We interrupt your regularly scheduled programing…

We have a regular TV viewing schedule in my house. Or, rather, we HAD a regular viewing schedule. Then the writer’s strike came and wiped that out. It was only an hour or two per day, but that hour or two sometimes seemed to be what we all were most excited about. 

Sundays = Masterpiece Theater

Mondays = 24

Tuesdays = American Idol + House

Wednesdays = American Idol + LOST

Well, during the writer’s strike, we were LOST. What would we do without our shows? New HOUSE episodes are still not forthcoming despite the three teaser episodes they had a few weeks ago. And waiting from June to January for the next season of 24 was bad enough but not even having a next season THIS season was… was…

Easier than expected.

We’d become so conditioned, feeling like everything had to be completed, conversation had to stop, phone calls would go unanswered… all be causes of a TV show that drove our collective blood pressure through the roof (and into raccoon territory – for those of you ‘in the know’… 🙂 ).

What would we do without our regularly scheduled programs?

How about chat? How about fill each other in on what we did that day, what we hope to do the next day? How about go for a walk after dinner? Or take out some board games and enjoy what little quality time our busy lives allow?

We’ve started to do all of that again after years of letting it slide, and we’ve rediscovered something rather amazing – we actually enjoy each other’s company. Playing CLUE, Backgammon and other games is fun. Talking about our days helps heal some perceived slights and provides some laughs as well as a stronger connection to each other – much more so than all of us sitting shoulder to shoulder without speaking as we watch ‘life’ occur to others via cable TV.

Will we go back to watching our shows when they come back on? Probably. But these days, the remote sits on top of the games, so we’re reminded of what’s really important. “Together time” is not just about being in the same room. Not anymore.

How do you spend the after-dinner hours with your family? Did the writer’s strike change the way you view your evening habits? Or was TV addiction not an issue for you to begin with?

Good things happenin’

Things are looking mighty fine around here these days. I am now in the middle of four online writer’s workshops and I’m keeping up with all of them! I’m even doing the homework. 🙂 Raccoon issues seem to have quelled… not one neighbor has heard from those bandits in two – count ’em, TWO – weeks. Spring is here!!! I LOVE the spring. I’m adding more words to my work-in-progress, more shelter cats have been adopted, Daughter is just about caught up with all of her assignments and I’ve cleared the mound of paperwork and bills that needed tending to. Things are looking good.

In light of the weights being lifted from my shoulders, I thought I’d share a sweet and heartwarming video with y’all. If you have the time, watch it through to the end. It’s so worth it.

Happy spring, everyone! Share the hugs…

The W-Plot is easy, I PROMISE!

When I posted the picture of my finished W-Plot worksheet in my last entry, I was afraid it might be a bit frightening. I posted it anyway, hoping that I’d explained it well enough to calm suddenly tense nerves. I don’t think I did, so I’d like to do that now… but I’ll do it without going into detail about the process since no one can (or should try to) explain it the way Karen Docter does.

The completed W-Plot worksheet looks involved because it’s an accumulation of a lot of tiny bits of information. Truth.

In order to get to the final worksheet – which I posted – all that’s necessary is to jot down an OVERVIEW of your character’s throughlines. Face it, stories start with an idea. As you spend time on that idea, it becomes more developed, even if only slightly so.

Now, if you’re like me, thinking too hard about a story before you’re ready to write it is the same as giving anesthesia to your muse. That’s why I love the W-Plot. The beauty of it is indeed it’s simplicity.

Let’s work with the hero – Where is he at the beginning of your story? At what point does he realize what he needs to do for the next 20 chapters? Is it when he learns the jewels have been stolen? Let’s go with that… that’s the high point for your hero because even though stolen jewels suck, pardon my French, he has a solid starting point. He’s got to find who stole them and why, AND get them back without getting himself killed in the process.

Now… getting from that high point (Plot Point 1) to the final high point, (Plot Point 9), is going to be a roller-coaster ride for Hero, with severe drops and slow rises. Your nine points are just highlights of his story with as much or as little detail as YOU want to include.

The reason my finished W looks so intimidating is because I’ve included everyone’s plot points there in the order they’ll occur. It’s like looking at a skeleton of my story. Everything is somehow connected but not yet filled in. THAT’s the fun part. THAT’s the part a pantser muse eagerly awaits. THAT’s when a storyboard truly becomes a treasure if you want to flesh out your W even further… with specific scenes.

