What are we talking about today?

I'll get back to theme days once I find a groove of posting regularly. In the meantime, most of my posts are about some variation of books, bikes, buses, or Broadway. Plus bits about writing, nonprofits, and grief from time to time.

This blog is mostly lighthearted and pretty silly. It's not about the terrible things happening in the world, but please know that I'm not ignoring those things. I just generally don't write about them here.

31 March 2011

The Alphabet Does Come in Handy

Tomorrow I, along with many other bloggers all over the place, will begin the A-Z challenge. So tomorrow, when you see all your usual blogs have posts beginning with "A", just remember: Yes, it's a conspiracy. And possibly an April Fools' Joke, but only in the broadest sense.

And in case you'd still like to join in: Click here, where you'll read this:
           The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays.  In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet.   Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet.
              You will only be limited by your own imagination in this challenge.  There is an unlimited universe of possibilities.  You can post essays, short pieces of fiction, poetry, recipes, travel sketches, or anything else you would like to write about.  You don't have to be a writer to do this.  You can post photos, including samples of your own art or craftwork.    Everyone who blogs can post from A to Z.
This picture has nothing
to do with the A-Z
challenge. I just like
And you can sign up while you're at it. Come join it! It will be fun! And practically painless!

In completely unrelated news, my original blog giveaway winner has declined her prize. So, the new winner is... Rachel Morgan!

Are you participating in the A-Z challenge? Do you have a suggestion as to what I should blog for any of the letters (because, as is my wont, I've not bothered preparing for it)? Are you Rachel Morgan?

30 March 2011

Living Urban

This is what my bike looks like when
I'm not riding it. Except this is an old
pic; the bike now has nice panniers
on the back instead of just a rack.
In case you missed it, I'm a cyclist. Not in the same way that I'm a runner-- I don't enter cycling races or have a training plan-- but I do cycle all over Austin with my shiny, trusty bike. All over some of Austin, anyway.

So I was kind of excited when Austin on Two Wheels announced their spring Urban Living Ride series, for what is at least the second year running (I haven't inquired into the history, but I know they did it last year). I don't know how many of them we'll end up doing, but I do know that it is with great regret that I missed last week's Cupcake Ride. Cupcakes! And cycling! Together!

A couple of weeks ago, I won a pair of tickets on Twitter (yay for Tweeting!) for the ride to Boggy Creek Farm here in town: an organic, working farm, complete with a Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings (although by the time we got there, the pickins were slim indeed-- one must arrive early to get the good stuff!).

Anyway! We did some shopping, got a tour, and then had a lovely lovely meal of food from the farm. I can't remember everything we had, but my main course was Mushroom-Barley Risotto that was absolutely delicious. Chad had some sort of pan-seared dead animal; I had a nibble but didn't like it. His roast potatoes, on the other hand, were fabulous and I had to be restrained from eating them all off of his plate. And dessert was a strawberry shortcake, for which I would be willing to ride much further than we did, methinks. The food was brilliant, and to top off, the ride organizers were our servers. It was a very pleasant picnic.

Plus, we met some really fun new people, which was kind of the point. Well, one of the points. The other point is for people to see how easy it really is to get places in Austin on a bike. One of those fun new people also wrote about the tour (much more poetically than myself) on the Austin on Two Wheels site, if you want to read more about it. And the really happy outcome of the day (for me) is that Chad has finally decided to get a bike so we can go places together. Woohoo!

What's a fun place you would ride to on a bike?

27 March 2011

A Routine Life

For all the fun things I do and the interesting stuff that happens to me, my life is fairly routine. I go to class, I do homework, I clean my house, I cook dinner. I buy groceries and go to meetings. I commute, although my transportation may look different from yours. I blog and Tweet and giggle at the ranting my friends do on Facebook (and try to keep my own ranting to a minimum). I read. I write. And while there is frequently no rhyme nor reason to the pattern of my days, I still do the same stuff as everyone else. And I enjoy my calm, routine life.

Somehow, 'routine' lives have gotten to be associated with 'boring', whereas an 'interesting' life tends to be one spent either doing adventurous things (skydiving) or regular partying. And while I'm not averse to adventures that do not involve jumping out of airplanes, I do have a problem with someone who can't remember what he/she did last night disparaging my hobbies because they can only be done while sweating or sitting. (Or both, if I haven't turned on the A/C on a hot day.)

Jesus' life was not routine. Oh, he slept and ate, as he had time, but his life was invested in people, and people can be remarkably unpredictable. So if I am going to make my life less routine and more adventurous, less boring and more exciting, that's the way I want to do it. To invest myself in loving those around me. To be an encourager to all I see. To do what I can to ease the suffering of others, even if all I have to offer is a smile and a kind word.

That is an adventure worth living. That's a routine worth being in. And no chemical alteration of my brain pattern is required.

What adventure would you like to be living?

26 March 2011

Earth Hour

Not to be confused with Earth Day, which comes to us on April 22nd: today we have Earth Hour. It happens at 8:30 PM local time, so it's kind of a rolling thing around the world. Like New Year.

What is it? Well, a few years ago, some folks in Sydney turned off their lights & other electric stuff "to take a stand against climate change". Five years later, it's gone global and for some has become a family tradition-- they turn the lights off, light some candles, and play games or whatnot for an hour. Which I think is brilliant.

I've ranted and muttered against Earth Hour in the past, but I've mostly come round. I still have a hard time seeing past the downside: that people might feel they've done their part and will spend the rest of the year not considering the impact of their actions. I think Earth Hour is great, but please don't stop at 9:30 and think that's all there is to it!

