Sunday, December 22, 2013

Solstice Rambles

It has been a long and emotionally wrenching year. Our most fervent hope is that, just as the shortest day of the year comes to a close and the hours of daylight gradually increase, life follows suit and brightens a bit more each week.

With that thought in mind, we decided to chuck all responsibilities while the Resident Teen was out of town with a friend's family, enjoying a snowy getaway up near the border, and just go wandering in our new neck of the woods.

But you know what they say about mice and their best laid plans. At first, Things Were Not Cooperating. We'd planned to center our outing on a visit to Sliders Cafe in Carnation, where Tony would bring his banjo and enjoy a bluegrass jam.

However, this goal was thwarted by the fact that, despite a chock-full calendar of events on the cafe's website, the forbidding news that it was closing down (which we'd learned a few weeks ago) came true, and instead of the bluegrass jam, yesterday was actually the Big Move-Out Day. Showing up with a banjo would've been just silly.

We decided to haul the dog with us and go for a walk in the Carnation area anyway, though I think partly the resident Banjo Player wanted to see for himself that Sliders actually was closed. Driving past the darkened building without a name on it anymore was a pretty good clue that it was.

"Hey, why don't we go to Remlinger Farms and get a pie for later?" suggested the disappointed musician. So we headed east, driving a route we took many times when the Resident Teen was a little one and a farm park with ponies, old-fashioned sweet rides, a fire truck to climb on, and baby goats to pet--with the promise of an ice cream cone before going home--was all that happiness required.

We knew the park would be closed, but thought perhaps the big produce and gift store would be open. We were wrong. No pie for us.

Well, at least we could go for a walk. Or could we? The first two pull-outs on the main road demanded that we have a Discover Pass to park there and set foot on the trail. Lacking said pass, we pushed farther south. And there we discovered a little gem that made all the dead-ends worth while: Tolt Macdonald Park and Campground.

The dog bounded out of the car (as much as she could bound with a leash around her neck) and nearly hyperventilated snuffing up all the rich new smells as we followed a path along the Tolt River. The river, roaring thunderously, galloped along like a herd of mustangs.

We hadn't walked for five minutes before we  heard the creaking cry of a bald eagle. It settled in a tree just ahead of us on the trail.

Across the river, its mate perched  near the enormous nest the two had maintained for years. Another walker told us they'd raised an eaglet there last year and she'd come every day to see the story unfold.

Another bit of walking took us to a curve in the trail where the Tolt joined forces with the Snoqualmie River. A suspension bridge over the roiling waters led to a lush green campground complete with yurts.

A cheerful sign warned us of the usual dangers to expect (oh, you know, little things like cougars and bears), but the only perils present were a pair of off-leash Doberman pinschers. I think Luna would've preferred the cougars and bears to the investigation she got from the Dobies.

As it was, she didn't appreciate walking across slats and having to spread her webbed Labrador toes wide, so she carefully walked like a trapeze artist on the little wooden "sidewalk" that ran down the middle of the bridge to facilitate rolling wheelbarrows full of camping gear across the river.

Finally, the low-lying white strips of cloud sank to ground level, creating that particularly Northwest variety of snow-globe-style drizzle.

Wet and muddy, we returned to the car, drove home, tidied up, and went out again, this time to Willows Lodge for an evening by a roaring fire complete with a glass of wine, a plate of antipasti, and thumping good music played by a young acoustic guitarist and his drum-playing friend. Christmas lights twinkled inside and out, laughing at the darkness of the longest night.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winter Walks, Cottage Lake

"17 degrees," read the dashboard thermometer in the car, which meant the street surface a few feet down from that thermometer was actually several degrees colder.

A morning made for black ice, and indeed many road signs in the area warn "Watch for ice."

A mass of Arctic air lumbering into the Puget Sound region this past week brought the first killing frost along with the icy roads and encrusted windshields.

White crystals have outlined leaves and blades of grass in shady spots, fooling one into thinking it's snowed.

Before the cold snap hit, I took a walk to Bassett Pond to take in the lovely hay-and-smoke coloring of the leafless branches and the beauty of the white-trunked birches with their tracery of dark twigs. A few days later, the pond had frozen over and the last of the bright green mosses and ferns had faded into mushy clumps.

 Strands of Methuselah's Beard Lichen (tentative identification)

Bracken, already brown and crisp while many native ferns are still glossy green

Bassett Pond, late November

Bassett Pond, late November

A blaze of redtwig dogwoods  

Labradorus woofus in its natural habitat 

Fungus called Witch's Butter with moss

Bassett Pond, frozen

Close-up of frozen pond and its contents

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Month Devoted to Writing

November's National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) passed me by this year, as did PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and NaPlWriMo (National Playwriting Month) and probably a lot of other NaMo things I've never even heard of.

