Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Back and Looking Forward

I hope you all had a blessed holiday season. If you're like me, you're probably holidayed-out by the time it all ends. My daughter-in-law was telling me, even on Christmas eve, that their family was already sugared-out

I'm always eager to start a new year. I keep a personal diary, which I like to read at the end of each year to see where I started, what happened, what I was feeling, and what I did. Feelings always lead to life-course corrections. Sometimes the spirit needs to prompt stubborn ole' me for a very long time, but eventually, I'm ready to let go of something and start down a better path.

There's peace after that happens, and an opening for new dreams or callings.

The biggest thing I let go of this year, regarding my writing, was the dream of being published in the Young Adult secular market. God had been showing me in numerous ways, for 18 months, that that wasn't where I should be. I finally let go in June. Yes, it was hard to let go of a manuscript I'd worked on (very part-time) for four years.

Should I have let it go, when I didn't even look for an agent to represent it?

I had sent it to several contests in June, and the judges' responses, in addition to several other industry professional responses (here's one of them) led me to believe that the story wouldn't sell. It wasn't because of my writing abilities, which is often a huge stumbling block for aspiring authors. More, it was the story concept itself. And if a concept won't sell, no matter how good the crafting, there's no point in working on it any longer.

I don't know how many people told me it read like Glee Fan Fiction. Ironically, I have never watched a single episode of Glee. The worst bad luck came when Glee did an entire season, apparently, on West Side Story, which played large in my book as well. I had my idea two years prior to Glee's West Side Story season, but in the scheme of things, that doesn't matter at all.

There were other reasons for moving away from YA, which I won't go into.

When I finally made peace with my decision to abandon the manuscript--and all the time and effort it would take to try to find an agent for a work that probably wouldn't sell in today's market--it opened time and space for me.

Time and space to work in a genre that, frankly, is better suited to my inclinations, knowledge and skills.

I switched to writing for the adult inspirational historical romance market, and between July 11 and now, I completed a 70,000 word manuscript. I am now in the early stages of revising it.

In 2013, after a lifetime of raising kids and working outside the home, I finally had the freedom to make writing my "full time job." I never keep hourly track, however I do spend as many hours at it each day as possible. I estimate that I spend about 20-30 hours each week on actual work on a manuscript.

If you asked my husband, he'd probably say it's all I ever do.

But he's wrong! ; )  There are always many other things that take up my time. The holidays are a recent example. Vacations are another. Or helping to move farm machinery. Or babysitting grandkids, which happens frequently. Or working to complete the (seemingly endless) list of home updates . . . Darned big things, not simple, daily housekeeping chores.

There are personal diversions as well, which are often necessary. In 2013, I needed to learn how to improve my (diabetic) health. I also spent quite a bit of time scrapbooking. It was wonderful to finally have that freedom!

With so much to do, I sometimes asked myself if I still wanted a writing career, after so many years of yearning for it. Wasn't that ironic? 

In the same way that I had resented how working full time at the library had kept me from working on my writing, the tables shifted. I discovered that I began resenting how working full time on my writing was keeping me from scrapbooking. Isn't that hilarious?

There was a difference, of course. No one was forcing me to write and not scrapbook. So when I was like an addict needing a scrapbooking fix, I took it.

There was a time during the year when my writing room was so full of notebooks and loose files and books, I felt overwhelmed, and like the walls were closing in on me. They probably were; the room was so full. I needed to remove at least half of what was in it, which I did, but have you ever had to deal with the sick feeling you get when everything you touch is laden with negative emotion? It wasn't like cleaning out a garage, or the kitchen, which is generally an emotionless process (for me).

I was removing boxes of books and putting them either in the storage-room library (adult fiction), or on the basement bookshelves (children's and YA fiction), or in boxes that would be donated to the library's book sale.

The storage room and basement shelves were also filled with books. Some, I had already read. Others, I still wanted to read, but realized, sadly, that I would probably never have the time to read most of them.

Unless I gave up my own writing dream, and opened space and time for it. 

Additionally, my writing room was filled with a closet full of notebooks that held my life's writing output. All the novels I've written, the journals I've kept, and all the information I've amassed. Physically, it was dozens of notebooks and reams of printed paper. None of that got tossed, but everything was so heavy when I moved it to another place.

"Is writing worth it?" I asked myself, with one of those ever-so-heavy notebooks in my hand.

Certainly, if I were doing it for the money, my time would be better spent working at a "real" job with a paycheck and benefits, which is what I had done for most of my life. Selling my time = paycheck.

But what was I getting now for selling my time?

Other than all the notebooks and several gigabites' worth of electronic files, there wasn't much, really, to show for it. 

Of course, if I want to make myself feel better, I can also realize that people who spend hours each day in front of the TV, or playing video games, or socializing on Facebook, or even reading fiction, have very little to show for their time, either. They are the consumers of life, certainly not the creators. Consumers are passive. Creators are active. Which one would you rather be?

Always, the writing calls me back.

It has helped me to better understand myself, other people, and my world.

Fiction is the platform where I can work with the same values and beliefs, and themes, that I might work with, were I to create a nonfiction website.

But writing fiction allows me to do it in an artful way. A way that goes deeper, by bypassing the rational mind and speaking directly to the heart.

And so I am beginning 2014 with the intent to keep writing fiction, at a rate of 20-30 hours each week. After I complete the revision of The Perfect Wife in (hopefully) two months, I'll enter it into ACFW's Genesis Contest (which requires a completed manuscript). Then I'll start a new one. I'll also start looking for an agent and/or editor for The Perfect Wife.

If the past 20 years of writing is an indication, I suspect that there will always be new ideas to explore, via the art form of fiction.

What about you? What did you learn about writing, or yourself, or (yourself + writing), in 2013? What is that leading you to pursue in 2014?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Weekly Update: "Ain't that the most beautiful snow you've ever seen?"

That's what hubby said when we got up yesterday and looked out the window. 

We're in for some VERY cold weather over the next two weeks. The temperature will remain in the teens at all times, with the wind-chill factor bringing it to below zero. Brrr!

Snow is significant to us. If it hadn't snowed, the cold weather probably would've frozen out the fall wheat we planted in September and October. If that happened, we would need to replant it in the spring, which is expensive. It could mean the difference between earning a livable income in 2014, or not.

But it snowed, and so we are safe for now. Snow acts like a blanket to insulate the crops from the ravages of too-cold weather, same as a blanket helps to keep us from freezing to death.

Last week's highlights: 

(I am shamelessly borrowing some of my heading titles this week from Molly, who writes extraordinary posts--thanks, Molly!)

Thanksgiving was wonderful. My three children, their spouses and our grandchildren all came for dinner. Everyone got along. No one pushed anyone's buttons, like last year. Yay!

We ate a feast at 4:30 that included turkey, of course, but also a melt-in-your-mouth seasoned prime rib from Costco. While the gals spent hours in the kitchen fixing dinner, the guys and the grandkids were outside tooling around on their motorcycles and four-wheelers and making movies with Mike's new GoPro camera. Between dinner and dessert, we watched the GoPro movies on our big-screen TV. The grandkids also decorated a gingerbread house.  

