14 December 2011

Quit Wine-ing (Get it? Wine-ing? Wink, wink.)

Bumper Sticker Guy: [running after Forrest] Hey man! Hey listen, I was wondering if you might help me. 'Cause I'm in the bumper sticker business and I've been trying to think of a good slogan, and since you've been such a big inspiration to the people around here I thought you might be able to help me jump into - WOAH! Man, you just ran through a big pile of dog shit! 
Forrest Gump: It happens.
Bumper Sticker guy: What, shit?
Forrest Gump: Sometimes.  
Yes, it does.  And, unfortunately, I had an all-too-unfortunate incident the other day: someone spilled wine all over my lovely, beautiful, gem of a MacBook Pro.

Now, I know what you're thinking:  How will you get through it?  What will you do about work?  Will you ever love again?

Thanks for the nice thoughts, but I'm doing surprisingly well.  My data was recovered and, after going into temporary shock over the medical bills for my drowned computer, I made a decision to move on.

And move on I did: right on over to the Apple store.

So, with a tip of my hat to the nameless person who spilled wine all over my baby, I am writing this blog from my brand new MacBook Pro...which is pretty much exactly the same as my old one.  Almost, except for the $1350.00 difference, I guess.
__
Quote source: IMDb.

30 November 2011

Yeah, buddy.

Image source: Photobucket; P.S. Hot dogs are gross.
Today's one of those days when I wish I could say, "Booyah, Grandma!" without getting weird looks.

Why, you ask?

Because I finished a goal.  And I'm the celebratin' type.

The goal was writing a blog post a day for the entire month of November (a.k.a., "NaBloPoMo").  And while a few posts were admittedly a bit on the lazy side, I posted each and every day.  It didn't matter if I was sick, tired, or overwhelmed -- or even "not in the blogging mood" -- I did it.

Okay, yeah.  No big deal.  It's a blog...so, what?

I finished a goal; that's what.

You can't see me, but I am giving myself a big ole pat on the back.  Go me.

29 November 2011

Oh, yeah...I forgot

Image source: stevebasu.net

...about a little thing called laziness.

Yes, laziness.  You know, that thing that forces you to watch Netflix instant, even when you have other, more important things to do?  That overwhelming feeling that seems to take over whatever good intentions you had for the day?  Yeah, that.

I'm going to make a radical statement: Laziness can be a good thing.

Okay, so I realize that I spend a lot of time writing about drive, stick-to-it-iveness, and maintaining focus.  I believe in all of those things, and I wholeheartedly believe that we are each on this earth to fulfill our greatest dreams and desires.  But I also realize that we're all human, and as humans, we need a little veg time.

Take today, for example.  After working about six hours (with a solid four left to do), I relaxed.  You see, my threshold for work is only so high.  I can and do maintain high levels of productivity over prolonged periods of time under extreme stress, but today I'd had about enough.  I needed to sit and watch two movies, back-to-back, play with our kitten, and have a glass of wine.

Now, I know I'll be kicking myself for this later, but right now I'm feeling pretty relaxed and, believe it or not, anxious to get back to work.  It's good to get some time away from work and spend a few ridiculously lazy hours doing nothing at all.  (After all, when you work for yourself, it's not skipping work, it's just putting it off.)

Tomorrow, I will approach my work with a fresh brain, and I will be productive.  For now, I'm going to pour myself another glass of wine and allow myself to relax.

Want to join me?

28 November 2011

Moving Forward

Image source: http://gurugilbert.com/wp-content/ambition1.jpg
Sometimes, being stagnant is easy.  It's easy to keep doing the same thing, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.  It's easy, yes, but it's not what makes a person happy.

Sure, stability is nice.  I agree with that.  But you know what gets me out of bed each morning (aside from my faith, husband, and all of the other awesome things I have to be thankful for)?  It's opportunity.  Each day is a new and exciting opportunity to make it better than the last.  It's the chance to achieve dreams.  It's the crazy attempt to realize each and every thing I've ever wanted to do.

For me, the key is maintaining a good and positive attitude and work ethic.  It's being excited for each day, and really, truly thankful for all of the good things in my life.

Of course, I could be better.  I've been known to sleep in, cranky face to world, not ready to get up and face the day.  But those days are few and far between (although my husband might beg to differ), and I really do try to approach each day with an I-can-conquer-the-world attitude.

I'm curious what other people do to keep themselves moving forward, from being anything but stagnant. Any ideas?  I'm all ears.

27 November 2011

Juggling Things

A few days ago, as I was responding to e-mails, I came to a realization: I juggle a lot of things at once.  From multiple client projects to homework to my own writing endeavors, I usually have several things going, and most of them require a lot of careful attention.

