Monday, June 30, 2008

somewhere between the soul and soft machine is where i find myself again

I'm in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a town that I'm all too familiar with from previous cross-country roadtrips. I didn't leave home until almost eleven, but I made reasonable time, and got here at 9:20pm Mountain time. That included several stops for drinks, food, bathroom breaks (note: at work people started calling them 'bio breaks', which is one of my pet peeves -- we're not taking a break to study biology, we're taking a break to go to the bathroom, so call it what it is!). I stopped for supper in Ogallala, and waved in the general direction of Grant, Nebraska, where my dad went to kindergarten. I also shook my fist at the PayPal offices outside of Omaha, which was the only exciting thing that happened for several hours. Nebraska is a torturous drive -- and I think they're trying to up the possibility of catching out-of-state motorists for speeding and giving them hefty fines, since it seemed like half the state had 'road work in progress' signs up, with slower speed limits and double fines. The funny thing was that there were only a couple of places where there was actually visible work going on; in most of the zones, there were some traffic cones, but not a soul to be seen.

So the drive is going well, but I should go to bed; I have to be in Salt Lake City for dinner tomorrow, and since I don't want to look quite as windblown and overly-caffeinated tomorrow when I meet my friends as I did most of today, I should really go to bed so that I can wake up refreshed tomorrow. Goodnight!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

i am not going to amarillo by morning

This will be quick, since otherwise I risk getting incredibly maudlin, and I don't have time for that since I need to go to bed. But this is my last night in Iowa; my goal is to make it to Cheyenne by tomorrow night, which is fine except for the six hours spent crossing Nebraska, the most boring stretch of road on earth, with cruise control firmly set at exactly the speed limit to avoid getting ticketed by the Nebraska State Patrol. Ugh.

I spent most of this afternoon loading my car; I did a better job this time than I did on the way home (as evidenced by the fact that everything is properly packed, and there aren't myriad random objects stuffed in cup holders, under seats, etc. I also took a road test to see whether anything was shifting or making annoying noises, but everything was beautifully still. Of course, I can't do anything without a little bit of drama, and this experience was heightened by the dozen or so wasps that were investigating and then making themselves at home in my car while I was loading it. I thought that I had gotten them all out of the car, but when I went out awhile later to load something else, I opened the door and almost screamed when one flew into my face. Granted, these were mud daubers rather than truly aggressive wasps, but the last thing I want is to have wasps flying around my head while I'm driving.

Aunt Becky and the scandalous fiance were here briefly this afternoon, so I got to say goodbye to them. I also visited my grandmother briefly, and had a virtual repeat of the conversation I had with her earlier in the week (but since I left after half an hour, we didn't have time to have the conversation a second time). Then, my parents made a delicious last supper (hot dogs again -- but you have no idea how good these hot dogs are, especially since Dad grills them -- and Dad's amazingly perfect fried potatoes), which the four of us enjoyed immensely. I hung out w/my parents while watching a couple of episodes of 'Cold Case' and the ten o'clock news, before coming downstairs and packing up the last remnants of stuff scattered around my room.

Tomorrow I should be in Wyoming! I'll post an appropriately reflective post another time, likely with the pictures of town that I took the other day, but right now I need to get some sleep.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

you're calling to me, i can't hear what you have said

Compared to my usual moves, I'm actually far ahead of schedule -- I actually have almost everything packed up in a real box or suitcase, with almost 36 hours left before my scheduled departure. Whether those boxes and suitcases will fit into my car is a question for tomorrow. And while I'm far ahead compared to my historical experience with moves, I'm by no means close to done -- I still have to haul everything upstairs and spend several hours arranging, rearranging, and load balancing, almost like I'm loading a pack horse, except in this case I'm trying for maximal load with minimal blocking of windows and doors.

You would think that as many times as I've moved cross-country (this is move number seven, counting three airplane/UPS combo moves during college and four cross-country car trips) and cross-ocean (six times, although the back and forth to Ukraine were much more stressful for my parents than they were for me), not to mention the disasters I experienced at the end of all four dorm experiences and most of my four post-college apartments, I would have reached a point of wisdom and understanding about the necessity of starting early. But no, I still procrastinate. And there are many things I carry with me because I'm in such a hurry that I don't feel like I have time to properly decide what to throw away -- there are a couple of boxes now sitting in my closet, which I intend to leave here, that I know have stayed packed the same way they were packed at the end of my senior year of college, and I've just moved them around for the past five years. It's that tendency to accumulate that is leading me to search for a bigger apartment than the one I previously had in Palo Alto; not that I want space for more stuff, but I at least want space for the stuff I have.

Anyway, today was still a decent day. I spent most of it packing, but did see my family, and we had yet another over-the-top midwestern supper -- Dad grilled both brats and hotdogs, and Mom made mac and cheese, sauerkraut for the brats (which I did not eat), chili for the hotdogs (which I did eat), and strawberry shortcake (which I ate after a two hour post-hotdog break). I love Mom's strawberry shortcake -- she makes individual biscuit-like shortcakes, and then you can top them with as many strawberries and as much half and half as you want. Yes, I said half and half -- it's the best topping for shortcake, far superior to canned whipped cream. Also, I had a nice, long chat with Katie, who has called me more since she's been able to just dial my childhood phone number; our topics of conversation were varied and highly entertaining, and I'm going to have to find a weekend to go down and visit her in Dallas.

Okay, it's bedtime! A week from now I'll be in San Francisco, after a cross-country drive and a weekend in Los Angeles, getting ready to don my manager pants and spend a couple of days 'working'. I don't know whether that deserves a 'yay' or a 'bleh', so I'll leave it to you to decide.

pop-punk is soooo '05

I'm making steady progress through my to-do list, even though I didn't get out of bed until almost eleven today. I showered, ate a sandwich, ran errands in town, helped my mom to install QuickBooks on her new computer (a task that has previously left her a nervous wreck, given that my parents' company's financial history is all stored in QuickBooks -- but it went fine today), picked up clothes from the local seamstress (she shortened five pairs of pants, two skirts, and a shirt, charging me the bargain price of $25), and then started to pack up my room. Mom made a delicious supper -- mushroom steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans -- and I realized this may be the last time I have gravy until I come home for Christmas. My arteries may be grateful for the reprieve, but my tastebuds aren't. Then the four of us played hearts (which, along with canasta and Monopoly, got us through many long Ukrainian winter nights back in the day) before breaking up to accomplish other things. I went back upstairs later to watch Craig, who was in excellent form again tonight -- this show was dedicated to Madagascar, which was hilarious in ways I won't bother to explain here.

I'm excited to go back to California, but sad to leave Iowa -- it's especially hard given the state of the town and the likelihood that more of it will crumble in the brief months between now and Christmas. I took pictures this afternoon, which I'll post in a couple of days, but they barely scratch the surface of what it's like here. I will say that summers in a small town are amazing -- all of the overgrown trees, grasses and wildflowers make the derelict houses and abandoned stores look almost picturesque, and the people who are still around seem to be in better moods. Even the threat of thunderstorms (we had a tornado warning while playing hearts, but we didn't bother with going to the basement since the tornado was a few miles away from us) doesn't ruin the ambiance; in fact, a quick bout of lightning followed by a gorgeous rainbow at sunset only makes it better.

