Steaks, Reads, & Rascals

My humans were doing the backyard barbecue thing the other day. Something about “summer’s last hurrah.”

They plopped four delicious “New York steaks” on the grill. Yes, four. Clearly that meant one each for Mom and Dad. One for The Kid. One for me. Right?

Rather than waiting for my hunk of happiness to fall off the grill, I figured I’d just hop right up and help myself. No sense standing on ceremony, right? So I didn’t.

Speaking of which, I thought “fall” was something you do. Apparently that’s not always the case. For example. Mom says “fall” is her favorite season. Something about leaves changing. “Crisp.” Curling up by the fireplace with a cup of hot cocoa and a good book. 

I get that. In fact, I know a couple good books that are just right for this “fall” thing: Winterdance: the Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod and Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers. Both are by Gary Paulsen  He’s a great adventure/outdoorsy writer. Also a pretty cool dog dude, according to Mom.

Winterdance is non-fiction. It was published in 1994. It’s the inspiration for the Disney movie, Snow Dogs. 

Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers celebrates Gary’s lead dog and longtime companion, Cookie. “Paulsen takes readers inside the kennel as Cookie’s last litter of pups grow and learn to pull sleds across the snowy frontier.”

Sounds like a couple of good “hot cocoa” and “fall” books to me. Whatever that means.

Back to the steaks. Thick, delectable, delicious steaks. How was I supposed to know Uncle Jimmy is “coming over later”?

By the way. Just what, exactly, is a “little rascal”? Askin’ for a friend.


Steak photo credit

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Libraries and The ‘Dog Days’ of Summer

What do humans mean when they say ‘dog days of summer’? That I can better hang my nose out the car window on warmish days? That it’s too hot to do anything except lie in the shade and dream about kibble and surfing? Something related to Sirius, the ‘dog star’?

‘Dog star,’ huh? I kinda like the sound of that.

Wait. Kid on a bicycle going by.

Now. Where was I? Oh, yeah ‘Dog days.’ We’ve had several this summer. Temperatures ticked up to the mid and upper nineties. That may not sound like much to you Phoenix or Las Vegas types. But in  western Washington, that’s as rare as a smart cat. It’s so rare in fact, that most houses don’t have air conditioning. Pontoons, maybe. But not A/C.

Thankfully, the library does. Have A/C, that is.  So Mom went there a lot, especially during the ‘dog days of summer.’ I’m not crazy about the place. Only service animals are allowed inside. So whenever we walked there – the book place is about 10 minutes away by paw – I’d have to sit outside with one of my brothers or…

Is that the neighbor’s cat?

… or they’d take me for a walk while Mom scooped up some new books. I don’t know why she has to take so long.

Anyway, here’s what I learned about libraries during the ‘dog days of summer’:

  •  The front lawn has lots of nice shade.
  • People say ‘hi’ to me when they go in or out. I cannot jump on them. Cannot, cannot, canno… ugh!
  • The library manager, Mary, has a Cairn Terrier. His name is Max.
  • Libraries have ‘computers’ inside that my humans can use for free.
  • It’s okay to talk in the library. Just don’t bark.
  • Writers are readers.
  • ‘Stacks’ mean ‘books.’ Books are things some humans love. They say they can’t live without them. That reading is like breathing. Like eating. I don’t quite understand this.
  • Some people don’t do this reading thing enough. If they did, they would be better people, says Mom. Smarter. More well-rounded. Creative and thoughtful. They’d probably throw a Frisbee better, too.

I may like libraries after all. Even during the ‘dog days of summer.’

Turning a Corner  

It’s official. This blog is under New Management. Well, maybe “Management” isn’t the right word. Let me explain.

My name is Kimber. At least I think it’s Kimber. My humans – Mom, Dad, and four brothers, two of whom still live at home – sometimes use other names. Kimmi. Good girl. Hey Babe. 

Anyway, I was born on June 22, 2016. I’m a Golden Retriever/Black Lab/Border Collie mix. Mom says that means I’m super friendly, super smart, and super hyper. Whatever that means. I’m just me. 

