Black and White Sunday: The Friendly Beach

The friendly beach

My brother and I took a side trip to Michigan to see the Warren Dunes where we vacationed once as kids.  I wasn’t inspired to return.  I’m sure it must have better days.  This was a bad beach day.  Click on widget to participate in Paula’s challenge.


Sunday Post: Nature

Is nature natural or just outside?  Are objects of nature found inside a building still considered nature?  Jake always makes me think!


The nature we have here in the California Central Valley is anything but natural in most places.

TC Winter covered peach tree r

The 600-mile long California Central Valley has been plowed and remodeled to grow every crop imaginable.

SFW TC Spring 2013078rOne of many valley crops, peach trees, deposed native oaks found in the Kaweah River Delta over one hundred fifty years ago.  For more agricultural facts click here.

TC Winter oak tree r

Between the Kaweah River Delta and Sierra Nevada mountains, alfalfa replaced nature’s native grasses.

alfalfa field r

Cows in the foothills still eat grass until it dries, but the variety differs from what grew here in the 1850s when Thomas Henry Davis brought some of the first cows from Mexico to Antelope Valley, near current-day Woodlake, CA.

SFW TC Spring cows 4

Evergreen orange trees first populated the Woodlake area in 1878, watered in part by the Watchumna Ditch, built in 1872.  Canals and ditches still carry life-giving water to arid fields.

Friant Kern Canal r

Last year the trees received enough water to stay healthy. This year farmers uprooted thousands of dead orange trees.

oranges Apr2013r

Since this area thrives because of irrigation, when water reserves and underground water tables drop, farmers rely on water transported from Northern California.  The Kaweah River constrained by the Terminus Dam receded this year to expose a bridge built in 1938, foundations of homes, and wells.

TC Drive to Kaweah Lake049r

Man-made changes have obviously mixed with nature to create California’s Central Valley “nature.”  President Obama arrives tomorrow in Fresno to assess the drought’s damage to the Central Valley’s agricultural nature.

For more facts about Tulare County click here.

For more interpretations on Nature, click here.


Introducing the Three Guinea Pigs

I’ve been working on this story for years.  Since I started the Australian Writer’s Centre class on picture books, I’ve rewritten it 5 times and gone from 1700 words to 686.  This is my 5th draft. See what you think.

BJ and Piggles

Three guinea pigs, Piggles, Tedlet and Buster, loved their human, Sandi.  Every day she fed them carrot curls and lettuce on a paper plate in the back lawn.  They chortled and squeaked gleefully when they heard her walk outside.

One day when she brought treats, a puppy, named Bud, lumbered out of the house.  After Sandi went inside, Bud raced around the corner of the house, ate their treats and went in the house.  The guineas ate grass near the bushes.

They hid under the bushes and squealed their high-pitched guinea pig squeal.   The grass around the bushes was getting brown. Sandi heard them and came out to check.  Their food had disappeared.

“You’re hungry, poor babies.  I’ll bring you more food.”

Sandi set a fresh plate of lettuce and carrot curls near the bushes.  Buster, Piggles and Tedlet began pulling the plate into the bushes.  Bud sneaked around the corner and grabbed the plate.

Three guinea pigs tugged against Bud.  The plate ripped.  Lettuce flew one way and the carrot curls flew another.  Bud ate the carrot curls.  Piggles ate one lettuce leaf.  Tedlet ate one lettuce leaf.  Buster ate three lettuce leaves.  Bud ate the rest of the lettuce after he finished the carrot curls, and went in the house.

The guineas ate the grass a little farther from the bushes.  They hid under the bushes and squealed their high-pitched guinea pig squeal.   Sandi heard them and came out to check.  The food had disappeared.  The grass farther from the bushes looked like Sandi had mowed it extra short.

“You’re hungry, poor babies.  I’ll bring you more food.”

Sandi set a fresh plate of lettuce and carrot curls near the bushes.  Bud appeared around the corner.

“Brrrr,” rumbled Piggles.

“Drrrrr,” rumbled Tedlet.

“CH CH CH CH,” chattered Buster rubbing his teeth together side to side.

Bud ignored them and ate their treats.  He rolled over and over in the grass, and fell asleep.

The guineas waddled over Bud.  They nibbled grass by his feet.  Bud didn’t wake.  They nibbled grass by his stomach.  Bud didn’t wake.  They nibbled grass by his nose.  Bud snorted, and rolled over.  The guineas hurried back to their bushes and hid.  Bud slept a long time, and awoke hot.  He wanted some water.

He tried to find his bowl.  It wasn’t on the porch, or the grass, or under the lawn chair.

Bud was thirsty after his nap.

“Rarrf,” said Bud at the door.

Sandi opened the door.

Your tongue is hanging out, Bud.  Where’s your water bowl?”

“Rarrf,” said Bud.

“Let’s look.”

Sandi looked on the patio.  The bowl was gone.

She looked in the grass.  She found an outline of Bud.

“This is odd.  How did this outline of you get on the grass, Bud?”

“Grrrr,” said Bud.  He walked over to the bushes.

Sandi walked to the bushes, too.   Bud stuck his nose under the bushes.

“Brrrr,” rumbled Piggles.

“Drrrrr,” rumbled Tedlet.

“CH CH CH CH,” chattered Buster rubbing his teeth together side to side, and bit Bud on the nose.

“Raaaaaaaaarf!  Raaaaaaaarf!” cried Bud.

Sandi laughed, gathering Bud’s upside down bowl from under the bushes.

“Buster, did you take Bud’s bowl?  Piggles, did you guineas eat the grass around Bud?

“Brrrr,” rumbled Piggles.

“Drrrrr,” rumbled Tedlet.

“CH CH CH CH,” chattered Buster rubbing his teeth together side to side.