Some good friends invited us to their house for dinner on Saturday night. Thanks, Sharon! Check out her blog for a wonderful acappella version of Little Drummer Boy. Afterwards, we saw Catching Fire. 

It was a disturbing movie, but I wanted to see it in order to be aware of what popular culture is viewing these days. Regarding TV shows, I don't keep up with popular culture at all--except to watch Homeland. But I do like to take in some of the current movies. 

Currently Reading:

I am working through Darren Rouse's e-books on how to make your blog successful. For $107, which is 47% off the price of buying each e-book separately, I got the following e-books:
31 Days to build a Better Blog
First Week of Blogging
Blogging for Business
Blogger's Guide to Online Marketing
Blog Wise-Do More with Less
Scorecard for Blogging
I've finished First Week of Blogging; Blog Wise--Do More with Less; Scorecard for Blogging and am currently on day 18 of the 31-Days e-book. I am learning so much. If you've been blogging for a while, you don't need the information in First Week of Blogging, but as it came as part of the package, I decided to blast through it anyway. You never know when you might learn something new. 

Based on what I'm learning, and if I were to grade my blog, I would give my current level of effort about C-. 

The e-books are filled with links to online articles and sources of information that greatly enhance your understanding of the materials, so if you buy the e-books, do not neglect to read the additional links.  


No writing this past week, however I did spend two days looking at the stats on each of my 437 published blog posts and putting the information into various categories in a spreadsheet. This is helping me to understand more fully which area readers are embracing, and which areas are duds. It will help me think of new post ideas as well as new directions for my blog.

Are you interested to know which areas get the largest page views? The biggest duds?

Largest number of page views: In general, the category of posts that consistently gets the largest number of page views are our flying adventures. There are isolated posts from all of my 26 categories that have gotten more reads than many of the flying posts, but as a category, the flying posts consistently get the most hits.

Duddy page views: The categories which are a total dud for me, meaning that the posts each garner 50 page views or less, belong to the categories of Holiday Posts and Seasonal Posts . . . i.e. Autumn on the Palouse ... Winter on the Palouse ...


I ordered some pens for my Silhouette Cameo Portrait so that I can use it to draw as well as to cut. Eventually, I might order the Designer Software, so that I can create my own designs and upload them to the Silhouette store for sale. (Or am I only dreaming?) I completed a scrapbook layout of our flight to Kamiah, Idaho. 

On the horizon: 

My book group meets tomorrow night, and my women's club is having its annual Christmas luncheon on Friday. Hubby's getting interested in taking up skiing again, and so we plan to go skiing when the weather warms. 

Oh, and there is a manuscript to finish ... 

How was your week? 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Nine Ways we Lose Control of our Writing

Having a writing dream is easy. Maintaining, nurturing, growing it from dream to reality, day in and day out, year in and year out, is not.

Some writers think that writing a book is among the hardest things there is to do. When I look at what humankind has achieved outside of writing a book, I highly doubt that assertion. Let's get real.

But there is a steep learning curve, and it does take a concerted amount of effort to become a published author, whether you're going traditional or indie. 

Here are nine ways that we lose focus, and how to get back on track.

1. We don’t set goals. Goals need to be specific enough to write in a sentence or two. You need to set a date when you expect to achieve them and, again, you need to be so clear as to the results that you know when you have achieved them.

2. We set impossible goals. Goals need to be within our control. Completing a book in a year is within our control. Seriously. Signing with a particular editor who sells it to Random House and then having it hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, if you are a debut author, would be an exponentially more difficult. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

3. We don’t pay attention to our goals. Don't create an elaborate calendar of what needs to be done and then ignore it completely. This is different from not setting goals at all, but not much.

4. We decide to quit working on our goal because we’re tired or stressed. Regularly scheduled breaks will enable us to keep working longer. Vacations help to ward off burnout. Just be sure to get back on track as soon as the break is over. Don't allow it to linger on for another week or two or three.

5. We attend to immediate situations to the neglect of long-range ones. No matter how busy we are, if we hope to have a writing career, we need to schedule even a small amount of time each day to work on writing goals. Now that writing is my job, it's easier to find time to write, and yet it sometimes amazes me how hard I need to work to protect my writing time. I have inherited from my aging father-in-law the job helping to move farm machinery during the spring and fall. I'm more available to babysit grandkids, and so that happens at least once each week. My social life could easily burgeon. Fortunately that one is generally the easiest one on which to set limits for most people. It's easier to say "no" to friends than it is to family.     

Take a hard look at how you spend every hour of each day and then brainstorm ways that you can fit in writing time. Maybe you could exchange babysitting hours with a friend. Maybe you could cut back on TV viewing. The possibilities are endless.

6. Sometimes we give everything the same priority when in fact, many things are not as important as protecting our scheduled writing time.

7. After a perceived writing failure, we focus on calming our emotions—overeating, watching too much TV, endlessly telling our friends all about it—when the better solution is to get back on track and start writing again. Granted, we need to take some time to process our volatile emotions. But for some personality types, this can stretch into days and weeks. If you are one of those types, take heed. 

Feel the pain of failure and then, as soon as possible, face your fears of returning to your writing goals. The best way to do it? By sitting down to write. It's uncomfortable. I hate it when anxiety feels like a cat clawing at me with very sharp nails. It spurs me to do any number of things to escape it—I’ll do three loads of wash. I’ll vacuum and steam clean the floors. I’ll eat a huge plate of carrot salad. No, two plates. I can’t eat chocolate or sugar, so rabbit food with a lot of chewing works well to calm me. 

But after that, I need to plant my butt in the chair and begin to write again. Once I’ve been at it for four or five hours, the pins and needles of anxiety melt away.

8. Another way we lose control is that we allow an initial failure snowball. Dieters are famous for this. If we blew it at one meal, we figure we might as well blow it for the rest of the day. Or maybe the weekend. Maybe we’ll get back on track on Monday. The same thing can happen with our writing. We miss one writing session and then, before we know it, we haven’t written for a week, and then a month. It’s much easier to get back on track immediately, rather than after we haven’t looked at the book for two weeks.

9. We decide we can’t write and we stop trying, in order to avoid further failure. Never stop! If you want to make this dream become a reality, you only fail when you stop.

Are you guilty of any of these? What do you do to get your focus back?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Deciphering contest results

I have now revised one of my contest-finalist entries and will be sending it back after one last read. For this contest, eight finalists in all were chosen from across the eight entrance categories, rather than the top three from each category. It's the only contest I know of that does it this way. But hey! It's the way they choose to do it and I'm not complaining. I love that they gave me a week to revise my 10,000 word entry.

It's also fairly rare for a contest to allow the finalists to revise their entries before being sent to agents and editors. In the other contest in which I am a finalist, my entry went to them exactly as I had originally sent it in.

