I am a Project Person

Besides writing, I have mentioned knitting as one of my creative outlets. It’s actually one of many. Before starting a project, I often have a complete picture in my head of the final outcome. The appearance of my book was no exception. When I started writing again, the cover art was floating about in the background.

These days 100% digital production is quite common, especially for e-books. Not that I have a problem with it; but I have a fine art background, one that took years to develop and I don’t wish to lose my skills. (Use it or lose it is very much true for any number of disciplines.) I took a hybrid approach for my first cover. The above photo shows part of the process. Right now, I’m working from a table rather than a desk. One half of it is usually has another project occupying it. If the writing slows down, or needs a break I often work on something else during the time I allot myself for this endeavor.

This is My Brand

This was a pile of stuff which reached halfway up the fence. Fiberglass kayaks and plastic deck boxes make a big fire.

Two weeks ago, I started a fire. It’s the biggest one I’ve started to date and what you see in the photo is the aftermath. While I would have loved to take a more effective marketing photo, I was too busy trying to calm my heart attack, and put the fire out before it burned down the fence between our house and the neighbors. Or worse, one of our houses.

(In case you think I’m a pyro, I usually limit my activities with fire to camp ground fire pits and our BBQ pit here at home.)

So, how does something like this happen? It’s a long story. If you have not read any of my other posts, I strongly recommend you go back to the beginning. This one will still be waiting when you return. For those of you who have read them, and wonder why this one wasn’t posted sooner? I’m a storyteller, people. I have a schedule and placed this one where it belonged for the best effect.

From the outside looking in, it may not appear so obvious I have a riding horse with rubber band legs. It’s called my life. What’s wrong with it? Anyone who has been reading this blog about pursuing dreams or finding your tribe, and thought “Someone’s life story told with wit and charm. How sweet! Oh look, pretty pictures and cute bunnies…” Yes, that’s some of my life, but I’ve only scratched the surface.

I’ve mentioned my husband who is a disabled veteran. He struggles daily with pain and depression. Unfortunately, it made an underlying problem he never quite conquered even worse. It’s called PROCRASTINATION. When you add pack rat tendencies to it, you have an ever-growing problem which takes even longer to fix, and affects the well-being of others. Until they accidentally set fire to the mess. (Lots of fuel. Burns quick. I have first-hand experience now.) At least, I think it was an accident. I was thinking about the next post to follow “Finding Your Tribe,” while pondering the duel personalities of fire as both destroyer and agent of cleansing. Ironic, isn’t it?

Ok, Ok… You’re wondering what I was doing when I set an old fiberglass kayak, with a bunch of stuff piled above it, on fire and sent it to Valhalla. (Yes, some of my ancestry is Scandinavian.) Waging war on squirrels, that’s what. I’m certain there is someone out there who will be more than happy to tell me I’m wrong; but I’m reasonably certain the uptick in the squirrel population, to our older neighborhood with established trees, comes from all the rampant development around us. Over the years, developers have ripped out pastures and large stands of trees ever closer to our subdivision. Seems like they’ve been going crazy recently.

I get it. Human beings keep producing new generations who need places to live. If I have to put up with hundreds of displaced squirrels ripping my property apart, in order to have lots of apartment complexes and more shopping nearby, maybe some of you should take a leap of faith and get out there in the real world. Build your own stinkin’ nest with your resources. You might surprise yourself and find you reached the other side when you open your eyes. I can promise you the safety net doesn’t last forever. Mine died (spiritual and inspirational) when I was 46, supposedly to suicide. I’m now the safety net, though there are many days I’m not certain it’s as strong as it should be.

This is why I started writing novels again. This is my motivation. Nano-whato? Pfft! I believe I have mentioned my obsessive personality. I can easily write a few thousand words a day, and when I don’t feel like it, all I have to do is look around me. My house needs a new roof; a total plumbing re-pipe; a remodeled kitchen; new flooring downstairs and some upstairs; new stair treads; a stairlift for the hubs; new windows; possibly taking down the oak tree… I think that’s enough for now. I’m pursuing my dream to become a published author with an in-house graphic production company, because I already have the skills to do my support work, as well as the software. Initially, I thought about hiring myself out as a copy writer, then concluded I was exhibiting a lack of faith; in both myself and the God I believe provides for us. I’m not waiting for anything to be perfect, the right time, or to have enough time. My life will probably never be perfect. Big deal!

