Saturday, March 31, 2012

Big Day - No Fooling

April 1st 2012 - April Fools Day - is going to be a big day in my life - and I'm not kidding!

First, as most of you know, I'll be staring my 5th round of 30 Days of Biking on April 1st. 30 Days of Biking is a challenge to ride your bike every day for 30 days. I did my first 30 Days of Biking two years ago during April of 2010 and it really changed my life. Seriously. I'm now a way more active person than I ever was before and my whole family has taken up bicycling. We now spend a lot of family time with bike-related activities.

Just today we biked the Midtown Greenway so we could stop at a bike shop/coffee shop called Freewheel Midtown. While at Freewheel we visited with Patrick Stephenson (aka @patiomensch), one of the 30 Days of Biking founders and got fun spoke cards for our bikes. After that, we headed over to another bike & coffee shop, Angry Catfish, for a benefit bike art auction called Big Ring: 2nd Gear. The art auction is a benefit for an organization called SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). This organization also hosts a benefit bike ride each year called the Tour de Nick and, guess what, Owen and I did this ride two years ago and last year all four of us did the ride. I think it's safe to say that 30 Days of Biking turned our family into a Bicycling Family!
Ryan and I with our 30 Days of Biking spoke cards. Picture by Patrick Stephenson

Consider doing the 30 Days of Biking challenge yourself. It's easy to sign up - just go to www.30daysofbiking.com. And honestly, it's not that hard to complete the challenge. You just get on your bike and pedal it a little bit each day.

(Added on April 1st - This just in! Though I never thought something like this would happen to me a couple of days ago Molly Guthrey, a journalist at the Pioneer Press, contacted me to see if she could write about how 30 Days of Biking changed my life for her Turning Point column. It was sorta strange for me to be on the other side of the story and be interviewed and I felt like I babbled the whole time. But Molly was able to sort through my wordiness and wrote a great story. Click HERE to read it.)

The second Big Day activity happening on April Fools is I will be playing in my first Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra concert. I haven't played in anything resembling a concert since I was a junior in high school when I played the violin so I am kind of nervous. Actually I'm a lot nervous. I'm worried I'll do something like drop my pick an lose it in the middle of a song or play the wrong notes. I joined the MMO so I would get back to playing my mandolin - and I sure have been playing it. The music we're playing, fourteen songs are on the schedule, is difficult and I'm still not proficient at playing all of the songs. But I'm way better at playing now than I was when I joined the MMO three months ago (and have gotten good at following along on the songs where I can't play the really difficult parts). So, ready or not, I'll be there ready to play. Nervous? Yes. But willing to give it a go.
Minnesota Mandolin Orchestra - minus a few players who were missing on picture night - Photo: MMO

So, if you want to listen to some great music Sunday evening, head on over to Edinborough Park in Edina for our 7:00 concert. It's free! (no fooling). If you can't make this concert the MMO has several more in the months to come. The performance schedule is at the MMO website: www.minnesotamandolinorchestra.org.

As for the Third Big Day happening, well, it's kind of a sad thing but something I want to mention. April 1st was the birth date of our dear Border Terrier, Chaucer. We had to say good-bye to Chaucer last October. Chaucer (Saga Hills Chaucer's Folly JE) would have been sixteen this April Fools Day. We miss him. He was a good dog.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Doing Enough

At various points in my life, way more often than I like to admit,  I think of myself as not very productive. Uh, that's so not true but I get it in my brain that I’m sitting on my arse half the time. I’m not. I do think I need to reprogram that part of my brain, though, that part that tells me I’m doing not enough.
All I need to do to remind myself that I’m doing “enough” is to look at my kids and see how cool they are - and remember that though luck has an awful lot to do with how people turn out I have also worked hard to be there for my kids and to be as good of a mom as I can be for them. I believe this does make a difference.
But sometimes, even with the cool kids as a reminders, it’s difficult to believe that I am doing enough, especially when it comes to my writing work - probably because my writing work doesn’t bring in a ton of money and this darn world we live in puts so much value on the almighty dollar. And sometimes I get caught up in that line of thinking - that a person's worth is equal to the amount of money they make. Frankly, I’m pretty hard on myself when it comes to this. Dang it! It’s time to be nicer to myself. Time to be as kind to myself as my dearest friends and family members are nice and kind to me. 
I just finished my billing for my 2011 writing work. And, in an effort to be nice to myself, to give myself something tangible to look at to remind myself that I DO in fact work hard and do a lot in the course of a year, I took a picture of my stack of stories written and published in 2011. Seventeen stories.
I’m not going to say, like I so very often do, “But some people write more” or “But I didn’t get paid much for these stories.” No buts. No comparisons to other writers, to other people. Because life isn’t just those seventeen stories that I got paid for - it was a lot of other writing and a whole lot of living that can't be measured or invoiced. It was the hours of talking to people so I could write those stories. The hours of being a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend during happy times and tears. Of reading with kids at school. Of long bike rides and walks. Of tiny moments that made me smile.
Maybe we should all consider stepping away from the world of “doing enough” and consider the possibility that “doing enough” may actually be too much. Maybe we should actually DO less and BE more. 