Clearly I'm stressed about something, though; I've been having strange nightmares and strong headaches the past few days, which hasn't happened since before I left California. Two nights ago I dreamed that I was running through a cobbled, European-style city, carrying my own dead child as I tried to escape from vampires; last night I dreamed that I was in a prison camp and three of my closest friends were killed beside me when the guards opened fire on us. So my friend Alaska Matt has nothing to worry about -- he had blogged that he was concerned that I would be so sunny and cheerful after six months off that I'd be impossible to tolerate during our usual lunches, but I'm sure I'll revert to surly and sarcastic if I keep having headaches and nightmares.

Anyway, it's more than past my bedtime; I need to get up tomorrow and pack!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

has there been a murder?

Craig was in top form tonight. He mentioned Des Moines -- someone from Des Moines wrote in, and he said 'I've been to Des Moines! What a lovely place, full of delicious....people.' Apparently he either couldn't remember what he ate in Des Moines, or hated the food as much as he hated the hotel he stayed in (which was much maligned by his opening act). Then, he had an awesome skit in which he dressed up as Jessica Fletcher and someone else dressed up as Sherlock Holmes; I was laughing out loud, particularly every time he said 'Has there been a murder?!' in his ridiculous high-pitched voice. And his main guest was James McAvoy, who was also v. funny. I can't wait to have my TiVo back so that I can watch Craig at a reasonable hour instead of staying up late to see him!

I did not accomplish as much as I intended today. Michael and I had lunch with Gram Wampler at the local tavern, and then came home with the initial intention of him going to Des Moines and me starting to pack up my room. However, it stormed most of last night and rained most of today, adding another couple of inches to already-waterlogged soil (water is standing in the fields and this year's crops are pretty much a wash in this area). So Michael didn't want to go to Des Moines, I couldn't drive my car through the yard around back to start loading it, Mom couldn't run errands, and Dad couldn't work on the landscaping. We ended up playing Rail Baron again, which took seven hours; it was fun, but not as fun as yesterday. That's probably because yesterday I lost respectably, whereas today I lost horribly; I was so far behind throughout the game (due to a series of disastrous money-losing trips early on that destroyed my ability to build a solid train network) that it was hard to get fired up and competitive. Michael won again, which was good for him, I suppose :)

After Rail Baron, I took care of a few things, and then we had supper -- Mom made tenderloins, which is one of the quintessential Iowa foods that I'm really going to miss. You haven't lived unless you've had a great Iowa tenderloin (no dirty jokes here! I mean the tenderized, breaded, fried pork loin, usually pounded out so thin that it's twice the size of the bun). Then I ran into town to buy ice (starting two deer when I walked out the door, and only seeing four or five more on the trip), came home, and did some work -- print directions and hotel confirmations for my trip, answering emails, etc.

Tomorrow I really must accomplish a lot; I only have three days left in Iowa. Isn't that tragic?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

it's hard out here for a pimp

I just watched Salman Rushdie introduce Three 6 Mafia on Craig Ferguson. He described their new song as a 'lovely tune about shorties'. Bizarre.

Today was v. much a family day. When I woke up, I discovered that the rest of the family was waiting for me to wake up so that we could do family things, since I'm leaving on Monday. We ended up going to Chariton for lunch, and then came home to spend the entire rest of the day playing Rail Baron. I'm not kidding -- Rail Baron is an incredibly time-consuming game, and we played straight through from 3pm until 10pm with a break around 7pm for some takeout from the local tavern.

The premise of Rail Baron, for those of you unlucky enough to have never played before, is almost similar to Monopoly -- the board is a map of the major railways in the US circa 1900. You start out with $20,000, and the goal is to build up a network of railways that can get you across the country and be vital enough that your opponents are forced to take your lines and pay you exorbitant fees for the privilege. Then you roll the dice to get different routes across the country, using the payouts from the routes to buy more railroads (or pay for disastrous trips into unfriendly territory).

I thought my game was going pretty well; I built a great network, including the Southern Pacific, the MoPac, the B&O, the L&N, the CB&Q, and the T&P, which enabled me to get almost anywhere I wanted to get with few payments to the other players (although I lived in dread of going to the Southeast or to the far Northeast). However, Michael and Mom pretty much tied up the Northeast, which sealed the game. I made it to $200,000 at the very end, but didn't get a chance to declare and make the move for home; Michael ended up winning, although it was v. close. It turns out that a few turns earlier, Mom was only two spaces away from her home city...but she was $500 short of being able to get there and still have $200,000 on arrival. To lose by $500 is pretty incredible, and rather devastating if you've been playing for seven hours.

So, clearly that's the only thing I have to report tonight, since the entire day was taken up by Rail Baron. Tomorrow, though, I really should start packing. And now it's time for bed -- there's an awesome thunderstorm going on outside, but I've had enough practice to sleep right through it. Goodnight!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

sorry i'm not home right now, i'm walking into spiderwebs

There are so many bad movies coming out, and I have no one to see them with! You would think this is just because I am with my family and dozens of miles from the nearest multiplex -- but in truth, I scared off almost all of my movie-going friends years ago, and the few who were still willing to see movies with me after 'King Arthur' have mostly moved away from the Bay Area. But, if 'Wanted' (the new James McAvoy/Angelina Jolie assassin movie) is still out when I'm back in California and you have a secret, shameful desire to see it, let me know. We'll meet at the theatre wearing dark sunglasses, buy tickets for something like 'Mongol' (actually, I really wanna see that too), and then sneak into 'Wanted' instead.

I didn't accomplish all that much today. I woke up in time for a call with Gyre, which was a good way to catch up on what's going on in the office -- and two weeks from now, I can do my reconnaissance in person! I also visited my grandmother this afternoon, which qualifies as my good deed for the week. I was there long enough that she started to ask me all the same questions again, which made me sad; I'm already not exactly a fan of going to her house because I wish that Granddad was there (even though he died seven years ago), and it's harder now that Gram is getting forgetful. But, I'm glad that I went to see her anyway. Then I came home, chatted with my parents for awhile, and took care of some of my to-do list (including making an appointment for an allergy skin test when I get back to California; my triple-drug cocktail isn't completely controlling my allergies, and I'm curious to know just how many things I'm allergic to). We had a lovely Midwestern supper (roast beef, potatoes, carrots, and gravy), and then I chatted with Laura briefly before getting back to my to-do list.

Tomorrow I should really start packing in earnest so that I don't leave it all for the weekend, but you know me -- if procrastination were an Olympic sport, I would be there. Although by definition, world-class procrastinators wouldn't be able to compete in the Olympics because they would miss the deadline to qualify. Oh, well, I'll just have to live my Olympic dreams vicariously through Shawn Johnson, America's gymnastics darling and a proud Iowan. Goodnight!

Monday, June 23, 2008

we're far too young and clever

This is the thousandth post on my blog. I was going to post something appropriately melodramatic, but I'm far more interested in getting some sleep so that I can run a lot of errands tomorrow. So perhaps you'll get a melodramatic post tomorrow instead -- aren't you excited?