But my real gripe, if you will, is with businesses. So many businesses make a big production out of shutting their lights off for an hour today, when I must admit I'd be more impressed if they'd commit to shutting off the lights for an hour every day. Or two hours, or four. I always think of that scene in the movie That Thing You Do when the main character (Guy) is always forgetting to turn off the neon lights on the front of his father's store at the close of business, much to his father's annoyance. What a change from 1964 to today, when not only the neon, but also the indoor lights, are on 24/7 in most shops. (I understand the need for the indoor lights-- security cameras and all that-- but the neon signs? Give them a break!)

The TV networks are the worst, though. They'll often have a special broadcast for Earth Hour, including a few brief minutes when they shut off the lights in the studio, only to turn them back on after the commercial break to finish the broadcast. Doesn't having the broadcast send the wrong message? I mean, mightn't people decide to turn off the lights but leave on the TV to see what Brian Williams or Diane Sawyer have to say about the importance of turning off the lights? Don't get me wrong, I first heard about Earth Hour in 2008 because of a segment on the news-- but does it have to be during the actual time frame? I'd love to see a TV station who is brave enough to forgo programming during Earth Hour and instead truly turns off the lights and runs a test pattern with an Earth Hour PSA on it. That network would have my loyal viewing for life, I can assure you.

So! All that to say: Earth Hour. Tonight. 8:30. What will you do with your light-free hour?

25 March 2011

Gave Away, and some Semicolons

My slightly nutty giveaway has come to a close, and random.org chose the winner. And since you are all dying to know who it is, I give you:

#44! Who, in real names (real blog names, that is), is generally known as The Golden Eagle. Is she here? If you would step forward and claim your prize... just kidding, being present is not a requirement to win. I'll scoot by her blog directly to let her know, and urge you to do the same (minus the letting her know part), because she is brilliant. So, the Eagle wins the prize pack (and it's already packed, and I don't remember what's in there, so we'll all be surprised when she gets it) and a guest post at Cheekyness if she is so inclined.

As a runner-up, who I also invite to guest post and will send a postcard to: JEFritz, by virtue of having the most entries. And if you don't read her blog already, you are likewise missing out on greatness. Head on over after you finish reading here. :)

Also this week, besides running giveaways and being happy about being back in class after spring break (yes, I'm strange), I've re-read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which is a delightful punctuation book by Lynne Truss. And if you haven't read it, please do rush out to your local library (bookstore, Amazon, whatever) to get your hands on it. It's brilliant. And while it's hard for me to choose a favourite bit, I'll have to settle on the page about semicolon addiction: "Many writers hooked on semicolons become an embarrassment to their families and friends. Their agents gently remind them, 'George Orwell managed without, you know.' [...] But the writers rock back and forth on their office chairs, softly tapping the semicolon key and emitting low whimpers." Alas, 'tis true.

My rhetoric instructor from last summer (good grief, I have got to get that woman a nickname) wrote on one of my papers, "You are a bit addicted to semicolons. Perhaps you should look up the colon and try one from time to time." And that would stand as my favourite comment from an instructor, ever, if I had not gotten this one from Red Ball last semester (that had nothing to do with semicolons): "While you don't have to have topic sentences in every paragraph, it's nice to have one from time to time." Guilty. To both.

After the jump: My latest run-in with Skinny Jeans, mostly for my own amusement. Just skip it if you aren't interested in this continuing saga. Today's question (in bold since it's sandwiched): Which is your favourite punctuation mark?

24 March 2011


So, today's writing post is not so much about what I think or do or how I write or any of the usual writery post stuff. It's not even about the crusader challenge, which I considered but elected to skip because I couldn't get my head round it. And it's not like I write good challenge posts, anyway.

No, today's blog is like a little episode of Jeopardy!, which is to say I'll be stating my thesis in the form of a question: Where do you go for research?

Do you have to actually leave your house and go experience the things your characters are doing? Or do you call on our friend Google? Or are you old-school and reach for, of all things, a print book of some sort?

I used to read school stories, draw on my own school experience, and then just making things up from there to write a school story. Or my kid version of "historical fiction" was pretty much entirely things I made up with a few tidbits of Little House thrown in for good measure, regardless of what time period my story was in. (I wrote a story set in ancient Egypt once, for a school assignment. The kid in the story rode a raft through the canals & then down mini-canals that branched off to check on crops, because in my head it just made sense that a canal system would work that way. My teacher was completely bewildered at where I got this information and wasn't satisfied with my telling her, "I made it up!")

But now, that doesn't really work. For my NaNo novel, I've done a lot of research into Austin-y stuff, since that's were the novel is set; my biggest problem there is deciding how much to include in the novel. But I'm still clueless about how Natasha's boyfriend acts-- what do musicians do when they aren't playing? How do gigs at restaurants work? Or at coffee shops? And since I'm like an old person when it comes to loud music, my opportunities for live research are kind of limited. But perhaps I should just endure it and go see a concert or two, in the interest of getting it right in the novel.

So I ask again: How do you research what you write? Do you have to do things in person, or can you virtually learn stuff? What is my logical first step in learning about musicians?

23 March 2011

Friday, Part 2

I have to dream that the stations in
Austin look like this. Maybe
Last week, I had a bit of a misadventure on the train. Once I got back downtown, it was getting dark, and the crowds gathering for South by Southwest were plenty thick throughout downtown. We had found out the previous evening that the buses through downtown were about as fast as walking because of the traffic and masses of pedestrians. Plus, there was lots of energy in the air just because of all the people, the festival atmosphere, and so on, so I decided to ride the bike as far as campus, and get the bus there.

Unfortunately, even though I managed to avoid the headache of taking the main thoroughfare, the buses did not, so I still had to wait. One bus went by that I could have taken to meet Chad (I didn't remember this until the bus had already been gone for about five minutes), but I had the choice of two that were meant to come within 15 minutes. Great.