The right time doesn’t come. You have to make it happen. (The Lord helps those who help themselves.) I got tired of telling myself “no.” I certainly will not allow anyone else to tell me “no” either. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work because I don’t want handouts, or for someone else to clean up our mess. I’m not laying all the blame at my husband’s door. I allowed myself to let things slide, using the excuse if he didn’t care enough to deal with it, why am I getting my knickers in a twist over it? All our problems are fixable. It means acknowledging there is a problem first, then setting a deadline to address it. The biggest problem here was not setting deadlines, which are a way of creating accountability and maintaining motivation.

Obviously, I’ve reached a breaking point, where instead of burning all the oak leaves, along with the acorns which attract the squirrels to our yard, I accidentally set a toxic fiberglass kayak and a few other things on fire. Did it solve a problem or two? Surprisingly, yes. Though I don’t recommend taking such action in the first place, nor do I plan to try it again myself. (For a few days, I couldn’t talk without coughing.)

The name of this blog is “Confessions of a Middle-Aged Writer”, though maybe it should have been “Middle-aged Drama Queen.” Just sayin’. Still, what you continue to see is what you will get here. This my brand, my leap of faith. I have no idea what it will look like on the other side, but I’m taking it anyway.

Quote of the Week

So what if you set the world on fire? It’s what you do during the aftermath that counts.

Kristal DeJong

Life’s Little Miracles

I took this photograph a week ago. It’s a branch on our Red Maple tree. I could be mistaken, but it seems this tree is changing color a bit early this year. I don’t recall it dropping leaves until December, not entirely unusual for Southeast Texas. So, it seems like something of a miracle to have it change in time for Thanksgiving, and that one branch is extra special. It has the reddest leaves, right at eye level as you traverse the crushed granite walk to our front door. In fact, it hasn’t dropped any leaves yet, making me hopeful they will stay there through the holiday weekend.

The maple tree which produced these leaves is a miracle itself. We planted it in 2009, when it was about 6 feet tall. It took us half a day to dig a hole big enough for the root ball. Then, in early May 2012, we thought we lost it. I was out of town, having traveled to South Dakota. (Our younger daughter, who was a student at USD, was driving home for the summer.) The next morning, after I arrived in Sioux Falls, my husband called to inform me a storm with high winds snapped the tree trunk completely. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. Besides the hours it took us to plant it, it was a much nicer tree than the two pines which were originally in the yard. (One tree lost half its canopy during Hurricane Ike in 2008.)

However, the maple did have one naughty habit which ended up saving it. It had a tendency to produce suckers at the base of the trunk. I told my husband to leave it be until I got home to look at it. There was no way I was going to remove the base of that tree until I knew for certain it was dead. In fact, it still had a few suckers I had not removed before leaving town. We cut as much of the old trunk to the ground as we could, thinned the suckers out to the two which looked most likely to grow straight trunks and observed for a bit. Before the weather grew too much hotter, I made my final choice.

Our maple tree is now as tall as our house. Periodically, it needs pruning to nudge it toward a more symmetrical shape. Our dormancy period is sometimes less than 3 months here, meaning I need to do it shortly after the last leaf falls if I’m removing larger branches. Last year, the tree needed to have a big branch cut from the trunk. It was only 1-2 feet above the ground. It made the tree look like a giant shrub and prevented branches higher up in the canopy from growing longer. Now that it’s gone, it does make the tree look a bit one-sided at the moment; but little by little, it’s balancing itself. With a bit of patience and care it will eventually be one of the most beautiful trees in our neighborhood, since it is the only Red Maple in our vicinity.

While our maple has ascetic value, it’s even more important for another reason. It’s a survivor who has lived through at least two years of drought shortly after it was planted, not to mention torrential rain storms which caused flood events, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. At this time of year, when the leaves begin to change, we have the most stunning example of resiliency just outside our front door.

On a day when we’re taking time to give thanks for our blessings, I challenge you to look beyond the obvious ones like family, friends, a good meal and home. While those things are important, they’re also easy. We need to learn to look deeper sometimes, in order to understand how truly blessed we really are.