But November was still a wonderfully writer-ish month, filled with events that took me away from the computer and into the company of other writers and all the inspiration that such mingling can bring.

For starters, I went to a writers' retreat for the first time ever, namely the "Weekend on the Water" retreat at Port Ludlow in early November. This event was associated with the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. The speakers were Patricia Lee Gauch, author and former Editorial Director of Philomel Books, and author Linda Urban (A Crooked Kind of Perfect).

And what a spoiled-rotten weekend it was. I sat enthralled as Ms. Gauch analyzed passages from Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout, drawing our attention to the author's word choice and imagery, tone and voice in a way I hadn't enjoyed since college.

My mind traveled back even further, to my 10th-grade English class, when teacher John Long surprised us all with a pop quiz on To Kill a Mockingbird that tested our knowledge of seemingly ridiculous details in the book.

His purpose, it turned out, was not to prime us for winning trivia contests but to show us how important it was to read carefully and closely instead of gobbling up pages and racing the clock.

The spoiling, of course, also included excellent meals, walks in the woods, beautiful views, lively conversations, and time to just read and write.

To top it all off, my roommate and I discovered we shared all sorts of connections; not only did we live in Hoboken, New Jersey, during the same span of time in the 1980s, but also one of her oldest friends turned out to be one of my former work colleagues.

The retreat was followed a few weeks later by PubCamp, hosted by, an online marketplace for writers in search of editors, book designers, and marketing assistance. This event took place in Seattle in the lovely Center for Urban Horticulture, where the plants were edged with crystalline rime at the start of a very cold day.

The morning got rolling with an introduction by Shawn Welch, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, followed by advice from a social media expert, Peggy Fitzpatrick, and CEO Kelsye Nelson. After that, I had the luxurious choice of presentations divided into four blocks of three sessions each.

I opted to hear Peter Rowan (Coinstar) discuss "The Business of Self-Publishing."  Next up was Waverly Fitzgerald (author of Slow Time, Dial C for Chihuahua, and more). Ms. Fitzgerald focused on the considerations one should keep in mind when thinking about self-publishing or going the more traditional route with a publishing house; paramount among these considerations were how to best locate and connect with your readers.

After lunch, I attended a "self-editor's toolkit" workshop presented by author Wendy Call, which provided a nice summary of levels of editing, and rounded out the day with a lovely, humorous presentation about memoir writing by author Theo Nestor (How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed and Writing Is My Drink).

Peek-a-Who Owl from "Peek-a-Who" by Nina Laden watches readers
peruse books at the Ballard Writers Collective "Writer Next Door" event.
As if this weren't enough, the month also included an evening at the Sunset Hill Community Center called The Writer Next Door, hosted by the Ballard Writers Collective (authors' panel! refreshments! books! readings! raffle prizes, of which I won one!).

Not long after, I enjoyed an SCBWI informal gathering on a chilly Sunday night at a Bainbridge Island pub called the Harbour Public House, a cozy restaurant tucked inside a house built in 1881.

I feel as if I need another retreat and evening at a pub to process it all. In the meantime, here are a few quotations and observations I jotted down during these events. I'm amazed I can read my scrawled notes, actually. So, see? I did do some writing outside of my freelance work this month after all. It was all part of NaJoDoMo (National Jotting and Doodling Month).

When writing for children:
"Honor the small things in a big world that matter to kids."--Linda Urban

On "show, don't tell":
"There's a terrible thing going around: 'show, don't tell.' Don't you believe it!"--Patricia Lee Gauch

(Ms. Gauch went on to explain what she meant, so she was certainly not advocating dull writing. I wish I could summarize what she so eloquently expressed, but basically she used Olive Kitteridge to show how showing related to introspection. Showing could also help you "navigate the contours of your character's life." I believe this topic was linked to another of my cryptic notes about the author writing as though on a dolly used for filmmaking, to move in and out of a scene. Ms. Gauch also stressed, "Don't report it; let it live.")

"Of course, use adverbs when you want them! Give me a break! [Banning adverbs]'s the dumbest thing." --Patricia Lee Gauch

Attitude is like "a fine rain casting a mist over the whole story."--Patricia Lee Gauch

A quip on being realistic:
"If you want to make a lot of money, publishing probably isn't the right business for you!"--Waverly Fitzgerald

Serial commas or not?
"You know, there are comma people!" --Wendy Call

On submitting your memoir:
"Yes, it's been done before. Here's how mine's different." --Theo Nestor

On the universality of your story:
"A book about you that is also about others makes your want real; they [readers] will want it for you." --Theo Nestor