I had quite a lovely day in the heartland. I woke up lateish, read up on the news, and then had lunch with my mother (leftovers -- I had a turkey sandwich w/pepperjack, which is great because no one else in the family will steal my pepperjack cheese, as well as my mom's famous baked beans, which are even better left over). After lunch, I laid out in the yard for almost two hours. I'm still pale by most standards, but this is the tannest I have been since high school, which is exciting in an I-know-this-causes-cancer kind of way. My dad and my brother were moving dirt around in the yard with a backhoe and a skid loader respectively, but since we have several acres of yard, this was not a problem; I just took my blanket and went to the far northwest corner of the yard, between the fruit trees and the road. Being in a swimsuit thirty feet from the road might have offended old-fashioned notions of feminine propriety, but in the two hours I was out there, only one person drove by -- we truly live in the middle of nowhere. We also got a delivery from the UPS guy, who asked when I'm leaving and expressed dismay when he found out I'm leaving next week because he claims that my steady stream of Amazon deliveries has kept him employed. Ha.

So laying out in the yard was v. peaceful, and it's going to suck to go back to the endless drone of noise in the cities. That's not to say we have no excitement here -- for example, I got to watch one of our half-feral cats chasing a pheasant through the back yard. And one of our cute little kittens crawled up into the engine of the car that Michael and I shared in high school, almost strangled itself, and started crying for help, which resulted in my dad and Michael dismantling part of the car to get it out. Then they had to use the lawnmower to tow the car away from the house so the kittens would stop crawling into the engine. It was while I was watching them tow a car with a lawnmower, and while I drove my car through the yard to get around the big pile of gravel that had just been delivered in the driveway that I briefly thought that we might be uncomfortably close to white trash. I dismissed this concern by taking extra time with my eye makeup, putting on my kickin' Bulgari sunglasses, and going into town to socialize with people my own age (gasp).

The people in question were Dave and Heather, whom I worked with at the convenience store oh so many years ago; they're actually four years older than I am, but we hung out quite a bit during those days. Heather has three kids and couldn't find a babysitter for the youngest one, so we brought her along to dinner with us. We'd intended to go to a restaurant in Chariton (half an hour north of us), but it was closed, as most restaurants here are on Mondays, so we ended up at Pizza Hut. It was great to see both of them again; I was shockingly remiss and hadn't called Dave in the months that I've been back because I was feeling incredibly antisocial, but it was great to catch up, and I said we'd have to go to the bar when I'm back for Christmas.

Now I should really go to bed -- I have tons of stuff to do before I leave Iowa. A week from now, I'll be somewhere in Wyoming!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

you're just a boy who's afraid of the dark

I'm beginning the painful process of packing up in preparation for my drive back to California in a few days. True to form, I mysteriously now have four boxes of books instead of three; I also know that, thanks to two Des Moines shopping sprees, I have a lot more clothes and approximately seven more pairs of shoes. I also have a Wii and a Wii Fit. But, I'm leaving behind some winter clothes, a desk, a lamp, and some pillows, so hopefully this will all even out. But I hate packing -- and I of course wasn't as fast as I could have been today because I started with the books, which meant that I read snippets from a couple of them. Luckily I'm done with the books, so the rest should go relatively quickly.

I didn't spend the whole day packing; I also went into town to get a Cherry Coke Zero (my new addiction -- worth driving eight miles for, which is a bargain compared to the 180 miles I drive for a latte). In town, I ran into Abby and Rachelle, who were in the class ahead of me in high school; they were in town to do a charity walk in memory of a local woman who died of cancer several months ago. They both seem to be doing well, and it was great to catch up with them. It's too bad that I won't be here for Old Settlers this year since I would probably rather catch up with their class instead of going to my own ten-year reunion next year, but c'est la vie.

Later this afternoon, Aunt Dee and Uncle Scott, with Eli and Jordan in tow, came up from St. Louis for the weekend. As we were sitting on the back patio looking out over acres and acres of hills and pond, Uncle Scott asked how I could leave this to go back to California. It's a valid point, but as I said, paychecks and friends (not necessarily in that order) are nice things to have, so I guess I'll trade the space for the security, at least for awhile. We had a delicious supper (steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, Mom's world-famous baked beans, and potato salad), followed by some general chatter until they left for their motel around 10:45pm. Then my parents and I watched latenight reruns of 'CSI: Miami' and 'Without a Trace' before deciding to go to bed.

Even though we had family visiting, I still managed to catch part of the men's diving and women's gymnastics Olympic trials. Shawn Johnson, the favorite in women's gymnastics, is from Des Moines, so she's been getting significant coverage here -- KCCI (the Des Moines CBS affiliate) is even sending one of their sportscasters to the Olympics to cover her. Watching the trials is helping to get me even more psyched for the Olympics than I already was, especially since NBC is apparently using Bela Karolyi as one of the commentators for gymnastics -- Tammy, I don't know if he can rival Dick Button's skating commentary, but I have a feeling he's going to give Mr. Button a run for his money.

47 days until the Olympics! I added a countdown gadget to my iGoogle homepage so that I can know the remaining days. Now I'm going to bed; when I wake up, we'll be at least eight hours closer to the opening ceremonies! It's like Christmas, only with more doping scandals and less turkey. Yay.

Friday, June 20, 2008

sunset and storms in iowa















Sunset over a neighbor's farm; the neighbor died two weeks ago, but his cows and dog are still there.















Looking southwest from our front yard toward the ominous clouds in the distance.















Sunset through the trees in our front yard.
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honk if you honky tonk

In town today, I saw a truck with 'Honk if you honky tonk' emblazoned across the rear window. I mentioned this to my brother, and it turns out that it's actually a George Strait song. He went on about George Strait for awhile, and I asked him why he thought that he and I turned out so differently, since he likes trucks, country music, and beer, while I prefer foreign cars, techno music, and cosmopolitans. He thought about it for a minute, then quoted another song that says something like 'Born American...country by the grace of God'. Apparently the difference between us is that I wasn't blessed enough to like country music. I can live with that.

I actually went through the motions of blowdrying my hair for the first time in a few weeks. The occasion was a visit to our neighbors, Lorena and Ross; Lorena leads the talented and gifted program for the junior high/high school, and Ross is the Presbyterian minister, but they own land next to ours and I've known them my entire life. I've mentioned them here before; Lorena directed the town play that Katie and I saw several months ago, and Ross and Lorena were in the Peace Corps in Nigeria back in the '60s.

Anyway, I'd seen Lorena at the Round Barn Jubilee a couple of weeks ago, and I was too devastated by my fourth-place finish in the spelling bee to properly catch up, so we agreed to meet up today. She also wanted to see my photos from Scotland, since (like a good Presbyterian) she is in love with the place and had spent some time there about fifteen years ago. So I went over around two p.m. and ended up spending four hours there. She made almond scones, and she, Ross, their grandson Duncan, and I spent several hours talking about various travels, books, the Internet, etc. They also got waaay more pictures than they bargained for, since I showed them the highlights of India, Ireland, and Ukraine in addition to the Scottish photos they had requested. All in all, it was great fun; Katie and I have often talked about becoming eccentrics in our later years, and Lorena is generally held up as our model of entertaining eccentricity. With our respective careers in law and business, eccentricity is slowly slipping from our grasp, but I'm confident that we can reclaim it someday.

After visiting with Lorena, I came home, tormented/was tormented by my brother, and then the two of us drove into town to meet our parents for supper. I would recount the conversation, but my parents were making horrifying sexually suggestive remarks; I threatened to quote them, and my mother reminded me that our family friends in Cedar Rapids read this, to which I snapped that she should have thought of that before they started making jokes. But I'm making quick progress toward wiping the memory from my mind, so I won't quote them here.