“I think I see the problem,” said Sandi.

Sandi fixed more lettuce and carrot curls and put them in Bud’s water bowl.  She set the bowl in the grass near the bushes.  Bud came out to eat the lettuce, but Sandi sat down on the big lawn chair.

“No Bud.”

Bud whined.

Sandi turned Bud’s bowl upside down. Lettuce and carrots dropped on the paper plate.  She filled Bud’s bowl with fresh water.

Bud drank the water, and then licked Sandi’s hand.  The guineas purred as they ate their treats.

“Apologize to the guineas, Bud.”

Bud licked each guinea pig on the head, and lay down beside them to watch them eat.  The three guineas kept eating.  They didn’t hide in the bushes.

header flower & piggles

Weekly Photo Challenge: Juxtaposition

Juxtapositions, what a great word for a challenge.  Even greater to find pictures that fit the bill.  I went back to a trip to Solvang, CA.  Going through the outdoor corridors provided juxtaposition enough if you look at the Danish building across the street from the shaded corridor.  I added to the effect using Photoshop to place the entire corridor from where I was standing looking both directions.


I love framing shots.  A good frame makes everything look more interesting to me.  Using a close up camera lens was my favorite shot, but the wide-angle revealed more juxtaposition of old and new.


While we were there, I came across a beautiful quilt shop.  the quilts hung side by side, but one quilt was a particularly good example of juxtaposition of images.


Solvang, CA is a beautiful area to visit in the spring, fall and winter.  By summer the temperatures soar into the 100s, and I can barely walk around.  According to my real estate sales person husband, Vince, there are currently ninety-six homes available in Solvang.  Many of these are trailers starting at $59,000.  Oh no, he found a house he liked for only $299,000.  Fortunately for our pocketbook, neither of us bought the objects of our affections.   What do you like to shop for, but rarely purchase?


This last picture I chose for the wires.  The windmill created energy long ago, yet we still have to have wires to deliver it.  The sun is the juxtaposition in the second picture.  I just happened to notice that wires ran through this tree as well, so I tried lining up the wires for a different effect.  Ok, forget the lining up!  It’s the idea that counts.

I hope you like my juxtapositions.  Click here for more examples.

By the way – WATCH OUT for careless quilters!  This weekend we stayed in a hotel full of quilters.  About ten of them ambled across the street after the light going against them turned green.  I stopped to let them all cross, but the car coming over the hill behind me did not know why I stopped.  By the time he did, he had just enough time to jackknife his car and screech to a stop before hitting my car.  I feel grateful to be alive today, and even more grateful that I didn’t end up killing any careless quilters.




How to Recognize a Great Museum

When I was a kid, it seemed like museums stored old stuff that only grandparents recognized.  Now museums come in all shapes and sizes in every community.  Representing agricultural Tulare County a gigantic steel barn in Mooney Park houses everything from large equipment to a farm worker’s cabin from Linnell Camp.  Of all the museums I’ve dragged Vince to see, Bishop Museum was his favorite – ever.

It doesn't look like much from the street, but I'm from Indianapolis.  I was sold.
It doesn’t look like much from the street, but I’m from Indianapolis. I was sold.

What made Vince choose Bishop Museum as the best of the world?

Bishop Museum 118

The layout of the grounds and the architectural structures took our breath away.  It didn’t hurt that they were in Oahu.

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Lots of exhibits alone don’t make the museum enjoyable, but a museum needs many exhibits, and some changes so that local folks don’t get bored.

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The exhibits grabbed you and pulled you in.  The more you looked, and read, the harder it got to move on.

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Variety of exhibits gives each person in the family something to remember.  I apologize for the blurriness of some of the photos, but I still wanted to share them.   Believe it or not my astigmatism has been mostly corrected.  🙂

Imagine wearing a cape of feathers.
Imagine wearing a cape of feathers.

You knew you couldn’t see it all in one visit, and maybe ever.

Only one of the buildings held more than we could see in one day.
Only one of the buildings held more than we could see in one day.

At the end of the visit, you needed a nap to rest your eyes and brain.

Bishop Museum 199

The Bishop Museum had so many more excellent qualities, you would need a break after reading this if I listed them.  What is your favorite museum ever, and why?

How to Do a Short, Quick Post

Readers like short posts.  I’m going to time myself.  It usually takes 2 hours at a minimum to do a post.  It’s 10:07.


  1. Bulk process pictures as you take them.  I label them SFW to distinguish them from others.  They are saved at #3 Quality in Photoshop so they don’t take long to load.
  2. Don’t use too many pictures, or use captions and put them in a gallery.  I like the slide show the best.  The pictures are a nice size.
  3. Write about the picture.  PG like to help cook.  Sometimes I drop things on the floor.
  4. Don’t over think it.  (Good advice, Marsha, now just take it!)
  5. Add tags and categories
  6. Add a poll to see if your readers like your post.  Most of them will write comments instead, but at least you are offering an easy way for people to interact.
  7. Tell your readers they are important.  They are!  I adore my readers, so many have become really good friends.  Those close friends who read my blog at home make me feel even closer to them.

It’s 10:20, and I’m going to press publish.  If it doesn’t like my grammar, it will take me a little longer, but this is a record fast post for me.  How do you think I did?


Book Review: Off the Leash by Rupert Fawcett

Hi everyone,

Manny here, again.  Mom’s still busy.

Manny at home

Mom asked me to write a book report for you today on the book Off the Leash:  The Secret Life of Dogs by Rupert Fawcett.  First of all I have to say thanks to Ute because she sent us this book for Christmas.   I have never seen Mom and Dad laugh so hard in my life.  Here is why they were laughing.  It’s a comic book.  Yeah, my parents read comic books.

