The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Flying Away

     Today I'm heading to France, so I'll be gone for a couple of weeks... which means my throngs of three followers will be disappointed thrilled. 

      With me will be my daughter and granddaughter... which means this is a trip of a lifetime.

       We will be staying with my French sister. Thirty-nine years ago, a French girl named Virginie came to live with my family for a year through AFS. Ever since, we have considered ourselves sisters. 

        Along with the bread and the cheese and the bread and the wine and the bread and the scenery, we will also get to visit (I am hoping) with Olivier, one of Virginie's brothers. Olivier has visited the US several times over the years, and is quite charming and funny.

       On one of my previous visits to France, we stayed with Olivier at his house near the beach. Olivier instructed us--when opening them--to point the champagne bottles toward a stand of pine trees because he was "growing champagne trees." He also reassured us that we could use as much water as we wanted, as he'd rigged the water meter so that it ran in reverse.

       So, in the next couple of weeks if you hear of an international disturbance in Nay (a tiny village outside of Pau), please send bail money.

       In euros, of course...

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Dollop of Bitter and Lots of Sweet

       Yesterday was the last day of the Gateway Writing Project's Summer Institute. The Summer Institute (SI) is a five-week, four-day-a-week class (6 hours a day) for teachers. 

This was a graduate class I took way back in 2001, and for the last two years, I've been co-teaching it. It's past pinch-me-is-this-for-real? Working with kids during the school year and with teachers during the summer is a dream come true.

       Spending 120 hours together--spread out over a month--is delightful when the teachers are invested and fun and talented. But when they're over the top with talent and when the group becomes such a community that incredible wounds are shared and jokes become long-running and explosive... well, when it's over, it's sad (and a bit bitter).

        We celebrated by going out to lunch together yesterday, and wrote round-robin limericks. The plan was to read them aloud in the restaurant, but our table was so long, we would have had to shout them, and after seeing the turns most of the limericks took, we wisely decided to read them on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant. (Risque' is almost a rule when it comes to limericks--or at least humor that leans toward crude.)

       The sweet part is one of the teachers (I'm hoping... and if one of them does not, I've promised that I will do the deed) will send out an email about starting a writing critique group... so they can keep the momentum going. In the past five weeks, I mentioned my writing critique group several times as we talked about the power of our colleagues. If we don't surround ourselves with other writers, if we don't have writing friends to nudge us, we often don't make the time to write.

      How about you? What bittersweet moment can you recall? Slightly sad minds want to know...

Monday, July 6, 2015

Don't Tell

      Don't tell my dog that when I call him with a treat, I'm going to reach out quickly and grab his collar so I can get him in. (It takes several tries. He's quite wily.)

      Don't tell my students that when I play kickball with them, I always "bunt." (I can run fairly fast, for a short distance, but I can't kick worth a d***.)

      Don't tell my hair stylist I'm going to schedule a hair-cut in the next week or so... If she gets advanced warning, she might call in sick. (It's been a loooong time since my hair was dipped, and parts of it are as gray as a rat's back.)

      One of my friend's family had a "seven year" rule. Whatever trouble they got into, they couldn't tell their mom about it until 7 years had passed. Their mother figured, if they weren't in prison or dead or hospitalized, it must have not been too serious. Some of the boys in the family actually noted the exact day they could tell their mom, because it was that good of a tale.

      What story could you begin with "Don't tell..."? 

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?