Avoidance

Writing-wise, it’s been a tough winter. It probably started with my second attempt at NaNoWriMo which completely failed. I gave up sometime during the middle of the month, and then spent the rest of the month hating myself as I read the success stories of my fellow Akronites. Then, I got swept into the craziness of the holiday season and I allowed myself to forget about writing for awhile. I picked up some books and completed probably more novels over a span of two months than I have in a single year recently. I told myself this was okay–it was research, trying to understand my craft better.

I kept trying to reset. I said that January 1st, I would start writing. The month of January came and went. Now it’s almost the end of February and I still haven’t started writing again. I’ve pretty much dropped out of my writing group. I start to pick up one of my novels and I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I’ve got a severe case of self-doubt surrounding me right now. I heard someone say recently that writer’s block is just allowing yourself to give into your self-doubt and fears. I totally agree with this. When you let go of the doubt and the feeling that what you are doing is ridiculous and meaningless or stupid, it’s a lot easier to write. It’s when we second-guess ourselves that the creative juices stop flowing.

I know this and yet I still can’t bring myself to write. I’ve avoided this blog (having nothing really interesting to say anyway), I’ve avoided personal journaling. I’ve spent a great deal of time distracting myself with binge-watching various television series. I’m feeling down in the dumps the way I felt several winters ago when I binge-watched all seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I keep calling it a funk. But in truth, it’s a full-blown depression.

I’m having a lot of trouble staying fully in the moment of just about everything I’m doing. I’m always thinking that instead of what I’m doing, I should be writing. The writing guilt follows me everywhere. But when I have the time and the option to write, I avoid it. I sit down to look at my work and all those doubts come rolling back in. I feel like a failure. Well, I am a failure because I’ve failed to do anything in the last couple months. I’ve failed before I’ve even done a single thing.

I feel the weight of time on my shoulders. I’m turning 39 this March and I know that’s young. I never used to have a problem with age. I used to say that it was just a number and no big deal. Yet the thought of me turning 40 is freaking me out. I don’t think 40 is old. I just feel like it’s an awful long time to have lived and not done what I set out to do.

My journals stretching the last 10 years are filled with the same desperate plea. Why can’t I write? Why don’t I have time to write? Why am I so afraid to write?

It’s frustrating because I know that when I’m in the zone, I’m so in love with my writing. When I let go of the fears and the self-doubt, I get high off of the pleasure of putting together a good story.

I think joining the writing group was too soon. Because they were so critical of my writing–of everyone’s writing–my growth as a writer is stunted because I don’t feel uninhibited enough to just write. Now instead of writing what comes from my heart, I hear twenty voices in my head picking apart every sentence. Yes, I know a writer needs to face criticism. But I think that I need to complete something first, uninhibited and without the fear of critical commentary, before I can face an audience with what I’ve done.

With all this avoidance, it sounds as if I don’t like to write. I do like to write. I love to write. I just don’t love myself or believe in my abilities enough right now to get anywhere. Ironically, the only way to start loving myself and believing in my abilities is to actually start writing. To push past this wall of self-loathing and just write.

Well, I did pick up this blog entry so I guess that’s a start.

I guess I aim for March 1st and try to reset again. The last year until 40. It’s now or give up the dream forever because if I haven’t moved in all these years, I have to wonder if I ever will. Maybe I just like to talk about writing and pretend that it’s my salvation from a career I’ve never loved. I don’t know. But I feel like this is the year that I have to prove to myself that I’m really the writer I think that I am or move on to something else. I’ve still got a lot of years left and I need to find my bliss in something I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s not writing. Maybe it’s something I don’t even know I have the ability to do yet.

Only time will tell.

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Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

Well, the good news is that I did complete 50K words and am therefore considered a NaNoWriMo winner!!

The bad news is that what I’ve written does not in any way constitute an actual novel. If I do want to do something with this story (ie, self-publish or publish), I’m going to need to do some major reworking. For one, in its form, my “novel” is basically a random collection of scenes with no real action taking place. I have a lot of speeches, a lot of character development, and a pretty good ending scene which I wrote on the last day to get my 50K with a sense of closure.

The problem is, I went into this challenge with a very small scattering of an idea for a story that needed to be a lot more fleshed out. I should have thought the whole thing through and wrote an outline–at least mentally. I don’t usually “write” an outline; it’s usually in my head. But I didn’t even have that. But in reworking this story, I definitely plan to write an outline. More on that in a few paragraphs.

When I started NaNo, I was sure everything would just start to flow out of my head. The first couple days were easy because the only thing I had for this story were what I considered then to be the opening scenes. I gathered from the immediate surge of words from my fellow NaNos that this is generally the case for everyone in those first couple days. Most likely, most writers have the start and end for the story already, too; it’s how to get from the great opening scene to the awesome ending scene that is often the murky area.

It was a struggle for me to get the 1,600 word count at first, though, because I was still trying to write like every single word counts. Which is how I always write. Which is probably why nothing I start ever gets done. That internal editor always nags me about word choice while I’m just struggling to get an idea on “paper.” I think a part of me always feels like every thing I write–from shopping lists to this blog–has to have substance and be brilliant.

The internal editor really restricts more than it allows you to create. And I know this from my writing classes in college. From reading the patron goddess of creative writing, Natalie Goldberg, I know that I’m supposed to just sit down and let ideas spew out of my head unrestricted, that doing such freewriting daily will actually build my writing muscle and free me from blocking myself with criticism.

But did I ever let myself actually write that way? Well, to some degree on this blog, in the entries I wrote in my journal when I had one in the past, and letters to my pen pals Sarah and Mr. Kincaid. And that’s because I’ve allowed myself to let go in those forms because it seems “okay” whereas when I’m trying to write a story it does not seem “okay.”

It took me about a week to figure out that I needed to say goodbye to my internal editor. She’s good for helping me craft my words, but she’s really lousy when it comes to trying to write 1600 words every single day. So every day that I sat down to write for NaNo, I had to come to terms with the fact that whatever I felt compelled to write at that particular moment was going into the word count regardless of quality. To do this, I had to give myself permission to write something that I knew might only help me understand the characters and may not ever be used in a finished final product.

I can’t describe to you how hard it was for me to do just that apparently simple task. It was a real struggle to tell myself I could just write a bunch of scenes because I was inspired to write them and it didn’t matter if I’d used them later. Of course, to a writer, these characters are real. So I had to remind myself that whether or not these scenes are usable, my characters were channeling through me events that really took place in their lives. It’s my job to sort through the rubble to string together a story.

I really am impressed how well I managed to keep it going despite the fact that I had no direction and I got behind twice for several days. As you can imagine, 1,600 words is not a lot by itself; however, two days behind puts you 3200 words behind. It adds up FAST. And before you know it, you feel overwhelmed. It’s when you’re behind that you really have to tell the editor to take a vacation so that you can just write.

I managed to write through Thanksgiving which was a real challenge. In my past as a single woman, Thanksgiving weekend was a big break for me to relax and enjoy myself. I usually wrote my annual Christmas letter and designed the card I would use. I would turn on a tv channel playing Christmas movies and start decorating my house. It was laid back and relaxed. But now that I am engaged (to a wonderful man, let us not forget), I must visit both my own family and his. Since his family lives near Bowling Green, approximately 2 hours away from home, a visit usually involves staying a few days.

