Posted in Life, Reading

Simple Pleasures

It’s been a while since I traveled.

The last time I flew somewhere was in October of 2019 when I took myself on a writing retreat to The Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. I spent a long weekend writing, reading, watching the wildlife, and taking long walks through the woods by myself.

The last time the hubby and I took a vacation was in June of 2019 when we spent a few days in the San Juan Islands in Washington. We spent our time hiking the shoreline, watching the wildlife, and taking long walks in the woods together. One of the reasons why I chose the house we rented was because it had so many comfy spots to read.

For me, traveling isn’t often about the go, go, go and do, do do.* I like to sit and stay and experience. It’s about doing the things I love somewhere new. Some of my favorite things to do are reading good books and taking long walks through nature, and I like doing these things wherever I am. Planning for vacation, for someone like me, means the paperbacks I choose to put in my carry on bag are just as important as the shoes I pack in my suitcase. (And those shoes better be made for walking.)

I’m sure there are some people out there who squirm at this idea of traveling. Why go somewhere just to read? You could have covered so much more ground and seen so many more attractions! You’re missing out! I get that, and I concede that there are some destinations where reading would be a dangerous waste of time. (You probably shouldn’t take a book on a safari.**)

Despite opinions to the contrary, this is the kind of travel I love, and it’s served me well. For one thing, books are sponges; they carry the memories of the places they go better than any souvenir. (Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man holds my trip to Peru between its pages, and all I have to do is look at my copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary to be back on the plane to England in 2001.) But a bigger benefit of being a creature of habit is that the things I love to do can be enjoyed anywhere. Even at home.

The hubby and I made the difficult choice not to visit our families for Thanksgiving this year. If we could have popped in for a quick, outdoor gathering, that would have been great, but it’s a four-hour car ride to see my side of the family and a four-hour plane ride to see his. Due to COVID-19, it just wasn’t worth the risk. So I spent my week off work walking the trails near home, reading and listening to good books, and hanging out with the wildlife, both inside and outside of the house. I even turned my front yard into a coffee shop for a day.

Uno and I enjoy a latte at our cool new hangout.

I’m grateful for simple pleasures that I can enjoy anywhere. I’m grateful for my health and for the ability to stay in touch with my loved ones even when I can’t visit them. I’m grateful for the stories that keep me entertained while I wait for the world to heal.

I’m looking forward to traveling again. Hawaii, Greece, and Chattanooga*** are all on the bucket list, but the first trip I take when things are safe again will be to visit the families I’ve been missing for too long.

Wherever I go, though, I’ll be taking my books and my walking shoes.

* Aaaaaaaand, now I have “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by The Police stuck in my head.
** I changed my mind. ALWAYS bring a book. Question: What’s the best book to take on a safari?
*** What? It’s nicknamed “The Scenic City” and is supposed to be a lovely place.

Posted in Random, Reading, Writing

Celebrations and Free Books!

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope this week you’re eating good food, spending time with people you love, or lending a hand to someone in need. Better yet, I hope you do all three.

Thanksgiving for me is family time. I always look forward to the home-cooked meals, the games, the good conversations, and the laughter. I’m thankful to be part of a family who does all of those things really well.

This year, though, I have a few extra things to be thankful for.

First, I recently won two first place prizes in the Poetry Society of Texas Annual Awards! My mom and I attended their lovely banquet together on November 14th, and I was excited to be called to the microphone twice to read my winning poems. Both pieces—a haiku called “writing with a view” and a humorous series of haiku titled “Get a Cat (or Don’t)”—will be published in PST’s Book of the Year next summer.

PST_Awards
PST Award Banquet

Second, last week I hit a pretty big milestone in my writing career. I started sending my middle grade novel to agents! It’s been a long road with a big learning curve, but my book was finally ready to leave the nest. Send a few good thoughts its way at it as it navigates this new part of the writing process.

And, lastly, this little blog, which is almost two years old, reached 10,000 hits this past weekend. Go little blog, go!

It takes courage to send your writing babies out into the world. Whether they’re poem babies, blog babies, or novel babies, each one of them carries a little piece of you with them, and you can’t help but hope that the world will be kind to them. I’m proud of any positive feedback my writing babies get, so I’ve been all smiles this week.

And that’s why I’m in the mood to give away some books! Yea!

As a thank you to those who read my blog and follow me on Facebook and send encouraging emails my way, I’m hosting a book giveaway between now and the end of the year.

