Monday, January 26, 2015

Roanoke Regional Writers Conference

This past weekend, I had the privilege of presenting a talk at the 8th annual Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. I spoke on keeping a writer's journal and gave a power point presentation.

Journaling has long been a part of my life and I think it is a basic tool that every writer should utilize. I had offered a few successful courses in journaling through Virginia Western prior to the surgery that has messed up my life.

Anyway, the event began on Friday night with a meet and greet and keynote speakers.

In spite of a forecast of freezing rain, the turnout was good.

My old Hollins pal, Bonnie Cranmer. She helps organize the event. I hadn't seen her in a long time.
They had food and drink available.
We had a troubadour at our writer's conference. Greg Trafidlo and a fellow musician sang a little ditty about writer's block.

The keynote address was in the Richard Wetherill Visual Arts Center. I sat at the very back because I knew I was going to have slip out early. In this picture are keynote speakers Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell, organizer Dan Smith (third from left), and on the far right in blue is Hollins University President Nancy Gray.

The actual conference, with classes, was Saturday. The guy above, (note that real men wear pink shirts), was my chaperon and helper for the day. Thank you, dear husband.

I ended up with about 15 students in my class. I don't know if that was about average for the class sizes but I think it probably was.

More of my class.
I showed off my Hobbit journal, which was a present from my husband. Go Hobbits!

This cute little pendant, a quill and ink pot, was my reward for the work. I shall place it on a string and treasure it always.

The proceeds for this writer's conference go toward a scholarship for the Hollins Horizon program. That's their program for older women who are returning to school. It is the program from which I received my degree, so I was happy to support something that I strongly believe in. Lifelong learning is a wonderful thing.

This presentation was actually a big deal thing for me. At one point I had a secret dream of returning to Hollins to work, or else coming back to be the writer in residence because I was so wonderfully famous. I don't see either happening (I haven't a Ph.D. and one of those is required to teach there now, I think, and I am not (yet) a wonderfully famous writer), so this little presentation will represent a fulfillment of that secret desire.

I now have one item scratched off the ol' bucket list, you might say, even if this was not how I had envisioned my triumphant return.

You can read about and see photos from the conference at organizer Dan Smith's blog here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Stealing: AtoZ

From Sunday Stealing

Easy A-Z Meme

A. What are your favorite smells?

Apple pie.

B. Can you go a whole day without caffeine?

By the gods, I can and do!

C. Who knows more about you than anyone else?

Could that be the man I have been married to for 31 years?

D. What song did you last listen to?

Daydream Believer.

E. Do you wear socks to bed?

Every night my twinkle toes sleep sans socks, unless I have a terrible cough and have covered my feet with Vicks.

F. Can you change a car tire?

For what it's worth, I can change a car tire if I must.

G. If you could choose one color to wear for a whole year, what color would you choose?


H. Do you cook often?

How often do I eat? I cook at least one meal a day when my husband is home.

I. What’s your least favorite season?

In the dead of winter, I must admit that this bleakest of times is the season I dread most.
J. Can you sew?

Just a little.

K. What is your favorite fruit?


L. Are you health conscious?

Learning about healthy eating and exercising is one of my past times. Now if I could only learn how to put said knowledge into action, I might actually have something.

M. Do you think you’re very conscious of the feelings of others or more self oriented?

Mostly I have great empathy for my fellow human beings.

N. Do you curse a lot?

Now why the f*ck would you ask me that question?

O. Do you remember lyrics easily?

Only when I really like the song. Being a musician of sorts, though, I have quite a repository of songs in my head.

P. Can you roll your tongue?

Please. Of course I can.

Q. Is there a certain food you often crave for no reason?

Queerly enough, I frequently want chocolate.

R. What was the last book you purchased?

Reading nonfiction is my new thing, and I'm currently waiting on Jane Bryant Quinn's book about how to remake your life after 50 or something like that to find its way into my mailbox.

S. Where was your last vacation?

Somewhere on the east coast . . . oh yes, Myrtle Beach, almost three years ago now.

T. Last movie you watched? Did you enjoy it?

The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies. Thankfully, I enjoyed it though I did think it was a little short on character development.

U. Think of your oldest friend. If you met them now do you think you would still become friends?

Unfortunately, probably not. In the first place, I don't know how I would meet them now as we do not move in the same circles. We get together by design and force the issue.

V. Paris, London and New York… which one would you live in, which would you visit for a day, which would you visit for a fortnight?

Visiting London would make me happy, as I could meet up with my e-mail pal of over 10 years. It would be nice to meet her in person.

