Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Love...My Writing Angels


In December, you tend to see "the year in review" popping up in magazines and on TV.  I decided it was a good day to do a review myself, and I'm sticking to people.  Despite the teeth-gritting, sugary sweet kitsch of it, I'm calling them...


My Writing Angels

They're like Guardian Angels.  But instead of keeping me safe, they're nourishing my need to write. 

So here they are.

My husband, Christian 
On weekends, he sometimes sweeps the kids away for ten hours straight so I have quiet time with my laptop.  

Even more important:  he defends me when the in-laws complain how the family "suffers" because of my writing.  And the best part?  His defense isn't "it's not so bad" or "hopefully someday she'll earn some money with it", but "we're not suffering."  It's the only thing he could say that could even attempt to make me feel less guilty, because his parents aren't completely off the mark.  If I didn't write, our house would have less dust, a tidy living room, more home-cooked meals, and maybe even crystal-clear windows.  (Okay, that's actually not likely.  I hate windows.)

My friend, Ivonne
She's always been my first beta reader.  Despite two toddlers and a demanding job, she's the one who supports and encourages me even though she's only ever seen my rough drafts.  Ivonne, I swear they've improved.

My friend, Tanja
My idea-sounding-board/walking-partner.   She asked a lot of questions.  Often, my first reaction was that the reader didn't need to know that stuff.  But her questions planted themselves in my brain, sprouting detailed backgrounds and new developments.  The answers had an immense effect on how Lexi's story unfolds.  And as for my WIP, Neve's character darkened into a much deeper, more interesting person. 
  
My first critique partner, Sissy Kinghorn
What a learning experience!  Sissy helped me get my wordiness under control - or at least to begin to.  In a case of divine serendipity, Sissy was a doctor!  She corrected my medical details where Dr. Google and Dr. Wikipedia couldn't be trusted.  I couldn't have asked for more.

My next critique partner, Alisyn Busico
Ali pointed out where I gave waaayyy too much backstory.  Where I stuffed the cake down the reader's throat instead of leaving a trail of crumbs for them to follow (that's me paraphrasing her – see, Ali, it sank in).  I cut more words than I care to mention, and that's a good thing.  I look forward to finalizing our critique sessions.  As for her story, I'll admit I'm missing Matt.  Oh yeah, and Clair and...well...not so much Evan.

My Pitch Wars coach, Deana Barnhart
Even in merely asking for a partial, she made me dance with happiness.  It was a first for me.  Someone out there, someone who knows what they're doing, found my writing interesting!   

You know that scene in The Shining where Shelley Duvall discovers novelist Jack Nicholson has been filling reams of paper with "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy"?  A part of me fears that.  What if I spend this much time on writing, and in the end, the result is boring and useless?  So when Deana picked me as an Alternate in the Pitch Wars contest, it added cheerful song to my less than graceful dance.

There are so many others who've helped me. 
 
WriteOnCon participants who critiqued everything from my query to first five pages to the dreaded synopsis (and the organizers who made it possible!).  

Friends and relatives who answered questions about music and geography. 

My dad and his automotive advice. 
 
Colleagues who didn't look at me like I was crazy when I disclosed how I spend my free time.  

Brenda Drake for setting up Pitch Wars. 
 
My SCBWI Germany colleagues for letting me babble and offering to beta read.

All of them were my Writing Angels this past year.  Because of them, my stories, my prose improved.  Because of them, I trusted myself to keep trying.  And because of them, I've been able to spend time doing something I love.  

I've been blessed to have every one of them touch my life.  Thank you, my Writing Angels.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Three Days

Three days can feel like a month. From December 5-7, a tornado of emotion spun my head so fast, I didn't know what to feel at any given second. Between work and events and news and chauffering the kids to various activities, I could barely keep my head on straight.

Chronologically....

My birthday
Normally, I'm laid back about birthdays. I've never been one to obsesses over my age. The life I lead is the one I want to lead. But introspection hit me harder than usual this year. For the first time, I wondered if some of my life goals would become harder with age. For the first time, I found myself comparing my accomplishments to others. I even looked in the mirror more. I like to think my appearance is younger than average, but I can see the changes.

My daughter's birthday
Yep, one day after mine. How can she be eight already? Her birth was like three years ago. She's an amazing, athletic, smart, funny, generous little girl. I spent the day in a tizzy, preparing for her pirate-themed party on the weekend. Her birthday made me wonder what will come. She's already a mini-adolescent. Most famous quote: "You don't know how I feel. Don't tell me how I feel!" She was five then. What a handful. I pray I'll always have big enough hands.