Wait. Did the Powder Puff just saunter past? That’s what my humans sometimes call the neighbor’s dog. At least I think she’s a dog. It’s hard to tell under all that fur.

As I was saying, Mom says I’m a rescue dog. I’m not sure what that means either. But it sounds good when she says it. I joined my family in August of last year. We live on the Olympic Peninsula. We go on long walks and hikes, explore the Cascades, and play football, Frisbee and other games and activities when it’s not raining. It rains here a lot. Dad says that’s one reason why this place is called “The Evergreen State.”

Do I smell bacon?

False alarm. Beef jerky.

So, I guess you could say this blog is under new “dog-agement.” It will focus on adventures in writing, reading, and life in the rural hinterlands of western Washington. Narrated by me. Why me? Because Mom says I’m a “natural.” And that I’m way smarter than she is. I’m not sure what that means, either. But I like the way it sounds when she says it. 

See you again soon!

Perks!

Are you a book lover? Do you skip meals in order to “finish the next chapter”? Do you await your favorite author’s next release like a kid counting down to Christmas? Is a trip to the library a grand adventure?

I am rarely as content as when I’m neck-deep in a good story. Or even a mediocre one. I’ve never read “competitively” or to win prizes. I just love books. And I love to read. 

But every once in awhile it’s nice to get a little perk. Call it a reading bonus. 

I was delighted to get a phone call from my local library yesterday saying I’d won not one but two prizes in conjunction with this year’s Adult Summer Reading Program: an Amazon gift card and a book bag filled with goodies. I ambled over to the library today to pick up my prizes, pictured above.

The book bag is sturdy and zippered.  I can use it to haul checkouts and returns to and from the library, which I usually walk to. The bag was filled with some pretty cool stuff, including note cards, chocolate, a mini metallic notebook, and a giant coffee mug (for curling up with a good book). And who can resist Ghirardelli’s Intense Dark? Also four brand new hard book backs I haven’t yet read! The $25 gift card arrives next week.

 I read 136 audio and hard copy books in 92 days for this summer’s Adult Reading Program. Re-reading old favorites and discovering new ones was “prize” enough. But it still feels like Christmas.

Know what I mean?

How I Read 100+ Books in 90 Days

Sample

It took some creative juggling, but I met my summer reading goal: 100+ books in 90 days. Sound like a lot? Well, yeah.

When I set that goal per my local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program, I knew it was a pretty high bar. Frankly, I wasn’t sure I could clear it. But I liked the challenge. That’s one reason I set it. And made it. With room to spare.

Here’s how I read 100+ books in 90* days (the short version):

1. As a freelance writer, my schedule is flexible. I mostly work from home and set my own hours. I can choose which assignments I accept or decline. So I did. I also got up early every day, usually finishing my work by early afternoon-ish. I could then devote a large chunk of the rest of the afternoon and evening to my “other” job: reading.

2. I multi-tasked, reading audio books while cooking, doing dishes, driving, etc.

3. I turned off the TV.

4. I used voice mail. Prodigously.

5. I recruited my husband and kiddos . (Our youngest is 18.) They agreed to pitch in on time consuming tasks like running errands, grocery shopping, and walking the dog. They also picked up books I placed on hold at the library and/or helped with returns. They helped with book selections when I was out of ideas.

6. I asked the library staff for help. A lot. They were a huge help, from placing inter-library loans to suggestions for every category and genre.

7. I decided sleep is over-rated. I don’t really need 8 – 9 hours of sleep a night. I’m usually fine with 5 – 6 hours.  That’s an extra 3 – 4 hours a day to get busy.

8. I had a ‘reading buddy.‘ My good dog, Kimber, happily joined me through thousands of pages. (A golden retriever/black lab/border collie mix, Kimber isn’t really a ‘lap dog.’ She just thinks she is.)