So it was a busy week of looking at each and every statement made by a total of eleven judges; I combined the results of all into one file and saw a fuller picture of the questions that came up as judges read the entry. For example, here is a sample of nine concerns that I decided I needed to deal with. Judges wanted to know:

1.       what made the hero and heroine fond of each other, after an exchange of only three letters (judge needed that answer, in order to have more sympathy for the heroine)

2. why the heroine trusted that the mail-order marriage was God’s will

3. To have another sentence of specific information about one of the villains, without taking away the mystery

4. why the heroine longed to be a mother

5. why the heroine wanted to be married, and why, specifically, the hero is the right man for her

6. To be shown something that allowed the reader to believe the hero was indeed of a higher station than the heroine

7. To read more of the hero’s thoughts, in order to make him more likeable, despite his harsh actions. If she hadn’t read the synopsis, and learned the motivation for his behavior, she said she would’ve hated him.

8. Pointed out that a certain situation (birth of twins) which I used as a motivator, and the way I dealt with it, was out of the time period in which I am writing, and mentioned also that servants had to give notice, even in Georgian and Regency era books

9. Pointed out that the trunks of early motorcars were non-existent or very small, and so I should rethink whether the heroine’s bags were strapped on the car, or small enough to fit in a shallow trunk. Also, that cars were exceedingly rare in 1912, and if I want to have a few cars parked along the street, meaning that they were accessible to the common man, that I should bump my date to 1915  

These are some of the problems I addressed. Some just needed a sentence or two to fix. Number eight took rethinking and rewriting an entire scene to make it work for my Edwardian time period.

Here's a sample of what six of my pages looked like, after I had inputted the comments from eight of the eleven judges. There were places that universally stumbled the judges, and also places that were universally liked. Not all of the comments are critical: 

That's a lot to digest, isn't it? It was quite a learning experience, and I am sure that my manuscript is now far better grounded than it was before, having answered reader concerns. Their questions forced me to go deeper into the characters' motivations. Now I understand more fully the themes and conflicts that I will carry throughout the book. 

As a result of the streamlining (several judges suggested that I reduce the total number of conflicts), at least one conflict was completely eliminated. My hero no longer walks with a limp as a result of childhood polio, which removes him feeling he's less of a man because of it, and me having to deal with that specific conflict. 

Interestingly, while continuing to write the book, I kept forgetting to have him grab his cane, and so yes, it really wasn't an issue for him, or me. References to it were easily dropped from the story.

I still have plenty of conflict, perhaps too much for the projected word count . . . I'll discover that as I continue to write the novel. I will be so happy when I can start making forward progress again.

How was your week, reading, writing, or otherwise?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Beginning and End of Autumn on the Palouse

We're nearing the end of our Indian Summer. Quite often, we will see a skiff of snow on October 31, when the trick-or-treaters want to show off their costumes, but need to bundle up instead, hiding the costume under a warm winter coat.

On October 3rd, my marigolds looked like this. I was hopeful that I could see a couple more weeks' worth of blossoms from them. On October 4th, they were dusted with frost, marking the end of their bloom season.

With the number of good-weather flying days numbered, Mike decided to take yesterday afternoon off. In the morning, we watched our ten-year-old grandson play his last football game in the Kibbee Dome, at the University of Idaho.

By all rights, Mike and our son, Jeremy, *should've* worked yesterday afternoon, though it was Saturday. Why? Read on.

We're busy hauling our grain from home storage down to the Snake River, where it gets loaded on a barge and sent to Portland, Oregon. At the beginning of the week, our Kenworth suffered what Mike described as a truck's equivalent to a massive coronary, wherein it seized up and died, leaving son Jeremy stranded in a truck full of grain, the total weight which was about 90,000 pounds. The weight is significant, because Mike needed to drag the heavy, dead truck for five miles up the road before he was able to find a place where it could sit safely until they were able to unload the grain from it. They also need to figure out how to get the truck home, where it will sit in the shop until winter. Jeremy (a diesel mechanic as well as farmer) will overhaul the engine. Mike used the one-ton to drag the loaded Kenworth uphill. It nearly killed the one-ton as well.

So Mike and Jer decided to get out the Freight Liner, our other semi, and use it to haul grain. Super bad luck. It also died!

With both farmers frustrated as heck over last week's developments, and after having been working their arses off since late July, they decided to take the afternoon off.

I will repeat what I said before: With the number of good-weather flying days numbered, Mike decided to take yesterday afternoon off. Now you see a bit of a different flavor to the sentence, don't you?

We flew over Kamiah, Kooskia and Grangeville, and then headed down into the Hells Canyon area. The picture above shows Whitebird Grade hugging the side of the prominent mountain ridge. If you look carefully, although it doesn't show up plainly in the picture (my bad), you can see the old Whitebird Grade with its steep, winding switchbacks.

What you're looking at in the picture above, is the confluence between the Snake and Salmon Rivers. There is actually a short dirt runway down there, way down there, but Mike would never attempt to descend the thousands of feet into the incredibly narrow canyon and try to land there. The RV7 is a fabulous aircraft for many reasons, but it was not designed to be a short field airplane; this would not have been a good choice for a place to land. His Kitfox was designed to handle this type of runway beautifully, however the Kitfox is not very good for actually going places. It flies too slow (less than 1/3 of the speed of the RV7). It would've taken forever to get there, and not worth it unless there was a reason to want to do it.

Driving home from the airport, I decided to turn down Lake Street in town and I was so glad I did. The sun made the trees look like masses of gold.

After leaving town, and on the road where we live, I snapped a picture of our neighbor's maple tree--beautiful. This is where Bully Bully used to live (if you saw my picture of the huge bull with huge horns, that Mike was feeding apples). There are many cows in the pasture, but Bully Bully got moved to a different home nearby. You know, bulls and cows need to be kept separate until it's breeding time, i.e. the most convenient time for the farmer to breed his prize stock.

Lastly, at home, I went outside on our deck which our son-in-law DID finish (yesterday!) and snapped this picture of the patio below. The burning bush on the left and the American Mountain Ash on the right look stunning.

So now we are ready for the truly cold weather and more wintry days to set in. We were hoping to fly to Arizona next week, to visit some friends there for a couple of weeks. Not sure if that will still get to happen. Not next week, for sure . . . It depends a lot on how long it takes to solve the truck problem and haul the rest of our grain down to the Snake River. Then after that, it depends on the weather ...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Turning a corner

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I have begun to enter writing contests. In June and July, I entered my Young Adult Contemporary Romance in five contests. I have now received results from all of them.

In August and September, I entered my Inspirational Historical Romance in six contests.
I have now received results from all but one of these entries.

In all but two, the results were pretty good--close but no cigar. My YA submission always scored worse than my Inspirational Historical submission. 

In the other two contests, the results were great! I am a finalist in both. Yay!

What I will say about all of the contests I entered, and why entering contests is so worthwhile: The feedback is fantastic. Unlike the feedback you get from a critique group, where each individual member's knowledge of the craft may vary widely, contest judges are almost always published authors or contest finalists. They know the craft, and are able to spot weaknesses. Also unlike critique group feedback, these people do not know you, and are able to judge a manuscript on its merit, without fear of hurting your feelings.

