Posts Tagged ‘what on earth am I going on about?’

Ode to My Osprey Bag

We’ve been in Iceland! Sneaky, I know. And I wanted to highlight an MVP of this–and several other–trips: my Osprey Porter 46 backpack.

(Oooh, I see it comes in colors now! Back in the day it only came in black.)

This bag has been with me on four continents over the past seven and a half years. You see, back in May 2010, my husband and I were about to embark on our first big trip as a couple, a 17-day trip across Germany, Denmark, and a tiny bit of Austria. We’d found our guru in Rick Steves, who recommended packing in a carry-on sized backpack so a number of reasons, which, off the top of my head, were:

  1. If you’re wearing the bag on your back, you don’t have to worry about dragging your bag through whatever is on the road, if there’s a road.
  2. Roller bags = tourists, which in some parts of the world is not something you want to be promoting.
  3. By using a carry-on sized bag, you didn’t have to worry about your bag getting lost/stolen/rifled through while it was out of your possession, because it would never be out of your possession.

We took this advice to heart, bought a few different bags to try, and ended up with the Osprey based on comfort (I’ve worn the bag, completely packed, on an 8-mile hike over a mountain in Japan with no issues), storage space, and general awesomeness. (For example, the backpack straps can be folded in, essentially turning the bag into a suitcase.)

Ugh steep

(Here I am wearing the pack on our first day in Germany–in a little town called Bacharach. You can see my thoughts on the steepness of the hill.)

We’ve used these packs exclusively for all our international travel. They’ve been with us in Copenhagen and Berlin, in Cuzco and Lima, in Toyko and Kyoto, and now in Reykjavik and the countryside beyond. We’ve never had issues getting everything we needed into them, though we were a bit worried this time, with the amount of layers/boots we were taking. But everything worked fine.

The bags have weathered well too. One of the clips to help tighten the straps on the outside of the bag broke on my husband’s bag after Japan, but Osprey sent us a replacement for free.

Anyway, this bag is great. I highly recommend it. Everything fits great (we use packing cubes to keep things organized), there’s always room for souvenirs, they’re super comfortable, and we never have to wait to go places.

Do you have something that’s been indispensable for traveling, squiders?

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Camel Interlude

Ah, squiders, it’s been a long time since we’ve visited with Landsquid and Alpaca and those lot, but I found out today what a baby camel looks like, and it is amazing.

Photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Look at those legs. They go on forever. It’s a fluffy, ungainful mess.

I mean, look at it.

Photo credit: Taylor Weidman / The Vanishing Cultures Project – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24648541

They’re adorable. And will still probably spit in your face.

This has been your camel interlude. See you Thursday, squiders.

Why You Need to Break the Mold

We’re doing a sewing analogy today, Squiders. Sorry.

So, at the end of last week I finally managed to get my patterns together. (Which was a pain in the butt–one pattern had to be traced off a sheet included with the book that included ALL the patterns on the same sheet, and the other one had to be printed off an included CD–in 21 pieces which then needed to be trimmed and taped together. Worst ever, why would you do that? The tracing is highly superior, in the end.) And I got all my pieces together, laid them out and realized…

…I couldn’t use them.

Well, I couldn’t use them as is. I remembered, as I stared down at all those pattern pieces, that I have to modify the patterns, usually extensively, because I am 9 inches taller than the average woman. I have to length everything. I have to change where the darts go. Sometimes I have to completely reshape a pattern.

And then I realized I probably hadn’t bought enough material for one of my planned shirts and had to go make myself some tea.

The same thing goes for writing. Have you ever read a book where parts of it felt derivative? Like, instead of spending any time on a character, the author just used stereotypes? Where, instead of focusing on a good-fitting setting, they just grabbed the status quo, even in places where it didn’t make sense?

It can be tempting to take shortcuts sometimes. To use the default setting, because it’s expected and familiar. To grab the usual bag of characters, because you know how they fit into a plot and why invent the wheel, right? And sometimes it’s okay to use the pattern. There are reasons patterns exist. They do work.

But it’s important to make sure you’re using the right pattern for the story that you want to tell, and if it’s not fitting right, it’s okay to modify it. The fit is what’s important, in the end. If your story ends up too long, too short, lumpy in odd places, too tight, too loose–all things that can be fixed with a little modification–your readers will notice. And next time they’re looking for a well-crafted, good fitting story, they’re going to go somewhere else.

