Donut Holes (aka: Running at a Walk Pace)

CIM Start Line

Yesterday, I participated in a marathon for the first time ever. No, not a Netflix marathon. It was the California International Marathon  , a popular race where runners from around the globe came to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon, or the US Marathon Championship, or the Olympic trials, or the $20,000 first place prize (I wish). The race begins in Folsom (think gold country, Sierra Nevada foothills). Then it heads downhill, winds through my suburban neighborhood, and ends in front of the California State Capitol. 26.2 very long, exhausting miles.

Okay, fine, fine…I did not participate as a runner. I participated as a volunteer, handing out thousands of water bottles at the finish line. My thirteen year-old son was a volunteer, too. My sixteen year-old daughter was also a volunteer. But she was a volunteer runner. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. She and some friends from her high school cross-country team signed up to be sag runners, who purposely run at the slowest possible pace in order to encourage the marathoners who are lagging at the rear.

Their plan was to run the first half of the marathon, then head home. But get this — halfway through the race, my daughter sends me a text: Hey mom, we’ve decided to run the whole thing!

That’s right. Those little girls ran the entire California International Marathon — on a whim.

marathon runners

Okay, well, they sort of ran it. Mostly, they ran so slowly, it was practically a walking pace. And occasionally, they walked at a walking pace, too. They also sang songs, talked, and called out words of encouragement to the many runners they came across. Runners who had trained hard to meet their goal of finishing a marathon. Runners who were exhausted and discouraged, but were perked up by the little group of slow-running cheerleaders with their huge grins and a bag of donut holes.

I kid you not. Donut holes. Which they munched every few miles or so, and even passed out to fellow runners to lift their spirits. Like marathon Christmas elves.

Meanwhile, back at the finish line, my son and I got to be among the first faces to greet the thousands of marathon runners as they staggered zombie-like past the finish line, hugging their medals and temporary hoodie jackets.

“Thanks so much,” they often said as they took a water bottle from our table. “Thanks for volunteering.”

“We’re happy to help,” I responded back. And it’s true. I was seeing the end result of people who had just accomplished what, for them, was a dream. Maybe it was to become an Olympic athlete or national champion. Maybe it was to run ten marathons in ten years, or to race side by side with a loved one, or a best friend. Or maybe, their huge goal, the one they’d worked so hard and so long for, was simply to finish. Nothing made me happier than to be in a role where I could see and help those people to achieve their dream.

CIM 35th Sacramento Capitol

My son felt the same way. And so did my daughter. She and her friends, the courageous little group of shepherds, finally brought their flock home to the finish line, where I was waiting with huge hugs…and water bottles. I was so proud of both my kids! For being such enthusiastic people helpers, for finishing an actual marathon (in two very different ways), and for literally going the extra mile.

 

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Meh. (aka: My Real-Life Dancing Adventure)

Last week, I tried something I have never done during my adult life. I went out dancing at a dance club. Until then, I had only been dancing at a couple of weddings many years ago, and once during a conference. But to dance at an actual club, filled with pulsing lights and artificial fog and dozens of people gyrating to beats played by a DJ? Wow – cool! Now my real life could imitate the lives of my Sims.

Except not.

Because when my Sims go out dancing, their fun bar always maxes out. But mine did not. In fact, the whole experience turned out to be kinda…meh.

night club dancing

Even while in the middle of dancing with a group of strangers from Meetup, I couldn’t figure out why I was’t having much fun. The club was lovely. And there were the pulsing lights and the gyrating bodies and the DJ. Okay, there was no fog emitter, but maybe that was a good thing. And the DJ kept playing an awful lot of 90s hip-hop music, which wasn’t horrible, but more contemporary hits might have helped. I should have been having a blast. After all, I love dancing. I adore it. Especially during Zumba class or roller skating or in my living room with an audience of zero.

So what was missing?

And then the answer occurred to me: alcohol.

alcoholic drinks

See, all around me, the other adults, all of whom appeared to be having a great time, were also drinking. Some had already had a few drinks before hitting the dance floor. Some still had drinks in their hands. Me? Well, I had a beer.

Believe it or not, I had actually planned to try a real, honest-to-goodness grownup drink at this shindig. I even took an Uber, just in case, so that I wouldn’t have to drive home. As soon as I arrived at the club, I took a deep breath, mustered my courage, and marched up to the bartender.

“What will you have?” he asked.

