Friday, December 18, 2009

When in Doubt, Alphabetize

I'm a control freak and I know it. I not only know it, I embrace it as I strive to find one tiny corner of this chaotic world to organize, introducing order to a previously discombobulated system, even if it was working just fine before I meddled. The uncontrollable urge to organize doubtless passed to me through my ancestors, as evidenced by their carefully filed and preserved photographs, newspaper articles and personal journaling efforts, crated in separate boxes and totes, clearly labeled and neatly stacked in the Family History section of the basement storage room.

Each organizational challenge presents specific goals (why does it need organization? To preserve my sanity!) and categorizational options (should I organize spices by type--baking vs. cooking--or by age--the oldest to the front, the fresh stuff in the back--or by size of container--short to tall or tall to short?) and sometimes this attention to detail, for which I have been praised by teachers, bosses and strangers on the street, becomes a handicap and the details threaten to suffocate me even as I determine which details are worthy of attention. Organizing the spices will save hours while I cook and bake, reaching confidently to the proper shelf for each spice and seasoning, proving the reward is measurable and attainable, fully justifying the mental effort I'm dedicating to the organizational system. The spice cupboard presents its own challenges with its swinging multi-tiered unit featuring narrow, stationary shelves, able to accommodate only 65.7% of my spices in their original jars. A brief search on the internet provides enough information to decide I am not ready to invest in a set of spice jars, so the organizational method is already compromised by the existing shelf and jar sizes, precluding sorting by age or type of cooking. Organizing by size is still an option, at least for those jars that will fit on a shelf.

After several hours of brainstorming and sketching, considering and rejecting various plans, after reviewing some recipes to see if I even have all the spices I need (I don't), and after planning the menu for the next week during one particularly long recipe book sojourn, I put the spices in their rack organized by size, smallest ones on the top and tall ones on the bottom, each shelf alphabetized by common name of spice (mustard seed comes before nutmeg).

The task complete, the first flush of satisfaction is suddenly compromised by the realization that the laundry supplies have been thoughtlessly plopped on the shelf with no regard to order of application or even amount left in the containers. A half-full jug of detergent towers next to a spray bottle of stain remover, fully concealing the sample-size package of dryer sheets. A frenzied reshuffling quickly results in a properly organized laundry supply shelf, with various stain removers (alphabetized by brand name) on the far left, then detergents, softeners and dryer sheets standing bravely, at the ready for the next chocolate-, grass- or wine-stained garments, my friend the alphabet quietly taming each section of shelf.

It's finally time to relax, so I grab my book and head for my favorite chair. My eyes stray from the page several times, the DVDs across the room snagging my attention as I confirm that which I already knew: they are hopelessly out of order, some even placed backwards so the title isn't visible. Who would be so careless? A frantic recitation of the alphabet aids in rearranging the titles at double-time speed. The restored order works like a tonic, allowing my blood pressure to descend back to normal range and my disorder anxiety (quite different from an anxiety disorder, but debilitating nonetheless) quiets to its usual thrum.

Lunch time passed some time ago--finally noticing my stomach's repeated bids for attention I open the fridge in search of sandwich fixings, confronted instead by complete culinary chaos. Why are the dressings not corralled as a group in their door pocket? Who in the world placed the mustard (condiment section) near the milk (beverage section)? How is one expected to locate butter, hidden as it is behind the jumbo-sized mayonnaise?

Lunch will be served late more corner of the world requires immediate action.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cleaning v. Reading

My husband announced this past Saturday evening he would clean the garage on Sunday morning. "What will you be doing while I do that?" he asked.

"I'll clean the house and mop the floor," I replied. "But just so you know, it may look like I'm reading. But I won't be reading...I'll be cleaning."

"OK," said he.

The next morning I cleaned furiously while the coffee brewed, then settled into my chair with a hot cup and a great book. My husband usually sleeps in on Sundays, affording me an hour or more of uninterrupted reading time. Eventually, he emerged. After our good mornings were said, we had the following conversation:

"What are you doing?" he asked.

I adjusted my blanket, snuggled into my reading nest, took a sip of coffee and said, without even winking, "Cleaning."

"I'll be in the garage" he laughed.

Every bookworm should be married to one of two types of men: 1) the guy who reads just as much as you do, or 2) the guy who not only puts up with your volume of reading, but supports it and accommodates it.