I'm not always the most efficient person in the world, but I am pretty good at juggling my many projects.  So, I thought I'd share some of the tricks of the freelance trade.  Here are a few ideas to keep yourself organized, stay on task, and be as efficient as possible:
  1. Keep a planner.  Write everything in it, even things you are sure you'll remember.
  2. Make a list.  On a piece of paper, write down all of the thing you need to accomplish.  Then, number them from most to least important.  This will help you determine what to start working on first.
  3. Respond to e-mails.  I struggle with this one, but I do try to stay on top of my communication.  It shows people that you care and that their projects matter to you.
  4. Honor deadlines.  This might sound simple, but one of the most important things you can do to be efficient is to get things done on time.  After all, if you don't honor deadlines, you might not have any deadlines to honor in the future.
  5. Celebrate achievements.  When you finish a big project, allow yourself some down time.  A fresh mind allows you to tackle the next project with efficiency, while forcing yourself to move from one project to another can result in distractions.  Instead of wasting time while I'm working (browsing websites, etc.), I give myself short, designated "breaks" -- this is time I don't feel guilty about "wasting," because it's time I've decided can be used for rest.
  6. Get exercise.  It might be weird to see this on the list of things to keep yourself on task, but trust me: exercise will help you get things done.  You'll feel better, have more energy, and be more alert.  Plus, I always feel better about eight hours in front of the computer if I've just run six miles.  
Juggling multiple projects can be difficult, but use these tips to help keep yourself focused.  After all, maintaining focus is one of the most important aspects of meeting one's goal.

26 November 2011

Today was pretty splendid. I was awakened to my husband calling me for breakfast and coffee (yes, please!). I then did a little cleaning and went on a nice 6-mile (or so) run.

After that, I watched the BSU win, lounged around a little bit, ate a delicious dinner of tofu fried rice (again, made by my husband), and went to get a drink with a friend. We also narrowly avoided a house fire, but that's another blog entry.

Not bad, not bad at all.

You see, days like this don't come very often for me. So, when they do, I really, really enjoy them. It makes all of the long hours worth it, you know? With my schedule, something as simple a couple hours of free time feels like a little but of a miracle, and down days like this are precious.

I sometimes wonder if this is normal -- does everyone have schedules like mine? When will my life be less hectic? Or, will it? Only time will tell, I guess.

24 November 2011

Giving Thanks

Today, I have much to be thankful for, but I'll list a few here:

1. A great husband who supports me in every crazy thing I do.
2. My family, who never fails to laugh at my jokes and pretend to be impressed by my tiny accomplishments.
3. My friends and extended family, because life would gray without all of their colorful personalities.
4. My health, which has been free of the touch of cancer and other illnesses.
5. My career, in which I have been undeservedly blessed in recent months.
6. A house to call home, a kitty to snuggle, food in my fridge, and money in the bank.
7. My education, because it is helping me realize my dreams.
8. The privilege of being born in the U.S. Despite our troubles, it's still a pretty great place to live.

Those are just a few of the things I am thankful for...and I am so very, very thankful.

23 November 2011

Kitty, Anyone?

Today, we rescued a sweet little kitty; we've been trying to catch her for over a month, and we were finally successful today.  We can't keep her, and we're looking for a good home in Cincinnati.  She is an absolute sweetheart, and I know she'll warm up to a loving person or family.

We cleaned her up today, scrubbing her really well with Dawn (recommended at Petsmart to kill fleas, since she is a stray).  We have her scheduled for a vet appointment on Friday and to be spayed on Tuesday.  She'll get all of her necessary shots at the vet appointment, too, so she'll be ready to go home with someone next week.

Here she is before her bath.  The poor thing was terrified.
Understandably, baths aren't her favorite.
I'm pretty sure she's thinking, "Hmmm...I could get used to this."
Still wet, but feelin' good.
Just a little smushkins, looking for a home.
If you're interested in adopting this little bundle of love, please e-mail me at writer@freelancexpat.com.

22 November 2011

Keeping It in Perspective

Things that went wrong in the last week or so:
  1. My husband ran our car over a concrete slab (on accident, of course); this cost around $400.00 of unexpected out-of-pocket expenses.
  2. I got a speeding ticket, along with a ticket for not being registered (it's a long story; we're trying to renew our registration in Idaho, but we're having trouble getting it done).
  3. My husband's computer died.  When he called to find out about fixing it, he was told that it costs $200.00 per hour to have it looked at/fixed.  I mean, c'mon...is this for real?
  4. I called about the speeding ticket, after realizing that it is due today.  Apparently, in Reading, Ohio, if you don't pay the ticket in full by the date stipulated, a warrant is put out for your arrest.  So, I had to walk to the post office and send the check for $130.00.
Things that went right in the last week or so:
  1. I signed a book contract.
Yeah, I think this about evens things out. :)

Of course, there are many other things that are always going right in my life: a great little family (my husband and cat), a thriving career, great friendships, a roof over my head, etc.  But, for now, I think the contract will get me through the next 30 things that go wrong.

21 November 2011

Feral Cat Shelters: Save a Cat Today

The top of one of the feral cat shelters from Ohio Alleycat Resource.

Ever since moving into our apartment in July, my husband and I have found the stray cat problem in our part of Cincinnati troubling.  When we first arrived, there were several baby kittens (which we tried, unsuccessfully, to catch), and it seemed that each day we'd see a new cat.

We knew that we couldn't adopt them, as our apartment only allows for one cat, but we didn't know what to do to help them.  Taking them to the pound was out, because we all know what happens when feral cats go to the pound, and the no kill shelters are always full.  Plus, a cat living the rest of its life inside a cage (because no one would want it) doesn't seem fair.

As soon as the cold weather started rolling in, I knew we had to do something.  Our meager income right now (thanks to graduate school) doesn't allow us to buy or build a nice shelter for them, but there's no way the poor cats could survive the freezing temperatures.  

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, my husband called up the stairs to me, "Look out at our deck."
"What is it?" I asked.
"Just look.  Look at the poor cat."