“Um…” I froze. I had absolutely no idea what to order. I’ve heard of popular mixed drinks, like margaritas, mojitos, and cosmopolitans, but truth be told, I have zero clue what’s even in these drinks or whether I’d like them. The bartender started suggesting flavored vodkas, which sounded even more intimidating. What happened to those colorful drink menus with the pictures you always see at restaurants? I had stepped into a strange world where everybody else just knows these things. Everyone but me.

adults drinking mixed drinks

“I’ll just take a beer,” I squeaked. My go-to alcoholic drink, besides wine. And even then, I only ever drink one. The thought of getting intoxicated, of losing control and balance and common sense, especially among total strangers, is way too much.

When I confessed to my Meetup acquaintances that I was thinking of leaving early, their answer confirmed my thoughts. “Drink more booze!” Seriously? I thought? Is that the only way that everyone else can actually have fun, by drinking a bunch of alcohol? Is that what I’ve been missing out on all these years? Is this why my old friends, all conservative Christians, didn’t ever go dancing, because they also frowned upon drinking?

I refused to order another beer. But I did force myself to stay for another hour and focus on trying to have a good time. And I kind of did. But my personal fun bar was far from maxed out. That is, until I went home and had a nice cup of earl grey tea and played pretend dance club with my Sims. Sometimes, the real world just doesn’t live up to the fantasy.

 

 

Reality TV Bites (aka: Stick to the Script)

Facing reality just isn’t my thing.

I have no clue who the Kardashians are, or why I would want to keep up with them. I don’t know what The Voice sounds like. And no, I have never watched a single episode of The Bachelor.

It’s one of those sad realities that makes it challenging to jump into conversations with other women. At my work, many of the men seem to stand around the water cooler, discussing basketball or guns. Many of the women seem to either gossip about real-life people, or real-life reality shows.

Me? I stay in my cubicle, doing work.

When people find out what a reality-show virgin I am, the shocked reactions are always the same. “What? You’ve never seen [fill-in-the-blank cooking show battle]? You didn’t watch that amazing stunt on America’s Most Talented Circus Performers? You didn’t see the train wrecked lives of those poor kids on Teen Mom, Season 3? You really missed out.”

To be fair, I have seen some reality shows. Back when they were a newfangled concept, I checked out MTV’s The Real World. I caught the early seasons of Survivor and The Amazing Race. I even watched Kelly beat Justin after Simon Cowell dashed the hopes of hundreds of recording artist wannabes. I have also seen The Truman Show a half dozen times. So I know what reality shows are all about. But I also know that many of these shows are staged, with produced events to spice up the shows, and turn them into a larger-than-life version of reality. So really, it would be accurate to call them unreality shows.

Although they can be somewhat entertaining, I reject reality TV shows for one sole reason: lack of writers. Call it nuts, but I happen to value good writing. You take some interesting characters, weave them into a fascinating plot, toss in some witty humor and carefully-crafted drama, then tie it all together with a satisfying ending. Voila! You have just created a story. And story is what it’s all about. A romance story. A suspenseful story. A horror story. Something to keep me on my toes, intrigued, involved in the lives of the characters. But not just an slapped-together slice of life from some ordinary wealthy person and their first-world problems. Reality shows are like the IKEA of TV programs. A true story is a work of art, taking the realities of life, then reproducing them in an extraordinary way.

Who needs reality when you can put on Olivia Pope’s white hat for an hour, or leap from an airplane into an enemy state with Sidney Bristow, or save countless lives with Meredith Gray? Why watch real-life people battle over who can build a fancier cupcake, when you can watch imaginary characters transform into superheroes, evil dictators, spaceship captains, or time-travelers? Stick to the script!

Don’t we already get enough reality in our everyday lives? We survive. We do our jobs and try not to get fired. We are dance moms and soccer dads. We try to contribute the winningest dish to the potluck. We have people following us around with cameras (Oh wait…is that just me?). Reality is enough of a reality. You can keep those other so-called realities on some other channel. I’d rather watch a story.

Duende and Honey (a poem)

Duende and Honey

music headphones listen

Today I give you music.

Melodies

to make your spirit

rise

and

 sink

Harmonies like feathers stroking fur

rains pelting earth under glowing sun

stars streaking against inky blackness

I give you the old songs

that curl around you

warm

like mother’s blanket

honeyed tea

to soothe your weary soul

I give you drumbeats

tapping

pounding

thrumming

dancing with your heart

I give you fingers stroking strings

playing shivers

along your spine

and lyrics

golden poetry

to shine in your darkest places

duende

to stoke forgotten fires

words to cure

words to lift

words that sail across this vast sea that

divides us

and whispers my name

Mix the Batter (aka: The NaNoWriMo Commandments)

Tick, tick, tick…

Hear that sound? No, it’s not a bomb. Not exactly. It’s the sound of the NaNoWriMo countdown clock.

