Writing for fun

kookaburragreenweb

Kookaburra by Ria Loader 2016

My latest joy is writing a set of children’s stories set in an imaginary place in the Australian Bush. The characters are Australian animals, the situations are ones that friends anywhere might encounter, and everyone gets along. It’s comforting to write for the child in all of us. My first story will come out in a few weeks. It is the story of The Big Race.

The stories are meant to be read out loud. Along the way, I’ve picked up pen and ink and watercolor again. It has been as much of a creative renaissance as a storytelling exercise. At the beginning of the year, I said I wanted to be able to tell better stories. This has taken me to a much more fun place than anything else I’ve done in years.

I get to play with color and character, with finding the right images to illustrate my characters. It is very much my hope that people will enjoy the stories and the world.

Telling children’s stories

 

The best defense is a good offense . . . in this case, that means telling stories. In my particular case, those stories turn out to be cute animal stories about a mythical place where a very diverse population of animals meet and get along. Children’s stories. It wasn’t part of the plan, but this story telling genre has a lot going for it. How is this a good defense? It’s more like an antidote to the lack of civil discourse in the world. If there is no place where people get along, then why not create one?

The stories are short at between 750 and 1000 words, occasionally a little longer. That means a single story might take a day to write. In the past month, my response to the unfortunate tone of the discourse in the news has been to write more stories, and read less news. It has also meant picking up pen and ink and doing a lot of drawing, something I haven’t done in years. The whole endeavor is a lot of fun.

Am working on turning the first story into an illustrated children’s book (see the image above – KoalaDreaming – it is one of the illustrations for the first book).

At a mythical place in the Australian Bush, a group of animal friends get together for adventures and fun. The first adventure is a Big Race. The critters get together to race along the flats; there is Kookaburra and Kangaroo, Koala and Flying Fox, Wallaby and Emu. What fun they have.

 

Creating a meditation circle

makingCircleThis is work in progress in the lower garden today. The plan is to put in a celtic knot walking path, that is an endless knot that can be walked for contemplation purposes. Not unlike a labyrinth, the pattern will be a peaceful destination and walking meditation oasis. The first step is digging out and leveling the twelve foot circle from the right spot in the yard.

We’ll move on to putting down weed cloth, surrounding it with basalt stones, and then the center pattern will be marked out with sand, stones and decorative rocks. I am planning to add solar powered rope lights to delineate the path for quiet nighttime walking. Can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

 

Reducing the stress of “too many things”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, that there are so many calls on our time. It can be stressful to section up the moments into fifteen minute chunks in order to move a whole lot of projects forward one more step, yet that is what is left to us between meetings, at work. It even extends to coffee breaks and those mythical things called lunch time. Increasingly, there is a list, or dare I say a backlog, of tasks that need attention ‘when I get a free minute’. What to do about that? I have a new strategy – think about it as ‘all one thing’.

It is a bit of a mental shift, a bit of jiggery pokery, but instead of breaking everything apart, I’ve been grouping things together. A notion of ‘all one thing’ means I can put it all aside. All of it. The stress seems to come from the volume of stuff, not from the individual tasks. Previously, when I’d sit down to make some use of a bit of unexpected time, the whole list would loom in my head, all clamoring for attention.

“Me!” “No, me!” the voices would shout. “Pick me!” “Move over, it’s my turn.” The litany went on and on.

I am learning to tune the lens to smaller buckets. Work. Not work. Goals for the Day. Non Goals. It makes it much easier to decide which of the many drawers to open, and in which context. My focus is just on the thing in front of me. Yes, I sometimes need to switch to another topic, but again, it is just one thing. All a matter of perspective shifting. Useful nonetheless.

 

Making a garden transformation

2016-05-01 17.21.39There were several steps to our recent garden transformation.

  1. Create a mood board in pinterest for inspiration
  2. Share with our landscape person to get help with clean up and structure
  3. Add focal elements and features to match our taste
  4. Get plants, pots and trellises
  5. Acquire some additional garden sculpture
  6. Replace old chairs on our deck

Admittedly, we had some landscaping help with the beginning of the task. Weeds were cleared, weed barrier put in place, gravel and river rock added, and a rock or two were migrated from various parts of our property. All things that appeared beyond either our energy, or our collective ability to lift.