We drove home through a v. interesting sunset and an oncoming thunderstorm; even though we saw some really awesome lightning when standing in our yard later (*not* the recommended location during severe weather), as well as some cloud formations that my dad decided were cold-air funnels, nothing really happened. Then I watched television (CBS, of course; Friday night is 'Numb3rs', which I enjoy), and now it's time for bed!

get right to the heart of matters...it's the heart that matters more

Today would be considered completely slothful in my old corporate way of thinking; now, after four months of complete relaxation, I almost consider it to be a good day's work. Granted, all I really accomplished was a general straightening of my room, followed by crossing some minor things off of my to-do list, cleaning out my personal email inbox, and beginning to respond to the 60 or 80 messages I've failed to respond to in the recent past.

However, I also felt like today was a nice day of socializing, albeit mostly virtual. My mom and I went out for lunch, where I had the epitome of Midwestern diner food -- the deep fried cheeseball. It's hard to choose between breaded cheese and breaded mushrooms, but the cheese won out, and it was delicious. We had a nice time at lunch, and then ended up visiting the local bead studio. It's run by a v. nice woman whom I've known for a long time, and it was good to catch up. She also helped me part with some cash, since I bought a necklace and a pair of earrings made out of Venetian glass. Then, while I was cleaning my room late this afternoon, my grandmother stopped by with my great-aunt Judy, who got a tour of the new house. After supper, Terry called me, and we caught up for the first time since I left. I also chatted online with Vidius Chandicus, which was v. pleasant.

I've capped off my evening with a long online chat with Heather (aka dear respected madam), who is currently in Beijing. She's trying to convince me to go to north Africa with her and Salim when they're done in China, since our trip to South Africa was such a rousing success; I'm v. tempted, but need to wait and see what my job will be and whether I can take vacation before committing to anything. Right now, though, I should really commit to going to bed!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

in this undiscovered moment lift your head up above the crowd

I'm wearing a ratty old tshirt from a long-past sales conference, a pair of oversized sweatpants (frayed at the ends because I had to cut off five inches of fabric to render them midget-sized), and a brand spanking new pair of slingback open-toed heels. I figure I should make a small attempt to break them in before I wear them to the management offsite I'm going to in July, which was enough an excuse to liberate them from their box, caress them lovingly, and slide them on. Granted, wearing them while sitting in a papasan probably doesn't do a lot to break them in, but I'm in love! Whether my resolution to wear more professional-looking clothes to work on a regular basis lasts beyond my first 60+ hour week remains to be seen, but for now I'm excited about looking like a productive adult rather than a sleep-deprived college student. Of course, right now I look like a sleep-deprived college student with a strange penchant for shiny heels, but I'll get the rest of my outfit put together before I go back to California.

I really need to start packing, I suppose; my room is starting to drown under a tidal wave of rapidly-accumulating piles of stuff, and I need to start putting stuff in order, figuring out what to take and what to leave, etc. But it's so much more fun to do what I did today -- sleep in, take some pants into town to get them shortened (leading my brother to snidely remark that it would be cheaper for me in the long run to do the excruciating leg-stretching procedure than to keep getting pants, skirts, and tops shortened), read a book in the sun, and visit my sister and her kids. In fact, I'm hoping to have a similarly-relaxed day tomorrow; I'm going to try to get up earlier and start organizing my room, but I also want to spend some significant time in the sun and get back to editing my novel. Grand goals, eh?

I'm excited to see my friends, and it will be nice to work with people again -- but it's a shame that I can't be perfectly happy in either Iowa or California. When I'm here, I thoroughly love the laid-back pace, the wide-open spaces, the frequent brushes with wildlife (both animal and human), and of course spending time with my family, but I miss having friends and eating salads (shocker, I know, since I usually disdain salads, but salads in California are way better than salads here -- and my doctor wants to check my cholesterol when I get back, and I shudder to think what it will be after six months of eating steak, brats, hotdogs, tenderloins, bologna, hamburgers, bbq pork, etc.). When I'm in California, I love the social aspects, the easy access to tons of different cuisines and lots of nice cafes, and the winter weather -- but I grow to despise the constant hum of civilization, to the point that I sometimes have to take a drive up into the hills or over to the coast just to get away from people for an hour. The problem is that I don't know where the happy medium is; Des Moines would give me a lot of the advantages of a city, but I don't have any friends there either. And California is too far away from Iowa to live there forever; it would be ideal to be within a day's drive, or at least with an easily-accessible direct flight.

I need to stop thinking about this. I've made up my mind to go back to work, which is the right decision for now, and I'm excited for the next period of time I spend in California, even though I haven't yet decided how long it will last. I need to focus more on what I'm doing with my life rather than where I'm doing it; and that means finishing the romance novel, starting to write the next one, and searching for an agent and a publisher. It also means deciding what types of jobs I want to pursue at work and committing to keeping myself more balanced than I was before. And none of that is going to work itself out tonight, so I'm going to go to bed!

Monday, June 16, 2008

back to life, back to reality

I'm closing in on the thousandth lifetime post on my blog; this is post 994. That doesn't count the 320 posts still residing on my India blog.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to estimate the number of words I've written (and you've skimmed/ignored entirely/only searched for your own name - ahem Vidya). I calculated my average word count (based on the month of March) to be 491.6 words/post. Combining 1000 posts on this blog with 320 posts on the India blog means I've written 649,000 words since July of 2004 -- which also ignores the 2003-04 posts on my old, now-defunct Xanga blog, and misses the six months' worth of 2004 posts that I deleted off of this blog when I decided to start w/a clean, slightly less whiny slate.

649,000 words in less than four years. That's 2596 manuscript pages. Or 6.49 full romance novels. Just think -- if I turned the blog off and committed to writing 500 words/day for a romance novel, I could be quite prolific.

I'm not going to do that, though; I like having a record of what I've done and how I was thinking, even if it is edited to protect the innocent. I should commit to writing a certain number of words each day, but the blog is not something I'm willing to cut.

Today was a great, albeit exhausting day. I got up fairly early and went to Des Moines, where I shopped for eight hours -- I needed 'manager pants' and other work-appropriate outfits, as well as shoes and accessories for an upcoming wedding. It's imperative that I have enough fun/business outfits to last me 2-3 weeks, since I'm going straight from cross-country drive to LA beach wedding to [my employer] 3-day management offsite to desperate search for an apartment. I also have scattered appointments after the offsite to meet with various directors and figure out what my role will be when I officially start back at work, and since I want to get the best possible outcome, showing up in a nice outfit rather than a scrubby pair of Stanford sweatpants and a tank top is well-advised.

I was extremely successful with the shopping, although it simply makes it more imperative that I return to the income-earning world. Lots of things were at great sale prices, and it's economically smart for me to buy here since I can get pants shortened for cheap (seriously, I must be close to having dwarf-sized legs, given how many inches have to be chopped off of regular pants for me). I was relatively good and got work-appropriate clothes rather than yet another parade of casual I-wish-I-were-still-in-college shirts -- although I did cave in a moment of weakness and buy a pair of gold gladiator sandals. This of course just increases the pressure to pack tightly, since true to my acquisitive nature I've increased my holdings in the past four months and now need to fit it all in the same RAV4 that was perilously overpacked last time. Lucky for me, I like unsolvable puzzles. Now it's time for bed!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

i used to roll the dice, feel the fear in my enemies' eyes

We had an awesome thunderstorm this morning. The weather radio (vital in Iowa -- it's programmed to warn you about any weather warnings day or night) went off saying that a severe thunderstorm with 50-mile-per-hour winds, penny-sized hail, and rain would be in our area in ten minutes. That's not enough warning to bother trying to get our cars under cover, so my parents and I just stood on the front porch and watched it roll in from the west. The winds were fast and hard enough that you could hear them coming, and you could actually watch the progression of the rain towards you. When it started to rain here, we were safe under the eaves; but as soon as the wind hit, it blew all the rain in and immediately soaked the patio, so we went inside. We didn't get any hail at all, but the power flickered several times and we probably got ~0.5 inches of rain in less than half an hour.

