Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Some Fine Pictures

This August my husband and I traveled to South Carolina to visit with his parents. The day after we arrived in South Carolina, we all drove to North Carolina to visit additional family and participate in some family traditions and celebrations. These photos are from the first two days of the trip, not including all the lovely people I met (and Ambrose reunited with). 

As we hit the road from South Carolina to North Carolina, we stopped at a roadside stand for some freshly boiled peanuts. 

Now, I'd had "boiled peanuts" from the Saturday Market in Boise before, but these were in an entirely different league. Where the peanuts from Boise had a bit of crunch to them, these were more like beans.

See, I could smush them like a well-cooked bean in my fingers. They were also saltier than the peanuts that I'd had before, and that was a good thing. 

We were going to North Carolina, from South Carolina, so of course we went by way of Tennessee..

Ambrose at a scenic overlook in Tennessee.

Me, being more awesome at the same overlook. (That's my wall now. Actually, no, it isn't. It smelled like someone peed on it. But the view was great.) 

It's hard to see in this picture, but this sign was just around a hairpin turn, and was followed immediately by another. Did I mention I discovered a new propensity for car sickness on this trip? 

The Smoky Mountains in the morning. 

A green view from the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

Ambrose and his Dad on Grandfather Mountain, before the swinging bridge.

View from Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain actually provides a volunteer at this bridge who takes photos for people, which is how this picture contains me, Ambrose and his Dad all at the same time. 

Personally, I think calling the bridge a mile-high swinging bridge is a bit disingenuous - sure, the elevation is technically one mile above sea level, but it isn't as if the drop below the bridge is anywhere near that high. 

Ambrose and I on Grandfather Mountain - after his Dad figured out how to use our camera :)

The USGS benchmark on Grandfather Mountain. Yes, I think this is neat. I'm a mountain geek.

The swinging bridge, with the peak of Grandfather Mountain in the background. Part of me wanted to climb to the peak, but more of me still felt too carsick. And I didn't have my hiking boots.

I found out inside the museum that this flower is endangered. But I forgot what it's called. 

The drive down from the swinging bridge is not for the faint of heart. 

Also not for those lacking well-maintained brakes. . .

The mountain has wildlife habitats. We didn't get to see the deer or the big cats, but the otters did come out after a few minutes of waiting. 

I could have watched the otters play for a long time. So cute!

The eagles were also out, but not playing. They looked like we were all there on their sufferance - go ahead, tourists, take pictures - we all know who's in charge here.

The bears were a bit more lively.

Probably because it was getting close to their feeding time. . . 

It might not have been while backpacking, but hey, a bear encounter's a bear encounter, right? I mean, just because this bear was in an enclosure, patiently waiting to be fed while a crowd gathered doesn't mean it isn't capable of going on a rampage and killing all humans...

According to my tour guide (Ambrose's Dad), the land for this road was sold on the condition that the road builders did not mess up the land. This architectural challenge resulted in sections of road like this, where columns support the road above nature's splendor. And yes, because the road is so curvy, we were on the same road I photographed. 

We came across this sign on the way away from Grandfather Mountain.

This is the Appalachian Trail. With me standing on it. For that, as well as the friendly and hospitable people I met, I plan to come back to North Carolina. 

Ambrose on the Appalachian Trail. That section is his now. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tone of Choice

I have a tendency to obsess over meaning. When I speak with other people, I tend to over analyze what I say to them, what they say to me, what I perceive as their reactions to what I’ve said or done… If I let myself go on too long, then I usually end up upset or irritated at myself. Because, of course, I’m always at fault in my own head.

But I’ve gotten better about letting myself go down those kinds of dark, spiraling paths. So, when a man had some odd words to say to Ambrose and I before our last backpacking trips, I didn’t take it personally.

But I did analyze it a bit.

We had just explained that we were going to backpack to Johnson Lake up the Little Queens River. Now, I had backpacked there myself not four weeks previously. I knew that I could do it, and, based on other trips we had taken that summer, I knew Ambrose could do it as well. Unless something catastrophic had happened to make the trail impassable, we were good.

But this man, this man leading a horse, looked at us, dismissed us with his eyes (there’s that analysis again), and said, “Good luck with that.”

In and of itself, not such a bad phrase. Add a little friendliness to the tone, maybe a smile, and you’ve got a perfectly nice thing to say to a person you’ve only just seen for the first time.

Such friendliness, however, was lacking in this man’s tone. Instead, a sarcasm dominated, a clear doubt in our ability to accomplish our stated goal. It was almost accompanied by a snort of disbelief.

Why, I thought later, didn’t I have the perfect reply ready? I could have smiled sweetly and asked if the trail had been washed out since we had been there not four weeks prior? Had there perhaps been a fire I hadn’t heard about, which this man would be happy to inform me of? A bear sighting, mayhap?

