For years my family’s motto has been “I do what I want.” It’s not carved into a stone by the front gate. It’s not hanging on the wall as a needle point sampler. None of us could recognize it written in fancy script in Latin. (Well, maybe my daughter could. She took Latin in high school.) “I do what I want” is simply our response to being told what to do.
This motto sprung into being at some point when my kids were young. My husband or I would give a child a simple instruction, “Pick up your toys,” or “take that plate to the kitchen,” and the child would respond with “I do what I want,” and then carry out the task. Sometimes, if they were reading, or watching television there would be a short delay, but the task would be done. “I do what I want” wasn’t sass, it was a statement of independence. Coupled with the action, it became a way of saying “I am a person, and I do the things I do because I choose to, not because I am forced to.”
As family dialects do, it evolved with time. When the boys starting driving, I would always tell them as they left the house, to be careful. With a smile, they would reply “I do what I want.” When my younger son left for the Navy, he hugged me and told me not to worry. I replied “I do what I want.”

That’s the way it’s supposed be, folks. We are supposed to be reasonable, intelligent people, doing the things we do because we want to, not because we have to. We are supposed to be mindful of the people around us, and our responsibilities to them, while remaining true to who we are. We aren’t herd animals, we’re people.

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Acampin’ I Will Go

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing flash fiction in response to challenges from Chuck Wendig’s blog. In general I’ve been happy with the results. The first challenge gave me an extremely complex character and a story that refused to be limited to 1500 words. I’m still editing that story, and there are more waiting to be written. The next two challenges were fairly easy; one was a randomly generated title, the other simply started with a dead body. Both times I was surprised by the finished product, but pleasantly so. The hard part was hitting the word count. I learned to believe in my writing by doing NaNoWriMo, and Camp NaNoWrIMo. Brevity is new to me.

Now it’s July, and Camp NaNo is here again. I don’t know if I’ll be doing the flash fiction challenges because I’ll be spending the month expanding a story that I wrote for my creative writing class. It was an easy story to write, and very well received. Before I finished it I knew that it wasn’t really a short story, but the first chapter of a novel. I’m not sure of where it’s going, exactly, which is a bit odd; normally I’m a detailed plotter. I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Here’s the first scene from the short story, soon to be the novel, “Silver Springs”

The girl crouched behind the granite boulders, looking down at the campsite. Between the light from a first quarter moon and the campfire she had little trouble making out the features of the men camped there. There was no doubt; these were the same men that had been following her since she’d left Carson City a month ago. She thought she’d lost them when the wolf attacked, she’d gone almost two weeks without seeing them on her back trail. Somehow they’d managed to pick up her trail, and today they’d closed the gap.

She closed her eyes and concentrated, listening, identifying and sorting the sounds of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. She wished the wolf would come back and attack them again. She knew it was close, but she couldn’t control it. She opened her eyes and returned to watching the men. There were five of them, of varying ages; to her teenage eyes they all looked old. They sat around the campfire, finishing a meal.  Her stomach growled. She’d been living on a roots and berries for the last week.

“I just want to go home,” the girl whispered. “Why cain’t they just let me go home?” Home was Silver Springs, Nevada, and still three nights of hard walking lay between her and that refuge. She was on foot, starving, shoeless and not entirely sure of her route. The men below were mounted on strong, well-cared for horses; even after nearly a month of pursuit the horses were in good condition. The girl knew that she wouldn’t make it back to her home unless something stopped these men from following her.

She sat back, thinking about her situation. There was no way she’d escape capture for another day, not with them this close. If they caught her they’d take her back to Carson City, and once there…she thought there was a good chance she’d never see Silver Springs again, if that happened. She looked up at the moon, near full and bright in the sky. “It’s a matter of survival,” she told the moon. “If they take me back there, I won’t never get home again. And if I cain’t get home, I’ll die of loneliness, if they don’t kill me outright.” She looked around, saw nothing but dirt and rocks, and a few branches blown from a lightning–struck pine. Nothing that could be used as a weapon. She looked down at the camp. They had guns, supplies, horses.