That was all over quickly, and the sun came out for the rest of the day. But since my father couldn't do any of the landscaping that he had thought he could do today, he made himself (and us) Father's Day brunch instead -- waffles, bacon, and eggs. Yum. I spent some time in the afternoon playing Wii Fit to try to work off some of the bacon, took a bubble bath, and harassed my brother. Aunt Becky came over for supper (sans the scandalous fiance), which was another hearty Midwestern meal -- steak (three nights in a row, yay), baked potatoes, and corn. We played some Wii Sports and chatted a bit before she went down to spend the night at my grandmother's.

Now I think I'm going to go to bed -- I need to start getting up earlier so that I can prepare myself for the impending brutal return to the working world :( Happy Father's Day to all you fathers out there!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

your life is now

My parents, brother and I went to Des Moines today to partake in a near-annual tradition -- a Mini-Golf Tour of Des Moines. One of the courses we have played at in the past is flooded out, but my father had accidentally found a new course, which was the first one we tried. Our verdict was that the greens were nicer than our favorite course, the addition of floating golf balls and easily-accessible nets made water features less troublesome, and the hole flags were a fun touch, but there wasn't enough shade, which resulted in some minor overheating. After playing there, we moved on to our regular course, where my game completely self-destructed; I don't think Wii Golf actually helps with real putting accuracy :( When we were done with golf, we stopped at some home improvement stores, then followed up with a delicious dinner at our favorite Des Moines steakhouse (the perfectly-prepared prime rib that I had tonight made up for last night's devastatingly-overcooked ribeye, and the atmosphere was substantially nicer than eating in the faux-wood-paneled tavern in the back of my town's American Legion Hall).

Since neither my brother nor I are married, it's kind of easy to forget that we're grownups; other than the addition of a new course to our repertoire, today was eerily similar to any number of Des Moines summer daytrips that we took when I was a teenager. And while I'm supremely grateful that we still do things like this, I sometimes wonder how healthy it is -- or, to rephrase it and acknowledge the real fear behind it, how much more of an awful shock will it be when one of my parents dies, or my brother or I get married, or one of these years I'm not able to come home for Christmas, etc.? I think it's perfectly healthy to spend time together, but it's all a balancing act between hanging on to what you have and venturing out to find something new. Given that I've just spent four months at home, I'm clearly doing some clinging, but what's the right amount?

Brewing behind this is the years-old Iowa vs. California struggle -- I'm now committed to going back to California, even though I had valid reasons for not wanting to be there, but I have equally valid reasons for not being here. I'm also going back to my job, which (not so many months ago) I couldn't wait to leave forever; now I'm looking forward to going back, but how much of that is because I am too pragmatic to give up financial security in order to keep pushing forward with my dream of being a writer? And yet, is my dream of being a writer really that strong if my thoughts keep wandering to wondering what is happening at work? Or am I psyching myself out and telling myself I'm not good enough to be a writer, even though I know I have a history of tearing myself down like that?

Bleh. This post is all questions and no answers, and if you know me, you know I like answers and actions and plans. Taking time off has been good for my stress levels, even if it hasn't led to any really fundamental realizations/plans for the future -- and maybe the lesson that I need to learn is that I need to let go of all of the torment that I put myself through and just enjoy the life I have (while being open to and mindful of future alternate possibilities, of course). Then again, if I didn't torment myself, what would I do with my free time?

Okay, enough brooding for one night; I only have two weeks left here, and I need to make the most of them (even if that just means editing my book, sleeping a lot, playing Wii, and hanging out with the family). Goodnight!

Friday, June 13, 2008

tanning and flooding

I reread Georgette Heyer's 'The Grand Sophy' today, and it threw me into a torrent of misery and self-doubt. This is mostly because I consider 'The Grand Sophy' to be one of the best romance novels ever written; it bears little resemblance to the romance novels of today, since it was written in the middle of the twentieth century, but Heyer virtually invented the Regency romance genre, and her dialogue and rich historical detail is unparalleled.

It's pretty easy to see that most Regency historicals nowadays are just endless variations on the Heyer theme, and the genre as a whole has mostly stolen her previous research and writing conventions. I think that there is a commonly-accepted 'Regency romance history' that may or may not have a lot of relationship to the real history of the 1810-1820 time period, and while any reader of recently-published Regencies probably has a general idea of what happened during the Regency period, most of those books are missing the really close attention to detail that makes Heyer's books so great.

Even Heyer suffers from what seems to be the curse of most romance novelists -- they get successful by churning out a lot of books, but those books gradually all become the same story repeated over and over with the same stock set of characters. Heyer has an awful lot of novels with rather similar characters, but she does such fantastic things with dialogue and writes such interesting plots that it's easy to forget the similarities. But for me, as I am trying to figure out how to make the first draft of my first novel better and more engaging, it's rather disheartening to read an author who was at the top of the game, even if I reread the book to see if I could learn anything from it.

But it says something about the story that, even though I had read it several times before, I got so engrossed in it that I didn't take any notes. Part of that may have had to do with the sun; I took advantage of the gorgeous, non-rainy day to lay out on the sidewalk in front of our house and try to work on my tan, and 'The Grand Sophy' kept me engrossed during that endeavor. By the time I was done sunning myself, it was time for dinner [we went out, where I had a v. disappointing well-done ribeye steak -- it wasn't even a little pink inside, and was a complete abomination and a waste of a cow], and then I finished the book when we got home. Now it's time for bed, so I suppose I'll have to go back later this weekend and search for hints at how Heyer write such a great book.

In other news, it's so strange to see footage of towns flooding under a brilliantly-sunny, cloudless sky; there was no real rain in the state for the first day in what seems like forever, and our county is not part of any thunderstorm or tornado watches, so that's exciting. Jan (the family friend referenced in the last post, who lives in Cedar Rapids, where the river crested over 12 feet above the previous record flooding) wrote a rather moving comment on the last post about the resiliency of her town, and it is great to see people pulling together and helping each other out. The floods continue to be nonstop news; the 12 o'clock news this afternoon ran straight until four p.m. (they couldn't preempt Oprah or else she might have them all killed), and all other news broadcasts ran overtime or broke in to give more coverage. And while Des Moines should be out of the woods after this weekend, towns and cities to the south are gearing up to get the same waters that are currently in Des Moines, so this is going to go on for awhile.

Those of you who listened to me bellyache in California about how I missed 'seasons' and 'weather variety', please remind me about floods, tornadoes, and blizzards when I start complaining again in the future :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

thunderstorms, twisters, and floods, oh my

The title of my post is slightly misleading; while we've definitely had thunderstorms (including one at 4am today, and another tonight with thunder that felt like the awesome vibrations you get in a surround-sound theatre during a battle scene) and multiple tornado watches, our county has not seen anything like the flooding going on to our north. Yes, fields are flooded, my usual route to Des Moines is closed due to flooding at one of the key intersections, and we've gotten an absurd amount of rain, but you just can't believe the devastation in other parts of the state.