Have you ever tried to use a standard bit of plot/setting/character and found it just didn’t fit? What ways do you employ to fix the fit?

(In regards to my shirt without enough fabric–because it turns out I need to lengthen it almost four inches–I think it can be salvaged by doing a sleeveless version. I had planned for elbow-length sleeves. I suppose I could go back and get more fabric, but the likelihood of the store still having the same kind in stock seems low.)

Let Me Tell You a Story About Failure

I’m taking a break from revising, squiders, because I got really excited about my own story and, while that’s a good thing, it’s not the best state of mind to do revision in. (Almost done! And then on the rest of what needs to be done to get this book out.)

So, it seems to me–and feel free to fight me on this–that most author fears fall into two categories: fear of failure, or fear of success.

(We’ll talk about success later. Tuesday, maybe. I’m making no guarantees til this revision’s back in.)

So! Story time. Imagine, if you will, a 15-year-old Kit, learning to drive, because I lived in a single parent household and my mother really wanted there to be another driver around.

I was terrified of driving. Nothing seemed like a worse idea than giving me control of a several thousand pound machine and letting me around other people. But I did it, because I wanted to help my mother, and I liked the idea of freedom, and it’s typically one of those Life Skills that American society expects you to have.

The driving school I went to had a week or two of classroom education before they released us into the student driver cars. Now, I’d handled a car before: my father had let me steer the car on his lap since I was four or so, and my mother had let me drive around the neighborhood and other low-population areas as practice. But my first day, I went and got in that car with one of those people that you wonder how exactly they came to be teachers, because they obviously dislike children.

So I’m stressed to be driving at all, and then I get the least sympathetic person possible on my first “real” time out.

He had me drive around the neighborhood next to the school for about 20 minutes, then suggested I take a left turn out onto Colfax. (Colfax is a 3-lane-in-either-direction state highway, for non-Coloradoans.) I told him I wasn’t ready. I asked to spend a little more time in the neighborhood. I asked to try a right turn onto Colfax, since I’d never been on a big street before.

But he insisted, and off we went, white knuckled on the wheel. The light turned, I went, then realized I wasn’t turning quite enough. So, instead, I overcompensated, went over the median into oncoming traffic, and blew the tire.

My teacher was irate. I was much relieved.

Here’s the thing. When you fail, you have two options. You can give up, or you can try again, knowing there’s no way it could go worse. I’m pretty sure I was the only one of my friends who managed to physically break a car while learning to drive, but on the other hand, it gave me valuable experience.

In retrospect, it was good that he pushed me. Could he have done it better? Sure. But it forced me to give it a try, and even though it ended poorly, I felt better in the end, probably better than I would have if I hadn’t tried at all.

So don’t let your fear stop you. Yes, you might fail. But then you can try again, with no where to go but up.

Had any particularly spectacular failures, squiders? Stories about learning to drive?

This Will Be a Super Bowl Interlude

So, hey, my local football team, the Denver Broncos, won the Super Bowl. As you might imagine, nothing much is getting done around these parts. My financial adviser stopped by for a minute this morning to pick up some paperwork on her way downtown for the parade and rally.

There’s a million people downtown right now. Even I considered going, but the thought of small child wrangling around all those people seemed like a terrible, terrible idea.

(The population of Denver isn’t even a million people.)

I’m not a huge football fan, but I do keep general track of how the season’s going and occasionally break out my Broncos shirt. And we always watch the Super Bowl, no matter who’s playing, because it’s a good excuse to hang out with our friends and eat too much food and watch the commercials.

I find myself kind of lukewarm about winning. On one hand, it’s really exciting. Super Bowl 50! Our defense is ridiculously unstoppable. We’ve got two ex-players running things backstage now (Gary Kubiak and John Elway), which is kind of neat. I like the idea of people staying with a team. (Our hockey team is currently run by some ex-player as well.) And everyone is so happy. Nothing brings the state together like the Broncos. There’s a reason the motto is United in Orange. And it’s kind of amazing that we got here when our starting quarterback was out for half the season.