Feelings should never be hurt in any case, but some writers tend to be sensitive about their work and even gentle criticism sends them into writers block. It's a huge fear of mine when critiquing the manuscripts of my friends. I may see a dozen things that need work, but I will gauge what I think they can handle, and may point out only two or three things, generally substantive rather than editorial. In the end, I am probably doing them a disservice, especially if they feel their manuscript is close to being ready for an agent or editor's eyes.

Each contest has its own score sheet for things that they are looking at, such as how well the opening scene is working; pacing; point of view; setting; characterization; dialogue; style; mechanics. Each judge is given the opportunity to comment freely. I've gotten both substantive (how well the overall story is working and what needs to be changed/improved) and line-edit type feedback. It has been, as I said, wonderful.

One especially helpful judge, who must be an angel, told me that the only thing between me and publication at this point is polish. I'd never understood (call me uninformed) what, exactly, was meant by polish. I thought it must mean that the words are so brilliant and evocative that they shine and float on the page. (Something that I could never achieve.)

It's more meat and potatoes than that. It means that you will not repeat a word more than once on a page. For example, you will not describe someone as beautiful at the top of the page, and then use beautiful again in the page, no matter who or what you are describing. In fact, if a word is a bit unusual--I used beacon twice in a 10,000 word submission--you do not use that word twice, either.

It means you will banish each and every cliche and replace it with your own fresh thoughts. It means you will replace most dialogue tags (he said) with action tags that contribute something to either the conflict, characterization, pacing, or any/all three. The action tags need to be more than "She bit her lip." (Which, again, is cliched and says nothing.) And, of course, you will not over-use adjectives and adverbs.  

So, what does being a finalist in two contests mean to me? It means that an editor and an agent (one each, from each contest), will be reading my pages. For one contest, that means Elizabeth Mazer, editor from Harlequin Love Inspired (the line I am targeting) will be reading them, as well as Amanda Luedke, from MacGregor literary (who I would love to have for an agent) will be judging my submission.

For the other contest, an editor from Bethany House will be reading it. As to the agent, I am being asked to request who I would like from a list of five agents. I will choose Nicole Resciniti from the Seymour Agency (a Christian agency--I would also love to have Nicole for an agent).

Being a finalist puts me one step further along the road to publication. I may discover that I still have a long way to go, but I am, at least, at this level.

If you're wondering about the type of things judges have said about my submissions, I've compiled a short list, below. These are all generalized, summation-type comments, and all are from judges who did not give my manuscript a score that was quite high enough to put me in the finalist category. All comments are about my Inspirational Historical submission.

What are the strengths of this entry?
  • An interesting setting, a likable heroine, a good voice, a strong sense of theme and genre (both as historical and as inspirational).
  • You craft interesting characters, and you have a good set-up for the conflict—a mail order bride arrangement contracted under false pretenses by a well-meaning child. Your command of writing craft is very good, and I found reading this entry very easy and enjoyable.
  • I have a strong sense of the time and place. The writing is strong. The conflict of having someone you didn’t know you were engaged to now working in your house is good. I like Sarah. She’s been through terrible things, but she’s still strong and capable and hopeful for the future
  • This work has so much potential. 
Writing skills:
  • Very smooth and controlled, neither overwhelming with detail nor skipping too quickly. There’s some telling at the start; I think this is more a function of where you chose to begin the story than of your style, and there are some inconsistencies (marked in text) that need to be reconciled.
  •  You are a very deft writer, with good narrative skills. 

If you are on the fence about entering a contest or contests, I would strongly encourage you to do so. The feedback is invaluable.  

How was your week, reading, writing or otherwise? Have you entered contests? What was your experience? Would you do it again? 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Word Count Progress Meters

I've never gotten into these little meters (top right sidebar), however I am always intrigued when I see one on someone's blog. So today, after my writing stint, I decided to put one on my own blog. I have begun to actually write my book, creating full scenes where there had been only notes about each and every scene.

I don't know how many words' worth of notes I erased today, but I ended up with a net gain of 900 words. In four hours. Snail's pace, for sure. But I'm the type of writer who needs to examine every single emotional nuance, every step of the way in a scene, so there is no way this process could ever be speedy.

I completed only three scenes today. And still have a zillion to go. But according to my meter, I have "completed" 50,060 words of a slated 75,000 word manuscript.

It's not really only another 25,000 words to go. Or is it? Really? Huh.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Bull Next Door

Hubby's taken a shining to the bull next door, which he calls "Bully Bully." Whenever hubby goes down to the airplane hangar (that is on our property; not the one in town) to fly his Kit Fox, he likes to walk a bit farther, to the very edge of our property, and say "hey there" to the neighbor's bull.

He's taken to giving the bull apples, which the bull will eat right out of his hand. The picture is deceptive. This bull is a really, really big guy. But isn't he a sweetie? Don't you want to run your fingers over his soft nose?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What do you sacrifice each day for your writing job? How do you reward yourself for staying accountable?

You would think I had an out-of-the-home, paying job, the way I need to manage my time in order to find time for my writing job. And sometimes, like right now, that makes me just plain grumpy.   

So far this week, I have made each day’s goal of writing for five hours. That’s not five hours of doing writing-related tasks, but to making honest progress on my WIP. It also means not frittering my working-on-the-WIP-time away with distractions. I’m sure you’re well acquainted with those.  

I’ve made my goals, and yet it discourages me to see how hard it’s been to do that—writing for a mere five hours each day. Me, the lady who no longer has to be away from home for 45 hours each week to fulfill on commitments to a salaried job.  

In order to be accountable to my writing job this week, up until today, I have had to sacrifice my “reward,” which is to spend an hour scrapbooking when the writing is done. And I have needed to scratch my head and ask myself, “Why should it take from 7:30 am until 5:30 pm—10 hours—in order to squeeze out five hours’ writing time?"
·         On Monday, I made my writing goal by 4:30 pm, but then instead of scrapbooking, I had to get groceries and run other errands that took until 7:00 pm. After that it was dinner time and so on. (I never sacrifice sleep for my writing. Health trumps just about everything.)

·         On Tuesday, I made my writing goal, but I had to forfeit scrapbooking AND jogging. With writing and jogging each day, my housework wasn’t getting done. So I decided to spend two hours on housework in lieu of jogging. Unfortunately, housework (vacuuming) is not strenuous enough to bring my blood sugar down in the same way that jogging does. I need to start jogging again tomorrow. I was also still in the mode to learn everything I can about being a person with Type 2 Diabetes. So I began reading one of two additional books that I had purchased when I went shopping on Monday. (I had read several short books on the subject the previous week; these are more substantial, with specific guidelines to reverse the progress of the disease.) Again, I forfeited my scrapbooking reward.      