Case in point -- my parents talked to some old family friends today who live in Cedar Rapids. Jan was in high school when I was little and is the reason that I started playing the flute, but now she works for Cedar Rapids' Czech museum (and is the mother of brand-new twins). Cedar Rapids has been hit by record flooding, with hundreds of homes evacuated, and Jan's museum is going to be closed through the end of the year in an effort to salvage and restore their artifacts :(

The local news is always much more weather-focused than anything you'll see in the Bay Area; the weather here is more extreme, more people make a living off of the earth, and (in my opinion) it gives people something to talk about. But they've started doubling their six o'clock news coverage, and the footage in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Mason City, etc. is incredible. It's also incredible to see the number of volunteers who consistently turn out to sandbag levees; volunteers are credited with saving Cedar Falls, for example, and they're sandbagging all night tonight in Des Moines.

The tornado that struck the Boy Scout camp in western Iowa last night was really tragic, though. Our local CBS affiliate did a story on one of the kids who was killed -- he was fourteen years old, had already become an Eagle Scout, and sounds like a fantastic, caring kid who volunteered and tried to improve his community. His big project was making pillows for other kids who were admitted to the local hospitals, and he had even sent one to one of the news reporters when he broke his leg this winter. The news reporter was planning to do a feature on his volunteerism this summer, but instead he had to do a piece about his death. If that's not a tearjerker, I don't know what is.

So anyway, the weather is all that's going on here. Yesterday I played Wii, watched the news/weather, and went with my mother to the last secret society meeting of the season (hosted by Heather, who used to work at the same convenience store as me and Katie, so it was great to see her). Today, I watched the news/weather, read most of my romance novel, ate some delicious mashed potato patties that my mother made (take leftover mashed potatoes, form them into patties, and flour and fry them), and made a batch of chocolate chip chewies. I also participated in a v. quick rush to get vehicles into my father's shop in town to predict them from a line of baseball-sized hail that was coming up out of Missouri, but the hail missed us, as it always does when you're actually prepared.

Now I should go to bed; tomorrow I need to finish the last ~60 pages of my novel and figure out a plan of attack for polishing it into a better second draft. Goodnight!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

chronicles of jhokes

Sorry for not blogging the past couple of days -- although if you aren't a frequent reader, you would never notice, so perhaps I shouldn't acknowledge my failings.

The past couple of days have been mostly uneventful. I printed out all 392 pages of the first draft of my romance novel and am currently reading it, making a comprehensive outline, and deciding what needs to be rewritten/polished/researched/etc. I played a lot of Wii. I ate some delicious Midwestern food, courtesy of my mother, who made fried chicken last night and chicken and noodles (which you must put on top of mashed potatoes, creating instant carb overload that's oh-so-delicious).

Today was slightly more productive. I promised Michael nearly a month ago that we would see 'Prince Caspian' together, and he called me on my promise this week. I had an appointment at the Toyota dealership in Des Moines to get a 15,000 mile checkup, so we drove my car to the dealer, used their shuttle service to get to the movie theatre, and watched the movie before picking up the car and coming home. Overall, I give the movie a fairly enthusiastic thumbs up, although I've never quite gotten over C.S. Lewis's whole 'Susan paid too much attention to lipsticks and nylons and so loses her entire family and doesn't get to go to Narnia' thing at the end of the series. It will be interesting to see how many more of these they make; I could see 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' being great, but am iffy on 'The Silver Chair', slightly less iffy on 'The Horse and His Boy', completely against 'The Magician's Nephew', and can't see how they can make 'The Last Battle' particularly successfully. Anyway, this movie was great if you like tales of heroic feats and battles, which I do, even if the heroes are mostly underage.

Now I should really go to bed; time is quickly running out in Iowa and there is much to accomplish!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

the sun so hot i froze to death

Today was the annual Round Barn Jubilee. All in all, it was a fun day, although the weather was uncooperative; the humidity level was over 80%, the temperature was over 80 degrees, and the wind was rather strong. Also, given the heavy rains we've had, the ground was pretty waterlogged. But despite that, there were some interesting things going on.

First, I had to participate in the spelling bee, thanks to my mother's insistence. I have a poor track record with spelling bees; while I went to the regional spelling bee in both sixth and eighth grades, I went out without placing (the first time on 'duchy', the second time on 'politicize'). Even worse, at the state FBLA convention, I went out unexpectedly early on 'glimpse', which I spelled 'glimpce' because I was going too fast and misspoke. So I was hoping to redeem myself, and failed -- I came in 4th (which sounds good, until you find out there were 5 participants). And the word I misspelled was 'tumultuous'!! Which is a classic romance novel-type word. Ugh. I spelled it 'tumultous' because I second-guessed myself in mid-spell. I lost to my Uncle Mark (3rd), an elderly woman from town (2nd), and some out-of-towner (1st) whose daughter participated in the kids' spelling bee earlier. The daughter didn't do so well, but my cousin Andrew came in 2nd in the kids' division, so congrats to him.

They had the spelling bee partially to feature/make use of the one-room country schoolhouse on the site. In the Round Barn itself, they had a quilt show, and there were some v. lovely quilts; my favorite one looked like a modern stained glass window, and I'll post a picture of it when I upload the pics from my camera. And in the old church that they've moved to the site, they had a choir sing (I skipped that to play a little Wii with Andrew), as well as a guy who sings Civil War-era songs. I saw part of his performance; he would tell *extremely* corny jokes, little vignettes about the Civil War, and play songs while accompanying himself with either the guitar or the banjo. He was quite good, and it was nice to listen to him, particularly since I abandoned my fascination for the Civil War a long time ago to move on to an obsession with WWII -- just to give you a hint of how bad my fascination was, in sixth grade I read some 700-page book about the Civil War, and made a Civil War boardgame, and went obsessively overboard with the 'Civil War Journal' project in my sixth-grade English class (I found the journal while I was packing my stuff to move to the new house, and saved it so my kids can copy it someday). All of this should explain why my early adolescent years were heavy on ridicule and short on friends.

Anyway, moving on, I went into town for supper (another part of the Round Barn Jubilee) and had a smoked pork sandwich, baked beans, and potato salad at the Centennial Building. I sat with my parents and two other entertaining people -- Ralph and Shirley. Ralph is what we would call a 'character', or alternatively a 'hoot', and could also be characterized as 'ornery'. Yes, I've reverted to southern Iowa slang.

Ralph took it upon himself to try to give me a life lesson over supper. His general sentiment was that men are downtrodden by their wives and that wives get even more domineering as they get older -- and yet simultaneously he was encouraging me to find a way to trap a husband. He asked my mom how she had trapped my father, and when she replied that he had been chasing her for nine months before she gave in, he thought this was a perfect example of playing hard-to-get. Then he told about his son, who worked for a mechanic while going to college, and how it took several months for him to catch on to the hints of some girl who kept bringing in her car for service. Ralph described the moment that the son asked her out on a date as his 'downfall', and that their subsequent marriage led directly to the son having to sell the Corvette he had bought himself as a reward for making it home from Vietnam. So I'm not sure what to take from this other than to play hard-to-get until I've trapped a guy well enough that I can then ruin his life -- sounds like a plan to me!

I had no desire to watch the musical entertainment (an old-time country band), so I came home, checked out my schedule for the next couple of months, and played some Wii. Now I should really go to bed -- I need to start working on the second draft of my book soon, especially since I now have less than two months before I have to go back to work :( Goodnight!