I started that weekend behind (for the second time). But I was determined to drive up my word count and have fun visiting our families. So on Thanksgiving Day while Crow was driving from my parents’ house to his family’s house, I was typing away on my computer in the passenger seat. I wrote Friday evening after an entire day of shopping. I wrote on the way to and from Frankenmuth. I not only caught up, but I got a little ahead. And I never got behind again for the rest of the month. I’d say that was an accomplishment. If anything, it was a real testimony to my determination. At least I have that, if not actual talent!

Ironically, on the last day of writing, a real plot burst through my muddled brain for the first time since I started NaNoWriMo. The new idea actually invalidated how the novel started and many of the scenes I’d written during the month. I actually wasn’t depressed about this development because I think that the exercise of NaNoWriMo showed me that the direction I was going with the novel was not going to work. The new plot with the new setup I imagined is a lot more exciting, fun, and thrilling. I can’t believe it never occurred to me in the first place. And now, honestly, I can’t wait to start writing this novel again.

I wrote the ending scene as though the first half of the novel had actually been written with the new plotline. When I validated my word count online after writing that scene, I found I was just 200 words short of 50K. So I then wrote a scene for the very beginning of the novel using the new plot. That got me across the finish line with words to spare.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to work on the novel since. I had a lot of catching up on housework to do since my absolutely wonderful, sweet, supportive fiance took the brunt of the labor for the entire month of November. I love him for not begrudging me or making me feel bad about not pulling my weight with getting the house together. To top it off, he kept telling me NOT to quit. He gave me the confidence I needed to realize I could finish NaNoWriMo. And I love him so much for wanting me to succeed as a writer because he knows how important this dream is to me. Crow is not a man who believes that goals are impossible; he’s the type of person to just do what he wants, which is evidenced by the fact that he’s self-employed running his own business. He’s reminding me that dreams are still attainable and that if I want something badly enough, I really can reach for it. Where has this support been all my life? I’m so glad I’ve found it in him!

I also found a great support network in joining the local Akron NaNo group for write-ins. We’d go to Panera Bread on Mondays and Nervous Dog (a local coffee house chain) on Wednesdays. I missed all of the weekend write-ins due to commitments with the house, but one weekend Crow and I both sat in a Panera–he worked on stuff related to his job while I wrote–for several hours after running errands. It was so refreshing to be around other writers. We speak the same language! (Which primarily consists of talking about our characters as though they are real people which is crazy-talk to non-writers.)

At one of the last write-ins I attended, we had two writing “sprints”–10 and 20 minute time periods where we just had to write without thinking at all about content to boost the word count. It was a lot of fun and, again, a lesson in just getting the scene out of your head instead of toiling over every minute detail.

We also had a Facebook page where we cheered each other on virtually. That was great too because I was able to get ideas from other writers. One fellow writer even came up with the name for the rival band in my story! If I ever do get something published, I definitely have to write a dedication to these people because they helped me so much with just their conversations, questions, and often panicked chatter. Whenever someone felt down or defeated, and they posted on the page, everyone chimed in to motivate them to keep going. It was a real group effort to get us all to keep going and I was also motivated to get keep writing as I saw each of them hitting the 50K finish line.

Another inspiration I’ve had along the way is a band called Blondfire. I downloaded their Where The Kids Are EP and played it repeatedly for the last two weeks of NaNo because for some reason their sound really reminds me of how I envision the band in my story to sound. The lead singer is female–as is the lead singer in my fictional band–and she just has the sound of a space-age singer. The words to Where The Kids Are and Hide And Seek both sound kind like the kind of thing a young band would write about: hopes and dreams and trying to accomplish stardom. That EP got my juices flowing and still does when I play it. Music and writing to me go hand in hand; I’ve always been inspired to write from certain songs and albums. Music draws pictures in my head. (Past influences for stories I’ve written have been Depeche Mode’s Policy Of Truth and Duran Duran’s Rio! These both inspired novels I wrote in high school.)

So. Lessons learned? I think next year (oh, yes, there will be a next year for sure, this was too much fun) I will come into NaNo with a better developed story. I will need to think about my story longer, perhaps in October, and then start jotting down some notes. I think I can do a better job of actually having something somewhat coherent if given a complete plot. If I had used NaNo to write my rock star story (which, incidentally, was left unfinished at 27K words), I could have probably finished the whole novel, though, of course, it would have required some heavy editing. But the full story would be there.

Also: Next year I will hopefully not have major upgrades to do on my house. And I cannot book up my schedule very much in November.

Whether I ever write anything that is publishable is not the point. The point is, I had fun. And I finally stopped bemoaning the fact that I want to write and I actually sat down and wrote. That was definitely worth the whole exercise. I needed NaNoWriMo to motivate me to make action out of my talk. And now I can say I’m a novelist and no one can dispute it. Yup. (Published novelist, however, is another thing all together.)

NaNoWriMo!

I decided to sign up for the National Novel Writing Month event where you attempt to write an entire novel in the month of November. This will be quite a challenge for me considering life (house, wedding plans) have taken up just about all of my spare time. A few months ago, I tried to get myself into the habit of writing for five minutes a day in a journal. Sad to say that I couldn’t even keep it up for a week. I just can’t keep a regular enough schedule yet in my day to find that space to write. I know I could do it if I specified a time every day to spend on it… I just need to be diligent and spend the time.

Our house has not come along as fast as we had hoped. However, there should be a little bit of a pause coming up now that I’ve finished painting the master bedroom closet and (almost) the hallway. Crow has promised to support me in my effort to write a novel in a month and will help me find time to spend on it (we’re trying not to book up all our weekends). I guess this will give a little taste of my dream… Where I create space in my schedule to do the writing. Too bad I still have to keep a 40 hour/week job!

I have an idea for a story. I’ve already entered the title and a quick synopsis in my profile on the NaNoWriMo site. To be honest, I don’t expect to actually finish the novel. I suppose that’s not the right attitude to take up right off the bat. I’m just hoping I get halfway through or something. My story idea is not really fleshed out. So I expect I may spend days just absently writing off the top of my head. According to my hero Natalie Goldberg  in her book Writing Down the Bones, clarity will probably emerge from the jumble of noise in my head if I proceed in this way. Maybe I will unwittingly fumble to a middle and end to the story.

Despite my already pessimistic outlook on this event, I think I’m going to go full-tilt into the process by attending the local kick-off party and maybe a few “write-ins.” I met a girl at a party last weekend who has been involved with NaNoWriMo for many years and we talked a bit about the event and writing and I guess I started to feel a little inspired. I’m not someone who has ever participated in writer’s groups. I just get intimidated being around other people who write. Jealous. Competitive. If I get it in my head that someone else is a better writer than me, I convince myself that I’m doomed to fail.

I also have this secret nagging in my head that if anyone I know gets published for real, there’s no way ever that I would get published because in my mind publication is akin winning the lottery. And billion dollar lottery winners don’t all happen in one locality. So I catch myself hoping friends and family members who write don’t get published because that reduces my chances of getting published too. I feel pressured, like I’m in a race to be the first person in my peer group to get published; otherwise, all hope is lost. Yet, I haven’t really done anything to try to get published in years. So I’m not really running the race. Surely all my friends who are trying harder than me deserve a pay off.