Except they didn't come.

At least, not on time. The first bus was running 25 minutes late; the second one was behind by 15 minutes (or so said the driver). And as if that weren't enough, the first bus had a bike in both slots on the rack, meaning I was unable to board. So I sat back down to wait for the next one, which-- I bet you can guess it-- also had a full bike rack. Sigh. I was about to give it up for a bad job, when a passenger got off and removed his bike. I refrained from doing a dance of joy, because I had to load up my bike and get on.

That's about the end of the adventure-- I got off at my stop, had about a five-minute ride to meet Chad (about 45 minutes late, but at least I got there), and that was the end of it.


He was going to play basketball after Toastmasters, but I was tired and also was unsure about whether we'd meet up with a friend who would be able to haul the bike back home after basketball, so I declined to join him and was going to take the bus home instead. Someone at Toastmasters offered me a lift, so we were both all set, and I headed home-- to find out at my door that I was locked out. Yep, I had taken my key off the ring when I went running earlier in the day and forgot to put it back on. And the after-hours officer wasn't answering the phone. So I pulled out a book and sat on the front step waiting for Chad to get home after basketball. I probably won't be making that mistake again any time soon.

That last bit doesn't have anything to do with my public transport adventures, of course. So, best-laid plans? Or best-laid pantsing? Share yours in the comments.

22 March 2011

Teaser Tuesday #8

*See more discussion below*

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car: Save Money, Breather Easier, and Get More Mileage out of Life, Chris Balish

"Wouldn't it be great if someone invented a form of personal transportation that:

  • Is practically free
  • Is immediately available on demand
  • Doesn't require any licensing, taxes, stickers, or fees
  • Could travel faster than cars stuck in traffic
  • Doesn't pollute the environment
  • Helps us get exercise while we're using it
  • Doesn't make us pay for parking
  • Doesn't force us to pay high gas prices
  • Helps boost our self-confidence
  • Improves our outlook on life
Gosh, that would be great. Now go buy a bicycle."

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

*Promised discussion:

So I'm still on a documentary-esque kick. Not sure how that happened. BUT, as regular readers know, I'm already living well without owning a car, so I mostly checked this out just to see what he says about it. It's a little outdated in its information (it was published in 2006), but otherwise is a cool thing to read if you're thinking about cutting back on your car use but don't know how to go about it.

The teaser is longer than usual because I loved that section. Also because it's not like this book has a plot for me to ruin; it's informational.

And the illustrations are priceless. Well worth reading the thing just to giggle at the pictures. Even the car lovers among us can appreciate the irony!

21 March 2011

Plot Holes, Creativity, and Planets

My Creative Problem Solving class, about which I have spent much time and energy whining and complaining, has finally arrived at some interesting material. About danged time.

That's a bit unfair; the first week or so was also interesting. And then we hit a dry spell, which has only just come back around. I've really enjoyed the past two weeks' readings and discussions. We read a chapter from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Creativity, and now a chapter from Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. This is actually our second chapter from Pink (the first one--you guessed it--was the first week), and I think I may have to read the entire book. Especially since I just found out that he's a Goodreads author. Excellent.

Anyway, Pink writes about not only seeing the big picture, but also about looking at the relationship among the parts of the picture. He uses the metaphor of drawing his face-- when he began his drawing class, he didn't know about the importance of considering the distance between his eyes & the top of his head, or the size of his eyes, or the spacing of other features-- that's something he learned along the way.

As a writer, I feel like I've been smacked on the head. Again. It's such an obvious statement-- that one MUST consider the relationship between the parts-- that I might have missed it. There's a plot hole in my current WIP's plot big enough to drive a bus through. A double-decker bus, packed with tourists. Two of them. Anyway, Natasha's (my MC) life has to fall apart at the seams to convince her to do something besides coast through her existence, and one of those things is her best friend moving far away. Except the best friend has no good reason to move away.

So, relationship between the parts... If the best friend moves away, she will be leaving her family, friends, job, grad school, boyfriend, hometown... in other words, why would she go? It makes more sense for Natasha's boyfriend to move away. Or for Natasha's mother to plead for her to come home. Or for Natasha and her best friend to have a massive fight. Or... well, lots of things. Anything, basically, except that ugly plot hole that is currently threatening to swallow Pluto (the planet (okay, dwarf planet), not the dog) whole.

And once I get that figured out, I can look at the relationship between all the other parts to find other places where the fabric of my MS has run thin. Whaddya know, Creative Problem Solving has turned out to be worthwhile after all.

So... Plot holes? Useless classes that turned out to be useful? Pluto's status as a planet or not? Authors with 16 letters in their last name? Lots of comments to choose from today. Let's hear it!

20 March 2011

I Can't Get Out!

Sunday is meant to be for devotional-type thoughts. And I'm trying, really I am, but I'm afraid I'm not feeling too charitable today. Why? Because I'm locked into my apartment complex.

Sometime between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, our apartment management fixed the lock on our pedestrian gate. Which is all well and good, except they didn't tell us they were planning this. No big deal for people coming in-- we all have cards to operate the big gate for vehicles, after all-- but going out is another story. The big gate operates with one of those metal detectors embedded in the pavement, and the little gate is key-operated. Meaning, if you don't have the key or a vehicle with you, you're stuck.

This was just a minor frustration; one "thanks for telling me" muttered under my breath later and I was perfectly happy to go on my way unimpeded. Until Friday afternoon, when Chad & I were trying to catch the bus to the store before some guests came over. We got the the gate and the key didn't work. We struggled with it for a second, gave up, looked around for a car coming to let us out, tried laying the key ring on the metal detector (Note: that doesn't work), and then watched the bus roll by without us.