Outside, on this freezing cold Ohio morning, was a cat sleeping on a pile of leaves on our deck.  The poor thing looked so cold and lonely, and my heart broke looking at it.  Then, I noticed another cat lying on a tall table, which stood in the other corner of our deck.  As I looked at the cats, I felt terrible, yet helpless.  What could I do?

Thankfully, just a few minutes later, a dear friend of mine posted about feral cat shelters (thanks, Em!).  So, I called several shelters, and I finally found a place that provides them for free.  Not only that, but they provide a $10.00 spay/neuter and tetanus shot for any trapped feral cats, and they'll rent traps for free (a $50.00 deposit is required, but it is returned when the trap is).  They rely on grants and donations, so be sure to give whatever you can to help them help more cats.  You can always donate the materials, too, in place of the shelters you take.

The shelter is called Ohio Alleycat Resource, and it's located at 5619 Orlando in Cincinnati; their contact info is 513-871-7297 or info@theanimalrescue.com.

Below are some photos of the shelters they provide.  All shelters are made by volunteers from donated styrofoam coolers and other materials.

This is one of the shelters, which we placed in the corner of the deck, near the leaves the kitty was sleeping on top of this morning.  Notice that the lid of the styrofoam cooler is glued on, and it seems to be covered in some sort of paint, which I assume is water resistant.


The styrofoam is lined with aluminum to keep the cats warm, a bed is made out of hay, and a hole is cut for the entrance (see above).  I'm guessing the size and height of the entrance helps keep other wild animals, such as possums and raccoons, from entering the shelters.

We placed the other shelter near the table the other cat was sleeping on this morning.
The cat didn't end up going into the shelter, but she was thinking about it!  Let's hope she uses it tonight.

Can't get enough of the strays?  Read the "Ode to Feral Cats Everywhere," and learn why I'm so in love with stray cats.

20 November 2011

Justin Foster Is Interesting. Oatmeal Is Not.

Earlier this week, I promised a post about one of the authors or books that I've worked with.  One of those authors is Justin Foster, and I've had the opportunity to work with him on several projects and books, including his own.  Below is an article that originally appeared in the winter 2011 issue of Fusion Magazine.  Be sure to read the entire article -- there is a giveaway at the end!
“Bacon is interesting. Oatmeal is not.” Such is the premise of Justin Foster’s book, Oatmeal v Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World. Foster, a Boise area resident, brand strategy expert, speaker, writer and “general disruptor of conformity” is known for his ability to help brands communicate how awesome they really are. Or, as Justin might put it, how “Bacon” they really are.

Oatmeal v Bacon is a useful, interesting and witty 65-page book that will “instantly make [business owners] smarter than most of the people in their given market,” Justin says. The book includes a “Bacon Assessment,” personal branding assessment and benchmarks to help businesses evaluate their brand effectiveness. And, who wouldn’t want to read a book that is, as Justin puts it, “short, humorous and useful”? It includes practical strategies to help “Bacon Brands” embrace their sizzle and take their branding efforts to the next level, thereby attracting customers and improving client loyalty.

So, what does this metaphor really mean, anyway? “Selling the Oatmeal,” according to Justin, is trying to sell something boring—a brand, business model or product—using boring strategies like “a PowerPoint, overly-designed marketing materials that nobody ever reads and a pitch.” Justin’s “Aha!” moment came one day while watching Jim Gaffigan do a bit about bacon. “Oatmeal,” Justin realized, “is boring, bland and you have to put something on it. Bacon is…bacon.” Or, as Jim Gaffigan put it, “Bacon is so good they wrap it around other meats to make it taste better.” So, “Bacon Brands” are interesting brands, brands that are different and unique. Oatmeal brands are boring, generic and create little to no interest from their prospective customer base. “As pollen is to bees,” Justin says, “bacon is to people.”

When asked about what local companies Justin considered to be Bacon Brands, he responded quickly with his top five, which he explained received a 45 or higher out of 50 score on the Bacon Assessment. Those brands are:
           Brick 29 Bistro in Nampa
           Flying M coffee shops in Boise and Nampa
           Tribute Media, a Meridian-based web marketing and web development company
           Bodybuilding.com, a Meridian-based, supplement e-commerce company
           Fisher’s Document Systems, a Boise-based regional document systems company (note: they are one of Justin’s clients)

According to Justin, “It’s the businesses that advertise the most that seem to have the hardest time retaining their customer base, because they don’t know how to create differentiation, loyalty or connect emotionally with clients.” He wanted to help these businesses. After realizing that, due to the sheer number and varied budgets of businesses, he couldn’t possibly help everyone, he finally said, “I guess I’ll just write a book.” So, he did, over a period of three months, devoting Thursday afternoons to crafting a useful, enlightening and practical book that he could offer to these businesses. The end product is just that, and the demand has been so great that Justin is already working on his next title.

Oatmeal v Bacon, which started four years ago at the suggestion of his Boise-based publisher, Maryanna Young of Aloha Publishing, is finally available on Amazon for $15.95. To get your free copy of Oatmeal v Bacon, be one of the first five to respond in a few sentences to the following question: “How is your brand a Bacon Brand?” Just go to the contact form at www.OatmealvBacon.com and enter your response in the “comments” area.