When we bought the house eleven years ago, there were many plants already in place. Some of those were to our taste, though others were not. We struggled with a rhododendron just inside the gate that failed to be lovely. Whatever wee beastie that was eating it made it look like it had mange. The fern next to the farm-style water spigot managed to hide it, but had gotten a little unwieldy, and grass seeds had propagated. A pile of gravel left over from another project had half migrated to the area, along with bulbs left by the squirrels. In its favor, the sweep of the path down to the lovely magnolia, provided a good structural element. However, none of that was helped by the state of disarray. Enter the landscaper.

Sadly, while good work was done in cleaning up and preparing the space, we failed to connect on the design having some variation of scale and a focal point. We wanted a suggestion of a river bed on the downward slope between the path and the fence, curving down to our fabulous tree. We did get some of that, however, all the scale was knee height or below. The space was crying out for some focus, some greenery, and some love. This brought us to this weekend.

2016-05-01 17.23.42 HDRDuring the week, I ordered a couple of garden sculptures online. A couple of metal cranes, some temple pagodas and a nice little cairn of rocks. We put those to one side and started moving around existing materials like pots of grasses, bamboo poles, a peaceful statue and some bricks and rocks. Turned out we really could move that stuff ourselves. One of the pots was too large, but round. When turned on its side, it rolled nicely. That let us get it into place without doing ourselves a mischief. It moved in front of an electrical outlet standing in the middle of the yard (it needed hidden). We placed some more pots to frame the statue, scattered a wandering path of black river rocks and headed for the craft store for inspiration.

2016-05-01 17.22.44 HDRBags of tumbled blue and clear glass followed the meandering path of black rocks, pooled in a couple of places and burbled down the hillside, catching the light as if it was water. Now we had our suggestion of a creek bed. It didn’t need to be exact.

That left us with an area on the other side of the courtyard that was now empty. We 2016-05-01 17.21.24cleaned up, sweeping up leaves and detritus. Making use of a couple concrete pavers, plus a couple of rocks, we built up a tumble of stones in the middle of that area. A peacock statue that was living in the entry foyer of the house migrated outside to sit upon the rocks. After a trip to the garden store, a maidenhair fern and a lacey green plant joined the peacock. A blue fescue moved alongside, together with a couple strands of solar powered lights.

We are looking forward to a lovely summer in our restful courtyard.

2016-05-01 17.20.55 HDR

 

Organizing the images

I am using the camera in my iPhone even more than I used the point-and-shoot digital I used to carry around with me, in part because the phone is always with me. However, there’s a step I’ve been failing to take along the way that used to be part of the process. Once in a while, there would be a whole evening where the card would get taken out, uploaded and made fresh and new again. With the amount of storage on the phone, the periodic image review doesn’t happen so often. And thus, it becomes more of a big deal to cull through the images.

Have been spending time this month going over the remodeling work from two years ago. Finding some image gems along the way, and am also rediscovering just how much work got done.

  • Created a new carport
  • Designed and built a pergoda over the hot tub
  • Remodeled two and a half bathrooms
  • Installed a mini apartment. Wait. That one is worth a whole post.
  • Ripped out old carpet, refloored the downstairs
  • Kitchen remodel and exhaust hood over stove
  • New updated LED lighting throughout the house
  • New entry doors (2)
  • Major landscaping

And last summer we created a patio and courtyard. Our entire house has been refreshed in one way or another.

Once I’ve finished sorting the images, I’ll post some here. Must admit to feeling a great deal of satisfaction with the increasing sense of order and beauty we’ve added to our world.

Strong Mystery: A new book by Raven Bond

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StrongMysteryWEB

Too much fun. For the past month I’ve been editing, formatting and proofing Raven’s omnibus edition Strong Mystery. The goal was to get it done in time for him to read from it at Gearcon, a Steampunk convention in Portland. He’s a guest author there. I wanted him to have physical copies to sell at the bookshop, along with his other series novel, Wind Dancer.

I’ve been coming home from work, having dinner and then sitting down again with InDesign. Later, once I’d printed it out, there seemed to be a couple weeks of redlining (marking the print out with a red pen) and fixing before it was ready to send to print. Happily, the copies arrived this week.

