Pack Your Bags: Virtual Blog Tour Award!

Christmas at the mall

You know you haven’t been decorating your house when you have to use a photo of mall decorations.

 

After my post about readying hearth and home for Christmas, you may be surprised to see me here. ‘Tis the season not only for being jolly but also for passing out awards! The thoughtful and creative author of The Grizzle Grist Mill has nominated me for the Virtual Blog Tour Award, which humbled and surprised me. I have enjoyed her reflections on life, her photographs, and her poetry.

photo

My daughter prefers for me not to watch her rehearse, so I’ve been respectful of her wishes. She made this photo from a video — hence, the poor resolution.

One unusual feature of the Virtual Blog Tour Award is that nominees are assigned a date for publishing acceptances. My date is December 15. Once I’ve posted my responses to the award questions, I will return to preparing for Christmas and readying my house for the out-of-town guests who are coming to see my daughter dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” later this week. (Did that just slip out? Yes, I’m a proud mama.)

virtual tour

Here are the rules:

1. Pass the tour on to up to four other bloggers. Give them the rules and a specific Monday to post.

2. Answer four questions about your creative process. Your answers will help other bloggers and visitors know what inspires you to do what you do.

  • What am I working on at the moment?
  • How does my work differ from others in my genre?
  • Why do I write or create what I do?
  • How does my writing or creative process work?

3. Compose a one-time post which is posted on a specific Monday (date given from your nominator).

So, here goes:

DSCN0691Four bloggers whom I nominate: 

1. Heather Publishing

2. Perspectives On . . .

3. Glimpses of Beauty

4. Trees of Transition

If you accept this nomination, please respond by posting on Monday, January 5. (If it is more convenient for you to post on December 29, that is fine.)

Here are my answers to the questions (which make me realize that perhaps I am not enough of a Writer with a capital W to merit this award):

What am I working on at the moment? As far as blogging goes, I plan to take a break. I need to recuperate from three months of intense blogging that began with September’s Blogging 101 and continued through November’s Photo 101. Yesterday, I posted the final theme, “Triumph,” on my other blog. Eventually, I will review my Photo 101 pictures and put together a gallery of ten favorite photographs, but that can wait until after the holidays. Photo 101 was supposed to stop after Thanksgiving weekend, but, because I was so slow, it continued into mid-December; Photo 101 has crept into Writer’s Quote Wednesday posts and into Stream-of-Consciousness posts. Going places without a photo theme in mind will be strange, but I need a respite from thinking constantly about what to post.

This weekend, I read an excellent post on stepping back for a broader perspective. Blogging has insinuated itself into nearly all of my leisure hours — and some of my working hours. I need to assess why I’m here on my blog so often and whether that is an appropriate use of my time and energy. While I plan to take time off from posting, I hope to continue writing privately at 750words.com, which has been a great resource for online journaling. I’ve contemplated re-taking Blogging 101 in January, since I never finished the second half of the course. And I’m sure I will continue to take photographs through the holidays!

How does my work differ from others in my genre? Many bloggers seem to write fiction — novels and short stories — and poetry. Aside from one haiku that I wrote this fall, I have not written poetry in years. The last poem I remember writing was when my ballerina-daughter, who spends many hours a week in pointe shoes, took her first steps! I have realized that the most productive time for my writing poetry was during my college years, when I was reading quite a bit of poetry in my classes; I also had far more time for solitary contemplation. As a homeschooling mother with two students to educate, I am unlikely to expand my writing beyond essays at this time.

I illustrate posts with my own photographs, but that is not unusual in the blogging world, particularly with blogs that are travel-related (as mine set out to be). Literary allusions sometimes work themselves into my posts, but I see similar references in other bloggers’ posts.

Why do I write or create what I do? When I started this blog, my goal was to share my experiences of hiking, mostly in local places, and of traveling. We had just returned from California, and I had many photos and memories that I wanted to share, particularly with the children who weren’t able to accompany us on that trip. While I have rarely kept a journal of my daily life, I like to keep a travel journal. The habit of keeping a travel journal began when my husband and I went to Pakistan for two months. Before we left, friends gave us a blank journal with Bible verses or quotations written at the top of many pages. Later, I was very thankful that I had a detailed record of our experiences.

Writing, for me, is a means of self-expression and of self-discovery. It is a way of filtering the beauty of the world through the beauty of words. Writing is also a way of preserving the past and of creating a visual record, through photographs, of the places I’ve been. Some day, I hope to write something of more permanence than a “blog,” which seems such a flickering and insubstantial medium. I once envisioned myself as an author of children’s books, but my creative spark would need to be rekindled first.

How does my writing or creative process work? I prefer to write in response to an internal prompt: an idea or observation will start germinating; then, suddenly, I must sit down at my computer and write. I do not make a written outline, although I have a mental outline of what I want to say and how I plan to support my points. Once a draft is written, I will rearrange sentences and paragraphs or add transitions. I have to cut out many “extra” words, sentences, and, if I’m feeling strong, paragraphs. If I can get one of my daughters to read my draft at this point, I am a happy woman. Other eyes always catch things that I miss.

Blogging events and courses are more difficult for me creatively. I find it intimidating to write a post on a Photo 101 theme or a Daily Post prompt, with hundreds of other people responding to the same topic. I try not to read other responses until I have finished my own: if someone else takes an approach that I have considered, I move on. “There is nothing new under the sun,” but I find it easier to participate in an event like Silver Threading‘s Writer’s Quote Wednesday, in which each blogger brings her own prompt. There is less risk of duplication.

While I find it harder to respond to an external prompt, once I get going, the writing process is much the same. I prefer to do all my writing on a post in one or two sittings. When I am “in the zone,” I would not notice a herd of elephants stampeding past me, much less one of my children trying to get my attention. It is dangerous to interrupt me at such times; yes, my family is very patient.