W. Do you usually sleep with your closet door open or closed?

Whatever does that have to do with anything? Why of course it is open, as we have a walk-in closet and it has a heating vent in it.

X. Have you ever broken a bone? If so, how did it happen?

X-rays and I are well-acquainted. I broke my first bone when I was 11, playing in my sock feet in my grandmother's basement. I slipped and fell and broke my wrist.

Y. How do you like your eggs?

Yellow on the inside, white on the outside. Hard boiled or scrambled.

Z. What was your last argument about and who with?

Zounds, but I can't really recall. I imagine it was with my husband, as he's the one I live with. But my brain zig-zags around what the argument may have been about.

Dear Sunday Stealers:

If you're interested in Thursday Thirteen, I'm a co-hostess for the "New Thursday Thirteen." We write 13 things, no set topic, just 13 of anything. The link up is at the New Thursday Thirteen site. Please join us if you need something to do on Thursdays!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday 9: The Best Thing

Saturday 9: The Best Thing About Me Is You (2010)
Unfamiliar with this week's tune? Hear it here.

1) What would you say is your best quality?

A. I'm an intelligent, empathetic creative writer.

2) In this song, Ricky sings that he's "allergic to tragedy." Do you suffer from any allergies?

A. It's an endless list. Most environmental things, from grasses to pollen to animal dander of all kind; fish, black pepper, and few other foods. I take a Claritin every day and have for years. It's probably altered my DNA by now.

3) Benadryl, the popular allergy medication, is sometimes used to treat insomnia. What do you do when you can't sleep?

A. I practice Tai Chi in my head. Sometimes I meditate by counting breaths. Or I try to focus solely on the feel of the air going up my nostrils and around into my lungs.

4) The lyrics to this week's song encourage us, "Don't wait until maƱana." Are you a procrastinator?

A. I will answer this question tomorrow.

5) Ricky Martin is a judge on The Voice ... Mexico, aired on Mexican television. When you watch competition shows like The Voice, Dancing with the Stars or American Idol, do you usually agree with the judges? Or do you think you could do a better job?

A. I don't watch those shows. 

6) Ricky tells interviewers that when he was very young, he'd sing in the family kitchen, pretending a wooden spoon was his microphone. Crazy Sam admits to lip synching into a black Magic Marker. When you gave imaginary concerts, what did you use as a microphone?

A. I gave real concerts and played in a real band and used a real live microphone, long ago. When I was very young, I am sure I used a spoon or something similar.

7) Ricky began working at the tender age of 9, performing in commercials. How old were you when you received your first paycheck?

A. If you count babysitting, I was 13. If you mean a real payroll check, I was 15.

8) Ricky does yoga to stay in shape. Have you ever tried yoga?

A. I've tried Wii Fit Yoga. Does that count? I do Tai Chi with a video, or did, when I felt better.

9) Ricky is of primarily Spanish descent, with a little French mixed in. When you think of French cuisine, what comes to mind?

A. Escargo.


Dear Saturday 9 players:

If you're interested in Thursday Thirteen, I'm a co-hostess for the "New Thursday Thirteen." We write 13 things, no set topic, just 13 of anything. The link up is at the New Thursday Thirteen site. Please join us if you need something to do on Thursdays!


Friday, January 23, 2015

Many Places I Have Been

In some circles, I am well-traveled. I've been to Europe, after all. Since statistically only 30 percent of Americans have passports, and I suspect most of those are to go to Bermuda on cruises, I'm in a minority.

Compare that to the number of passports in the UK - 75 percent. Those folks get around. Americans are content to stay at home, but we suffer for it - our ignorance shows.

In other circles, I am not so well-traveled. I know folks who have been many places that I only dream about. They are always more worldly, more knowledgeable, and more patient than folks who have never been further than 50 miles from home.

When you travel, even if it's only in your own neighborhood, you learn a lot.

When I was writing regularly for newspapers and other local publications, I saw neighborhoods in my own community that I did not know existed. I saw poverty that should not be allowed in this or any other country. I saw decay, neglect, and destruction. I met many downtrodden and extremely frightened people.

I also interviewed well-heeled and very scary people. I met folks with whom I would not want to spend more than a minute even if they were bedecked in jewels and lived in 5,000 square-feet McMansions. Those folks almost always scared me more than the fellow who lived in the beat-up ol' trailer (though he could be a mite scary, too).

It takes all kinds to make a world, but it is my profound belief that people should strive for more meeting in the middle and less separatism and partisanship. That applies to living conditions, salaries, health care, and opportunity. Because in spite of what the slogans and jingles say, this land of opportunity does not provide equal opportunity for all. Sometimes it provides no opportunity and folks are lucky to eat crumbs. It matters here if you're male and white. Those folks have opportunity. The rest - not as much.

