Battle Creek Tornado, Post #2

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On Sunday, I wrote four pages of observations on notebook paper before deciding to write tonado-related things in my pen and ink journal, including important phone numbers, notes, priorities, and even scattered half-phrased thoughts. I’m now on my 25th tornado page in that journal. I figure, as a writer, someday I’ll return to those pages for future stories/articles. For now, it’s simply a central location for stuff my brain is too shaky to retain.

Five points to today’s post:

1) We still are without power and water. Yesterday, there were still 31,000 people without power, with the plan to have everyone restored by 11 pm tonight. Even so, our wires are pulled away from our house and under a large oak, so unsure of when this applies to us.

2) Son John had his own tragedy happen a week before ours. A drug-crazed stranger threw a 50-pound boulder through his car window, then proceeded to rip apart the dashboard before threatening John’s life. Far away carless John is in his own survival mode, but wishes he could help as well. There will be stuff for him to do later. No worries.

Monday, Jeff called Son Peter, who lives 5 hours away. As soon as he found out the extent of the devastation, he drove here with a chain saw, lots of bottled water, tarps, and nails. We had a list of three major things he could help us with during his overnight stay. They were all accomplished two hours after he arrived. It was like Jeff and I were taking baby steps in shock, while Peter comes in as a triathlon athlete (which he is, actually). He whipped through a project, then said, “What next?” His time was not only a physical boost to us, but definitely an emotional boost.

3) Our yard went from 90% shade a week ago to 90% sun this week. Sunlight comes through windows which hasn’t seen sun in our seven years here.

Related to that: With downed trees all about, it took Peter four attempts to get to our house. Even so, the neighborhood looks so different, he started to drive past our house when he saw us out front. Yesterday, Friend Francie, who was out-of-town during our storm, drove down our little street (a whopping 20 or so houses), and became confused when she realized she’d reached the end of the street and had to of have passed our house.

4) People keep asking what we need. This morning I broke down for the first time and cried with “Cuz” Dale called from Mississippi, saying how she touched she/they were when members of my church and I went to help with Katrina clean up, and asked “If there is anything at all I can do–” I answered, “Dale, you already have.” It’s the care and concern and compassion, and being a friend — that is the BEST thing anyone can do for us. Just be our friend. Thank you.

5) Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to work on some photos at home to post on FB tomorrow. Hopefully. It’s hard to plan things more than a few minutes ahead of time.

Love to you all. We sure feel it coming at us from you.

Battle Creek Tornado Touchdown, Sunday, May 29, 2011

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The final words from my previous post on learning new things in May were “And just think… there are still 3.5 days left in the month to learn and do even more interesting things.” Little did I know then how much there was to learn in the past three days. (Note to self: NEVER post about future possibilities again, except when writing fiction.)

Back up in time to last Saturday afternoon: I walked around our yard, picking up three handfuls of small twigs. Twenty-four hours later, I wondered how to pick up the several trees in our yard and through our house.

Sunday, May 29, 2010, at 4:29 p.m., a tornado touched down in our neighborhood.

First of all, my husband and I are safe. Although I know of several close calls, miraculously, no bodily injuries occurred as a result of it. I can’t say the same for our house.

Secondly, ever since the tornado struck, we have been without electricity and water. It may take weeks to restore. There is obviously much, seemingly unending, physical labor to do. I am torn between clean-up efforts and recording/communicating. However, I shall post when I can.

THE INCIDENT:

Sunday afternoon, my husband heard the tornado siren. Like we normally do whenever we hear it (from years of living in tornado alley Iowa), we headed for the basement. He had on the weather radio, but it only warned of rain and strong winds. A couple of minutes (2!) after we were downstairs, we heard loud, scary sounds of which I’ve never heard before. People say, “A tornado sounds just like a freight train.” Freight trains go through Battle Creek all the time. They sound more like clickety-click than the rushing, whooshing, mob-of-ghostly sounds we heard. I’d always thought the brick chimney which goes from roof through ground floor to basement would be the safest, sturdiest place to hunker down next to in case of a tornado. But the overhead wind and crashing noises kept me several steps away from that tunnel to the tornado.

Things went black. Then came the bams. Loud. House-shaking. Bam. Bam. After I realized the basement ceiling was still in tact and we were uninjured, my husband and I just stared at each other in the measly little generator night-light.

Two trees came through our house – an 80’ oak tree which uprooted and smashed away the corner of our bedroom, and another oak, much taller and thicker, the top half which twisted off and then sailed into our garage roof.

Witnesses say three tornadoes were spotted at the same time, in the same area of Battle Creek – our area!

Once the noise was over, the wind and rain stopped just as if some giant had sneezed. The storm was loud. It was quick. It was gone nearly as quickly as it came.

