Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Month of Letters Challenge

I love sending and receiving snail mail, so this year, prompted by my dear pen pal in Milwaukee, I decided to participate in the Month of Letters Challenge.

The idea behind MoLC is to mail something every day the post office delivers in the month of February. If you receive a letter from someone, you're supposed to write them back. It's extra cool because people send all sorts of interesting things from handmade stationery and envelopes to brochures of events in their towns, postcards, stickers, bookmarks, and other items that fit into an envelope.

Here are the places I mailed letters to during this year's challenge:

Day 1: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Day 2: Finspang, SWEDEN
Day 3: Princeton, Louisiana, USA
Day 4: Freedom, Oklahoma, USA
Day 5: Vilnius, LITHUANIA
Day 7: Eugene, Oregon, USA
Day 8: Linz, AUSTRIA
Day 9: Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Day 10: Lafayette, Colorado, USA
Day 11: Brewer, Maine, USA
Day 12: New Braunfels, Texas, USA
Day 13: Lyon, FRANCE
Day 14: Gilbert, Arizona, USA
Day 15: Wee Waa, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
Day 16: San Antonio, Texas, USA
Day 17: Chicago, Illinois, USA
Day 18: Tampere, FINLAND
Day 19: Selangor, MALAYSIA
Day 20: Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA
Day 21: Port Williams, Nova Scotia, CANADA
Day 23: Huenstetten, GERMANY
Day 24: Lumberton, North Carolina, USA

For Bonus Points, I also sent mail to:
  • El Granita, California, USA
  • Kaosing City, TAIWAN
  • Krasnodor, RUSSIA
  • Arnemuiden, NETHERLANDS
And now here are the places I got mail from (more could be on the way for all I know!) not necessarily in the order I received them (because I didn't track that):

1. Delray Beach, Florida, USA (I'll be writing this person back soon!)
2. Princeton, Louisiana, USA
3. San Antonio, Texas, USA
4. Lafayette, Colorado, USA
5. Gilbert, Arizona, USA
6. Brewer, Maine, USA
7. Chicago, Illinois, USA
8. El Granita, California, USA
9. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
10. Finspang, SWEDEN
11. Freedom, Oklahoma, USA
12. Clemson, South Carolina, USA

I enjoyed this challenge and I can't wait to do it again. Fortunately, another opportunity is just around the corner: Write_On will take place in the month of April. Check it out if you're interested!

Halfway through the Month of Letters, I learned of another event that takes place in February. InCoWriMo, or International Correspondence Writing Month. I'm going to try to do it and The Month of Letters Challenge next year.

Happy Letter/Postcard/Card Writing to You.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Book: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

As strongly as I dislike the word "should", it's the one word that comes to mind when I think of this book.


Read it. Take it in. Digest it. Talk about it.

Go get it. Now.

That is all.


Monday, January 2, 2017

My word for 2017

For the last two years I've selected a word to focus on each year. I chose to keep my 2015 word a secret. In 2016, I chose a German word, Gem├╝tlichkeit. I wrote how that word related to a state of mind, a sense of belonging, a sort of friendliness, good cheer and coziness. I feel like I achieved what I was looking for by focusing on last year's word. In fact, there were times when I got a little too much Gem├╝tlichkeit. Not that I'm complaining.

When the time to consider a word for 2017 came along, several words crossed my mind, including: Freedom, Creativity, Authentic, and Health. Truth is, there's so much I need to work on. But given certain events that happened in the world (and in my own state) last year, I decided on another word: Humility.

Humility has several definitions. The one I'm going with is: the opposite of pride. For me, this means letting go of my so-called superiority complex. Yes, I have one, as is evidenced by the five million times a day that I roll my eyes over the dumbassery I encounter daily as a blue person living in a red county just a few miles from a blue city in a red state. See, there you go, an example of how much I need some humility. Even my parents have told me I need to be more humble. And this is going to be hard for me. In 2017, I'm going to try hard to not roll my eyes so much and to stop thinking of myself as being "better" than others because I've had different life experiences and made different decisions or have different ideas.

Who knows exactly how this will manifest itself. I have no idea what's going to happen or even if I'll want to write about it. I'm going to keep track of the number of times I roll my eyes, but I'm not going to tell you. I'll just keep that metric to myself.

Happy 2017, Everyone. What are you going to work on this year?


Friday, December 30, 2016

Book: Pathological by Wang Jinkang

Every now and then a book comes along that truly knocks my socks off and I want to tell the whole world about it. Tonight I finished Pathological by Wang Jinkang (and wonderfully translated by Jeremy Tiang) and it's definitely one of those books. For the last three evenings I've sequestered myself in the reading room with this amazing thriller. I was hooked from the first few sentences, and wow, what a ride.

The plot centers around a highly-driven Chinese-American scientist (virologist, actually) who seems to have it all, including her own research lab in China. Yet she lives simply and gives her money and her free time to a nearby orphanage. This gains respect from the local community and leaders, who turn a blind eye to whatever might be happening in the lab.

Meanwhile, there's a smallpox outbreak at an elementary school in Idaho, which turns out to be germ warfare planned by a scientist who fled the USA and hasn't been seen or heard from since. It turns out that these two scientists have a connection that goes back decades. But are they in this together? Sometimes things aren't what they seem. Or are they?

If you like thrillers or medical sci-fi, check this out. The Kindle version is only $3.99 as I write this. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, and I don't give out 5 stars that often. So there.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016 Favorites

Here it is, my annual 'Favorites' entry...