Happy Thanksgiving

Kristal DeJong

Finding Your Tribe

Since I’ve started novel writing again, I not only had to brush off my story-telling skills for a longer format. I also need to figure out how to build my brand, and touched on it briefly in the post “Meet My Buns.”

In the interest of getting myself educated as an authorpreneur, I rejoined Romance Writers of America. At the same time, I also joined the Alliance of Independent Authors. Recently, I watched one of their live videos about finding your ideal reader. Now, this is not the first time I’ve heard the term “Find your tribe”; but when you’re socially challenged, as I’ve become, the first question you ask is, “Where do I start?”

I actually have a rather long list of interests. I may eventually join at least a few tribes, including a Caregiver tribe, when I find one. Caregivers certainly need tribe members who understand the personal sacrifices they often make daily. It will ultimately depend on how many tribes I can reasonably manage and still be productive. Since the name of this blog is “Confessions of a MiddleAged Writer”, I believe I will start there.

Personally, I think its past time to dispel the notion you have no chance of being successful if you don’t achieve your goals while you are still young. (Besides the “young goal post” keeps moving. I’m really 21 again.) Dreams and goals may not be achieved for many different reasons while we’re in our 20s’ or 30s’. Often in our youth, we don’t always have a fully formed picture of who we are, or who we will become. It also doesn’t help when the over-riding message in which we’re indoctrinated says failure is bad. While I wouldn’t recommend doing it constantly, it does have value in the learning experience. The most important is perseverance.

There are some folks who are naturally goal driven and perseverance may come easier to them. It can also be learned with age and experience, provided we’re open to utilizing it. One of my favorite examples of someone who started a very successful mid-life career, is Julia Child. We should never stop learning, growing and challenging ourselves. She loved France and its food. After having a career in the OSS during World War II, she needed a new challenge and took classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris during the 1950s. Being a curious person who wanted to know everything possible about a subject, she pushed to join the classes taught to professional chefs; who were primarily men at the time. While in France, she made friends (a tribe) who shared her interest and helped her produce an iconic two-volume cookbook set called “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Eventually, her tribe grew and helped her produce a series of cooking shows, starting with “The French Chef” on PBS during the 1960s. Naturally, she didn’t stop with French cooking. Over the years she took an interest in a variety of food related subjects, including a show about baking a few years before she died. (I have “Baking with Julia”, co-authored with Dorie Greenspan, on my cookbook shelf.) Nor was she afraid to share the limelight with other experts in her field.

Finding a tribe with similar interests is always beneficial to the human experience. But even more important is finding one who will challenge us to get outside our comfort zone, and support us while taking that risk. Julia was a pioneer in more ways than one. Besides being a woman in a man’s world, cooking shows on TV were almost non-existent (James Beard had one of the first). Now we have whole channels devoted to them.

Time flies ever faster, something I have been becoming increasingly aware of over the years. My mom died at the age of 68, four and half years ago. She was only 22 years older than I am. It made me start asking myself, “What am I waiting for, if I really want to pursue a dream?”

Last December, we were forced to clear out our garage due to a corroded water connection on the washing machine. (A case of procrastination which bit us in the ass.) Guess what I found in one of the boxes? It was a chapter from my original book manuscript which had been mailed to my critique partner. (This was the 1990s. Dial-up internet didn’t do much in the way of attachments.) The darn thing was still in its mailing envelope. I took a glance, said to myself, “I’m never going to do anything with that,” and threw it away with the rest of box’s contents.

A few months later, at the end of April, I was cleaning rabbit cages. I do all kinds of interesting thinking while taking care of my rabbits. Suddenly, the thought came to me, “Why shouldn’t I finally finish that book? Afterall, I spent close to ten years on it.” For the first time in my life, I now have a full manuscript which is probably about as polished as it’s going to get. Is it the same book I started 30 years ago? Ha, ha, ha, ha… NO. What made the difference this time? Some of it is age and experience. Being curious about a variety of topics helped too. It gave me a lot more material to utilize. Most importantly, motivation and perseverance made the biggest difference. They will continue to make a difference in eventually putting it in readers’ hands.

