Exposed!

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Today, I took a raking-break in and from our backyard. I sat on the swinging bench in the shade on our patio, looking north. The storm (tornado or 100 mph straight line winds) has changed our yard from 90% shade to 90% sun. Today I noticed our next door neighbor’s shed crushed beneath a tree. Before the storm, the shed was hidden by woods. Another strange thing is to see a neighbor’s blue tarped roof – so common a sight around here these days. The thing is, I never realized there was a house that close to us! Then, during my work break-pause, a ‘dart’ caught my eye. I looked out and realized I can now see and hear traffic on busy four-lane Columbia, three blocks away. Before the storm Columbia Avenue was also hidden from our yard by one hundred foot tall oaks.

I feel so exposed. Of course, getting dressed each morning in the living room, because that’s where our dressers are while our bedroom walls get replaced, doesn’t help.

With our trees gone, I no longer feel I am part of a quaint, forested neighborhood, but now part of a city. My eyes have city vision from our property v.s. the wooded park-like area we moved into seven years ago.

Okay. The good side to being exposed? (Think. Think. Brainstorm.)

First, I get to see my neighbors more – physically. It makes us more neighborly, I think, to have to eyeball one another.

Secondly, I get to see Baby Hawk, who is also exposed. The red-tail hawk couple built a nest in the tree across the street a couple of months ago. As the trees leafed-out in early May, I’d lost sight of the hawks, although I could occasionally hear them. Their tree survived the storm. The baby chick flaps to the top of a tree at the end of our driveway, and sits on the top dead branch for most of the day. Yes, it sits. I’m not sure it’s coordinated enough to call what it does as roosting.

Thirdly, when the hot air balloons come, like they do every 4th of July, and I hear the “fffft” overhead, I’ll be able to run out and see where the balloons are right away v.s. having to hunt for them through the leaves and branches like some grand puzzle search.

And fourthly, on clear nights, I can see constellations, entire constellations, instead of merely a star here and a star there.

So, how can I pull this back into writing? Setting. This post is definitely all about setting, and perhaps a bit about what a person’s (character’s) reaction is to her surroundings.

Our Catastrophe Saga Continues… Contrasts

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Today at 5:23 p.m. WE GOT INTERNET!  *dancing, dancing, leaping and giving myself a high-five and landing on my face*

It will take me a long time to catch up, but I “needed” to get out a post today. Still partial power in our house (for most likely months), but we also have running water (more dancing). The irony of having the Internet up and running is now being able to see the storms coming this way over the next couple of days. I’m not saying I’m a worry wart, but…

I’ve found this storm and recovery full of contrasts.

Remember how the day before the tornado, I walked about my yard picking up a couple handfuls of 3-4” twigs, and the next day trying to figure out how to pick up the trees from my lawn?

Well… Yesterday, I decided after 11 days without rain, and with most of our yard chopped up by falling timber, tipped root balls and stumps, trucks, bobcats, etc, that I would water this one section out near the road. It looked so pretty this morning. The grass perked right up, a lovely, beautiful, healthy, living green.

This morning we came back from prayer meeting (we can use all the prayer we can get these days), to find a tree crew from a nearby city (Charlotte) taking down our leaning hickory tree.

Backstory: As it was only 3’ from the road, and as I’d “heard” that if a tree is within 30’ of the center of the road, it was city property, last week I’d called our city Tree Foreman to find out if the city would take it down, or if it was our responsibility ($$$). I never heard back from him. I suppose he was a mite busy this past week with a few thousand other trees and the fact that Battle Creek only has four men working in the tree department.

But when we came home this morning, there they were, those wonderful guys from Charlotte,  cutting down that 100’ tree right where I’d watered the night before. (Hopefully I’ll put photos on my FB page tomorrow.) They told us that Battle Creek “had a doozie” for them to remove today. They were professional and skilled and awesome. Their extended chain saw from their fully extended cherry picker only reached about 30’ from the top of the tree.