Still. It would have been more to his advantage than mine, had he replied in a friendly manner. Because his next words were to inform us that he was going up the “big” Queens River (not its name).

And I happened to know that after the crossing of the Queens River, about three miles down the trail he intended to take, the majority of the trail was washed out and near impossible to find or follow.

However, I was so shocked by his tone that I had nothing to say.

Though as we walked up the Little Queens, I did find myself thinking about the wash out.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Finishing Is Not Failure

I'm not a serious athlete. I have no goals to become a professional athlete, but like many other people who have no intention of going pro, I have run races. Races I had no chance of winning, even split out to a minute degree of age categories.

But I can finish.

I've run 5Ks, 10Ks and one half marathon. I finished each one.

Sure, I puked after that 5K in Nashville, when I was completely dehydrated the morning after a travel day. I had to walk parts of the half marathon after starting out way too fast (yes, a 9 minute mile is too fast for me). My last 10K was a parade of pain that put me on the path to seriously rehabilitating my ilio-tibial band issue (a two year odyssey).

But I finished every race that I started.

Six months ago I set myself a goal. I decided that since I knew I could write stories that could get rejected, I would set about to collect rejections. The idea was to force myself to write more, submit more and desensitize myself to the inevitable rejection.

I submitted a total of eight times in that period, gathering eight rejections. I remain 69 rejections away from my goal of 100.

I could say that I have failed. After all, I have nowhere near the hundred rejections I was seeking. That could just be the end of that. I didn't write enough, and I let myself get discouraged by the rejections.

It's funny, most of the rejections were form rejections, but the one that was a bit more personalized bugged me more. Not because it commented directly on my work, but because it directed me to read the publication to which I was submitting. I do want to get a sense of what they like to publish, but I also don't want to be sending them more of what they've already published.

Be original!

But also be like these other stories that fit our aesthetic!

Figure out our aesthetic by buying our magazine and reading what we've published.

That'll be $15.

Ahem. I know that I did not spend as much time writing fiction as I wanted to over the summer. Part of that was due to writing other things, especially the blog entries on backpacking. Part of it was due to spending a lot of time backpacking, which I wouldn't trade. I know I have to work on the craft of writing stories, and that I also have to work on my own belief in my ability to do so.

100 rejections is a longer race than I thought it would be, but I intend to finish. However long it takes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Failure Mode of Coffee

I like drinking coffee. I didn't always like the taste. When I was young, the aroma was enticing, but the taste was disgusting. It was only in college that I learned to appreciate the bitter flavor of a nice, hot cup of black coffee. Especially with a bit of whiskey in it...

I start most work day mornings with black coffee (without the whiskey). I'll have a cup with breakfast before I leave for work, and, if I'm tired or just in the mood, I'll brew a pot at work. Yesterday, I had just gotten back from vacation. I flew in late on Monday night and was eager for that first cup at work on Tuesday morning.

I almost cried when I saw that not only was the coffee pot not cleaned out from the day before (a sadly common occurrence in my office), but there were no grounds left. Nothing from which to brew the caffeinated elixir that would get me through the long work day. Nothing at all.

I urgently texted my husband, begging him to bring some grounds by. He promised that he would, but then salvation appeared. One of my co-workers actually brought in coffee. I was saved.

Then I heard the tink-tink of beans being poured into a metal hopper and I flinched.

At home, we use a burr grinder. It is a quality grinder and produces uniform grounds to relatively precise sizes. My co-worker had brought in a spice grinder. Those tend to do things like make half your beans into powder while not touching the other half, but she insisted it was okay that she put whole beans into the coffee maker because that's what she did at home.

I'm pretty sure she didn't explode her coffee maker at home though.

No, I exaggerate. The coffee maker didn't explode. The coffee did.

She overfilled the filter, which caused the hot water to flow up and over the sides of it, resulting in a splash of grounds in and on the carafe. The maker was valiantly trying to pump more hot water into the filter area, but it couldn't, because the powdered grounds had formed an impenetrable mud, sprinkled with whole beans.

I called this fact to her attention as calmly as I could, all the while wanting to scream at her for depriving me of coffee in such a cruel fashion. No grounds I could have fixed, but this delay, combined with a 9am meeting, would mean no coffee for me until nearly lunch time.

I told her I would buy myself some coffee, so that she would either not make any more or not make much.

She made half a pot, didn't drink a drop (and neither did I).

The pot was also let to sit overnight without being rinsed out.

I brought my own grounds in this morning. I'm here to do my job, and since I'm not a barista, grinding coffee beans is not part of that - especially not with a spice grinder.

If I can't do something fancy like have whiskey in my coffee at work, then I don't want to do anything complicated with the coffee making, thank you very much.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Would You Do for Your Weekend?

The weekend of July 24th, my husband and I drove to the Kennally Creek Campground, outside of Donnelly, ID, and I found out just what I would do to save my weekend.