Favorite book of the year . . . Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Mystery/Thriller . . . The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

Historical fiction . . . Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Classic . . . Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Unexpected pleasure . . . The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

Author . . . (tie) Robert Bryndza and Angela Marsons

Magazine . . . (tie) New Mexico and Garden & Gun


Band . . . Kaleo

Artist . . .  Ruby Amanfu

Album . . . Lemonade by Beyonce

Song (tie) . . . "Daddy Lessons" by Beyonce; "Way Down We Go" by Kaleo; and "Stuck in the South" by Adia Victoria

Song rediscovery (tie) . . ."The Story" by Brandi Carlile and "Hot in Herre" by Jenny Owen Youngs

Artist rediscovery . . . R.E.M.

Concert . . . (tie) Mary Fahl (Evening Muse, Charlotte) and Jason Isbell with Amanda Shires and Shovels & Rope (Ovens Auditorium, Charlotte)

North Carolina artist . . . Rhiannon Giddens

Podcast . . . Us & Them


TV show . . . Queen Sugar

Binge-watch . . . The Man in the High Castle, Season 2


Social Network . . . Pinterest

Hobby . . .

Vacation spot . . . Santa Fe, New Mexico

Weekend getaway . . . Blowing Rock

Food . . . Korean fried chicken

Restaurant . . . Seoul Food Meat Co (Charlotte, NC)

Beverage . . . Canada Dry Ginger Ale


Sunday, November 27, 2016

25,401 words

This month I wrote 25,401 words of a novel. That's 90 pages, in case you're wondering, so it's not finished. Not even halfway.

I know there are still 3 days left in November, but there's no way I'm going to make it to the 50,000 words I need to "win" this year's National Novel Writing Month, so I'm going to have to call it.

I'm tired.

I'm disappointed that I didn't meet my goal.

Writing a novel is (insert whiny voice here) hard.  Even when you have people taking care of you so you can focus. (I did. Special people made sure I was fed, had clean clothes to wear and a clean house to live in. They didn't make me feel guilty about hiding away evenings and weekends or not being available for certain events. For that, I'm enormously grateful.)

So why is it so hard to write a novel? Well, I'm sure that having ADHD doesn't help. (I really was diagnosed with ADHD back in graduate school, so there.) Actually, the first thirty or forty pages was easy, but then I started wavering about what to write next: should I put this scene here, or there? And I started forgetting details. For example, one of the minor characters lives in Tega Cay, South Carolina in a fancy house on Lake Wylie. I kept wanting to put her at Lake Lanier in Georgia AND I DO NOT KNOW WHY because Lake Wylie is practically in my backyard and I know absolutely nothing about Lake Lanier. Or Georgia, for that matter.

I have this tendency to want to edit as I go along. I know this is wrong! But I just can't help myself.

And then there are things I don't know, so I have to stop and look them up on the internet. One of the main characters has an acoustic guitar. But what guitar exactly? A Gibson? Martin? Larrivee? OK, so pick one. But then what model? And what does it look like? Is it made from Indian rosewood? Mahogany? Hawaiian koa? And is that the wood on the body or the sides or the neck? Jeez, Louise, there are too many details and too many choices.

In an effort to focus, I shut myself off from social media. No Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter (OK, there were one or two tweets), and no blogging for 27 days. Until today. Right? But you see, there was that one big thing that happened on November 8 . . . yeah, that election thing . . . somehow I managed to keep away from social media despite the temptation to get online and voice my very strong opinions about the election results and read what others were writing. But I managed to restrain myself, because I knew that would kill way too many writing hours.

So here I am with these 25,401 words. It's not a lot, really. I have so much further to go. I'll "lose" another NaNoWriMo (I've done this for five years and only "won" once, in 2014 -- but I didn't actually finish that story.) Yet in doing this, it reinforces the reality that I'M A WRITER.

But will I be a Novelist? That remains to be seen. If I can muster up the discipline I've had this month into the next eleven months, then maybe. I already have a book cover concept, a publisher, and an ISBN number. I've just got to come up with more pages. More WORDS.

Maybe someday...


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Rocky Mountain HIGH

The view from Pike's Peak
So I bought a t-shirt in the gift shop at the top of Pike's Peak. It says:

Pike's Peak - 14,115 feet - Being this high is illegal in most states, but not this one!

I didn't expect to come to Colorado on this trip. After a few days in Northern New Mexico, we were supposed to go South, to Las Cruces, Ruidoso, and Roswell. But our plans changed and we thought HEY! Let's go north and see if we can find some aspen trees!

I also wanted to check out another possible retirement spot: Manitou Springs. Just next to Colorado Springs and at the foot of Pike's Peak, it's a cute town that in some ways reminds me of (a way smaller) Asheville. It just has a funky vibe to it, and lots of interesting people.

Manitou Springs
There were a lot of things I liked about Manitou Springs, but I'm still too enamored with Los Alamos to think about living anywhere else right now.

Manitou Springs is close to Garden of the Gods, and we spent several hours there walking through the park and watching some rock climbers.

Garden of the Gods: Walking in the Shadows
Garden of the Gods: The Descent
I still hadn't seen many of those awesome aspen trees, so we drove around the mountains via Woodland Park, Divide, and Midland out to Victor and Cripple Creek. And there they were! Words like AWESOME!!! and STUNNING!!! don't do them justice. Just look at these photos, which by the way, only capture a tiny fraction of what the eyes see.
Aspens along the road to Cripple Creek.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

My eyes are so much richer now as a result of seeing the aspen trees in their glory. I will never be the same again.

Looking forward to a return visit to Colorado. And by the way, the only Rocky Mountain High I got was breathing the air up at Pike's Peak. Oh, and listening to the John Denver song a time or two.


P.S. Colorado is nice, but I left my heart in New Mexico.