What do you love?

I was out to brunch last week with my neighbor, and after getting caught up on the latest news, she asked, “So what do you love about the city so far?”

My first thought was, “Nothing!” But when I took a second to think it over, I came up with a list of things that, strangely, I do love. Take heart, country mice! You can adapt!

Here’s my list so far:

- Being about to walk to the grocery store and restaurants.

- Our church, and the wonderful staff. I don’t think I could have gotten through the last few months without them.

- The pizza/Mediterranean place up the road. I’m particularly fond of the limeade.

- The fact that our apartment comes with a roof deck, two parking spots, and a washer and dryer.

- The neighbors we’ve met are really nice.

- My garage door opener. I know that sounds silly, but I went months without because the rental agency only gave us one.

- Our gym–the Tuesday morning yoga class in particular.

- Our neighborhood. It’s so eclectic, like a little village. Off the top of my head, I don’t know of any empty shops on the main street. They’re all filled with boutiques, restaurants, doctors/dentists/lawyers/rental agencies, even a couple places that have music lessons for kids under 4. In fact, this neighborhood is more family friendly than I gave it credit for because there are kids’ clothing boutiques and tons of activities for the kidlets.

- Starbucks in easy walking distance. Two of them, actually.

- Target is across the street from the gym.

- Not being scared to drive. I’m getting used to the traffic, but it helps a lot that I’m learning my way around.

- The layout of my apartment. If I could take it and put it on top of a partially finished basement, I could live in it happily for a long time.

So there’s an even dozen things off the top of my head. What do you love about where you live?

Double Feature

For some reason, it seems like the movies we want to see come in clusters. We can go months without anything we want to see coming out, and then we get a stretch when something that looks good comes out every week or so. We’re in a movie stretch, and since we have to pay a flat fee for parking now, we decided to do a double feature.

**WARNING! SPOILERS!**

Up first was Noah. It was all right–about what I expected, based on the reviews. I didn’t see anything overtly antagonistic to the Judeo-Christian beliefs, but there were some things that struck me as passive aggressive.  Noah becomes convinced that creation was ruined by men, and that all men are the same. Therefore, they will complete the mission and save the innocent animals, and then they will die. No babies allowed or the reset won’t work. The trouble, from my perspective, is that if God only wanted part of His creation saved, why not have the Watchers do all the work on the ark and leave Noah out of it altogether? He becomes so obsessed with the concept that, at one point, I wished he would just step off the ark and end it all. And deciding to kill his granddaughters because they might mature into mothers? That would only work if his daughter-in-law/foster daughter (yeah, don’t get me started on that) died in childbirth because even if he killed the babies, what’s to stop her from getting pregnant again? The only way to fix that is to kill all the women, but that doesn’t seem to occur to him. Then again, Genesis never said Noah was a rocket scientist, just that he was obedient.

There was also a distinct thread of mysticism. Why would they use a snake skin as a holy relic when the snake started the whole sin business in the first place? Seems like they’d want to burn the snake skin, not use it in a blessing ceremony. I won’t even get into the fact that it glowed.

Then there’s the matter of the Tubal-Cain, the stow-away. Only Shem knows about him. In fact, Shem finds him the very first day, but no one else finds him until Ila is in labor. How is that even possible? They were in the ark for eight months, according to Genesis, and this is played out through Ila’s pregnancy. What did he eat? How did no one notice they were going through their provisions faster than they should have? Or was he eating the innocent animals raw and all at once to avoid the smell of death?

I will admit that there were some details I thought were ridiculous that turned out to be plausible once I read the account in Genesis (6-9, if you’re interested). The Watchers are explained right away in Genesis 6:4 when it says the Nephilim were on the earth in those days. Actually, they took human wives and had children instead of being encased in rock and turning into monsters, but Hollywood needs a little latitude, right?