So I marched over to the office to tell them that the lock was broken. Turns out they knew already, because other people had been by to complain before us, so they were working on it. All well and good, especially since the girl apologized for us missing the bus. We got out through the car gate and walked to the store instead.

This morning we went out to the bus to go to church, only to discover that the lock is still broken (and I tried my metal water bottle on the metal detector; it doesn't work, either). So we watched another bus roll by. This has to be the dumbest reason in history for missing church.

I sent a grumpy email to the apartments, explaining that we're upset because we've come to expect a high standard of service from the excellent management of these apartments and requesting that they view a broken lock as a priority, not a minor inconvenience. But that doesn't really make me feel any happier, because I'm sure that whoever reads the emails is not the person responsible for the locked gate in the first place, so I'm just making someone else's day unpleasant.

Is there something spiritual in all this? Probably. Am I going to bother finding it? No. Instead, I'm taking the advice of one of Chad's cousins (I already shared our woes on Facebook and Twitter; I've never been one to suffer in silence) and playing some worship music as a background to doing homework. I may not be worshipping with the church this morning, but I will not let my Sunday be completely ruined.

So tell me: What inconveniences/annoyances/outright catastrophes have you dealt with today? Did it ruin your day, or did you find a way around it?

19 March 2011

I'm Being Collaborative

It's been interesting, in some of the books that I'm reading, to see how many different paths lead to the same conclusions.

It's not like this is a groundbreaking discovery, of course. There are as many ways to think/believe/act as there are people. But seeing it in print and having to think it over does underline it a bit.

Some use the condition of the planet to encourage reducing, reusing, and just plain thinking before consuming. Others appeal to the economic benefit of making "pre-owned" the norm. And then there are those who do a little of both. (Of course, one may also run across those who believe that there is no need for worrying about the planet or the pocketbook, but I'm not particularly interested in pursuing that point of view.)

Regardless of which category I or you may be in, what mystifies me is how fiercely each position is defended. What could be an engaging discussion with multiple perspectives on all sides instead frequently descends into a shouting match. Or a disdain match, or a blow-off match, or a spin match, or whatever. It's remarkable how such seemingly innocent decisions-- like where to shop-- could lead to this much fuss. And the end of at least one Facebook friendship that I know of (not one of my FB friendships; someone else's).

As a writer and a student of rhetoric, I'm well aware that words have power. Wielders of words can start arguments or stop them. And not just arguments: relationships, elections, wars, holidays, dreams-- pretty much everything worth doing, and a great deal of things not worth doing.

Please, have an opinion. Be informed. Take a stand. But don't turn everything into a turf war. Don't be so locked into your own thoughts that you leave no room for others. And remember that no one person has the monopoly on truth; you will always have something to learn as well as something to teach.

So, arguments? There are plenty to choose from. Which one leaves you bewildered that people even bother?

18 March 2011


I'm feeling guilty for neglecting my fellow crusaders, and, well, everybody else, too. And even while on spring break! It wasn't supposed to work out this way!

This in no way resembles
the prize pack I'm sending.
I just liked the picture.
So! To make up for being a horrible follower and also because I'm in a package-sending mood, I'm having a giveaway! Prize pack includes:

Some completely useless stuff I found while cleaning my house today
Some moderately useful stuff, likewise found
Some bookmarks, because I have approximately 583 of them
Some sort of Austin-y souvenir
and 1 random book from my collection

Okay, well, not totally random. Anything I haven't read yet is off-limits. Otherwise, I'm basically going to close my eyes and point. You might get Stephen King; you might get Terry Pratchett; you might get an instruction manual to an appliance I no longer own. That's the fun of the whole deal.

Edited to add: Since I'm using one of those cool "if it fits, it ships" boxes, I've revoked the random in the book selection and decided to make the most of the space in the box. The books are: It, Stephen King; Clear and Present Danger, Tom Clancy; and Rabbit Redux, John Updike.

Oh, and for fellow bloggers, I'll throw open my doors for a guest blog spot.

How to enter? I'm glad you asked! Leave a comment anytime between now and 9 PM CDT Thursday (that's 2 AM Friday morning GMT). Every comment gets you in the drawing +1 times, then my friends at random.org will decide the winner. And to make it even more fun, tweeting or blogging will get you additional entries; random.org will choose how many (between 1 and 10) each time. You might get lucky! You might get peanuts! Leave a link to your tweet/blog/FB mention so I know to give you your extra points.

And BTW, this contest is open internationally. Except perhaps for Timbuktu, because my mother threatened to send me there so many times that I'm not convinced that it's a real place.

Do I have any readers from Timbuktu? Any parents who threaten to send their kids there? Anyone else who was likewise threatened with a vacation in Mali?

17 March 2011


I followed along on the Kid Lit Chat on Twitter on Tuesday night, which I rarely do since it isn't my genre (and since I don't really keep track of when it happens). But so much good advice was free-flowing that I had to stop and read. And then I felt all energized to start writing, just from people talking about writing. It's like yawning, I guess-- very contagious.

Motivation is a funny thing. It comes, it goes, it takes all forms, and turns up in unexpected places. It drains away when you need it most. It's predictable in its unpredictability. And-- here's the really fun part-- it varies from person to person and circumstance to circumstance (what motivates me to write might motivate you to read and motivate the next guy to take out the rubbish, for instance). It's available, it's everywhere, but sometimes it's ridiculously hard to find.

