Category Archives: Fiction Writing

Bloom Where You’re Planted

Author Claire Cook considers herself a late-bloomer having published her first novel in her mid-forties. I knew of Claire’s work because I read the second book she wrote, Must Love Dogs and then picked up a copy of every book that followed.

Years later I met Claire online on the Goodread.com website. Our conversation started after Claire visited my online journal and read some of my writing. At the time I had just written “I Forgot that Sunflower’s Die,” which was just a few lines that touched upon the death of my daughter’s father. Claire had also lost a parent as a child and she shared her story which had recently been published in Good Housekeeping magazine.

Since then Claire’s periodically sends a note cheering on my writing, and with each book she writes I’m reminded that it’s never to late to follow your heart.

Whether you find yourself writing at a child’s swim practice or in the humid, hum of a bustling laundry mat, remember to love what you have and to bloom where your planted.

Here is Claire Cook’s interview on the Today Show…well done, girl:)

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Filed under Aging, Authors, Books, Fiction Writing, Films, Life, Writer's, Writing

Pushing a Turtle

Three-toed_Box_Turtle.
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Today I drove around a corner near my Mother’s house, which is on the Mississippi River, and slammed on my brakes. There was an enormous turtle sunning in the middle of the road and I stared at it from the top of my steering wheel hoping it would get busy and cross the street. He didn’t, so I got out of my car, leaving it in the middle of the narrow road to stop anyone coming around the corner from hitting me or the turtle.

First I tried shuffling my feet behind him hoping to spook him into running for the ditch. Apparently, he noticed the size of my shoes. Instead of running he turned towards my feet confident that his 2 foot mass trumped my size 5 sandal. He hissed and I think he even growled, a noise that would have made my dog run sideways away from him. Not that that is saying much since Jack has been known to runs sideways when the kids burp but you get the idea. We keep telling him to tell himself that he’s a big brave dog…whatever.

I briefly considered wishing the very large turtle  the best of luck and leaving, but he was so extraordinarily large that abandoning him, regardless of how disagreeable I found him, would never be right. In light of the green swamp slim covering his back, the 2 inch claws on all 4 of his limbs and my neatly pressed white blouse, carrying him seemed unsafe, unsanitary and was otherwise out of the question since I was afraid of him. I kept telling myself, I’m a big brave dog but it didn’t work for me either.

I shuffled my feet a few more times and he continued to come after me, he didn’t appear to have teeth but I wasn’t willing to do any further investigation into that theory. After that I tried to taunt him into chasing my sandals to the side of the road but he remained unmoved. When that strategy also failed I went back to the car and inspected its contents as I considered my options. I grabbed a cardboard shipping flat, hooked the edge over the turtles shell and I scooted him to the shoulder of the road.  At that point he began walking in the direction I was moving him,  like an old man who just remembered where he intended to go right before he  forgot. Minutes later the turtle was making his way down the weedy ditch and I was making my way home.

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Filed under Fiction Writing, Life

The Last Day of School

Yesterday was Alexa’s last day of school. It was a bittersweet day that Alexa both looked forward to and dreaded.

When Alexa’s Dad died 2 years ago she wrote and read a tribute at his funeral, a good-bye letter if you will. In her letter she said that she feared the big days ahead, like graduation and someday getting married. She said that the milestones in her life would be marked by his absence.

Alexa made it clear to me that she would not walk in a graduation ceremony afraid she’d be reduced to tears and throughout her last year of high school I wondered if she’d graduate at all. She struggled with chronic illness related immune deficiency and she grieved over lost health and a lost father. Her grades fell.

Her greif counselor told me not to push her and sometimes I didn’t, and sometimes I did. I knew if Alexa didn’t graduate that she was still an able, capable girl, even more important Alexa knows she’s an able capable girl. But I was afraid if she gave up on graduation that it would give her more of a reason to give up on life. Alexa and I discussed our terms, she agreed to follow through with earning the credit needed to graduate and only said, “just stay with me,” and so I did.

Finishing class yesterday reminded her that she couldn’t call her Dad to say, ” I did it Dad,” but she imagined what he might  have said and how proud of her he would have been.