It might be wise to wait a day before posting a completed piece, but I like to be done with a post. A half-written draft gnaws at me, so I try to finish drafts while the drive is there. It is a rare post that gets published and remains unedited. The day or so after I publish a post, I keep coming back to fix a sentence, cut an adverb or adjective, or change a caption. After a couple of days, I let the post go. I enjoy editing a piece that is still warm from the oven, so to speak, but revising an old post is like eating a piece of stale bread.

End of the questions! Good luck to my nominees (should they choose to accept this award).

Look homeward, angel

Look homeward, angel.

O Brave New World

Miranda:
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!

Prospero:
‘Tis new to thee.

The Tempest (5.1.181–184)

I had planned to stay off WordPress today, but I wanted to respond to a post that I’d read last night. As I was firmly forcing myself away from my desk, I got a notification from WordPress. Typically, I ignore those, but this one got my attention: “Congratulations on getting 500 total likes . . .” “Total” includes “likes” on my posts and on my comments, and I felt deeply grateful to every WordPress blogger who ever sent a “like” in my direction. Bruce Thiesen‘s “like” for The Edge was the 500th that put me over the edge, so to speak. Too bad there is no jackpot for being #500, Bruce, but I recommend your thought-provoking blog, Ram On.

500 likes

When I started this blog in June, I was unaware of “how many goodly creatures” there are in the blogging community. I have been impressed by the respect with which bloggers treat other bloggers, and the kindness shown to struggling bloggers. Blogging 101, Class of September 2014, was the catalyst that forced me into interaction with other newbies — Beth, Aileen, Deborah, Karen, Terri A and Terri B, April, Lucile, Flavia, RoseRed, Kellie, and Doug are just a few of the many bloggers with whom I crossed paths. I am grateful to WordPress for facilitating those connections: it’s a marketing strategy, but it builds relationships. Blogging has become a “brave new world” in which I interact with people like Teresa and Momma, who live in another hemisphere, and in which I am challenged to post more regularly through events like Linda‘s and Colleen‘s.

In an effort to keep this post short, I cannot thank every individual whose “like” contributed to the 500, but I will note the bloggers whose “likes” for my latest post preceded Bruce‘s lucky “like”: lrod1726, Teresa Ohjswunxin, Dan Antion, Wandering Dawgs, LifestyleswithLia, restoredpeople, fillyourownglass, Victo Dolore,  Priceless Joy, Allison, Terri Webster SchrandtBespoke Traveler, and kcg1974. The bloggers who most recently liked comments are: annanolan2014, Deborah Drucker, thecraftyladyincombatboots, jswunxin, Retirement Lifestyle, Silver Threading, luciledegodoy, Beth, Bespoke Traveler, and sorannymm.

Thank you to the readers who cannot “like” because they are not WordPress bloggers but who have demonstrated support for my blog in other ways. You know who you are!

A Tale of Two Photos

With apologies to Cole Porter, I love Asheville in the fall.

With apologies to Cole Porter’s song, I love Asheville in the fall.

When my sister and I posted fall pictures to Instagram on the same day, I was not surprised. Her New England region is famous for “fall color,” while tourists flock to my part of North Carolina to admire the flagrantly colored leaves. You can even consult a weekly Fall Color Report to find the trees at their most brilliant. As I drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway, I remind myself to be patient with out-of-towners who are ambling down the road. Long-time locals like my husband call this time of year “Leaf Season.”

But it was eerie that my sister and I simultaneously posted an atypical fall picture on our respective Instagram accounts. Within three minutes of one another.

My photo was taken by a gravel sidewalk at a community center.

Sweet Gum Ball on the Sidewalk

Scattered Leaves on the Sidewalk

Hers was shot outside an urban grocery store.

Yellow Leaf

Yellow Leaf (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

 

My initial reaction was, “She just one-upped my Instagram picture!” (I’m sorry to say that I posted a snarky comment to that effect.) Then, I realized that: a) she must have been posting her photo at the same time; b) she would never deliberately upstage me; c) her picture wasn’t necessarily better than mine. She does have an architect’s eye, which is why I love following her on Instagram.

Not surprisingly, the two photos reflect our personalities. Too impatient to plan, I went for a wild melange of leaves, twigs, acorns, and–the crowning glory–a prickly ball from an overhanging horse-chestnut tree. Like my approach to life, my view of fall is a glorious mess.

In contrast, her photo cleverly juxtaposes the rough tree bark with smooth tile and speckled concrete. One graceful arc cuts across the vertical panels. Christie’s fall photo has the feel of a carefully composed still life. The leaf is a brave flag of yellow, buoyantly defying the civilized world.

It’s not a contest, but her picture wins. Hands down.

Unless I continue The Tale of Two Cities analogy: in that scenario, disheveled Sydney Carton ultimately triumphs over disciplined Charles Darnay. Yes, Darnay is chivalrous, but Carton gives up his life for the girl he loves. Is it cheating to cast my picture as Dickens’ noblest hero?

