Photo of the day

Despite my proclivity for holiday bashing, Santa was good to me this year.  He left a shiny new laptop under my tree.  In the process of transferring files from the old machine to the new, I stumbled across some older photos.   Some are total shit, others aren’t too bad. I like the colors in this one:

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Photo of the day

“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or, like the snow-fall in the river,
A moment white, then melts forever.”
― Robert Burns

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Photo of the day

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
―John Keats, Endymion: A Poetic Romance

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The best-laid schemes…

I have spent the last few days ridding my house of nauseating Christmas cheer.  The holidays are all fun and games in the outset, but there comes a point where the scale is tipped, and all those decorations begin to call to mind a tinsel and glitter infused bordello – or at least, what I imagine such an establishment might resemble.  I’m not one to suffer clutter for long, so the purge was swift and exact.

Of course, now that the tree is gone, the nephews departed, and the NYE champagne hangover nursed, there is a question of what comes next.

I try to avoid New Year’s resolutions.   Rash promises made in the heat of a self-loathing pity party aren’t normally destined for fulfillment.  In my 41 years, I have only realized one true resolution – a weight loss of 50 lbs some seven years ago. I did keep it off, so maybe that should count double.  Hmm…I digress.  As I sit here on this cold January morning, sipping coffee and listening to Norah Jones shoot the moon, I have the itch to plot a path forward.

So, I asked myself this question:  What do I want to accomplish in 2014?

I had to make a list.

  • Write 2000 words per day, everyday.
  • Finish Retribution rewrite #7 (or is it #8 now?!?) by spring break.
  • Publish one kick ass blog entry per day.
  • Submit a scene per week to the writing group for feedback – or a good laugh.
  • Graduate.
  • Conquer fitness boot camp and run a 5 K.
  • Read two non-academic books per month.
  • Learn to kayak.
  • Take kick ass photographs from moving kayak without drowning.
  • Learn to speak Italian.
  • Attend the U.S. Open – it’ll be Federer’s come back season, I can feel it.
  • Complete an outline for Summer of ’87.
  • Complete a draft for Summer of ’87, and win NaNoWriMo doing it.
  • Survive the holidays without committing a felony.

Too ambitious?  Yeah.  Who am I kidding?  Federer isn’t going to stage a come back this season…or anything other season, for that matter.

As for the rest…well, as much as I’d like to say it’s doable, it’s obviously not.  I have a life – work, family, school, outside obligations, nagging phobias.  After a healthy dose of reality and little soul-searching, here is a more reasonable list:

  • Write four days per week.
  • Publish 3 blogs per week.
  • Post a daily “photo of the day” on the blog.
  • Complete a working draft of Retribution by summer.
  • Graduate.
  • Submit a scene per week to the writing group for feedback – or a good laugh.
  • Read one non-academic book per month.
  • Get within five feet of a kayak; take a kick ass photo of said kayak; post it on the blog.
  • Attend the U.S. Open; cheer for Djorkovic.
  • Consider validity of YA/coming of age concept novel Summer of ’87; participate in NaNoWriMo.
  • Survive the holidays without committing a felony.

A decent compromise, I think; and one that has potential.  It helps that for the first time since last spring, I am feeling creative and inspired – and open to interaction.  The latter is always difficult for me, especially in this particular forum.  I’m going to work on that.

Alright.  Let’s get ‘er done.

Write on.

A Year in review…and photos, too

So, here we are again.  One chapter in the book of life ending, another beginning.  I always look forward to a new year.  Part of it is the unmitigated relief of having made it through the holidays without committing a felony; but also, there’s an unspoken promise of recommencement.  The aura of renewal and the endless possibilities of what may come, beckon me like a moth to a flame.

It’s all illusion, of course.  Logic dictates that there is no real difference between the end of one year, and the beginning of the next; no earth shattering kaboom; no sparkling fairy awaiting the stroke of midnight to sprinkle a handful of pixie dust on our heads, magically erasing twelve months of poor choices and lost opportunities.  It’s just another day, like any other.

But to hope is to be human.  A new year ushers in a sense of liberation and emancipation, and gives us permission to let go of our past and embrace the future.  This is a concept I readily espouse.  Although, I find that in order to completely move forward, I must first reflect.

It was a productive year, albeit exhausting.  What did I do, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you.