Of course, I feel really ashamed for having these sort of thoughts. The more sensible part of me wants nothing more for my friends and family to also experience the joy of pursuing a goal even if it is the same goal I have. And I have to remind myself that getting published is clearly not the lottery. There’s a lot of factors involved in getting published. Some of it is luck. Some of it is talent. Some of it is having the right story at the right moment and the right person just happens to see it. I’m not really competing with my fellow local writers. I’m just trying to get noticed by a very small group of people at the top of a very high ladder and all of us are a slave to that system.

And, again, I haven’t even tried to publish anything. Or even write anything (other than that novel I started two summers ago and, uhm, got interrupt when I started hanging out with Crow). So I have no real steak in the game at the moment. But I’m hoping NaNoWriMo gets my creative juices flowing again. Even if what I write can’t be used for publication later, I’m hoping at the very least that I get into a habit of writing. Because when I’m writing, when I’m really into it, I feel a sense of peace and joy. I need to remember that the reason I write is for myself… It’s an inner yearning that drives me…. I don’t write to get published, I write to lose myself in a world or express feelings I’m struggling to understand. I need to write because it’s who I am. No one can get that but another writer or an artist, I think. I have to remind myself that I can be an accomplished writer even if I never get published. I have stories to tell and they have to come out of my head. Publishing–and making money from my art–is just a bonus. (And one that is unrealistic to count on as a career.)

Anyway, I’m not expecting anything grand out of my participation in NaNoWriMo. I’m just in it to see what happens. Hopefully it is more fun than frustrating (the writing process can be quite frustrating, though). I hope I can push past episodes of writer’s block by just shutting down my critical voice and writing from the heart. I think if I don’t plan anything grand (ie, publication), and focus on just telling a good story, I will write much better than I have in years.

When I was writing my other novel in the spring and summer of 2010, I really got into it. I remember getting that feeling I used to get when I wrote novels as a teenager. For the first time in years, I was really drawn into my story as though I were a watching it play out before me on a stage (similar to the feeling a person gets when reading a book). I remember particularly one great evening session where I woke up in the morning feeling as if I’d accomplished something. I went to church that morning and felt high the entire time I was there. Writer’s high. Nothing like it.

I want to feel that again. I want to feel at one with myself. I want to feel like I’m creating something wonderful. I want to create something wonderful. I hope NaNoWriMo helps me find that again. Or, at the very least, I hope I have a useful learning experience. People who have done it in the past seem to enjoy it. I hope that this skinny ghost of an idea that I have fleshes out into something vivid. If it doesn’t, though, I have a lot more ideas running around in my head. Just. Need. More. Time.

Continuing Adventures in a Snowless Winter

The girl running the front desk at the hotel the next morning after Groundhog Day pointed us to Cook Forest State Park. She said there was some great hiking there and specifically pointed us to a *fire tower* from which we could get an excellent view of the surrounding area. She also suggested Bilger’s Rocks, to the south of us, as another really cool place to visit. We decided to go to Cook Forest, and then maybe hit Bilger’s Rocks on our way out of town the next day.

Upon arriving at the park, we checked in at the park office to get suggestions about where to go into the park and, specifically, how to get to the said *fire tower*. Personally, I’d never have even thought to stop at the park office to get information. Don’t ask me why. It probably has something to do with my often general shyness with strangers. And probably somewhat more to do with my rather masculine aversion to asking for directions. Thankfully, Crow doesn’t have such inhibitions. The ranger working the desk was really nice and she showed us lots of neat places to go, suggesting also we check out the Beartown Rocks at Clear Creek State Forest as well. She also explained that Cook Forest contained many old growth trees and pointed us to the Longfellow trail that would take us into the heart of the ancient forest.

Old growth in Cook Forest from the ground up to the sky.

I was a little sad to learn that there were some good cross-country skiing trails and even an ice skating rink at the park when weather permitted. Weather wasn’t permitting at the moment. It was a sunny day, maybe 40 degrees or so. A great day for a hike, though.

Mars Girl & Crow start out on the Longfellow Trail.

Crow peeks around an old growth tree.

I’ve been to a forest of sequoia trees in California (Calaveras Big Trees State where my cousin Angy was married) so I’ve seen big, old trees before. These trees–hemlock, white pine, various types of maple, oak, beech–were not quite as grand as a sequoia obviously. But yet, they were impressive in their girth and still a wonder. Every time I look at old growth trees, I like to imagine what they could tell us about our world if they could talk. All the history they’ve lived through. What would they say about the Native Americans that surely walked through in the trees’ younger years? Could they comment on the explorers that followed? Climate change? Pollution? An organism of the earth, like me, with a story to tell. Amazing. Even more amazing that they managed to escape being cut down by humans looking for lumber. Thankfully, the old growth of the forest is protected land.

Yes, it's true. I'm a tree hugger! One should always respect their elders.

Not so old growth in Cook Forest.

The lower part of the trail took us a long a creek. We stopped to eat a power bar and enjoy the surroundings. It was just one of those days where it felt so good to be breathing the crisp, fresh air and stretching your legs amongst the soothing presence of nature. The slight chill in the air made each breath in cleansing.

Where we took our snack along the creek.

After the hike through the old growth, we got back in the car and drove up to the entrance of a dirt park road that is closed in the winter to vehicles, normally used for cross-country skiing. Crow was afraid it would be a boring walk since it was technically a park road in the summer, but the ranger had assured us that it was scenic and nice. This was the way to the *fire tower* as well as a scenic overlook–Seneca Point–indicated on the map by camera.

The road was rather rugged (something my new Subaru would eat up!). We started in a zone of mostly coniferous trees and ended up in a zone of deciduous trees. The abrupt change was especially noticeable because the lack of leaves on the deciduous trees made everything suddenly a lot brighter and warmer. I always find it remarkable that you can cross a line in a forest and suddenly be in a completely different world.

At a parking lot at the end of the road, a sign pointed to a small path that led to the *fire tower*. I really wanted to be brave on this one. So I started climbing up without thinking too much about it. I mean, it’s not closed off to the public, so it’s perfectly safe, right?

Harmless little fire tower.

It's just a harmless little fire tower... It's not that high... *gulp*

I don’t know if it’s just the way these towers are constructed with their metal stairs and skinny little fence railings. You could see through the step rails below your feet. And, of course, they shake so much as you climb; they sway in the slightest of wind. They just give the impression of complete instability. The little enclosure at the very top is not open to the public, but you could ascend all the way to the level immediately below it. Which Crow did. I felt so much vertigo from the climb and the swaying that once I got to the level below the last, I already started climbing back down. I could not even dart my eyes outward to enjoy the view. What a wimp.

Mars Girl holding on for dear life... and shortly about to turn around.

Crow stayed above me for a little bit, taking pictures, but he also admitted to feeling a bit uncomfortable up there. This certainly was nothing like the tower at Myakka, but completely like the one I remembered climbing at Mt. Davis (PA’s highpoint) so long ago. Oh well. The view was nice from the ground too.

Scenic view (that I missed) from *fire tower*.

Another view from the *fire tower*. (I don't see any fires.)