Brace Yourself NaNoWriMo is Coming

If you are not a novel writer, then you’re probably scratching your head right now, wondering if NaNoWriMo is some rare tropical disease, or an exotic food dish. But for those of us steeped in the writerly world, we know that NaNoWriMo means one thing: Panic.

Preptober is almost over! Only four days left until it begins! Aaaaaaaccckkk! I’m not done with character development! I’m not done worldbuilding! My favorite pen is out of ink! I still don’t have a plot! Aaaaaaacckkk!!

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an annual challenge in which fiction writers everywhere attempt to do the insane — write an entire novel in one month. That’s right. A minimum of 50,000 words in 30 days. You do the math. My novel-planning brain is too exhausted. So exhausted, in fact, that I will now spam the rest of this post with silly memes as I share the NaNoWriMo Commandments.

50,000 words minimum writing

The NaNoWriMo Commandments

1. Thou shalt become a Plotter, not a Pantster. I know full well how fun it can be to fly by the seat of you pants and just write, write, write without bothering to plan. But if you attempt to do this during NaNoWriMo, you are almost guaranteed to fail. If you don’t have a notebook filled with character descriptions, plot outlines, and worldbuilding details, I have just one question: What are you thinking? You’ve only got four days left! Get thee to a search engine and lookup How to Plot a Novel. Having a plan is essential to success.

Glinda the Good Wtch Pantser or Plotter

2. Thou shalt carry a notebook at all times. Or a tablet. Or a laptop. Whatever tool you need to take notes or tack on a few paragraphs during the spare moments of your day. This is especally true for those of us who have a day job or children.

3. Thou shalt stay off social media! I will probably end up breaking this one. Twitter is irresistible, and sometimes my ceative mind needs to take a little break. But if it is late at night, and you’re scrolling though Facebook or Tumblr, and are still 800 words short of your daily word count quota, then it’s time to question your priorities.

Writing not Facebooking

4. Thou shalt have no other writing before your novel. Yes, this includes blogs. Also, poems, short stories, flash fiction, and anything else that saps your creative juices. For the entire month of November, you only get to write your novel. What does that mean for our blog readers? Well, hopefully they’re cool with reblogs, reposts, and blogs that contain little more than a meme or a music video, because that’s what they’re getting.

Plotting the story

5. Thou shalt prepare your workspace. A clean desk. Your favorite mug for coffee or tea. Maybe a nice room where you can lock your cats away for a couple of hours, since cats are notorious at taking over computer keyboards when writers are trying to write.

6. No editing your novel! I mean it. We novel writers know that our first draft is not a cake. It’s only the batter. Mix your ingredients well, but don’t let the rawness bother you. There will be plenty of time to bake it into something delicious after it’s complete. After NaNoWriMo.

Confused

That’s it. Your six commandments for a successful NaNoWriMo month. What? Did you thinking I was giving you ten commandments? Are you kidding? There are only four days left of Preptober. I have plotting to do! Tick, tick, tick…

Where’s the Story? (aka: A Flash Flood of Flash Fiction)

First, let me make one thing clear. Not all flashes are bad. Some flashes are even good, in fact. Flash drives, for instance, help us to protect our sensitive data. The Flash, I’ve been told, is a pretty fast superhero. And let’s not forget my favorite flash of all: Flash Beagle.

 

But some kinds of flashes earn a thumbs-down. These are brief, destructive flashes that appear, unwanted, leaving destruction in their wake. Flash floods. Hot flashes. Flashes of lightning. And now, the latest trend to takeover the blogosphere: Flash Fiction.

No, I am not a big fan of flash fiction.

What I am a fan of is fiction. Well-written fiction. Convincing fiction that has all of the requisite elements for a good story. An interesting beginning. Compelling characters. An actual plot, climax, resolution. And, of course, a satisfying ending.

Short stories can often accomplish this, if the writer is clever enough. I have read some wonderful short stories by authors great and small, who manage to weave a web of intrigue with a clear beginning, middle, and end in 5,000 words or less. But my personal preference is novels. Give me the thick, juicy, unabridged version of the story. Let me become absorbed in the story, swimming in the delicious stew of words and action. Let me escape to that other world, lose track of days as I drift through the pages. Let me fall in love with the characters as they grow, and learn, and change.