This year I:

  • continued my foray into the mysterious world of geology, tried my hand at a little field work, and discovered I should leave it to the professionals.
  • participated in April’s Camp NaNoWriMo and won, exceeding my 25K word goal by nearly 5K.  Of course, I haven’t let a single word written during that month to see the light of day.  I shuddered at the very thought.
  • embraced a dairy-free diet.  My stomach and I get along much better these days.
  • spent the long Memorial weekend with the BFF and her family, exploring South Padre Island.  There’s nothing quite so relaxing as a beautiful beach, good company, and jug of margaritas.
  • discovered – and conquered – statistics.  Did you know that sometimes in statistics, p’s and q’s wear hats?  Crazy, yet oddly adorable.
  • learned that I’m too old to frolic on New Orleans’ Bourbon Street.  It’s a task best left to the degenerate youth.  I did, however, have a wonderful time celebrating the BFF’s milestone birthday in the city she loves.
  • took a step toward tackling my fear of being eaten by a bear while camping.  No, I didn’t go camping in bear infested woods.  That’s just stupid.  I did go hiking for the first time, though.  And loved it.  Maybe next time I will forego the hotel in town and stay in a cabin by the lake.  Yeah, right.

While my writing was somewhat sporadic after Camp NaNoWriMo, I did take quite a few photos.  In the spirit of the coming year, and in an effort to toast 2013, here are a few.

Enjoy.

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Finding rhythm

Time management and multitasking are two virtues I was not blessed to possess.  I often struggle with attaining a harmonious balance between work, family, school, writing, and all those nagging little commitments generally associated with everyday life.  To the frustration of my inner circle, I must take things as they come, one at a time – chronologically. Experience has taught me that if I don’t adhere to this rule of thumb, I will devolve into:  a)  anger-laced irrationality; or b) total despondency – or what I like to call, the “fuck it” syndrome. Couple the latter with my inclination toward introversion and it is safe to say some things aren’t afforded the attention they deserve, or would otherwise receive under less stressful circumstances.

My focus the last six months has been school.  I’m almost finished and what I thought would be an easy semester, turned into an avalanche of homework that took more time than anticipated, and certainly more than appreciated.  Add to the mix, my daughter’s fall band and robotics schedule, and well – something had to give.   That something – this blog.  And my novel. Both became victims of the aforementioned “F.I.” syndrome.

Now in the aftermath of the semester that seemed to never end, I find myself with a bit of free time on my hands.  That’s not to say there aren’t new commitments and challenges eager to step in to fill the void left by my schoolwork.  There are cookies to be baked, cards to be addressed, gifts to be bought, malls to be conquered, and good cheer to be spread.

Blah, blah, blah.

I have to be honest here.  I’m not a big fan of Christmas.  The season’s inflated commerciality and disingenuous propaganda give me heartburn, and I resent the additional obligations and expectations to varying degrees.   After several hectic months, the last thing I want to do is be bogged down by holiday sludge.   What I want to do is get back into the rhythm of writing.  Whether it’s this blog, or my WIP, or something new – it doesn’t matter.  I just want to sit in front of my computer and get lost in the glow of the written word.

My words.

So, I am faced with a bit of a dilemma.  Bake cookies and address stacks of Christmas cards or write?  Do what’s expected or what I want?

I say fuck it.

Today, I write.

Nobody reads Christmas cards anyway.  As for all those cookies I don’t plan to bake now – I’m sure my friends and family will understand.  And if they don’t – I have a long memory and will adjust my cookie recipient list accordingly.  

Write on.

Autumn in the garden

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”   – John Muir

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Summer at the Arboretum

A rare thing happened here in my corner of Texas.  We were gifted with a mild July. Usually by this point in summer, the dreaded dome of high pressure has firmly planted itself over the region, deftly deflecting any wayward “cold fronts” and pushing the mercury over the century mark.  But this year, we have had unseasonably cool temperatures – afternoon highs in the high eighties and low nineties with morning lows in –*gasp*– the sixties.

It was almost like autumn.

So, what do you do when you are treated to fabulous weather in the middle of the summer?  Go to the Arboretum and take pictures of bugs, of course.

Duh.

Enjoy.

On a sad note:  It seems August will not be unseasonably cool.  Today’s high: 103.

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Embarrassment of Richest TBR Challenge – July check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have intended to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I aim to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what have I read this month?

Sherlock HolmesA Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:  I have mixed feeling about this one.  While I did find the characterizations of Watson and Holmes engaging and enjoyed the visual of these two in the context of their time period, the mystery itself was less than gripping.   I was bored – plain and simple.   Bummer.

Mark of the Assassin – Daniel Silva:  Ugh.  This is Silva’s second novel and first attempt at serial work.  I started this one last month.  At the time of my June check-in, I was a few chapters in and not really feeling it.  I had hoped that once I was able to cleanse my brain of Dan Brown’s Inferno and the crushing disappointment of the Unlikely Spy,  something would click.  Wrong.  I read about half of it and walked away.   I didn’t like it.  I tried.  I really, really did, but I couldn’t connect with the characters, there was no depth or development, the writing was scattered and at times, repetitive.  Maybe in a month or two I will try again and things will be different.