Honestly, IMHO, these two tools used properly and in tandem, will make writing/telling/enjoying your story that much easier. Oh, and in case you’re not convinced… a completed W, when organized the way Karen explains, makes writing the dreaded synopsis easy as pie.

Truth.

Plotting

So… as many of you know… I’m a writer. Within the writing world, I’m what’s known as a “pantser”, meaning, I’m not big on plotting out an entire story before I write it. I’ve tried it that way and have lost all the excitment of putting fresh words and ideas onto the page.

There was one method I truly enjoyed, though, and that was the storyboard. I’d taken an online workshop with Shelley Bradley and it was amazing. You can be an avid plotter or a simple pantser and still use her method. What it does is organize your thoughts. As they come to you, you jot them down in as much or as little detail as you want (on a post-it) then slap them onto the storyboard in the spot you think they will fit. Of course, there is more to it than that, but after a while, it seems that easy. It’s also fun to see the post-it’s pile up. They’re color-coded, too, so that makes it a super visual tool.

Here’s one of my completed storyboards – ain’t it purdy? 🙂

Storyboard

Another exciting method I learned, use and highly recommend, is the W-Plot. What an amazing tool. Karen Docter gives that workshop, and I can’t say enough about it. Basically what it does is help outline (don’t shudder at that word, it’s not really an “outline” but more like a “highlight” of…) your plot using only nine major plot points for each main character. It’s much easier than I’m probably making it sound, and it is so very worth it.

A finished W might look intimidating at first (even second and third) glance… BUT… I can’t stress enough how simple it truly is. Of course, it forces you to think, but the panster in me stuck around for the entire process without one fainting spell. Truth!

Now, prepare yourself…

Here’s what a finished W looks like with all the plot points (36 total – 9 for the Hero, 9 for the Heroine, 9 for the Villain and 9 for the romance) highlighted in a different color.

Completed W-Plot

See how each plot point in it’s proper place makes the story flow?

If you have the opportunity to take either or both of these classes, I HIGHLY recommend them. Of course, I’m a workshop junkie, so there are many more workshops I can tell you about. Until then… check these out and tell me what you think.

What about workshops you’ve taken? Which ones do you have safely tucked into your writer’s toolbox?

Can you hear me now?

This past June, my parents moved halfway across the country and they took my 93 year old grandmother with them. They are absolutely in love with their new home and with their new location. I’m thrilled for them, but have to admit, there’s a big difference being one hour away with traffic and being 4 hours away by plane. How do you cut through that time and space? Why, the internet of course!

My mom is new to the world of computing so emailing was an adventure for her. Once the newness of that wore a bit, I introduced her to instant messaging. Wow!! She LOVED it. She could ‘talk’ to me or to my daughter (her one and only grandchild, btw) as often and as long as she liked. The best part for me, was when Daughter was doing her schoolwork and would suddenly say, “Grandma’s online!” The next thing I knew, they were chatting away. Too cool.

We weren’t done yet, though. We tried emailing and instant messaging…. but there was more. How about computer-to-computer calling? Well. One evening, I’m ‘chatting’ with my mom and typed that I was going to call her computer. She got nervous, typed frantically, asking what I needed her to do. I told her, just click on ‘answer’. She did and the giddy sound in her voice when she realized we were actually communicating verbally with just our computers made my day.

We chat regularly now. Sometimes via email, sometimes via IM. Sometimes we actually use a land line, believe it or not. But mostly, we now make computer-to-computer phone calls.

Up next? Web-cams! 😉

Raccoons in the Roof – update

Well this sucks. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned we have a family of raccoons living in our attic crawl space. We’re in a row of attached homes, and this family has taken over each house’s crawl space. We called someone who said he would trap them, relocate them, then seal up the vents so nothing/no one could get back inside.

That’s not exactly what he intended to do.

We live in an area where rabies is high. It is illegal to relocate these animals. Instead, the trapper would use traps that kill.

I am an animal lover to my core and cannot reconcile with this. I’ve called… I don’t know how many different people… hoping SOMEONE would offer another option. My thought was, they could simply ‘evict’ this family somehow, then seal up every possible entry. Unfortunately, the experts tell me the raccoons will tear apart the roof if they really want to get back in.

Part of me wants to give them until the spring – after their babies are born and are old enough to get out on their own – and seal the holes then. But, how do we know they’ll leave at that time? We don’t. Simple.