I was a bit disappointed in my cowardly behavior. But, oh well. I suppose you can’t be a daredevil about everything. I know that I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane in my younger years, but I was also, um, younger. And I had a parachute. I guess I prefer my feet firmly planted on the ground. I also don’t like rock climbing and have no desire to do so. Ever. A girl knows her limits.

The view from Seneca Point.

So we walked over to Seneca Point which offered a view without all the fear. It was a little disappointing that they chose to put a fence around the edges, though–that kind of takes away from the natural feeling of the environment. I’m smart enough to stay away from the edge of a big drop. It’s too bad many people aren’t. Still, at least I could appreciate this view.

It was late afternoon when we finally made it over the Beartown Rocks. But position of the sun illuminated the rocks in such a way as to highlight their beauty. It was perfect for taking photographs.

I started experimenting more with panoramic mode...

In terms of historical experience, rocks have “seen” the history of the world thousands of times over. They out-date human history and, if alive and sentient, could speak volumes about the ever-changing Earth. I guess if you’re a geologist, they do, in a way, speak to you if you know how to read the patterns left behind on their surfaces, know their composition. I am just as enchanted by the age of these ancient rocks as I am the oldest of trees. It was fun to walk among them and I would have loved to have known more about their history.

Almost as if moved into that position by giants, a little alcove at Beartown Rocks.

Cool picture of the moon captured by Crow at Beartown Rocks.

After a full day of laid back exploration, we returned again to our hotel at DuBois for one more night. When we had planned this trip, I booked a night’s stay in Ligonier, PA, near the Seven Springs and Hidden Valley ski resorts so that we could spend a day downhill skiing. We planned to do this Sunday and since we had all day to check in at the hotel in Ligonier, we decided to go to Bilger’s Rocks, and then Penn’s Cave.

A panoramic view at the top of Bilger's Rocks.

Bilger’s Rocks was a challenge to find, located on a discrete little country road off US-219 north of Grampian. The first time we tried to locate it, using the map, we missed the entrance to the country road. Though harder to find, these ledges exceeded our expectations; they completely blew away everything we’d seen at Beartown Rocks. There were so many crevices and caves, nooks and crannies–literally a playground for two curious adults. Though icy in spots (due to it being winter), we really enjoyed threading our way through the rocks.

A rocky passage along Bilger's Rocks. I love how the tree roots thread across the rocks.

Below are some of the best shots (most of which were taken by Crow on his fancy camera) of Bilger’s Rocks to give you an idea of the place. It was really immense and wonderful. Definitely going out of your way to visit.

Crow down below at Bilger's Rocks.

Mars Girl feels small amidst the ages-old rocks.

Where rocks divide...

Mars Girl poses with the Mighty Rocks.

Rocks, rocks, everywhere, rocks!

This “room” was boxed in with an entry on the one side. I saw it both from above and below:

A little room among the ledges from above.

The room from below.

Mars Girl on the other side of a skinny passage.

Rock on rock--as if some giant was using the rocks like we do Legos.

No, I'm not attempting to push the rock. This was actually a tight squeeze that I wormed myself through.

A little "ice fall" on the rocks.

While observing some patches of ice laying across the rocks, such as the one shown above, I noticed droplets of water moving beneath the surface of the ice. They looked like little space bugs scuttling beneath the surface, making me think of something from a science-fiction movie. I captured this on video because it was just so cool.

It took us awhile to feel compelled to leave Bilger’s Rocks. But we reluctantly left knowing that we wanted to get to Penn’s Cave before it closed at 5pm. So off we went. We arrived there about two hours later, around 3:00pm–just in time for the next tour! Being winter hours (Penn’s Cave is only open on the weekends during the winter), it was really quiet in the shop. When we got down to the cave for the tour, there was just one other couple waiting for the boat.

Yes, I said “boat.” Penn’s Cave is accessible only by water. It’s the coolest cavern I’ve ever been to (and Crow admitted I might be disappointed the next time I go to another cavern). The tour is via a motor boat. The water comes from a ground spring and appeared neon blue in color.

Entrance to Penn's Cave.

It was a completely different world within the cave. I admit that we didn’t get too many good pictures–the lighting conditions inside the cave were not conducive. It’s one of those experiences where you just have your memory to look back to, which in some ways is almost better.

The narrow passage to the first room in the cavern.

I was immediately floored when our boat moved into the first “room” inside the cavern. It was like a natural cathedral with its high ceilings and ancient stalactites and stalagmites reaching for each other like statutes sculpted by the hands of Mother Nature. Someone had set up lights strategically, which the tour guide turned on with a switch, so that you could admire fully the formations. It was breath-taking. I had several moments of marveling at the wonder that is our world.

Some structures inside Penn's Cave.

However, I have to wonder how much damage the lights are doing to this natural wonder–it doesn’t take much to disrupt the growth of the stalagmites and stalactites, and the rest of the geological formations within the cavern. So, part of me had trouble really reconciling my need to explore with the harm it was doing to the environment. Though, the tour guide explained, at one point in the cavern’s history, they used to let tourists take pieces of the cavern home with them. At least they aren’t doing that any more. We were also warned at the beginning of the tour not to touch anything because the salt from our skin could ruin the formations.

Stalagmites and stalactites in Penn's Cave made more dramatic by lights.

We were followed from room to room by a little screech-owl who fed on the bats that inhabited the cave. He watched us from a high perch in one of the last rooms. That was pretty sweet. I’m glad the natural wild life was not disturbed by our presence at all.

Our little owl friend.

The opposite end of the cave from which we came in was blown out purposely with dynamite at one point so we ended up in a man-made lake. We took a spin around it once and to get a look at the wildlife park that also shares the space at Penn’s Cave for tourists to explore in the summer. That seemed a little out-of-place to me, but, okay. It is the middle of Pennsylvania. You have to draw people there somehow. As if this beautiful cavern wasn’t enough!

Mars Girl as we headed into the lake at the other side of the cavern.

The tour was really cool–definitely breath-taking. I kept asking myself, “Why don’t I ever stumble upon a natural cavern on my own property?” As so many caverns just seem to be randomly discovered by accident by people going about their own business. I would love to have my own cavern. And not share it with anyone but my friends. And maybe a few geologists.

Crow and Mars Girl at the end of the path leading to Penn's Cave.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. I liked being there with everything so low-key and quiet. It definitely inspired me to check out some of the caverns local to me in Ohio that I’ve not had the chance to see. Hmmm… do I smell a summer weekend ROAD TRIP!?

And the best ending to this story is that when we headed out of town, we found a really nice restaurant at the top of a hill called The Mount Nittany Inn. They had good beer on draft!! And a beautiful view of the surrounding area.

So all is not completely lost in Pennsylvania. In fact, later that evening in Ligonier–of all places–we discovered The Wicked Googly (thanks to the direction of some locals) which was in walking distance from our hotel. Unexpectedly, it was located in a bowling alley (most often known for its wide selection of yellow beer). Not only was there live music, but an above par selection of draft beer which included–among many other choices–our favorite, the beloved Southern Tier Choklat Stout. Oh my goodness! What a reward after days of disappointing beer encounters. So, ultimately, it was good we did all that walking and exploring.

We did manage to get to Hidden Valley to ski on our last day of vacation. I’d never been there before, always choosing the much more famous Seven Springs. I was actually taken aback because I figured Hidden Valley to be a let down after Seven Springs’ challenging hills. No, Hidden Valley holds its own, being only slightly less challenging, and is apparently a lot less busy than Seven Springs. It certainly seemed to have a lot of slopes. I will definitely have to purposely visit there again when we actually have a winter.