It doesn’t matter to me if your dream is writing, or something else entirely. I would be happy to nudge you into at least trying it. Dreams only have value when we attempt to make them reality. Another blog I follow, recently had a post about living in the moment, reminding your life is today. Not yesterday, tomorrow or somewhere else. Regardless of anyone’s age, I can’t think of a better tribe to belong to, than one that pushes us to achieve things we thought beyond our reach.

Quote of the Week

The possible can be done immediately. The impossible takes a bit more time.

My husband’s favorite quote from the US Navy Seabees – Kristal DeJong

I Like Big Buns and I Cannot Lie

The last, but certainly not the least, of my rabbits is my other English Angora. Her name is Lola Rapunzel. I brought her home at the end of Feb. 2015. She will be turning 5 yrs. old Dec. 31. How do I know her birthdate? Like Angus, she is a pedigreed rabbit. (His birthday is in March.) Technically, she was supposed to be a replacement for Angus, who was starting to show some signs of age. But he turned out to be the Energizer Bunny.

It might seem strange that someone from Texas would want longhaired rabbits for their knitting and crocheting projects. There is generally a rather short cold season for wearing knitwear. However, we’re northern transplants who moved here from NW Iowa, and I’m also a Colorado native. I still love me some, warm cozy knits. The softer the better, which is one reason I’m deeply attached to my bunnies. When it comes to domestic natural animal fibers, the Angoras are hard to beat if you like a bit of luxury.

Believe it or not, I actually purchased both my EAs here in Texas. There are not many Angora rabbit people here in greater Houston. Not surprising really, considering the heat and humidity we have 75% of the year. All my rabbits have to live indoors because of it, and cage cleaning is a daily chore. (Gets me into trouble. I do too much thinking while cleaning cages.)

Angus and Lola both came from breeders near, or in the Dallas area. Besides their location being a bit more amenable to rabbits, I think the biggest reason you’ll find the Angora breeds in certain parts of the state, like Dallas, is the big hair. When she’s fully grown out, Lola has very big hair. In the photograph featured with this post, she’s only halfway there. Even though she’s not quite 5, she is likely to be mostly retired too, since I have 2 large containers filled with Angora wool now.

Lola ended up becoming the largest of my rabbits. She weighs 8 lbs., which is one pound over the ARBA breed standard. (Angus fluctuates between 5-6 lbs.) She’s also a drama queen, not really unusual for does. Like wild rabbits, they’re solitary parents with babies born blind and helpless. It tends to make females hypervigilant about what’s going on in their environment. Even though Lola has never had kits, the instincts to be a good mother are still there. She needs gentle coaxing to get in the bunny elevator and rarely does it without rushing. Backing into a corner is a defensive behavior. She often does it when she knows it’s her turn for cage cleaning. I usually have to put my hands under her tummy, making it appear I am about to pick her up. Then of course, there is a bit of sweet talking.

(Which is needed by rabbits in general. Because they are prey animals, they will only cooperate if you keep a calm demeanor and earn their trust. Being emotionally out of control is a big no-no. Anyone who has ever owned a horse can probably relate.)

On the other hand, Lola’s not generally afraid of me, especially when I’m coming around with food and treats. She and Angus have different styles in the affection department. He’s a bit more in my face, usually rubbing his chin on me. (Rabbits have scent glands there. They use them to mark their property.) He’s basically saying “I own you, now rub my forehead.” Lola, on the other hand, just tucks her feet beneath her and settles down. To express her appreciation for the attention, she gives extravagant nose bonks.

Creatives are Whole Brain People

I know my first quote is about not getting peoples’ knickers in a twist, but for some reason I feel compelled to dispel a myth that creative types are right-brain-only folks.

Let’s start from the fine art perspective first. Yes, people like Leonardo DaVinci are considered geniuses. Why? Because the man used both sides of his brain. What sets Renaissance artists apart from earlier European artists? (after the Classical Era) They rediscovered science. They created realistic art in both painting and sculpture because they took the time to truly examine their subjects. They started with anatomy, though the study of the human body could get them into real trouble with the Church. If you break a figure down into a series of geometric shapes you have the frame and rough musculature. Once your frame is in place, the next steps are fleshing it out and refining the details. Making a subject look real also requires a study of light and shadows. Then there are nifty tricks like foreshortening and perspective. Don’t get me started on the science of color. Both sides of the brain are working together to produce a piece of fine art, and the only way to correct something which falls short, is to study it analytically to see where you went wrong.