My husband and I ventured upstairs. Power lines were down. Everywhere we looked, trees lay across our roads and over houses and on cars. Small rivers ran through the grassy ditch dents next to the narrow roads, too wide to leap over without getting wet — the least of our problems. Neighbors trickled from their houses. We all clustered together, as if fragile humans have the ability to protect each other at times like this. I’m sure it was more about security.

Although our cars were apparently safe in the garage, we couldn’t get out of our driveway for the trees laying in it. Even if we could, we couldn’t get more than three houses away.  Trees blocked every possible exit.

Interesting thing from this: neighbors become the old-fashioned neighbors you read about elsewhere. Before this, we mostly acknowledged each other with nods or waves and occasional brief conversations. Now there were individual survival stories to tell. All of us needed to communicate. The stories. Lots and lots of stories.

I will post more when and as I can. This initial post was simply to let you know we are safe.  Much more coming. Promise. Like I said, we people have a need to tell our stories.

(P.S.  When I can get to an SD card reader (not exactly a top priority at this point), I’ll post photos on my FaceBook page.

New things learned/experienced in May

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To me, it’s important to be constantly learning or doing new things. Is it because I get so easily bored? And yet, I claim that I have never been bored in my life. Maybe it’s a form of ADHD? I’d rather think it’s just Sandy Carlson. Whatever this rolling nugget inside me is about, it sure keeps me moving and learning, and I love it. Will I use everything I learn and know in stories, blogs, articles? Probably not.

All that being said, here are a few of the new things I’ve done this month:

* Put in a small veggie garden on the SE side of our house. This is the first year in more than three decades that I haven’t had a sun garden. This year’s is an experiment, since our yard is 90% shade. But when our neighbors cut down the huge oak between our yards (which shaded our house each summer morning), the empty space brought about five hours of sun to that section of yard.

* Bought a manual reel lawnmower, which I LOVE using. I can stop and start whenever I have a need (like to pick up fallen sticks) without having loud noise come on and off. I can even hear birds singing or children laughing while I mow.

* Accidentally caught a prescribed burn around the base of my favorite tree in a nearby park.

*Investigated, then bought fruit tree spray for our apple tree. Although we’ve lived in houses which had fruit trees (cherry, pear, and apple), I’ve never sprayed before.

* Accompany on guitar a professional and excellent pianist (v.s. the “whatever” musicians I’ve worked with in the past, who were also very talented).

* After reading a few articles about how to save money, and realizing we already do all those things – except for selling our second house, since we don’t own one – I came up with a simple money-saving plan anyone could use: write down what you spend money on, then start eliminating. However, I realized that, if finances allow, there ought to be an occasional special something not necessary – the very reason why Hershey’s candy bars became so popular during the 1920’s depression.

* Made my own vanilla extract — although I have to admit that I didn’t grow the beans nor make the vodka myself.

* Learned how to hyperlink for my experimental eBooks, which is pending approval to the premium catelogue. (Yep, put a second one up: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/56480 , but this version is minus the hyperlinks.)

* Attended the newly formed Sisters In Crime chapter for our state.

And just think… there are still 3.5 days left in the month to learn and do even more interesting things.

Why Write? (part II)

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I feel like standing up and saying, “Hi. My name is Sandy. I’m a writer.”

I haven’t confessed to too many people that I actually have four blogs. I don’t post on them all regularly, but they are four very different blogs on very different subjects. For instance, I also have a humor blog where I write true funny family stories, but also stick in some good old clean jokes now and then. That blog is strictly for sharing the funny. Another blog concerns my husband’s occupation — b.o.r.i.n.g. to most people.

Why four blogs? For compartmentalizing different focuses.

I also have written nonfiction articles, as well as stories cross-genre and cross-age, from PB to adult thrillers. (The last is under a pen name, so as not to confuse my dear children readers.)

When I was a freshman in college, my advisor — a very plump woman threatening the existence of her chair, with narrow eyes which burned into your very soul — asked me what I wanted to be (when I grew up). I got all fluttery and replied, “I just don’t know. I love being outside, but I love working with kids, and I want to help people, and I want to explore places, and –” She slammed her hand to her desk to stop my babbling. I was startled because, after all, she’d asked. She waggled her finger at me and said, “Focus. Decide on one thing and do it.” Then she waved me out of her presence with the back of her hand. I was devastated. But then, I ended up in a profession which did all of the above. I was an elementary school teacher, and a girl scout leader, later becoming a wife and mom and cub scout leader. I really COULD do it all. Ha on her!

Coming back to my wide interest in writing… I feel my former advisor shaking her pudgy finger in my face with a “Focus!” Will I ever learn? Could I focus on just one series and write a bazillion stories with those characters? Not sure it’s in my varied personality. But because of my families adventuresome spirit, I don’t need to do tons of research for what it would be like in many situations. We’ve been there. OH! something I hadn’t thought about because it is far too scattered to focus into one book — a memoir!