Conditions were typical of this less-than-pleasurable winter: good to start, but icy as the day wore on. Due to my lack of days on the slopes this year, I was a little timid so I didn’t really enjoy myself as much as I would have in a better season. But it is what it is.

Despite the disappointing winter, though, we still managed to make the most of our time together, exploring those little places so close to home that we often overlook in sight of the bigger places to which we want to travel.

But I’d still like to finally try cross-country skiing. Maybe next year…?

Merry X (terminate)-Mas!

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"Exterminate!" shouts George.

It’s a cute little Dalek and I’m calling him George. He rolls around my desk and says, “Exterminate!” when he bumps into objects. Crow gave him to me for Christmas. My coworkers are less thrilled with him than I am.

Can’t anyone appreciate at genocide-wreaking genetically engineered mutant cyborg that slightly resembles a garbage can?

I hope your holiday was nice… Mine was a little different for a change. I guess it’s time to start some new traditions. This trial run was a little rocky, but it turned out all right. I think I drank too much on Christmas day–had two and a half Christmas ales with my dad (Great Lakes and 12 Dogs) and a stout. I spent all day yesterday battling a little bit of vertigo and nausea. I’m certainly getting old; can’t hold my liquor anymore!

I got a lot of great gifts and now I’m feeling a bit guilty, like I spent less on everyone else than they did on me. I don’t know what I did to deserve such lavish gifts from everyone, but thanks a million, all (and there was more than one of you). I guess I’ll have to be extra kind in 2012 and also remember the kindness next Christmas. I always thought myself pretty generous when it comes to gift-giving, but some of my friends and family have proven themselves even more generous than me! I love all my gifts, though–not a single returnable item among them!

So now the brief interlude/return to normal life for three days until my New Year’s mini-vacation. I had spectacular 2011. I can’t imagine 2012 being better. (It’s an election year, so it won’t be.)

Christmas Cookies

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Decorated cutter cookies by Crow and Mars Girl.

My boyfriend Crow and I decided to make Christmas cookies this year. I’ve always wanted to make a bunch of batches of cookies and then pass platefuls of them to coworkers and friends. It just seemed a nice, festive activity. I love the holidays.

We ambitiously decided to take on making six different kinds of cookies. If you know Crow, you know this kind of ambition is not unusual. And for once I got swept up in the thrill of it. It’s hard to pick just one or two types of cookies to make amongst the millions of different kinds there are out there to make (and eat). We both wanted to do it all.

We ended up selecting to make peppermint pinwheels, chocolate almond rosettes, cutter cookies with frosting, whole wheat gingerbread, spritz, and peanut butter blossoms. We had wanted to make snickerdoodles, but they missed the cut since we wanted to make some cookies that were different than the standard Christmas cookies everyone else makes.

We decided that we were going to make our cookies out of as many organic ingredients as we could. The peanut butter blossoms, for example, had Hershey kisses, which were not organic (though we would have bought some had we found something like a Hershey kiss that was organic). The flavoring extracts (vanilla, peppermint) were not organic nor was the food coloring or the decorations for the cutter and gingerbread cookies.

We blocked off the entire weekend of December 2-3 for making cookies. We started our cookie baking with the peppermint pinwheels because the dough is refrigerated for at least eight hours. We made the dough and rolled it into two swirled loaves on Friday night. On Saturday, the first thing we did was cut the cookies, put them on sheets, and began baking them. I was amazed about how the two doughs rolled together actually congealed overnight so that they were one in the loaf while maintaining their swirl color.

They came out extraordinarily well. Crow and I both love peppermint flavored goodies (ice cream is the best!) so we were pretty happy with the results. I loved the smell when you opened the oven–warm peppermint flooded the nose tauntingly. Next to the scent of pine trees, the fragrance of peppermint is definitely one that makes me think of Christmas. The recipe also makes a ton of cookies (somewhere in the range of four dozen!). They are small cookies so they don’t take up much room when packed up.

We next attempted to make what we figured to be the next hardest cookie–the rosettes. I must explain that finding the rosette irons required to make this cookie was like trying to find the Holy Grail except, as Crow pointed out to me, everyone knows what the Holy Grail is. Even at specialized cooking stores, we were often met with a blank stare when we asked for rosette irons. At places where the associates knew what we were talking about, we were told that they didn’t have any and weren’t expecting to get any any time soon.

We did find a set of three rosettes, buried on a low shelf, at one specialty cooking store but we didn’t buy them because the only shapes were not at all Christmasy–a butterfly, cloverleaf, and the basic rosette pattern (like a flower). We knew that Christmas patterns existed out there (the picture of the rosettes in my cook book were a Christmas tree and a snowflake) and we were determined to find them.

The funny thing is, the harder those damned irons were the find, the more I wanted to make them. I had delusions of returning the lost art of rosettes to the western world. I swear I’d eaten them once, somewhere in my distant past, but I couldn’t remember where. When I described them to my mom, she also had a distant memory of having had one before. Perhaps my Aunt JoAnn–the cookie guru of the family–had made them before.

Finally, after Crow vented his frustration on Facebook, a mutual friend contacted me to tell me that she had a set to sell us and that they were, in fact, Christmas-themed. (Thank you so much, Cheryl.) We were a little disconcerted, however, that a self-proclaimed cookie expert such as Cheryl was so willingly give up her only set of the rare rosette irons… That did not bode well for the ease of making the cookies.

Crow had a fryer. We used Safflower oil (healthier?) as the fry oil. Our first attempt to make the rosette was a fail. We either didn’t put enough of the batter onto the rosette iron or the iron wasn’t hot enough because it stuck to the rosette. All my hopes and dreams of re-discovering the love of the lost rosette cookie were starting to fade.

I tried a different iron while Crow frustratedly removed the fried batter from the Christmas tree rosette. The second attempt with a snowman iron worked a little better, but the cookie was still sticking a bit to the iron. The whole process was starting to look like a two-man operation and we didn’t have that kind of time–Crow needed to be starting the next batch of cookies.

The rosettes finally started sliding off the iron better–maybe it was because the iron or the oil were hotter. After awhile, the rosettes were actually falling off of the iron while still in the oil, so I suspect something wasn’t quite right. Also, my rosettes looked a bit puffier than I thought they should. I continued making them until the batter ran out but I was not entirely happy with the end result. They seemed crisp immediately out of the fryer, but after they sat for a bit, they got soft. I proceeded to decorate them with frosting and glitter. I never tried to eat one, regrettably. I had bits and pieces of the broken one that Crow had pried off of the first iron and it tasted good. After they got flabby, though, I was too depressed to try one. That did not stop me from adding them to the plates I later distributed to friends and coworkers.

While I struggled with the rosettes, Crow made an excellent batch of peanut butter blossoms. They were tasty and crumbly. Perfect. But they only made about one dozen so we decided that we might make a second batch later.

Next, I made spritz cookies while Crow made the cookie cutter cookies. Both of these cookies use roughly the same ingredients so we figured it would be easier to share the mixer. Crow’s cookies turned out great. After mixing my ingredients, I had a very dry dough that didn’t seem like it would work in the cookie press very well. And, in fact, it didn’t–the pieces of cookie coming through the little tree-shaped pattern kept breaking apart into separate piles of un-congealed dough. That is, when they managed to come out of the press.