___


Justin is a brand strategist who helps clients create a meaningful, relevant presence in the marketplace by “blowing stuff up” and helping clients find real strategies for taking their brands to the next level. He lives in Caldwell, Idaho, with his wife, Lynna, and two kids. He is available for speaking engagements and consulting through his business, Foster Thinking. To contact Justin or learn more about Oatmeal v Bacon, visit www.fosterthinking.com and www.OatmealvBacon.com.

19 November 2011

Today is my day off...

...and so it follows that it's sort of a blog day off, too. After all, NaBloPoMo doesn't specify a word count, right?

But I am making an appearance to let you know that tomorrow will bring good things. Check early and check often.

Go Broncos!

18 November 2011

The Toys of My Childhood

Today's prompt is #22, "In 200 words, write about your first toy."

____

Like most memories, mine become blurred the farther back in time they go, until they nearly fade out into a black and white blur.  But I do remember some things with startling clarity, and one of those things is my favorite stuffed animal, a toy maker's replica of a basset hound.

My dog had the saddest eyes I'd ever seen, and they had such an effect on me that I felt instance empathy every time I looked into his puppy dog eyes.  His long ears fell around his face in the floppiest of fashions, and he had a pouch in his back, which was perfect for storing small picture books, yo-yos, and the other odds and ends of my childhood.

I used to have a cubby light built into the headboard of my waterbed, and I remember spending sleepless nights with the light on, its short-reaching glow forcing me to huddle next to it.  It was on those sleepless nights that I'd line up my favorite toys: the gray rabbit, who had a striking resemblance to the velveteen rabbit; the two-sided doll, who was asleep or awake, the switch made by pulling her dress over the opposite face; Baby Dear, the doll from my mom's childhood, who had a lazy left eye as a result of time's impact on its opening and closing lids.  I would look at them knowingly, waiting for them to come to life, to dance around, to talk to me.  I would swear, to no one but myself, that I saw them move, a whisker twitch, an eyelid flutter.

Of course, this never happened.  And as I grew, the toys ended up in the corner of the room, and then a hammock-like toy holder attached to my ceiling, and then, finally, the attic.  It is there that my toys still live, in my parents' house, inside of two garbage sacks, which are meant to keep the dust out.  Perhaps they will eventually occupy the rooms of my children someday.

The toys of my childhood sit in an attic in Idaho, not collecting dust, and not talking to children.

17 November 2011

Want a Free...

Image source: http://griffinshoney.com
Earlier this week, I mentioned that I would be posting about an author and/or book I've worked with.  Well, there's more.  Much more.

Later this week, in addition to an in-depth look at one of the books and authors I've worked with, there will be something cool.  Really cool.

This something is so neat and awesome that you wouldn't believe how neat and awesome it is.  It's super neat and awesome.

What is it, you say?

Why, I thought you'd never ask.

This week, there will be a giveaway.  It may or may not be related to the book and/or author I've worked with.  It's hard to say.  (But it probably is.)  Insert knowing laugh here.

You don't need to submit an entry form, fill out a credit card offer, or deposit a check from the Republic of the Congo.  All you had to do is check back frequently and then follow the instructions in the blog post.  It's that simple.

When, you ask?

Sometime this week.  And that's all you need to know for now.

16 November 2011

Courage Is the Thing, You Know?

For my birthday, my sister got me Matthew Kelly's The Book of Couragewhich contains pages and pages of quotes on the subject of courage.  (Interesting fact: Kelly has been compiling these quotes since he was seventeen years old!)

At first, I didn't really "get" why courage was such an important topic.  I mean, I understood why a person would want to have courage in certain circumstances -- public speaking, for example -- but I didn't really understand why fear is such an all-encompassing, and often debilitating, emotion.

In his introduction, Kelly explains why fear is so pervasive: it keeps us from accomplishing our goals, from attempting new things, from bouncing back after life-altering or traumatic circumstances.

Fear keeps us stagnant, tentative.  Courage gives us the inner power to pursue things that matter.

One section of the introduction really grabbed me:
Don't waste your life, because life is there -- all you have to do is reach our and embrace it.  Anything is possible.  Whatever your dream is, make it happen.  Have courage.  Start today.  You will be amazed what life will give you in return for a little bit of courage. 
Be certain of one thing, the measure of your life will be the measure of your courage.
Powerful words, right?

Those of you who know me personally know that parts of my life have been a truly uphill battle, and I don't hesitate to call myself courageous.  But after battling through that part of my life, I thought I didn't need to be courageous anymore.  Wrong.

Courage is always present in our lives.  It is the driving force, the thing that gives you the "umph" you need to keep on keepin' on.

Courage is stepping away from the comfort of a 9-to-5 and pursuing your passion.  It's skydiving.  It's traveling to new places and meeting new people.  It's going back to school after 20 years.  It's writing a book.  It's starting to exercise and taking control of your health.  It's attempting a new home improvement project.  It's joining a social group and making new friends.

Courage is small, and it is big.  It can be easy to come by, and it can be the most difficult thing in the world to muster.

Kelly says:
So, what are we waiting for?  We only get one shot at life.  Isn't it time for a little soul-searching?  Visit a quiet church in the middle of the day.  Take a walk in the park.  Turn off the television and talk to your children.  Open the paper and look for the job you've always wanted.  Keep a promise.  Tell your mom you love her.  Restore an old Ford.  Make friends with your neighbors.  Say yes instead of maybe.  Watch a sunset.  Write your spouse a love letter.  Fly a kite.  Say "sorry".  Ask that girl out on a date.  Try a food you've never tasted before.  Make peace with God.
He's right: what are we waiting for?  Life is so precious and so short -- let us go out into the world and make the most of it.