Birth of my nephew
It happened on the threshold from my birthday to my daughter's, but I didn't hear about it until the next day. He joined the ranks of the six other December-born in the family. We apparently don't realize there are other months to be born. The joy of his arrival inflated my heart to bursting until the tears made the skin on my face burn. This little man was so wanted and such a long time in coming. He's a real blessing. I'm so happy for my sister. But it's more than that – I'm in awe of the feeling of starting out again, of knowing nothing, of figuring it out as you go along.

Threats
I know a person who talks about dying sometimes.  Now, it happened again.  I'm being deliberately vague here, but it is someone close to me. She can go for months without a word about it, then BAM, she'd rather be dead, wished she'd never been born, wants to pound her head against a wall until she's...just gone. Yes, she's in counseling. Do I think it's working? I don't know. Yes, I talk to her about it. Do I think it helps? I don't know. It's so scary. I hate the helplessness. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

Request for Partial
At the end of November, I submitted five pages of my writing to a contest. For the first time ever, I received a request to send 50 more pages. What a rush! What a boost for my self-esteem! I hopped around the living room, trying to be quiet while my husband spoke to someone on the phone. I flopped onto the couch, kicking at the ceiling. It's a wonder my face didn't split in two from my huge grin. Someone out there thinks my writing is good enough to want to read more! I'm a careful person, so I told myself, it's possible nothing comes of this particular case. But, if nothing else, it's proof that there's hope!

Suicide
The next day, I found out a friend of a friend hanged himself. This was a man who chatted with me at a wedding, had a deep discussion with my husband, and showed my kids his little farm. He helped the kids feed goats. He nursed some preemie animals until they were big enough to survive. He took long walks every day. He loved being outside. So that's where he did it: outside. I know where it happened. I can even imagine which tree he chose. He didn't leave a note. He did leave a wife...and friends and neighbors full of questions. My friend asked me, why didn't she notice? Why didn't she or his wife or anyone else see it coming? As for me, it made me think of the loved one I mentioned above.... And the helplessness.

Three days. Up. Down. Back and forth and sideways.

You know the saying "stop the world, I want to get off"? I don't want to get off. I'm glad I'm here. But if someone out there could reduce the spin-speed, I'd be more than grateful.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent Calendar (Max & Daisy's Christmas)

Traditionally, December 1 is the first day for the German Advent Calendar. The idea behind it is to sweeten the wait until Christmas. There are twenty-four doors, and, starting today, we can open one door each day.

In the past, I bought calendars containing candy or small toys. This year, my son's Advent Calendar is - as requested - chocolate filled. 
 


My daughter, however, begged for something special. So instead of buying a ready-made calendar, I bought one that can be used every year and filled however we desire.



Striving for uniqueness, I stuffed the socks with...a story. (Plus some candy because we all know children can't live on words alone).

So if anyone out there is interested, they're welcome to use my original children's story with their children – there is one section for each day until Christmas Eve.

Max and Daisy's Christmas

1.
When Daisy woke up on Christmas Eve morning, she never would have imagined the adventure she'd have that day. 

Her brother, Max, was loud, as usual, and Daisy wished he would just shut up so she could sleep a couple more hours. When he yelled and screeched, she finally gave up and went down to breakfast.

2.
Papa said, "I heard someone spotted Santa's sled already."

"Where," asked Daisy.

"Germany."

That was far away. Daisy and Max lived in Michigan. It would probably take a long time for Santa to get all the way to them.

3.
Daisy went out and pet her favorite horse Snowball and gave hims some delicious oats to eat and an apple since it was Christmas.

Then Daisy's family put on their nicest clothes and went to visit their grandparents. After a delicious dinner and a present to share (a real work bench where they could make things out of wood), they went home, exhausted.

4.
They went to bed quickly. They didn't want Santa to think they were trying to get a peek at him.

Daisy woke up to a scratching sound. She got up and looked out her window.

She couldn't see anything, but she did hear a man's deep voice say, "Oh no!".

5.
Oh, no? What could that mean? What if someone was out in the barn? Someone who might take Snowball? Daisy put on her warm winter coat and boots and hurried outside.

She couldn't believe her eyes. Between the barn and the house, there was a big sled with eight horses.

Daisy ran to the horses, but suddenly noticed they weren't horses at all. "Daisy, look!" yelled her brother. He must have woken up too, because he ran out behind her.

6.
"Those horses have antlers!" Max said.