Here’s how it works:

Anyone who comments on my blog posts (including this one) OR my public Facebook page posts between now and December 31st will be eligible for a drawing on New Year’s Day. Your name will be counted once per post, so if you comment on this one fifty times, your name will count once. But if I write five posts between now and then end of the year and you comment on all of them, your name will count five times. Get it? On January 1st, I’ll add up all the names, put them in a hat, and draw out three winners, who will get to choose their books in the order they are drawn.

What can you win? Don’t worry, there’s something for everybody. If you’re into horror, you can choose between a copy of Growing Pains, which includes my story, “The Girl in the Attic,” or the latest volume of the Horror Library, which doesn’t include any of my work, but has plenty of cringe-worthy stories within its pages. If poetry is your thing, you have the option of a copy of this year’s di-verse-city, which includes my poem, “Poetry Tumbles,” or the 2016 Texas Poetry Calendar, which is full of beautiful work by talented poets, several of whom I’m lucky to know personally. And if you like children’s lit, you can pick between one of my two favorite books for kids: The Screaming Staircase, the first in the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud, or Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. So many books to choose from! I hope I made the choice difficult enough. 😉

BookGiveaway

To receive your book, winners will need to email me their postal address for shipping. I’ll ship anywhere within reason, but if it’s too far away for my budget, I’ll ask you to choose one of the books that has an ebook option. And, of course, you’re welcome to comment on my posts whether you want a book or not. Just let me know if you’d like to be removed from the drawing.

Good luck, and have a wonderful week!

Posted in Life

Empty Bowls, Full Hearts

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This past Sunday, I stood in line for over an hour in the sunny November heat (ah, Texas weather, you fickle beast) waiting for a bowl of soup. But, although the soup was quite tasty, it was the bowl, and the reason behind the bowl’s existence, that I was more excited about.

If you live near Austin and have never participated in the Austin Empty Bowl Project, you really should. Every year, thousands of hand-painted bowls of all shapes and sizes are donated to AEBP and sold on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The people who make the bowls come in all shapes and sizes too. Some are made by children and scout troops while others are painted by college students and local artists. There are even a few celebrity bowls that are auctioned off for big bucks. All proceeds from the event benefit the Capital Area Food Bank’s Kids Cafe and Meals for Kids programs.

Bowl signed by Cary Elwes in the silent auction
Bowl signed by Cary Elwes in the silent auction

The Austin Empty Bowl Project has been going on for seventeen years. It was founded in 1997 by Kit Adams, the owner of Clay Ways on Burnet Road. The event quickly outgrew the little pottery studio and, like everything in Austin, has become larger every year. These days, it’s conducted in true Austin style with live music both indoors and outside, gourmet soups donated from local restaurants, and tons of friendly volunteers, many of whom you’ll recognize from the local news. Dennis de la Peña from MyFoxAustin handed me my program today and chatted to my friend about the Cowboys before moving on down the line with a big smile on his face. Although AEBP is bigger than ever and has changed locations a few times, the mission is still the same: to raise money and awareness in the fight against hunger.

You may be thinking, Thousands of people? In line for soup? Doesn’t that take a while? It does. This is not a quick event. Don’t think you can pop down there, grab a bowl and be back home in an hour. Some people see the line and decide not to stay because it’s too long of a wait. But for me, the wait is part of the experience. Never in my life have I been at risk of going hungry. When I wait an hour for food, it’s by choice because I’m craving a particular treat or favorite locale. There’s always another restaurant I could go to or a grocery store nearby or simply back home to my own kitchen where I have more than enough healthy food (and plenty of the unhealthy kind too). But there are a lot of people—a lot of families and a lot of children—right here in our own community who don’t have those options. Once a year, I stand in line for over an hour to get a serving of soup, and I’m happy to do it. I love my beautiful hand-painted bowls, but I try not to ever lose sight of what the Austin Empty Bowl Project is really about.

From the program: “The bowl is yours to keep as a reminder of those whose bowls are empty.”
From the program: “The bowl is yours to keep as a reminder of those whose bowls are empty.”

This Thanksgiving, be grateful for all that you have, and if, like me, you have more than enough, consider giving a little back. The Austin Empty Bowl Project is over for this year, but you can still donate to the Capital Area Food Bank.

AEBP8[There are multiple ways to participate in AEBP. You can paint a bowl, volunteer, or just enjoy a day of choosing the perfect pottery and eating some delicious soup! And if you’re kicking yourself for missing this unique Austin event, then LIKE the Austin Empty Bowl Project on Facebook so you won’t forget next year!]