This week I’ve been transferring all the corrections to the Word files so I can publish to kindle. Just a few pages left and it will likely be up…

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Cutting ties with cable

Summer is nearly here with long evenings to take walks, write for a few hours, have meandering conversations and hang out with loved ones. This seems like the right priority to me, eschewing the canned entertainment options that would otherwise claim our attention. It took a while to come to the decision, but we finally cut our ties today with the cable company. No Comcast. The freedom is practically dizzying.

When we were making the decision, we first cut the main movie channels, cutting the bill down to around $100 rather than over $200 a month. Then we were down to extended basic services, though we didn’t have any interest in 3/4 of the stations we had available to us. Gradually, we realized we are ‘binge watchers’ or ‘bingers’. We have a few channels we watch, and only a select few shows that were being recorded to TiVo. The programs would sit there until we felt like watching a set at a time. Live TV hasn’t been in our lexicon for over 15 years now. It brings me to wonder why we didn’t take this step earlier. Likely a legacy of our parents’ generation, where TV was something we gathered around together (all five stations we had available in Australia that is — at least while I was growing up). I think my parents had a TV before they had a lounge suite, come to think of it.

TiVo freed us from VCR recording on the actual day a program aired. We used to get together on Fridays to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with friends back in the 90’s, recorded on VCR. Then with TiVo, we were freed from the same-day arrangements. Gradually, we stopped thinking about ‘live tv’ at all.

We got Hulu, Netflix and we have Amazon Prime. Then recently, XBox 1 joined the options. With a Smart TV, we’ve been dodging the slow speeds of those services on Comcast box and going straight to streaming from the web, with more and more occasions where we watch a series in a binge session on a rainy weekend. The place of TV as a central character in our lives was diminishing. We even stopped buying physical media as much when we wanted to watch a whole series – unless it was a hard-to-get program. British Sci Fi, old Sci Fi, series from the 80’s and 90’s, but not so much modern stuff. The modern series are all available on the various services, many of them for free.

Over the last year, my partner and I have been focusing more on being present with each other. We’ve also been more focused on making content than consuming it. Writing as an activity is at least as enjoyable as watching a show. Talking about it is nearly as exciting. And that brings us to a summer of freedom. We talked about taking a summer break from cable, however, I think our love affair with television is over. We shall transition fully to a la carte, paying for and watching only what most appeals to us.

Good bye cable. I don’t think we’ll miss you.

Love and loss

LossWhen we lose someone who is loved, there is no way to be consoled. We might dwell on their heroism, talk about the ways they brought love and hope and happiness into the lives of their family. However, there is no getting past the fact of their loss.

A dear friend lost her child this past week. It was an unexpected accident … he and his family were swimming and were caught in a rip. His wife and girls survived physically … he was a hero to the end, striving to save them. I knew Alex from when he was a child; it is the child I will remember. In my memory he lives. Lighting a candle for his spirit, his brightness, is not enough. There is never anything that answers loss … except time.

I find myself asking why it hit me so hard. I guess I’ve been saying ‘not today’ to death for a while now. Ever since my husband had his heart event, he has experienced diminished energy and function. We say ‘not today’, in order to live for today. We are being very gentle with each other, absorbing our friend’s loss. We are grateful for each other, and the strength we share.

Sad today …

Jolly rumble

This is a favorite song for the season. May Day is upon us and while others may think about labor unions, for me it is a time to think on summer. Long lazy days on the deck with a cool drink, the company of good friends, my sweetheart beside me. Love the version of the song I posted below too.

…Hal-an-Tow, jolly rumbelow
We were up long before the day-o
To welcome in the summertime
To welcome in the May-o
For summer is coming in
And winter’s gone away…

thQFOLLFQY

Tomorrow is the first of May and we will be, indeed, awake long before the day to welcome in the summer. We will turn off the lights and the electronics and light the house with candles.

Last year at this time, the cherry blossoms in the back yard were faintly visible as the sky was backlit with the city lights below the cloud cover. Raven and I sat and held hands as we talked about our days. Conversation wandered gently from observation of the sky to expressing our love and gratitude for each other, enjoying the light of the candles, and being on the cusp of summer. Good times.

I am looking forward to celebrating again this year, though I think french toast with maple syrup and nutmeg eggs would be a good starter. Later on tomorrow  we will picnic in the park and watch some children weave a May pole with brightly colored ribbons. May Day for us is a day to be frivolous, mischievous and to share silliness with friends. It is part of the seasonal wheel that is the cusp of spring/summer.

(Quote above is from the song Hal An Tow.)