I will not deny it is difficult to detach your emotions from a creation (right side). There is nothing worse than the pit in your stomach, when you realize your brilliant piece of art falls shorts of your expectations. However, there is no hope of improving it, if you don’t disengage yourself a bit and take another look with the left side of your brain. It’s something anyone can achieve. But it does take a certain amount of determination, and you have to be honest with yourself that there is room for improvement. Sure, many artists get training in school. However, those who enter the field as a career are usually on their own after that, unless they work in co-op studios. Fine artists often don’t get feedback on their work until it’s put on public display. You have to develop some faith in both sides of your brain in order to succeed; and be willing to listen to an art critic or two.

Motivation makes all the difference when you are a creator. That first spark of imagination is exhilarating, but after that you need to keep asking yourself why that spark deserves to become reality. If it deserves to exist, it should be the very best you can make it.  Those who read last weekend’s post will remember my obsession with horses and drawing them on everything, in the hopes one them may turn into the real thing. When I was four, I drew like a child that age.

My mom, bless her soul, always said the encouraging stuff like, “That’s very nice, honey.” My dad on the other hand, did not have a diplomatic bone in his body. I showed him a drawing one afternoon, and he said, “That horse has rubber bands for legs.” In my mind, I drew a realistic horse. I knew horses did not have rubber band legs. He hurt my feelings, and my first impulse was to argue with him. Only I knew better. Arguing with my dad was an exercise in futility. Did he kill my artistic spirit? Whether he intended to or not, perhaps for five minutes. Here is where motivation matters. I didn’t just want a horse. I wanted a horse I could ride. I certainly didn’t want the horse fairy to give me a horse with rubber band legs. Dad’s comment literally forced me to go back the “drawing board” and study my subject. The first thing I asked myself? What do horse legs really look like then? Miraculously, I discovered horses have joints.

By the time I was in middle school, I could draw a very realistic horse. Because my left brain got engaged in studying all the scientific details; joints, skeletal structure, musculature, light and shadows, colors and even differences between various breeds. In art, that is called learning to see. It is the analytical left side of the brain which gives the right side the details to produce a realistic image. Just like reading, my artistic interests expanded too. What I learned studying horses transitioned into wildlife art and botanicals when I was in high school. I could also do human portraits when required to do so, though they aren’t my favorite subject.

How does this information translate to the writer? Remember all that stuff Mrs. Buchanan taught me in middle school? Especially the technical stuff like spelling, definitions, use of those words in sentences, writing sentences, punctuation, stringing those sentences into a paragraph… The mechanics of good writing are rule-oriented and very much a left-brain activity. The same goes for story structure/arch: Plot, characters, conflict, setting, show-don’t tell… The right brain will provide the spark of imagination which motivates you to write that story. (Not to mention the boldness to break some rules occasionally, in order to make a better story; only you must know them first to break them effectively.) The left side will give it all the structure, details and raw materials (vocabulary) to create true hocus pocus. It will also give you the tools to go back and see why your cauldron exploded in your face.

I’ve had plenty of projects which ended up being stinkers, and correcting them always boils down to motivation. Can I live with it as is? More often than not, the answer is no. So, I’ll pout for a bit as a sop to my sensitive right side, then roll up my sleeves and figure out how to fix it. Sometimes, I do need to rely on others. I have an editor for my book and also started working with a critique group. My first draft was also entered in a writing contest because I wanted the feedback. I had just recently returned to novel writing, and felt it was a good idea to flag issues early on. I intended to learn from all of them, including my editor, by challenging myself to find and correct mistakes before he could. Each time he returned a chapter, there were fewer corrections. Including a couple with no changes. All because I don’t want the horse fairy to bring me a riding horse with rubber band legs.

Quote of the Week

The only way to go down, is to go up first. Unless you have a basement.