After a brief dinner break, we watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which turned out to be pretty amazing. The story was well-done, but what impressed me more was that the eye candy stayed decently wrapped the whole time. No gratuitous butt shots, no naked chests preening for the camera, nothing more indecent than yoga pants. That made it a lot more palatable, at least for me.

Turning Bucky into the Winter Soldier was great. Way to tear out Steve’s guts, writers! Bringing back Hydra was a smart, move, too. That’s going to provide fodder not only for several more movies but also for the TV series. I love how they’re tying the series into the movies. They’ll stand alone, but together they give a bigger picture. And can I just say Falcon’s winged jet pack was awesome? Not that I would ever want to fly one, but it was cool to watch! I wonder what would happen if they put Falcon and Iron Man together against a common foe?

The final fight scene became a bit tedious. I don’t know why they always have to run the clock out to the last second to save the world. And why does the whole world always have to be at risk? I guess they have to have a big risk to justify the firepower, but the stakes don’t always have to be sky high. What happened to fighting for the girl? Not that the girl in this movie needed fighting for. She did just fine on her own.

Overall, I’d give Noah three of five stars, and Captain America gets 4.5. You can guess which DVD we’ll likely buy when they come out.

 

Tartan Day Pics

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Photo credits: Victoria Blanton and Samantha Baker

Tartan Day: Done!

I wrote a couple weeks ago about preparing for my first paid storytelling gig. I’m happy to say it all went very well. I had good crowds at almost all my sets, and I unknowingly auditioned for another Games next month.

It was lovely to be back in St. Charles, MO. Not that I saw much of it this time around! There wasn’t even time to go up to Main Street to our favorite shops. The event was well-run, as always, even with a last minute change of venue. The park where it’s usually held hasn’t dried out from all the snow they got, plus it rained for a couple days before the event, so they moved us to a big parking lot adjacent to the park. It compressed our space quite a bit, and I was concerned since my story tent was in the furthest corner, but Clan Row funneled the people down to me. It was also terribly convenient to have the story tent about ten feet from our clan tent. Hard to complain about that commute!

We’re back home now, and it’s pretty surreal. Spending the weekend in a place I know with friends all around me was lovely. It was a step back into my old life, and last night on our way home, I realized I spent so much time in the last month preparing for Tartan Day that I didn’t even know what today’s weather was supposed to be! It’s chilly and cloudy, if anyone is wondering, and I’ll have to get out sometime today to buy some milk.

Vicky was kind enough to video all my sets on Saturday, and I have still photos of Sunday. The photos I’ll do in a separate post, and once I go through the video, I’ll post a couple on YouTube. That might be a day or two. I’ve been so focused on preparation that I haven’t written in about a week. It’s time to get back to work!

Letting Go

When Alex went to college, I was prepared to miss him. I was so prepared, so determined not to cry when we left him, that I didn’t cry at all, apart from tearing up a little once in the van twenty miles away.

I was fine when Vicky moved to St. Louis to go to school. I had my writing and my volunteer work at the church. She came home two or three times a month for real food and laundry facilities. While I enjoyed getting caught up on her life and taking care of her for a few hours, it was a relief when she piled her laundry baskets in her car and waved good-bye. The house was quiet again.

Then Eric got laid off. We were enormously relieved when he was offered his current job. I threw myself into sorting and packing. It was a stressful three months. I knew it would be a relief to finally get everything moved so I could settle into the new normal.

It wasn’t a relief. Everything in my life except the cats and Eric was unfamiliar–the neighborhood, the incessant noise from the road next to our apartment, the snow–dear Lord, how could I ever have been happy to see it snow? Why was I excited about the lake effect again?*

One day, I was unpacking a box and ran across a passport. I opened it to see whose it was, and Alex’s 13-year-old face looked back at me. I lost it. Full-on, instant ugly crying. It wasn’t just that I was in a new place. I was there without my kids.

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I’m getting help and working through the grief. That’s what it is, too. I’ve touched on this before–I was grieving my old life before our final move.