Daisy shook her head.  "Max, those are reindeer!" she explained.

"Reindeer? That must mean--"

7.
Suddenly a man came out of the barn. He had a fluffy white beard and a red suit on.

There was only one person he could be.  "Santa!" both kids whispered.

"Well, what are you two little ones doing awake?" Santa asked with a smile.

8.
"I heard a noise out here and wanted to make sure my horse was okay."

"Aha," said Santa. "Your horse is fine, but my reindeer are not! They've had a cold for the last week. They've been trying so hard to get presents to all the children. But now, they're just too tired."

Daisy looked at the reindeer. Their eyes looked tired and their noses were running. Santa took big tissues and wiped each of their noses. Some of the reindeer were shivering.

9.
Santa shook his head. "They need to get in a warm stall or they'll get even sicker."

"We have a stall," Max said.

"Right, you can put them in our stall. There's enough room for them and it's nice and warm," Daisy explained.

10.
"Well that certainly is nice of you kids, but there's one problem. This town – your town – is the last one we needed to visit. We still haven't taken the presents to each house yet."

No presents? thought Daisy. You can't have Christmas with no presents!

"But," Santa continued. "You're right. My reindeer need some rest."

11.
Max and Daisy helped lead the exhausted reindeer into the stall. They lay down immediately on the soft straw and cuddled together for warmth.

Max fished out several bowls, and he and Daisy filled them with water. Then they gave the reindeer fresh hay and a handful of chestnuts each.

Santa sighed. "I just wish there was some way I could deliver all those presents left in your town."

12.
Max and Daisy looked at each other. They had to do something! They had to help Santa.

Snowball whinnied. She saw the reindeer eating their chestnuts and wanted a snack for herself. Daisy gave her a carrot. Then she got a great idea.

13.
"Santa," she said, "Snowball could help you deliver the presents!"

"Who is Snowball?" asked Santa.

Max answered, "Our horse!"

14.
"She can't fly, like your reindeer," Daisy explained, "But she can run all through town."

"She could take you to all the kids' houses," Max finished.

Santa scratched his chin and thought. "Yes, children, I think you're right. I think your Snowball could help me after all."

15.
Daisy lead Snowball out the stall, then hooked him up to Santa's sled. Luckily, almost all the presents were already delivered, so the sled was not very heavy.

Max and Daisy stood watching Santa, but he suddenly said, "Well, are you going to help me take these presents to all the houses, or not?"

"You mean," asked Daisy, "We get to come too?"

"Well, without my reindeer, it would be awfully lonely for me."

16.
Max and Daisy were beaming as they climbed into Santa's sled. Santa even let them hold the reins sometimes.

They drove to every house in town. Santa used his magic dust to get them inside. Silently, they placed presents under every tree. Santa even let them eat milk and cookies at some of the houses. Yum!

17.
The sky was just beginning to lighten, when Santa brought them back to their own house. Daisy and Max yawned so big, they thought their faces would split open. They'd been awake most of the night.

"Could you kids take Snowball back into the stall? And check on my reindeer?" Santa asked.

18.
Of course, the kids did as Santa requested. As they pet each of the reindeer and gave Snowball a drink of water, Max said, "Daisy, do you know what?"

"What?" she asked.

"We stopped at every house in town. Except ours!"

19.
Daisy looked at Max. "Oh no, do you think Santa forgot us?"

"Let's go ask him."

Daisy and Max ran out of the stall, but they didn't see Santa's sled. They walked all around the house to see if he was in front, but they didn't see him there either. They hurried back to the stall again.

20.
The reindeer were missing! Only Snowball was there.

"Snowball, where did they go?" Max asked.

Snowball just whinnied and lay down to rest.

Max and Daisy were so sad when they went back into their house. It had been so much fun to help Santa deliver the presents, but, of course, they wanted presents of their own too.

21.
The kids hung up their coats and hats and put their boots away. They started to trudge up the stairs to their bedrooms, when their mom and dad came down.

"What are you two doing up so early?" Dad asked.

"Aren't you worried you'll scare Santa away?" Mom asked.

22.
Daisy and Max both frowned, and Max thought he might cry. "Santa didn't come to our house," Max said.

Mom walked past the kids on the stairs and went into the living room. "What are you talking about?" she asked.

"The reindeer got sick," Daisy said.

"And we helped as best we could - Snowball too - but Santa forgot us," Max added.

23.
"Oh, really?" asked Dad. "Come on in here, you two."

Daisy and Max walked into the living room. The Christmas tree looked beautiful. The lights sparkled and the ornaments were bright and colorful.

