Friday, June 27, 2008

Eagles Don't Make the Man

This has been an odd week for the family. Not only have we been working like mad on my daughter's new room, but she's been gone for all of it at summer camp. (We wanted to surprise her with the finished product. SO worth it! Pictures forthcoming.) She returned this afternoon and was thrilled.

For two and a half hours, the family was together again. We had a nice dinner, and then her brother left for a Scout hike and camp-out. It's like my family is fractured, and I have a feeling that the older (and more independent!) they get, the worse it's going to be.

But on to the point:

As I packed up my son's frame pack with the necessities, I was thrown back to the days when I went on Uintah hikes. I come from a family of campers. As in wilderness, roughing it, actual camping campers. None of this wimpy, drive-up-to-the-site-and-break-out-the-cooler stuff. Puh-leese.

My ward was the same. Every summer, the Young Women went on a week-long trip, leaving Monday morning for the High Uintahs, hiking every day to a new camp site, and coming home Saturday. Those were, quite literally, some of the most molding experiences of my adolescence. Some day I'll wax philosophical about the kinds of things I learned in the Uintahs, especially from our devoted leader, Brother T, but for now, I can't help but share a laugh.

Shortly after high school graduation, I went on a Uintah trip with some friends, along with an adult brother and father (neither mine) for supervision purposes. The group was mixed boys and girls, and I believe every male there was an Eagle Scout.

Hence, I assumed they knew what they were doing.

My first clue to the contrary was the fact that they were packing in at least half a dozen two-liter bottles of ice.

Two major problems with that.

First, do you have any idea how heavy ice is? There's a reason you're not supposed to try to carry more than twenty-five percent of your body weight. Duh.

Second, the Uintahs are covered with fresh springs. If you find a lake (and it's almost hard not to), you can find at least one, and likely several, springs running into it. Sure, you still boil the water to make it safe. You wouldn't drink it straight from the stream. But you sure as heck don't pack in your water when it's right there for the taking.

On the hiking portion, at every break, they'd take off their packs to rest. Okay, first off, that's a total waste of time (getting those things on and off is a bit of a pain). And provided you packed your trail mix in an outer pocket, you can either reach it yourself or have someone else get it for you without having to take off the whole pack.

But another (rather big) problem is that trying to put on a heavy pack while standing on a steep slope can throw your balance off and have you rolling down the mountain like an Oompa-Loompa. You just don't do it.

Then again, what do I know? I'm a girl. A non-scouter.

Then we reached the camp site. The Eagle Scouts got all dude-like and pushed us girls aside to let us observe their masculinity. They went in search of locations to set up the tents. I spotted several great spots, but none seemed satisfactory to them. In short order, they whipped out their camping shovels and began digging rocks out of the ground to make the site level.

In the Uintahs. Which is, by definition, a mountain with lots of angles. Where rocks practically grow on trees. You're trying to dig out all the rocks? Are you kidding me? Didn't you bring a foam pad to put your sleeping bag on? If you had, that would cushion the rocks, because I promise, you won't be getting any ground completely level out here without a bulldozer.

Meals were the biggest joke of all. They brought out heavy pans. (Again, um . . . is it any wonder big brother's hips and back were about to break? His pack must have weight ninety pounds!) They pulled out—and I only wish I were making this up—canned food. Why not pack gold bullion into your pack while you're at it? Might as well if you don't care about weight in a situation where every single ounce matters.

It was all I could do to keep myself upright and stop myself from crying out, "Anyone heard of Cup o' Soup? Ramen? Hot cocoa packets? Anything dehydrated? Freeze-dried? Lightweight?"

I almost looked around for the candid cameras hiding in the pine trees.

The trees had something else in store, though, because after dinner, the men decided we had to hoist all the packs into the pine trees, using ropes, to protect against the bears. I'm sure bears exist in the Uintahs, but I haven't seen any. And even if they do hang around camping areas, don't they, um, climb trees?

I shouldn't have been surprised when they pulled out canned peaches, actual eggs in their shells, and Spam for breakfast. Oh, golly. I had to bite my lips together into a tight line to keep myself from laughing hysterically.

All these years later (and we're approaching the two-decade mark), I still giggle when I think about that trip. They thought they were so darn cool, but in reality, they made the trip so much harder for themselves than they needed to. (I think there's a metaphor for life in that.)

To say I wasn't impressed with their Eagle Scout prowess would be an understatement.

So it was with great pleasure that I remembered my dad's classic know-how (Eagle, schmeagle; I have no idea if Dad earned his, although he probably did, but he knew what he was doing) on what to bring, how to pack it, and what not to put in the pack.

