Update on my past few years: First slammed in the covid pandemic; then my husband’s retirement arrived and our move to another state; then we entered our money-pit house along with the wonderful white-pallet clean yard. (Can you say “garden?”) In the midst of all this turmoil, I started a new stand alone novel. If it weren’t for my long-standing critique group, I might have given up writing entirely. But there was the once-a-month chapter submission I was loath to surrender. (Thank you Rose, Samantha, and Jaclyn!)

So I’ve at last completed a 31-chapter MG fantasy novel with all new characters and have started digging in on revisions.

For the first time (I think), I am trying to push myself to do a complete revision each for various aspects. I’ve been using many resources to do this: Darcy Pattison, Cheryl Klein, Dwight V. Swain, Christopher Vogler, dabblerwriter, and several articles collected over the years, including notes from writers’ conferences.

First from Darcy Pattison came a one-sentence synopsis for each chapter. This is good to see the whole story arch.

And then I wrote the main feeling of the chapter. I’ve sort of been working on that but have to break it further by scenes…because, you know….FEEEEELINGS! I’m about halfway done.

Problem for me: As I look over the feelings, I think, “Now that I’ve listed them, so what?”

Rambling here… Maybe the ‘so what’ is: 1) to see that there are LOTS of different feelings going on, because feelings make the characters multi-dimensional and relatable; but also, 2) maybe I only WANTED that feeling to be expressed, but did I really do it? So I should go back over the chapter to see how I can “up” the feeling with better language or better action.

Also, I’ve been watching a lot of Korean dramas lately. Generally, so fine! I’ve been trying to figure out how it is that I can bawl my eyes out during kdramas, but hardly never feel a thing, let alone shed a tear, at American ones. Still working on that one. (Although if you’re interested, “Crash Landing On You” is still one of my top more recent kdramas.)

Thoughts like tight, make-sense plots along with twists-surprises are other things to keep the reader reading or the watcher watching are also things to keep the writer writing and the revisor revising.

Revisions are stinking hard! But once that novel is done, please persevere and revise-revise-revise.

Sandy (S. L.) Carlson

P.S. I have recently discovered that my four war unicorn books (under the S.L.Carlson name) on Kindle have seriously dropped in price. Hint-hint. My next novel adventure after these revisions will be the conclusion novel for that series.

Writing Start of 2021

(Having discovered I’d used up all my WordPress data (without an upgrade), this morning I deleted 300+ blog posts from over the past 11 years, with many of those having to do with NaNoWriMo. Hopefully I will have room for more photos. We shall see.)

At the end of October, after selling our house and living in a 25′ RV for 10 weeks, we moved from MI to WI, in the middle of a pandemic. Most of our waking hours have been spent in house projects. But there was also family time — the very reason for our move. We’ve had 5 birthdays, with another coming at the end of this month, 3 major holidays with decorations, and 4 snowstorms since Christmas, all with 8-12″ each. Fixing, celebrating, and shoveling. Oh, my.

I dropped out of my my critique group of nearly 20 years, partially because of no time to write or critique during our move, and partially because of no internet for over 90 days. I have now rejoined them at last. Heavy and relieved sigh. At last, back to my MG fantasy.

With my state change, I signed up for the WI chapter of SCBWI. I saw a post about people wanting members for a picture book critique group. Wanting to have a connection in my new state, I joined one. They use Google docs. I hate Google docs. My first rocky week with them was spent hours in tears and frustration, learning this new way of communication, along with part of the rebel in me wondering why we were using that when editors and agents use Word. But new kid on the block needed to learn new word processor to join in. So here I am, newly educated, and newly with a group of WI writers.

So here’s to a new year, new state, and new writing opportunities. And hopefully a new vaccine sometime soon.

Doctor’s Park – North Milwaukee County Park Along Lake Michigan

Last week we went for a drive and short hike to Doctor’s Park, a Milwaukee County Park along Lake Michigan, north of Milwaukee. (If my deleting iphone photos have helped, I might be able to add photos to this post, otherwise, use your imagination.)

Eight Carlsons went on the adventure. We wore masks most of the time since there were many people coming and going, about half of them wearing masks themselves. From the parking lot, a wide asphalt trail lead down to the rocky beach. The five-year-old boy either doesn’t have the quick brain to muscle reaction to jump away from waves, or he genuinely enjoys getting wet to his knees, but he sure has fun.