It was no use. The men down there had every advantage; she was stuck on a hillside, afraid to move for fear of sending pebbles skittering down into their camp. She caught her breath. What if she did send rocks down on the camp, good sized rocks, instead of just a few pebbles? She looked at her surroundings. Some of the boulders were nearly three feet tall. The dirt seemed loose; if she could get a few of the bigger rocks started, she might be able to send a landslide down on top of her pursuers. She doubted that she could injure the men, but if she could send the slide down on the picket line, she might stampede the horses. If the horses got loose she might be able to regain her lead and get to Silver Springs before they caught up with her again.

Moving as quietly as she could, the girl gathered a few of the larger pine branches. She studied the position of the boulders, trying to find one she could lever free and use to start an avalanche. After only a few moments, she shrugged, and moved to a tall boulder. There were only a few of the larger ones that she could move, and she didn’t know how to direct them to create a powerful landslide. She looked up at the moon again and whispered, “I’m sorry. I know killing’s wrong, but I got no choice. It’s them or me.” She maneuvered the limb under the rock as best as she could, and pushed down. At first she didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Even though she managed to lift the rock out of the depression it sat in, it wouldn’t tip forward. She slid the limb farther under the rock, and tried again. At first there was no difference, then a few pebbles from the base of the rock started to roll. She pushed the branch as far as she could, and the rock tipped, rolled free and headed down the hillside toward the camp. As it went it dislodged other, smaller rocks and debris, and soon a sizeable amount to material was sliding toward the camp below.

As she watched, the men looked up and first one, then another yelled. Three of them headed for the horses, picketed close to the slope of the hill. The others scattered, away from the path of the tumbling rocks. The trio reached the horses just before the leading edge of the slide. The men struggled to free the horses from the picket line, sawing at the ropes. Finally, the rope parted and the horses bolted, still tethered to the lead rope and one another. One of the men looked up at the rocks and dirt bearing down on them. He cried out.

Bonnie looked away. She hadn’t expected the men to work so long to free the horses. “I just want to go home,” she whispered. She turned to watch the horses as they galloped eastward, out of the canyon. She had bought herself some time. Staying low, she began to make her way northward again, toward Silver Springs.

November Is for Writing

I’m in a peculiar place this year. I’m back in college after years away, and between classes and study that’s 30-40 hours a week. I also am actively  looking for a job–in my area that most likely means seasonal retail, with erratic scheduling and ridiculous managerial expectations–finances require it. So there’s another 25-30 hours a week. Add in important stuff like needlework, cooking, laundry, supporting a cat with severe anxiety issues, and sleeping and there’s not a lot of time left over for NaNoWrimo. As you may have noticed, there hasn’t been enough time left over even to blog lately.

But I get obsessive, and November is for writing.

In the past, with fewer demands on my time and energy, I’ve failed to meet a 50K word count. I have no reason to believe that this year will be easier. Most of the people I’ve talked to have told me that I shouldn’t participate this year because of the demands on my time. Normally I’d look at the amount of free time I’ll have and say “There’s no point in trying…I can’t possibly win.”

I’m planning on participating anyway, to see how much I can accomplish.

For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a national writing event, in which participants attempt to write a fifty thousand word (or more) novel in the month of November. One of the key factors in achieving this word count is to simply write, without editing. In NaNoSpeak, it’s called turning off your inner editor.

In addition to turning off my inner editor, I’m turning off my inner competitor. I still plan on writing daily, and that magic 1667¹ will be my goal, but I’ve given myself permission to write less. For the first time it will be less important that I write a certain number of words a day, and more important that I write something each day that moves the story forward.

It still won’t be easy; I’m going to get stressed because of my coursework. I’m going to get stressed because of my job, or continuing lack of one. I’m going to get discouraged because I’m not producing enough words to “win.” But not writing will be worse.

Since August, I’ve been focused on school, and rightly so. Any spare time I’ve had, I’ve used for quick needlework projects. And since August there’s been a story brewing. Saying it’s in the back of my mind would be misreprensenting it; it’s right there in the middle of things. School is an hour commute each way; when I’m driving, I’m thinking about this story. When I’m not sleeping–happens a lot, chronic insomnia–this story is what’s playing in my head. For the most part I’ve managed to keep the writing compulsion at bay by promising to write later. Consciously, I meant December, between semesters. Subconsciously…well, November is for writing.

Follow me as I try to balance school, work (hopefully), and writing from now until the end of November.

¹A word count of 1667 daily for thirty days yields 50,010 words.

Meditation through Coleslaw? Who Knew!?