Regardless of who posted the better photo, I love the fleeting season of fall. Too soon, the short-lived show put on by the trees will end. Now is the time to capture these golden days–whether with camera or words.


http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_assignment/101-widgets-part-one/

3:10 to Lucca

A recent post on Italy caught my eye: “A day in Lucca.” Even before I finished reading, memories of Lucca came back sharply–memories more than 10 years old that still contain the pang of disappointment and the hope of consolation. Flavia describes Lucca’s charms: the 400-year-old wall; the cathedral and museum; the tower from which the entire town can be viewed. But, for seven American tourists, Lucca was the town where a small dream died.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Our series of unfortunate events had its climax at Lucca. (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

 

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Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Our day had gone well at first; we’d encountered minor problems like missing tickets and mystifying directions but nothing insurmountable. While visiting Florence, we had decided to give the children a respite from art galleries with a day trip to the tower that, by virtue of its architectural failings, has become one of Italy’s most recognizable landmarks: the Campanile di Santa Maria, commonly called the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Because my daughter was younger than the minimum age of eight required by the tour, we bought tickets to climb the tower in two separate groups. After a lunch of sandwiches and pizza at a cheap place in the university district, my sister, older daughter, and I began our self-guided tour of the Torre di Pisa.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Not only were the 600-year-old marble stairs slippery and uneven, but there were no handrails for the safety-conscious Americans. In the words of my daughter, who was 10 at the time, the bell tower was “really high and really leaning.” The amazing views of Pisa and the surrounding countryside more than repaid our efforts on the precarious ascent. Emily was impressed with her glimpse of a soccer field!

Photo by E. Fleming

Emily’s photo of a soccer field

 

Photo by E. Fleming

My lovely sister (Photo by Emily)

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121 - Pisa - Cathedral

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

FH010028By the time we had carefully wound our way down nearly 300 slanting steps, I was apprehensive about how safe the climb would be for my adventurous eight-year-old son. His father had the same thought and kept him under close surveillance while they took their turn. Meanwhile, we took a quick peek in the Baptistry.

Brave little Julia waits while her father and brothers climb the tower. (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

Brave little Julia waits while her father and brothers climb the tower. (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

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Halfway up the tower, my husband and sons wave to us.

The day began to go awry when we spent too much time in the Baptistry and the Duomo. Italy has a tendency to trip up inexperienced travelers (especially those who hope to learn all there is to know about Italian art in 12 days). Despite my sister’s efforts to whisk us past less important paintings and frescos, we left the Piazza del Duomo later than planned. Next, we just missed hailing a taxi large enough for all seven of us. Then, we discovered that all the tobacco shops were closed due to siesta, making it impossible to get bus tickets for a ride to the train station. Weary from our climb, we trudged back to the train station in the rain.

Duomo de Santa Maria Assunta

Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta

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Beautiful detail on the Duomo

 

All day long, I had kept in the back of my mind a special plan for the return trip: a visit to Pinocchio Park, which I had read about in Italy with Kids. This would be especially nice for Julia, who had been so sweet about not getting to climb the tower. Located in the mountain village of Collodi, this sculpture garden inspired by the classic children’s book seemed a lovely place to conclude our tour of Tuscany.

We passed the Arno River on our walks to and from the Pisa train station.

We passed the Arno River on our walks to and from the Pisa train station.

While the guidebook noted that Pinocchio Park was more easily reached by car, we could take a bus to Collodi from Lucca, which was a 25-minute train ride away from Pisa. Optimistically, we bought tickets for Lucca at the train station (wisely, my husband also bought tickets to Florence). As we munched on snacks, we discovered that the train left 20 minutes later than we had thought. The clock was ticking.

Once in Lucca, we splurged on taxis to the bus station, but we arrived after 4:00, and Pinocchio Park closed at 6:00. At the bus station a helpful girl, whose spoken English was no better than our Italian, wrote out for us which bus we needed to catch for Collodi. At last, we grasped the sad news: the bus wouldn’t get to Collodi until 5:42–and Pinocchio Park was a mile from the bus stop! At this point, two of us were in tears. Later, my eight-year-old wrote in his journal, “After Pisa we were going to go to Pinocchio park but we were to [sic] late. Julia Emily and I were sad. Mom cried.” My sister tried to alleviate the situation by buying drinks for everyone from a vending machine in the bus station. Clearly, the time had come to salvage what we could from the day. Outside the dark little station, we began to look around at Lucca itself.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

What we saw was delightful. My younger son had discovered a pedestrian path running along the top of the old city wall, which was at least 60 feet wide and 40 feet high. Despite the cold, many residents were out jogging or walking their dogs in the late afternoon sunshine. On our way back to the train station, we found a playground where the children went down the slides and swung. Was it Pinocchio Park? No. Was Lucca a far less touristy Italian city than any we had yet seen? Yes. We didn’t have time to explore the attractions that Flavia describes in her post, but we boarded the train for Florence with a desire to return to Lucca and its medieval beauty.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Lucca’s San Pietro Gate (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

The arrival of a fifth child, the purchase of a larger house, costly home repairs, economic slowdown, college tuition, and busy schedules have prevented a return trip to Italy. Time has softened my perspective on the ill-conceived attempt to squeeze yet one more thing into an already full day. The words “Pinocchio Park” have become a family byword, a symbol of that elusive extra goody just beyond one’s grasp. Lucca itself has become synonymous with a glimmer of light in a dark hour.

One day, I hope that Julia will have an opportunity to ascend those winding marble stairs for a splendid view of the city of Pisa and the Italian countryside.

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View of Pisa from the Campanile

Note to the Reader: this post was written in response to a Blogging 101 assignment. All photos in this post were taken by my daughter Emily, my sister Christie, and myself. Please do not use them without permission. Special thanks to Christie for generously giving me access to her photos of Pisa and Lucca–and for being such a wonderful traveling companion in March 2004.

The Liebster Award: Who Are the Bloggers in Your Neighborhood?

liebster21

Last week, I was surprised to find a nomination for the Liebster Award from canaf, who blogs about her rural lifestyle at Faithful Homesteader. “I’ll wait until my son’s fall break is over,” I decided. Two days later, I received a Liebster nomination from Lucile, whose delightful, thought-provoking posts can be read at lucile de godoy, on life. To both authors, thank you–not only for your recognition but also for your contributions to the community!