Friday, June 06, 2008

forever may you run

Happily, last night's storms were over by this morning, although we're forecasted to have continuing storms off and on through at least the middle of next week. Our pond's peninsula is covered in water, and Michael saw a deer standing on the dam drinking out of the pond, which indicates a much higher water level than usual. But while the continued wetness is bad both for my dad's business and for any plans to do landscaping around the house, we're in much better shape than the many towns in Iowa (including Des Moines) that are experiencing some pretty intense flooding.

I did v. little today; I'm taking a few days off from thinking about the novel so that I can approach it with fresh eyes for the second draft, which commences next week. So I played quite a bit of Wii, including some with my brother tonight; we were playing a fighting game when I heard the distinctive sound of a real gunshot blast upstairs. This isn't exciting enough to cause serious alarm, but I asked my dad about it later, and he reported that he killed a raccoon which had been eating the cat food on the patio. Considering that six kittens showed up on our doorstep yesterday, in addition to the two slightly older kittens we already had, preservation of cat food from the ravaging hordes of raccoons and possums is an important battle. Then again, we have a particularly high kitten mortality rate, since they live in the wild and so are prey to hawks, other cats, inclement weather, etc. -- none of last year's kittens survived, so the likelihood that we'll have eight additional full-grown cats next year is dismal at best.

The other good things that happened tonight were 1) Gavin Rossdale played on David Letterman, which was the first time I was excited about seeing Letterman in a v. long time; and 2) Craig Ferguson did a couple of hilarious skits tonight. The first was one in which he plays Sean Connery and some other guy plays Craig Ferguson; Craig has the most trouble keeping in character during those, and he completely lost it tonight when the fake Craig put his legs on the desk to reveal he wasn't wearing any pants, and had just shaved his legs and put on high heels in preparation for his second job as a pole dancer. The second was his 'The Rather Late Programme with Prince Charles', in which he pretends to be Prince Charles hosting an English late-night show; he had a skit-within-a-skit of 'Stupid Peasant Tricks', which was awesome. So, Craig was a great way to finish off the night.

Tomorrow is an exciting Round Barn-filled day; I'll report about that tomorrow. Now, it's time for bed!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

beauty in the beast

Today was a momentous day -- I finished the first draft of my romance novel! Now I have to go back, edit for continuity, and look for places that need to be tightened or expanded. But with a first draft finished now, I feel confident that I can get a readable, ready-to-critique second draft later this month, and hopefully I can get a few key people to read it in July so that I can start submitting it to potential agents in August.

After finishing (~4500 words/18 pages, written in Des Moines, at the cafe in Borders where I usually get my best work done), I couldn't tell whether what I was feeling was euphoria at completing the draft, or jitters from the two triple lattes and the Diet Coke I drank while typing, or overkill from listening to Gavin Rossdale's new song 'Another Night in the Hills' 62 times in a row. I'm going to go with euphoria -- it's so rare that I actually finish a project after starting it that I'm unfamiliar with the feeling, but I want to have it more often. That means finishing the second draft, polishing it, sending it to agents, and hopefully beginning the long road to publication -- and starting to write my second book (which I already have some fabulous ideas for).

Two other things of note happened today. The first may only interest fellow former grads of Wayne Community -- I ran into everyone's favorite substitute teacher, usually called Mrs. Gus by the kids, at Borders. She was waiting there for a friend, and we talked for about half an hour. She just got back from a nineteen-day trip to Greece and Turkey with her brothers and their wives, and they apparently had a fabulous time. For those of you who care, she's still substitute teaching (and just renewed her license to continue doing so). She also wants to read my romance novel if I ever publish it, and I would lump her into the group of people whom I would be happy (rather than apprehensive) to share it with, so that's cool. However, when her friend showed up, she introduced me as Becky even though she knows my name is Sara -- Becky is, as frequent readers know, my aunt, and I get called Becky all the time around here. Now I just need to find a scandalous pirate boyfriend...

Secondly, and this will probably interest no one, we're in the middle of continued severe weather. My euphoria wore off just a little bit on the way home because I was trying to outrun a line of fast-moving storms -- hard to do when you have to drive south for an hour and a half and the storms are moving west-to-east. I made it, but I'm glad that I didn't stay in Des Moines any longer. I played some Wii when I got home, then went upstairs to watch Craig -- but he was interrupted five minutes in by our chief meteorologist, and when I came back down to write this an hour and forty-five minutes later, the meteorologist was still going strong. Our county was south of the tornado line for the second night in a row, but we did have a half-hour period of v. high winds and v. heavy rainfall a little after midnight.

Too bad Iowa and California can't do some moisture exchange -- California's in a drought, but we're expected to get more rain for the next several days, and the major rivers in central Iowa are already reaching flood stage. We've gotten so much rain this spring that there are still a lot of fields that haven't been planted, and the fields that have been planted are on the verge of being washed out. So if you think food's expensive now, wait until the grain harvests fail...

But it's hard to be pessimistic about the future when I've just finished the first draft. So I'm going to bed, and will pretend that my pillow is a laurel wreath. Goodnight!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

this was an historic election - a black man and a woman running against the captain of the mayflower

The title is a quote from one of Craig's guests tonight -- leaving my own personal political opinions aside, I thought it was hilarious.

I woke up with incredibly good intentions, but those intentions met a brutal and violent death at the hands (or rather, remote controls) of my Wii. I played some Wii Fit when I woke up -- I must say that I love the yoga, and can apparently fake my balance at yoga well enough to score 'Yoga Enthusiast' or 'Yoga Master' on several of the poses, even though my scores on the other balance games are nothing to be particularly proud of. But I do practice deep breathing in my normal, non-Wii life (when I remember to stop being furious about something long enough to breathe, which needs to happen more often), so maybe that helps.

To be honest, I didn't do much the rest of the day. I hemmed and hawed about whether to go to Des Moines after playing Wii, and ultimately decided against it because I spent too long debating and there was a chance (later substantiated, judging by the tornadoes ongoing between here and Des Moines tonight) of severe weather. But rather than actually working on my book, I surfed the net, and then played Wii some more.

Sadly, I discovered that Wii's Super Mario Galaxy can make me v. motion sick; I played for 45 minutes, and then had to lie down for 45 minutes to recover my stomach. Boo. The game seems like a lot of fun, so I may just have to take Dramamine before I play it in the future. A little later, my sister and her two younger kids dropped by; Zane and Allie discovered that I'd just bought a Wii, and they seemed to have great fun bowling, boxing, and playing tennis. I've barely seen them in the time that I've been home, but the incentive of a Wii was enough for them to decide that they need to come over again as soon as possible.

After they left, we had an awesome supper -- ribeye sandwiches, and in case the ribeye wasn't enough (since they're sliced v. thin to go on a sandwich, and so aren't as ridiculously huge as ribeye steaks), my dad grilled some equally amazing pork. Ribeye, pork, potatoes, and peaches for dessert -- it doesn't get any better than that. There was nothing to watch on television (well, on CBS anyway, we didn't check the other channels) because our meteorologist spent the entire primetime viewing period following the line of tornadoes going across the state, so my parents and I had a brief but vigorous debate about immigration. Then I played some more Wii, and now it's time for bed.

If I don't post tomorrow saying that I worked on my novel, somebody please slap me! Or pry the Wii controller from my grip.