The beach was loaded with driftwood. But still, there were the rocks. Just like on the Michigan side. Rocks. What fun. I’d left behind my own collection when we sold our house last summer. Time to start a new collection here in Wisconsin. My pockets became sandy and wet. They also made for added workout while climbing up the stairs on the southern side of the beach.

Not very much to report here. It is a popular park, and was short and sweet for us Carlsons. There was family, waves, rocks and driftwood. It was a pleasant little distraction from covid-19 to a little park with a view over wonderful Lake Michigan. We will be back.

First Trip to Wisconsin State Park — Kettle Moraine State Forest

(Disclaimer: Seems I’ve used up all my photo space for WordPress. So you’ll have to use your imagination until I figure out how to add them.)

We finally got our 2021 State Parks’ sticker this week, so decided on Friday, with the temperature at 31 degrees, to do some exploring. We went to Scuppernong River area in the southern unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest. OK. It’s not actually a State Park, but a State Forest, and only about 30 minutes from our new house in the Milwaukee area. The last time we were at Kettle Moraine was 39 years ago. We were the lone April campers (tent) in that campground, with our 6-month-old baby, and ice covering our water containers overnight. We do look forward to camping there this summer with the grands in a bit warmer weather. It’s a lengthy park, with loads of trails, so lots to explore in the future. This trip was just dipping our toes in.

Being new to the area (so to speak), our first assignment was to find bathrooms. We went to the Ottawa Lake Campground, where there were several campers set up in the light snow, and located the men’s winter toilet. I walked around the building across the road searching for the women’s. Guess what? It was behind the men’s. No sign until you reach the backside. Ha. At least I found it.

We checked out the trailhead to the Scuppernong River area, across from the campground. It was Carlson-crowded, with 4 other vehicles in the parking lot. We took our hiking stick and poles, and decided to walk to the first bend. The start was entirely ice. Poles and hiking sticks were worthless, slipping at every touch.

But we are always up for a bit of adventure, so stayed along the side of the trail, off the ice as much as possible, until we reached the bend. Then we decided to go to the next bend…and the next. As the trail loop is only a mile and a half long trail, we continued on. We both admitted afterwards we were thinking how to help each other (especially me) if we fell on the ice and hurt ourselves. Normally, Jeff carries a first aid kit on hikes, but since we were “only going to the first bend”, that kit remained in the van. My poles could shorten to be used as splints, but our paracord was all back in our vehicle. Because we took it very slowly because of the ice (as well as stopping for photos, and allowing unmasked hikers pass us), it took 50 minutes to hike through the marshland and over the boardwalks.

I was glad to experience this trail during the winter, to become familiar with it. Thankfully, the trail in December wasn’t all ice. There were sand and frozen dirt and leaf-covered parts to the trail as well — times to casually walk without having to watch every step. Were it summer, though, we would have completed the trail in about 15 minutes — chased onward by the notorious Wisconsin mosquitoes, with our shoes soaking wet from the soggy marshland.

Now that we have our WI parks sticker, we look forward to 2021 adventures in Wisconsin.

Tried Another Milwaukee County Park

We’re starting our 7th week as Wisconsin residents. Jeff grew up in Wisconsin. I taught school in Wisconsin. I thought when I married a Wisconsin man, I’d live in WI for the rest of my life. It took 42 years of adventurous living elsewhere, but now I shall live in Wisconsin for the rest of my life!

Our house is needy, so every day we do projects to make it livable, as well as getting it ready for winter, as well as putting up and taking down fall-winter celebrations and decorations (Halloween, 3 birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas).

Because of the pandemic, and being new to this area, and all the zillion house projects to do, we have only wandered off to four nearby parks in these seven weeks. There are 169 county parks in Milwaukee, and hundreds of playgrounds and athletic fields. Most are popular even in the cold. This is, after all, Wisconsin.

Konkel Park is a mile from us and across the street from the police and fire stations. It hosts a Farmer’s Market, May through October, and has several athletic fields and an amphitheater. The paths are nearly all paved, except for a tiny section along a tiny creek going from residential housing to the paved pathway. I see it as a place to take the grandkids in the spring to go kite flying.

There is Whitnall Park in Hales Corners near where we reside, which includes Wehr Nature Center, Root River Parkway, Boerner Botanical Gardens, and several trails including woods, stream, lake, waterfall, and many people. They also have a Winter Wonderland drive through.

Lakefront Parkway on the Michigan Lake shoreline, with views of skyscrapers, Lake Michigan, goose poo, and dead kites in bare trees. Sidewalk “paths”. Crowded. Near the Milwaukee Art Museum and other downtown destinations.