Doubt it.

Progress toward goal:  12 1/2 of 24.

So what’s up next:

Hunt for Red October – Tom Clancy.  This has been on my TBR list for years.  I love the movie – it’s one of my favorite – but I’ve never gotten around to picking up the book.  I hear Clancy can be a little on the dry side…we shall see.

Currently, I am very close to finishing Silva’s thirteenth Allon installment, The English Girl No, I wasn’t suppose to read it right away, but I couldn’t help myself.  It’s good, too.  Really, really good.

Of course, it a new publication and doesn’t count toward my end goal in this challenger.

Double bummer.

What’s on your nightstand collecting dust, begging to be read?

Ten things I learned last week

“To be or not to be is not a question of compromise. Either you be or you don’t be.”
― Golda Meir

1.         I learned it takes three full days to recover from falling off the no-dairy wagon.  Per doctor’s orders, I have been dairy-free for seven months.  At first it seemed an impossible lifestyle change, but it’s really not so bad.  Though, I will admit pizza with cheese is so much better than pizza without.  Anyway, it was all going so smoothly.  I had adapted well, and for the most part, have had very little in the way of dairy cravings.  That is until I stepped foot in an ice cream shop with no non-dairy choices.  Then, in the blink of an eye, seven months of dairy sobriety came to a gut wrenching end.  In all honesty, I really didn’t think it would make much difference.  I mean, how much damage could one scoop of chunky chocolate peanut butter ice cream do?

A lot.

Lesson learned.

2.         I learned that my morning bagel obsession might be even more hazardous to my health than the dairy.  No, not because those chewy rounds of mouth-watering goodness are packed with carbs and calories, but because I’m wholly incapable of handling a serrated knife without jeopardizing a finger or two.   Last week I required a trip to my local urgent care clinic after my attempt to slice open a bagel for toasting turned bloody.  Let’s just say my thumb didn’t appreciate the near filleting.

3.         I learned that just off the Alabama coast, beneath the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico, is a prehistoric forest dating to the Pleistocene.

How cool is that?

A very small part of me wishes I could scuba dive.  Of course, the rest of me – the part grounded in reality – knows and understand it will be a cold day in hell before that would ever happen.

4.         I learned that I don’t understand people who make a big show of announcing their impending departure from social media then never seem to go anywhere.  What’s that about?

5.         I learned that – speaking of social media – I really hate memes.  And cliché status updates.  And grumpy, negative people who complain all the time.

What are you looking at?

6.         I learned that I have a sudden itch to write a Snowden-esque character into my WIP.  I just can’t help myself.  These stories draw me like a moth to a flame.

And on a side note:  I learned that people are shocked to find out our government is spying on us.

To this I say:  duh.

I’m flabbergasted by such naivety.  I’ve been expecting the dudes in black to show up at my door for years to investigate the content of my Google searches.

7.         I learned that catching up on the backlog of blog posts in my WordPress reader is exhausting.  I love you all.  I love reading what you have to say, and viewing your beautiful photographs, but seriously, you people need to let me catch my breath.  It’s summer.  Take a break.  Go to the pool.  Drink a fruity drink.   Give me a week.  One week.   Then we can get back to business.

What do you mean it’s not all about me?

Source:  www.guardian.co.uk/BBC/Artists Studio/Steffan Hill

8.         I learned that Gillian Anderson is starring in a television show for the BBC called The Fall.  It might come as a surprise to some, but back in the day I was a huge fan of the X-Files.  Anderson’s Scully has always been one of my favorite television characters, second only to Jen Garner’s Sydney Bristow. 

I stumbled upon The Fall quite by accident while looking for something else on Netflix.  My interest was piqued when I saw Anderson’s name listed in the cast, and I couldn’t help but add it to my queue.  I spent Saturday night glued to the scant 5 episodes in the series.  The Fall is about a female cop brought in to hunt down a serial killer.  Sounds mundane and ordinary, doesn’t it?  It’s anything but.  It is dark and brutal and raw.  The acting is fabulous, the writing superb, and the pacing will leave you tingling with anticipation.  I loved every minute of it. 

Check out this review:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/tv-and-radio-reviews/10111545/The-Fall-BBC-Two-review.html

9.         I learned that a man in Brazil was killed when a cow fell through the roof of his house.  I’m perplexed by the logistics of such a thing.  Is it me or does this stink of a conspiracy involving the Chick-fil-a cow?