And there were presents. Lots of presents.

24.
"If Santa forgot our house, where did all these come from?" Mom asked.

"Oh, boy!" yelled Max, and he ran to the tree.

Daisy grabbed some boxes and started passing them out.

Each child had one particularly big box. There was a note on them, that said, "Daisy and Max: Thank you so much for your help today. Because of you, a whole town full of children will have a very Merry Christmas. Love, Santa."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving (an "I Love..." replacement)

I lieu of an "I Love" blog, I decided to run through an exercise suggested to me years ago.  When you're feeling overwhelmed by the negative aspects of your life, twist them to the point of gratefulness until you find the positive side.  It doesn't always work, but often. 

So here goes.

I am thankful for the fact that my children wake me up in the middle of the night.  It means I've managed to be the type of mother who can make their pain or fear go away through nothing but my presence.  I'm five-one, but I banish bellyaches, thieves, monsters, giant robots and vampires on a semi-regular basis. 

I am thankful for the hundred emergencies each week at work.  It means I have job stability.  I have an income.  It means I can prove my worth to myself and those around me.  It allows me the opportunity to make a positive difference.

I am thankful for my husband's griping about his job.  Similar to my own moans, it means he has an income.  It also means I have him.  Every day.  Not a husband constantly on business trips or living in another state.  Or one who won't share with me.  Or no loving husband at all.

I am thankful for hearing about Hurricane Sandy.  Of course, not for the hurricane itself and the damage it did, but the reports renewed my appreciation for what I have.  Our windows may need paint and the fence around our yard may be rotting, but we're safe, in a house with heat, clothes, furniture, family pictures and irreplaceable crafts the kids made when they were toddlers.

I'm thankful I miss my mother, because it means I loved her.  Wow, this is harder to write than I'd anticipated.  It also means the ache hasn't lessened too far - she's not lost yet.  Maybe someday she'll only be a distant memory.  I was lucky:  I had her for longer than some children have their parents.

I am thankful I live so far from my family…..  Lots of deep breaths here.   I get the opportunity to know and understand more than one culture, and my children do too.  I get to have loved ones on both sides of the Atlantic....  I'm finding this one isn't quite working.  I have to bend the rules here and say it would be much easier to be thankful if we had the technology to beam us together on occasion.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

I Love...Ben & Jerry's

Let's get specific. I love Ben & Jerry's Half Baked.

Consider the brilliance. Cookie Dough is delicious, but a bit too sweet to consume large amounts (I know, I've tried). Chocolate Fudge Brownie is sinfully intense. Again, too much of a good thing can actually be too much.

Add one amazing idea: mix them together. Out comes a pint of heaven. No sense in bothering with those dinky single serve containers.

Even the name is wonderful.

Sigh.

Okay, you might not know it, but I actually do research when I write. I was over at Ben & Jerry's website, and I saw all the flavors that exist. I noted with alarm that they don't have them all here in Germany! We have like...six flavors – max!

I'm struggling not to get jealous, but to hold onto my positive I Love feelings right now.

The website lists delicacies like Cheesecake Brownie, Chubby Hubby and Cannoli

That. I. Can't. Buy. Here.

Not to mention the frozen yoghurt versions (one-third the calories so you can eat three times as much!).

Forget the ice cream, I'm the one who's melting here!

So here's what I'll do:
  • Take several deep breaths.
  • Get the kids into bed.
  • Grab my pint of Half Baked.
And it'll all be good.

Friday, November 16, 2012

How Not to Write a Check

I've lived in Germany since 1995.  Not once have I written a check here.

Germany generally deals with payment in one of three ways:
1.  Bank transfers, like my paycheck, which is a direct deposit, or my electric bill, which is an automatic withdrawal.
2.  Debit Card, which my husband says I should avoid using because I'll lose the feeling for the money I'm spending.
3.  CASH. Lots of it. We had repairmen come to fix our roof. 6oo EUR please. Right now. Cash. Not kidding. Same thing for the COD on our 1200 EUR couch.

In theory, and in some instances, you can also use a credit card, but they just aren't very popular.

Checks are considered antiquated.

So I recently wanted to send someone in the States money. I traveled down to my bank and asked for advice. They requested the person's bank account number....

Which I didn't have. The money was supposed to be a gift. I couldn't very well go asking for the person's bank account. How suspicious would that sound? And they probably wouldn't give it to me anyway. Definitely not by unsecure e-mail.