·         On Wednesday, I made my goal, but I had to manage my time around picking a grandchild up after school at 2:20 pm and then helping him with his spelling and his multiplication tables until his dad came to get him at 8:30 pm, when the men came in from the field for dinner. While said grandson was doing his reading homework, I managed to get some more exercise; I wet-cleaned the wooden shades on six windows. It took an hour. I forfeited my jogging time, but got some housework done. I also forfeited my scrapbooking reward, but I finished one of the two new books on reversing diabetes. (All last weekend, I babysat three other grandkids while their mother manned a commercial booth for their business at the county fair ... but I still managed to write for a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday before she brought them to my house.)

·         Today, Thursday, I made my writing goal, but I had to manage my time around a planned, one-hour Yoga class and an unplanned, two-hour stint at helping to move farm machinery. I had hoped to finish my writing by 3:15 pm, and have time to reward myself, especially after having forfeited my scrapbooking rewards all week long. By the time I had made good on my commitments, it was 5:15 pm.

Then my brain said, “You need to write a blog post. You check in weekly to keep yourself honest and accountable.”

So that’s what I am doing. I have eaten dinner. It was 6:30 pm, and I was planning to go do some scrapbooking. BUT THEN ... I discovered that I could not get to the New Post screen using Firefox. I HATE FIREFOX WITH A PASSION, but have been using it for the past two months because I cannot get on Google Chrome, and I don't want to give up my computer for three days while I take it into the shop. (You see, I want to fulfill on my daily writing commitments.) So finally after running a RegClean, and after Uninstalling Google Chrome, and after completing a Windows Update . . . (really, would doing that make Firefox work for me?) . . . I discovered it did not work. So I had to resort to getting on Windows Explorer.

It's now 7:30 pm. Hubby's just driven in and will want his dinner. So here it is, another day of forfeited rewards, alas. (Time with hubby trumps  scrapbooking rewards.)

What do you sacrifice each day to fulfill on the goals of your writing job?
Do you reward yourself for staying accountable?
How often are you able to do that? Or do other important priorities suck up that reward time?

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

An Unexpected Wife by Cheryl Reavis: Book Review

An Unexpected Wife by Cheryl Reavis was published in July 2013, in the Harlequin Love Inspired Historical series. If you're not familiar with Love Inspired, it is romance with a Christian worldview and with an inspirational message that is always subtle, never heavy-handed.

These are my favorite kind of stories.

In this book that takes place right after the end of the Civil War, there is a lot going on! We have the heroine, Kate Woodward, who had a child out-of-wedlock, and the hero, Robert Markham, who feels terrible guilt about being unable to keep his brother from being killed in battle. Indeed, Robert felt so terrible about it that his family, and his intended (not Kate), believed him to be dead for over two years.

Making matters more complex, Robert's sister is married to Kate's brother, and each family fought on opposite sides of the war. So we have a house full of people with opposing loyalties, festering resentments, dark secrets and heavy, guilt-laden hearts. There are numerous secondary characters as well. None of their stories is gone into in any depth, but some of them do make life difficult for Kate and Robert.

Truth be told, I had a hard time settling into this book. The characters felt believable, realistic and likeable. The situation seemed plausible, but the pacing was, for whatever reasons, terribly slow. But because I felt the characters to be so real,  and I because could tell that Cheryl Reavis (the author) is a person of great wisdom and insight, I didn't give up on it. And when I say "give up on it" that is a measure of my own shortcomings as a reader with an unfortunately short attention span, and not because of any serious faults with the story.

 So I finished it, and was rewarded by reading it. As  writer myself, I felt the plotting could've been improved. I was also disappointed that there was absolutely no sexual chemistry shown between the hero and heroine, and not even a kiss on the final page, when they are married.

By definition, inspirational stories leave most of that behind the scenes. But there was so little longing shown between them, that it was hard to imagine that they really did love each other in the the way most of us feel toward our spouses. Both felt unworthy of love, and so maybe it will take being married for a while for each of them to feel loved and to be able to freely give love.

If you're not an impatient reader, and if you're okay with a romance that almost falls outside of the definition of romance (but is a good story nonetheless), give this one a try.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Overgrown Petunias!

Oh, my, but the petunias have seen better days!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Harvest on the Palouse

Fall wheat cutting is winding down now, as is the barley. There will be some spring wheat to cut and then, early September, the garbanzo beans, which currently bring in more money than any other crop we grow, even Dark Northern Spring wheat.

Over the years, we've shown a number of people our farm. Frequently they are from India, Asia or the Middle East, as we live near Washington State University, and graduate students in agriculture are interested in learning about farming in the U.S. Or, more specifically, dry land farming on the Palouse.

Sometimes it's relatives or friends who want to get a small taste of what harvest is like. Last night, we finally got around to showing some very good friends, Vince and Sharon Himsl, what it's all about. It's often hard to coordinate these visits, as they need to work out for both parties. On our side, weather, breakdowns, and moving machinery from one farm to another have a way of complicating things.

But this was finally able to happen. Sharon took a bunch of pictures and posted them on her blog today.

Please check it out. She did a great "outsider's view" of the whole experience. And yes, I warned her that she would get dirty! 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Cattle are Grazing; the Zucchini is Producing, and Big Tires are Going Flat

Oh, it's harvest! Harvest is ultimately about getting the grain cut and into  grain bins. (We don't call them silos here.) To do that, it's mostly about keeping machinery running. That's two combines, two Kenworths, and several smaller trucks. Also several pickups and an auger.

What do you think of our neighbor's cow? Aren't those horns long? The neighbor has a herd of them. They like to eat another neighbor's wheat on the other side of the fence. They also like the tender green grass that's on our side, where I'm standing.

Hubby's wondered why the cattle's horns haven't gotten stuck in the barbed wire, pulled the fence down and the whole herd gone free. And wouldn't that be a mess. Call out the motorcycles and four-wheelers. We tend not to herd cattle with horses around here, but with motorized vehicles.

Back to harvest. My son's combine has been beset with problems so far this year. He called Arrow Machinery to come out and fix it. They needed to order parts. So he called Jones Truck and Implement, who also needed to order parts. It meant the combine would be out of commission for 4-5 days, which we cannot have during harvest. Hoo, boy. No way, no way. So my son hauled it home to fix it himself.

It's so sad to see a sick, limping combine rolling slowly down a road.

With a degree in diesel mechanics, my son spent an entire day jerry-rigging it back together.

Don't you just love zucchini? When I was younger, and also a big sugar consumer, but also, being the ridiculously practical person I am, I couldn't bear to let any zucchini go to waste. So one year, in addition to canning 25 jars of zucchini relish, I made 25 loaves of zucchini bread. The relish got eaten within a year. The bread? It seemed that we could enjoy a loaf every other week for a year. That didn't happen. We grew sick of it long before it got freezer burn and grew dry and stale.

Back to harvesting. The cows aren't the only thing around here with long horns. We also have herds of deer, and some with big racks. Last night (yes, we work on Sunday during harvest, as well as every other day), my son's combine suffered yet another breakdown. A deer antler poked a hole through a tire and the tube went flat. Considering the size and thickness of the tire, that deer antler must've been impressive!

I got hubby to stand beside the tire for scale. The flat tire is the one he's touching. You can't really tell by looking that it's flat, but trust me, it is. We're not going to fix this one ourselves. Les Schwab Tires said they could get a guy out first thing this morning.