So, in case you need some motivation today, here you go:

"People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing-- that's why we recommend it daily." - Zig Ziglar

"Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going." - Jim Rohn

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

"When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps." - Confucius

"You are the only person on earth who can use your ability." - Zig Ziglar

16 March 2011

Friday, Part 1

So! My Wednesdays were open, and since I get some loony stories in my car-free state, I decided to start Without-a-Car Wednesdays. ("Car-Free Wednesday" is shorter, but lacks that alliteration that I'm so fond of.) Plus, I'm saving them all up for a memoir, so this is also writing practise.

I volunteer for Bike Texas on Friday afternoons; the office is 1/4 mile from the nearest train station and the timing is great for finishing up around 5 PM. So last Friday, I thought I'd be clever and take the train (with my bike) one stop, then hop on the bike path that would take me the rest of the way home. Problem #1: I didn't think about it being rush hour. Problem #2: There are thousands of tourists in town for South by Southwest. Problem #3: My bike is pretty tall already (being a road bike), and the addition of the panniers makes it tall and wide, and therefore not amenable to cramped spaces. So I got on the already-full train, a bunch of people got on after me, and I realised pretty quickly that getting off again was going to be an issue.

When we got to my stop, I started rolling toward the exit, where even more people were piling on. There was no fighting the tide without injuring people (and possibly me), so I gave it up and decided to stay on for another stop. The passengers around me had a bit of a chuckle before advising me that being polite wasn't going to get me anywhere. Well, anywhere except all the way to the end of the line if I refused to push my way through to the exit.

The next stop, more people got off, fewer got on, and I wrangled the bike off with many "excuse me"s and "sorry about that"s to people who I accidentally jabbed with my handlebars. Bet they were glad to see me leave. Then I called Chad to let him know that I was going to be later than expected, only for him to tell me he was on his way to Toastmasters. That's fine, I said; I'll get back on the train (!) and go one more stop, then meet him a the Toastmaster meeting. Guess I should have called him before getting off the train. Sigh...

I went back to the platform, saw the next train was due in an hour, but the one going back into town was coming in 10 minutes. No problem; I'd go back downtown and get a bus.

To be continued...

I'm not the only polite person on the planet, so... share your too-polite-in-public stories!

15 March 2011

Teaser Tuesday #7

The Prophecy, Dawn Miller
The Watchers Chronicles

"Like the time DON'T GO IN THERE popped into his head when he and Spence Jacobi had found the lid off the sewer behind the apartment building."

"He liked the word that kept appearing in his mind lately too."

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

14 March 2011

Here I Go Again

Every year, Pi day falls during Lent, dadgummit. Guess I'll celebrate on Easter Sunday instead. That has nothing to do with today's post; just an observation on the world.

When I get really busy/stressed, like last week when I was trying to write five papers, running is the first thing to go. It's kind of time-intensive, because I'm slow, but also because of putting on the running kit, finding my watch and iPod, taking my key off the ring (so it will fit into the pocket of my shorts), doing the aforementioned slow running, then coming back, peeling off the sweaty running kit, and taking a shower. All of this is time that could be spent writing an essay.

I took a picture of our handbill
so I wouldn't have to worry about
crediting a source. And now I've
written a long caption, which
takes just  as long as crediting
a source. I'm dumb.
Even though I know from past experience that running (or anything that gets me out of the house, really) is the best way to relieve stress, give my brain a rest, and get the writing juices flowing, I let it go first. This is one of those moments when the lyrics to "Mamma Mia" comes to mind (yes, I'm an ABBA fan): "So I made up my mind; it must come to an end. Look at me now; will I ever learn? I don't know how." Sigh.

So, this week I'm running. (Spring break wins again!) And by this time next week I expect to be bright-eyed and mostly stress-free. Just in time to make the same dumb mistake over again. Oh, well, there are only seven weeks left to the semester after spring break; how much damage can I do?

Please don't answer that! Instead, answer this: What is your guaranteed stress relief and/or creativity-inducer?

13 March 2011

The Trouble with Reading

Books. I read them, and they get inside my brain, and then I have to spend days (weeks, months... whatever) mulling them over and either accepting the information and then adjusting my life accordingly, or rejecting it and living with the implications. If only my brain came pre-printed with all needed information.

And don't tell me that it did. If that's the case, why have I spent so many years learning things?

I've finished reading The Story of Stuff (which, while enlightening, is pretty depressing), and there's one bit in particular that has stuck with me. Ms. Leonard spends the entire book tracing our possessions from beginning to end-- getting the materials, putting them together, delivery, advertising, etc.-- and then mentions that after a speaking engagement, or after someone watches her YouTube video (and on your own head be it if you read the comments!), or whatever, she is inevitably asked, "Ok, so what should I buy?" And so Ms. Leonard mentions that "Our consumer self is so overdeveloped that is has drowned out all our other identities."

Yikes. I don't necessarily agree with every word in the book. Nor do I think that it's meant to be a "balanced" perspective; you don't hear what the other side has to say (duh; it's her book! This is what she has spent her life working on!). But her good points are thick and fast, including this one. It was one of those punched-in-the-face kind of moments when I read this sentence, because I had spent most of the book up until then swearing to change my buying habits drastically. Obviously, I couldn't say that she is wrong about my consumer self (even I who consider myself to be a "light" consumer!).

Being as it's Sunday and all, this point has even more effect on me today. I want God to be the centre of my life, but is he? I've been reading Living on a Dime for years, and those wise ladies often warn against making money an idol (by spending all one's time thinking about it, either good or bad), or about doing the same with food (by spending all one's time thinking about it--I think you get the picture). I don't want my stuff to become my next idol because I'm thinking about it all the time. Or the earth, which I believe God gave us and expects us to take care of-- the earth shouldn't be the main focus of my attention, either. Or college, or my current work in progress, or my triathlon training... The point is, I get wrapped up in one thing after another. But I want my life to be wrapped up in God, with everything else in its proper place. (Note: I don't think that it's necessary to chuck everything else out of my life altogether; I just want them all where they belong!)