15 November 2011

Working with Authors and Books (Or, Why I Love My Job)

As an editor and a writer, I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful people and excellent books.  Each project is a new experience, and I learn a great deal -- both about life and about the subject matter I'm working with.  

In fact, I've learned so much that I sometimes wonder what I'm going to do with all of the random facts, definitions, and tidbits I've accumulated in my brain.  (Somebody once joked that I should go on Jeopardy.  I'm pretty sure I would win.)

But, seriously: I love working with authors and editing books.  It's a true joy.  Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky to be doing this for a living.  I mean, c'mon -- I get paid to read and write!  It doesn't get much better than that.

So, since I've been lucky enough to work with all of these great people and books, I think it's about time I tell you about some of them.  So, here's my plan: each month, I will post about one of the books I've worked with.  I might do it more often than that, but you can expect at least one per month, with the first one coming this week.  Which one, you ask?  You'll have to wait and see -- it's no fun if it's not a surprise!

14 November 2011

Fall Fail

Today was one of those typical fall days: the air crisp, leaves blowing around, not too hot and not too cold.

It would have been a wonderful day to stay in and write. Oh, how I wish I could have done that.

But no. Today was spent calling the car insurance, arranging a car repair, having my car towed, and picking up a rental car. I was 30 minutes late to class (and we had visitors). I got stuck in traffic when I went to pick my husband up from work. I did not get one second of work done.

I'm hoping tomorrow brings the same perfection (weather-wise, that is); I'd like another shot at a perfect fall day.

13 November 2011

5 Writing and Self-Editing Tips

Editing can be a tricky beast, but here are a few tips to help you when you're writing and self-editing:

1.            Write without editing.  It's always easier to cut than to add in, and you'll find writing to be more enjoyable when you aren't nit-picking every last word.
2.            Let your work sit for as long as possible.  It's hard to "objectively" edit something when it's still fresh in your mind.
3.            Print it out.  There is something about editing on paper that makes the process more enjoyable...and your eyes will thank you for it.
4.            Don't be afraid to "kill your darlings," as Stephen King puts it.  Don't fall so in love with your work that you aren't willing to make it better.
5.            Read aloud.  When you're finally ready to proofread, read your work aloud and touch each word with your pen as you say it.  This helps you maintain focus and not skip words with your eyes.  I've also recently been experimenting with the MS Word "speak" feature.  After I do all of these steps, I then have the computer read it to me, and I listen for errors.

That's it for tonight.  Happy editing!

12 November 2011

Ohio Parents Brave Below Freezing Temperatures

Last Sunday, November 5th, my friend Steph and I did a short loop in Clifton, which is a small, hilly, lovely little area in Cincinnati.  I had chosen the route, and we had plans to get coffee afterward.  As we made our way over the last short hill, we saw several people at the German Language school, sitting in lawn chairs in the grassy area next to the parking area.

As we rounded the corner to make our slow descent down Clifton Avenue, Steph and I had to dodge people on the sidewalks, all supposedly making their way out of a church service.  Most were dressed in long, colored robes, and I glanced at the church and realized it was a mosque.

This was a little bizarre: several people camped out in front of a school, hoards of people on the sidewalk.  It was a quiet Sunday morning until that moment.

A couple of days later, Steph found out that the parents we'd seen, and probably some of the supposed church-goers, were actually getting in line to enroll their kids in school.

Now, these are publicly funded schools.  These aren't private schools, and they're not selective in nature. It's just that while Idaho has a lottery system, Ohio enrollment is a first-come-first-serve sort of system.

Which leads me to wonder: what about the lower income parents, the ones who can't get off work and camp out for 10 plus days in freezing weather to get their kids enrolled at these schools?  What about the single moms and dads, who have no one to watch their children?  What about them?

I do commend the parents who are camping for their kids.  It shows true dedication to a child's education.  But, really, Ohio Department of Education?  Isn't it time for a change in enrollment?

Today, as I did a very hilly, 5.25 mile run past the German Language School, I saw dozens of tents in the lawn of the school.  There was a cookout, and there were cars continually entering the parking lot.  More parents, more tents, more days ahead of them.

Last week, temperatures got down to 28 degrees...and enrollment doesn't happen for four more days.  Brrrr.

I'm curious about other people's thoughts about this.  Being from the West, this seems a little absurd, but I guess it's hard to understand all of the decisions that go into structuring education this way.

Is it like this in other cities?  Does anyone have any thoughts on this?  I'm curious to hear opinions.

11 November 2011

Okay, So Maybe I Almost Forgot

But I didn't. I didn't forget to post a blog today...even if I am currently writing this on my way out for the evening. (Thank you, iPhone app!)

Today was one of those splendid days: I finished editing a book around 3:00, went frisbee golfing with my husband, and had dinner at home before leaving for the night.

It's days like this that remind me why I chose the profession -- the life -- that I did. Because, after all, writing and editing is a lifestyle, not just a job...not even just a career. It's a choice to push myself (even right now, as my husband sings in the background while I'm trying to think). It's a choice to monitor my productivity and make the most of my God-given talents. It's a choice to not be lazy and watch reruns of Gilmore Girls when I should be working. It's exhausting at times, but days like this reinforce these choices.