Manny reads to friends

My favorite page is p. 26.  This page is so Kalev.  I watch her do this every day.   She lies on the couch on her blue blanket where she is supposed to be.  Then she nuzzles her nose under whatever Mom or Dad is holding.  The next thing you know she is sitting on their lap.

My friends and I loved this book because it was so funny, and it was about dogs.  I love dogs, even Kalev.  She thought Roo was a toy when we were sitting on the floor.  Mom had to take Roo away from her and put all of us up here on the mantle.  This is where we live.  When Mom took Roo away, Kalev actually came after me, and messed up my Hawaiian necklace.  I was scared for just a minute, but Kalev knows better than to mess with me.  I won’t tell you what I did.

Anyway, this is an awesome book.  It makes a great gift for a friend like Mom and Dad and me, and it would probably make a great gift for your friends who like dogs.  Click here to see other books by Rupert Fawcett.

Please respond to my survey below.

One more thing I have to ask you.  I’ve been thinking about doing a blog just like Justin Beaver does.  You are all grown ups, and Mom is a grown up (most of the time).  Would you read my blog?  Would you follow it?  I’ll put another survey up.

Manny relaxing at home

Thanks everyone.

Here is the link to my new blog.  Invite your kids to read and comment on it, too!  🙂

Manny Here

Dear Friends,

I am writing for Mom this morning cause she has her nose in her book all the time.

TC at work2

I’ve been making some resolutions as I sit here on my travel blanket and have all my gear around me.

Manny studies his options

  1. I want to go somewhere else.  Mom wants me to write my own blog, but that’s her resolution.  Do your parents make resolutions for you?
  2. I am going to resolve not to get so mad at her for making resolutions for me.  After all she did send me all over the world with her friends.  I can’t complain or you will all revolt instead of resolve.
  3. I’m going to have more fun in 2014 without landing on my face doing it!

M & J in Frankfurt

What are your resolutions for 2014?

M & J landed

P.S. This was Justin and I in Frankfurt.  It was a blast!  I love Mom for letting me go.  Thanks Carol and Glenn, and of course, my friend, Justin.  🙂

Travel Highlights of 2013

This was my first full year of retirement.  All my life I dreamed of traveling when I retired, and certainly God granted my every wish.   When I didn’t get travel, Manny did, so I have many wonderful pictures and memories for 2013.

Manny in Wuerzburg

On January 5th Manny and I headed south in my little green Prius that has 192,000 miles on it to San Diego where we met the History Girls.  We met Russel Ray, the San Salvador, and the bronze lady.  We faced peril in the Railroad Museum, and had to keep Manny under control in the Botanical Gardens.

Manny on San Salvador
Manny is climbing on the San Salvador as it is being built.

Later in January I attended a committee meeting in Berkeley and had time to walk around the neighborhood and take pictures.

Manny walking the streets of Berkeley

I went to Los Angeles to visit my friend Elane in February and so some shopping and serious eating.  I probably visited my dentist, Dr. Moy, as well.

Brian's classroom

In March California Council for the Social Studies (CCSS) held its annual conference, Social Studies on the March in Burlingame in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Marches in Birmingham.  SFW 2013 Folklorico Dancers 036

The next week the History Girls and I celebrated our friendship in Costa Mesa attending the play “Wicked,” which I had wanted to see forever.

getting made up
We all had to wear green make-up.

April is the month for the Executive Conference for CCSS.  As the President, I got to pick the place, and Vince prepared our house to host it here.  However, that didn’t work out for too many people, so we it moved to Los Angeles to the location where our conference will be held in 2014 at the Sheraton.

LA Sheraton

By May our neighbors wondered if I still lived here.  I visited my friend Elane again in Los Angeles.

Brian's classroom

My friend Jean and I went to San Francisco to celebrate her birthday for a couple of days and did walking tours.

Hotel Beresford

Towards the end of the month Vince and I took Cindy and Manny to Kauai, HI for her birthday.  The dogs watched our homes, and Kay and Mike East watched them.

SFW Luau Grounds071

We arrive home from Hawaii on June 3, and believe it or not, we stayed home until September 11, and rested up for the remainder of the year which made us dizzy.

Manny and Danny 3

Since we stayed home, we sent Manny to visit Ralph in July.

Manny going to airport

In August he left Ralph’s home in Spain, and traveled to London with Ute.

Manny at Buck palace

From September through November he went with Carol and Glenn to Cologne, Bruges, Brussels, Frankfurt, Tasmania, Toowoomba, Waterloo, and Wuerzburg.  I’ll be doing lots of posts about these trips during the year.  I just need to learn a little bit more about them, and Manny is being rather tight-lipped about the events of the trip!  Carol tells me they have some secrets they’re not telling me.  🙂

Manny in Toowoomba

Then he flew home with their daughter Melissa, who was going to Florida.  She sent him home from there.  His bags arrived in December from Australia.  He had fun showing us all his stuff.

Manny and stuff
Kalev thought Roo was for her. We caught her playing with him when we weren’t looking. She never plays with stuffed animals, but she loves Roo. We had to move him. 🙂

By September Vince and I contracted the travel bug, and went to Oregon to pick up the best Ebay bargain trailer on the market in Southern Oregon.  We turned it into our accidental vacation when our truck broke down in Klamath, CA.

Klamath Canon288

Manny was still on the road, so he missed my next trip.  A week after Vince and I got back from our first trailer trip, I took a train from Sacramento to Portland, Oregon to attend the Oregon Council for the Social Studies annual conference, and to meet my brother.

2013 OCSS Conference321

After the conference my brother took the train ride of our lives going first to Chicago, then to South Bend and Indianapolis, IN for a week.