I did finally mop the floor that day--it's not too hard to hold a book in one hand and a Swiffer in the other.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blackbelt in Shopping

We live so far from civilization, we approach Christmas shopping with a fierce strategy and unrelenting energy. Even with the internet, it's difficult to purchase everything without physically entering a store and seeing every piece of merchandise presented for sale. Besides, half the fun of shopping is the shopping itself: the browsing, considering, imagining. Even the other shoppers, sharing small talk, shopping tips or even coupons. Grandma had taught us how to shop; we invoked her guidance on this longest shopping day of the year, fondly remembering the way she dealt with indecision: "If you can't decide between the two, just buy both."

I picked up my sister at 6:30 am. We each had our travel mugs of coffee, and we each brought snack bars, bottled water and tote bags. For interest's sake, I had my pedometer on my cell phone activated. Oh, and I had two extra pairs of shoes stashed in the truck in case my feet started to hurt. During the three-hour drive to Traverse City we discussed our itinerary, our shopping lists and restaurant choices. The plan was to finish our Christmas shopping in one day, then drive back home.

We started at a couple box stores, stretching our legs and finding our shopping groove. It's important to accelerate slowly--if one enters the first store at full speed, one's energy will lag early on and ultimately peter out. A definitive sign of a rookie shopper is one who bursts into the store and jogs from department to department, maniacally shoving hangers around until she finds the prize. Maintaining a steady rhythm throughout the day will ensure energy for the long haul as well as preserve personal dignity (always a consideration).

After trundling our first purchases to the truck, we proceeded to the mall where we parked in a strategic location outside the store where we planned to purchase the most. We carried our tote bags in to reduce the number of plastic store shopping bags; our first stop was at the pretzel vendor for a hot pretzel. A professional shopper always plans time for refueling, as shopping is miserable when one is hungry and progresses to nearly impossible when one is fainting from lack of nutrition. Shopping is an endurance sport forcing participants to focus on hydrating and eating light meals to maintain the pace.

We pushed our heaping cart out to the truck after covering half the mall; it was time for lunch. We emptied the cart, carefully stacking our purchases on separate sides of the truck to simplify the unpacking, which would occur after dark. Still feeling fairly energetic, we re-entered the mall and found a comfortable eat-in restaurant. Once we placed our orders our lists reappeared for revision and additions, and we planned the remainder of our afternoon and evening: the rest of the mall, then a few more box stores (including a book store), a cruise through a furniture store just for fun, and the long ride home.

Christmas shopping finished, we headed north and arrived home just before midnight. The pedometer read 6.3 miles; the Christmas budget was reduced to $1.15; the list was fulfilled. Grandma would be proud.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Facing My Fears

It's painful and shameful to divulge, but at the risk of reducing my reputation to that of a cowering idiot, I must concede: I'm afraid of mice.

The word 'afraid' doesn't communicate the full force of my affliction. Mice terrify me; they repulse me. I know and understand the reality of their minuscule proportions, and yet, when I witness one scurrying through the garage or (horrors! I'm trapped!) the basement, it appears gargantuan. The smallest mouse I've observed was the size of a football and the largest, a small dog. Yes, I realize my mental images are obscuring reality and the mice are actually smaller than my fist (eww! Imagine one touching my hand!) but my stomach retains its contents only because of my superior vomit prevention mechanism, often exercised this time of year when the mouse population is high and they are all seeking shelter.

When I was a child I read books about mice. The Mouse and the Motorcycle was one of my favorites, and of course I read Stuart Little and a collection of others. Unfortunately, real mice do not don Victorian waistcoats and tiny spectacles; they don't converse about erudite topics; they don't travel under one's hat or drive little cars. They certainly don't know how to prepare gourmet meals (or was that a rat, in the movie 'Ratatouille'? Must have been a rat. Shivers--even larger than a mouse!)

So the fear has become debillitating: the other night as I pulled into the garage at home, I noticed a mouse streaking across the floor. My reaction never varies, so I endured the entire anxiety/panic attack as my stomach clenched, I heard a rushing sound in my ears, I broke out in goosebumps, my hands gripped the steering wheel, my bladder threatened to release its contents, and I may have forgotten to breathe for a minute or two. The mouse was unaffected, frolicking happily, seeking a dark tunnel (of course I checked my pant legs: firmly pulled down around my shoes, no gaping invitation there). In light of this debillitation, I decided to face my fear and set traps for these dirty rodents. My husband normally sets the traps, but he's tired of my irrational fear and tired of emptying traps.