After her online classes ended at noon we loaded into the car and left for the suburbs of Minneapolis. Nick had a new car to pick up and Alexa and I made plans to visit Cookie Strange at Great Clips in Champlin.

Cookie is one of my closest friends, daughter. I’ve known Cookie ever since she was born and her Mother named her Emily…which she later changed to Cookie. Cookie works magic on hair and I will follow her to the end of the earth because she makes my hair fabulous.

The last time I got my haircut I had it done locally, it is viewable in all of my online photos. The cut was alright but it wasn’t the kind of cut that you could blow dry and go and it didn’t fare well on windy days in the garden. I need hair that you can seriously mess up and I prefer an modern edge because age appropriate just sucks,  as always Cookie delivered.

When Alexa and I finished getting our hair cut we went to Totally Tan. As Alexa’s health has worsened her skin color has become very light but her hair is dark. During the summer she frequently hides in jeans feeling like her legs glow white. She also burns easily so I agreed to take her to a place that offers a full body spray tan.

After I paid for Alexa’s tan, Alexa looked at me and said…”Aren’t you going to go?” I hesitated, I have  to attend a birthday party and a wedding today…but thought I could use some color. After asking a pile of questions I decided to try it. The experience was absolutely dreadful, it so cold it almost took my breath away and I forgot to use the shower cap so I stepped out once again feeling like Bridget Jones.

On the drive home Alexa and I talked about her Dad, upcoming graduation parties, what to wear to the wedding and we started to turn a warm brown …maybe not so bad. By this morning I staggered to the kitchen for coffee on gingerbread colored legs and thought; definitely not bad.

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Filed under Books, Cooking, Education, Fiction Writing, General, health, Life, Minnesota, Minnesota Fiction, Politics

And That Ends the Entomology Lesson…

About a year ago my son, Ben called from his apartment in a Minneapolis suburb, he had just returned from a week of camping at an outdoor concert when he noticed a massive beetle about the length of his hand on his bag. He thought it was dead so he poked it. The beetle began vibrating, opened its massive wings and took a flying leap to his wall.

Ben was quite on the phone for a minute then said…”yeah,” in a low quiet voice, pausing again, “…all I could do was scream.” He paused, “I gave the guy down the hall beer to kill it”

Yesterday, my oldest son Nick called me over to an area of the driveway where a similarly large beetle had landed on the dogs rear end before falling to the ground. It reminded so much of the beetle Ben described that I decided to take a picture and see if it was the same bug and maybe even find out what kind of beetle it was.

As I snapped the camera the beetle vibrated, opened its wings and took a flying leap at me.  Like my son,  I screamed, so loud that all noise from activity in the neighborhood went silent including the birds and the only audible sound was Nick mumbling “…and that ends the entomology lesson.”

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Filed under Fiction Writing, Home & Garden, Humor, Life, Minnesota, Science, United States

How I’d Improve the American Education System

My daughter is immune deficient and has been an online high school student for about 2 years. I think the best and most cost effective solution to improving the American education system is to build a hybrid that blends the best online education has to offer in a public school setting.

Here’s how it could work:

Each student is provided a laptop computer to work off of  and they independently study digital textbooks, watch podcasts on  subjects they are studying and complete assignments, all within an online learning environment.

At first blush it doesn’t sound earth shattering but consider these net impacts:

The use of podcasting would allow the US Dept of Education (DOE) to hire the worlds best and brightest educators to deliver the curriculum because the person doesn’t need to be in each classroom to teach students. (Imagine  Stephen Hawking podcasting a high school physics course.) Such a change in the delivery of material would allow the US DOE to establish uniformity in the quality of instructors and instruction being provided to all schools EVERYWHERE regardless of the communities financial health. On site teaching staff can then focus on the students who are struggling and need additional instruction.

An education hybrid of public and online education would also allow the US DOE to offer a huge variety of courses to ALL schools everywhere regardless of who is available in that geographic location to teach. As a public school student my daughter could choose from a couple foreign languages, as an online student in rural Minnesota she studied Mandarin Chinese.