Randy and Marsha's elementary school.
Randy and Marsha’s elementary school.

After a short jaunt to Louisville, KY, I headed home on a plane to CA, and my brother took the long way home by train back to Portland.

Louisville Sluggers

Almost immediately I had to go to a dental appointment, and stayed in Santa Monica, an took the opportunity to visit our President-Elect, Amanda.

SFW Santa Monica155r

No sooner than I got home than my house-bound husband wanted to take a trailer trip to the coast for two weeks.  We stayed a week, then he went home for some appointments. I stayed in Avila by myself to write my contribution to 2013 NaNoWriMo, Girls on Fire.  A few days later he drove back and picked the trailer and me up and carried us back home.

SFW SLO Beach 2013104

Less than two weeks after that, I flew St. Louis, MO to the 2013 National Council for the Social Studies Conference.

The Mississippi in Missouri
The Mississippi in Missouri

Manny and I arrived home about the same day, him from Australia via Florida and me from MO.  It was my husband’s birthday, and one week later the three of us got back on a plane heading for Honolulu, HI, where we spent a week in Waikiki.

Bishop Museum 122r

We have been home eighteen days, and today we took a day trip to the coast to celebrate our friend, Margaret’s birthday, but I think we are going to stay home for a while now.

birthday cake with S & M

At least until morning.  🙂

I’d love to hear about your highlights from the year?








Poppe, the Hypnotic Clown of Bruges

by Manny Ingrao

I am NOT afraid of clowns, but look into his eyes.  Scary, huh?

Manny and Clown

I was really brave when this clown asked for volunteers.  Justin didn’t want to come up with me, but I told him it would look silly on his website if he didn’t.  So he came up, too.  Justin is pretty cool.

Manny Justin and clown

I did not do stupid stuff, no matter what Justin or anyone else in Bruges says. I don’t think so.  I have a good memory.  I would remember something stupid.  All I remember is that Poppe’s act was boring, and I got sleepy.  I think the clown has chicken feet. It looks like they are going to fall off.

Manny_Justin_clown show

All of the sudden I want some French fries.

Manny wants fries2

A Flurry of Book Reviews

When I have too much to do, I do more so that nothing gets done perfectly.  In November I chose to write 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.  I completed the basic novel, but that drove me to read for the purpose of looking at plot, dialogue, description, and general organization of novels.  In December quest for improving my novel, so far I have read 5 novels, 2 on Kindle and 3 in paperback.  I clocked over 20 hours of plane time, not counting waiting in airports over the last three weeks, and when I couldn’t use my phone, I had a paperback to tide me over.  On my phone, I just finished By Reason of Insanity by Randy Singer, and The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler.  In paperback, I read Twilight by Sherryl Woods, The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, and James Patterson’s Kill Me if You Can.  As an aside, if you buy a book in the Sacramento airport, you can return it and get 50% off the purchase price.  This works well if your plane doesn’t return at 10:35 p.m. and the bookstore open, and you’re not in a hurry to get to the hotel anyway.  I’ll give it to a friend.

The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy began with an unexpected death by natural causes of a leader in the local political system.  Though I read this one first, and it is one of the longest at 502 pages, it might be the most memorable.  Dowling separated dialogue with miles of description. …”they had a clear view of the dark skeleton of the ruined abbey that dominated the town’s skyline… (4)”  Right away you have a clue that this the setting will be in England, and the political system is church oriented.  The plot is intricate, and character development intense and intertwined.  Adults have their dramas, but their children’s interactions and deceptions are what drive the story to a dramatic finish.  Sex and bad language, graphic in places, wouldn’t necessarily be classified as erotic. This was the only 3 star book that I read, but it had 4,347 reviewers.  The sheer numbers of reviewers tell me that it deserves many more stars than it received.  The descriptions deserve hours of copious note taking to usurp her unique wording and turn them into clichés.


Twilight like The Casual Vacancy started out with a death, but this one was the murder of a pastor who worked with inner city children in Chicago.  The widows in both novels did not appreciate the charity work that their husbands did for impoverished, street kids, and had church members who did everything but demonstrate the love of Christ.  Both widows had been devoted to their husbands, but immediately had suitors. In Twilight, dialogue drove the story more than description. The sex in Twilight, while less graphic than Dowling’s novel, stimulated the reader’s romantic imagination.   To me it was a little unbelievable, and less of a model for my writing.  Nonetheless it was a New York Times Best Seller, so people clearly liked it.  Only 13 people have reviewed this 4 star book on Amazon, so here’s my chance!


Kill Me If You Can by James Patterson and Marshall Karp was strictly a mystery with fast action on every page.  Indicative of the rapid pace, the book had 104 chapters, one for every change of conversation, and conversation guided this book as well as Twilight.  The minimal description moved briskly in short, choppy sentences.  “The talking was a big mistake.  Those extra few seconds were what I needed.  I pushed Katherine to the floor and flung the medical bag at Marta.”

The main character is a likable assassin with a conscience reminiscent of Jason Bourne, but with the twist that the reader doesn’t know who the “ghost” killer is right away. The romance in this book is cut and dried, in and out, probably erotic from a man’s perspective, but does nothing for a female reader.  This book is also a #1 best-selling author, and according to the clerk in the Honolulu airport, it was their best-selling book.  Two hundred ninety-eight reviewers on Amazon gave it a 4 star rating, too.  Mind Candy


A page turner on my iPhone, By Reason of Insanity, was more of a John Grisham type novel with 110 action-packed chapters and 382 pages.  No sex, but hints of electricity dotted this murder mystery.  Lots of people died, and some were presumed dead who didn’t die.  While this reader didn’t suspect the suspect, I had no clue who the real killer was.  Usually I guess wrong when I try to figure out mysteries, and this time was no different.  I can’t even figure out the mystery when I’m writing it.  The creep I thought did the deed, turned out to be the one who saved the day, but you may get it all wrong, too, and so I may have just told the end of the story.  The descriptions were not as outstanding as J.K.’s but they kept the reader interested.  “There are a million guys who would swallow broken glass just for a chance to take you out.”  I might be moved if a guy said that to me, but it didn’t trigger any romantic feelings in me as a reader. Since this was an e-reader, I have no idea how high it was on the book selling list, but along with 143 Amazon reviewers who rated it a 4 star novel, I enjoyed Insanity more that both Twilight and Kill Me If You Can, and, like millions of other readers, and I enjoyed them.