More present. More engaged with our friends and families. More willing to have coffee with a friend. To play with the kids. To sit still and enjoy moments and make memories.

It’s something to think about.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Tickets to Happiness!!

I celebrated my 45th birthday on the 25th of March. We're pretty low-key about birthdays in my family but always have a fun time. My family - that is my family of origin -  makes a point of going out to eat together to celebrate birthdays. Our dining experience is more about family time than fine food - our favorite Birthday dinner spots are Perkins and Q. Cumbers - and if we give gifts they tend to be somewhat silly or practical.

This year on the day before my Birthday I, Owen and the kids met my parents, my two brothers and my two-year-old nephew at Q. Cumbers for a fun birthday dinner. It may sound silly but while I was up loading my plate at the salad bar buffet I had this overwhelming feeling of being loved - not because of the salad bar offerings (which were wonderful) but because my family members all took time to have dinner with me. In our busy world, spending time with people is one of the best gifts of all! Then we walked around Centennial Lakes Park and talked while we enjoyed the unseasonably nice weather - more family time. More time feeling loved and appreciated.

On Sunday, my actual birthday, Owen, the kids and I went on a bike ride on the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis and then went to a wonderful bike shop/coffee shop, Angry Catfish. Later we settled in at home to open presents and make pizzas for dinner. I mentioned that presents in my family tend to be somewhat silly or practical - very often things that we would have purchased anyway. Owen tells me that the kids had a lot to do with picking out my gifts this year. They picked out some cool things for me, like the Kuhn Rikon mini-prep kitchen knife that Ryan picked out for me (probably in part because I know he wanted it, too!)
Rose presented a package carefully wrapped in tissue paper for me to open. This one, Owen said, was a present he didn't know about. I opened it up and found the sweetest gift from my lovely and sweet daughter. Rose made two little paper folders - one for Owen and one for me. On them were the words, "Your Tickets to HAPPINESS!!! and tucked inside were hand lettered "Tickets to Happiness."
Rose had noticed, she told us, that we say we seldom find time to sit still and read, or fly model airplanes or kites, or walk in the garden, or just, well, sit still and feel free of obligations and to-do lists. So Rose's solution was to give us Tickets to Happiness to cash in whenever we wanted some time off.

Even if I don't cash in all of my tickets (though I will, I'm sure, take advantage of "2 hours of whatever you want" soon) Rose's gift has already served a great purpose. She reminded me that I already have the  Tickets to Happiness - and they are not tickets or things but people -  Friends. Relatives. Neighbors. Parents. Brothers. Nephew. And especially Owen, Ryan and my Rose. My Family. I am so blessed.

Friday, March 23, 2012

What I'm Reading

Some rain is mixed in with our sunny weather during our spring break Staycation - but no worries!  Rainy times are certainly good times to read and the much needed moisture sure has turned our grass green!

I'm happy to report that I did in fact sit still one afternoon and I finished reading a book, Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton and I've been reading a bit each day.

Here's the rundown on the stack of books I'm reading right now...

First here's a picture of the books that I'm reading. I like having a visual reference and you might, too.
From the top:

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, a memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton: I started this book a week ago and finished it up on Monday afternoon. On the surface it's a book about Gabrielle and how she became the owner and chef of famous New York restaurant, Prune, but it's also a book about family and marriage. The last sentence in the book left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open. That doesn't happen often. It's a good read. I recommend it. I heard about this book through a memoir writing class I'm taking and found it at my local book store: Monkey See, Monkey Read.