My method will be twofold: (1) a line of traps, which will be treated as disposables so I will never have to touch the cadavers and (2) a Polish mouse trap made with a bucket, a beer can and some peanut butter, which I can empty at arms' length while frantically inhaling fresh air over my other shoulder. The annihilation of the mouse population at Honeymoon Acres will commence this Sunday (Nov 29) after I gather my supplies. The result should also be twofold: (1) there will be no more mice on the premises, at least until next year's batch moves in and (2) I will no longer be handicapped by the mere sight of a tiny rodent smaller than my (gulp) fist.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Behold the Tote Bag

Whether I'm responding to an emergency or racing out the door to my full-time job (I work at an electric utility; more about that later) I grab more than just my purse. My "bag of things to do" is always over my shoulder, filled with: one - two books (if I'm past the halfway point in the one I'm reading, I stow an extra), my current writing project, usually consisting of two notebooks (the Levenger Circa notebooks--don't try them unless you're prepared for a new addiction and a much lower checkbook balance), my favorite pens, various loose copies and notes, maybe some junk mail, our business checkbooks (we have two businesses) and a snack. It's tiring carrying all of this around--a snack is necessary!

The great thing about transporting all of this is extreme preparation: if I get snowed in, end up in the ditch, have to leave work to sit in the hospital unexpectedly, waiting for a friend to emerge from a coma, or solve the latest challenge in my writing project, I'm ready. If luck is preparation meeting opportunity, I am always prepared and alert for an opportunity.

Carrying my projects in a bag separate from my purse has its advantages: I can leave it in the truck while I'm shopping, dining or visiting people; I enjoy the benefits of a large purse without lugging the large purse everywhere (my purse is mid-size, but manageable); I can stow items requiring action on a particular day such as outgoing mail, small items to be returned to the store, an extra pair of shoes, even my laptop and charger in case I'll be in the vicinity of a wifi connection.

Yes, tote bags are beautiful creations and make grand auxiliary carry-alls for life's necessities. Mine sometimes sports an unattractive bulge--maybe I'll stash an additional bag in the pocket just to be sure I can take it all with me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Does a Chapter Make?

I'm deep in writing production mode, cranking out a few words a day. I subscribe to the philosophy "write one word per day", expecting if I write one word, more will follow, but if I set the goal too high (some write 2000+ words/day) I will fail miserably and end up in a nice white room with no hard surfaces. My one word per day is rather loose: I'm allowed to write down one idea or outline a chapter or scene, or write an actual word that may appear in the actual finished product. This method words because I am inspired by the first word to continue with a second word, then a third, and so on.

Today's question, what does a chapter make, is about words. How many words do you consider necessary for a 'regular', 'average' chapter? I've seen chapters as short as one word, and as long as half a book. Most of my chapters in the work-in-progress are 7-10 pages long, which translates to 1750 - 2500 words per chapter. The latest guide I read suggests 18-20 pages per chapter, but since I can't sustain a thought or scene quite that long, I will write twice as many chapters. Or maybe not.

I may not have a clear point here, but I will say this: If you are a writer, struggling with appropriate word counts and page counts, take it from me--stop counting! Be creative, let it flow, write a word per day. Reread, revise, rewrite, add scenes, delete lines, etc.

Remember, I've yet to publish a fiction title. Take the above advice with a grain of salt and a shot of your favorite beverage.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Embrace Your Inner Nerd

My sister and I and our husbands were listening to the local band playing the other night, peering at each other through the smoky air, watching the locals and the visitors on the dance floor. We always enjoy band nights, providing a chance to cut loose and dance to our favorite familiar tunes from the '70s and '80s, with the occasional commercial jingle thrown in. Side effects include hearing loss and smoke-reddened eyes; conversation is possible only by employing complicated gestures or yelling directly into someone's ear. At first, I thought I'd heard wrong when my sister said, "the singer has a book light!"

"What?" I yelled back, glancing around in search of a yellow-bulbed bug light.

"A BOOK light! The singer! It's on his music stand."

I finally saw the telltale book light, illuminating more than the page. It provided physical evidence of nerdhood.

"See, everyone's a nerd!" My sister grinned. "Some people are just more subtle about it."

"Do you suppose the drummer has a pocket protector?" I asked.

"I bet the bass player has suspenders under that bulky sweatshirt." She answered.

Have you hugged a nerd today?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Weather or Not

Winter is breathing down our necks. We've had one hard frost already and the old folks and the Farmers' Almanac are predicting a brutal season. The leaves are turning, still clinging loyally to the trees along my five-mile commute to work (see photo of my favorite stretch of road, which I'm forced to travel daily between work and home).

It's time for Winter Preparation: clean up the yard so no toys/bikes/tools/potted plants/landscape sculptures will be harmed or displaced by the snow plow; drain and winterize the boat and camper; move all large trailers, boats and campers to the storage garage for the same reason; check the garage for anything that shouldn't freeze, and move it to the basement; finish summer projects; stock up on books.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Wisdom of an Old Dog

I'm reading 'The Art of Racing in the Rain', by Garth Stein, while my chocolate lab, Spirit, ages quietly, moaning only when her legs fail her. The story is told from the perspective of Enzo, a wise old dog ready to move on to the next life. Enzo believes after being a dog several times, one graduates from that level and comes back as a man. He's looking forward to the transition.