Accidental Tourist

Finally, the e-reader that I read because I borrowed its title, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler was probably my favorite because it was so funny.  Like all the other books except Rowling’s it had 343 pages, but only twenty chapters, 120 reviews and 4 stars.  The reader meandered through laughable drivel in this book to discover the plot hidden among the hilarious conversations and descriptions.

“Maybe you should put on your glasses.”

“Putting on my glasses would help you to see?” …

“Did you see the boy with the motor cycle?

“What boy?”

“He was parked beneath the underpass.”

It’s crazy to ride a motorcycle on a day like today.”

Their conversations don’t flow with each other, typical of many real conversations.  The protagonist inserts many of his own thoughts which are just as inane as his conversations with others.

The descriptions are as compelling, in my opinion.

“The car drew in around them like a room.  … Earlier the air conditioner had been running and now some artificial chill remained, quickly turning dank, carrying with it the smell of mildew.”

I have definitely smelled that in my car, haven’t you?  I would love to just clone this book, and publish it under my name, and I’d be done, but now I have to go back and polish mine, and try to make it as readable as Anne Tyler made hers.

I’ve had an enjoyable month of reading.  Unlike most of my reviews, I didn’t even consider Common Core Standards when I read the books.  These were all strictly for enjoyment and a little bit of studying the art of writing a novel.  I hope you will enjoy some of these novels as well.

Project Finished: Girls On Fire by Marsha Lee

I want to thank you for your support and encouragement as I have been writing this fun book.  There’s even a little bit of steam left in these gals yet!

Girls on Fire3sm


Over the years these friends have been church friends, traveled together, and shared their family problems together. All three women, now unattached and in their sixties, approach single life differently. Each of them is lonely, but needs to work out their own solution to their man problem no matter where that takes them. One has always been single, and seems to be comfortable with that. One uses every means possible to enjoy an active dating life. The third woman battles shyness again for the first time since second grade now that her childhood sweetheart, who became her husband, is gone. Different family problems become part of the difficulties of starting over with new love and companionship. Moral dilemmas seem more difficult now than they did when they were in their 20s. In addition to everything else, their 60-year-old bodies need a bit more oil and loving care than they did during their last dating episodes. None of the women have any idea that finding the men they seek might endanger their 30-year-old friendship.

What do you think?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

How fortunate for me that the WP Photo Challenge is so unexpected.  I didn’t expect to have Monday alone in St. Louis, but most of my friends left on Sunday, so I had unexpected found time to explore on my own.  I like to go the seamy, trashy underbellies of a city when left to my own devices.  I know – that’s unexpected.  I was downtown with no car, and wanted to find the local river, you know the Mississippi.

It’s not a particularly well-known river in these parts.  That’s because it’s so hard to find.  That was unexpected.  There were no signs pointing the way, no tours advertised in the hotel lobby.  I had to ask a passerby how to get to the river front.

By the way, St. Louis is not the only place with strange statues, but you tell me, is she a bit odd?

Most cities flaunt their river fronts with chic shops and restaurants.  Some places combine the two like good book stores where you can browse among thousands of books, choose something, and sip a cup of coffee in between moments of distracted staring out the window at the beautiful river.

I found myself unexpectedly going in circles trying to find the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
I found myself unexpectedly going in circles trying to find the Mississippi River in St. Louis.

The first person directed me in the general direction towards the river.  I finally got close enough to catch a glimpse of his idea of, “Go straight down this street and you can’t miss it.”  Finally, I caught my first glimpse of the great Mississippi.  Can you find it?

I worried that the parking lot attendant would demand money from me for walking through his lot.
I worried that the parking lot attendant would demand money from me for walking through his lot.

Do detour signs make you dismal?  When you motor in unfamiliar cities, confident that your GPS or map skills would direct you to your destination, have you ever found that the recommended street was unexpectedly closed for construction?  Fortunately I was on foot because there were plastic construction fences everywhere. The closer I got, the more nervous I became that here would be no hole in the fence, and I would have to recalculate, make a u-turn, and find an alternate route – again!

Downtown foot traffic was light on Monday.  You should have seen it after the Rams v the Bears game on Sunday.
Downtown foot traffic was light on Monday. You should have seen it after the Rams v the Bears game on Sunday.  I was relieved to get closer and see that there was an exit.

Fortunately I saw one other person walking my way, so I knew he had come from the other side of the red barrier somewhere.  Once I squeezed past the plastic rope barricade I reached the chic restaurants and bars.  I don’t know who else could, though.  Streets in Atlanta proved hazardous to me and to Cheryl, a friend of mine, four years ago at NCSS, but those streets and sidewalks were silk roads compared to these.

Mind the street.  Spiky heels are not recommended.
Mind the street. Spiky heels are not recommended.

Have you ever driven through an unfamiliar town at night and it seemed that someone had hijacked all the street signs so that GPS, iPhones, and traditional maps were useless?  Now I know where they put those signs.

At night they must light these up and flash a hologram into the sky so drivers can see them.
At night they must light these up and flash a hologram into the sky so drivers can see them.