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On this rainy afternoon, I watched my son ride away in his roommate’s car. Since my daughter’s fall break doesn’t start for a few days, I have a window in which to accept the Liebster, a word of German origin that means “dearest, sweetest, kindest, nicest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, welcome, sweetheart and boyfriend” (from Lucile’s post). The purpose of the Liebster is to recognize and encourage relatively new bloggers–specifically, those with fewer than 200 followers. I decided to participate in passing on this award because reading “award” posts has helped me find blogs to follow, including the blogs of my two nominators.

When my kids were little, they watched a lot of "Sesame Street." As a consequence, this song has been playing in my head as I wrote the post: "Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?"

My kids watched a lot of “Sesame Street.” As a consequence, “Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?” started playing in my head as soon as I came up with the title for this post.  (“The Sesame Street Songbook”)

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As outlined in canaf’s post, here are the rules:

  • Post the award on your blog.
  • Thank the blogger who presented this award and link back to his or her blog.
  • Write 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers who you feel deserve this award and who have less than 200 followers.
  • Answer 11 questions posted by the presenter and ask your nominees 11 questions.

This is not an “official rule,” but it’s a good idea to go to your nominees’ blogs and tell them about your nomination, with a link to your post.

This is not my neighborhood--it's not even on the East Coast--but I did take this picture.

This is not my neighborhood–it’s not even in the South–but I did take this picture.

Eleven random facts about the author of sappy as a tree:

  • 1. I have worn glasses since I was 8.
  • 2. I have always lived in the southern part of the United States.
  • 3. I like cooking (but not shopping for groceries).
  • 4. I am allergic to poison ivy and dust mites.
  • 5. I once ordered a leather sofa over the phone: as you might expect, it is attractive but not particularly comfortable.
  • 6. I own two different patterns of Christmas china.
  • 7. When I was 7 years old, my mother found me sobbing because I thought I might get a “B” in music.
  • 8. I have three sisters.
  • 9. I also have two brothers.
  • 10. Although I am not a runner, Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite movies.
  • 11. I own all three seasons of the original “Star Trek” television show.

If any brave souls are still reading, I will now answer 11 questions from canaf AND 11 questions from Lucile. ( I’m becoming uncomfortable under the glare of the spotlight.) Here are canaf’s fun-to-answer questions with my responses:

  1. Do you prefer sweet or salty foods? I like both: this is probably why I’m slightly overweight.
  2. Are you urban, suburban, or rural?  Suburban.
  3. Do you have a favorite reality TV show? My current favorite is Lifetime’s “The Kim of Queens.”
  4. What is your favorite genre of music? Classical.
  5. Do you have pets? if so, what do you have? No pets: our goldfish, Aragorn, died last month.
  6. Dark or milk chocolate? I prefer dark.
  7. If you could live in another time, when would you chose? As a child, I wanted to live in the 19th century. Now, I know enough history to realize that every era has its drawbacks.
  8. What is your favorite color? Green.
  9. Do you have a favorite sport? If so, what is it? I like playing tennis, but I am not a very good player.
  10. Do you prefer a hot or cold climate? Cold.
  11. What is your favorite movie genre? Hard question: drama, but I also like non-slapstick comedy and suspense.

Here are my responses to Lucile’s probing questions, for the intrepid readers who are still with me:

  • 1. Are you afraid of the dark? Not any more, but strange noises in the dark unnerve me.
  • 2. Do you care about recycling garbage? We faithfully recycle newspaper–a newspaper is delivered to our house each morning (my kids like the comics)–but we are not good about recycling other types of trash.
  • 3. Are you happy?  I am happy with a tinge of guilt and anxiety.
  • 4. If you had to say the truth or protect a friend, which one would you choose?  Eventually, I would say the truth, but I would agonize over it.
  • 5. Are you addicted to social media? Yes, I fear that I am: my new WordPress addiction is overtaking my old Facebook habit: this might be better, since I am reading more?
  • 6. Do you have a dream? I have a dream that every room in my house would be clean at the same time.
  • 7. Have you ever been in love with a friend and never told him? Maybe long ago?
  • 8. Tell us the funniest thing that has happened to you.  I am usually the source of my own comedy: at the age of 11, I was told to grease the bottom of a muffin pan; unthinkingly, I turned the pan over and–yes, this actually happened–I greased the bottom of it. I don’t always connect the dots when I am given oral instructions.
  • 9. If you could choose another place, where would you live? I live in a beautiful place, but it would be nice to live in a less hilly location so that I could ride my bike more. The beach?
  • 10. Don’t you like gossiping? I am ashamed to say that I like reading celebrity gossip: I won’t buy People, but I will read it in waiting rooms. When I do pass on “interesting” tidbits about one person to another, I regret it later.
  • 11. Would you let me know if you would rather not be awarded and why?  I accepted, but I was daunted by the thought of coming up with 11 blogs to recommend. I recently nominated 15 blogs for the “One Lovely Blog” Award, and I tried to come up with different blogs for the Liebster Award.

At last: my eclectic list of nominees! I have been impressed by the honesty or eloquence of each of the bloggers below. (With the exception of #2 on my list, I tried to choose people who–as best I could judge–had not already been nominated for this award, but I could have goofed or something could have changed since I wrote this.)  Nominees, please do not feel any obligation to accept the Liebster Award. Like me, each of you has responsibilities outside the self-imposed writing that we do in our blogs. You are the best judge of whether you have time to participate in this. No worries, if you don’t. If you do, I know you will find it time-consuming, but I hope that you will ultimately find it to be rewarding. (I did.)

My nominees (in no particular order):

  1. Perspectives On . .  work, life, and leisure
  2. Write Out of the Darkness (I’m cheating, since Lucile nominated Terri; if you accept, skip my questions.)
  3. LESSONS LE@RNED (I’m cheating again, since I did nominate Beth’s blog for the OLB Award.)
  4. Family, peace, travel & fiction
  5. Flavia Lozano
  6. River of Life Flows
  7. glasgowmango
  8. Betzcee Rambles
  9. our sacred breath
  10. From My Plan to His
  11. April’s Perspective

And here are my 11 questions, with this caveat: if any question seems too personal or makes you uncomfortable, please substitute one of Lucile’s or canaf’s questions instead.