Check it out for yourself:  http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/07/15/19479766-reports-cow-crashes-through-roof-kills-sleeping-brazilian?lite

10.       I learned that the Twinkie is back.  I never understood the American fascination with this particular snack.  The yellow cake tastes like cardboard, the filling leaves an oily aftertaste, and the ingredient list requires a chemistry degree to understand.  I could go into a rant about the state of obesity in our country and the role processed junk food plays, but somehow I don’t think anyone is listening.

11.  This week’s awww moment is brought to you by a little garden spider who took up residence on my patio for a day or a two.

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Summer reading

I usually spend the first few weeks of summer wrapped in the warm familiarity of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  It’s an annual tradition born out of my desire to escape the drudgery of months entrenched in academic reading, and in an effort to recharge my wilted brain with something frivolous.  What could be more frivolous than hanging out poolside, the scent of chlorinated water and sunscreen wafting through the air, a margarita in one hand and a tattered copy of Pride & Prejudice in the other?

Not much, right? 

The prospect of frolicking through Georgian England with the Bennett clan should make me feel all warm and gooey inside.  Yet, this year, it doesn’t appeal to me at all.  It seems my rebellious self is protesting our journey down that well-worn literary path and is intent on lobbying for something new.  I suppose it’s to be expected.  Eventually, even the staunchest chocolate lovers crave a little lemon meringue. 

Of course, this leads to a troubling dilemma: 

What am I going to read poolside this summer?

I toiled with the answer to this question for quite some time.  My reading list usually consists of a gentle mix of historical non-fiction, contemporary (and/or Cold War era) spy novels, and familiar classics.  Occasionally, I will throw in a current commercial bestseller or a traditional whodunit to keep things interesting.   

Of late, I have spent a great deal of time enveloped within worlds created by a few of my favorite authors:  Daniel Silva, John le Carre, and Agatha Christie.  And to be completely honest, I’m a little burned out.  Sure, Silva has a new Allon novel dropping next week, and I pre-ordered a signed copy months ago, but I doubt I will dive into this latest installment anytime soon.

After barely surviving Dan Brown’s Inferno, and given my disinterest in Pride & Prejudice, I was beginning to fear that summer would come and go, leaving me wanting.  Then on a recent lazy Saturday, the answer to my reading dilemma came to me in a burst of unfettered brilliance.  It was one of those scorching days, too hot to venture outdoors before sunset.  My daughter and I were doing what we usually do to beat the heat – watching a Netflix marathon, camped out on the couch, noshing junk food.  

Our poison of choice – Sherlock Holmes. 

We started with the BBC’s Sherlock, meandered through CBS’s alternative take, and ended with Guy Ritchie’s quirky blockbusters.  As I watched, I was struck by the complexity of these two characters (Holmes and Watson) portrayed in vastly different settings and time periods, yet seemingly interchangeable.  I wondered what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have thought of our modern take on his iconic hero and sidekick; how would they stack up to their literary counterparts;  would I even like Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson after growing accustomed to the contemporary screen – big and small – versions?

I decided to find out.

Summer reading dilemma solved.

“Excellent!”…

“Elementary.”

Along came a spider…

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Embarrassment of Riches TBR: June Check-In

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have intended to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I aim to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what have I read this month?

The Unlikely Spy – Daniel Silva:  As I said in last month’s TBR blog entry, this is Silva’s first novel and a bit of a departure from his later work.  Set during WWII and based loosely on actual events, Unlikely chronicles a German spy’s mission to obtain intelligence regarding the anticipated Allied invasion of France (D-Day), and British efforts to thwart such an effort by leaking false information through a network of double agents.  It’s a complex story with a great many players told from numerous perspectives.  So many, in fact, it becomes very difficult to differentiate between the characters and their motivations.  The female antagonist – aka the German spy – was the most interesting character in the entire novel.  She was strong, resilient, and sympathetic.  Her motivations were clear, and even though she did kill a few innocent Brits when her back was to the wall, I found myself rooting for her success.  Then Silva killed her.  In the most blasé fashion, as if it were an afterthought, he eliminated her and moved on without a backward glance.  The story went to shit for me after that, and was topped off by an ending that was a real blow to my intelligence as a reader.  I hate that.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie:  I have read my fair share of Agatha Christie over the years.  My favorite, and one of my top five favorite books of all time, is Murder in Mesopotamia.  So, it’s a little shocking that Murder on the Orient Express, arguably Christie’s most notable effort, remained steadfast on my TBR list.  Until now.  As always, the queen of murder weaves a riveting story complete with an impossible crime, an eclectic cast of characters (though they have more in common than one might think), and an improbable conclusion.  And she makes it work.  Brilliantly.