Although, it was already 7:30 am when I took the picture. Where the heck was Les Schwab?

Just wanted to share another slice of Country Living.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Happy Saturday

It's been almost a week since I last posted. It was a productive week in many ways, but there were breakdowns in others.

Living where we do, we pay through the nose to get fast internet service, although even at its best, we can't stream things. No NetFlix for us, or even watching YouTube videos, which is fine. We're too busy to watch much TV anyway.

But this past week, our Internet went out entirely. It's powered by a solar panel at the top of one of our fields, which somehow catches a signal from the nearest town. The solar panel went out, and we were without internet for almost a week.

I still managed to get on each day, briefly, via a modem that gets a signal from Verizon. But the modem overheats quickly, and its battery doesn't last long.

Then last night, our hot water heater finally gave up the ghost. Hubby said he could take cold showers until harvest is over (three weeks from now!), after which he could fix it. He's a DIY guy, not the type that would ever call in an electrician, plumber or any other type of fix-it person, 'cause he can do it himself better, and for less. ; )

Well, he might think he's tough and could get by without hot water (SERIOUSLY???? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND???????), but I cannot.

After I objected, he gave it a second thought and decided he'd rather have hot water to shower in as well.

So our son-in-law will replace it for us TODAY. He's been out here anyway, beginning to rebuild our deck. He remodels bathrooms for a living, and so he's also replaced many a hot water heater. He said he's never heard of any lasting longer than this one did. It's been in the house since 1979, when we built the house.

My flowers (above) are still looking very pretty. The marigolds are beginning to really fill out. And I'm beginning to get a bunch of ripe cherry tomatoes. I've never grown tomatoes, and those vines just kept putting out blossoms. We'll be having a frost in as little as 2-3 weeks, so I cut off the blossoms, hoping the plants will put their energy into making those hundreds of cherry tomatoes larger and redder, instead of continuing to grow new leaves and blossoms.

On the writing front, I've revised the first 25 pgs of my new manuscript, and have almost completed a revision of my original synopsis (1000 words). I noticed that I changed the ending somewhat from when I first wrote the synopsis, so I need to go back and change it to reflect my new plans.

I'm still planning to enter it into several August and September RWA contests. The first deadline is on August 15. I hope to get some good feedback. If by some chance I final in any of the contests, I might need to scramble to finish writing the last three-quarters of the book.

Wouldn't that just be awful? (Not.) The agents and editors who will be reading the manuscripts that final in each category are fabulous.

On the reading front, well, I haven't been reading much lately. Instead, I've been looking at all the pictures I've taken since the beginning of 2013 and am preparing to make scrapbooks. There's a method to the way I do things. First I digitally crop and/or otherwise adjust the photos that I have deemed worthy of scrapbooking. Then I open up Microsoft Publisher and start dropping them into a 12x12 (cut in half) template, which gives me a two-page layout on one 8.5x11 page in landscape.

I find it much easier to play around with photo and journal block arrangements when I do it that way. It gives me the option of changing my mind about whether a picture should have a horizontal, vertical, or square shape before I actually print it out. And I am guaranteed of getting a nice balance of horizontals and verticals in each layout. Because I make sure that I do.

Seeing each page in miniature, it also gives me a good idea for background colors. Predominant colors show up more readily on the screen than when looking at the actual pictures placed on a 12x12 background.

By laying out an entire album before printing even one picture, I can make sure I'm not repeating layout patterns, but am getting a lot of visual variety, apart from the sizes and shapes of the pictures themselves.

Anyhew, I spent six hours this week doing just that. In addition to the Disneyland album, which I finished last week, I've got pictures for three albums. I'm still using strap hinge albums, although when my stash runs out, and that will be soon, it looks like I'll be switching to three-ring binders. I've never liked post albums at all.

Next up is actually printing the pictures and trimming them to shape. After that, I slip them into the album on the page where they belong and select initial background (cardstock and/or patterened paper) colors. Then comes matting, mounting, journaling and finally embellishing. Each album generally takes about a 40-hour labor of love. 

How was your week, reading, writing or otherwise

Friday, August 02, 2013

It's Fun to Be at the "I'm in Love with my Story" Stage

Writing a novel takes us through so many stages, some agonizing, but fortunately, some that are pure delight. I hate the stage where I am so sick of my manuscript that I never want to look at it again, which is where I'm at with my YA novel.

But oh, bliss. I've written 50+ pages of my new inspirational historical romance. I am in love with it, and with writing, again, although for the past week or two, I was feeling like, "Who needs it?"

It wasn't because of the writing, but because life felt so crowded with other priorities. It felt as if, should I have spent time writing, the writing would've prevented me from doing things I wanted more. Like having a clean house, and scrapbooking.

Well, I still haven't cleaned the house, or scrapbooked. These feelings rise to the surface mostly when I'm frustrated because I've been too busy to accomplish any of my priorities. 

But finally, and even though hubby was rained out of the harvest field yesterday and today, meaning he was hanging around the house, distracting me, I finally settled into getting some serious writing done.

I've discovered a couple of RWA contests that I could conceivably enter with the 50 pages of my new WIP, and that deadlines motivate me mightily.

I don't know why I hadn't realized that before. When I was a librarian, I was always working against deadlines. Deadlines for planning five weekly story times. Deadlines for planning special programs. Deadlines for planning 35 Summer Reading programs. Monthly book-buying deadlines. Deadlines for writing reports for the Board of Directors, and articles for the local newspaper.

Last night, when I saw that I *might* be able to whip 50 pages of my first draft into shape for a mid-August deadline, I suddenly perked up. Writing had suddenly taken on more meaning to me.

So I sat in my office all day today. Besides doing a load of dishes and putting them away, and washing, drying and folding three loads of laundry, (which, as far as housework goes, is quite negligible) I got this much done:

I revised 4000 words. From the revised scenes, I removed 200 words, a chunk of a scene that sort of seemed like it didn't belong when I wrote it. Sure enough, looking at it today, it super didn't. 

Since I hadn't even read the material since writing it over the past couple of weeks, it's very interesting to see what I wrote. I have no memory of it.

It feels very on target, and more intelligent than anything I could ever have dreamed up on my own. I give most of the credit to my study of Dramatica theory and its specific suggestions for this particular story form. Although, I suppose I should give my muse some credit, considering it's around the eleventh manuscript I've tackled over the past 20 years.

Total word count when I started revising this morning was 12,900. Total at the end of this work day was the same. Hundreds of words were replaced, sentences rearranged, but it's amazing that the word count is staying so stable. 

See the bliss I'm having?
Yeah, I know it won't last, but I'm loving it for as long as it does.