Kristal DeJong

Vice President of Sass

One sassy rabbit

Are rabbits sassy? You better believe it. I give you Exhibit A, Benjamin. I think he may be a Lionhead-Mini Rex cross. He came to our household in 2014, as an Easter bunny someone else was not able to keep. I named him Benjamin, after Beatrix Potter’s fictional bunny, cousin of Peter Rabbit. Since Miss Potter’s storybook rabbits tend to be rather mischievous, it turned out the name suited.

For those who aren’t familiar with rabbits, they generally don’t make a great a deal of vocal noise. Domestic rabbits will usually only make vocalizations when under distress or if they’re really upset with you.

So, how and why does a rabbit sass you? All rabbits are protective of their personal space. That being said, they do enjoy getting out of their cages and stretching those powerful back legs. But they don’t like being picked up. Early on, I reached an agreement with Buns and Angus. I trained them to get in their litterboxes (the bunny elevator – Willy Wonka style) when it’s time to clean cages. They quickly caught on that they got transferred to the play pen, and will be waiting in their boxes when they know it’s cage cleaning time.

Benjamin, on the other hand, has a contrary nature. He enjoys his time in the pen, but doesn’t want me to move him, period. He’s also very touchy about anything I do in his cage, even taking his dish when it’s time to feed everyone. He grunts at me whenever I put a hand in his space, but his favorite means of expressing his displeasure is by stomping his back feet. He stomps a foot when I put him in the pen, and he stomps when it’s time to go back to his cage. There are also occasions he stomps his feet when I am nowhere nearby, including in the middle of the night. It freaks out our nearly 12 yr. old Texas Heeler, Alexa. (I’m certain, in her mind the rabbits have been dubbed the long-eared weirdos.) In fact, Benjamin has succeeded in bluffing our bigger dogs, including the Labrador Retriever, that he’s one tough rabbit.

Why is Benjamin the Vice President of Sass? It’s difficult to say. I don’t treat him any differently from the other bunnies. It might be a breed trait of the Mini Rex, or it could just be his own unique personality.

Thank You, Mrs. Buchanan

For those of you who expected a creative writing blog, I don’t wish to disappoint anyone.

Many of us have at least one favorite teacher, and perhaps a few we may prefer not to remember. Other than my high school art teacher, Mrs. Canan, there are 2 other teachers to whom I must give credit. One of them is Mrs. Buchanan. She was my middle school English teacher in Wiggins, Colorado. It is possible she may no longer be with us, since I took her class in the early 1980s. But I would love to hear from her family and fellow former students if they happen to read this. (If I have her name wrong, it’s OK to correct me.)

Besides the fact I’m a writer, why would an English teacher matter to me? The answer is easy. I am a writer because of her.

Like all small children, I began my story telling career by drawing pictures. We’ll just call it a monkey touch moment, when you realize there are ideas and interests you need to express, only you don’t quite possess the full communication tool box.

By age 4, I developed an interest in horses, to the point of obsession. My parents informed me repeatedly I could not have a horse. So, drawing them on everything, including my school work, became my consolation. I believed the horse fairy would magically appear one night and turn all my paper ponies into the real thing. Rather like the Greek Myth of Pygmalion and his dream girl. It never happened, darn it. One good thing did come out of it, though. My mom got tired of being called in to school and having me put in remedial reading programs. (Come on, they were interfering with my horse acquisition plan.)

Out of desperation, she handed me over to Mrs. Thomas, a retired school teacher from our church, the summer after second grade. Mrs. Thomas was a tough nut to crack. As a matter of fact, there was no cracking her. Despite every trick I tried, including “I’m tired,” she had me reading by the end of the summer. The carrot at the end of the stick? My mom allowed me to buy my first book from the Scholastic book order forms which were handed out in school. Imagine my surprise to discover a horse story among the offerings. Naturally, I chose it. The book was “Summer Pony” by Jean Slaughter Doty, about a girl my age who longed to own a pony. Boy, could I relate. And guess what? Now I had two vices.

I suppose I am the sort of person who never does anything by half measures. I became as obsessed with reading, as I did with drawing horses. I hid in my closet to read when trying to avoid chores. (Though my mom eventually discovered my hiding place. All she had to do was check the closet light switch.) My reading choices started expanding when I entered middle school, with my discovery of Victoria Holt’s “House of a Thousand Lanterns” when I was 13. My mom accepted the horse stories. Romance novels on the other hand, worried her a bit and became forbidden territory. You know what happens with teenagers, when you turn something they enjoy into contraband. By high school, I not only read a rather broad spectrum of romance sub-genres, I started venturing into fantasy, science fiction, and westerns.