Just don’t give me flash fiction.

The premise of flash fiction is not new. Take a complete story. Now tell it in 1,000 words or less. Or try writing in Dribbles and Drabbles of less than 500 or less than 100 words. Shortest of all? Micro fiction, told in 6 word sentences. For example: Her expensive lingerie collected dust afterwards.

“Oh, how moving!” One blog reader may comment. “So thought-provoking!” Comments another. But I grit my teeth, frustrated. What is so thought-provoking? Why are we calling “stories” what we once called an opening line? Why have so many non-writers jumped on the flash fiction bandwagon, turning the world of blogging into one enormous slush pile?

Yes, flash fiction can serve as a way to strengthen one’s writing skills. And once in a blue moon, I come across some that features high quality writing. But most of the flash fiction, micro-fiction, and other Twitterature I have come across on the internet are junk. Sure, they sometimes have a stand-out character, or a beginning that makes me want to read a little more. But then…nothing. The story never builds. The characters never grow. There is a shadow of a plot, or a unique idea, but the writer, either due to laziness or lack of skill, doesn’t bother to develop it.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to pull on my Miss Snark high heels and walk all over these so-called stories. “Who is this character?” I would ask. “Why did she buy the expensive lingerie? What happened to make her stop wearing it?” In other words — WHERE’S THE STORY? Is this a kind of journal exercise? Am I supposed to take the idea and write my own damned story?

Forget it. I am so done. I shall go and stick my nose where it belongs — between the pages of a nice, long novel.

I can only hope that flash fiction blogging is nothing more than a flash in the pan.

Snags in the Plan (aka: Sew-Sew Sewing)

   Like most people, I have a list of things that I’m pretty good at, and a list of things that Im not. For example, I’m pretty good that cooking tasty, nutritious meals for my kids and me. I’m also good at writing, daily exercise, and spending long periods of time in my cave, in total silence, with zero social interaction.

However, I’m pretty bad at a few things, too. Human relationships, for one. Doing push-ups (unless you count “girl” push-ups). I also suck at remembering to put those reusable shopping bags in my car so that I can actually take them to the supermarket. And now, I shall have to add sewing to that list.

I know, I know. What?! You’re no good at sewing? You are a disgrace to former SAHM/homemakers everywhere! We are revoking your card.

Throughout the years, I have tried all sorts of handicrafts. After all, the ability to make things by hand traditionally defined the worthiness of a woman. Ok, so I couldn’t care less about that part. But handicrafts are also supposed to be a simple way to relax, with scientifically proven benefits of reducing stress and anxiety. I got really into scrapbooking and rubber stamping back when everyone was obsessed with throwing Scrapping parties and trading supplies at potlucks. I also really enjoyed quilting, and still occasionally make beaded jewelry. Those crafts were good, and fun. I can feel the stress and anxiety melting away as I slide tiny beads onto a string, or paste photos onto pretty patterned papers.

But sewing? Forget it.

This year, I fell in love with a Halloween costume. Even worse, it is a Halloween costume that is not being sold in stores anywhere. But the more I thought about it, the more obsessed I became. I simply had to wear it to the company Halloween costume party this year! No problem, I thought. They sell the pattern at my local fabric store. I can simply sew the costume.

I am now convinced that my sewing machine has magic powers. One of those is the power to induce amnesia in me whenever I store the machine away in the closet for a couple of years. I forget how things went the last time I attempted to sew. I forget about the snagged thread, the broken needles, and jammed bobbins. I forget about how the finished product often looks like a Kindergarten crayon drawing version of whatever I was trying to sew. This time was no exception. I dusted off the machine, added a little lubricating oil, and plunged right in, as optimistic as always.

A few minutes in, I realized that vinyl lettering is very, very hard to cut. A few minutes later, I realized that the fine print was telling me that I had to sew darts in the bodice. Huh? What are darts?

Two days, and several How to Sew Darts videos later, I learned that my machine hates to sew stretchy fabric. It tends to retaliate by snagging every ten seconds.

One day after that, I held up the bodice to my new costume, complete with darts, shiny vinyl lettering, and two sleeve openings, sewn shut. One hour later, and I was a bonafide expert in using a seam ripper.

There are still two weeks remaining before Halloween. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to start sewing the skirt by then. Maybe I can win a prize for “Most Effort.” Next year, please remind me to buy a costume at the store, like normal humans do.