Next suggestion: A Verrechnungsscheck. After a lot of Q and A, I understood that any person who happened to get their hands on the check could cash it. It didn't matter what name was printed on it. Plus the Verrechnungsscheck would be sent by the bank, not by me. Certainly not with a little rainbow drawing from my daughter meant to cheer up someone whose life had been turned upside down by a natural disaster.

Other suggestions? "Why don't you just send cash in an envelope?" Yes, that was really the teller's suggestion. I didn't bother answering with words. My scowl was enough.

Moving on. Orderscheck. The bank could order a pack for me. Minimum of 20 at a cost of 20 cents each. Then I could actually write and send the check myself.

This solution was actually sounding good, like an American check, until the infamous words "I don't know what kind of fees you'd be looking at" slipped out of the teller's mouth.

Hmm. If the bank didn't know, who did? I googled. It was looking like up to 50 EUR in fees from two to four banks along the Germany-to-USA chain. I wasn't sending that much money. Definitely not worth the high fees.

Next, I spent days agonizing over my plan. Maybe I just shouldn't bother. After all, it was money I wanted to send, not money I had to send.

But the thought of giving up when I was trying to do something positive just because the system made it difficult irritated the heck out of me.

Then I had an idea. The bank of...amazon. A gift card. Sure, it isn't as flexible as cash, but you can buy almost anything there.

I don't want this to sound like a commercial, but it was simple. Done within minutes.

And so ends my story: I've been in Germany 17 years, and I still haven't written a check.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Distance

Sometimes living an ocean away can be an advantage. I don't have to hear minute by minute insults tossed back and forth between political parties during the presidential election, for example. I don't have to wonder how my loved ones can stand that guy, or even worse, promote him.

Culinarily speaking, there are hardly any Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in Germany, which is good for my waistline, especially at Halloween. I haven't felt the need to sneak anything from my son's plastic pumpkin goodie basket.

Usually, living on a different continent is a mixed blessing.

When my parents divorced years ago, I felt bad for not being there, for not providing a shoulder to cry on. Selfishly, I knew I was also missing the tension. Despite the guilt, I knew that was easier for me. I didn't have to hear whose fault everything was. I didn't have to take a side. I didn't have to deal with the tears.

Unlike my friends and family back home, Sandy didn't affect us here in Germany. Thankfully, we have a house and jobs and power. So here I sit with boxes of clothes the kids have grown out of, a set of dishes I no longer need, some extra pots and glasses.... I'd love to be able to help, but sending them to the States by mail would be astronomical. It would make more sense to write a check.

I'll have to look into that....

Sometimes being far away has no silver lining whatsoever.

My sister is due to have her first baby in about a month. She's a twelve hour flight from here. I'd love to go stay with her for a week or so to help out. But it's looking like 100 EUR per hour on that flight...at a time when our car has been in the shop twice, and my husband has already taken a ton of vacation to make up for my unexpected, unpaid overtime. Gotta love being salaried.

So it's a choice between abandoning my husband and kids at Christmas or not being there for my sister.

I don't know what I'll do yet. Besides being so far from family, the worst part about distance is how the consequences seem to be that much higher, decision-making that much more difficult....

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Love...Words



Well, duh.  It's not like the subtitle of my blog doesn't give a major hint, right?

But it's confession time.  Here's how much I like words.

When I first learned German, I used to sit alone in my room reading words out loud.  The thing I liked was the physical sensation of the word in my mouth.  I liked the feeling on my tongue.  The ch that can sound soft or chunky depending on how you produce it.  The harsh, back-of-the-throat rolled-R.  I practiced my long-forgotten Italian that way too, rolling the R at the front of my tongue like there was no tomorrow.

But it's not just foreign words.  One of my favorite websites is Merriam-Webster.com.  You not only can look up the meaning of a word, but synonyms and antonyms too.  

Etymology hooks me every time.  It's fascinating how words change over the centuries. 
The last word for which I looked up the origin was "vice".  I wanted to know why vice (bad habit) is used in Vice-President.  It turns out the word with the meaning "defect or shortcoming" stems from the Latin word vitium, meaning fault.  The vice in Vice-President comes from the Latin vice or vicis, meaning change, alternation or stead.  So, although it might seem that politics and shortcomings belong together, the identical spelling is purely coincidental.

Webster.com also has video clips.  What?  You didn't know that?  I've watched them all.

  • How words get added to a dictionary
  • Why they get removed
  • What ironic really means (pay attention Alanis M)
  • Mispronunciations that are fine (shudder:  nuclear)
  • Even a clip about a "ghost word", which was printed in the dictionary for around  fourteen years although it didn't really exist.