Someday, I will be done with school. I will be wealthy and be able to use my money for good and noble things. I will have more than a half day off a week, and I will make the most of that time.

For now, simply splendid days like today will help keep me centered. That, and running. And reading. And my supporting husband. :)

10 November 2011

Enough With the Cats Posts Already!

Yes, it's another cat post. I can't help it. Cats are interesting creatures.

My cat continually amazes me, especially now. As I write this blog, she is attacking my hand, running around the room in a mad sprint, and getting ready to pounce...seemingly all at once.

But what amazes me most about her is her always honest reaction to everything. Don't want to be pet? Bite. Don't want to be bothered? Hiss. Want something? Rub someone's legs, preferably the person holding a can opener and Trader Joe's "Tuna for Cats."

Yes, cats are interesting creatures. I think I'll keep my cat around...even if she is a little too honest sometimes.

And, on that note, I'm going to try to stay away from cats for the next few blog posts. I'm *this* close to having to rename the blog, "Cat Addict."

09 November 2011

"They had nothing to say to each other."



Today, I needed some inspiration, so I went to a site that I used when I was teaching.  I chose prompt #161: Write a mini-story (100 to 250 words) that begins with: "They had nothing to say to each other."

         They had nothing to say to each other.
         They stood, arms crossed, eyes averted.  His body angled slightly away from hers; her head tilted back and to the side.
         She cleared her throat.
         He sniffed.
         "Let's just get this over with," he said.
         "Fine," she said.
         He stood and looked at her.  "It'll be fast.  You know we have to do it."
         "I know."
         They walked a few steps further, turned, and looked through the glass at their grown son, lifeless and colorless on the table.
         "That's him," he said.
         "Yeah, it is," she said, and then turned and walked down the hallway, her hair swaying slightly back and forth, her hands opening and closing, her shoulders tense.
         He looked one last time and then followed her, walking slightly faster to catch up, and took her hand in his. She turned and collapsed into him, her arms clasping him tightly, her body heaving.
         "Shh, shh.  It'll be okay.  It'll be okay."

Word Count: 161

08 November 2011

The Whiniest Blog Post, Ever



I'm seriously second guessing this NaBloPoMo thing.  One post a day for a month?  Sure, I thought, sounds easy.

But, of course, November is turning out to be one of the busiest months, ever.  And this week is no exception: I'm editing a book, proofing a magazine, taking classes as a full-time graduate student, and working as a graduate editorial assistant at a campus that is 30 minutes away (but it's paying my tuition, so I'm thankful for it).  Honestly, these things, on their own, aren't so bad.  I enjoy editing, my classes, and my assistantship.

But then there's this blog.  After working in the morning, proofreading 25 pages, going on a four mile run, figuring out how to work the blasted FileZilla and writing a five page paper, I don't feel like blogging.  What I really want to do is drink wine and watch something mindless on Netflix.

Too bad, so sad, the NaBloPoMo spirit whispers in my ear.  You made a commitment, Honey.

She's right, you know.  I did make a commitment, and I wouldn't be me if I didn't follow through (or at least try my best to do so) with every little commitment I make.  And to make sure I don't forget this goal,  I've written "blog" on the inside of my wrist everyday with red pen.

I'm curious if I'm the only one who does this.  I mean, I like being busy, and I'm very thankful for all of the opportunities, but why do I go and set a personal goal in the midst of all of it?  Am I the only one who does things like this?

07 November 2011

Cat Crazy

I am on the verge of brain dead today, so the fulfillment of my NaBloPoMo daily commitment is this photo. My husband sent this to me earlier today -- it is a cat impersonating our cat, Lila. I think she's doing a pretty good job, but she'll need to be coached to show more anger.

:-)

06 November 2011

Some Thoughts About Travel

The People's Committee Building, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, during Tet holiday

It's official: it's been too long since I've traveled.

I do realize that I flew to Boise a little over a week ago, but that doesn't really count, now does it?  I'm talking real travel.  The what-is-this-stuff-I'm-eating, talking-with-hand-guestures, everything-is-totally-new-and-different sort of travel.

For all the whining I do about wanting to be back in Boise, I really do miss being abroad.  I miss the strangeness of it, the empowerment I feel when accomplishing little things (like taking a taxi by myself for the first time in a new country), the ever-present "otherness" that permeates everything I do.  I miss sitting at a table in Phu My Hung, Ho Chi Minh City, eating yellow noodles, and looking around and realizing how wonderful and full life is.  I miss Sunday mornings: leaving late to get to church at the Notre Dame Cathedral, a lunch of eggs, rice, and baguettes afterwards, ordering coffee at Western coffeeshops.  I even miss Ben Thanh: its stinky fish smell, the hands grabbing at my elbows, the particularly good bootleg DVD stands, the smiles that quickly fade when you decide not to buy.

I even miss the Dominican Republic sometimes: my students, who became like siblings to me; twice monthly trips to amazing beaches; egg sandwiches (sin mayonesa), fresh mango smoothies (sin azĂșcar), and tostones at that little restaurant in the Zona Colonial; trying not to fall asleep during mass, with the echoey, Spanish words lulling me in the hot, old buildings; cobblestone streets that elicited that feeling of real traveling.

But what does this mean, exactly?  Will this nostalgia lead to more travels, new locales, another home abroad?

For now, we are in Ohio.  But in two years, who knows?  And even if we don't move back abroad, I plan to explore every inch of this world of ours.