  1. If you walked into a Starbucks, what would you order?
  2. Read a good book lately? Please divulge its title and author.
  3. How do you feel about rainy days (or Mondays)?
  4. Camping: do you like it or loathe it?
  5. Name one of your favorite desserts.
  6. When you travel from one place to another–via public transportation or personal vehicle–do you listen to news, music, audiobooks, or your own thoughts?
  7. What is your favorite holiday?
  8. Which section of a newspaper do you turn to first–news? editorials? comics? entertainment? crossword? sports? living? classifieds? realty? business?
  9. For a date night, would you prefer a concert or a movie?
  10. How long have you been authoring a blog?
  11. Jane Austen’s character Lady Catherine de Bourgh famously said about the piano, “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” Is there a talent or skill that you wish you’d had the opportunity to develop? What might you have become a “great proficient” at, if you had had the opportunity to learn?

Up a Road Slowly: Lagging Behind in Blogging 101

Road photo by Julia

It’s not quite the upward path I envisioned, but it is a road. (Photo by Julia Fleming)

When I was in the sixth grade, I read Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly. Hunt’s best-known children’s book is Across Five Aprils, which I missed in my own childhood and discovered when my children and I were studying the Civil War. As a child, I didn’t particularly enjoy Up a Road Slowly, so I didn’t seek out Hunt’s other books. The visual image created by Hunt’s title–of climbing up a steep path, one step at  a time–is what I remembered ruefully this morning, after paying a visit to the Blogging 101 Commons with its busy chatter about today’s assignment. I felt so far behind most of the other bloggers. How can I reconcile completion of the Blogging 101 assignments with the demands of my real life (as opposed to my virtual life)?

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Is my voluntary commitment to Blogging 101 barring me from the beauty of fall in the mountains? (This photo was taken by an iPhone 5 with no filters or HDR.)

Thanks to being out of town the last two weekends in September, I got woefully behind on the assignments. Two days ago, I made a feeble stab at “Start Personalizing,” but what I am longing to work on is the assignment that the other bloggers are doing–which changes from day to day! My rate of doing assignments seems to be two a week, at best. My true dilemma: do I press on to the next assignment, even when I feel that I didn’t master the skill taught by a previous assignment?

For 24 hours, I erroneously believed that Blogging 101 had ended, after I misunderstood this assignment. Thanks to the entertaining, nostalgic, evocativewitty, and lovely responses to various community challenges posted by other Blogging 101ers, I realized that I was wrong. Nope, the powers-that-be are still posting assignments for the blogging novice; it’s not time to post that “Elegy for Blogging 101” just yet. I’ve gone back to following the Commons: sure, my Reader is overflowing, but at least I know that assignments are still forthcoming.

I’ve tried jumping ahead with the assignments–this post is partly in response to the Nature Photo Challenge but primarily a response to the Daily Post’s Photo Challenge, which was to photograph and write about a sign. The words “Patient Entrance” not only had a literal meaning for me, as I walked into the shot clinic, but they also spoke to me as a new blogger who loves the exchange of ideas that she finds here at WPW (WordPress World) but finds the balance of responsibility and creativity difficult to manage. Yesterday, my college son, who is home on Fall Break, expressed his concern at finding me on my laptop 24/7: “You’re like a teenager, Mom. You’re always on the computer!” As I explained, I didn’t own a computer when I was in college or grad school: shouldn’t I get some catch-up time for the years that I missed? He pointed out that I was using a logical fallacy to justify my excessive computer time. (At least he’s learning something at college.)

If I am to enter successfully into the blogosphere, my family will need to be patient with me. Even my husband’s stoic silence may crack under the strain of unwashed dishes and cluttered countertops. But a double measure of patience is needed here: I need to be patient with myself as the latest assignments on Blogging 101 blow temptingly past me. Maybe I should even make a written list as the assignments come up, so that–if I decide to jump ahead–I could cross that one off the list?

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The color of this maple tree’s leaves changed with my perspective.

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The light also made a difference.

Although jumping ahead is permissible in Blogging 101–almost anything is permissible in Blogging 101, aside from disrespect, theft, or violation of blogger etiquette (a crime that I have inadvertently committed more than once)–I know myself to be a sequential learner. I like the contents of anthologies to be arranged chronologically. I am not a fan of unit studies (a common approach in homeschools), because I prefer to learn about events in the order that they occurred, not through a common theme. If I’m starting to read a new series, I prefer to start with the first book. Using my trusty Blogging 101: Zero to Hero bookmark on my toolbar, I shall look to see what assignment comes next for me personally–after my son has returned to college!  (I’m only able to type this post because he stayed up late rewatching the first movie in the Bourne trilogy, but I hear him walking around upstairs now. Time to get off the computer and cook him the nice breakfast that he doesn’t get at school.) Meanwhile, onward and upward, as I patiently enter the blogging world.

This was an interesting sign, but it inspires thoughts of the Jazz Age as opposed to the Blogging Age.

This was an interesting sign, but it inspires thoughts of the Jazz Age as opposed to the Blogging Age.

Note: All photos in this post were taken on an iPhone 5s.

 

No Blogger Is An Island: The “One Lovely Blog” Award

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“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”–John Donne, XVII. Meditation

one lovely blogI am indebted to Deborah Drucker for nominating my site for the “One Lovely Blog” Award. While I am usually opposed to chain tags–and am something of a hypocrite for accepting this nomination–it does help us newbie bloggers to feel that, yes, there is someone out there reading our posts. If this award helps any blog to gain readers, then it has done its job. While I was flattered to be nominated by Deborah, whose Notes Tied on the Sagebrush is always worth a read, I also accepted the “One Lovely Blog” Award because I had fun coming up with seven facts about myself.