The Book of Time, a young adult novel, first in a series, by Guillaume Prevost: I picked up this book at the Scholastic book fair at Greenvale Park Elementary two weeks ago in part because it was on sale for $2.50. One of Ryan's classmates wants to read this book and we are planning to read it together. So far we've only had a chance to talk about why the book looks interesting and have read the first page and a half. It's a start.

Jahanara: Princess of Princesses is a young adult, historical fiction book by Kathryn Lasky. It's part of a series of books called The Royal Diaries. Each of The Royal Diaries is written as though an actual royal girl is writing in a private journal. I've read several of The Royal Diaries and like them for the quick look at history they give. They are also a fun, quick and easy read. My daughter, Rose, owns this book and suggested I read it (again - I read it a few years ago) after we attended a Northfield Rotary fundraising event, To India and Back. Jahanara was a princess in India in the 1600s. You may not have heard of her but it's likely you at least know about her mother, Mumtaz Mahal in whose memory the famous Taj Mahal was built by Jahanara's father, Shah Janan. As for my reading progress on this book - I'm almost done!

Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down: This is a lighthearted non-fiction book about one of my favorite things - Tea! I found this book at the lovely Perennial Tea Room in Seattle, Washington two years ago. Originally published in Great Britain, (where they know how to brew a proper cuppa) the book is full of fun information about tea and biscuits (cookies) and was written by a husband and wife who refer to themselves as "Nicey and Wifey" - visit their website for some fun. I'm sad to say I haven't exactly finished the book but I don't know why. I'm so close to having this done that I am going to make a point to finish it during my staycation.

Floors is a young adult fiction book by Patrick Carman and was another $2.50 find from the Scholastic book fair. I've only read about ten pages of this book so far but it's quite fun and keeping my attention. Young Leo Fillmore is the main character and the setting is the mysterious Whippet Hotel where "...every floor has its own wacky design - and its own wacky secrets. The guests are either mad or mysterious. And ducks are everywhere."(quote taken from the back of the book)

This Is Not The Story You Think It is...A season of Unlikely Happiness is the book that I'm in the middle of reading now. Another memoir, this one was written by Laura Munson, who I mentioned in my What's the Point blog entry two weeks ago. It's another book I ordered it through Monkey See, Monkey Read and it's a good read so far. The storyline, in brief, is that Munson's husband decides to leave her and she tells him "no." And, you know this at the beginning of the book, they end up staying together. So why read it? Well, good question. Munson, I think, asks her readers to go on a wild ride of sorts with her as she tells her story. She's telling her story well enough that I'm willing to hang on and see what happens.

The next two books I'm "reading" are books that I constantly have around and read a bit at a time.

101 Things You Didn't Know About Jane Austen by Patrice Hannon PhD is written in short sections so it's easy to pick it up and read a bit at a time. I'm a Jane Austen fan so enjoy reading bits about Austen and how her life relates to her books. Okay, confession time -  I am a fan of Austen and her books but I'm REALLY a fan of Colin Firth who plays Fitzwilliam Darcy in the A&E movie version of Pride and Prejudice. So maybe that means I'm mostly a fan of Colin Firth. Which is okay because Owen likes Jennifer Ehle who plays Elizabeth Bennet in the same version of Pride and Prejudice. Which is why we've watched the six hour made for TV movie about twenty times. And now so you can also appreciate Colin Firth aka Darcy and Jennifer Ehle aka Bennet I will post a picture of the two of them from the Internet Movie Database website.
See what I mean about Colin Firth? Sigh. If you don't get it you need to watch the movie. Now. Trust me. The recent Hollywood version of Pride and Prejudice is good, great even, but the A&E version is the best!

And now for the last book in my pile of books - The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain by Charles Phillips with consultants Dr. John Haywood and Professor Richard G. Wilson. The book is "A magnificent study of Britain's royal heritage with a directory of royalty and over 120 of the most important historic buildings." I really am quite a fan of British history and this book provides wonderful, albeit condensed, information about British royalty starting back in Roman times. It's not really a read from cover to cover sort of book, more of a reference book for me. I'm going to admit to liking all of the nice colorful pictures, especially those of the late Princess Diana and her sons. The book was published in 2009 so does not have the most recent Royal Family information about Prince William and Kate Middleton - but that's okay.

So there you have it. A list of the books I'm currently reading and not-so-brief descriptions of the books including why I'm reading them and why I like them.