It was difficult to take my eyes off of them as 200 pound chunks of trunk thunked deep holes into our lawn. I felt rather giddy – not about the bit about our beautiful green lawn with huge dents in it, but the thrill of it 1) falling such a great distance and 2) the sound of the landing and ground shaking even from up near the front porch and 3) not killing anyone in the process. I thought how those little orange hard hats wouldn’t make a hoot of a difference if the cherry-pickin’ guy up in the sky lost control. He didn’t. Everyone was safe. It was still a thrill, although not so much for my poor lawn, nor for my jealous neighbors who drilled me on how I got the city to respond. Of course, I told them the truth: you have to be an hysterical damsel in distress about a city-owned tree, leaning at a forty-five degree angle threatening power lines which were only recently restored. Wish I could have given them more helpful advice. It worked for me.

Now… on to some more normal life of luxury (a home-cooked supper and maybe watch some tv, ’cause, we got tv when we got Internet *dancing*).

More Tornado Stuff

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We’re still without internet — 11 days and counting. This is killing me. It’s difficult not to be able to communicate in my normal, daily way, using my normal, daily workspace. Right now, I’m using my husband’s work computer while he is off on a staff retreat. Which reminds me, thanks to the many people who have offered their homes for my internet communication addiction.

Before I speak about yesterday’s events, I want to say how furious I feel towards thieves, especially thieves who take advantage of tragedy victims. Strangers are canvasing our storm damaged neighborhoods, asking for down-payments for tree removal ($500 to $2,000), and then never returning. I knew of things happening like this from after Hurricane Katrina. I thought everyone knew that. Maybe not. Maybe it was just because I’d helped out down in Mississippi, and therefore heard lots and lots and lots of stories. But this I know, if any stranger comes to our door asking for a down-payment before work, he’d better have his cell phone ready for a 911 call because I’ll be all over that guy! (Actually, our trees are now off the house, and the rest in process of being removed, so these thieves probably won’t bother knocking on our door. Oooo. But if one does…)

Yesterday (Tuesday), three major things happened.

1) Our official insurance claims agent came out and spent three hours assessing our damaged property.

2) Garbage. I need to back up this story two days, to Monday. I called first the disconnected number in the phone book, let City Hall’s number ring 15 times, then called the number to ask for a dumpster, figuring they could direct my call. I was dead-set on speaking to someone about our missed garbage collection. I learned for the first time in living here seven years, that this job is outsourced, out-of-town. I was put on hold  for 45 minutes (not letting that wiggling fish at the end of the line get away this time), waiting, waiting, waiting, with no speaker phone. Four days previous, half of our street was collected. I can only assume tree removal and construction trucks blocked their way on our regular garbage collection morning. But with homes in our neighborhood having cleaned out our refrigerators, and after four days in 90 degree heat (visualize waves of stink rising from each driveway end), and animals starting to dig into the bags, not only did the 8′ piles of tree debris on our lawns block our view of the pavement, but  the garbage piles made it tricky to pull out. 45 minutes later, and then grilled for details, like my waste management number (didn’t even know we had one) and exactly how many bags did I have out there, I was told they would pick it up the next day. They did. My neighbors call me “The Garbage Police.”  I call me desperate.

3) At noon, with the temperature hovering at 90 degrees, one of the many still-leaning trees around here took out a transformer box, leaving hundreds of homes and businesses in my area without power. The lights flickered on and off about eight times before they went off entirely.

It got me thinking about different people (and therefore character) reactions. (This IS supposed to be a writing blog, after all.) My sister would have said, “Let’s get out the flashlights.” My father would have said, “What the &%#@!” and then gone to check our fuze box. My mother would have sighed, then looked disgusted. Another may have stared at the light, blinked, and then waited for his spouse to tell him what to do. Others may have said, “Oh, well,” or “Here we go again.” (This is a great writing exercise, by the way: take any situation, and then have each of your characters respond/react to it in their own way.) My reaction to the this incident? I know it was still daylight. I knew we had gallons of tap water for flushing, and bottled water for drinking. We’d just gone through six days without power, and knew all the what-to-dos. But, actually, that was the point. We’d JUST gone through six days without power, and only had it on for three days. While the light in our hallway flickered, I went from ut-oh mode to hope each time it flashed back on. But then, when it went off for good, I tried not to burst into tears in front of our insurance claims agent, continuing business as usual. It was only off for four and a half hours, but somehow, I was still rattled — cool, calm, collected me, rattled at a daylight loss of electricity.