Seven Facts about Sandi:

1. The first time my husband called to ask me out, he wanted me to be his “back-up date.” (Long story short: we had a When-Harry-Met-Sally friendship.) After his first and second choices turned him down, it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, to tweak a phrase from Casablanca.

2. My “Forrest Gump” moment: at the age of 18, I got to shake Nancy Reagan’s hand. I was supposed to shake President Reagan’s hand, but he was unable to attend the ceremony on the White House lawn due to a last-minute conflict.

3. Also at the age of 18: I fell into a fountain at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. I was not inebriated–just clumsy (drinking alcohol was against the rules at the private Christian college I attended). My espadrilles were ruined.

4. I spent two months in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province during the Gulf War.

5. During the week that we spent in the UK following our sojourn in Pakistan, my husband and I ate at Pizza Hut three times.

6. I have been a Suzuki mom since 1997. At least one of my children has been studying a musical instrument using the method outlined in Dr. Shinichi Suzuki’s book, Nurtured by Love, for 17 consecutive years.

7. The summer after my freshman year of college, I started playing the violin–mostly because there wasn’t much going on in my hometown. Eventually, I became proficient enough to play in the orchestra of the state university where I went to grad school (an adjunct professor was kind enough to teach me violin). True, I was last chair, second violin, but I got to play the second movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor.  (My parents’ LP of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was the first classical music that I loved. My younger brother used to call the Rachmaninoff piano concerti “Rocky I,” “Rocky II,” and “Rocky III”–possibly not original but amusing.)

Here are the rules (nominees will follow). Nominees, if you wish to decline or ignore this nomination, I will completely understand. Should you choose to accept this award, here are the daunting rules, which I copied from Deborah’s post:

The One Lovely Blog Award nominations are chosen by fellow bloggers for those newer and up-and-coming bloggers. The goal is to help give recognition and also to help the new blogger to reach more viewers. It also recognizes blogs that are considered to be “lovely” by the fellow bloggers who choose them. This award recognizes bloggers who share their story or thoughts in a beautiful manner to connect with viewers and followers. In order to “accept” the award the nominated blogger must follow several guidelines:

* Thank the person who nominated you for the award.

* Add the One Lovely Blog logo to your post.

* Share 7 facts/or things about yourself

* Nominate 15 bloggers you admire and inform the nominees by commenting on their blog.

Here are my nominations. Each of these authors has written a post or posts that has, in some way, “connected” with me. The 16 blogs below represent the work of 15 authors (the same professor writes #3 and #4).

  1. LESS@NS LEARNED
  2. The Metamorphosis of a Wallflower
  3. The Professor & Her Garden
  4. My Year Away
  5. Aileen Hunt
  6. Cow Pasture Chronicles
  7. Are We “Making You Think”
  8. Redbuds and Rose Rocks
  9. The Courtney Diaries
  10. My Worst Advice
  11. Fill Your Own Glass
  12. Coolbreezeinthemountains
  13. A Will for Will: The Shakespeare Project
  14. gracespattern
  15. A Hobbit’s Holidays
  16. Gelatinous

From Theme to Shining Theme

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This LEGO sculpture was part of a Sean Kenney exhibit at the Arboretum last November. All other pictures were taken October 2, 2014. Kenney takes LEGO creativity to a new level.

As any child who has ever built a LEGO set under my roof knows, I have compulsive tendencies. Woe to the child who skips a step in building his X-Wing fighter or–unthinkable–attempts to make his own design without first assembling the figure as laid out in the instruction booklet. I have even gone so far as to order missing pieces from the LEGO company. Once the prepackaged creation–an oxymoron, I admit–has been assembled, I accept that I must allow the toy to function as a toy. On principle, though, I prefer to follow steps in the correct order (a preference that has resulted in conflict with my husband, who turns to the directions when all else fails).

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Quilt garden at the Arboretum

And so, in my dilatory but determined progress through Blogging 101, I came to Assignment 5 and felt compelled to complete this exercise if for no other reason than that it was the next step in the plan. I felt unenthusiastic because this assignment involved change: experimenting with three different “themes.” For the non-blogging reader, a blogger chooses the header, page layout, menus, and so on when she sets up the blog. There are over 290 themes here at WordPress. Not all themes are free, and, given that I was unsure how long I’d stick with this gig, “free” was my prime consideration when I became a blogger.DSCN0464

Anxious to get my blog set up, I had settled quickly on Twenty Ten, which allowed me to upload a header image; the title’s white default font, however, did not show up well over the photo, making my quotation hard to read. I had headed back to the theme showcase and chosen the first theme I found that would give me both a custom header and a visible title. Big Brother did the job, although the title font seemed a bit utilitarian.  After a week or so, I was used to it, but I had been bothered by my inability to use a featured image. Still, playing with different themes takes time. Was tweaking something that wasn’t broken worth the effort? On the Commons, I had read about bloggers trying to go back to their original themes and having to start from scratch. This worried me.

DSCN0453But the theme assignment was before me, with no way around it: I had to go through it. I was emboldened because of another blogger’s explanation of how to restore a theme. Counting Big Brother as my first experiment, I had to try only two more. So–deep breath–I set off to find a theme. By filtering the themes according to features that I wanted, I narrowed down the field to 78. I still had some browsing to do. Finally, I got out a notebook, archaic though it felt, and wrote down a few themes to try. It did take time, and I had to backtrack from activation more than once. After Twenty Twelve, Simplicity, and Widely all let me down, I was on the verge of restoring Big Brother, when I spied Able. I liked the preview well enough to activate it and have decided to keep it.