Here's what I love about my story:

Steam engines
Old Ford roadsters, tires rumbling over brick roads
Edwardian fashions
Victorian homes
Art Nouveau
Milking the cow
Diva princesses
Romantic  tomboys
Arrogant dowagers
Victorian pantries
Tea parties
Learning how to Dance
Attending a Gala
Alexander’s Ragtime Band
Pictures of wedding gowns clipped from the Sears & Roebucks catalog
Falling in a lake
Coming out of the rain
The Flim Flam Man
Jail house confessions
Arrogant dowagers coming clean
A Fourth of July wedding

What stage are you in, in writing your story? Whatever stage, I hope your writing is giving you pleasure, and a reason to keep on writing. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds and *The Sharkives*

I've been aware of, but haven't been following, literary agent Janet Reid's Query Shark blog. Last week, however, I stumbled across a post saying she'd made the entire blog downloadable for the asking, so I asked.

If you're unaware, Ms. Reid critiques query letters sent to her for that purpose on the blog. I don't know her M.O. for choosing the letters, but if yours is chosen, she gives great advice, as would be expected of someone who reads thousands of queries each year.

The author of the query letter is then invited to revise it two or three times. Each time, Ms. Reid further coaches the author on how to improve it.

She recommends reading the whole kit and kaboodle. I printed up a large chunk, which used up one ream of paper, duplex printed. If I were to print the rest, I'm looking at another 300 sheets of paper, duplex printed. It also used up a laser ink cartridge. (Granted, it was a starter cartridge for our new laser printer.) The reason there's so much data is that the comments are included.

I read through the first 1000 pages and feel I've learned enough that I'm not going to print up the last 600 pages.

Some of my observations:

  • If a large percentage of query letters that agents receive are as bad as these, it's no wonder that agents reject, as they say, 99% of what they receive. Almost all of the letters are simply dreadful, even if the story they're describing seems to have some interesting qualities. 
  • The Sharkives are entertaining to read for Ms. Reid's brilliant, snarky, razor sharp wit and her (im)patience in coaching the author to bring out what their story is really about. Her wit reminds me of my husband's, although her barbs are on a different subject than my husband's would ever be. 
  • In addition to Ms. Reid's observations, the people who comment frequently have some very useful things to add. 
  • The people who comment have also formed a cult following. When they're not critiquing the queries, they're generally shooting the breeze in a highly literate, entertaining manner. 
  • Other times, they're majorly kissing up to Ms. Reid about her brilliant, snarky wit. (And yes, she is brilliant.)

Given that, I suppose it was worth wading through 1000 pages, using up a ream of paper and a laser ink cartridge.

But then something else floated my way via an email from RWA, that is ultimately, I suspect, more useful. Or perhaps both should be consulted in crafting a query.

It's a book by Michael Hauge, Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. Though his 200-page book is geared toward the face-to-face pitching of scripts to agents and buyers in Hollywood, there's a wealth of information that could be translated into pitching a novel to an agent via a query letter.

My recommendation? Read Michael Hauge first. It takes only a couple of hours to breeze through what he has to say. Then move on to the Sharkives to read about common mistakes made in query letters, and how to improve them.

The principles Ms. Reid expounds are exactly the same as those that Michael Hauge puts forth. The Sharkives have the added benefit of actual, gawd-awful query letters that go through a succession of changes to make them sparkle. Sometimes they never do, because the author's overall writing skills just aren't there yet. Those are the sad ones, because their idea sounds good, but you just know that the novel is written at the same, non-publishable level as the query letter.

Other times, and rather infrequently, even after three or four revisions, Ms. Reid will declare of the letter, "By George, I think you've got it." And then everyone does a lot of high-fiving, and congratulating of the author.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Seven Reasons to love The Journal 6 for blogging and everything else in your life

There are far more than seven reasons to love The Journal 6, but I wanted to show you just a few. Being a former librarian, the need to be organized is an overriding desire in my life.

I love to blog, but have always wished there was a streamlined, user-friendly way to organize my thoughts. Now, I've finally found one in TJ6. I can organize not only my blog, but many other things as well.

1. The first screen shot on the right shows how I can now see a calendar and the date and title of every blog post I've done in the past four years. I find this far more valuable, and useful, than the labels in Blogger. However, each post is also cross-referenced with labels, should I want to look at my posts from a different vantage point, which I'll show you in another screen shot.

2. The second screen shot shows a monthly calendar of the title of every blog post uploaded during that month. I love the visual, at-a-glance feel of this.

3. The third screen shot, at right, I will admit, isn't particularly useful, but if I want to see how often I posted, or to notice posting patterns, this shows every post I did over an entire year. If I click on a date, it will take me to that day's post (as does the first calendar, above).

4. The fourth screen shot shows one of several calendar trees I've created. I'm currently importing blog post ideas that'd been stored in Windows Explorer for the past couple of years. There are hundreds of them, as well as hundreds of possible images that coordinate with post ideas. The image on the right shows the images I've collected and have categorized under the title of "writing images."

If or when I need to ramp up my blogging frequency (meaning, if or when I sell a book), it will be completely doable for me, and fairly easily. Most of the post ideas cover the broad topics of "How to Write" and "How to Succeed." I've spent thousands of dollars, and had a lot of education in how to succeed, and how to be a coach (via Landmark Education); I can speak with authority on this. Another viable avenue would be to write more about personality types, however I haven't, as yet, collected ideas for that. I'll see what I feel like doing when the time comes. I'll probably do a bit of all three broad categories.

5. The fifth screen shot shows, not the blog, but simply my daily calendar/journal in which I write my thoughts and cross-reference to To-Do lists.

Calendar areas of the journal such as this and #1 are expandable by as many different types of calendars as you want to keep. Or, you can keep everything in a single calendar. I like separating my life from my blog.

The calendar will also alert you as to appointments, birthdays, and so on, just like any interactive calendar.

If you click on the picture to expand it, top right corner you'll see a dropdown box that says "No Tags." Tags are the same as Labels in Blogger. I have probably a hundred tags that I can use to label and cross-reference everything I put into TJ6. So when I want to find something in particular across all of my TJ6, I just search by tag.

6. The sixth screen shot shows the various categories I've created, so far, for TJ6. I have my blog and my daily journal; To-Do lists; blog post ideas; blog images; books read and/or reviewed; contest entries.

There's also what I call my Holding Tank, where I dump stuff that will then be sorted into other categories as time permits. Currently, I'm planning to retrofit my daily journal, meaning I'm going to insert journal entries from the past two years (which I've been keeping in a Word file) into it.

This, as everything in TJ6, is as expandable as you want it to be.

You can control how you want the journal to look. Like any word processor, you can fiddle with fonts and colors and so on.

I had mentioned in a previous post that I can write a blog post in TJ6 and upload it to Blogger directly from TJ6. This is true, but with one caveat: I need to upload images from the Blogger platform. Apparently if you use Wordpress, the image will be uploaded as well as the rest of the post. Still, I don't find this to be much of a problem. I upload the post, then immediately go to Blogger and upload the image.

7. This is another example of reason #4, but instead of showing how I organize blogging ideas or images, it's a screen shot of some of the cover images of the 300 e-books I have on my Ipad. I've also organized the books into about 30 categories, which are in lists, however looking at titles is a more interesting way for me to remember, sometimes, what I want to read next, and I have a record of all of the images in TJ6 for handy reference.