This must be very helpful when you walk with your handsome date in your platform heels down a dark street to go to a bar with a great dance floor.  Keep in mind that the sidewalk, though a little wavy, might have been walkable, but if you unexpectedly veered into the street, the least bit tipsy, you would probably not make it home with all your bones attached.

SFW 2013 Streets of STL114

It was so cold that your feet might have slipped on the icy bricks.  By morning only slush remained seeping between the cracks.

The reflections were good, but I missed seeing what hours they opened.  I think you went to the website to warn them you were coming before they sent someone to open the door.
The reflections were good, but I missed seeing what hours they opened. They didn’t expect visitors.  I think if you wanted to visit, you needed to go to the website to warn them you were coming so they could someone to open the door.

I wondered how any of the business in this area stayed afloat, even when there were no flood waters.  I unexpectedly encountered the famous St. Louis Wax Museum.  It looked particularly inviting with professional signs admonishing me to carry cash if I wanted to see their evil, life-like monsters.

I took a picture of their faces in case I needed to report them to the police.
I took a picture of their faces in case I needed to report them to the police.  It was unexpected to feel so molested in the middle of the morning.

There was some traffic in front of one restaurant.  Their tables remained outside for anyone who wanted to enjoy the stiff breezes taking the temperature down to about 12 degrees.  The traffic ambled along as it ate up the street.

The other street traffic jogged up to the vehicle and walked along beside it for a ways.
The other pedestrian, a construction worker, jogged up to the vehicle and walked along beside it for a ways – a real SMV.

I finally go to the river’s edge.  It lapped peacefully at the shore as though it might have been the beautiful McKenzie River in Oregon.  With the exception of my visit that morning, no one else visited that I saw.  One truck looked like it wanted to commit suicide.  I took several pictures to see if it actually completed the act, but it must have waited for me to leave before rolling to its demise.

See the truck thinking about jumping in?
See the truck thinking about jumping in?

I snapped a few pictures of the bricky bank and the boats navigating the murky waters, then headed back to catch my shuttle to the airport, satisfied that I had seen the unexpected seaminess of St. Louis.  Here are a few more pictures of the beautiful Mississippi to upload to your memory before I go.

What are some of your unexpected experiences in strange cities?  Click here for more of the unexpected.


Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Two

Many things come in twos.  I find it hard to be original here.  I’m using two hands to type these words, two ears to hear the dishwasher churn away, and two legs waiting to carry me on a walk with Sally at 3:00.  So I looked in my photo collection to find pictures of two.  You guessed it – there wasn’t much to choose from.  Here are a few.

2 Dogs

This pair of opposites posed at a craft fair in Palm Springs with their owners.

2 windows

For these two windows life is a bed of roses looking out at the picturesque town of Solvang.

2 birds

These two fellows fought for prime real estate on Santa Monica Pier.

two rows of fruits

Seattle, Washington’s Pike Place Market merchants added brightness to the gray November weather at last year’s NCSS Conference.

For more ideas see Cee.


Improve Your Novel With Physical Exercise

It takes me about 2 hours to write a chapter which averages 1,300 unedited words per chapter so far.  For two hours I barely move a muscle except my fingers, which are flying.  In Avila I had a routine of answering emails for 2 hours in the morning, walking for 3 hours or about 8-9 miles, then writing two chapters in the afternoon and evening with just a little walking in between the two.  I didn’t do any strenuous exercising.

About 2 months ago I hired a personal trainer, S.M.A.R.T Fitness, in Visalia, CA to help me get in shape in lose weight.  They are not paying me to advertise for them, but what a great experience it has been!  I go three days a week at around 10:00 each morning, so I have been able to keep my routine of answering emails and comments in the morning and taking care of CCSS business before I go out.

stairstepper elyptical

I arrive around 10:00 and get on one of the cardio machines.  I like to start with the  elliptical machine for 10 minutes.  By the time I finish, I look pretty much unacceptable to go anywhere but home.  If my hair had been combed to start, it’s wet and curly by the time I’ve done 10 minutes.  Then I finish the half hour “warm”-up – really that’s a “burning hot”-up on a stationary bike.  That machine has a fan on it.

After I’m exhausted already, Dan or Eddie is ready for me, and they are the most wonderful trainers I’ve ever had.  Don’t tell them that.  I tell them both that they are mean, and they are.  What is wonderful is that they customize the workout to what I need, but didn’t know it.  Yesterday Dan had me doing push-ups.  I can’t do push-ups.  I couldn’t do them when I was 15, and I still can’t.  Can’t is not in their vocabulary, so they cheat.  Dan wrapped a belt around my middle.  I put my hands on a big tire, stretched my legs behind me and spread them for balance.  The first time I lowered myself about an inch toward the tire, and he had to pull me up with the strap.  After about 4 puny starts, I started trusting him to be able to pull me up so I wouldn’t fall flat on my face when I went down.  I went all the way down to the tire.  He still had to pull me up, in fact we had to stop and put on a wider strap because the narrow one dug so hard into my belly, but I actually got down by myself.  Of course, he told me that I did it.  I know he cheats, but it’s ok.

push ups on a big tire.

Eddie worked on stretching my legs one day.  I thought I was going to die.  Really.  My legs don’t stretch.  I can put them up at a 90 degree angle with great pain.  He rested my heel on his shoulder, cupped just above my knee to keep it straight, and gently pushed my leg forward until I yelled 8/10 on the pain scale.  What I meant was 11, but ok, I settled at 8, and he held it there for about 2 minutes, I think.  I couldn’t breathe it hurt so badly, but pretty soon, I was breathing deeply in and out, and I could feel my leg becoming more comfortable until the main level was 0.  Then he moved my heel, just slightly and the pain came back, but it was bearable.  He did some more horrible things to my legs before letting me up, but amazingly, the next day I wasn’t even sore.  That was a couple of weeks ago.  The next time he did it, he could actually move my legs much farther, and much easier without so much pain.

picture this with a whole lot more pain, and 90 degrees not 45.
Picture this with a whole lot more pain, and 90 degrees not 45.