9. I set up “reading roosts” – places where I could disappear (or almost disappear) for a while and read, undisturbed. Like a recliner off a living room window with lots of light, pillows, a big fluffy quilt and a snack stash. Or a closet off the spare room upstairs. I cleaned it out, moved in a rocking chair and ottoman, added a space heater for early mornings, and cleared shelves for books – in – progress. I grabbed reading lists, munchies and a note pad, and closed the door. No electronic devices allowed. (A library cubby hole also makes a pretty good “roost.”)

10. OverDrive. Library ebooks and audiobooks via Amazon. If you don’t have the app, now would be good.

11. I re-prioritized. If I was going to finish 100 paper and/or audio books in 90 days, some thing had to give. At least for 90 days. So I cut out unnecessary meetings. This freed up about 8 hours a week. I also dialed back on social media, limiting my time to no more than 30 minutes a day. Often less. I also dropped endeavors with limited ROIs (return on investment), like regular posting to other blogs/guest posting.

Yep, 100 books in 90 days is a lot. Some titles were better or quicker than others. For example, the sparse free verse of Karen Hesse’s Out of The Dust or Calvin Miller’s The Singer read much faster than the detail-laden, history-heavy style of Robert Matzen’s Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe, or Dinesh D’Souza’s magnum opus, Stealing America: What My Experience With Criminal Gangs Taught Me About Obama, Hillary, and the Democratic Party. Since I’m already familiar with the plots, re-reads were also swift.

I also discovered some new genres and authors that turned out to be delightful surprises. Others, not so much. (Most Over-Rated: Anne LaMott, Diane Setterfield. Most Promising: Steve Sheinkin, Robert Morasco.) You can read my reviews of select titles on Goodreads.

Here are some stand-outs. In no particular order:

MOST UNUSUAL and IMAGINATIVE:

Miss Peregrine Peculiar Children series – Ransom Riggs

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy – Laini Taylor

The 5th Wave – Rick Yancey

Legend – Marie Yu

MOST INTRIGUING:

The Lost Letter – Jillian Cantor

The Secret Sky – Atia Abawi

An Eagle in the Snow – Michael Morpurgo

Shelter – Harlan Coben

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

NOTABLE NON-FICTION:

Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp – Jerry Stanley

The Family Romanov – Candace Fleming

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery – Steve Sheinkin

Unquestioned Integrity: The Hill-Thomas Hearings (adapted directly from the actual transcripts)

Twelve Years a Slave – Solomon Northrup

JUST PLAIN FUN:

Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery– Spencer Quinn. (Told from the dog’s point of view)

Bunnicula – Deborah and James Howe. (Narrated by the family dog, Harold)

The Best of the West (Lux Radio Theatre Audiobook): Destry Rides Again, Gunsmoke, Fort Apache, and the best Western ever filmed:Shane.

FAVORITE RE-READS:

Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis (on disc)

King of the Wind – Marguerite Henry. Newbery Medal winner.

Tuck Everlasting– Natalie Babbitt. Christopher Award winner.

Anything by Walt Morey, O. Henry, Gary Paulsen, or E.B. White (like The Ransom of Red Chief and Stuart Little. I also confess a perennial fondness for a little monkey and a man in a yellow hat.)

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak. Caldecott Medal winner.

Fury – Stallion of Broken Wheel Ranch – Albert Miller

Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Flash of Phantom Canyon – Agnes Ranney

Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell. Newbery Medal winner.

The Silver Brumby – Elyne Mitchell. Set in Australia, it’s the book that made me want to become a writer.

MOST POIGNANT:
This is a tough category. It’s highly subjective. Of all the books I read this summer, however, the stand-out here would have to be: Leonard: My Fifty Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man, by William Shatner (2016).

Meticulously researched and carefully crafted, this biography/memoir/history is a moving tribute to a complicated, talented man by another complicated, talented man. (Talk about rapier wit. Who knew “Captain Kirk” could be so hilarious – or so heartbreaking?)