Since the first of the year I’ve been dealing with some diet related health issues. As a result I’ve had to change the way I eat, and this summer the family’s gotten pulled along in my wake. The last few weeks especially, I’ve cooked almost every night. Let’s be clear here—I haven’t microwaved, or heated food from bags, I’ve cooked. Lots of prep work, lots of dirty pans, like-my-mom-did-it cooking.

I’m not knocking microwave, or easy to prepare cooking, really; it just wasn’t meeting my needs. Cooking like this is a big deal for me, because I don’t really enjoy it. Most of the time food is just fuel, and the time spent in the kitchen is time I could be doing something I enjoy. I’m making an effort though, and so far it hasn’t been too been bad..

I had the house to myself this afternoon, so I decided to make some icebox slaw and give it a chance to mellow. The house was quiet, the kitchen wasn’t hot and steamy, and I didn’t need to rush to chop my veggies. As I placed the first bit of chopped cabbage into the bowl I realized that my mind had stilled and my breathing and heart rate had slowed. I had inadvertently put myself in a meditative state.

I began to consider one of the bigger plot problems I’ve been dealing with in my current writing project. I wasn’t really looking for a solution, just going through the situation a step at a time, and from each character’s viewpoint. By the time I was ready to put the slaw in the refrigerator I had worked out the problem and blocked the scene.

Normally when I have a writing problem I sit down in a quiet room with my laptop and fight my way through it; this is the first time I’ve worked on something while I was in the kitchen. I don’t know if I’ll be able to duplicate the results, but if I can, my family will be seeing a lot more coleslaw!

Meditation coleslaw

½ head of cabbage

¼ large red onion

1 medium carrot

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Coarse chop the cabbage by hand. The simple repetitive motion is what induces calm. Put the cabbage in a large mixing bowl, preferably glass or ceramic, but definitely NOT aluminum. Chop the onion and carrot in similar fashion. (I use a vegetable peeler to shred the carrot, and then chop the shreds to a manageable size.) Stir the layers together by hand.

Combine the sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small saucepan; Again, no aluminum, please! Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove mixture from heat and pour over the cabbage. Mix gently. Refrigerate for at least thirty minutes before serving.

*This slaw is WAY better made hours ahead of time. It’s one of those things that you can make at your leisure, or when you need to mull over a problem, and have on hand for any meal. I have no idea how long it will keep in the refrigerator—it never lasts longer than 12 hours at our house.

**It’s even better to place the cabbage mix in a wide mouth canning jar before pouring the vinegar over it, but I realize that not everyone has those on hand.

Whole Lotta Hats

I wear a lot of hats.

I love fedoras, especially. I have straw ones, and a wool one. I have a white one (day wear) and a brown one (evenings and wet weather) and a hounds tooth one for Saturdays in the fall. (Do I have to explain that any farther?) There’s a natural straw colored one in the car, and a grey pinstriped around here somewhere.

I’m a big fan of slouch beanies and berets, too. I hate cold weather so it’s nice to have a selection of head gear. Plus, I get to spend hours on the Internet hunting down free patterns to make and wear.

I wear a lot of hats.

I’m the mom of twin boys; I’m the mom of a daughter. I’m a knitter, a crocheter, a cross-stitcher. I’m a reader, a writer, a cat lover. My dream is to have an organic farm. I’m back in school at 50+ to earn a certificate in a Heath Science field. I’m standing on the edge of an empty nest.

Yeah, lotta hats.

All those hats have kept me from starting a blog for the last couple of years. Somehow, somewhere, I got the idea that a blog should have a theme. I’ve read book blogs, writing blogs, homeschooling blogs—you get the idea. They all have a theme. I didn’t have a theme; some days I wanted to write about sustainable living or my faith in God, other times I just wanted to share about my cats, or the delight I find in bad jokes. Too many hats…

Then it came to me. I do have a theme: me! The fact that I may be wearing a different hat each time I post shouldn’t be a deterrent. After all, I can’t be the only person with more than a single hobby, a single cause to which they are committed. Everybody has more than one hat, right?

So, no apologies; here it is. A book blog, a writing blog, a cat blog, a needle-working blog. A back to school after 50 blog. Oh, and an on the-brink-of-the-empty-nest blog. And much more. I doubt that every post is going to interest every reader and that’s okay, but every post is going to interest some readers.

I hope.