European Photo Contest - WINNER - Walter and Sara in s'Hertogenbosch



















It's official - 'Walter and Sara in s'Hertogenbosch' easily, inevitably won the final round of voting to claim top honors in the 2008 European Photo Contest. I'm glad that Tammy recognized the irony of the only photo that I didn't take winning the entire contest, but the power of Walter's legion of fans can't be denied!

Thanks for voting! If I ever travel again, maybe you'll get another contest.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

every mii and every you

It's amazing that I actually wrote ~1000 words of my novel this afternoon, considering that my Wii arrived yesterday and my brother convinced me to set it up today. It's quite spiffy -- we played a lot of Wii Sports (bowling, tennis, and golf in particular, although my brother got hooked on boxing after I stopped playing with him). I also got Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Bros., Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and Mario Olympics (yay), but we haven't played any of them yet.

My dad came down and played with us a couple of times during the day; he wasn't too bad at golf, and seemed to enjoy bowling, so hopefully he'll play again. Michael and I made our own customized Miis, and I made one each for Mom and Dad. I'm quite enamored with my Mii -- it's interesting to see how people interact and identify with their online/in-game avatars. Too bad my avatar isn't any better at balance and throwing than I am :(

I wrote for awhile in the afternoon, and then we all had pizza for supper (from Casey's, home of the world's best convenience store pizza kitchen). After supper, I finally got around to setting up my Wii Fit board. I'm looking forward to playing it a lot; while my brother and I laughed so hard at my first attempts to shift around and do soccer ball headers that I almost started crying, the games are a lot of fun. And even if it doesn't make me any more fit, it would be a good thing to get better at balancing, since I would like to wear high heels without worrying about breaking my ankle. Then again, achieving the lofty height of 5'3" isn't worth breaking an ankle, but I love shoes (appearances and my multiple ratty sneakers to the contrary), so we'll see what happens.

After I finished playing, I watched Craig for the first time since I left for London over a month ago. He was in fine form tonight, and his guests were quite entertaining, so it was nice to see him again -- it was like the warm presence of an old friend, only more creepy since I don't know him and shouldn't be saying things like that about him. Now, it's definitely time for bed; I need to write a lot tomorrow. Luckily, the writing sort of seems to be getting easier; I'm getting very close to the end and I have a clear plan for what needs to happen between now and then, so there's none of the awful stumbling around in the dark that I was suffering through in previous segments. Goodnight!

Monday, June 02, 2008

some days i can see the future...some days you seem so far

Today was a great day. It didn't storm on me, which was a relief considering the weather forecast. I went to Des Moines to work on my book; after a late lunch at Panera (turkey sandwich and french onion soup), I spent the afternoon in my usual spot at the Borders cafe, and successfully wrote 2500 words (~10pgs). Malcolm and Amelia had a huge fight, which is the 'black moment' of the book in which they seem to be on the verge of giving up and losing each other. This being a romance, they will resolve their issues, but the fight scene went surprisingly well. Whether it's any good is another story, but I was happy with the attempt.

After writing, I met up with Aunt Becky and the scandalous fiance for Chinese food. The scandalous fiance was having a bad day (he woke up to a bat in his house, had some issues with some customer support reps, and then was forced to have dinner with me!), but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. Then Aunt B and I went to the mall and browsed for awhile, coming away emptyhanded, but it was nice to hang out. On the way home, I talked to both Vidya and Laura; it's going to suck to leave here since it's been nice to be close to my family, but it will also be good to be close to my friends. Too bad Iowa and California aren't closer to each other!

Now I'm listening to Gavin Rossdale's new solo album -- it came out today, so I promptly downloaded it. I'm on track two ("Frontline"), but so far so good; it's not as hard-edged as Institute (his one-album band in 2005) was, with more of a focus on guitars and less of a focus on screaming, so that's good. His lyrics are undoubtedly still ridiculous, but that's one of my favorite things about him (that, and his voice, and his intense music videos). Since it looks like Bush will never get back together, I'll have to console myself with solo albums, but hopefully the wait between this one and the next one won't be quite so long. Perhaps I'll give more of a review after I've listened to the whole thing; or perhaps I'll keep my opinions to myself, since v. few of you appreciate Gavin as much as I do. You're missing out!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

set the fire to the third bar

I mentioned yesterday that my skin turned slightly pink after driving to Des Moines and sitting in front of a window for a few hours. Today I added to it by spending an hour tanning in the yard. I set an alarm to remind myself to go inside before I really burned myself; now my shoulders just have the light pink color of a medium-cooked steak, which (unlike with steak, where cooking it long enough to remove the redness is an abomination) is what I was aiming for. True, I may be increasing my risk of skin cancer; but I haven't had a tan in ages, and I had the odd thought today that, given that I've never been in the hospital with broken limbs, pulled tendons, etc., maybe I'm not really living life to its fullest. Not that I really want to break anything; the finger and toe that I broke in college were enough to suit me. But if you never get hurt, maybe you're not taking enough risks.

Or maybe I'm just trying to justify my vanity, since I really want a tan to go with my nice, shiny long hair. Either way, it was nice to spend some time outside. Afterwards, I took a shower and then drove my mom to the same cemeteries we went to last week so that we could pick up the flowers she left at the various graves. Had I known that I would run into some rather questionable-looking dude as I was getting out of my car at one of the cemeteries, I wouldn't have worn a shirt that was cut low enough for him to look right down it, but being ogled at a cemetery was interesting nonetheless.

I really need to take some pictures of my home county so that you can visualize what I'm seeing every day. The sadly ridiculous thing about where we drove today is that many of the country gravel roads are in better shape than the 'paved' roads in town, since the town roads are crumbling and the towns don't have enough of a tax base to support fixing any of them. Living here is like living with a beloved family member who has a terminal illness; you can kid yourself that everything's fine, and on days like today, when the sun is shining and everything's a vibrant green, you can even think that maybe the diagnosis was a mistake. But you know deep down that you need to prepare yourself to say goodbye, and that it's going to get really, awfully ugly and brutally hard to watch before the end.

Anyway, no brooding tonight, I need to go to bed so that I can write tomorrow. After the cemeteries, my brother and I made a quick visit to my grandma's house. On the way there, we experienced what my brother said was the definition of a 'scattered thunderstorm' -- I had to use my sunglasses and my visor because the sun was shining directly in my eyes, but I also had to use my windshield wipers because it was raining. The south looked completely clear, the north and east were cloudy, and the sun was shining in the west -- which created perfect conditions for the double rainbow that formed against the eastern clouds. It was lovely! Then we came home for grilled hot dogs and homemade mac and cheese (Michael's request; I prefer Kraft mac and cheese, but Michael hates tenderloins, so I guess Mom felt guilty for making them last night). Then I watched some fine CBS programming, and now it's time for bed!

European Photo Contest - Final Round! - Bath's Pulteney Bridge vs. Walter and Sara in s'Hertogenbosch - ENDS WEDNESDAY, 10PM CDT















Tammy got swept by the unstoppable voting block of my mom + Walter's parents; she voted for Bath Abbey and for Loch Ness, but couldn't prevail. But can this shot of the Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon, acclaimed by many participants in the contest, stop the seemingly-unstoppable rise of Walter?



















Once again, Walter appears poised to win it all. Can he overcome the dog statue and the girl in the pink coat to take the prize?

Vote in the comments section now! Voting ends Wednesday night!