Greenfield Park is actually in West Allis, which used to have parts belonging to Greenfield where we live. It’s off of Greenfield Road. It’s a small urban park with a paved path around a lake with lots of ducks, and includes a small waterfall and a short wooded trail.

So far, all these urban parks have been very easy hikes. I look forward to 2021 when we will get the chance to get out to State Parks with mature forests and fewer humans, and hopefully vaccines all around. Stay safe.

Thanksgiving in Wisconsin

42+ years ago, when I was a teacher in Wisconsin, Thanksgiving meant deer-hunting. It’s still deer-hunting season, but living in a big city, I don’t observe many deer tied to trunks or tossed into truck beds like when I lived in a small town. This Thanksgiving, because of the move, and because of the pandemic, Thanksgiving was about family…and eating.

We moved to Wisconsin at Jeff’s retirement to be near the grandkids. Thanksgiving for the grandkids meant traveling out to South Dakota to see the other grandparents, but this year, COVID-19 put a delay on that. Because family are the only people they or we see here (outside of repairmen or getting WI certified), we have become our own safe bubble.

Thanksgiving morning, it was all about playing together, food (appetizers), a birthday call from Arizona son, and watching “Garfield’s Thanksgiving”.

On the lake, sidewalks, grass, and in the sky.

Thursday afternoon, we drove to the lakefront and took a walk among thousands of Canada geese. (You really want to say Canadian, don’t you? And don’t you remember the day when birds flew south for the winter? And why aren’t more people interested in geese-hunting?) We’d driven there to see Lake Michigan and the skyline. Most of what we saw were green-black tubes of geese feces on the sidewalks, and trying to to find a clear spot to avoid them at each step. The 9-year-old thought it was disgusting. The 5-year-old girl thought they needed a litter box. The five-year-old boy, once in motion (e.g., raising a foot to move forward), finds it difficult to stop any said motion. “Ut-oh” was a commonly heard exclamation from him, with a simultaneous “Oh-no” from his parents.

Not as much geese poo so near the lake.

Once when we stopped long enough to look around, our son discovered an abandoned kite flapping in a tree. Then another. Then another. Without the leaves blocking them, we looked up to see dozens of trapped kites. It was a kite graveyard! One tree had five caught in it. Only at the end of the walk did I finally decide take a picture of the next kite-tree.

Only two kites in this tree.

Later afternoon was more food prep, including an organic turkey from Michigan, and a Thanksgiving video chat from AZ son (as the grands ran around, yelling, laughing, screaming). So much food! The evening capped off with birthday pumpkin pie and a retirement celebration sip of port.

A grand birthday. A great Thanksgiving.

First Short Hike in Wisconsin in Decades

We used our iPhones to find a close park with trails — a nice break from nearly three weeks of unpacking boxes and fixing up the house to standard. We settled on Whitnall, a Milwaukee county park about 10 minutes from our house. The Wehr trail was not what we were heading for, but this particular park is rather huge, so perhaps that other trail is somewhere else in the park. The park also very popular.

They were signs in English and Spanish to wear masks while hiking. But Jeff and I were the only two who actually did.

Even though we ran into many people — about 20 during the hour hike — we were also blessed to see a mallard duck below the waterfall with his harem of five, then two doe, and two buck. Something stirred inside of Wisconsin-born Jeff when he saw the eight-point buck, mid November, in the woods.

Too far away for a clear (photo) shot of this doe who blends so splendidly in the fall woods and field.
One side trail was a prairie trail.
There were several boardwalks over marshy areas.
It reminded me of Michigan trails.
Mostly the trail was wood chips
through a young forest.
We believe the trail went around this lake but there were several side trails. We weren’t sure where we were going without a map.
We found one online after we got home.

Well… that was a nice little break. Now back to unpacking and fixing up this house.

Bittersweet parting and sweet new retirement chapter

Last Sunday was Jeff’s last time preaching as an installed of pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Battle Creek. For safety reasons, we met at a pavilion at Binder Park Zoo.

It was so wonderful to see so many people. This pandemic has been hard on so many people. 2020 was supposed to be a year of us getting together with friends we’ve made over the past 16 years living in Michigan, and having long, bittersweet goodbyes. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. WithPeople staying away from a group of people in a worship service because of the pandemic – even outdoors – and everyone else who came, wearing masks, Jeff wanted the photo directory to recall faces. A new one was planned this past spring to replace the 2013 directory. COVID-19 change that plan as well.