Even more important, these courses are self paced, students can move through coursework as quickly as they like or they can take the the time they need. Unlike the current industrial model of education, a 9th grader could work well above grade level while remaining grouped among his or her peers, students could even graduate early and or start college from the very same classroom environment. This would mean that the best and the brightest in our country would no longer have to wait for average learners to catch up and it can all be done within the confines of a single classroom.

Individual schools could allow rural students  the option of attending in person or online cutting the need for additional space and busing. Students with health problems, like my daughter, could still attend their local school by attending online when they are sick. School districts could eliminate the need for home-bound tutors, substitute teachers and even snow days.

Digital textbooks are cheaper to produce than standard textbooks and easier to update without mowing down a forest. They are also hyperlinked to dictionaries and wikipedia’s should students needs more information to grasp a given concept. Whereas a standard textbook might have offered a photo of an Egyptian tomb, in online schooling teachers can podcast an actual tour inside a tomb where students can pan the interior of the tomb right from their computer.

As as a parent of an online student I can log on and see the teachers grade books, I can see how my student scored on each assignment and I can see how much time she is spending studying each subject. This allows me as a parent a clearer view of daughter’s education and more importantly, her work habits.

The post-industrial model I’m suggesting also relieves the pressure on overburdened instructors and quells the issue of classroom size by allowing the human resources within our education system to concentrate on the areas they are most needed.  Even better, this model would allow the US to deliver the highest, most uniform standard of education to learners everywhere regardless of how wealthy or impoverished their community. Equal education could truly mean equal quality and an equal opportunity regardless of geography and its highly likely we’d save money doing it.

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Filed under Education, Fiction Writing, Government, Life, Science, Technology, United States

Minnesota Floods

A lot of things are making my city flood, the ...
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I was listening to the local news today and they were talking about the flooding in the Red River Valley area.  I looked out the window watching the rain fall and considered volunteering to assist in their sand bagging effort.  As I contemplated my schedule and watched the rain from my home office I noticed that I could see the the river from where I was sitting.

I live on the corner of 1st and Elm Street. Elm Street runs along side of my house and is more the size of an alley than an actual road, I assume this is partially because there are no more than 2 houses actually on Elm Street.  It is this narrow road that separates my yard from the banks of the Platte River. I assume the reason the house is so close to the river bank is because the structure is about 107 years old. It’s been completely renovated from the floor up as well as added on to. Today, there are more rules and local ordinances regarding set backs from rivers and lakes, rules that didn’t exist when this house was originally built. Being able to see river water from the main floor of my house inspired one response from me.  I turned on my heels and headed for the basement where I found standing water at the base of the stairs.

Shit!

The only upshot is that the basement flooring is ceramic tile because the house is so close to the river. Whoever put in the large squares of ceramic tile was also smart enough to put in a floor drain. Unfortunately, the drain was placed inexplicably on an incline which  renders it almost useless unless the water level gets significantly higher.

For the past 7 years I’ve operated an online bookstore called Madeline West. The basement level of my house is where my library is housed. The books listed for sales on my website weren’t effected because the water had not eeked into that section of the basement. What was damaged was the boxes of unappraised books nearest to the basement door.

Instead of volunteering to sand bag the Red River Valley, it seems my week is completely booked. It’s going to be a very long week of clean up and the rain is expected to continue on for remainder of the week.  It seems I need an emergency plan, the water levels on the river will without question rise.

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Filed under Fiction Writing, Life, Minnesota, Minnesota Fiction

Conversation Primer

Pontiac Vibe
Image by im4t00l via Flickr

Why do guys think I need help in the automotive department? Seriously, do I look in the least bit lost or confused? If its just an excuse to talk to me, I don’t mind but let me give you a hint…if you’d like to get to know me don’t begin your conversation with me by insulting my intelligence.

Oh and as far as the “didn’t know girls knew much about small gas engines…” comment.  I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure I have a small gas engine on my lawn mower, snow blower and dirt bike, not in my Pontiac Vibe.

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