You see, our previous plan to go to Blackmare Lake had been aborted, due to unexpectedly snowy weather. As we are running out of weekends left in the summer, I wanted very much not just to take a backpacking trip this weekend, but also to backpack to Blackmare Lake in particular.

My husband and I have developed a routine for when we go on a backpacking trip. We each pack our own pack and any other items we want brought along. Then we pile them in the hallway and on the day of the trip my husband loads them into the car.

Simple, right?

Except when I forget to place my boots in the hallway, which is mistake number one.

And he forgets that if he hasn’t loaded something, then it hasn’t been loaded, mistake number two.

And we both don’t realize this until we are about five miles from the campground.

Which is about 95 miles from home.

Strike three.

We had several options at that point. We could have cancelled the trip. I could have tried backpacking in my sandals (really bad idea, especially on a "no trail"). Or I could prove to both myself and my husband that I am, indeed, a crazy backpacker.

He finished driving us to the campsite. We unloaded the car. And then I got in and drove all the way home on dark, narrow, twisting mountain roads.

When I saw a sign reading 91 miles to Boise, I thought to myself, “This is crazy. What the heck am I doing?” I thought about turning around, declaring defeat and cancelling the trip by default. But I’d already driven 17 miles on dirt roads to get to that sign. 91 more miles didn’t seem like much, not at good speeds.

It took me about three hours to get home and rescue my boots from the closet. I made coffee to sustain me on the drive back up, and, at about 11:30pm, I drove back up.

The drive actually reminded me a little bit of when I was in high school, driving to Shabbona, IL to visit a friend. Except those roads were all flat, and the worst that could happen if I fell asleep at the wheel was a whole lot of flattened corn. As opposed to car flying into the Payette River…

I made it to the campsite before 3am and crawled into the tent with Ambrose to go to sleep.

I’d drive six hours in the dark, late at night, for my weekend.

What would you do?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman was a lovely book.

I had requested an electronic copy of this book from the library back in May, and it just came through before I went on my solo backpack this last weekend. Based on the other Nebula award nominees, I was anticipating another lengthy, complex book. I thought that it would take me the entire weekend to read it, or even the weekend and more.

But I finished it the second night of my trip. I'm not sure how long it is in pages, since the Kindle displays reading time remaining rather than page numbers, but I don't think it could have been very long. However, it wasn't just the length that made it a quick read for me. The style was inviting, and the story was compelling. I wanted to know what happened next through each chapter, and each subsequent event had that magic combination of surprise and inevitability to it for me.

The story utilized a framing device, telling the story of the narrator's experience as a young boy through the mind of him as an adult. That could have gone sour, but the way that it ended, that the narrator has returned to the house and remembered this many times, only to have the experience edited out of his memory each time, felt like a fresher turn than it simply being the first time he remembers these events.

The child perspective, or the tone, or the matter-of-fact aspects of the magic... something reminded me of reading Diana Wynne Jones.

On my first of three nights alone in the Sawtooth Wilderness, this book helped distract me from loneliness and fear of what might be out there in the dark. I believe I would have liked it anyway, but this novel will always have that special luster in my memory, and remind me of that night. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nominee Thoughts: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

This year I'm giving each nominated work for the Hugo and Nebula novel awards their very own entry after I read them.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler is not, in my opinion, science fiction or fantasy. And yet, it was nominated for a Nebula award. The Nebula awards are meant to recognize the best of science fiction and fantasy published in the previous year, and yet, here we have this book that I don't find to be either science fiction or fantasy on the list.

I would argue that this book takes place in a contemporary timeline, in a manner that is clearly fiction, in that it did not happen, but clearly not science fiction or fantasy, in that it could have happened. I found everything described within it as clearly within the limits of possibility. That leaves me with the question of why other people, specifically the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, found this work to be either science fiction or fantasy. Or both.

I try not to read about these books too much before I read them. I don't want my perceptions to be colored by what other people think. In this case, I unintentionally read some of the library's description of the book, which contained a significant spoiler, which, warning, I'm about to reproduce here.

The most fantastical aspect of the book is that the narrator was raised alongside a chimp for the first five years of her life. Being so young, she is raised to think of the chimp as her sister. And, in the first few chapters of the novel, the chimp is coyly described simply as a sister. The narrator does explain that she did this on purpose, in order to make the reader keep an open mind about her sister before writing her off as merely as animal, in order to give the reader the experience she herself had.

I'm not sure if I think the technique worked or not, because I read that damn description that spoiled it for me. I was pissed the moment she mentioned sister and didn't mention chimp, because I already knew about it.

Despite that irritation, and the lack of science fiction and fantasy (because people have actually been raised with chimps, therefore it is within the realm of possibility, and fiction, not fantasy or scifi), I thought the book was overall a good read. For a fiction book and all.