Meanwhile, Spirit is still her sweet self, just more tired and slightly crippled with arthritis. We'll take her to the vet and see if they have any ways to prolong her life and increase her comfort.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

UP Fashion Show

I attended the 2nd annual Easter Upper Peninsula Fine Arts Council Fashion Show today, where two of our charter-member Bookworms (Jean & Janelle) were modeling fabulous ensembles from local clothing stores.

In a town as small as ours, it's necessary to play many roles. Jean & Janelle have both acted in local productions and participated in the fashion show. Bravo!

Now it's time to go shopping.

PS, in case you wondered, not a shred of flannel was in sight at this magnificent UP fashion show.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Forced Horizontal Hold

Oh darn, I'm sick. A malicious virus has rendered me immobile and the only thing I can move is my eyes, back and forth across the page.

Is it possible to enjoy any other hobby in the world when you're sick? It's almost a blessing as I'm forced to adopt horizontal hold position, barely able to support the book. The biggest challenge is deciding whether I should prop it up on my knees or hold it up with my hands. Reality recedes to a comfortable distance as I rest and recuperate and read.

I can hear the phone ringing, but I'm too weak to answer. My voice fails me, startling in its gruffness and random squeaks.

Someone's at the door, but I'm too weak to answer. If I lift my head from the pillow I realize how lightheaded I am. It's sad, really, but all I can do is read.

Really, it's not my choice. It's the virus.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Shuffling

I've been raised to believe, and in turn have preached: never leave the house without a book. Having a book handy prevents wasted time should one find oneself in a waiting room facing stacks of germ-riddled magazines (germs comprise another topic, which I won't explore here today) or even on a ferry boat, crossing the water with the transmission safely in 'park'. I've read books on curbs, park benches, stores (while waiting for someone in the fitting room), and even tried reading on a few of the tamer rides at DisneyLand, but my stomach couldn't handle it.

So, how to pick the next book? The books I have yet to read reside on their own shelf, in the order in which I currently plan to read them. These are the books I've purchased or borrowed from a fellow Bookworm at a previous meeting. Book shuffling, or strategic book selection, is a painstaking process affecting the enjoyment level of each book. If a thick, richly-written book was just finished, I'll seek out a thin, light read for the next selection. If it's horizontal hold season and I have a week off work, I'll find the thickest, most complicated book on the shelf and tackle it next. Many life circumstances impact my choice for the next book: travel (light read, both in weight and content), camping (more involved book), Dr. appointments (something easily read in intermittent snippets of time) and mall shopping with my daughter (something totally engrossing so I can successfully escape from this most intrusive environment).

Since they're already in the order in which I plan to read them, as I finish one book I quickly peruse the next three or four to ensure they are still in the optimum order. Sometimes I'll grab one out of order because I finished the previous one sooner or I know I have a long wait coming up while my daughter is in her orthodontist's chair. The last three or four days before the next Bookworms Anonymous meeting, I'll be sure to choose a book I can finish in time to present to the others.

What am I reading right now? The Gravedigger's Daughter, by Joyce Carol Oates. It's a richly written tale of a German immigrant family, beginning in WWII and ending...I'm not yet sure.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Leaving home? Bring a book to read

When you leave your house to enter the Universe, make sure you're prepared...

Pack a full water bottle, a snack (I like Luna bars, Chai Tea flavor) and the current book you're reading. It doesn't matter where you're going, who you'll be with, or what the plans are. Bring a book for contingencies. The instant a dull moment presents itself, crack open the book and read a sentence, paragraph, or chapter. Carrying a book provides quiet, unobtrusive entertainment in just about any situation. Waiting for the doctor to call your name in the crowded waiting room is no longer an inconvenience--it's a reading opportunity.

When life intrudes on your reading time, you'll have to relinquish the book and wait patiently for the next reading opportunity.

It never fails: on the extremely rare occasion I don't grab a book on my way out the door, I end up waiting for someone unarmed with my preferred entertainment. This results in an annoying waste of time spent contemplating cloud formations or cleaning out my purse.

One might think reading a book in tiny unplanned snippets of time amidst life's busyness would compromise the storyline and make it difficult to maintain momentum, resulting in re-reading a page or paragraph each time one picks up the book. A problem like this is best solved by strategic book shuffling, a topic I'll tackle in my next blog.

Stay tuned!