Only one person said he can trap them without killing them. He said, his traps would hold them until all of them are out and the vents are sealed, and then he’d release them near the tracks (where we know they came from). Problem is, he said it’s a bloody mess because they will fight until they either free themselves or die.

I’m sorry this is such a downer, but I’m really in a bad spot now and have no idea what to do. Some of the neighbors involved are fine with the traps that kill, others are as distraught as I am. How can you kill an entire family of raccoons on the off-chance they have rabies? Someone said to drop mothballs into the vents. Apparently raccoons don’t like the smell of them (who does?) and might leave on their own. Thing is… how will we know they’re all out? Yuck. Messy and difficult situation.

I’ll keep you posted.

A day off from homeschool…

Is not really a day off from school. 🙂

The other day, we took a day trip with our homeschooling group. I suppose in public school, it would be called a field trip. There were about twenty children, ranging in age from 4 years old to 14. We met in the farmhouse at the Queens Farm Museum. This farmhouse was built in 1773. There we were, sitting in the kitchen where daily meals were prepared more than 200 years ago. I don’t know about you, but I love historical buildings like that. That’s why places like Gettysburg, Williamsburg, Plymouth and others like it will always get my attention.

But at the farm, the children were told all about the original owners of the property, and since this class was called “Colonial Cooking”, they were given enlightening information on making butter, collecting eggs from around the farm, what chores the youngest among us would have had and what chores the older children would have had. They all gaped and laughed nervously, realizing, even if only for a few seconds, how fortunate they are in this day of electronics and parents-as-friends. They gasped audibly when they were told laws protecting children did not exist back then. If a child was told to gather eggs and that child hesitated or… dared to say, “no”, well, there were no laws preventing that child from getting whooped. So… if your mama told you to do something, you clicked your heels and said, “yes ma’am!”

More than a few anxious glance were exchanged, I must say.

The best part was getting to cook. Each child took a turn chopping vegetables for the soup and measuring cornmeal, sugar and other ingredients for the cornbread. They learned about where the ingredients came from – and how they differed for simple farm folk as opposed to the wealthier city folk. For example – city folk would use cane sugar for their cornbread, whereas farm folk used the less expensive molasses.

The vegetable soup and the cornbread were cooked in the hearth. The amazing part is that the soup took on the flavor of the smoke from the fire as it swirled around the cauldron. It’s not a flavor you can easily duplicate at home. I know. I tried. And the cornbread… now, this I found amazing… cooked in 20 minutes. They used what’s called a ‘spider pan’. It’s a cast-iron skillet with a cast-iron cover and cast-iron tri-pod legs. A few of the burning embers from the central fire as brushed over to the side of the hearth and the legs of this spider pan are set right into them so the contents cook from below. THEN… burning embers are shoveled onto the lid of this pan and left there until the desired time.

This cornbread came out of the pan perfectly. Not one spec of it was burnt. Not one crumb of it uncooked. It was spongy, sweet and hearty. And aside from having to chase chickens for their eggs, milk the cow, churn the milk into butter, stand – with risk of death – inches from a blazing fire, and lifting cast-iron cookware, it seemed a fairly easy recipe.

What I love so much about homeschooling is the opportunity to experience this kind of thing as often or as infrequent as I’d like. I’m still learning about homeschooling, but the more I discover about it, the more in love with the process I am. And my pleasure is only a tiny measure of the pleasure my daughter gets from the process. What a great way to spend the younger years of my child’s life.

Orchids

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We went to the NY Botanical Gardens yesterday. That and the Bronx Zoo are familiar and favored haunts of ours. Though they’re across the street from one another, we never go to both in one day. No, the beauty of going to one of those places is getting away from everything else for an entire day. Either is a magical escape and yesterday was no different.

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Yes. Those are orchids. Our getaway yesterday involved the NY Botanical Garden’s Orchid Show. It’s hard to imagine how varried one type of flower can be. The colors are glorious, the frangrace is… odd. They have an almost… musky smell. A sexy heady scent that’s warm and thick. One whiff is enticing. Rooms full… well… that takes getting used to.

Still, I would go back again and again because they are simply that stunning. Here… let me show you some more…

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Some of them looked fake. Like paper…

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Or plastic…

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All of them were magnificent.

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Of course, beauty IS in the eye of the beholder. While I cringed at some of these because, to me, they looked more like insects than flowers, other people were in awe of their beauty and grace. You decide…

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Shhh… listen… what’s that noise?