Inferno – Dan BrownInferno is by far the worst book I’ve read since…well…the Lost Symbol.   It started out promising.  I like a novel that drops the reader right into the action and Brown certainly accomplished that, but once you get past the initial  flash and bang, the story becomes heavy on tell and light show.  I know what you’re thinking:  It’s a Dan Brown novel – telling is part of the equation.  I get that, but in this case it’s boring, poorly written, and redundant.  How many times does Brown recount – frame by frame, word for word – the contents of the mysterious video sent by the bad guy to the unknowing accomplice?  Four.  It’s almost as if he has no faith in the reader’s intelligence.  That pisses me off.  Do you know what else pisses me off?  Making the reader (me) believe one thing then revealing it was all an orchestrated illusion thereby voiding the entire beginning of the story – the only interesting part of the entire book.

On a side note:  Dan Brown could do with a stint in adverb rehab; and it should be a crime to use the word ubiquitous and the phrase “sea of humanity” more than once per novel.

Just a thought.

Another note:  Inferno is a new publication and doesn’t count toward my goal in this challenge.  Bummer.  Such suckage should count for something.

Progress toward goal:  11 of 24. 

What’s next?

A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What’s on your TBR list?

Things I learned…recently

It’s been a while since I have taken the time to sit down and write one of these blog posts.  It’s not that I haven’t learned anything, it’s just that I have a case of the lazies.

It happens.

So, what have I learned?

I learned…

…that field geology is not my thing.

This past semester I took a historical geology class to fulfill a science requirement.  It was an interesting class, challenging and time-consuming.  I learned a lot and that’s always a good thing.  The course was geared toward geology majors, and I was a little apprehensive about that at first, but my fear proved unfounded.

I rocked that class.

<see what I did there>

However, one of the things my professor required for course completion was a bit of field work.  He believes that he cannot allow his students to walk away from historical geology without at least one day in the field – mud covered rock hammer in one hand, chunk of fossil-filled platy limestone in the other.

Okay.  No big deal.  I can do that.  Dig around in the dirt for an afternoon, maybe find a fossil or two, identify an unconformity or a fault, take a strike-dip measurement.  Not my favorite things, but whatever.

I did a little research on the site where we were to do our field work.  It’s a place on the North Sulphur River known to contain Cretaceous period fossils.  According to a few maps, the site boasts a park of sorts with an outbuilding and concrete stairs leading down the steep river embankment.  Okay, no big deal.  I can do that.

The day of the excursion was rainy, a chance of severe weather loomed, but we went anyway.  We are geologist, a little thing like a tornado watch isn’t going to scare us – or so our professor told us.  The site was in the backwoods of nowhere, down an overgrown two lane farm to market road – and not where we thought it was.  There was no outbuilding, and there were no stairs, but there was a trail – or so our professor told us.

Now, I have to tell you, my professor is an older man – late sixties, almost seventy, but he is the most energetic person I’ve ever met.  If Indiana Jones were a geologist, he would be my professor.  He is also a dirty rotten liar.  There was no trail, only a runoff path that spilled down a sixty degree drop through overgrown brush and misshapen trees into the river bed thirty feet below.

Sixty degree drop; thirty feet below. 

Oh.  Did I mention it was raining?  Yeah, so the ground had turned to slick as snot clay mud.   You know that stuff, right?  It might as well have been a sheet of ice.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am not an outdoorsy person, and the whole scenario was so far out of my comfort zone, I felt like I might drown in my own anxiety.  That nagging voice of reason in my head was doing his best Lost in Space impression, “Danger, Will Robinson.  Danger.”  But I ignored him.  After all, I have expanded my horizons in recent years, ventured into uncharted territory, overcome a few of my more benign phobias.  I could do it.  

Right?

Right.  So, I took a deep breath, sat down on my butt and did the crab crawl –  inch by inch, down into that fucking river bed.   I spent two hours trudging through mud so thick it stuck the bottom of my shoes (I grew two inches) and caked the hem of my jeans.   I foraged for fossils, took a strike-dip measurement, almost dropped my compass into a mud puddle, and suffered the indignity of a really bad hair day.

Then I clawed my way back out, up thirty feet (at a staggering sixty degree incline) inch by fucking agonizing inch.

Success!

And it only took three weeks for all the cuts and bruises to heal.  Bonus.

The experience ranks right up there with whale watching from an inflatable raft in the middle of the churning Pacific.  I’m proud of myself for doing it, but I will never, ever do it again.  Ever.

…that one of my new favorite things to do is sit in a bookstore coffee shop with my daughter sipping a cold frappy, nibbling a calorie heavy treat, and reading a good book.