Journalism can be equal-opportunity in that it allows one access into all kinds of worlds, if one desires to look around. True story: one minute I was shaking hands with slime like disgraced former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (he was running for Attorney General at the time) and within the next hour I was interviewing an intelligent 69-year-old woman who played guitar, yodeled, and never left her house because of a disability. He was well-groomed and wearing an expensive suit and she hadn't had her yard mowed in 10 years because she couldn't run the mower nor afford to pay someone to mow it for her.

McDonnell is going to jail, and good riddance to him, but the man had charisma. I was not surprised he became governor. However, nothing made him any better than the poor woman on Social Security who was eeking out the rest of her life as best she could. I mean, absolutely stinking nothing. That single day has stood out in my mind for 10 years, and probably always will. There stood McDonnell flashing that boyish grin, his handlers huddling close by, and then I met that that old woman, all alone. She sang a song to me on a guitar that desperately needed new strings.

Talk about a variety of places. And you know how many miles I had to travel to see these disparities? One. These two events took place within a solitary mile of one another. I met McDonnell on the county courthouse steps and then drove a mile to the woman's home.

There is something wrong when you go from First World to Third World in a little under a mile in your own hometown.

I have thought about this a long time. There are people who would say that the old woman was living in a broken down house by choice, that she'd made poor choices along the way, or she'd misspent her money. She limped around and used a cane because her foot was misshapen, the result of a birth defect. She overcame it as best she could. I wonder if McDonnell, born in the same circumstances, would have done any better.
In the many places I have been, I have always had great compassion for the circumstances in which I have found myself. Even the well-heeled have troubles, and I have written about those with grace and empathy. I fear see their stories are seen in the media more than those of the poor, though. Missing white girl stories are a big hit, for example, but people go missing every day. We just don't hear every story.

I find compassion and empathy to be two components that are missing from today's rhetoric. No one has compassion for the elderly, the poor, the hard-working firefighter who's just doing his job, barely getting by on a public servants salary. Teachers are evil sycophants who get the summers off! Police are evil jack boots who want to control the world. Why should we pay garbage workers and why should we pay our taxes so that everyone can drive on the highways?

Poppycock and phooey to all of that kind of talk. I have never heard such crap in all my life as I see on the Internet and hear on talk radio these days.

People need to get out of their comfort zones and discover the many places that exist around them. They need to walk a mile or two down the street, and see what is there.

I strongly suspect that what they discover might open their eyes, if not their hearts and wallets.

(And yes, I left $20 with the old woman on my way out that day. I picked up her Bible and looked at it, and slid the money into the most worn place, which I recall was in Psalms.)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thursday Thirteen: The Year of Soil

Did you know that 2015 is the International Year of Soil? Dirt is kind of important but it's probably not something most people think about (except to vacuum it up or sweep it out).

Here is the dirt on dirt:

1. There are three types of soil: clay, silt and sand. Most soils are a blend of all three types.

2.  Soil holds 0.01% of the Earth's water. Soil is composed of 49% Oxygen, 33% Silicone, 7% Aluminum, 4% Iron, and 2% Carbon; half of soil (50%) is air and water. The remainder is minerals and organic matter.

3. Soil is created by the breaking down of rocks, usually by weather. After the rocks crumble, soil is created by the addition of organic materials from decaying plants and animals.

4. Soil needs microorganisms to break down the organic matter.

5. Topsoil, the uppermost layer of soil, has the highest amount of humus and microorganisms. Most plants get their food from this layer of soil.

6. It takes more than 500 years to form 2 centimeters of topsoil. Ten tons of topsoil spread evenly over one hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land comes out to be as thick as one Euro coin.

7. Good, functional soil holds 3750 tons of water per hectare, which reduces the risk of flooding.
8. A single one gram of soil contains 5000 to 7000 different species of bacteria.

9. Scientists have found 10,000 types of soil in Europe and about 70,000 types of soil in the United States.

10.  Nearly 75% of the earth's crust is composed of silica and oxygen.

11. Compost is soil created from things we use daily. This is good soil that can be used in gardens.

12. Things to leave out of compost piles include tea and coffee bags (the grounds are okay, just not the bags), citrus peel, onions, dog and cat droppings, fish, meats, glossy or foil papers, plastics, metals, ash, treated wood or sawdust, artificial fertilizer, and big branches.

13. Things to put into your compost pile include grass clippings, newspaper, certain fruits and vegetable leavings, and certain types of manure, such as horse, cow, and chicken droppings.

Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here. I've been playing for a while and this is my 379th time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday.