Archive for Life

Life

Looking for Fall

I am so ready for fall, and the weather here isn’t cooperating at all. I love fall. It’s my favorite time of year. I love cool, gray days, when I can enjoy sitting with a cup of hot tea and reading (or writing) a book. I love the sunny days when there are crisp, cool mornings and just slightly warm afternoons that are good for spending outdoors. I love taking long walks in the woods, enjoying the colored leaves, and coming home with cheeks tinged red from the chill in the air to have a hot cup of tea. I love sitting on the patio with a shawl around my shoulders. I even love the fall thunderstorms. I love sweaters and blankets, hot soup and fresh-baked bread.

But we haven’t had a high temperature below 90 all September. We should at least be in the 80s by now. Instead of sweaters, I’m wearing tank tops. It’s a bit too warm to go walking even in the morning. I guess we’re being punished for our summer starting later and not being very intense until August.

I keep saying every year that I’m going to travel to a place that has real fall. If I ever have the money, I’m going to do a grand fall-chasing tour — start in August in Scandinavia or Alaska and work my way south, coming home around Thanksgiving, when we finally get fall-like weather. And then maybe I’ll go to Australia in the spring for their fall. Either I’ll get it out of my system or I’ll be even more dissatisfied once I know what I’m missing. Some people move to climates where it’s summer-like year-round. I want to find a place that has a good, long fall, starting maybe with a cool-down in late August and lasting until December (but preferably without a harsh winter). I’m not sure such a place exists. We get the beginnings of a slight cool-down in late September but don’t really get what I’d consider “fall-like” weather until late October. The fall-like weather might last until early December, but it’s on various days, not really a season.

On the bright side, for once I shouldn’t have a big deadline in October or November. There’s stuff I’ll be working on, but it won’t be so urgent that I can’t declare a day off whenever we get one of those perfect fall days.

In the meantime, I do have a big deadline Monday, and I’m behind where I hoped I’d be because rewriting the ending took me most of the day yesterday. I love what I’ve done with it, and it’s so much better, but it’s all taking more time than I planned.

Life

Season of Change

My summer break officially ends fully today, with children’s choir starting again. That’s my “back to school.” And it may be part of why I’ve been getting the itchy wanderlust thing. We usually moved during the summer, so I started the school year in a new place, and so it feels strange to start a new school year in the same old place.

The changes continued yesterday. There was more shopping, as I found a lovely throw pillow that fits with the new duvet, and I got a body pillow to use as a kind of headboard replacement to prop the pillows up. Now my room really does look like a hotel room. And I found a floral shower curtain that somewhat coordinates with the new bedroom stuff. The jury’s out on that, though. It may be more pattern than I can really deal with. I may end up going with something plain and white — continuing the hotel theme, I guess. The shower curtain fabric is pretty much what I’d want for re-covering the old dinette set chairs I have, so even if I bail on it, it’s not a total loss. I’d even considered buying another one just to have that fabric.

I’ve been pondering the way adults react to fall. There’s been the usual mix of “yay, pumpkin spice season” and “ugh, all the pumpkin spice stuff” posts online. I think pumpkin spice is really as much a symbol as it is a thing in and of itself. Because of the association with back-to-school, fall is a season of fresh starts. It’s about new clothes and school supplies, new friends, and trying new things — only, without the school part (unless you’re a teacher). It’s all the good things about fall without having to go back to school. Since we don’t have to go back to school, we look to other things to cue the season, and pumpkin spice works.

Plus, those spices are things we associate with warmth and coziness. They make us feel loved and safe.

I don’t actually drink coffee, so I’ve never had a pumpkin spice latte and don’t care to, but I get the feeling. I’m more likely to put those spices on apples or bake them into muffins (I do have a wonderful pumpkin spice muffin recipe). I enjoy seeing the pumpkin spice hype because it means cooler days are on the horizon. I can fantasize about sweater weather and coming in after a brisk walk on a crisp, cool day to a cup of spicy tea and a pumpkin spice muffin. For now, though, we’re still getting 100-degree temperatures, alas.

And I’ve pretended to move by redecorating my bedroom and bathroom.

Life

Making Minor Changes

I had a reasonably relaxing long weekend, though I did work a little (some proofreading, some brainstorming). I’d planned to do a lot of sitting and thinking, but that didn’t really happen because I started doing stuff. I ended up doing a lot of shopping.

One thing I bought was a new duvet set. I’m hoping that might help some with the itchy feet from wanting to move or change things. I’d had the same duvet cover since 1995, when I moved into the apartment I had before I bought this house. I finally found something I liked, and for a really nice price. It’s not a drastic difference. The old one was white with a pale blue floral pattern, and the new one is white with a pale blue embroidery trim around the edge. Basically, it looks like something you’d find in a hotel (and I believe it was from a “hotel collection”). I’m going to have to figure out what to do about the pillows, since one issue with the adjustable bed is that a headboard is a bit of a problem, and even if you have one, the pillows won’t rest against it when the bed is raised, but it looks rather naked and flat with just the two pillows lying there. With the old setup, I had some old pillows with pale blue pillowcases with Battenburg lace shams (with the blue showing through the lace) used to prop up the pillows I use (also in Battenburg lace shams). The lace doesn’t look good against the new white, and the blue is wrong. I’d thought about just putting the shams on the old pillows and putting the ones I use behind those, so there’s less to undo when getting in bed at night, but I discovered that the old pillows are a weird blue pattern that shows through the shams. I’m considering getting a body pillow to use as a “headboard,” or else buying some cheap white pillows at Ikea to put in the shams. And now that there’s all that white in the bedroom, I kind of feel like I need some color in the bathroom, where the shower curtain is Battenburg lace (and is looking kind of dingy after about 20 years).

I guess it’s the usual redecorating issue where you change one thing and then you have to change everything else to match it. Or maybe I was hungrier for a change than I realized.

I also bought some art supplies and did a little painting. Not that I’m trained at all in art, but I’ve been thinking about playing with it ever since I watched the kids painting at Vacation Bible School and thought that looked like it would be fun. And then I read a quote somewhere about how creativity is part of the human soul, how we express ourselves, but somewhere along the way we got this idea that adults should only do creative things if they’re good enough to be professional. I did check a book out of the library to learn a few techniques, but I’m having fun just dabbing watercolors onto paper in pretty patterns. And I’ve found that it’s actually good for brainstorming because while playing around with paint, I came up with ideas for my writing. It seems to keep my brain in a creative zone while not forcing myself to actively think about writing, so good stuff bubbles up in the background when I’m not trying hard to think of ideas.

And now the holiday is over, so back to work. This is going to be a lower-intensity week because I’m letting a book rest for a final round of revisions. I plan to do some writing for promo things, maybe draft a short story, and maybe outline something.

Life

Restlessness and Roots

I’m close to finishing a draft, actually getting the ending right (I hope), but it’s been tough going because I’ve had a bad bout of restlessness. It seems to be an attack of what I call Military Brat Syndrome, in which every few years I get itchy to change something in my life.

That comes from spending my childhood moving every few years. When I was a kid, I sometimes resented having to move so much. I’d just have things going well, with a group of friends, knowing my way around at school, my room fixed just the way I wanted it, and then it would be time to move. I desperately wanted (or thought I did) to just stay in one place long enough to feel like I really belonged there, to put down roots. My dad retired from the army just before I turned fourteen, but then four years later I went off to college, then four years after that I got a job in a new city, and then I moved apartments every two to three years for a while, so I didn’t notice the restlessness. But then I bought a house.

While I’ve enjoyed the stability, I find, looking back, that I’ve tended to need to change things every few years in the 21 years I’ve been living in the same place. After a few years in this house, I flipped my office and bedroom, moving the office upstairs and bedroom downstairs. Then I lost my job and went freelance, which was a big change. A few years after that, I started going to a different church and found a new group of friends. Then I dropped out of some organizations I was in and found new ones to get involved with.

I’m getting that restless itch again now, but my problem is that I pretty much like my life the way it is. I’ve been going to the same church for nearly 13 years, and I like it better than anything else around here. I’ve been in the choir about 11 years and am going into my 10th year of directing children’s choir. I’ve been hanging out with the same group of people for more than ten years, and I like my group of friends. I don’t really want to change these things.

I would like a different house, but that’s not really feasible at the moment. Since I am hoping to move sooner rather than later, I don’t really want to get new furniture or redecorate because I’d rather wait to get things to fit the new place. This place is so small and oddly arranged that there aren’t too many ways I could shift furniture around. I may have to look for smaller things I can do to make it feel different. I’d like to get a new duvet cover, since I’ve had the same one for about 25 years, but I really like it and haven’t found anything I like better (or even as much). I’m planning to redo my office, which may help, but that will have to wait until it cools down more because it gets too hot up there to work. Maybe taking some short trips during the fall will help.

I do have moments of dreaming of going somewhere entirely different. As much as I complained about having to move when I was young, I also enjoyed getting to make a fresh start with a clean slate in a new place. I’m not crazy about the climate and geography where I live. I want four seasons, forests and hills, being able to be somewhere different with less than four hours of driving. But that kind of move would require either getting a day job that takes me elsewhere or making a lot more money. I caught myself looking into a grad school program that would move me into an entirely different career field the other day, just because it would give me an excuse to move, though I don’t really want a regular job.

So I guess I’ll get a new kitchen tablecloth, maybe a new bedspread, try some new activities, and take some day trips and hope that settles me down for a little while. Realizing what’s going on has helped. Some of the changes I made in the past when I didn’t know what I was going through tended to be a bit self-destructive, metaphorically burning things down just to get that sense of change. Now I recognize that and don’t do anything that I might regret later when the urge passes.

Life

Outside

We’ve been having unseasonably cool weather the last few days, cool enough for me to eat breakfast on the patio and even sit outside in the afternoon and evening. Normally in July, the heat is nearly unbearable, and I stay huddled indoors during July and August.

As I was sitting outside this morning, I found myself wondering what it is about sitting outside that I enjoy so much. It doesn’t seem that different from sitting indoors, aside from less temperature control and more bugs. My patio is fenced, so it’s like being in a small room with no ceiling, but then there’s the umbrella that provides a partial ceiling. I have plants indoors (though not as many as I have outside). But still, if I can be outside, I find it far preferable to sit outside than inside.

I think there was a stand-up comedian who did a routine about eating outside and why we like it (I think he was talking about how women like it, in particular) — wanting the outdoor table at a restaurant, thinking of picnics as romantic or fun. I’m not sure why I like it. I just do. It feels like a treat to have a meal outdoors. I have breakfast outside whenever it’s at all comfortable. I’ll generally choose an outdoor table at a restaurant if the weather isn’t utterly miserable (and if that isn’t where all the smokers congregate). I’ve even been known to sit at an outdoor table in the rain if they have a big enough umbrella over the table (I highly recommend doing that on the San Antonio Riverwalk). I love packing a lunch and going on a long walk, eating outside.

Maybe it wouldn’t be special and fun if I did it all the time. I do like the change of scenery, the sense of connection with nature — even on my patio. I like the fresh air. I like looking at the sky, watching the clouds drift by.

I’m afraid that we’ll soon be going back to a normal summer, so the taste of outside I got this week will have to last me until maybe mid-September. By then, my flowers should be blooming, so outside will be even nicer.

Life

Back Again!

I managed to survive the week of Vacation Bible School. I was one of the adults in charge of kindergarten, and we had about 40 kids to keep track of. Fortunately, we had about ten teenagers, with each teen being responsible for four or five kids, so I just had to be there to help the teens and move them along. The other adult in our group was the pastor’s wife, who’s an experienced mom and teacher, so it was easy on me. I dealt with keeping track of time and keeping things moving as we went from place to place, and she dealt with discipline issues.

It was actually a lot of fun, though very tiring, and I now have some annoying songs stuck in my head. I picked up some ideas for things I want to do from the craft and science sessions, and I got a few ideas for dealing with the choir kids. It must have been fun for the kids, too, given that one had a screaming temper tantrum when his mom picked him up on the last day because he didn’t want it to be over with.

One thing I really liked was that they let the teens play a big role. They were the ones doing the skits and story times. I think the kids relate to them better than they would adults, and it seems less weird for the teens to be doing the corny skits than if adults do it. I remember feeling like I would die of secondhand embarrassment when I was a kid and watched adults doing those corny skits or pretending to be children. But it’s cute and silly when 12-15 year olds do it.

Although it was fun, I must say that I’m really enjoying the silence today at home. Now I can get back to work. I didn’t manage to write words this week. I just managed to do some research reading that I started doing just so I could feel like I’d done some “work,” but I ended up getting some great ideas that will really flesh out the book.

And now I intend to spend today and the weekend in silence, accomplishing things, and catching up on my rest.

Life

Getting Happy

One of the things that sparked yesterday’s long walk was a book I read over the weekend, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This book comes from the era of the “I did this thing for a year and here are my experiences with it” books, though it seems like she was unaware of the trend when she was doing it, and her blog grew out of the project rather than it being one of those blogs picked up to be a book. She read a bunch of books and research about different theories about what made people happy and spent a year trying all these things to see if it really made a difference in her life.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve been unhappy, but I have had some dissatisfaction lately and thought it might be a good idea to reevaluate things. I’ve realized that there are a lot of things I enjoy doing but that I don’t give myself time to do. And thus the walk yesterday. There’s a wonderful park on the edge of my neighborhood where I can walk in the woods alongside a river bank, and I seldom seem to make it over there, even though I often think about doing it.

I don’t think I got any earthshattering ideas out of this book. Much of what she was doing involved her relationships with her husband and children, and I don’t have those. With me, it’s more about decluttering and organizing my life the way I’m trying to do to my house so I can make time for doing things I enjoy. And then when I make that time, I need to actually do those things.

That means more long walks on nice days, more time with music, time to make things.

But another big part of it is creating the conditions in which it’s easier to be happy and at peace, which means taking care of my health and getting my environment in order.

So I have all kinds of plans worked out, but don’t worry, I’m not planning to write a book about this because so many people have already done so.

Life

Unfair World

I’m sure everyone’s heard of the college admissions scandal that’s made the news this week. I went to one of the universities involved (the University of Texas). I did get in fair and square, and although it’s a lot harder to get into now than it was then, I probably still would have been automatically admitted since I was a valedictorian and National Merit Scholar.

I didn’t even know until I got to school that there were courses you could take to learn to take the SAT. I just took the practice exams in the registration book, and I think I got a book from the library with more practice tests. Then I got to the university and learned that there were things like advanced placement courses you could get college credit for, as well as test prep classes. I was from a small town that didn’t have any of these options. I couldn’t help but wonder what my score would have been if I’d had that kind of help.

Then there were the things people with money could take advantage of once they were at school. There were entire businesses providing notes and materials for classes — professional note takers who went to the big lecture classes (we had some classes with as many as 800 people in them) and took notes that students could buy so they didn’t have to attend the classes. The fraternities and sororities supposedly kept files of the notes and past exams for these courses to help their members.

But I think my first real awareness of just how unfair the world could be came when I was applying for internships in my field, broadcast journalism. There was one highly coveted internship with the Austin bureau of one of the Dallas TV stations. That intern not only got to do real work, but it was a rare paid internship — a whole $4 an hour. I went above and beyond to apply, not only going through the formal process of submitting an application, but since I had press credentials for the state legislature, thanks to another internship, I got into the capital newsroom and approached the correspondent to talk to him about my application. He called me in for an interview, then had me come back for a second interview. He liked my work samples and my resume tape. I had high grades, good previous internships, and had even won a scholarship granted by the company that owned his station. He made it sound like I had the job and he’d be getting in touch with me to finalize it.

About a week later, I ran into one of my professors, who asked what I was doing for an internship that summer. I told him it sounded like I had that one. He then told me that, actually, someone else had been hired. The photographer at the bureau next door had brought his younger brother with him to work and sent him over to talk to the correspondent. The younger brother was a bit of a screwup who’d dropped out of the school he was in (he hadn’t made it in to my school) and was looking for something to do. Not only was his brother in the business, but his father had been in the business and was influential. So he got the job on the spot.

Then when I’d graduated and was looking for a job, I heard about an open position at the Dallas bureau of one of the networks. My real career goal was to be a field producer for a network — not being the on-camera person, but doing the groundwork to prepare the story — so getting in at the ground floor at a network seemed like a good idea. It turned out that this was more of an administrative/clerical job, part time, and at minimum wage. The bureau chief liked my resume and my tape and said I had the ability to do what I wanted — but I would probably never make it. He was willing to hire me, but he discouraged me from taking the job because it wouldn’t get me where I wanted to go. I’d have a better chance getting a reporting job at a local station and hoping for a big news event that would bring me to network attention. Otherwise, all the jobs were pretty much filled by network executives hiring their friends’ kids, and their friends hired their kids in return. If I didn’t have some connection with a major corporate executive or politician, I would have a very hard time making it in the business.

After that, I started looking for other jobs in addition to reporting jobs, and after I got tired of going to interviews with news directors who were enthusiastic about me but admitted that they couldn’t hire me, I took a job in public relations. It was probably for the best because what I really, truly wanted to do with my life was write books, and I’m not sure I’d have had time to write novels while traveling the globe, doing the groundwork and investigation for TV news stories. But I do have to wonder how many talented, bright people there are who missed out on opportunities because they didn’t have connections. And then there are all the people without the smarts or talent who got opportunities handed to them and probably wasted them. I don’t think that guy who got the internship I was on the verge of getting ever ended up going into the business, in spite of his connections. As far as I know, he didn’t even finish school. For him, it was just something to do with his summer to keep him out of trouble and make his father happy. For someone else, it might have opened the door to a career.

I guess this is something I’m also thinking about because the book I’m working on is about someone struggling to get past doors that have been shut to people like her. I do seem to be writing a lot lately about people upending unfair systems.

Life

Sick Days

Apologies for a few days of silence. I was having some issues with my web hosting service that made updates difficult. I don’t know if all is well, but it looks like it’s working for now.

Meanwhile, I’ve been fighting the aftereffects of a cold. The serious symptoms lasted only a few days, but then bits of it keep lingering, so I’m not really sick, but I’m not entirely well, and I’m fairly exhausted. Fortunately, I’ve been at the phase of the book I’m working on where most of what I was doing was just reading for research. This week, I’ve been doing serious story development. I think maybe I’ll get to actually writing words tomorrow, and I hope by then I’ll have the brainpower for it. The last few days, I’ve been gradually improving, though with the slight problem that the better I feel, the more tired I am — probably my body needing rest after all that fighting it’s been doing. At least I’ve had the appropriate weather for being sick, as it’s been cold.

As I start to get better, I almost feel a little sad about leaving “sick days” behind. I won’t miss the coughing, sneezing, and sore throat, but there’s something rather nice about the suspension of normal operations that comes with being sick. There’s no sense of responsibility, the things you “should” be doing. You can stay in bed all day, guilt-free. When you have a low appetite, you can pretty much eat what you want because you know your body needs energy.

It’s a pity you have to feel bad while you’re enjoying these things. So I think a “sick day” staycation should be a thing, maybe call it a mental health day. Designate a day when you’re not feeling bad but you’re going to act like you are. Stay in your pajamas all day. Lie in bed reading. Watch movies or TV in the daytime. Eat soup and drink tea. For me, this would have to happen on a rainy day because it feels wrong to be sick on a nice, sunny day.

I may have to wait until the fall to really do this, though, because I’ve got work to do to keep me going through the spring, and I’ve had enough real sick days. But the first cool, rainy day of fall, if I don’t have a deadline or some other obligation, I’m totally declaring a mental health day and taking to bed with a stack of books and a pot of tea.

Life

Walking

I mentioned the other day that I’ve been forced to admit that I feel better and am more productive when I exercise first thing in the morning. This time of year, the weather isn’t always conducive to that, so I’ve dragged out my exercise trampoline and walk or jog in place in the comfort of my living room. I’ve found that the best way to do this isn’t to watch exercise videos (though there are some designed for the mini trampoline that I’ll have to try). Instead, it’s travel videos, and my favorite thing is a series I found on Amazon Prime called Walks Around Britain.

Basically, it’s about all the walks you can take on public footpaths throughout Britain. A camera follows the host for a walk as the various highlights are pointed out, so you kind of feel like you’re doing the walk, too. Each episode is about 24 minutes and contains two walks (they only hit the high points, so it’s not in real time, unlike the Slow TV Norwegian train rides, which can be fun, too). A full episode is just enough for a morning walk/jog, or if I know I’m going to be walking somewhere later in the day, one of the walks in an episode is enough to get the day started.

Hohenecken Castle, site of Sunday walks (Photo from Wikipedia Commons, by Ulli1105 – Own work, CC BY 3.0)

This show makes me miss living in Europe. They have a similar network of public walking paths in Germany, and when we lived there, we’d often load up backpacks with drinks and a picnic lunch and head out on a weekend for a day’s walking. In one home, we lived right next to a forest with a lot of good trails, so we didn’t even have to get in the car to go for a long walk in the woods. At another home, we lived near a hill with a ruined castle on top, so one of our standard walks was to go up the hill to the castle.

We don’t have anything really like that here, not on that scale. There are some walking paths through parks, and there’s one I can walk to on the edge of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, most of those paths are near a river or lake and tend to flood. And our country is so much bigger that there are fewer opportunities to make an easy day trip to go walking and see the country that way.

I got really nostalgic during this morning’s “walk” when the host was walking up a hill to a ruined castle (in Wales) with his daughters and dog. It was so much like those Sunday afternoons when we’d decide to just walk up to the castle, or when we’d drive to a place where the footpath would lead to or past a castle.

I was already into reading fantasy books, but I suspect that being able to just take a walk to a castle on an average day helped fuel that interest. A castle became something concrete, not just something out of books.

When I visited England, I got a map of some walks and spent a day walking from village to village in the Cotswolds. This show is making me want to go again to do more walking like that, since I love walking as a way of touring. I entertain the occasional dream of selling my house, getting a longer-term tourist visa, renting a cottage somewhere, and spending months exploring thoroughly while writing a book.

Alas, for the time being, I’ll have to make do with the nearby park (if it’s not flooded) when I get the itch to walk in the woods.