In the month or so I’ve gone there irregularly I’ve lost 5 pounds, and I feel great.  I know that the great amount of sitting that I’m doing isn’t quite as harmful as it would be if I weren’t exercising.  I no longer have sciatica nerve problems like Steinbeck had because he wrote so many hours a day.  I get out with people, sometimes seeing people I know.  I’ve made new friends and been inspired by what they are doing with their bodies.  For many it is almost like physical therapy.

After an hour of torture with Dan and Eddie, I limp drive home, have lunch, and settle in our little trailer to write for two hours.  I go to that place because it was so successful while I was in Avila.  It is quiet.  I take my cell phone, but not my home phone, and Puppy Girl and I go out and sit for 2 hours.  She either sits behind my back, beside me, or puts herself to bed.

Pg puts herself to bed

After about 2 hours of writing, then we go for a 2 or three-mile walk to loosen up again.  I haven’t been able to write two chapters a day while I’ve been home, but that’s ok because I got such a great head start while I was in Avila.  My characters are coming along meeting all kinds of challenges.  It’s a fluffy chick flick kind of romantic book since I am going to get it done in one month, but I’m loving it.  Two of the three women are now in love, and there have been some romantic love scenes, even.  By romantic I mean mostly dialogue, in which the guys say all the right things (of course-it’s a chick flick not a guy flick).  I’m not too graphic, so you all will have to use your imaginations.  I even think my mother would have enjoyed it.  That’s a little bit of understatement sarcasm.  My mom lived on romantic novels.  I had so many of them when she died, I didn’t know what to do with them.  They have no economic value, trust me.  But I digress from the value of exercise on improving your novel-writing.

Exercising gives me time to talk about my book with others and see what they think of it, or imagine the next scenario.  Today I recited the plot to my friend Sally as we walked several miles.  That was fun, and we both walked a little longer because it took a while to tell the story.  I saw my friend Bev, who I hadn’t seen in years, at the gym, and told her that the story is partially set in her condo at the coast.  That was fun.  Dan, my trainer, didn’t even know I was writing a book, so I had a chance to casually market it even before it’s written.  Not that Dan is EVER going to read a chick flick romantic kind of book, but it surprised him that I was writing something.  It’s always nice to surprise your trainer.  They are always surprising you with some new torture.  Uuuuuuuggggggg!  GRUNT REAL LOUD – It makes the trainers take it easier on you because they think you’re at your limit.  I cheat too!  hehehe

My conclusion is that exercise is essential to writing.  People tell you stories that you might end up using in your story or in another story, and you feel better and stronger.  You have a chance to interact with folks, and tell them what you are doing, and so far people have been surprisingly interested, and it’s just a chick flick.  Just think if I was writing an amazing historical fiction!  Maybe next time!  🙂 5-6-7-8, just two more.  Give me one more.  Oooh, I’m SO SORE!  (But my fingers are unscathed and happy!)  🙂

You can go to their Facebook page and see all kinds of videos.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

Layers conjures all kinds of images for me.  As a gal from the Midwest, I learned to dress in layers, but layers envelops us at even more basic levels than that.  These pictures all came from our Accidental Vacation to the Oregon Coast then down the northern California Coast.

For example, here is an example of the air we breathe.  When we can see it, we can tell it comes in layers.  The more layers you see, the less you see what’s behind the layers. In this case, a hillside obscured by layers.

Klamath River in Klamath, California

Trees grow layer after layer, year after year.  When we harvest the tree, we shave layers off it to shape it into a form that pleases us.  Then we add layers of protective coating to it so that it stays beautiful forever.  If we add too many layers of even clear varnish, we lose the beauty, and it can chip as it becomes brittle.

Oregon Trip 201320130913_0090r
Myrtle Wood Factory next to the Oregon Dunes KOA north of Coos Bay, OR.

This next picture has so many layers that it distorts the picture.  Layers do distort.  This next picture has so many layers that I can’t even count them all.  Maybe you can.

Oregon Trip 201320130913_0099r
A window display in Florence, Oregon

How many layers did you count, and what were they?

To see more wonderful layers, click here.


Which Is More Important Plot or Character?

Today is Nov. 14, almost halfway through the month, and I have written 32, 398 words to date, so I should be more than half-way through the novel.  Writing my first novel for NaNoWriMo doesn’t make me an expert writer, but I am learning along the way.  So I wanted to share some of my thinking as I am going through this project.

SFW misc Benches 2

Did I give away my answer as to which is most important in my book?  To be honest, when I started I thought characters were more important to the story.  Without characters, it’s hard to have a plot.  I had to decide whether they were young or old, male or female before I could decide what they would do.  In this situation, I went with what I know best because I only have a month, and that isn’t enough time to do any extensive research.

After I determined three main characters, I still didn’t have a clear picture of what I thought my characters would do.  They were single women in their sixties, but I didn’t want to write a murder mystery like Murder She Wrote.  I chose romance, which, of course, I read – lots.

2013 BOV Quilt Show113cr

I googled plots, and came up with one blog that was especially helpful to outline your plot.  I cut and pasted this outline into my Character/Plot page, and I refer to it frequently as I write.  I edit things in and out as the characters change their own lives.  The blogger’s words are italicized.  I coded my characters using different headings so you can tell who is who.  There is a different plot for the three characters, so it was essential for me to keep them separate and develop a plot for each of them.