I thought the mix needed some moisture… so I added water. Big mistake. Now I had a gooey mess. I trashed the first bowl of dough. It fell into the garbage can like the ectoplasm from a ghost in the movie Ghostbusters. I tried to make the dough a second time. I followed the instructions exactly, slowly adding the flour mix, and it seemed to work at first. However, the dough still seemed a little dryer than I remembered it should be (my mom used to make these cookies). Still, I again tried to run it through the press. The dough would come through the press, but it would not break off and drop onto the cookie sheet. I later discovered that I had the press plate in backwards. I didn’t know this at the time, though, so I just gave up and rolled the dough flat to make more cookie cutter cookies since the consistency was right for that.

Crow started making gingerbread cookies, but at about that time, we had to be cleaning up because Crow’s friends were coming over for a game night. We were also partaking in a cookie exchange (more cookies!) so things started to get a bit hectic as Crow ran off to pick up the lasagna for the night’s dinner and I assembled cookie plates for the cookie exchange. At that point, our cutter cookies were baked and cooled, but not decorated, so I did not use those for the cookie exchange. We had to table the rest of our cookie making efforts for the next day.

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Decorated whole wheat gingerbread cookies by Crow and Mars Girl.

Sunday afternoon, we started making cookies again. This time, I started a new batch of gingerbread cookies (we had to throw out the rest of the dough from the batch Crow started the night before–don’t ask) while Crow attempted the spritz cookies for the third time. He actually got them to work out (with the press plate in the correct direction) but after three or four sheets of making them, he got tired of working the press (which is not as easy as it looks) so he just made drop cookies out of the rest of the dough, turning them into what he called “not peanut butter cookies” and “not peanut butter blossoms” as the cookies looked suspiciously like one or the other.

I found the whole wheat gingerbread dough a bit difficult to flatten and maintain form without breaking apart when using the cookie cutters. I suspect the dough was a little over-dry, but Crow kept assuring me it was perfect. The dough was hard to press flat and I could tell after my cookies were baked that they were a little thicker than they should have been. However, they tasted pretty good. I liked them better than regular gingerbread–they were more “meaty.”

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Some of the many cookies waiting for plates to be distributed to Crow and Mars Girl's associates. (And, yes, that's a Halloween table cloth.)

By the time we finished making these two batches of cookies, we were getting pretty tired. Still, I mixed up a batch of red and a batch of green frosting and we decorated the oodles of cutter cookies through tired and blurry eyes. I thought Crow did a better job overall of decorating than me. Mine tended to look like a 3rd grader had decorated them… I’m just not that good at visually artistic things. Crow used one of those frosting tubes to make even cooler designs with his cookies. I tried one of the small cookies with frosting. Mine might not have looked good, but they tasted great!

We still hadn’t decorated the gingerbread cookies, but by that time, we were pretty much worn out from cookie baking. We decided to resume our efforts later in the week. Which turned out to be Wednesday. I made one more batch of frosting, this time without food coloring, while Crow made a second batch of peanut butter blossoms. I decorated the gingerbread cookies but let Crow finish them while the peanut blossoms were cooling because I just got too frustrated with my lack of artistic ability (I have much better ideas in my head than what my hands can make). Oh well. People eat the cookies ultimately after all. So I suppose they aren’t spending much time admiring their beauty first.

Once I started loading those cookies onto plates for my coworkers, I felt a little better about the results. The cookies did look nice–if not as nice as I imagined them–and it was fun preparing the plates. I enjoy giving people gifts and I knew my coworkers would appreciate this little surprise. Crow brought some cookies to his customers, too. For a day, we were both little Santa Clauses.

Despite what I perceive as a failure, I would like to attempt the rosettes again. After all, we went through all that trouble to get the damned irons. I’m still determined to bring back the lost art of rosettes… I will become the rosette expert, darn it, or brand myself trying. Crow and I are also thinking of making another batch of the peppermint cookies to bring to our families for Christmas. I really, really liked those; they were definitely my favorite cookies of what we made because they were so different. I found a recipe online that suggests adding baking cocoa to the other layer of dough to make chocolate peppermint swirls. For. The. Win.

Where the heck are you?

Hey, loyal readers, I know I’ve been extremely neglectful of this blog lately. But you aren’t the only ones. I owe letters to my two pen pals, too. I’ve been really distracted lately, working on that rock star story I mentioned a month or so ago. I’m really being inspired to move on that one for whatever reason so all of my writing energy seems to go there. It’s like I can’t write fast enough–these characters are talking to me all the time, demanding their story be told, even though I’m not entirely sure where this story is going at the moment. I have a direction, but the details are still unfolding day by day. It’s been an interesting, exciting journey, the likes of which I have not felt since I used to write my 200-page novels when I was in high school. What’s making it easier to get to is that I’ve created a private blog that I’ve only allowed a few people access to so that they can edit it. Knowing that I have an audience who is willing to read it motivates me to work on the story too. There’s something about instant gratification, of getting needed validation that what you’re creating is interesting to people besides yourself. Of course, I still need to get some constructive criticism. And I still need to do some research to add a level or realism to it that’s probably not there at the moment. Still. I’m writing and I want to write. That’s the important thing.

I’m kicking around a few other opportunities, too. None of them are probably paying, of course. But maybe they will lead to getting my voice out there. Everything is resume-worthy in my books. One step closer to actually meeting some life goals, maybe. Wouldn’t it be nice if I really could be a paid creative writer? A lot of pressure. But the end result would be gratifying. To say the least.

I’ve been a little bit of a groupie to my friends’ Scott and Andy’s band, Vox Voronet (pronounced “VoroNET,” not “Voronay”). I’ve seen them three times (so not so bad) in the last few months, the most recent of which was last Friday at Jupiter Studios in Alliance. Every time I go to one of their shows, I seem to find another band I like. Last Friday, it was Zhopa Mira (which, apparently, means “asshole of the world” in Russian). This band’s lead singer, Boo Porcase, has the coolest goth punk voice. Check out their music; I’ve linked my favorite song, “Roberta,” below.

Roberta by Zhopa Mira

If you haven’t already heard them, check out Vox Voronet.  I’ve linked my favorite song, “The Party,” below.

The Party by Vox Voronet

I’ve become hooked on this TV series on the sci-fi channel called Being Human. Yes, I know it’s a remake of a British TV series. This is the first one I’ve seen, so I can view it without the jaundiced eye of someone who has seen the original. And let me just say that I do love it. It’s the most exciting show that’s been on for a while. I’m watching V and it’s interesting. But not quite like Being Human. You’d think I’d be tired of shows involving vampires, werewolves, and ghosts by now. Oddly, I’m not. Go figure.

I’m making it through winter a little better this year than last. It must be because I’ve had this Boston Mills ski pass. I’ve already used it 17 times this year! It’s definitely getting its money worth, that’s for sure. It’s nice to be able to go skiing any time I want–after work or on a boring weekend day. I’ll definitely be buying another one for the next year. I sure know how to take obsession to an all new level, don’t I?