…that sometimes blog spam is amusing.  I normally don’t pay much attention to it – just hit the delete button and move on.  But today I found this attached to one of my reading challenge entries:

Thats just because youre still mad at him for winning the starting RF job over your man-crush last April.

It’s like I’m in a fight with someone and I didn’t even know it.  Such drama.

…that the 10 hour drive to South Padre Island is so much more fun than the 11 hour drive home.

…that we have entered that point in tennis season where I am again forced to question my long-standing Federer allegiance.  I can forgive a loss at the Australian Open to Murray, but a loss on clay to Tsonga in the quarterfinals?  I’m at the breaking point…seriously.  If Federer doesn’t step up on the grass in London, I’m out.  I mean it.  For real this time.

that there is a Great White shark lurking just off the coast of Cape Cod.    Note to self:  no beach excursions during future trips north to visit my Boston peeps.

…that there is an Atlantic Green sea turtle named Allison at Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island with a prosthetic flipper (think boat rudder, only for a turtle) to help her swim.  Go read about her – and all of the good work this amazing organization does – (here).

…that I will take a Stats class over Art Appreciation any day of the week.   I had two objectives going into this summer – knock out a couple of required courses I have put off because I know they will suck and get a tan.  Well, it’s only a few weeks in and I’ve already failed.  No, my tan looks great, but I seem to have hit a hurdle with that other thing.  It turns out I’d rather jab a stick into my eye than sit through 10 weeks of art appreciation, and its endless string of mindless “art” projects and presentations.  I couldn’t drop it fast enough.  Of course, now I have to take an extra class in the fall to make up for it, but I think art history will suit me much better.  I sure hope so.  On a side note, Stats is going to work out just fine.  Who’d have thought?

…and last but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by my sweet daughter and her band awards.  I’m not proud or anything…

Embarrassment of Riches TBR: May check-in

Better late than never.

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what did I read in May?

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre:  I’m a sucker for a good spy novel, and le Carre’s George Smiley just might be my favorite fictional spy of all time.  Tinker is set in the early seventies and weaves the reader through a spine-tingling maze of betrayal and treason as Smiley seeks to discover the mole within the “Circus” – a mole channeling operational intelligence to the KGB.  The plot twists and turn as Smiley works to corner his prey, and in the process, exposes each of a wide cast of characters’ deepest, darkest secrets.  I loved this book, though perhaps not quite as much as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was a work of pure genius, but Tinker is definitely true to the brilliance of le Carre’s mastery of the genre.

Albright

  • Prague Winter:  A Personal Story of Remembrance and War:  1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright:  It took me a while to get through this work of non-fiction – three months, perhaps.  That’s not to say it wasn’t a good read.  It was.  I just found it tedious.  Albright is a thorough writer with a quick wit and offers up an unexpected barb or two to lighten up the heaviness of the period, but she tends to bury the reader in too much prologue and back history.  The personal stories about her family experiences, memories of the war, and unrealized Jewish heritage were fascinating, though.  I’m glad I took the time to finally finish it.
  • I also finished Gospel of Freedom by Jonathan Rieder.  Gospel is an interesting work that puts King’s iconic Birmingham jail letter into historical context.  This was a new approach to this letter to me.  I have read it before, but always from a literary perspective – audience, prose, etc.   It’s not my favorite book on King, but I think any criticism I have stems from the writer’s tendency to ramble.  Of course, this a new publication and not from my TBR list, but…

Currently reading:

  • The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva:  I believe this is Silva’s first novel, and not at all what I was expecting.  It’s set during World War II – didn’t see that coming; probably should have read the cover blurb.  It’s also told from so many points of view, I have trouble keeping track of who’s who.  Unlike his Allon novels, the hero is lukewarm and somewhat uninteresting.  I find myself drawn to the female antagonist even though I know she is the enemy.  She’s so much more engaging.  Perhaps this is Silva’s intent.  He has done this before – painted the bad guy in a sympathetic light, though not to this extent.  We shall see how it ends.  I will report back.
  • Mark of the Assassin by Daniel Silva:  Six chapters in and I haven’t met the hero yet.  I don’t hold out much hope.  It is obvious that Silva hasn’t hit his stride yet.

Progress toward goal:  9 of 24 read.

I need to step up my game.

So, what are you reading?

Blog? What blog?

Oh!  This blog.

Worry not, my faithful followers.  I haven’t been eaten by a bear or abducted by aliens or fallen down a deep bug infested hole in the middle of a secluded rain forest.

<shudder>

I’ve been busy.  You know, doing stuff.

What stuff?

I’m glad you asked.

The month of May marks the end of my semester and usually goes one of two ways:  1) I am overcome with creativity and spend endless hours either at the keyboard writing like a madwoman or viewing the world through a camera lens snapping photographs of every unfortunate bug and blossom to cross my path; or 2) I am overwhelmed by life, say screw it all, and overdose on trash television.