Hence, the most poignant line I read all summer is probably Bill Shatner’s final sentence in this fascinating read. Toward the end of the book, Shatner chronicles how a rift in the relationship developed over an apparent misunderstanding. Despite Shatner’s efforts to mend fences, Nimoy stopped talking to Bill. Leonard died (2015) before the two old friends could reconcile. Shatner closes this warm, rich memoir with this final elegiac line:

“LLAP** my friend, my dear, dear friend.”

#1 FAVORITES

Of the 100+ books I read this summer, only two moved me to tears: Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, An Unexpected Journey, and Me (Jon Katz), and  The Dog Who Was There (Ron Morasco).

A story of faithful love, unswerving devotion, and understanding without words, Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, An Unexpected Journey, and Me effervesces like a bottle of Cristal Brut Methusalah.

An abandoned, half-feral border collie reluctantly taken in by author Jon Katz, Izzy becomes a hospice dog. Somehow Izzy learns what can’t be taught: how to help the dying leave this world with dignity – “Oh! A dog! Where on earth did you come from, you handsome thing?” – and how to best comfort those left behind.

Lenore – from the Edgar Allen Poe poem – is a “portable happiness generator.” “The UPS driver threatened to steal her,” says Katz. Big hearted and good natured, Lenore can pierce the armor of the hardest heart. As Katz battles a deep depression and phantoms from his past, the rambunctious Lab pup gently reminds him why he wanted to work with animals in the first place.

Set in first century Jerusalem,  The Dog Who Was There is a heart-warming, surprising story about a little dog, Barley (that’s not a typo), and a Teacher from Galilee. This wonderful story is soaked in loss, loyalty, sadness, promise, and Great Joy. I’ve never read anything quite like it. You won’t want to miss this one.

Indeed, The Dog Who Was There and Izzy & Lenore get the dual nod for Top Books. Paws down.

HONORABLE MENTION (You may detect a pattern here 😉):

Scrub Dog of Alaska – Walt Morey

Now, the real secret to reading 100+ books in 90* days? I. Love. Books. And I love to read. Always have. Ever since I was ‘knee-high to a grasshopper.’ For more, see: Hard Night: Growing Up in the Land of Endless Summer.

Is the library open yet?

*To be precise, June has 30 days. July and August have 31, for a total of 92 days. I slowed some but didn’t stop when I hit 100 titles in mid-August.

                   FINAL summer reading tally: 136 books in 92 days.


**Live Long And Prosper.  While you’re at it, grab a book. With a good dog.


NOTE: This blog will be turning a corner soon. A big one.

 Same URL.  New name. New look. New voice. 

Stay tuned.



Group Blogging? Look Before You Leap

Big crashing waveYou’re in! The group blog you inquired about said “Yes.” And you’re golden.

Or are you?

Joining a group blog as a contributing author can be a great opportunity. It can help sharpen your writing skills, build contacts and camaraderie, expand your audience and interests, extend your reach, and meet some great people. It can also be another Nightmare on Elm Street. Before joining any group blog, do your homework. Here are some questions to ask before you leap:

  • How will joining this blog advance your writing career?
  • Is the writing on the blog in question up to snuff? Are posts thoughtful, witty, engaging and compelling? Is the writing sloppy or careful?
  • Can you wholeheartedly support the blog’s overall mission, theme, views, tone and style?
  • Is there anything on the blog that you wouldn’t want your mother to see?
  • Have you studied the blog thoroughly? Chances are good that you won’t agree with every post by every author. But if you find content that frequently violates your standards or conscience, don’t bite.
  • Does the blog include writer’s guidelines? Are they clear?
  • Have you inquired about expectations related to frequency of posting? Can you meet them?
  • Do you retain copyright/control of your work?
  • Can you expect compensation?
  • Did you check out other authors? Are you comfortable being associated with them? You may not agree with fellow contributors on everything, but adding your name to a group blog may imply tacit approval of its content. If this gives you cause for pause, move on.

A reputable group blog should also offer to post your author’s bio and link back to your site or blog.