If you aren't a person of faith, then I'm sure this is of no interest to you. But if you are, tell me (please)... How do you make sure to keep things in your life in their proper place, and God at the centre?

12 March 2011

Words Don't Do it Justice

I reserve Saturdays for my adventures in green living. But green living isn't just about recycling and compact florescent bulbs. It's about living with others in mind, not taking more than one's own share of resources, and remembering that others will live here after us.

Other people need us now. Japan had a quadruple whammy yesterday: Two earthquakes, a tsunami, and a disaster at a power plant. They will recover, they will bounce back-- but they can't do it on their own.

So please, do what you can to help Japan. There are plenty of ways to donate, plenty of prayers to be said, and probably other possibilities that I'm not imaginative enough to think of. We can step up and make their recovery easier.

11 March 2011

Southwest It Is!

I desperately wish that I had all sorts of interesting things to tell you about this week. Alas, I do not. I mean, things have been happening, but I've mostly been reading or writing a paper while those things were happening, so I kind of missed them. And while I'm hysterically grateful that we have spring break, I kind of wonder if we'd be better off without it, since all my instructors piled on the projects/papers/tests in the two weeks before break, apparently out of kindness so we needn't be working on homework over break, but with a total lack of foresight about the state of our stress levels during those two weeks.

Yay, Austin!
Anyway. South by Southwest is in town! That's right, Austin is in its annual frenzy wherein writers, bloggers, technology gurus, musicians, filmmakers, and networkers all converge on downtown for nine days. In other words, if you were planning a casual trip to Austin this weekend, you may want to rethink that strategy.

Last night, the traffic downtown was unreal. Chad & I were headed to a meeting, but in the end we might have been better off walking (we certainly would have been better off cycling) because of the congestion. And while I enjoy the high-energy feel of it all, I don't enjoy all our buses being packed full of loud, excited conference-goers. I may get a lot of walking and cycling done over the next few days.

But, I do love the energy. I can't get tickets at this point, but there are some outdoor/free events happening that I might catch while I'm enjoying my break from school. Or, I might just go hang out downtown for my own amusement. And I'll probably get lots of novel fodder from people watching and listening.

What's happening in your city this weekend?

10 March 2011

Support Your Local Cranky Fairy!

I'm not sure what my muse looks like, but I kind of think of her as a cranky fairy. A cross between:

a really cute and sweet angel, and a grumpy Muppet who lives in a rubbish bin.

And she's been working overtime these past couple of weeks, helping me get through the pre-spring break crunch of papers (although if my last paper today is anything to go by, she signed off a day early).

For a while, my muse would only work between 11 PM and 2 AM. This was during NaNoWriMo, and while I tolerated it for the month of November and indeed the remainder of the fall semester, I told her in no uncertain terms that I refused to keep meeting her in the middle of the night. It's taken a while and the promise of nice caffeine in the mornings, but I finally have her back to working at 6 AM when I am working.

And now with spring break upon me (Hooray!), I'll need her to work all hours of the day for a few days. I still need to get the complementary printed copy of my NaNo novel before the offer expires, and I'd like to have something that isn't complete rubbish to print. So, on my agenda for spring break:

1. Do something clever with my NaNo novel.
2. Write a 500-word essay about cycling for a contest.
3. Finish a baby blanket for an 18-month old so I can begin on one for his soon-to-be sibling.
4. Read.
5. And read some more.
6. And then read for fun, because those first two were for homework.
7. Oh, yeah, and I do have some homework to do.
8. And I have a couple of short stories to finish.
9. And start studying for the GRE.
10. But I'm definitely going to do some sleeping in.

My muse had better appreciate the care, feeding, and extra sleep, because she's going to be on duty a lot. Perhaps I should remind her that I work more hours than she does. ;)

What about you? Does your muse have a preferred time of day?

09 March 2011

What-To-Do Wednesday

So, my foray into book reviewing has come to an end. At least for now.

I'm not particularly good at it, I keep reading that aspiring authors shouldn't review books publicly, and the book reviews aren't getting that much interest, anyway. And did I mention that I'm not really good at it?

So, my Wednesdays at Cheekyness are now wide open. What shall I fill them with? Good question. Any suggestions in the comments, please.

In the meantime: Writing. Specifically, NaNoWriMo.

For some crazy reason
having to do with the
calendar, NaNoWriMo.org
 does not yet have 2011
badges. Sheesh.
Yes, I realise that we only just had NaNo and the next one doesn't (thank goodness!) start for 7 1/2 (and a bit) months. Plus, I am a slow mover and haven't yet even collected all my prizes for winning the last one. But I'm thinking ahead, because...

... there are a few Longhorns (that's my university mascot) who do NaNo, but we aren't particularly organized. Back in November, it was all, "Hey, why don't we all get together?" "Yeah, great idea!" "Anybody know a good place?" "Well, there are a few coffee shops. Or on campus. Anywhere, really." "Yeah, I'm good with anywhere but not until after 4:38 PM on Friday." "I'm not free until 5:07 on Friday." "Where are we meeting?" And so on. I finally jumped in and said, "Write-in at X coffee shop at 6 PM Friday!" And for the next week, got comments back like "Wait, was this last Friday? Or this Friday?"

So. We need some organization. We need someone to be in charge. We need someone who likes calendars and coordination. And that someone, my friends, is going to be me. (Shocker, I know.)