New Fairy Tales

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As I lay in bed last night, listening to my husband’s gentle snore, my mind kept swirling around a recent blog I’d read dealing with fairy tales and today’s market. Fascinating thing. Of course, the fact that I wrote my master’s paper researching fairy and folk tales had nothing to do with it. The swirling had to do with a new story idea trying to come out of the fog and into clear thoughts.

I didn’t turn on lights. I felt that by doing that, I might dispel the images and snatches of story I could almost visualize. I slipped out of bed and felt around for my itty-bitty flashlight, found a ton of blank index cards, and started writing bits of characters, plots, scenes, theme. About an hour later I went back to bed.

This morning, from a distance, I recalled my night raid to the blank index cards, but honestly couldn’t remember the fabulous story idea which came to me in my sleep fog. After one look at the word “unicorn” on the top card, and — blink — it was dark around me once more, and I was in my story again.

BTW, John Lennon wrote many of his songs at that dream-state of waking.

Moral of this story? At sleep’s beginning and sleep’s end, be prepared to net those fleeting story ideas.

Where I Get Story Ideas

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I find bits of story ideas from history, from news, from something I did or heard or saw, and from nightmares or by daydreaming.

I wrote my first historic novel from a fascinating bit of news I heard which happened in 1873. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and what it must have been like to have gone through that event and in that setting. So I researched and wrote about it.

I’ve had nightmares and scary visions of the end times lately — of man destroying this world not by nuking it, but by greed, causing gushing oil to ruin the water world we live on. YIKES. Some things are too close to reality for me to write about! I’m very thankful that after 86 days BP finally found a solution which seems to have stopped the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. What the effect of all that oil damage is yet to be seen. (Even more daydreaming fodder.)

Yesterday, my husband and I drove through what we later found out was a thunderstorm watch. But I wasn’t watching. Mostly, I had my eyes closed! Instead of going 75 on the interstate, people who hadn’t pulled over (like my husband and a truck driver or two) were driving 40 mph in the sideways pelting rain, gripping onto the steering wheel which the wind threatened to take control of. Lots of interesting story ideas could come from that experience alone. However, I’ll share here on my writing blog a really fascinating thing I saw for the first time in my life. That is, to me it was fascinating, and therefore writing fodder.

We were heading west. As we came out from under the storm, although it was still raining, we hit sunlight and blue skies. My husband commented, “There’s got to be a rainbow somewhere.” I knew that in order to see a rainbow, you needed two things: sun and rain, and that the sun had to be at your back. Because of our van roof, my vision was very limited. I looked out my side rearview mirror and found my rainbow. It was following us. The rainbow was made in the spray shooting up from our tires turning on the wet road.

There are ideas all around each of us. Storytellers can’t help thinking, reflecting, weaving. It’s half of the fun of being a writer.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part IV — 1 More from Darcy Pattison

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In Darcy Pattison’s “Fiction Notes,” she addressed this very topic this week. There are too many other people to list who have also given suggestions. Gee. Sounds like a book idea! Wait. There are probably lots of books concerning how to write when there are others around.

One of Darcy’s suggestions is to use pen and paper. I do this so much — even journaling daily in marble notebooks — that I think about this suggestion about as much as I think about being a woman, i.e., it just is a part of me. So, thank you, Darcy, for rattling my brain a bit.

Not long after Hurricane Katrina struck, I headed south on a mission trip with PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance). For the first few days, I helped cut trees and drag branches to the roadside for later pickup and became spotty with gnat and mosquito bites. During our shade-and-drink breaks, I’d whip the small notebook and pen from my back jeans pocket, and write furiously until we started up again. Then, during the leaders meeting, the director of the camp asked if anyone had a writer in their group — to work on the website, write down stories, etc. My fearless leader’s hand shot up, indicating that I was the only one in the group of 90-some volunteers there at that time who was “a writer.” One man from NJ who’d worked with me and the trees that week, confessed he wondered why I hid behind tree trunks scribbling all the time.

The next day, I was left alone in the tent camp, except for my gnat and mosquito friends, staring at the computer. The wall-canvases were pulled to the poles so I could look over my lonely territory. I stared at the screen, tried to organize my notebook thoughts, feeling lonely and deserted and wondering how I could stand the pressure of being the lone writer, and what I would write about first, when who wandered into the shade of my tent, but the big honcho in charge of all PDA camps in the area. Interview time!

I had lots to share with him from my scribbles to bring him up to current speed of the camp, and he gave me lots more to write about, dealing with the camp’s short history.

Robert Louis Stevenson (one of my literary heros) always carried pencil and pad with him and scribbled away notes and snatched bits of conversation. Of course, this was pre-notebook (computer) days. But there are many times when technology is unavailable even today. So… keep those notebooks and journals and a couple of pens (in case one runs out of ink on you) handy.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part III — Some More Solutions

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One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.

Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.

It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.

How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…

1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..

3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)

4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.

5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day.  (Rats! Another made up word.  I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)