Haiku Overload

I’m preparing myself to compete in my first ever poetry slam on Friday, the Haiku Death Match, so I’ll be traveling down to Columbus tomorrow. And I get to visit my friend Joanna. Who’s the MC of said Haiku Death Match. I’m very excited and very nervous. I’ve watched this event for the last two years; it’s completely the reason I became obsessed with writing haiku. For a person who’s overly wordy and has trouble avoiding lavish description in her writing, haiku is very confining. But that’s the real challenge of it–finding the words to say something succinctly, yet poetically. I can’t say I always succeed; but in the cases where I have, I think I’ve done so quite beautifully.

Before Joanna asked me if I was serious about competing this year, I had about 25-30 haiku poems that I’d written this year and never performed anywhere. Some of them, though, were really timely and could not be used, such as a slew of St. Patrick’s Day poems from last year and some odes to U2. So once I committed to taking part in the event, I pushed myself to write some more. I needed to have maybe a few funny ones, some political ones, and–I supposed–some sexy ones. Yeah, sex sells after all, right? This crowd, being a bunch of artists like myself, seem to really like political (liberal leaning), funny, or sexy. Most of my poems tend to more on the serious side than funny. It’s hard for me to think of political commentary in poetry, but I did manage to write a few of which I’m proud–two that attack Sarah Palin, one that reflects my sadness over Ted Strickland’s loss of the governor seat in Ohio, and several that support LGBT rights. I’m hoping these go over well.

As for sexy? Well… Let’s just say none of these will be posted to my blog, so if you want to hear them/see them, you’ll just have to attend the slam. They aren’t so much sexy as self-deprecating about my sex life. I think these poems will go over well too because artists love a good pervy joke. And self-deprecation. The poem that went over really well at open mike last year was my innuendo-filled ode to my bike. So I hope I’m on target with the audience’s mindset.

I think I now have more than enough poems, but I’m still worried. If have to go second in a round, I have to have a wide range of poems to select from to try to match the type of poem the first person lays down. Tonight I think I need to pick out the ones that I could lead with if I get to go first. My strength is the serious poems and I want to try to lay those down whenever I can. There’s a certain strategy involved. Or I’m over-thinking it. I just hope I’m not so nervous that I can’t think straight enough to locate the appropriate poem to lay down during the round. I’m not good at thinking on my feet. Another reason I need to be taking part in this event.

I’m not expecting to win. I’m just trying to stand up and deal with an audience while performing my poetry. You know me and standing in front of an audience–it’s definitely a huge step outside of my comfort zone. It’s also going to be interesting to hear/see reactions to my poems. I’m sure some that I think are brilliant will get a lukewarm reception and vise-versa. It will be a very eye-opening experience. But necessary, really, for my own artistic growth, right?

Anyway, I thought I’d give you a little sneak preview… This is one of my favorite poems that I wrote a few weeks ago. It’s colored by my seasonal affective disorder, that’s for sure. Moody. I like moody, though.

Winter: cold as steel
My mind drifts to dark places
Waiting for the sun.

So it’s 2011

Like Christmas, New Year’s was kind of low key this year. I went to Holiday Valley; however, the conditions weren’t as great as they’d been the last two years (ending with rain) and I was mostly alone as all my friends who were set to go bailed. Which is okay because I’m finding lately that I’m enjoying spending a lot of time on my own. (If only I had learned that in Colorado!) My friend Janet joined me in the evening of Dec. 31st after I spent about four hours skiing solo and we skied the last two hours of the night out together. For the first time in a long time, I both skied out my entire ticket and skied the last run at the resort’s closing time. We hung out the last hour and a half to midnight at the Lodge, watched the parade of torches descend down Cindy’s Run and the fireworks. 2010 came in like headwind and out like a slow gentle breeze. I don’t know what that says about the coming year. But I’ve decided I’m making no promises about anything seeing as I’m not all that good on keeping to any that I make. Let’s just say I’m not off to a good start on any of the promises I’ve already silently made.

I originally planned to stay in New York through Monday, but I ended up coming back on Sunday after skiing Saturday evening. The temperatures were dropping, which made the slopes ice up after the earlier thaw. The best of the skiing really happened Friday with springlike conditions. I had to be more careful and therefore attacked less of the black diamond runs because of the hard-pack to ice conditions on Saturday. It was supposed to snow again later Sunday but I was afraid it wasn’t going to be enough to bring back paradise by Monday. So I resolved to go home and, since I had Monday off from work anyway, just ski at Boston Mills on Monday. Which I did. It was a good decision; Boston Mills’ conditions were absolutely stellar on Monday and I skied there for four hours (very usual amount of time to spend at such a tiny place). For such a pathetically small plot of land, Boston Mills certainly does have an A+ grounds crew. Just give them a night of snow-making and they can turn that tiny place into paradise when one has no better place to ski.

I’m thinking next year, I might switch it up and go to Seven Springs for New Year’s. A smaller resort, but the area hotels are generally cheaper (by about $40!) and I’ve never been to the nearby Hidden Valley. It might be worth checking out. And, anyway, I don’t want to become too predictable, now do I?

Speaking of my unpredictability, I’ve decided to compete this year at the Haiku Death Match that Joanna MCs in Columbus. Can you hear me gulping big time? Fortunately, I’ve written about 20 or so haiku poems over the last year so I think I’m prepared. Though a lot of my poems tend to be actually poetic and serious, I do have a few political zingers and two funny “na-na-NA-na-na” type ones. I’m trying to write a few more to add. From my observation of this event in the last two years, I’ve noted that three topics work really well: politics (with liberal overtones), sexual innuendo, and silly. I’m not too good at silly, but I think I can make up for what I lack there in sexy innuendo and political. We’ll see. To me, the point of participating this year is getting up and performing my own work live. I don’t care if I win or lose; I’m just there to throw myself out of my comfort zone. So if I do have any goals I plan to stick to this year it’s definitely to keep terrifying the piss out of myself. Eventually I will get comfortable with public speaking. I might even get good at it. Who knows? Stranger things have happened!

I also want to be able to handle presenting my own work before an audience. It’s my own fear of criticism and rejection that prevents me from trying to publish or do anything with my writing. I need to stop bemoaning the fact that no one publisher has just happened to stumble upon my awesomeness; I need to take an active role in showing the world that my writing is awesome. (Do you realize that just saying “my writing is awesome” is a bold act for me? I always downplay myself and my writing to be modest and… I really do think my writing just is not good enough… even when I actually think I did write something wonderful. It’s time to start saying positive things… If I believe my writing is great, others will believe it’s great too… or at least they will give it a chance. No more negative thoughts or words. It’s time for a mood shift here. BIG TIME.) I need to build up a hardened exterior to take criticism and also accept new ideas when people offer them to me as ways to improve, to not hear them as proof to my own failings. I guess this is as good a resolution for 2011 as any.