For me, it was like looking at faces pass on an Amtrak train. Goodbye. Goodbye. Wave. We’ll miss you so! Farewell. God bless.

Even some former neighbors (pre-Turkeyville) came to bid us farewell.

A tearful 16-year video created by Cathy L. What memories you all have given us. We also have a huge decorated album filled with cards and notes, along with a dozen or so given that day.

After service was a box lunch, but it was chilly enough that only a handful stayed to eat at the pavillion.

We are reading the cards a few at a time because it’s quite emotional for us. Sometimes I have to hand some to Jeff to read aloud because I’m too choked up. Thank you all so much for a wonderful send off and amazing friendships made over the past 16 years. We love you.

(Posted from our son’s house, where there is Internet.)

Last Trip to Ionia State Recreation Area

With only two weeks left, with two days off work before Jeff retires and us leaving Michigan as residents, what was one place we hadn’t said goodbye to? Ionia State Recreation Area — between Lansing and Grand Rapids, and about an hour north from both Battle Creek where we lived for 16 years and Camp Turkeyville where we presently live in an RV.

I don’t know why this particular park sees such little use. It’s gorgeous, wooded, with lakes and creeks, hills and ravines. Not many people there, at least the times we choose to go. Except, mind that there are hunters, so wear orange. Last Friday, we went. God did not disappoint. Gorgeous autumn. I shall let a few pictures of the park speak for themselves.

Something which always amazes us is to have visited a place so many times, and then discover something new there. I asked Jeff to stop the van so I could get a photo of a creek. He pulled into a tiny gravel parking area. I took the shot I wanted, but between the trees, noticed a lake you can’t see from the road. New place! We hiked down to it.

We assumed the trail went around the lake. Wrong. At least I believe we are wrong. We followed it up the hill, overlooking the small lake. Spectacular.

As the sky darkened and moved toward us, we made a last stop at a vault toilet, and then headed out as it was starting to sprinkle on us. Shortly thereafter, it slushed on our windshield. And then, we drove southward into the sunshine.

It was a fantastic last trip to Ionia State Recreation Area. I know there are woods and lakes in Wisconsin we shall be able to explore. I look forward to experiencing more of God’s great creation.

The start of a new era — living in Wisconsin, Again

Our new residence

We moved into our house in Wisconsin two weeks ago, after spending 16 wonderful years in Michigan. We plan on spending the next 30 years or more in this house — at least that is how long our mortgage loan is. We’ve never been able to pay off a mortgage loan in the past. We hope to this time, and also expect this to be a wonderful place to grow old in.

Our neighborhood is nice. Quiet. For the most part. The dress is casual. By that I mean I’ve seen 6 different neighbors from 5 homes walk about outside in robe or pajama bottoms, even engage in conversation with me. At first we thought of Arthur from Hitchhiker’s Guide, but then more and more Arthurs popped up. Guess I’ll have to go sleepwear shopping soon.

But the very best part of being here is that it is only 15 minutes from family. (Although, one son is still down in sunny, warm Arizona. He will get to enjoy winters when he comes at Christmas.)

Our living room before the movers came
The living room after the movers came

We honestly did a lot of downsizing before moving. And as you can see, we have our wicker furniture from our Michigan three season room as our living room furniture. For now. That is because we gave away all of our living room furniture. (You may or may not see another photo of our living room after it is livable, but maybe it fits the casual nature of this neighborhood.)

We lasted 2 1/2 months without Internet at Turkeyville, Michigan. And it seems that the lack of Internet accessibility has followed us here to Wisconsin. We have tried since house closing on September 8 to get Internet connected to our new house. You would think that being just a few blocks from Milwaukee, that access would be simple. It’s just one of those challenges we face as retirees. At least at our son’s house we can use his Internet service. But at 9:20 on November 2…internet lives! Now for a washing machine which works. I have 8 loads ready to go, while waiting for a replacement for the lemon one we got from Home Depot last week. (Water doesn’t drain.) I don’t suppose the bouncing off the truck as it was delivered helped. I just look forward to clean…everything. Oh, the trials of First World living. I can, however, use our son’s machine, but I’d rather play with the kiddos than do chores.

We’ve only been to one city park, about a mile from us.

Not like the woodsy Michigan trails we’ve loved. But there are state parks here, too.

So many new things to experience, to explore, to be and become in our new state. And, please do know that any friend is welcome to visit us anytime.