I’m writing this for my friends who have kids in or going to college. Don’t think you get over it and move on. There may come a time when something changes so much or so fast that you realize your old life is really over. You invest all those years nurturing your babies–the sleepless nights, the fights and broken hearts and tears, and then they’re off on their own adventures and you’re left wondering how it happened so quickly.

Whether you were a working mom or a stay-at-homeschooler, you’re going to have regrets. You’re going to miss the pudgy toddler. It’s okay. You don’t let go overnight. I’m not sure you ever completely let go at all.

 

*Almost without exception, when people find out I moved here in January, they apologize for the weather and promise me this is the worst winter they’ve ever seen here. The city can be scary, but the people have been really nice.

The Process

I’ve kind of taken the long way around in this writer gig. Welcome to pretty much my whole life.

When I started out, I figured you write a story, send it out in the mail, and it gets rejected. You send it out again and eventually it gets published. I’m not alone in that; most new writers think that, and most of us figure out pretty quickly that it’s not that easy. There’s the whole problem of writing the story.

It’s taken me seven books and more than a decade to figure out what I think is the process. I’m still testing the hypothesis.

Part of the trouble is I want to be a plotter so bad I can taste it, but that’s not how it works for me. I can figure out the beginning and end, and some of the big parts in between, but I have to dig in and actually write the draft to find the whole story. That makes for a big mess to clean up, and I haven’t figured out how to deal with the mess. That’s why I have four drafts, representing, oh, about five years of work, on my hard drive to rewrite.

I’m going to try something new. Now that I have a fresh draft to work with, I’m going to write the long synopsis. Hopefully, that will give me the map to the manuscript. Stay tuned. It could get ugly!

New Gig

I got an e-mail from a friend a week or so ago. My bard mentor, who performs at the Scottish festivals in Missouri, can’t make it to the first one this year, and she asked if I would fill in for him. Of course, I accepted immediately. It is a paid gig after all.

It took a whole two minutes for panic to set in. I really haven’t been barding that long, about 2 1/2 years. That’s not a lot of time to build up performing chops. My mentor sent me a bunch of new stories, though, and helped me work out sets for the kids’ storytelling sessions I’m scheduled to do. Now it’s a matter of prep work. I have a small repertoire already, and I’m going to add another half-dozen stories so I’m not telling the same ones at every set. There will be some overlap, but the stories he sent are ones he hasn’t told in a long time, so it will be new for the regulars who come to the festival every year. Maybe it will make a up a little for his absence. Not that it will be easy to learn six new stories in a matter of a few weeks. It’s rather like cramming for an exam I’m going to have to take over and over and over!

Here are the particulars, just in case you happen to be in the area:

Missouri Tartan Day

Frontier Park, St. Charles, MO

April 4-6

Have a look at the schedule to find out when you can come hear a story set. Hope to see you there!

The Country Mouse

Among Aesop’s Fables is a little story about a country mouse who is visited by his cousin, the city mouse. The city mouse is dismayed by how little his country cousin has and invites him to his home in the city, where they can live together in abundance. The two mice go to the city, and the country mouse is astounded at the bounty, but they only just start their feast when a cat crashes the party. The two mice scurry off to safety, and eventually, the cat leaves. They come out and begin their feast again when another visitor (unnamed by Aesop) shows up and the cousins have to run for cover again. The country mouse decides he’d rather have a little in peace than abundance in danger.

I think there must be other stories based on this fable that expand on the adventures of the country mouse. Probably my grandmother read them to me when I was a child, and some of the details stuck with me. Whether those stories exist anywhere outside my imagination is a bit of research for another day. The point is, I’ve identified closely with the country mouse for the last several months.