Some “speed bumps” are common in a group blog as writers and readers get to know one another and establish rapport. Most can be negotiated gracefully. But if you have an issue or question, be honest. Take it up with the author and/or blog owner/admin. Most will be willing to address your concerns and work with you toward an amicable solution. If not, find another blog – or start one yourself and recruit your own writing team!

Group blogging can open doors and provide opportunities not always available when flying solo. When it comes to group blogging, however, all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. Be selective and look before you leap.

Are you part of a group blog? Was your experience positive, negative, or somewhere in between? What mis-steps should be avoided?

A Writer’s Best Friend

Writing is hard work, not magic. It begins with deciding why you are writing and whom you are writing for. What is your intent? What do you want the reader to get out of it? What do you want to get out of it. It’s also about making a serious time commitment and getting the project done.”

– Suze Orman, finance editor and author.

Serious time commitment.  Getting the project done.  Talk about a couple of freckle-rattlin’ phrases!

Are there times when those words taste like vinegar to you too?  But they’re true, huh?  I think of it this way: A writer’s best friend isn’t the Internet.  It’s not a short-cut, a quick fix or even a thesaurus.    (This following gem of galatic insight will work a lot better if you can scare up a drum roll in your head.  Ready?  Okay.)  A writer’s best friend is – drum roll, please: Restlessness.

Huh? 

That’s right.  Restlessness.  Let me explain.

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Why You Need to Work at Rest

tropical-relaxation

I know, I know. “I don’t have time to rest or schedule any down time” you insist. “I’ve got too much to do!” You are TOO BUSY to take a break. Type A Attila the Hun personalities can raise your hands now. You know who you are. And you need to change. If not for your own sake, then for the sake of those who have to live and work with you. Here’s why, first for the writer and then for everyone else (you know, normal people who aren’t busily cranking out the next Great American Novel):

For the writer, overwork or a stressed-out mind often manifests itself in The Dreaded Writer’s Block. So listen up. Hitting the block wall may be your mind’s way of saying, “Give it a rest. Take a break. Recharge. Disconnect. Let the creative juices have a chance to rejuvenate.” They will return if you resist the urge to run them ragged. Promise.

For non-writers in a culture that worships workaholics and Attila the Hun types and doles out brownie points based on exhaustion and 24/7 work skeds, lighten up. That’s right. Get a grip. That old adage about, “I’d rather burn out than rust out”? Well, whoop-de-doo. Because you know what? Either way, you’re out. So listen up again.

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The Fridge List

Ever notice how summer seems to slip through your fingers, as mercurial as quicksilver? One Friday in June and it’s the Last Day of School. You blink. And it’s September. 

We usually wind up scratching our heads, trying to figure out what in the world happened to summer? How’d it fade so fast? Where did the time go? How Good it all was.

No more.

A few weeks back I decided this summer will be different. So I set some goals. Sat down and wrote out a list. Checked it twice. And clipped it to the fridge.

I listed several hikes I want to take before the snows fly. Destinations and places I want to visit before the Northwest turns soggy again. I included people I want to touch base with – folks I haven’t seen or heard from in awhile.

And I set a summer reading goal in tandem with the local library’s Adult Summer Reading Program: 100 books/audio books in 12 weeks. (Yeah, I know. It’s a pretty lofty goal. That’s why I want to pursue it. That, and I find that reading widely and often makes me a better writer.)

Per the summer reading program, books have to be read in a wide variety of pre-designated categories. Non-fiction. Sci Fi/Fantasy. Young Adult. First book in a new series. A book by an author using a pseudonym. A cookbook or food memoir. A book by a local author. A favorite children’s book (I have like a million or so.) A re-read (another million). And so on.

It’s been a challenge, especially since some of the genres are outside those which I typically gravitate toward. But what fun!! I’m learning a lot. Meeting tons of new friends. Getting fresh inspiration and new ideas. Woo-hoo!

Some favorites so far, in no particular order: The Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor, and just about anything by Walt Morey.

It’s taken some creative juggling and rearranging, but I’m almost half way to my goal. And summer is yet young. And promising.

How ’bout you? What’s on your “fridge list” this summer?