05 November 2011

NaBloPoMo: Why Writers Should Run


To the many writers who do not find inspiration in running, I ask you:

When else can you be so totally and completely disconnected from the mundane of the day-to-day?  When else can you leave behind your cell phone and computer, the compulsion to check e-mails and social networking sites, and the need to make small talk?  When else is it totally acceptable to ignore everyone and everything around you (except cars, of course)?

About three years, ago, I wrote a short creative nonfiction piece entitled, "On Running (and Running On)".  The piece was about how running got me through a very trying time and the integral role running has played in my life.  An excerpt from that piece does a pretty good job of describing how running affects me:
I run up and down the inclines and declines and hop over puddles and feel the ache in my knee.  I breathe hard and keep pace.  I feel the cracks in the greenbelt and the branches that need trimmed off of the path.  I feel sweat and thirst and fatigue.  I feel the foot to shin to thigh connection with concrete, hard and lovely against my tennis shoes. ... 
People understand the nature of the runner.  A runner needs to keep running.  A runner needs to maintain her center.
I feel the same way about writing: it helps me keep centered.  But I know that a lot of my writing inspiration occurs during long runs.  

Of course, like writing, running takes practice.  It takes a good deal of stick-to-it-iveness.  But it will give back so much more than you put into it. 

Writers, I challenge you: try running or some other form of aerobic activity.  See how it affects your creative abilities, how it positively impacts your life.  Or, find a better way to be totally focused, utterly creative, and wholly connected. And if you find a better way, let me know -- I'd like to try it out.

{Sidenote: This blog was written immediately after a nice, long run.  Surprise, surprise.}

04 November 2011

NaBloPoMo: 5 Reasons NBC's The Office Isn't As Awesome Anymore

Image source: http://vi.sualize.us/splinteredheart/the%20office/?waterflow
Warning: the following post is for The Office nerds only.

I'm not usually one to follow TV shows, but I got a little addicted to The Office while living in Vietnam.  I'm a fan.

So, when NBC announced that Steve Carell was leaving the show, I was more than a little bummed.  Nonetheless, I tried to approach season eight with optimism...only to be let down terribly.  Below, I've compiled a list of five reasons The Office isn't as awesome anymore.

  1. The most obvious: Michael Scott isn't on anymore...and Andy is a poor, not-as-funny substitute.
  2. There isn't a central romance.  In past seasons, there has been a driving relationship: Jim and Pam; Dwight/Andy and Angela; Andy/Gabe and Erin; and then Michael and Holly.  It seems as though they're building up to a romance between Andy and Erin, but they're taking their sweet time...and it's a little too predictable.
  3. The script is almost too funny.  It seems like the writers are overcompensating for Michael Scott's absence.
  4. The awkward, I-find-you-attractive-but-I'll-never-admit-it relationship between Michael and Ryan is gone.  Oh how I miss that.
  5. There's a hint of sadness on the set.  It's like the characters know they are doomed without Michael Scott there.

03 November 2011

NaPloBoMo: Ohio Isn't So Bad

Frisbee Golf Course at Mt. Airy in Cincinnati, Ohio

I know it's early in NaBloPoMo, but I'm kind of giving up on the site's prompts.  Today's is: Can you listen to music and write?  What song did you hear today?

Instead, I'd like to talk about Ohio.

On my flights to and from Boise last week, each seat mate initiated the typical conversation:
"So, where're you headed?"
"Boise."
"The blue field, huh?  Is that where you're from?"
"I'm from there, but I live in Cincinnati."
"Oh, that's nice.  Cincinnati is a nice place."
"Eh.  It's okay."
"Just okay?"
"Yeah, just okay.  You know, it's no Boise."
At this point in the conversation, the person sitting next to me usually paused, thinking quietly.  I could almost see the thoughts floating around, reasons why Ohio, Cincinnati in particular, is a very nice place to live.  And, sure enough, everyone did their best to convince me of its livability and general goodness.

No one could really understand my blasĂ© attitude toward the Midwest and Ohio.  I mean, it's fine.  Livable, even.  Maybe even a little pleasant.

But it's no Boise, Ho Chi Minh City, or Bangkok.  And yes, I did just compare Boise to two Southeast Asian cities.

Here's the deal: Ohio isn't so bad.  Or at least my little sliver of Ohio isn't.

A few examples: 
  • Last weekend, my husband and I had a very enjoyable frisbee golf game in a national park.  This park is actually a beautiful, hilly, wooded area, and it's just 15 minutes our apartment.
  • Day before yesterday, I had a nice five-mile run up and down steep hills, part of which was along a beautiful tree-covered road.  
  • Midwesterners are generally nice people, and they are very welcoming to outsiders.
  • I have yet to see or hear about someone seeing a dead body.
Okay, so the last one is a little bit of a stretch, but my main point is that Cincinnati is relatively safe.  It's not Boise safe, but it's definitely a lot safer than some of the places I've lived.

Seeing as I have to live here for another two or so years, I'm going to try to keep growing this list.  I'm going to try to stop thinking about all of the fabulous places my husband and I could be living and really try to appreciate the place we're living now.


Ohio isn't so bad...and perhaps I'll eventually even think it's a nice place to live.

02 November 2011

NaBloPoMo: Why the Truth Matters

Today's blog prompt on NaBloPoMo is just silly: If you knew that whatever you ate next would be your last meal, what would you want it to be?  So, today, I'm picking my own topic: Why the Truth Matters

I started out my morning watching a video from TED.com entitled, "How to Spot a Liar".  