But wait.  There's more.  The award for the ultimate Word Nerd goes to me.  See this picture of me on vacation?

And this one?

I not only visited the Noah Webster's house, I made my husband take pictures of me.
Don't I look proud? 
 
I love, adore, treasure, savor, value, appreciate, cherish, and delight in words!

Friday, October 19, 2012

I Love...Cookbooks

Last week I did some reorganizing in my kitchen. My cookbooks were scattered throughout the house. They really needed to be where the stove is, right?

Once I'd managed to collect them, the overwhelming truth was revealed. I own thirty-three cookbooks.

Thirty-three.

I'm not a gourmet cook. I'm not a master baker. Cooking and baking are fun, as long as I'm not under pressure to make things perfect for guests or quick for starving, whining children.

So which of these thirty-three books do I actually consult? Most often, I grab the 1075-page Better Homes & Gardens and the 1230-page Fannie Farmer heavy-weights. The recipes I use are often simple things like pancakes and muffins, where I just need the ingredient amounts. Or I check cooking times.

I love to sift through recipes, but only for inspiration. Meals never turn out the way the books specify. I don't like peas, so I use cucumber instead. No ricotta in the frig and the stores are already closed? Cottage cheese will work. Not to mention all the meat substitutes. And amounts are just suggestions anyway.

I admit to not regularly using most of the thirty-three. In fact, I've probably never even opened some of them. So why do I have so many cookbooks? Standing in the kitchen, gazing at them in wonder, I realized I had only bought three cookbooks myself.

Three out of thirty-three.

The others were bought by my husband, included in the box when I purchased some electric kitchen wonder, a gift or a hand-me-down.

I have a beautiful vegetarian cookbook from my sister-in-law. My husband bought a nice Italian cookbook. And at least seventy-five percent came from my mom.

She had everything from Gold Medal Country Baking Vol. 1 No. 8 (which I use quite often) to Joys of Jell-O from 1973 to 2007 Light & Tasty Annual Recipes (not used yet).

My mom was a great cook. Patient and creative, she must have had it hard in a house with three picky kids and a husband whose favorite vegetable was a potato.

In 2010, my mom passed away, and I rescued her recipes from a trash bag before her house was sold. Holding on to her cookbooks is a way of keeping a bit of her in my kitchen...and in my life. So I guess, when I say, “I love cookbooks,” it's not the whole truth. For me, more than anything, “I love cookbooks” means “you'll always be here with me, Mom."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Magic Table

We have a Magic Table in our house. With absolutely no work whatsoever for my husband and children, it is set with plates and silverware two to three times a day. Cooked, nutritious food lines down the center, just in time for hungry mouths to devour it.

Then everyone leaves the room. The table may be covered with plates, bowls, hot pads, may be strewn with crumbs and smeared with I-don't-want-to-know-what. But by the time my family re-enters the room, not only is the table cleared, but all the dirty dishes are stowed away in the dishwasher. It may even be running already.

Whenever I'm feeling annoyed for the taken-for-grantedness of the Magic Table, I remember one thing.

I have a Magic Car. Winter tires are replaced by summer tires automatically, and vice versa. German government required safety checks are due, then suddenly, they're done. Best of all, my tank is rarely less than one-quarter full.

There's more practical magic in our house. German taxes are done without much more from me than a signature. Children's doctor appointments, sport classes and play dates happen without my husband even realizing it.

So when I wonder if it isn't too much to ask that empty water glasses be carried to the kitchen just one time, I figure my husband is probably wondering what short circuit in his wife's brain could forget to put the chicken wire that repels the cable-eating animal in our neighborhood (there really is one!) under the car. Yet again.

Magic Table.  Magic Car.  

I'm lucky to live in a house so full of magic.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I Love...Michigan

First off, I was born and raised in Michigan, so I admit I'm biased. Most of my family still lives there, and each visit is an opportunity to see not only my close family, but also aunts, uncles and cousins.

But even if I didn't have family here, the state is just great for visiting, especially in the summer. I could list a million things, starting with the deer and sandhill cranes that stroll across my brother's backyard, but I've reduced the list to a couple from our recent vacation.

Torch Lake
I'm pretty sure this is the lake Kid Rock sings of in All Summer Long. Interestingly enough, my age matches the girl in his song. But it wasn't me. Honest. Nope, no "funny things" for me.

Torch Lake is nineteen miles of the clearest, bluest water--just perfect for zipping along at high speed. It's one of those places you could mistake for the Mediterranean...at least if it wasn't for the Burger Barge, which earns bonus points for cheesiness. 
 

In the middle of the lake is a sand bar built up with the softest sand, completely poke-free for big and little feet. In some places, the water only reaches your ankles.

Sutton's Bay
After stopping in this town on the Leelanau peninsula to have lunch, we decided to let the kids go wild at a playground near the beach. When they saw the beach, there was no holding them back. Bathing suits on and into the bay. Again, soft, smooth sand. Bath temperature water. An abundance of skipping stones.


Sleeping Bear Dunes – Lake Michigan Overlook
Good Morning America viewers apparently recently voted the Sleeping Bear Dunes the prettiest spot in America. I don't blame them. There's a 110-foot climbing hill that makes you feel like you've really worked to climb to the top. 
 


And then there's the view of Lake Michigan. Regardless of how much I love words, I'll just let the picture take over here.


How could you not love Michigan?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Airline Strike

We had a fantastic vacation in Michigan – I'll describe it more another day. In fact, I feel an "I Love" coming on....

But even the most divine vacation must come to an end. Ours ended with a Cabin Crew strike. Okay, so strikes happen from time to time, and I can even understand the necessity of them. I'm far more annoyed at how the airline handled the strike than with the strike itself.

My attempt at online check-in lead to the simple message that our flight was canceled, and I should call a Lufthansa number.

A few moments of horror, then, okay...I called, only to find that the telephone won't be manned for another thirteen hours. Thirteen hours where all my husband and I have time to do is wonder how and when we'll be able to get back home. Over a thousand flights had to be re-booked. There were something like 170,000 stranded passengers.

Instead of waiting thirteen hours, we used our noodles and found an airline number from Germany. Calling it - twenty times - was useless. It was always busy. They didn't even bother putting us on hold.

So it was back to the original number thirteen hours later. After twenty minutes on hold, the Sales Rep said the wrong number was mistakenly put on the website and that they aren't responsible for re-booking.

My Argh-O-Meter was running pretty hot by now. I semi-politely suggested they fix the website since it was still showing the incorrect number. Later, I decided it was strategy – a good way to slow people down who are trying to re-route their flights when there is a limited number of Sales Reps.

Finally, Wrong Number gave me a new telephone number to call. After just under forty minutes on hold with the new hotline (a dreadful time for a loop of commercials touting reduced fares), I talked to a very nice Sales Rep who asked if we could get to the airport within ninety minutes. Since our original flight hadn't been scheduled to go until several hours later, we weren't packed, our driver was at work, and we'd have had an hour drive anyway. No dice.

After about ten more minutes of searching (did all four of us really need to travel together?), an alternative flight for tomorrow was found. 

Whew!

I don't know how they do it. We originally paid a higher price for a direct route, but now we're relieved we'll get home only 22 hours late with an extra stop in Paris.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I Love...Efficiency

Example One
I have a colleague at work who can write Excel macros that are pure magic. For work that would take me hours, maybe days, of manual checks and calculations, this whiz needs minutes.

It's such a talent that people from other departments try to borrow him constantly. Our boss finally had to put her foot down so he'd have time for his own work. I wonder if he shouldn't have his own department, providing business solutions to any group who needs them.

Example Two
Living in Germany, every family is responsible for their own elementary school supplies. You'd think Germany is extremely ordered – and it is. We have a list of twenty-one items to buy, described right down to the color and German Industry Norm number. I'm not kidding.

But that's not efficient. Every mother drives to the store and buys one German Industry Norm A5 Line Size 2 writing pad, one German Industry Norm A5 Line Size 5 writing pad, one German Industry Norm A4 Folder, brand Leitz, etc.

When I went to elementary school in the States, all the school supplies were provided in the classroom. That's efficiency. One mass order by the teacher. One delivery.

Example Three
Today, I sent a query to my dream literary agent. I've been reading his blogs and interviews for months. He's good at his job, freely dispenses helpful hints, and is downright funny. He's also known for getting back to everyone who queries him – something not every agent bothers to do.

Man, is he ever efficient. I sent my query at 1:38 PM today. He rejected it at 3:37 PM. He needed under two hours to determine that he's not interested in representing my 82,000 word novel.

Wait a minute – didn't this blog start out as one of my "I Loves"? Yes, it did. So here's the truth. As much as I'd fantasized that Dream Agent would offer to represent me, I love the fact that I'm not going to be sitting on pins and needles for the next 6-8 weeks, waiting for a response as described in the Literary Agency's website.

