How do you warm up? What rituals do you engage in to start off your writing? 

Monday, June 22, 2015

NOT What He'd Imagined...

       Denmark Vesey was a former slave. He bought his own freedom. Unfortunately, he was unable to purchase his wife and his children's freedom. 

Denmark Vesey

      A leader in the newly-formed AME church in Charleston, Vesey and a whole network of slaves and freed slaves plotted a bloody rebellion in June of 1822. They were going to kill the mayor, along with every white person they saw.

      A slave confessed to his master and told of the plot. The plan was squashed. People were arrested. Many were hanged... Vesey was one of them.

      That was 193 years ago. The killings that happened in the AME church--almost two centuries later... they were far from what Vesey had planned for Charleston. 

       Unfortunately, this plan--the plan to shed blood in 2015--was not squashed...

         (If you'd like to read a novel in which Vesey has a role, read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke, two feminists and abolitionists, also are two main characters. It's a wonderful read.)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

All You Need's a Nudge

       Sometimes all you need is a little push. A nudge. A bit of prompting.

      On Monday I only had two paragraphs. Two pathetic paragraphs that were written over the weekend. It was a prospective Chicken Soup story, but already, it wasn't going anywhere.

      Tuesday rolled around and I figured I would come empty-handed to my writing critique group. I rarely do that. I hate not bringing something to the group. We only meet twice a month, and since I get such helpful feedback from the WWWPs, when I don't share something, I'm missing out on invaluable help.

      I got up early enough on Wednesday morning that I was able to hurry through a rough draft. Yes, when I shared the piece later that evening, there were word choices that needed to be changed. The title stunk. But... I was able to benefit from the much-needed suggestions.

      Those twice-monthly meetings push me to write. And when I'm there, they nudge me to submit.

      Yesterday, along with some great food (Nora Ephron's spaghetti) and great critique work, we celebrated one of those pesky annual celebrations... a celebration that I'd like to ignore. The WWWPs, however, won't let any birthday pass without hilarity and thoughtfulness.

      One of the gifts I got was this book. Yeah, you missed the announcement that my mug had made the cover of a book? Well, don't look too closely. The expression on my face is, uh, well... I was looking pretty whackadoo when the camera shutter fluttered.

        One of the women took a book, entitled Wild Women, and glued in hilarious chapter descriptions and photos of all five of us.* 

         Let this be a lesson for you. When you are at a public event, and someone wants to take your picture, do not make a funny face to deter them from snapping the pic. The scary facial expression will not stop them. They will take the photograph, they'll hold onto it like it's a gold mine and then later, that picture will turn around and bite you in the butt.

        If you don't belong to a writing critique group, what nudges you? And if you do belong to a writing group, what's a story about a prompt/shove that you'd like to share?

* Linda: Pay-back is a cold-hearted witch. I am going to scour the thrift stores looking for the perfect volume... and I won't rest until I find it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

I'm 62, Baby!

       Okay, I'm not 62 yet although I look that old on many days but something is 62. 62,000, that is.

       My WIP is 62,000 words (and some change). It's not finished, but it's getting closer. This weekend I went to a writing conference and work retreat. Every chance I got, I dropped my butt into a chair and hunched over my laptop. I brought several books along. My usual routine--drink water... write... pee... drink water... write... pee... read... and repeat.

       Drinking lots of water as I write helps remind me to get up and run (before the pee runs down my legs).

      Unfortunately, one of the books I brought was so good, I did more reading than I planned. Saturday night I stayed up past midnight reading, and ended up with only 50 more pages to read. On Sunday I woke up early and finished it.

     At the core of this story are strong women--four of them filling the pages for most of the story, and then a new one appears towards the end. The Invention of Wings is the real-life story of Sarah and Angelina Grimke--two abolitionist and feminist sisters, along with the slave that was given to Sarah as a birthday present when Sarah was a young girl. In reality, the slave girl dies before she becomes a full-fledged adult but Kidd has written a fictionalized version, and it is stunning.

     The voices of Sarah and Handful ring so true. Mauma (Handful's mother) is such an engaging character. Not many books drive me to read while my eyes are watering from being overly tired... and yet I continued to read.

     It was that good...

     On a semi-side note, my WIP is part novel and part cookbook. At the end, I'm including recipes from my made-up writing critique group. If you have an incredible recipe you'd like to send me to include (I'll include your name in the recipe's name), send it to (I've got the directions for some delectable dishes so far).

       What accomplishment do you have to celebrate? Confetti-covered minds want to know...