This was a terribly long blog entry, way longer than I expected it to be. So if you read this far you should get some kind of reward. Hmm, how about another nice picture of Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy? Which reminds me that I could mention one more book (oh, the suspense - I'm making you wait for the picture of Firth as Darcy) that I keep at the ready for reference and for the pictures (especially of Firth/Darcy)! - The Making of Pride and Prejudice by Sue Birtwistle and Sue Conklin. Love the book!

Okay - your picture reward :)
Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy in A&E's Pride and Prejudice. Picture from www.bbc.co.uk

Monday, March 19, 2012

Staycation

The kids are now on spring break. While many of our friends are driving somewhere or jetting off to great vacation destinations we are having a staycation and sticking around home. We have summer-like weather here with temperatures in the 70s and couldn't possibly have nicer weather for a week spent around home.

One of my goals for this staycation is to read. And by read I mean really read, like in a comfortable chair or on the couch...not in the bathroom like I usually do which, though a fine enough place to read a page or two, is not the ideal location to relax while reading a book. Though generally no one bothers you if you are reading in the bathroom...

When I was a kid I spent hours sitting on the couch reading books. So did Owen. I'm glad to see that my kids are as hooked on reading as we were as kids. Both Rose and Ryan read a ton. We just got a few new books from our local bookstore, Monkey See, Monkey Read, and from the library just to get enough reading material for our staycation. It's hard to disengage the kids from their books and I've found Ryan reading in bed under the covers with a flashlight more than once in the last few weeks. Rose and Ryan love to read - but it seems that I have forgotten how to love reading this way. As a writer, it's important that I read yet I seldom allow myself the pleasure of sitting still and enjoying a book.

When it comes to priorities I think Owen and I have lost sight of how important it is to sit still and enjoy quiet moments, especially quiet moments with a book. Actually, I don't think Owen has lost sight of this. I think I sometimes (ahem, probably often. Okay, yes, often) prevent him from having quiet moments because I tend to drive the household with my intense desire to get things done.

Rose has been telling me a lot lately that I look stressed. And I have been. And my stress sometimes stresses out the rest of my family. Enough already! It's time for me to do less and feel okay with it. It's time to sit still and read books more often, like I did when I was a kid. Because it seems like doing "less" in the long run will actually benefit us more than working harder. Than getting yet another thing done.

So this afternoon I have the windows open and a wonderful breeze is blowing through the house. The kids have been playing outside and now are both sitting next to me on the couch. Rocket the wonder dog is napping beside us. I have some music playing on the iPod dock. And I'm about to shut off my computer and read. And I refuse to feel guilty about it or think I'm not doing enough.

My stack of partially read books.Time to finish a few!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Keep Calm and Peddle On ?!

Today is overcast and dreary but I found a little something that brightened my day. After my regular Monday morning coffee at Goodbye Blue Monday (this morning fellow writer Joy Riggs was there - check out her recent story in the Star Tribune on our lovely little town of Northfield - and we're usually joined by writer Christine Bernier Lienke as well) I headed over to one of the shops - Rooms by Tagg 2 just to take a peek.

Rooms by Tagg 2 has tons of cute & clever home decor items like books, frames, mini-frying pans (perfect for one fried egg - I bought one. It's turquoise in keeping with my favorite color theme) kitchen gadgets and more.

I found one thing that I just had to have that really brightened my day - in more ways than one. It's a box of matches with great bike artwork on it.  I love the vintage looking bike artwork and also the quote on the side which I thought was perfect for this dreary day - "Keep Calm and Peddle On" - Yep, what a great quote for a bicyclist, a simple reminder to keep pedaling through life no matter what comes your way.
I bought the little box of matches and the frying pan, tucked them into my bag and set off for home. But something about that box of matches kept bugging me so I stopped to pull them from my bag and look at them again.


There are actually six different bikes on the box of matches not three like I initially thought, I noticed. Cool. And then there was that wonderful quote - "Keep Calm and Peddle On"
Keep Calm and Peddle On ??? What??

Okay I will admit to making spelling mistakes, many of them, but you'd think that a company would catch that "peddle" and "pedal" have different meanings and, one would hope, would put the correct word on a product that they plan to sell.

Well, I suppose it does make sense that one could keep calm while they "travel about with wares for sale" (according to Merriam-Webster) and maybe even do this while pedaling a bicycle but I do think the company meant to stamp "Keep Calm and Pedal On" on the side of their cute little bicycling matchbox. Don't you think?