Well, me and a co-conspirator. And I have found such a conspirator in my friend TARDIS girl (new nickname coming soon), who tells me that she has attempted NaNo multiple times but has never won, she had no idea there was an Austin NaNo organization (one of the most active ones in the world, mind you!), nor that we had write-ins on campus last fall. And she wants some support to get through the great world of NaNo-ing in 2011.

So, I'm going to quite literally give it the old college try and start a student organization on campus, with some ├╝ber-original name like "Longhorn Wrimos". And come next November, we'll have write-ins and another thread on the Austin forum on the site and at least two contact people and it will all be swell.

I can't be the only person planning this far ahead; who already has at least one Christmas gift bought?

08 March 2011

Teaser Tuesday #6

Revolution in a Bottle, Tom Szaky

"Tom, did you look at the barn before you leased it?"
"Of course I did...Is there something wrong?"
"You could say that. It doesn't have any electricity, for one thing."
We still demand that our products be outstanding, not only in their ability to accomplish the job, but also in their appearance and durability.

I've gotten on a memoir/documentary-esque kick with my reading again (I suppose it would be fair to say that I never got off the last one). This one is written by the founder of Terracycle.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingAnyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

07 March 2011

The Heart of Texas

Yep, these sweaters are all hand-
knitted just for this event. Cool, eh?
Saturday afternoon I volunteered at an outreach activity at UT. 20,000+ kids from all over Texas, plus their 2500+ patient sponsors, converged on our campus for a day of fun.

I didn't know my campus could be so crowded. It was unreal.

The point of the whole shebang was to inspire kids to start thinking about college; to this end, there were activities for kids as young as 4. I know, right? Four? Their parents are probably worried about sending their angels off to kindergarten, and here we're pushing college on them. Well, it's for good reason: A lot of these kids will be lucky get all the way through high school, never mind college.

Yes, this outreach day was for "underrepresented" schools. In other words, schools in low-income areas, or with low graduation rates, or with large percentages of students whose first language is not English. Or, more likely, some combination thereof. So, UT starts them dreaming big as early as possible.

My part of the whole shebang was to wield the bullhorn to keep the ice cream line in order. Before we started, the woman in charge instructed us to use our "most polite tone"; she was not impressed when I asked if she would settle for my least hostile tone instead. So I rehearsed the important information ("Single file line, please! We have chocolate or vanilla! There is plenty for everyone, but only one cup per person, please!" etc.) that I would be giving out in my capacity as an order-shouting person.

And since I have learned something from the myriads of parents and teachers I've been around for the past few years, I stopped one teacher as she was leaving to tell her that her kids were the best-behaved group in line. (By quite a long shot, actually.) She thanked me and then said, "Y'all told us the same thing last year, too. I'll be sure to tell the principal." So of course, I was even more glad at that point that I had stopped her. I hope they make a big fuss today over being proud of the kids' behaviour. (I'm sure they will; like I said, I've learned something from being around parents and teachers.) And in case you're wondering: After a quick Google search, I believe it to be Villarreal Elementary School in San Antonio.

The Longhorn band arriving for the
picture. And afterwards, they played
"I've Been Working on the Railroad"
"The Eyes of Texas".
And at the end of the day, everyone gathered in front of the tower to form a heart (yes, the heart of Texas) for a picture. I didn't get in it, since I was otherwise occupied, but I'll be sure to post it here once it's available. Because Saturday was a great day to be a Longhorn.

Wow, so many possible questions today. Parents and teachers: How happy would you be if someone told you your kids were the best ones in a group? Everyone else: At what age did you first think about college (if you can remember)?

06 March 2011

Do You Have a Diem That Needs to be Carpe-d?

I don't know; this seemed like a
"Seize the Day" kind of picture.
I saw that on an ad, I think for some sort of coffee, a couple of weeks ago, and thought it was hysterical. But it's possible that I was running on too-little sleep that day.

So! I've had many occasions this week to consider this verse: "So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get." (Ephesians 5:15-16, The Message) It has occurred to me that "chances" come thick and fast, if I have my eyes open to watch for them.

Yesterday morning I was at a volunteer event and ended up in a (Spanish) conversation with three Venezuelans, one Colombian, and one Mexican. Which was absolutely fabulous, because I wasn't expecting any Spanish practise when I got out of bed. Anyone who has learned a second (or third) language knows that part of the challenge is not only the words, but also the voice; each person's voice and accent are just a teensy bit different than everyone else's. Not a problem in one's native language, but an extra hurdle for the language learner. And even countries that speak the same language and are neighbours don't use all the same words in the same way (like the US and Canada, eh?). I managed to jump into the conversation when we started talking about Congress Avenue being blocked (for a different event). If any of them were surprised that I had been listening, they didn't show it.

And another one (not me this time): On Friday morning I was on the bus and we had just pulled into downtown. A man hailed our bus and explained to the driver that there was a blind passenger coming. So the driver waited, naturally, for the man to make his way onto the bus. Such a simple act of kindness on the part of the man who stopped the bus, and I'm sure he didn't even hesitate before acting, but it would have been just as easy for him to ignore a blind person at the bus stop. He could have called it "Not my problem" and went on his way. But he didn't, and he blessed the man waiting and really, all of us on the bus who got to witness it. I've said it before: I have seen the best of humanity while riding the bus.

A chance may come my way any minute: A chance to show a kindness, or to be an encourager. A chance to give some change to a stranger. Or a chance to learn something and spread my wings a bit more-- at the end of our event yesterday, the woman from Venezuela hugged me and we parted with many "mucho gusto"s (Nice to meet you). Or, just a chance to do the right thing, whether anyone cares or not, like picking up some rubbish off the ground and throwing it away properly. And of course (I have to bring it back to writing), these chances all add up to that experiential life I was talking about on Thursday, and they all give depth and breadth to my writing. So everyone goes home happy.