Where does Mrs. Buchanan fit into my saga from reader to writer? Like the Wizard of Oz, she pulled back the curtain and revealed the writer’s bag of tricks. Yes, we still had spelling tests, but they doubled as vocabulary expansion. Then we learned the mechanics of sentence structure; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, synonyms, antonyms, prepositional phrases, punctuation. After that, how to string those sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into essays or short stories. We learned to write poetry; long form, free form, haikus, and limericks to name a few. (Do I seem like the kind of person who would enjoy writing limericks?) She taught us how to do basic research, writing outlines and footnotes. Of course, between all that, we still had to read. It was in her class where I received an introduction to Greek Mythology. Now that I think of it, I am not certain that is age appropriate reading; but I had great fun with it in the book I’m finishing right now. Mrs. Buchanan gave me an excellent foundation which followed me into high school and adulthood.

Here’s one tip of hers I still remember concerning the use of commas. Besides putting them between sentences connected by and, but, or etc., or in dialog, you also use them to indicate natural pauses in speech.

There are no shortcuts anytime you wish to master something.  You must walk before you can run. If you have not mastered the mechanics of writing, you have no skeleton from which to hang the meat of your story. Without a strong skeleton, everything else falls into a pile of messy goo. Splat!

In honor of Mrs. Buchanan, I give you this Quote of the Week. She used it to illustrate the proper use of synonyms. Bear in mind she was a classy lady, originally from Georgia, if I remember correctly.

Horses sweat, men perspire, and women suffer from the heat.

And since I’m feeling generous today, I give you this nugget from my husband, when he told his String instrument students the proper method for practicing and learning new pieces. It’s appropriate here too.

Note by note, measure by measure, phrase by phrase.

The Hair-man of the Board

Angus, age 4 and at the height of his fiber giving powers

Today’s rabbit is my 9 ¾ year old English Angora, Angus. He’s my super affectionate mellow fellow, and is the second of the bunnies to come live with us. He joined our household in May 2013. He was three years old at the time, which is why he’s older than Buns. I would compare him to Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, except Angus doesn’t drink bourbon or smoke cigars.

For those not familiar with the Angora breeds, they are high-maintenance rabbits. Besides the companionship, there is only one main reason you bring a long-haired bunny home. It’s called fiber sickness, a malady one often develops after years of enjoying crafts like knitting, crocheting, weaving and spinning. Due to his age, Angus is mostly retired from fiber production now, and spends his time as a short-haired rabbit due to monthly haircuts. Which works best for both of us these days, because it eliminates the constant brushing. I don’t sell my Angora wool, and he filled a 30 qt. Rubbermaid container for me. I’m reasonably certain it will last me a lifetime, because there is a partner in crime who filled a container of her own. A little Angora wool goes a long way, especially since it is usually blended with another fiber which has more “grab”. (My favorite is Alpaca.) Angora is seven times warmer than sheep’s wool, even though it is very lightweight.

Caregiving and Time Management

When you are a caregiver, it can be almost impossible to find time for everyday tasks, never mind making time to pursue a dream. For the purposes of any conversation on this blog, let’s make it clear parents with children are included. Mine are in their mid to late 20s now, but it’s not so long ago, I forgot what it’s like to raise a heathen or two, whose sole purpose in life seems to be pushing all your hot buttons. Children are supposed to be learning autonomy and responsibility as they grow, but let’s face it. It’s a challenge you enter for the long haul, and the challenges change as they grow.

Most people, caregivers or not, will say they don’t have enough time in the day. So, where do you start when you decide to pursue a dream? Some might advise giving yourself permission to pursue it. OK, it’s as good a place as any, I guess. But once you have done that, you have to give it a place on your priority list. Where it goes will depend on the complication factor. Is it a dream which can be achieved in a few short steps, or will it require a long-term commitment? Do you need the support of others to help you reach your goals, including members of your household? If it all possible, reciprocate for others. They will be far more willing to support your dreams if you do the same.