Yeah. I think so. Nonetheless, I like my little bicycling artwork matchbox and I will remember to keep calm whether peddling or pedaling my way through life. I'm hope to spend more time pedaling than peddling, though.

(Here's hoping I didn't make any spelling errors in this blog post - though a blog post about a spelling error filled with spelling errors would indeed be funny)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring in Webster, Minnesota:

The snow, what little we had this winter, is pretty much gone
My kids have been playing outside, winter jackets forgotten
The temperature has been in the 60s and looks to stay there
The fields are muddy - and so is Rocket the dog when he comes inside from our hikes
People are out flying where I live at SkyHarbor Airpark (as in people are flying airplanes. I haven't seen any flying people - at least not yet)
I visited two bike shops in two days (Valley Bike & Ski and Milltown Cycles)
Owen and I biked two days in a row!!

and....

I got new bar tape on my road bike!!
Owen and I stopped in to Milltown Cycles on Saturday to check out bikes and to see the work Ben and Curtis are doing to the shop. The handlebar tape on my bike was white and pretty dirty so I decided, with a little encouragement from Ben and Owen, to put bright new turquoise bar tape on my Giant Avail road bike.

Turquoise is my favorite color - it reminds me of spring and all things good. And I can't think of a much nicer way to start out spring and the bicycling season than with pretty new turquoise bar tape :)
Thanks, Ben, for putting the new tape on my bike for me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What's the Point?

Eight days ago I finished my 30 Days of Writing challenge. The point for me in doing this challenge was to get back to work on one project I started, oh, almost ten years ago and to kick start a new project. Neither project has a deadline or a real concrete end in sight. My goal was to write content and then see where the projects are going and then decide where to go with the material I have.
And I did this. I wrote - a lot. And it felt good. It was kind of freeing to not think about word counts and deadlines, about how to write with a particular publication or audience in mind like I usually do.

I felt very much like a "real" writer during my 30 Days. 
But at the same time I felt a little panicked. Like I didn’t know where I was going. Like much of what I wrote wouldn’t be worth a second look. And a little bit like, "uh, what's the point of writing if I don't actually get some of this content refined and published?" 
Yeah. Well. What IS the point of writing if no one is going to see my material? If I write and write and write then realize (horrors!) the stuff I've written isn't worthy of refining let alone publishing? 
Maybe it's enough that I like to write. That I've always written. That I find comfort in writing. That I want to write because it feeds me in many ways. That it helps me figure things out.
I'm reading a book now by Laura Munson titled This is Not the Story You Think it Is...A Season of Unlikely Happiness. Munson wrote a piece for Modern Love in The New York Times in 2009 (Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear). I read the piece and loved it. So did thousands of others and Munson ended up getting her memoir published out of the deal. She’s getting attention! People love her work! She’s a writer! 
But guess what? Munson was a writer long before her essay and memoir caught people’s attention. Like for twenty years. In that time Munson wrote fourteen other books, novels, all unpublished.
"Fourteen unpublished novels! Seriously?" Yes. "But why keep writing then?" you might ask. I suggest you read Munson's entire bio on her website to find out. Here is an excerpt that hit me:
"People ask me how it is that I could have spent the last 20 years writing so devotedly when I’ve not met with big-time publication.  The answer is simple:  I am obsessed with writing.  You have to be obsessed if you are going to live the writer’s life.  Years ago when I announced that the precarious and non-lucrative field of writing was my true passion, someone asked me:  'If you could look into your future and see that you’ll never be published, would you still write?'  Without batting an eyelash, I said, 'Yes.'  That’s how I knew I was hooked."
Okay so I'm not Laura Munson. And I'm not comparing myself to her or claiming that I'm a writer as hooked on writing as she is...but I am a writer who feels like I must write, who is obsessed with writing at some level, at least.

But, this is the difficult part for me, I'm also a writer who wonders if I'm a writer. A "real" writer. I've had dozens of stories published but wonder if I would have kept writing if I never got anything published?  I wonder how I'm going to keep working on my two big projects that don't really have an end in sight and that, in the end, no one may want to read anyway. I wonder if I should get some other job that actually pays money so I could go to Italy, say, or just be able to pay a bill.

I wonder a whole bunch of things about my writing. I really don’t know where I’m going with my writing or where I’m going to end up. But the point is, I believe, to keep my wonderings (perhaps wanderings might be a better word)  somewhat at bay and to keep writing. And, for now, that is enough. Right?

Write!