Well… I may not be doing the novel revision work I’d planned on doing this week, or this month, but I sure am gathering writing fodder for future stories. I have 71 journal pages (mostly random thoughts and facts) and counting, and that doesn’t even count my blog words.

I hear rain and wind storms are coming the next couple days. Why do I feel shaky when I think about that?

Yet Another Tornado Cleanup Entry

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First need: Water. The first night after the tornado struck, we had gallons of water which I always have on hand “in case.” By the second night, we were using our neighbor’s outdoor spicket, as they have city water, so even though they were without electricity like us, they still had water available.

Second need: Food. As hikers, we always have dried food in our house. Others might not think a lunch of peanut butter on crackers with a can of V-8 and cup of applesauce is much of a lunch, but it is quite satisfactory. And grocery stores in some parts of town were opened, although we couldn’t store anything cold.

Third need: Shelter. Our house is now livable. It is far from the normal we were used to. While our master bedroom gets repaired, we’re sleeping in the smaller guest bedroom with our winter clothing stashed in the basement because there’s no room for them upstairs. And although we still have tarps over four parts of our roof, we are protected from the elements. We have shelter.

Fourth need: Love/ People/ Friends. Thank you. I can’t say that enough. Although you may not think that merely asking “What can I do?” is much, it is HUGE. We need the knowledge that others care. You do. Thank you.

Fifth need: Mental Stability. Throughout this past week, my husband and I each found ourselves repeating things, or forgetting things, or being unable to focus or concentrate. (And I apologize for continuing to repeat things.) Everywhere we look in a 360 degree circle, in every room, and at each section of our yard, there are things which need to be done yet.

I actually thought I was doing (mentally) much better after the power and water came back on. (We will have only partial power for perhaps months, and still don’t have internet service nine days after the tornado. I’m sending this through my husband’s work office.) But today as I was out doing two errands – taking several trashbags of clothing to the Salvation Army and stopping to get milk – I was at the checkout and asked the clerk if she was affected by the storm. She replied, “Thankfully, no, but this store was without power for a few days.” I smiled and nodded, then turned to leave, taking two steps before I realized I had neither paid for the food nor even taken the milk. Yeah. Although some people may argue there was doubt all along, I must admit that I don’t think I’m quite mentally stable yet.

P.S. I have taken 62 pages of notes in my journal so far, concerning this storm and clean up,… and counting. Most of what I’ve written is just jotted thoughts. I could write pages on any of those things. Oh, the writing fodder — to look over someday when I’m mentally stable once again. I may even read over these blog posts for the past week – and melt in sobbing embarrassment.

Tornado Cleanup — 7th Day After

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I finally posted some photos on my FB page (link). Peter had posted some from his stay earlier. Believe me, I have TONS more, including of the neighborhood damage, but those will come (perhaps) later, when we actually have internet from our house.

As mentioned earlier, at 1:15 p.m. yesterday, our house finally got power. We in our neighborhood see this as a miracle, for even yesterday morning, we were all chatting up that we didn’t expect it to be hooked up for weeks. It is actually only partial power, because of the hole in our home from a fallen tree – master bedroom and den (Jeff’s home office) are without power, and will be so for who knows how long.

There is SO much I can be writing about. Over these past seven days, I wrote over 30 pages of notes (some nearly unreadable) in my journal. I’ll write about some of that later, and maybe other of it never. For this post: 4 things.

1) I felt like I’ve been on a week-long missionary trip, working from sunup to sundown in 90 degree (plus) heat. Although, I must add that it’s only been in the 90’s for three of those days, including today.

2) Because we’re on well water (v.s. city water), when the power went, so did our water supply. Now that we have water flowing in our house, I feel euphoric. The big problem is what to use the water for first? My initial inclination was “Me! Me! Sweaty, stinky, dirty me!” But with several hours to sundown last night and humidity high, my veggie garden, strawberries and grapes got first priority. Oops. Thinking back, it was clearing and cleaning our two refrigerators which happened first. And that took hours.