So, enough about my cool new software tool. Does TJ6 look like something that would be useful to you? Do you use something similar? If so, what software works for you?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Sometimes it's nice to own a couple of Kenworths

I've been feeling disconnected to my blog and to my writing over the past few days. Here's why ...

Yesterday, I spent 3 hours building (re-building) a brick retaining wall on the back patio. The wall has undergone some changes over the years. It started out as 12' long, reaching only to the spiral stairway that came off the deck. A few years later, we added another 12' beyond the stairway.

Unfortunately, the access to the septic tank is located in the embankment that the retaining wall holds back. 

Every five years when the septic tank needs to be pumped, the shrubs get torn out; the wall gets dismantled; the bank gets dug out with our bucket tractor--all due to the fact that the lids to the tank (were) 4' underground in the 6' total embankment depth. What a headache! With constant replanting, the embankment looked sparse, then great, and then horrible, over and over again in the 30+ years we've lived here.

Finally, I convinced hubby that something's got to change. 
I called Roto-Rooter and asked them to bring out some taller culverts when they came to pump the tank. 

After getting the septic tank pumped yesterday, this time, we raised the culverts over the tank, so that hubby will need to dig down only 2' to get to them. He could probably even do it by using only a shovel. Next time, there will be no need to rip out the wall, scoop out all the dirt, and so on. I've even talked him into terracing the bank, which will take some work, but not an incredible amount.

Those bricks are heavy! I'd estimate 15-20 pounds each. But it's done now, and so we can start filling the dirt in again, and creating the terrace.

But that's only part of what needs to be done. For the past three years, we haven't had a deck. Not that we ever used it much. My son-in-law doesn't remember us ever using it, and he's been in the family for 16 years. He's wondering why we want to build a new one. For one thing, there's a new, $1200 sliding glass door that opens to a 10' drop-off. Pretty good reason to build one.  

But also, as I said to him yesterday, when I asked him if he wanted to build the deck, "Dad and I are getting older. I'm retired. It's possible that we (or at least me, if not Dad), might  want to sit outside and read, or maybe want to eat outside, sometimes."

That we seldom sit outside might seem odd to suburban or city dwellers. I think it's because hubby doesn't see any particular draw to it. He's a farmer, and during three seasons of the year, farmers spend most of their time outdoors to begin with, so why spend more? For me, it was because I worked full time and was seldom home. When I was at home, there were too many other things that needed to be done, to consider sitting outdoors for a few minutes.

So the big project this week (and in the coming weeks) is outdoor work. I already replanted the 30' x 4' flowerbed that runs along the north side of the house. It's been a mess for the past two years, since hubby re-roofed the house, and then last year, when we put in all new windows and new siding.

I need to design the new deck. It's probably going to be just a simple deck with a pergola and some retractable shades that can add shade to the pergola's "roof," as well as to the West and East sides of the deck. Sun exposure was another reason our former deck was never used. With a southern exposure, it was never cool or shady, however there was shade on the patio beneath the deck.

Accompanying that, I'll be pushing some dirt around to create the dual terrace on the newly redesigned embankment. We'll need to rent a packer to pack the dirt down, so that I can build a second retaining wall. Then, next summer, I'll plant perennials. Or maybe annuals. I might start growing plants from seeds in the basement, under grow lights, like I did many years ago. It might seem hard to imagine, but I used to spend 20 hours/week gardening. But then I realized I wasn't making any money at it, and so I decided to pursue full time employment instead.

Driving home from Lewiston the other day, I was marveling at how sunny and warm it was. The hillsides look so green and beautiful. For the first time in a dozen years, I will get to enjoy my summer!!!! For the first time in a dozen years, I won't be cooped up in a library all day long, 12 months of the year.

Now, I've finally earned the freedom to enjoy my summers again. Even if it means being up to my elbows in dirt.

I'll give you my writing update in the next post. Yes, I actually did make a tad bit of progress on that front over the past week.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Zealot meets Salesperson or, Ann Coulter meets George Clooney

Today's letter is Z ... WooHoo! Made it through the challenge. We're looking at a match between Zealot Ann Coulter and Salesman George Clooney.

To start with, Ann and George would likely never be in a relationship, or even talk civilly together, as they are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. However, Zealots and Salesmen can find happiness if they share other deeply held beliefs and values. Zealots with Salesmen personalities are a common pairing in life, movies and books, as they create sparks off each other. 

Zealot types, who are often missionaries or evangelists; protesters, reformers, are convinced that what they believe about an issue is the only correct way to look at it. They feel they have the authority of tradition or scripture backing them. They’re courageous and determined to bring people around to their views. The fiery passion that simmers just below the surface in their personalities is often channeled into politics, religion or some other worthy cause.

If this type were in a movie, the purpose would be to get them to let their hair down, focus their passion in a different direction, by breaking rules and having fun. At their core, they are fiery, but they are also trying to control the fire, which could lead to unwanted consequences.

Katharine Hepburn films (The African Queen) often use this theme, as well as The Sound of Music; My Fair Lady, and the King and I. The Zealot gets in touch with their feelings and with their playful side, enjoying their sensuality instead of disapproving of it.  

But that won’t happen unless they come in contact with someone to help this happen. And who is the perfect person? Read more about the Zealot personality.

The Salesman personality—the charmer; the hippie; the adventurer, the Don Juan. As with all types, Salesman has its own inner demons. Non-commital risk-takers, they will skim over the top of life as long as possible, but they will eventually come face-to-face with something, or someone, they cannot seduce with their considerable charm. This person, thing or event will teach them some of the things they need to learn. Read more about the Salesman personality.
Having said this, you can imagine the sparks that would fly if Zealot Ann Coulter and Salesman George Clooney were face-to-face. 

Each one contains within their personality something that the other is lacking, and a friendship/partnership/marriage could lead to growth on both parts, assuming they could ever stop fighting with each other.

This is what the Zealot would bring to the table: discipline, organization, attention to detail, and excellence, which he would appreciate. Here’s what the Salesman would contribute: spontaneity, energy, and a love of fun and adventure. Both are idealistic and future-oriented planners. Whereas the Salesman likes to keep his options open, the Zealot will rein him in, keeping him focused on follow through.

The Salesman will make life seem more exciting and enjoyable to the Zealot. The Zealot will help the Salesman see deeper meaning of things. The Zealot will take care of the details of life; the Salesman will provide the spice.

The relationship between the Zealot and the Salesman could be great, as long as they share the same values, and are working toward attaining the same things in life. In this real-life example, it’s unlikely that they would ever be more than nodding, and bitter, acquaintances.

If trouble were to arise between the Zealot and the Salesman, the Zealot would become more critical, judgmental, and inflexible than ever, insisting that things need to be done the right way—their way. The Zealot will begin to see the Salesman as undisciplined and childish, and they’re sure the Salesman is being that way only to annoy them.

The Salesman will see the Zealot as petty and uptight. They’ll tire of all the criticism, and become very demanding. Disillusioned, the Zealot will withdraw emotionally from the Salesman, and the relationship will die. 

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