DSCN0442DSCN0437Once again, it seems that the folks writing the Blogging 101 assignments know what they are doing. Able is working far better for me than Big Brother did. I like the way my title looks. I can customize my header and my font color. I can feature an image when I publish my posts. While noticeable to me, the changes probably seem insignificant to others, but maybe that is the easiest way to approach change: one step at a time–one shade darker here, one shade lighter there.

DSCN0469With the assignment done, I felt so light-hearted that I proposed a walk at the Arboretum to my husband and son. There, the gradual move into autumn is changing the look of things.  The color changes are subtle in the woods, but, slowly, the greens are giving way to reds, oranges, and yellows.  Since it was late on a week day, we had the place almost to ourselves and could enjoy a quiet walk, drenched in the afternoon sunlight.

One incidental felicity of our visit to the Arboretum was an indoor exhibit on deep-sea exploration that my fourth grader found fascinating. He and his father had fun trying to piDSCN0444ck up a sponge with a robotic arm like the one recently attached to Alvin, a submersible that helped to photograph the Titanic. Science lesson for the day? Check!

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Although the Arboretum grounds are open until 7, the exhibits close at 5, so I had time for only one bonsai photo.

Although David would have happily remained at the Extreme Deep exhibit for another hour, I welcomed the time when the curator ushered us out of the building and back into the sunshine. My husband and I are going to enjoy our year’s membership at the Arboretum, an anniversary gift from our children. Nothing clears away the cobwebs like a walk in the woods.

One challenge down–for the moment, at any rate. In the wonderful world of WordPress, nothing is set in stone. Who can say that I won’t find a theme that I like better next month? For now, I can stroll past the reddening leaves of the dogwood and take cheer from the yellow daisies, knowing that today’s decision is behind me.


Note to the Reader: as of late October 2014, Able no longer appears to support a Featured Image.

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Dear Miss Alcott . . .

These dressses are from the Beth and Amy dolls that my mother made for me, long ago. The hope chest was made by my aunt.

My mother made these dresses, intricately trimmed with pintucks and lace, along with two “Little Women” rag dolls. I am grateful that she steered me in the direction of Louisa May Alcott’s books, even before I could read.  The hope chest, made by my aunt, brings to mind the four chests described in Jo’s poem, “In the Garret”: “Four little names, one on each lid . . .”

Dear Miss Alcott,

After years of admiration, I am writing to tell you how much I have enjoyed your books–especially Little Women (like so many of your fans) and its sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.  On first reading Little Women at the age of eight, I was delighted with the frills and trappings of the nineteenth century: I longed to live in the time of petticoats and gloves, calling cards and carriages. But I was even more pleased to make the acquaintance of the four March sisters, who were bickering (as sisters are wont to do) about how to celebrate Christmas when you introduced them to me.

As a child, I loved all things "Little Women"--paper dolls, dolls, movies. Here are Madame Alexander's doll versions of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

As a child, I loved all things “Little Women”–paper dolls, movies, and my precious Madame Alexander dolls.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–they were as different from one another as four sisters could be, in both appearance and personality. Many nuances were beyond my understanding on that first reading. For years, I did not realize that the book given by Marmee to each daughter at Christmas was Pilgrim’s Progress, and I failed to appreciate how cleverly you used Christian’s journey as a parallel for the lessons that each of the March girls was learning.  Later, I grasped that the war taking Mr. March away from his family was the Civil War that I had learned about in school. My ignorance notwithstanding, the ambitions of the four sisters nourished my own ambitions: was I going to be a great writer, a great pianist, or a great artist, I wondered, as I built my castle in the clouds along with the March girls.

In 2011, I paid a visit to Orchard House, which is a National Historic Site.

In 2011, my family and I visited Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. Bronson and Abigail May Alcott moved to Orchard House with daughters Anna, Louisa, and May in 1858. Another daughter, Elizabeth, the model for “Beth,” died shortly before they moved to the home that would be the final residence for Bronson, Abigail, and Louisa.

Miss Alcott, as I read and re-read your books, the disappointments of the March girls became my disappointments. I watched with horror as Amy was punished for bringing limes to class and, later, burned Jo’s manuscript in a fit of pique; I sympathized with Meg’s longing for finery, Jo’s disappointment when Aunt March chose Amy for her European traveling companion, Beth’s fear of Mr. Laurence, and Amy’s realization that her talent was not genius. Their joys were also my joys, as Meg gave birth to twins, Amy and Laurie comforted one another after Beth’s death, and Jo finally found romance with the impoverished but lovable Professor Bhaer. Even after the three surviving sisters became women–strong, compassionate women, who coped with single parenthood, founded schools, and helped struggling artists–I loved to read about them. Again, layers of meaning escaped me, such as references to Goethe and Schiller or to Greek mythologybut it is a tribute to the richness of your books that I gleaned something new with every reading.P1010235

Like you, Miss Alcott, I am one of four sisters. Longing to be pretty and artistic, I initially identified with Amy, whose character was loosely based on your sister May. In time, I came to prefer Jo, your fictional counterpart, who poured herself into her writing, who put her interests aside to help her family, who could not perceive her own beauty, who struggled to rejoice when good things happened to her sisters.

Unlike you, I have never been called upon to sacrifice and toil for my family, as you did from your teen years. Indeed, without your tireless writing or the kindness of family friends such as Mr. Emerson, your family might have fared poorly.  When I read the book Marmee and Louisa,  a gift from my youngest sister, it seemed to me that your parents held you to a very high standard indeed and chided you for your failings less gently than they might have. But, rather than complaining, you used your talents to improve your family’s fortunes, and you endeavored to apply your parents’ criticisms.

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Orchard House is a museum today, open for guided tours. Louisa wrote most of her books here, often wearing a “scribbling suit” like Jo’s.