The stats were a little disheartening, though.  I like to think that most of the people that I meet or talk to on a day-to-day basis are honest people.  I like to think that I'm not being lied to up to 200 times a day (stat according to the video).  I like to think that our society has more integrity than that.

Ever since I was a teenager, I've had trouble spotting a liar.  I don't know if this is because I am too trusting or just plain stupid to the fact that people don't always tell the truth.  In fact, I'm so bad at this that I've had certain relationships where I've been lied to for years...only to be utterly shocked when the truth finally comes out.  There have been times where my naivety has had devastating consequences to me and the people around me.

So, what's the solution?  Do I abandon all trust and scrutinize strangers, friends, family, and even my own husband?

In the video, Pamela Meyer claims that a lie requires two people: one person to tell the lie and another person to accept it.  Is this true?  Are we participating in the lie by believing it?  Should we constantly be trying to "spot a liar" in our conversations with strangers, business acquaintances, and friends?

And while I'm not altogether proud of the fact that I'm easy to lie to, I kind of hope it doesn't change.  I like to be trusting of people, and I like to believe that, as Anne Frank put it, "Despite everything ... people are really good at heart."

Yes, I think that's about right: people are good, and I hope I always have that outlook.

01 November 2011

NaBloPoMo: What is your favourite part about writing?

Image source: http://www.blogher.com

Since I'm too busy to participate in NaNoWriMo, I'm going to join in the November blogging fun with NaBloPoMo.  This means that, each day, I'll read and respond to one of the writing prompts on the NaBloPoMo site.

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Today's prompt: What is your favourite part about writing?

I fell in love with writing when I was in second grade.  That year, I participated in a statewide poetry contest, and I was just sure that my poem would win.  It went something like this:
Mountains stand so very high
Way above the trees
They stand so high
They touch the sky
Now that's hard to believe 
They're blue with white
Right on the top
A very pretty view
God made those pretty mountains
From Him to me and you
Being the budding artist that I was, this poem was written on top of a colored pencil drawing of mountains (purple mountains, of course).  I handed in the poem proudly, my name neatly printed below the title, sure that I would win first prize.

For weeks, I waited in anticipation of the results.  Finally, my teacher announced that the results were in, and that she would announce the winner late that day.  I waited impatiently, glancing nervously at my teacher, wondering when she would finally tell us who won.

Finally, the time came.  My teacher stood in front of the class and cleared her throat.  She looked at a piece of paper in her hands and announced the third place winner, a name I didn't recognize.  Then, I heard my name: second place.  Finally, I heard my best friend's name: first place.

Yeah, I was disappointed that I didn't win.  But then again, I'd placed in a statewide poetry contest.  In my little second grade brain, it was like winning a silver medal in the Olympics.

That day of failure is the day I started to love writing.  Since then, I've had a fondness for the written word, a respect for the impact that language has on our lives.

I realize that I deviated a bit from the prompt, but that's okay.  That's my "favourite" part about writing: it takes you where it will, and you must be willing to go along for the ride.

31 October 2011

Dream Are Only Dreams (...Until They're Not Anymore)


This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being a featured speaker at the Idaho Book Extravaganza.  And while I went there excited to be a part of the event, meet writers and editors, and talk to the community, I left with something more: a deeper appreciation for what accomplishing a goal can mean to a person.

As I met person after person, and heard about their manuscripts and goals, I couldn't help but feel moved.  Here were people who were taking a step toward accomplishing something they'd always wanted to do, people who were brave enough to approach me and tell me their stories.  I noticed how their expressions would change when they started talking about their manuscripts, and I could see that many people were revisiting dreams they'd almost given up on, dreams that are still very, very present.

As I reflected on my many conversations, I couldn't help but wonder: What is it that causes us to move in the opposite direction of our dreams?  Why do we put that half-written manuscript inside a desk that sits in a room no one uses?  Why are we so afraid to talk about the things we desire?

Of course, not everyone wants to write a book.  Other people have different dreams: climbing a summit, backpacking through Europe, doing a triathlon.  But it's not really the type of dream that matters, is it?  The question still remains: Why don't we spend every waking moment moving in the direction of our dreams?  What is it about success that is just so terrifying?

When I was in long distance track in high school, my coach once said to me, "When you run, keep your eyes on the back of the person in front of you.  You naturally move toward the thing you're looking at."

And so it is with goals.  The more we read, talk, think, and write about our dreams, the more likely we are to accomplish them.  We must keep our eyes always forward and our bodies always moving in the direction of our dreams.

After all, if we are always looking forward in anticipation of the prize, aren't we naturally more likely to become victorious?

27 October 2011

Oh, You Silly Chicago Manual of Style Editor

I found this hilarious Q & A buried in the archives of the Chicago Manual of Style online:

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Q. About two spaces after a period. As a US Marine, I know that what’s right is right and you are wrong. I declare it once and for all aesthetically more appealing to have two spaces after a period. If you refuse to alter your bullheadedness, I will petition the commandant to allow me to take one Marine detail to conquer your organization and impose my rule. Thou shalt place two spaces after a period. Period. Semper Fidelis.

A. As a US Marine, you’re probably an expert at something, but I’m afraid it’s not this. Status quo.

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I'm a diehard two spacer.  Abusus non tollit usum.