What about you? What chances have come your way recently?

04 March 2011

This and That

After writing yesterday about how going out and doing things will give you more to write about, I feel a bit silly that today I'm having trouble coming up with anything worth an entire post. Guess there's a vanishing point between "getting more stuff to write" and "so much stuff to write about that I can't process it all". So instead, I give you some snippets of the last few days:

I've started volunteering with Bike TX a couple of days a week. Mostly, I'll do admin/data entry-type stuff for them, although they've already mentioned that I can join them for Cyclists in Suits Day at the state capitol in two weeks. We'll all go and lobby our respective representatives about cycling-related legislation. And when I say "we", I of course mean "other people who know what they are talking about will do the speaking while I smile and shake hands at the appropriate times". It's very exciting.

On the topic of cycling, I rode my bike all the way to campus and back on Wednesday, for a total of 13 miles. I also came down the highest hill I've tried on the bike to date, and loved it. Maybe I'm on my way to conquering my fear of roller coasters.

A bike rack like this. Imagine
turning your bike sideways. See how
that would block all the spaces?
And also about biking: I got to campus Wednesday to find a bike parked longways across a bike rack, thus blocking spaces that at least four bikes could have gone into. I squeezed my bike into the space at the end, wondering what was wrong with this person, then finally decided to leave a note: "There are lots of cyclists on campus. Please exercise more courtesy in the future. Thank you!" (No, really, that's what I wrote.) On Thursday, I saw the same bike, on the same rack, properly parked and sharing space with the other bikes. Excellent.

I guess after all that, it's time to add a "cycling" label to my posts.

And on Thursday, my classmate who I've dubbed "Outside Voice" announced that he should have written an anti-feminist essay for our most recent assignment to make the class hate him. I glanced round at everyone else's faces and I'm pretty sure that a similar thought was crossing all our minds at that moment: You're already working on that with the loud-and-obnoxious act; no abrasive essays required. I think he doesn't realise that if he pushes the "I want you to hate me" thing too far, it instead has the effect of people just ignoring him. I had no trouble returning to my book after he made this announcement.

I was going to tell you how much fun I had in my Wednesday class with my friend Sprained Ankle (turns out I had the wrong joint, but since I started calling her Sprained Ankle last semester that's what I'm sticking with), but now I can't remember any of the funny stuff I said. And that's a bummer, because I kept her distracted through the entire class time. She may not want to sit next to me again.

Those are probably more snippets than you had patience for, so I'll stop now in a "quit while I'm behind" kind of way. So, it's your turn: Share a snippet of your week!

03 March 2011

Writing Experience

I keep reading all these brilliant blog posts about writing: Voice, characterization, world-building, editing, beta reading, querying, etc. And I'm inspired when I read them and a little bit in despair because I don't know the first thing about any of those-- well, not enough to write a blog post about it, anyway.

So instead, I'm going to write about something that I do have a grasp on. :)

You've all heard me moan and wail about my Creative Problem Solving class. The content for the class is actually really great; I love that the class is offered, but I'm merely okay with taking it myself. One of the things the lecturer gave us early on was a list of four things creative people value; among them was "an experiential life". (I just learned how to spell "experiential".  Good job, spell check!) And I think he's 100% correct.

I blogged once before about how doing things is what fuels my creativity; the more I do, the more I have to write about. And it doesn't have to be anything fancy, either; a stroll round my neighbourhood will usually do it. Or a trip to the grocery store, or a short run, and certainly a good book.

So I'm a bit concerned when I hear people say how they'd love to experience more things, but don't have the money to travel. Now, don't get me wrong; I have benefited from travel and I'm grateful for the ability to do so. But I don't think that I, or anyone else, need pack the bags and head out to experience things. Especially in a city like Austin (although I bet there's plenty to do in your city, too). An experiential life is waiting right outside the door.

Go to a park. Take the bike instead of a car for an errand. Find a high school play to watch. Choose a busy intersection (busy with lots of things, not just cars) and watch for a while. Volunteer for a neighbourhood clean-up day. Find a local rental of a vehicle you wouldn't normally use (bike, canoe, stand-up paddle board, pedicycle, etc.) and give it a whirl. Skip the produce section and go to a farmer's market. Take a bus, ride a train, talk to a neighbour. All sorts of experiences are waiting for you! And then you can turn them into stories.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there! But first, leave a comment and share a story.

02 March 2011

Super-Snooper Blogfest (Wow, this came up quick!)

Today's blogfest is brought to you by Allison Stevens! Click on over (after you've finished reading mine, of course) and check out the other participants!

So, a description of my MC's stuff:

The walls were blah, just like in every other rental house, with only a Chronicles of Narnia calendar to break the beige monotony. In the corner nearest the closet, a mound of jeans, t-shirts, and scrubs nearly obscured the blue laundry basket that barely contained the mass of clothes. The bed, pushed up against one corner, had been "made" by smoothing a rumpled blanket over the sheets before a pair of blue pajamas had been flung across the top. Books and magazines covered the nightstand, all piled up as though there was more to be found underneath. A glasses case on the edge of the nightstand looked like it was hanging on for dear life from the encroaching paper. But most of the living in the room must have been done in the opposite corner, where a pair of bookshelves stood on either side of an armchair, each piled high with books. There was another stack of books on the floor, as though the occupant had been gathering books from around the house, then decided that this was as good a place as any to put them. A plate also lay on the floor, covered in crumbs. A coffee mug with a Twix wrapper and napkin tucked inside completed the picture of a late-night snack.