Sadly, it’s been the latter kind of month, and consequently, my brain is in full-on decomp after watching an endless stream of Ancient Aliens, Married to Medicine (an all-time low for me), and the Real Housewives of Orange County.

I blame science.  Specifically, historical geology.

I spent four months immersed in millions/billions of years of earth history- from its origins to the revelation of geologic time to the theories of evolution and plate tectonics.  I studied orogenies (the process of mountain building – get your mind out of the gutter), sedimentary deposition environments, bio – and litho – facies, faulting and folding, and learned to age date and correlate rock formations.  I can identify a whole slew of fossils based on a laundry list of characteristics.  If you ask nicely, I can even give you their kingdom, genus, species and period of existence.

While this is all fascinating stuff, it is not conducive to cultivating creativity – neither is “reality” television.   I spent the first 2/3 of May stuck in “left-brain” mode.  I couldn’t see the beauty of a rolling field of wildflowers.  I only saw an eroded anticline left over from a Mississippian period thrust event. I wondered if it was faulted; if the adjoining basin was filled with terrestrial material; if there was evidence of a transgressive or regressive marine environment; what fossils might be present.

Disturbing, I know.

To combat this troubling trend, I tried to drown my inner geologist with anything and everything offered up by the Bravo network.  It worked for a while.  Of course, there comes a point when one realizes that consuming junk might be satisfying in the interim, but it lacks sustainability and, in the long-term,  is detrimental – sorta like Oreos.

So, what does one do when faced with a situation such as this?

Go to the nearest art museum; attend a historical lecture; read some frivolous fiction; take a trip to the beach.

Kick that “right-brain” bitch out of bed and tell her to get her shit together.

I did.  I feel much better now.

A blog birthday

So, the old blog turns 2 today.

Cake balls for everyone!

photo source:  dallasnews.com
photo source: dallasnews.com

Retribution: Anna begins

I’m going to try something new.

Something that scares the shit out of me.

I’m going to share with you a bit of the first chapter of my WIP.

Why?

Because it’s time to take another step outside my comfort zone.

Be kind.

Or don’t.

Here goes.

(Egads!  Hope I didn’t miss any typos…)

Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

Anna Malkin sat atop a dune of bleached sand on North Carolina’s outer bank, the wind whipping her fiery red hair around her head like a torrent of flames licking the night sky. She stared out across the wide expanse of the Atlantic clad only in a sleeveless gown of gauzy cotton, her feet bare. Goose bumps prickled her skin, but her senses had long since numbed to the bitter bite of the ocean air.

Dawn was breaking, the sun just beginning its slow ascent. It kissed the surface of the glistening water, casting a star burst glow along the horizon. It was a peaceful scene, serene in its simplicity. It was a sight that used to warm her heart and calm her soul. Now, as the blackness of night retreated into the light of day, the beauty and serenity were lost to Anna. All she knew, all she’d known for one hundred and two days , was the sound of the earthly hell brewing within the confines of her own mind.

Louder and louder it grew until it was all she heard, all she saw, all she felt.

One hundred and two days.

At times it seemed like a lifetime had passed, but on days like this when her fear bubbled and festered, and madness enveloped her mind, she felt as raw and desperate as the day she’d stumbled out of the desert, hanging to life by the thinnest of threads.

Anna had come to the North Carolina coast to find silence and solitude, to heal. Her body had, the swelling was gone, the bruises hardly noticeable. She walked without a limp now, and it was only a matter of time before she could grip a glass without it slipping through her fingers. Her mind proved harder to mend, the scars permanent. Images of the hell she endured at the hands of unmitigated evil were etched deep in her brain, they flashed in constant repetition before her eyes. The sound of her own screams echoed in her ears. It had begun as a soft whisper, an icy breath on the back of her neck but with each passing day, it grew. Now it encapsulated her, held her by the throat and threatened to swallow her whole.

Her family had gathered in a show of support, crowding into her mother’s sprawling Ocracoke Island beach house as if it were a joyous reunion. Her director had called with a message from the President. Even her old mentor had shown his war-weary face for a day or two. There was nothing they could do or say to ease Anna’s pain, her suffering going beyond their comprehension. They tried, she would give them that, but all they had to offer was food she refused to eat, and conversations she had no desire to engage. She felt their commiseration. It clouded their eyes and dripped from their tongues. They pitied her failing mind, her broken spirit, her shattered soul. She hated them for that.

Anna knew life as it had once been was over. She understood there was no going back, yet she couldn’t bear the thought of another day trapped inside her mental prison. There was only one way out, and she accepted her fate with open arms.