So yesterday I finally bought the ticket for that third U2 show in Philadelphia that I mentioned in a previous post. I’m going with a few friends I met through a U2 fan forum, one of which graciously offered to let me stay the night before and after at her house. I guess a lot of people from the forum are also going to be at that show, so that’s going to be nifty. My goal in joining was to be able to connect with and meet other super-fans like myself for just this sort of reason–going to shows and U2-related events together. So mission totally accomplished. And, again, it’s all part of the, ehm, research for my book. And if you follow me on Twitter this summer (marsgirl75), you can get a minute-by-minute account of my adventures in the general admission line for the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh shows. Aren’t you excited? C’mon, you know you want to live vicariously through me as I experience this new way of attending a concert of this size! Sorry, but I won’t be tweeting during the concert… I’ll be too busy shaking my booty and slobbering over Bono. And praying that I get dragged on stage. Not bloody likely, but a girl can dream, right? And I’ve got dreams enough for everyone….

The rest of my summer plans (i.e., my trip to California) have changed. As I mentioned in the last post, my best friend is getting married. Naturally, she wants me to attend. She lives in Florida and I’ll need to use more vacation time. I’m happy that she’s finally met a great guy and all. He’s a nice guy; I approve of him. Yada, yada, yada. Not that anyone needs my approval to get married… But I’ll be there to witness said event.

That’s about all, really, that’s been going on in my life. Not too exciting, but I thought I should check in anyway. I’m still here. Still kicking at the darkness, bleeding out sparks of light, as they (U2), say. (Forgive me, my brain activity has been invaded by an over-abundance of bootlegs to which I’ve suddenly gotten access.) Oh, 2011, you’re going to be an interesting year… (I hope.)

Christmas and 2011 Adventure Ponderings

I’ve gotten a little sparse on my blog posting because I’ve been spending most of my free time working on my writing projects–a fiction story that requires a lot of back-planning and, of course, my memoir. I’ve been feeling a little more inspired lately and I love the mobility my netbook affords me. It’s really nice to be able to leave the distractions of my house to go write at a coffee shop (found a real nice one near me that has normal hours, unlike another coffee shop just up the street with really weird hours). Everyone in the world now has free internet access, which makes life easy, though admittedly causes lots of distractions for me if I’m not careful. However, when you need to look up something to do a quick spot of research, you’ve got the capability at your finger tips. Writing was never made so easy in this information age!

I think my fiction story is going to take a bit more than internet research. I have a feeling this may be a several-years-long project. I feel I have to visit a few places and shadow the interesting lives of other people to make it more realistic. It’d be really fantastic if I knew a band that was just on the verge of becoming a big hit… or if I could spend a year following Bono! Ha, ha! Just kidding. The thing I’ve always struggled with in writing realistic fiction–that is, fiction that isn’t science-fiction–is that you have to be really careful about the portraying the lives you step into in a realistic way. Everyone has had that moment when watching a TV show where the people are touching on something you know personally about–maybe your job or your hometown–and you have to contain your annoyance that the writers of the show obviously knew nothing about that which they were trying to write. (Which never happens in the case of Clevelanders.) I don’t want to be that kind of writer. I guess that’s another good thing about writing science-fiction–you don’t have to worry so much about portraying a hometown or a job unrealistically. You still have to get the science right; though, in most cases, it just has to be plausible.

Besides the writing projects, I’ve been trying to get into the Christmas season even though it feels like I was just celebrating Christmas like two weeks ago. On Friday, my dad and I went on our annual hunt for my Christmas tree. And by “hunt,” I mean we went to Kriegers in Cuyahoga Falls–we’ve gone there three years in a row now. After setting up the tree in my living room, we went to Ray’s in Kent–also our annual tradition. It’s like when I was a kid, but instead of getting a McD’s eggnog shake after picking out a tree, we go for beer, the beverage for adult children.

I spent Saturday decorating the tree and my house. I know a lot of single people don’t bother with this sort of thing since no one sees their house, but I always do it for myself. It puts me in the Christmas spirit. I really love having a live tree–it makes my house smell wonderful, conjuring images of my very young years when my family had a live tree. I also post all the Christmas cards I receive along the wall in the entry way by my front door.

Christmas Tree and Santa McCoy

Tree and fireplace mantle (the baseball shrine dare not be touched in fear of angering the baseball gods!).

I also managed to finish all my Christmas cards–including the ones I had to make by hand for my friends on the U2 forum I frequent. Everything is ready for the mail tomorrow. I feel like I got a lot done this weekend. Now to shopping… I don’t even want to go there. It’s so hard trying to come up with stuff for everyone I want to buy gifts for. I feel pressure to find something awesome and unique every year and that just doesn’t happen all the time. I hate resorting to gift cards.

So with the initial festivities of Christmas begun, I turn my thoughts to the adventures that 2011 will bring. Naturally, I’ve already got most of the year planned out. I guess I’m not too spontaneous.

  • March – Week long ski trip to Whistler with my friend Janet. My first time in Western Canada. Whee! What a great way to bring in 36 (going the week after my birthday).
  • May 7-8 – The 50th TOSRV!!! PAAAARTY!! (As much as one can party after 100 miles in the evening before another 100 miles.)
  • June 26th – U2 Concert, East Lansing, Michigan. Rock on!!!
  • July 16th – Ride Across INdiana (RAIN) – 160 miles in one day. Can I do it? I may try to organize something with my bike club. Safety and motivation in numbers, right?
  • July 26th – U2 Concert, Pittsburgh, PA. I’m in GA (general admission) and I plan to get into the inner circle–the space between the stage and the looping catwalk. Talk about a party!! But I will be standing/sitting/chatting with fellow fanatics admirers of U2 in line. All. Day. Long. I’m willing to sacrifice for the chance to be close to the band. Like I was in 2001, except then I was in seats.
  • August ? – Might go to California to climb its high point, Mt. Whitney. My uncle (who lives in California) and I have tentatively emailed about it but we have not made any solid plans at this time. Whether I do rides like Roscoe Ramble or Mad Anthony depends on when/if I go to California.

Yes, you’re seeing correctly: No MS 150 this year. Sadly, the MS 150 traditionally takes place the same weekend that my U2 concert–which I originally bought for 2010 before Bono hurt his back–got rescheduled to. Um. Some things take priority over others… Sorry, MS 150! If I am not in California the week of the MS 150 ride in NE Ohio–Pedal to the Point–I might actually do that on. So it’s undetermined at this time whether or not I’ll be participating in an MS 150. Probably all my friends and family would appreciate a year off… since my donations have been dwindling over the years…

I might actually be too distracted to pull the kind of bicycling miles I did this year. But you never know. Most people out there know I’m obsessed with cycling… and thus I will probably end up doing about 4000 miles no matter what. Commuting to work certainly adds mileage. And I love to do it!!

I think I’ve got enough plans spinning out there for now. I guess we’ll only see what the next year brings as it unfolds. I should probably still aim to try to get one of my shorter memoir pieces published. The initial one I wrote–which has never been posted to this blog–about the day my husband died is actually in a final edit form. I’ve had it reviewed by other people and I’ve made changes. If I think it’s great, then it has to be pretty good as I generally think what I write sucks. So I’d like to try to get it published somewhere. I know I’ve said that before and I admit that I didn’t really try this year, even though I said I would. But I should probably dust off the cobwebs and actually make an honest attempt to submit it. I can honestly say that the positive feedback I received after my sermon at my church made me feel more compelled to give it a try. It never hurts to try. The worst that can happen is rejection. Rejection is okay.

Anyway, that’s my update for now. I’ve got some other topics that I’ve wanted to blog about so maybe I’ll make some time in the coming days to get them down. Until then, good luck to all in dealing with the holiday madness!