With the tree removal guys working till sunset (and we are getting close to the summer solstice, you know), Jeff and I had a European meal at 9:30 p.m. There are clothes to wash, floors to wash, dishes, counters, bathrooms. Today I did five loads with more to do. Plaster went everywhere when the wall crashed. Then there is sweaty, stinky, dirty me.

3) My poor, poor yard. I’d already spread (before the tornado) 2 huge bags of peat most and 2 large bags of grass seed over our lawn. It was going to be gorgeous this year. Then came the bobcat and chipper and trucks and trailers pounding our lawn flat.

You must realize that I am the gardener/ lawn care person of the family. I hand-pick dandelions, and I aerate the lawn with a pitchfork – seriously! Yep, it takes a long time, but it does a great job. Thinking about “what do you need,” perhaps we should have a pitchfork part at our house after the machines are all gone from our yard. Oh, yeah. There will be a dumpster there for a while during reconstruction, along with affiliated machinery. (Heavy sigh)

4) The only thing I wish for now is that the city would pick up our garbage. They are three days late in collection, and with all that stinking, rotting refrigerator food bagged out at the curb, I’m just waiting for animals to have a feast.

BUT, we are safe, and WE HAVE POWER! (and water!) Life is good.

4 Agents and Michigan Sisters in Crime

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Admittedly, the past two weeks were overwhelming with writing activities — that is, attending writing activities, not writing writing activities. It started with Miss Snark’s Secret Agent contest on Monday (I got my first 250 pages in for critiques — very helpful). Monday night WriteOnCon held a chat with three agents (interesting to discover their likes and visions for the future). I planned to get a post in on both those events, but sadly, like jokes, the timing is now past.

And then last Saturday, local writer Suzanne, hosted our first Sisters in Crime Michigan chapter (not counting the organizational one) with Bill Howe, a retired crime lab supervisor with the police department and currently the investigator for the county prosecutor’s office. I am not normally a mystery or crime writer, but, hey, these were local writers willing to get together right here in my home town, some coming from two hour’s away.  And learning new things is always interesting to me, especially if I can use some of the facts I glean to put into my fictional characters.

Bill’s presentation dealt with interviews and interrogation skills. Interviews are made with anyone involved, but interrogations are reserved for suspects. Bill addressed the importance of non-verbal communication, and that as one policeperson interviews the suspect, two others are watching the nonverbals. For instance, self-grooming or stalling to give answers (repeating the questions) are signs of deception. Bill explained how the eye direction of a right-handed person (v.s. left-handed) indicated truth or fiction. Interestingly enough, I learned that police are allowed to use trickery during the investigation. Sometimes the interrogator also uses sympathy, relating to the person and why they may have done such a crime.  Bill never felt good about doing this. In fact, it made him feel dirty. But if it got a confession by giving the suspect a way to save face (Bill: I can understand why you would ***. I feel like that all the time.”), it is a good interrogation technique.

The time with Bill passed in the blink of an eye. (Oh, no. Was I looking up and to the right, or down and to the left when I said that?) Will I ever use this information with my own writing? I don’t know. But now that I have it, watch out. I’ll be watching. Are you telling a truth or a lie? (Hee-hee-hee.)

George Plimton, Bucket Lists, and Life

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Yesterday, my husband called me “a George Plimton.” How cool is that!

When Plimpton wanted to do research for a book, he’d participate in the activity about which he was writing. For instance, while writing books about the National Football League and the National Hockey League, he joined professional teams. He did the same with golf and the GPA. He was a high-wire circus performer and stand up comedian – all for the sake of writing about them.

So, what brought on my husband’s most recent comment?

I’m looking into volunteering to observe or crew for the World Hot Air Balloon Championships here in Michigan in 2012. Preparation is already going on for it, of course. That alone is not really such a big thing. (I mean, yes, it is. Really. Hot air balloons? Are you kidding me?) But this month, I’ve also been cleaning oil off of animals at the Wildlife Rehab Center from our very own and personal oil spill. While in Western South Dakota, I went to buffalo round ups, pow-wows and rodeos, and participated in cattle round-ups and branding days, and got to know quite a few rattle snakes face-to-face. In Wisconsin, I hand-milked goats, and canoed the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. I didn’t get to “walk the beans” while in Iowa, but did spend a lot of time watching corn grow from our backyard.