The KISS principal (Keep It Simple Stupid) and “work smarter, not harder” also have to be part of the equation. If you can’t simplify your life a bit and learn to do things more efficiently, it becomes even harder to pursue your dreams.

Nix the distractions too. Spending all your spare moments on an electronic device burns a lot of time you could use to pursue something truly meaningful to you. Turn it off, or at least mute it, then leave it somewhere else while you are working on that dream.

For those of you just starting out with families and looking for that first home, I implore you to think of the long haul. Like everything else, there are no guarantees these days you will be able to follow the old advice of buying a starter home, and moving up or down, as your needs change. We have a two-story house, with upstairs bedrooms, which we have now lived in more than 19 years. After Karl’s accident in 2006, those stairs became an issue, and remember he’s not an old man.

Every change we make to this house, I insist on durable materials that are easy to care for. Yardwork? Who needs it? I wouldn’t mind growing a garden again, but my idea of a growing bed doesn’t require me to get on my knees or bend over. Though this is not an endorsement, Gardner’s Supply offers some I like quite a bit. Don’t forget cost of home ownership over the long haul, either. Taxes go up more frequently than down, and a big house costs a lot more to maintain as it ages. Not to mention the amount of time it will suck up. If you are holding off on pursuing a dream until the kids leave the house, do you want to sacrifice it for chores?

How about the house of the future? Eh, I’m not quite sold on that one, partly because I don’t want so much of my life run by my phone or the internet. Our younger daughter got us two Echo Dots for Christmas last year, which we do use to communicate between upstairs/downstairs. Occasionally, the crazy things light up when no one is talking to them. It’s freaky, I tell you. (For a good laugh, ask the darn thing if it’s possessed.)

While I would love to have a Roomba, we have seven animals in this house, which also includes 3 dogs. I swear their sole purpose in life is to leave hair on every surface. The rabbits shed as well, and their fuzz is so light, I call it angel hair. Because it floats. Unless the Roomba can not only keep all the hair off the floor, but vacuum my vaulted ceiling, light fixtures and stairs as well, I don’t see spending money on one yet. Besides, I’m afraid after five minutes here, it would be like the robot broom of Warner Bros. house of the future, and quit within five minutes. Right now, there is a big fat cobweb hanging down over the stairs, off the beam that supports our vaulted ceiling. I swear that bugger is mocking me. I’ll take a crack at it with the long-handled Swiffer first. If that doesn’t reach it, I may have to resort to one of our Little Giant style ladders. Except those are heavy.

Don’t forget meal planning and cooking. I love leftovers, and casseroles made in a 9×13 inch pan can last us 4-5 days. Between meals for days, when I want something low-key, I often resort to baked potatoes. Stuffed of course, making them a meal. Our main favorite involves broccoli, bacon and cheese sauce. However, BBQ brisket takes the tater to a whole other level. For those starch-a-phobes, sweet potatoes are a fine substitute for Russets. Someone here doesn’t like sweet potatoes, but I’m not naming names. I figure if the humble spud is good enough for Hobbits, it’s good enough for us. “You know, Po-ta-toes! Mash ‘em, boil ‘em, put ‘em in a stew!”

In the interest of honesty, I will admit I sometimes achieve my writing goals by ignoring the housework. There were a few times I spent nearly a full day writing, because I was on a hot streak. Unfortunately, I succeeded in giving myself a few nasty headaches. Meaning I learned the hard way to set limits for the amount of time I spend on the computer. I keep notebooks handy to jot down ideas or changes I wish to make, because my mind frequently doesn’t shut off while I’m doing other things. In fact, I swear it’s while I’m doing chores, I get my best ideas. (I was cleaning rabbit cages when I decided to take another crack at my book.) Yeah, yeah, I know paper is old school. It still has the occasional advantage; doesn’t freeze or crash, no batteries to die, can’t be hacked, and it’s easier on the eyes. You don’t have to be a writer to keep an idea notebook. We use them for a variety of projects. Paper is great for lists too. There is nothing more satisfying than physically scratching off an item or two.

What are your dreams, and your time management strategies for achieving them? Feel free to comment below.

Quote of the Week

In honor of deer hunters since it’s opening weekend…

Beware of wooly boogers seeking popcorn for movie night.

Kristal DeJong