Moving is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving across the street or around the world. It’s a dirty, sweaty job, even if you’re not the one doing all the heavy lifting. I have quite a bit of experience with moves, having done it five times in the last seven years of Eric’s military career. Our move to Chicago has been unlike any other move we’ve had. Not only was it the first one in twenty years that we’ve done entirely on our own, it’s the first one we’ve made without kids since before we became parents. While not having to factor the kids in made some decisions a little easier, there were times I really wished the kids were around to lug stuff up and down stairs!

Since I know we’re not the only ones to come here chasing a job, I’ve decided to journal some of our experiences here. My hope is that somewhere, there are country mice who have to move to the city, and they’ll find my blog. It will likely be a combination of what I wish I’d known before we moved, and experiences we never thought we’d have. Some of the posts will be in my regular Monday spot, but I may slip in a few extras here and there, so if you haven’t already subscribed to my blog, you might want to consider it. You never know what you’ll find here!

Harder Than It Had To Be

The battery in my van died last week. I was getting ready to go to a yoga class and it wouldn’t start. Of course it was parked in the front spot in the garage, so even jumping the battery was bound to be a challenge.

Saturday, while we were running errands, we bought a new battery  and went home to install it. Unfortunately, the battery sits under a bar and the fuse box, and our socket set is downstate.

Plan B: We pushed the van out of the garage, intending to push it with Eric’s car the half block to the mechanic’s shop. Easy peasy, or it would have been if it hadn’t been for the ice and snow in the alley we back onto. We got the van stuck on an ice bump and couldn’t get it back over. The ice cut the traction, so Eric couldn’t even move it with his car. Where the heck is the football team from the high school up the road when you need them?

Plan C: Eric drove around to jump it. Too bad the battery was so dead the starter wouldn’t even click.

Plan D: We called a tow truck, and were told it would be an hour and change before they arrived. It came sooner than expected, and he had a fancy pants battery jumper. Of course, it started right up. *Insert unkind name here* At that point, I came upstairs to get lunch and let Eric deal with getting the battery changed.

There are up-sides. It didn’t die in a rest area, in the snow, somewhere on I-55 when I was driving back and forth moving stuff. It also didn’t wait for Eric to go out of town. Timing-wise, it was pretty perfect, even if it did mean sitting outside in the cold to wait for the tow truck.

Reprise: Floundering Again

There really is nothing new under the sun. Life has been less than exciting of late, and this post from last summer (before we had any idea what was about to hit the fan) summarizes where I am these days. Rather than bore you with the mundane, I’ll leave you with this and the assurance that I’m working on “Welcome To Chicago: The Country Mouse Moves To The City.”

***

You may (or may not) have noticed I haven’t blogged about writing lately. It’s partly because I’ve been busy with non-writing things like family visits and trying to learn Celtic folk tales to tell at nursing homes. The other reason is that I’m firmly entrenched in the Pit of Despair, otherwise known as Act 2.

When I start a project, I know how it will start and how it will end. It seems logical that the middle would be easy. Just put the characters on the yellow brick road and throw some flying monkeys at them.  Would anyone be shocked to learn that it’s not that cut and dried?

My current book has a love triangle. Three different personalities, three different sets of motivations and agendas. Weaving them into a coherent plot is like herding cats. What I’ve found is that I have to write a scene, and then figure out how everyone reacts to what just happened. From that I can draw another scene or two, and then I have to analyze it again. To further complicate things, I sometimes know when I write a scene that it’s not going into the book. Some of them are only for me. They’re a tool to find the story, and of course I include them in my word count, but I have to force myself to not feel like I’m wasting my time. It’s long and arduous and frustrating. A few days ago, Barbara Scott tweeted that most writers hate the process because it can be painful. It resonated with me because there isn’t much in the process that I enjoy. The great days are few and far between, but I have to write. It’s therapy, it’s a calling, it’s an obsession, but it’s not fun. So I slog through the not so good days, and when I get on a roll, I have a good day. For a while, all the angst is worth it, and at the best of times, the high carries through to the next time.

Welcome to the life of an artist. Does it still look glamorous?

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