She rose to her feet and stumbled through the powdery sand propelled by an unseen force toward the rising sun. It beckoned to her, the promise of blessed release and absolution drifting in on the cold sweet wind. It held her transfixed, as alluring as the intoxicating song of a siren.

Anna waded into the frothy surf, the buzz in her head growing with every step. Violent waves broke over her as she fought through the swirling current. At the place where shallow sand dropped into the endless abyss, she paused, staring directly into the blinding light of the sun.

And she surrendered.

The water took her, engulfing her, dragging her down into the dark depths, and for the first time in one hundred and two days she experienced unfettered freedom. Peace. Anna lifted her face up, and watched the reflection of the sun dance across the surface overhead. Overwhelming reverence surged through her, and she felt closer to God than she had even been.

She blew the last of the air from her lung, and water filled her mouth, its weight crushing her chest. Within seconds her vision blurred and the infernal noise that had plagued her for weeks and weeks receded into the background and slowly faded into silence. She closed her eyes and welcomed the blackness.

It was over.

She was finally free.

Her neck jerked back then, shattering her new-found peace. Something had her by the hair, hauling her up with a speed and agility she was powerless to resist. Her head broke the surface. She gasped as water and air fought a battle within her lungs. Anna tried to twist around, tried to see who or what had taken hold of her. The grip on her hair loosened, but just enough for a strong arm to encircle her neck and drag her back to shore. It wasn’t until she lay in a heap on the sand shivering and coughing the last of the water from her lungs did she look into the clear green eyes of the man who had ruined her only chance for freedom.

A man she knew she could never forgive.

© 2013 Peggy Isaacs.  All rights reserved.

Embarrassment of Richest TBR Challenge – April Check-In

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

endersThis month I read:

Nothing!

That’s not entirely true.  I did read.   I just didn’t finish anything on my TBR list.

As I have said before, a multitasking overachiever, I am not.  Reading and writing – at the same time – during NaNo – well, that’s just beyond my capabilities.  I make no apologizes or excuses.  It is what it is.

So what’s on the agenda for May?

  1. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card – I’m about half done with this book.  It’s not my usual genre, but I do find it entertaining.
  2. Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright – This is not a quick read and I am still working my way through Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland.
  3. Gospel of Freedom, Jonathan Rieder – this is a new release and not on my TBR list, but it delves into the MLK’s mindset and the hostility leading up to his iconic Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  I am intrigued by this book, mostly because I have only studied the letter from a literary view – never historical.  I have high hopes for this one.

Progress toward goal:  7/24

What’s lying around on your nightstand waiting to be read?

Camp NaNoWriMo: the aftermath

On Saturday, I surpassed my Camp NaNoWriMo goal by 4K+ words.

That means I won.

Yippee!

Time for a celebration.

Tequila and Ren Faire, it is.

Don’t judge me.

So, now it’s over.  The euphoria that comes with accomplishment is waning, and I am left with the aftermath of writing willy-nilly for a month straight without rereading or editing a single word – just a lot of marking and moving on.  A difficult concept for me, and frankly, the thought of facing what I’ve committed to paper scares me.

I did, though – at five in the morning, over my morning coffee.  My walk through was brisk.  It was all I could muster after four hours of sleep and the realization that I had forgotten to pick up french vanilla coconut milk coffee creamer on my way home.  Black coffee sweetened with refined sugar does not make for ideal shitty writing reading conditions.

I hear war stories from the NaNo veterans.  They assure me that cringe worthy writing is the norm.  After all, NaNo is not about producing a finished product, it’s about a commitment and dedication to the act of writing.  I suppose in this context, what I found was on par.  It is a bit overgrown in places, a little sparse in others.  There are rare bursts of brilliance encapsulated within thick sticky sludge.  Anna is still missing her retribution.   The fragility of her state of mind is not quite right, and her brother is without a completed introduction scene – again.   And the typos – sweet baby Jesus, don’t get me started on the typos.

It is a work in progress, ever evolving.  I am not displeased with what I’ve done – it could be worse.  I’m far from finished, but I am closer to the end.  In the last few days, I have been struck by an idea for a new opening scene.  It is something I’ve struggled with for a long time – where does Anna’s story begin?  This new scene captures Anna’s inability to cope, her helplessness and hopelessness, her quest for absolution.  In other words, Anna hitting rock bottom.  I think it works.  I hope it works.  I’m sure my writing group will tell me if it doesn’t.

On a side note, its inspiration comes from an album that I’ve listened to countless times and never before made the correlation.

It’s all in the timing, I suppose.

So, now what?

More writing, of course.

Anna needs to get her retribution back!