On the other hand, it wasn’t a great game. The offense was pretty terrible. The poor Panthers couldn’t get anything done. The commercials were boring.

So part of me wonders–is it right to be so excited when it feels like we didn’t really do much?

And I know it’s wrong to judge an entire season off a single game. The team did a lot of good stuff this season, especially when Peyton was out. And the defense is brilliant, and was brilliant in the Super Bowl. It’s just not as showy.

Defense is one of those things that is so necessary, and isn’t terribly visible when it’s working, but is oh so obvious when it’s not.

I want to make to make some sort of writing analogy, but it’s not coming today. What would the “defense” of writing be? A basic control of the written word. Story structure. Plot pacing. The sort of stuff that is necessary for a story to feel right, that might not be obvious to the reader when it’s working, but feel wrong when it’s out of place.

You’ve read stories like that, haven’t you, Squiders? Where something is wrong, but you can’t put your finger on it?

Anyway, happy football parade day, everybody. Also Fat Tuesday. We’re going to have pancakes for dinner!

Goodnight Moon: Creepy Children’s Book or Creepiest Children’s Book?

Ah, squiders, we all know Goodnight Moon, right? It’s a classic from the ’40s or some such. Good night, room. Good night, moon. Good night, cow jumping over the moon. And so on.

OR SO YOU WOULD THINK.

We have my husband’s copy from when he was a kid that we have recently broken out to use again with the next generation. Such a sweet, calming book.

Until you get to this page:

Goodnight nobody

From Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight nobody. Because that’s not creepy.

It’s creepy in the way that small children are sometimes creepy, like when they stare at the corner and hold a conversation with no one. You know they’re probably just practicing their language skills, but there’s some small part of you that worries that there’s actually someone there that you can’t see–and they can.

The book then goes on until right near the end:

Goodnight noises everywhere

From Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight noises everywhere. Innocuous enough by itself, but by now I’m worried about nobody and I’ve started to wonder what sort of noises we’re talking about.

(My apologies for the crappy phone pics.)

Now, of course the story hasn’t changed since I was a kid, and I certainly had no recollection of these particular pages, but I think that (sadly) as an adult it’s easier to look at something and worry about what something means, whereas as a kid, you’re just like, “Goodnight nobody. Sure, of course, why not?” and it doesn’t faze you in the least.

Anyway! Happy forthcoming Halloween, squiders!

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Broadcast to Complain

Oh, Squiders. Let’s talk about cars. I have a 2011 Subaru Forester and, in general, I am very happy with it. In fact, I have been so happy with it that my sister-in-law, mother-in-law, and father have all gone out and bought Subarus since I got mine in December of 2010. I have just one major complaint.

Car Fender

It’s a ridiculous complaint, in the great scheme of things. The car runs. It does not leak. It gets decent gas mileage. But my particular trim level came with these textured plastic trim pieces over the wheel wells. Supposed to make the car look nicer or something. However, they don’t stay on. I’ve had to take the car in over and over and over just to get them replaced when they fall off, which is invariably every six months or so.

As you can see, the right rear one has fallen off again. For the second time this year. And, also as you can see, they leave behind sticky residue so it’s obvious that something was there that has gone missing. Ironically, the base model doesn’t have this madness, so I actually paid extra to be burdened with this inconvenience.

I’ve already been in three times since January for trim replacement. And the last time, the idiot who checked me in didn’t actually listen to me, so I sat for two hours before they even touched my car because they thought I was picking the car up later.

So in I must go again. However, I’m strongly considering asking them to just remove the damn things and clean up the residue on the side, because who has time for this eternal madness? (Not Subaru, which no longer puts this trim on newer models of the Forester.)

Still undecided on that point. Maybe I replace it yet again this time (it should be free, since it’s been less than a year since this piece last fell off), and I remove them the next time around. I can at least talk to someone about whether they would remove them for free (at this point, I’m wondering how much of it is technician error) and, if not, how much it would cost to free myself of this insanity permanently.

(On the other hand, my electronics system is also starting to die, at least the Bluetooth functionality. So I can at least have them look at that at the same time this time around, so that’s slightly less head-beating against the wall.)

Ever run into a similar problem, Squiders, where you’ve got a problem that is driving you insane through sheer repetitiveness? Recommendations on whether or not I should just pull the damn things off?