I feel, Miss Alcott, that your personal striving towards humility, selflessness, industry, and compassion communicates itself to your readers. I do not mean to imply that your primary purpose in writing Little Women was didactic: as I understand it, your publisher wanted you to write a book for girls because he thought it would sell well. (He was right.)  In writing about a way of life that you knew intimately and about the family that you loved, however, you created a world that has attracted and influenced generations of young girls. Even as your readers delight in the comic adventures and heartbreaking tragedies of the March girls, they are seeing examples of kindness, courage, and–dare I say it, in the age of the selfie?–modesty.

No matter how old I grow, Miss Alcott, I never tire of reading Little Women.  As recently as 2007, your best-selling classic inspired The Mother-Daughter Book Club, a novel for young adults set in modern-day Concord, Massachusetts.  An Old-Fashioned Girl–which contrasts the life of the hardworking poor girl with the frivolous rich girl–was also one of my childhood favorites, and I enjoyed your books about the orphan, Rose, and her cousins (Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom).

Although your own life, sadly, was filled with hardship, loss, poor health, and personal disappointment, it may be some small consolation to know that you have brought a great deal of joy to a little girl growing up in the late twentieth century.

With the deepest respect,

A Devoted Reader

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From 1845 to 1848, the Alcotts lived in this Concord home, Hillside, where Louisa had her own room and wrote her first book. Later, they purchased and renovated the home on adjoining property, which they christened Orchard House.  In 1849, Nathaniel Hawthorne purchased Hillside and renamed it The Wayside.

This plaque at the Wayside (originally named Hillside by Bronson Alcott) tells about the house's history as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

This plaque at The Wayside (called Hillside by the Alcotts) tells about the house’s history as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Two fugitive slaves stayed here in the winter of 1846-1847. Today, The Wayside is part of Minute Man National Historical Park.

The Dream Reader: For Whom Do I Write?

(Photo by David Fleming)

(Photo by David Fleming)

It is rare for me to sit blankly at a keyboard. Usually, my fingers are flying before my brain knows where it is going, but the fourth assignment of Blogging 101 is difficult: who is the person I most want to read my work? That is a highly personal question, which is daunting for this newbie blogger.

Before I can determine for whom I am writing, I should review why I’m writing:

1)  Without an audience, I won’t edit.

2) Interaction with other bloggers is stimulating.

3) The journalist in me enjoys chronicling my experiences.

Candor forces me to own up to a fourth reason for writing: the cringe-worthy goal of wanting to impress my readers–with my eloquence, my insight, my wit, my relevance.  Despicable but true. Who are the people I’m trying to impress most–my would-be “dream readers”?  Beloved authors, respected teachers, and my parents and siblings come to mind. (My sweet husband needs no impressing.) Old friends aren’t far down the list. I want new acquaintances to think well of me, too (that means you, fellow bloggers).  What about my children: surely I covet their good opinion?

At my sister’s wedding, I accompanied my other sisters on the 2nd movement of J. S. Bach’s “Concerto for Two Violins”  (David Bibeault Photography)

Initially, I enjoy the rush of pleasure that comes with a compliment about my writing. The pleasure is very fleeting, though, and is usually followed by awkwardness, particularly if the compliment is paid in person.  During my college days, I felt the same sense of strained happiness after a solo performance on the piano: I wanted people to applaud my efforts, but, oh, how uncomfortable it was to accept the longed-for praise. I remember well that slightly intoxicated feeling of standing at the reception after a recital, feeling pleased and embarrassed and guilty all at the same time.

Typically, my own impressions of my performance were so blurred that the compliments (or lack thereof) were useful as a way of gauging how the performance had gone. Back then, after the recital hour was over, my piano solos lived only in memory. (Here you can read a poem I wrote in college about the ephemeral nature of music.) Today, the student musician’s experience is vastly different: thanks to camcorders and iPhones, virtually every performance is not only recorded these days but also shared via social media. Two of my performances were recorded on audiocassette; despite my limitations as a pianist, I am glad to have those recordings.  But, in the days before video recording was de rigueur, the audience’s reception of a performance was the sole critique. Audience feedback matters tremendously with writing, too, but an essay–ah, an essay can be re-read and edited endlessly. It can live on indefinitely.

View from the overlook at the small college I attended

View from the overlook at the small college I attended

It can be gratifying to stumble upon something that I wrote years ago and to realize that it was good work. But there is a far better reason for writing than to impress others or even to achieve a sense of satisfaction: to give concrete form to an idea–to give birth to a brainchild, as it were.  When I’m writing something, I become like Jo March of Little Women, scribbling in her garret as “genius” burns. After my thoughts have been transferred lucidly to my laptop,  I feel relief.  Yes, I want to connect with others. Yes, writing has the power to change policy, to change ideas, to change people. But, in the final analysis, the person for whom I truly write is myself. I am my own dream reader.

 

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A side-view of Orchard House and its garret, photographed by my son Samuel

Although Miss Alcott did write her most famous book at Orchard House, she, unlike Jo, did not do her writing in the attic.

Although Miss Alcott wrote her most famous book at Orchard House, she–unlike the fictional Jo–did not confine herself to the attic when writing.

What a cop-out, huh? Back in the nineties, I used to watch “Beverly Hills 90210,” surprising though that may seem. I am reminded of an episode in the fifth season in which Kelly has to choose between traveling with Dylan or marrying Brandon. Kelly chooses–drum roll, please–herself. It was the typical TV resolution-that-is-not-a-resolution-at-all. After nearly a season of dramatic tension, she chose herself? (At least I get to be Jenny Garth in this scenario: I’ve always wondered how it felt to be a blonde.) Fear not: I shall force myself to choose someone–or some group of people–from the categories laid out in my third paragraph and write a post to that person.  A famous writer? a teacher? parents? siblings? Who will it be? Stay tuned.