I love efficiency.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

WriteOnCon

About a week ago, my critique partner sent me the link to WriteOnCon – an online convention for children's and young adult authors.

The Con hasn't even started yet, and already, it's been indescribably helpful to me. I was able to get critiques on some of my work, my query and my synopsis.

If you've never heard of a query, it's like a commercial you send to a prospective literary agent. You attempt to sell your book within one page. No pressure there.

Wait – it gets worse. Whereas you can leave the end of the story open in the query (your goal is to make the agent want to read more), for a synopsis, you have to summarize your entire book. In one or two pages. Including the ending. Using beautiful language, it should make the agent care about the characters and the story should flow. Oh, and although you reduce the length by – say 81,000 words – it still has to make sense.

Writing mine was torture. I honestly wondered if I could find someone who'd written a beautiful synopsis and have her ghostwrite one for me. But that would be cheating. Plus doing it myself was good practice, right?

So I'm all the more grateful for the wonderful feedback I received from the other participants at the Con. As of today, my query, synopsis, first 250 words and first five pages are ready for review.

Starting Tuesday, Ninja Agents will begin trolling the forum, giving feedback and, for a lucky few, requesting manuscripts.

Just two more days.... Maybe I'll hear something. Maybe I'll hear nothing.

I have to admit, there's a tiny part of me nervous enough to want the latter. A friend of mine explained it this way – if I'm not successful, my life won't change. That's okay, because I love my life. I have a great family, a good job and a love of writing.

But if I am successful? I would be thrown into a whole new world. An exciting world. A gratifying world. But an unknown world all the same.

Deep breath.  Then another.

Okay, Ninja Agents. I'm ready.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Embarrassing

It finally happened.

I'm an embarrassment to my kids.

Like hundreds of generations before, my daughter cringes when I do completely normal things and her friends are around.

We had an appointment the other day, so I picked her up with the car from school. In Germany, most kids ride their bikes to school, and as we crept past her friends riding home, she hissed, "Turn down your music! I don't want my friends to hear."

I didn't get defensive. I didn't say, "Hey, I'm listening to Breaking Benjamin, not The Carpenters or Olivia Newton-John." I just reduced the volume.

Then I told her it's tradition to be embarrassed by your parents. I don't remember my mom embarrassing me, but I can recall more than one mortifying moment caused by my dad.

Most notable was the evening he went after a friend of mine sporting a punk haircut - with a running weed whacker. Or was it a chainsaw?

Either way, a group of us had been having a mellow conversation sometime past midnight, and the sound had suddenly been deafening. We'd been lounging on the floor in my bedroom, for heaven's sake!

Now it's my turn to be the embarrassment. I'm waiting for the day when she begs me not to speak English in front of her friends.

My daughter's only consolation is that I'll probably never be able to rival my dad. Plus, I can at least learn from past experiences.

I'll surely make my own mistakes, but the weed whacker and the chainsaw will both stay out of the house.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I Love...Breaking Benjamin

Every artist has her muse. Mine happens to be loud.

photo credit: Vit Goff on flickr
The first song I heard by Breaking Benjamin was Breath from 2006.
...get away...please.
You take the breath right out of me.
You left a hole where my heart should be.

I play the song over and over, often five times in a row at the office, as I plod through Excel sheets. I only force myself to stop because I think its getting excessive – not because I get tired of the song.

How did this happen? I used to listen to ballads. Olivia Newton-John. The Carpenters. Richard Marx. I'm not kidding.

It's like I've been turned to the Dark Side, except I'm smiling just thinking about it.

Now my husband worries other parents won't let their kids visit if they hear the aggression in my music....

So why are the music and lyrics so infinitely inspiring to me?

A few weeks ago, I told my husband I could turn every Breaking Benjamin song into a novel. Maybe I was exaggerating.

But So Cold and Diary of Jane have both inspired plots for novels. Breath birthed a scene, as did Forever and Rain. Lines from Anthem of the Angels inspired two completely different scenes in two completely different stories.

My life does not revolve around this band. I find inspiration in other music. Skillet sparked a story about a demon. Shinedown inspired some individual scenes.

But nothing gets into my soul like Breaking Benjamin.

Here's the downside to my love of the band: Breaking Benjamin is on hold indefinitely. I'm going through withdrawal while the band deals with illness and inner dramas that may never be solved.

For now, I have forty-seven songs to keep me going.

Maybe I'll find myself a new muse someday, but for now, the one I have is the one I love.