These are all intentional local events I participate in for the sake of writing about them. The unintentional things which happen are much, much longer. There was the time I yanked my young son off of the icy rail at Niagara Falls. He was going to retrieve my mitten which he’d accidentally dropped over the edge. Or the wild boar attack in Arkansas. How about outrunning a wildfire in Utah on our honeymoon? Isn’t this a great and varied country?

And then there is the people element. Often, I walk through life with my mouth open, wondering at the peculiar people I see or meet or know, and the unique and unusual (might I say bizarre?) things they do.

Who needs bucket lists when every day of life is an adventure… or involves people? What a world to write about.

Carpe diam!

Writing Sensory Images

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Today may prove to be a record-breaking heat day for this area. I’ve closed all the windows to keep in the early morning coolness, but haven’t yet turned on the air. It just seems too early in the year to do so. Besides, I find a bit of perspiration and being uncomfortable helpful to me as a writer.

Once, I was writing a chapter about kids traveling through a desert. The more I typed, the hotter and more thirsty I became. There I was, typing on the computer, while sweat dripped off of me. I kept thinking, “Wow! I must be one terrific writer to imagine things so vividly that I’m physically getting hotter and hotter.” I’d been typing for a few hours, closed up in the den, when I finally got up to take a break and get a drink of water. It was only then that I realized it was 100 degrees outside, and I hadn’t turned on the air conditioner.

Did I turn on the air conditioner at that moment, you ask? No, I did not. I finished the chapter first, taking note of all my hotness and putting it into words.

Fat v.s. Overweight and Obese Characters

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Being a writer out of my home leaves both eating and exercising at both the top and the bottom of my list of things to do when I’m not writing. HOWEVER, good news: I’ve lost 5 pounds in the past 2 weeks, and hope to continue on this downhill trend. For the first time in my life, I’m counting calories and am disciplined with my exercise. Yeah, me.

Times are changing.

This week I heard some disturbing news. It has to do with the amusement park ride, “It’s a Small World” in California. Seems the ride kept breaking down. They finally discovered the reason: the average weight of the visitors has… er… grown over the years since it was first built. This general increase in weight by the riders has caused the bottom of the boats to scrape against the machinery moving it along, causing the ride to malfunction. What a sad, sad, sad state of American affairs we live in these days.

I’ve also noticed a change in vocabulary. Doctors aren’t allowed to say “fat” any more, or they can get sued. We are either “healthy, overweight, or obese.”

This week I watched a show from the 1970’s about a military school, and each of the young men looked about the weight of a fifth grader of today.

So what does all this mean? Can we or should we write about children or adults who are… um… abundant in figure? If we don’t write about children or adults who have “more” to them, then are we writing about the real world today? Or should we remain in our fictional dream of thin? Now-a-days, actors and actresses who want to maintain a “healthy” look must go to the gym for 2-4 hours a day. Whatever did we do back then, when we were thin and didn’t go to the gym all those hours?

I hate worrying and wondering about this. But what about the characters in my stories?

Hmmm…

Character Changes in Past 50 Years

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This week I caught up on some ancient reading history. I read a couple of Newberry books from the 1960’s.

Okay. I know this epiphany should not at all surprise me, but it did. Before these latest reads, I’d been doing what “everyone” says to do — read the latest books in the field in which I want to get published to see what IS getting published out there today. There are many great reads. Too many books, too little time. However, I noticed that in the books of the ’60’s the main characters experienced a lot of what main characters in today’s writing world do, too. (There is nothing new under the sun.) Only, back then, the kids were fifteen years old or older; today’s main characters who do the same actions are nine or ten years old.

This can only mean that in another fifty years, we will be reading of two and three year olds fighting off villans with mad sword skills, and dashing through streets or forests to rescue the fair maidens in distress or find the enormous lost treasure. Good thing I’ll be dead by then.