Act One: First 25%

0-10% – Stage One: The Setup: The protagonist is fully in his identity. He isn’t trying to change his life yet, even if he feels something is wrong. Often he doesn’t yet realize something is wrong. Then along comes an…

This was helpful to me because I realized that the person couldn’t be too self-aware, even at age 60+.  They might know they have a problem, but they don’t think of it as a handicap.  Or maybe they know it’s a handicap, but their real handicap is something else that they consider a source of pride in their character.

Here is how I started using this plot template.  The three characters, friends for 30 years from a small church that closed 10 years ago, have gone different directions, yet remain close friends.

Ann, a 65-year-old widow, whose long-time husband died of cancer is not looking for love.  She is shy, and doesn’t want to make the first move.  She also has a spoiled son, and  this may cause her some problems as well when it comes to having a relationship with “possible new Guy”.  Her religious beliefs and her cultural norms are tied together, and she believes in the aggressive man and submissive woman to a fault.

Trixie , 61, is gun-shy about men after three near marriages ended before they began.  She’s friendly, retired and has a full life with part-time work and community responsibilities.  She doesn’t have a clue to her character flaw that might have caused three marriages not to happen, and whether or not she can even find someone to love.

Sarah, 63, a widow whose handsome husband was killed in an accident, runs from facing the fact that she will eventually have to slow down. Very popular with men, she dates constantly on and offline.  She works full-time, and gives her time to everyone who needs it especially her twin girls and their children. She is getting more and more tired.   She lives on sodas and sweets, and a few diet pills from time to time.  She tries to turn life into a joke and make light of everything that happens to her.  It isn’t working, but she doesn’t realize it until disaster strikes.

10% Mark – Turning Point One: Opportunity: Something happens that provides an opportunity for the protagonist to act, and this will lead him to what will ultimately make him happy and complete. This opportunity leads to a…

Ann needs a new computer and she sees a man she had met at a dance.  He works part-time at the big box store, and is a pastor and of which church.  He is also very shy.  So now they both have the means to contact each other in the future.

Trixie falls in love on her own, and is obsessed with a charming, handsome man 3 years her junior. She can think of nothing or no one else, but he is not attentive, and lives about 250 miles away from her.


10-25% – Stage Two: New Situation: The protagonist gets a glimpse of what life would be life if he took the opportunity and acted. Things are changing for him, and it’s all very new and exciting, yet also scary. This leads to…

Between each of these descriptors I started to outline what I thought would happen to the characters.  I sometimes go back and change these as the story develops based on what the characters do as they interact with each other through their dialogue.  But at least I have a vague idea of how the story is going to develop.

25% Mark – Turning Point Two: A Change in Plans: The protagonist changes what he’s been doing and acts. This launches act two.

I actually started a new page for act two summarizing what had gone on in Act 1.  This helped me cement and realize that one event in the story had really been pivotal for all three women.  Until I did that, it was just an event.

2013 BOV Quilt Show121cr

Act Two: 25-75%

In act two, the protagonist works on changing his life and solving the problems of the plot. He isn’t sure how to do that and has both victories and setbacks. Act two breaks out like this:

25-50% – Stage Three: Progress: The protagonist tries to accomplish things to fix the problems and become the person he wants to be, eventually reaching the…

What I like about this plot line pattern is that it gives an approximate percentage of the book that should be completed by the time this happens in the story.

50% Mark – Turning Point Three: Point of No Return: This is the no going back point. Whatever happens, the protagonist fully commits to his course of action. He knows what he wants and is going for it full tilt. Which leads to…

In real life we go back and forth, and may never make a permanent change in our lives.  But this is a story, and if it is going to have a happy ending, the characters are going to have to fix what’s broken about their lives.

50-75% – Stage Four: Complications and Higher Stakes: The protagonist moves further into becoming the person he’s going to be and the resolution to his problem. But things are getting harder and the consequences are getting higher. Which leads to a…

This keeps the story interesting, and moving in the same directions, and keeps me from losing focus.

75% Mark – Turning Point Four: Major Setback: The protagonist screws up, often by getting overwhelmed with the new life and problem and retreated to the person her used to be. He falls/descends into…

I thought we were through with problems at this point, and I would have just ended the story, but this made me think it through, and add some depth!  🙂

75-90% – Stage Five: Final Push: The protagonist finally sheds his old self and becomes the new person, and this enables him to face…

This is going to be hard for my older lady characters.  Their ways are pretty set in stone, but some, if not all, of them may make good choices.

90-99% – Turning Point Five: The Climax: The final fight with the antagonist and the resolution of the story’s problem. The protagonist realizes if he fully embraces the new him, he will win. This ends with…

I’m all mapped out, plot-wise, but I haven’t written this yet.  Even doing this little review, has given me some more insight into my characters, which may change the outcome of the plot development.

100% – Stage Six: Aftermath: The protagonist has survived his ordeal and journey and is now the person he wanted to be, and has resolved the problems he was facing. He’s shed the old and embraced the new and takes the first steps in his new life.

2013 BOV Quilt Show117rBTW, these pictures are from the Best of Valley Quilt Show that I attended this spring thanks to the generosity of my friend, Carmen Friesen.

So in the end, is plot or character development more important to the story?  I’m less sure than I was at the beginning of this post!  What do you think?

Willis Tower Joke

Randy:  What if we got stuck in here and had to sleep up here all night?


Marsha:  Sounds pretty scary!


Randy:  Which side would you rather have, the full window side or the open side?


Marsha:  I think, outside the box.


Sorry folks, that was hounding me all night!  You probably don’t even get it, it’s so lame, but I couldn’t wait to post it this morning.  Do you have any lame jokes that you just have to tell someone?   I’m listening.