It’s about 9pm and I’m watching American Idol with my 12 year old. The commercials are so loud, we mute the volume when they come on. And that’s when we heard it. The pitter-patter of tiny feet.  There haven’t been tiny feet in my house since I adopted my cats almost a year ago.

I held my breath. Listened…

Sure ‘nuf, there they were. Scratchy little spine-tingling sounds. Over head. In the attic crawl-space. Mice? But with mice, you can’t hear the crunch of each step, like someone walking on the roof. Hmm. What could be so large it would make the sound of adult footsteps and yet be so small that it could fit through a tiny vent in the roof that leads into the crawl-space?

I live in a row of attached houses (in the city, mind you) and I called a neighbor. Yes, indeedy, she’s heard the same crunchy-scratchy sounds and has no doubt that it’s a raccoon. A raccoon? How could a raccoon get into the attic? Unless there’s a hole in each of our roofs, how could they get in? But, what else could it be?

I told DH that I believed it could indeed be a raccoon. He gave me THAT look. You know the look. It’s the same look Archie used to give Edith. It’s the look that says, “HUH?!”

He ‘patiently’ explains there’s no room for a raccoon in the crawl space. There isn’t an opening large enough for one to get in, but only a 4×6 inch grated vent. Besides, IF they were up in the crawl-space, they’d have to balance on beams or risk falling through the ceiling.

I didn’t care about the specifics, I just wanted them gone. “I don’t know how they’re up there, but they are.”

He nodded in that way.

“Seriously,” I said. “You have to do something about it.”

He all but patted me on the head. “Yes, dear.”

Two nights ago, around midnight, we hear screeching, chirping and thumping outside my daughter’s window. There’s a steel porch off her bedroom and the sound of a physical fight of some sort was boinging through the chilly night silence. I rush to her room and pull up the shade. Right there, not 18 inches away, are two raccoons tumbling and clawing at each other, making these horrible squeals as they flip each other head over heels onto the metal porch. I opened the window and shouted through the screen, “Get! Off! My! Porch!”

They stopped fighting with each other and, in a show of unity, froze in place, their fists tight in each other’s fur, and stared me down. I closed the window slowly. Locked it, drew the shade and backed away. After calming Daughter and telling her, no, there was no reason for her to come sleep in my room, I heard another odd sound from outside. I peek and lo and behold… those little masked bandits were climbing up my drain pipe and onto the roof! Seconds later, there it was, that scratching and heavy footstep above my head – they’d gotten into my attic again! There had to be a hole in the roof, there had to be!

In the morning, hubby went onto the roof to find the hole and found that the grates over the tiny vents on all of our attached roofs were bent upward. He pushed them all down and back into place. Well… yesterday evening, he went back up and guess what? All the grates were bent up yet again. These furry buggers have been squeezing themselves through those small openings and setting up house among the insulation and crossbeams!

“So…” I said, “We have raccoons in the crawl space… don’t we.”

He wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Yes, dear.”

Not only did he have to acknowlege it to me, but he had to convince all the neighbors that this is indeed what’s been happening. It seems everyone in our row – about 10 families – have heard the noises at some point over the past few weeks. I guess no one could believe animals that large could get through openings that small. They’re all believers now.

Someone is coming this week to trap them before they have their kits. Yes… they’re pregnant. It’s mating season and their kits will be born in less than two months. These are the mama’s and they’re looking for safe, warm dens where they can have and keep their young. They’ll be trapped and relocated to a large, local park and then the vents on our roofs will be bolted into place.

Future squatters will have to find another place to live.

Wait! There’s a baby in the toilet!

How on earth can a woman not only go into labor, but deliver without knowing? How? And how on earth could it happen while she’s using the loo…  on a train… in India… where the loo empties directly onto the tracks…

According to the Associated Press, an Indian woman who was seven months pregnant, had to use the facilities while riding the train through an area in India. This tiny preemie of hers is an adventure seeker, I’d say, because he slipped right out of her, through the chute and onto the tracks where rail workers soon found him – with barely a scratch.

Now, tell me truthfully, don’t you want to know what kind of life this little daredevil is going to have? The writer in me wants to use his entrance into the world as a leap-off point for a book. The layman in me wants to see Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or Steven King’s take on it. How cool. Talk about inspiration. I couldn’t write a backstory like that for my characters. Who would believe it?

What anecdotes have you heard that seem too far out there to be real… but are?