I even had my son stand on the home scale and weigh himself with and without the pack like we used to on the back porch to be sure it didn't weigh too much. We got it a few pounds under twenty-five percent. Perfect.

Scout leaders have the best of intentions, and I have no reason to believe that ours are the kind that lug Spam and ice into the mountains, but if my son's going to grow up to be a real camper—a real manly man—he'll benefit from Grandpa's tutelage.

So Dad, I can't wait until you're home again and we can take my two oldest on a real Uintah camping trip now that they're old enough for it. I'm counting down the days.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Office

Not the show. MINE.

The back story: We moved into this house four years ago. (We moved to this CITY almost five years ago. That year in the stupid, cramped apartment is a nightmare best forgotten . . .)

When we picked out this floor plan, one of the main floor bedrooms was identified as my future office. Yippee!!! I couldn't wait! But I had to; see, we still had a little person in a crib. While the other kids were old enough to sleep in the basement (with a monitor so paranoid Mommy could hear them sleep), the littlest one used that future office as her bedroom until she was a big enough little girl to venture downstairs for the night.

So what would end up, someday, being my oldest daughter's bedroom has been my office for the last four years. It was odd recently thinking about all the work I've done in that "temporary" space: I wrote a good chunk of House on the Hill in it (although I began it in our previous house and did some work on it in that stupid, stupid apartment). I did all the edits and proofs of it in that office.

At the Journey's End and Spires of Stone were born there as well, aside from the jaunts I took with drafting on my Neo elsewhere. I remember one all-nighter I pulled with a Spires rewrite deadline down there. Oy. What a memory.

Drafting Tower of Strength (to be released in April, if you're keeping track). I remember times of writer's block and when the flow just came. I remember creating this blog. Researching and revising. Coordinating meeting with my critique group. E-mailing with the LDStorymakers. Getting good publishing news and bad publishing news. Of planning this spring's writing conference.

Man, so many memories.

And yet, in a lot of ways, I detested that office. It was relatively dark, being a basement room. And although it had a decent-sized window, the sun came through it at just the right angle to blind me, so I generally had the blinds drawn. I felt like I was in a freaking cave half the time.

I never decorated it (or really organized it, for that matter), because it was "temporary."

I never thought that would mean four years.

But the littlest one is downstairs now. All three girls are squeezed, sardine-style, into the same room during the renovation and switch. My (real!) office has been painted. It's got a gorgeous walnut floor and built-in bookshelves that hubby made himself. The trim is to die for (and I'm a teeny bit proud that I did the caulking myself . . . if you knew how much tools and I dislike one another, you'd be very, very impressed).

I've got a great rug (actually, a two: a rug and a runner). My desks are moved upstairs. My computer is hooked up. Moving my books and files took the better part of a week. (And dejunking the old office was a bit shocking . . . holy cow, HOW did I manage to collect so much GARBAGE?!) The most recent addition was Honey hanging up the door yesterday.

I still have to put up pictures and organize a couple of last things.

In the meantime, now that I've moved out of the basement, we're working on what will be my oldest daughter's new room. One wall needs another coat of paint, and then we have to touch-up the trim a bit, but then we're moving her in. It will be happy day in the Lyon house when that happens.

I'll be posting pictures soon, not only because finishing up these projects has totally usurped my summer so far and I want something to show for it, but because I'm so dang thrilled to have the office of my dreams. In a weird way, I feel more like a "real" writer now. Plus, it's also nice that I'm a bit for accessible to the kids and even to the front door.

(Before, even though I was ten feet from the door . . . but in the basement, if someone rang the doorbell, I'd have to dash across the basement, take the stairs two at a time, and I might still miss the person. Now I can meander slowly and get there in seconds!)

Hubby has been taking pictures of the entire process, so you'll get to see before, during, and after shots. (Can you tell I'm giddy?!)

I can't wait to experience the memories that this office will hold for me. What plots and characters will be born here? I can't wait to find out.

As Brillig would say, the place is frickin' brackin' awesome!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In It Together

Last night at critique group, some of the commentary about my WIP got me thinking about my characters. I noticed something about them that struck me as interesting.

(A caveat: All of them are real to me, so you'll have to pardon the fact that I'm going to talk about them like real people.)

These five women, as different as they are, have one big thing in common. It's not just the one big situation they're in together. It's something else, too.

And, sadly, it's something that a lot of us women share: we compare ourselves to one another.

In general, we come up short in the comparison. She's smarter, prettier, skinnier, is a better mom/wife/housekeeper, and so on.

Or maybe we're judging in the other direction, being harsher on the other person to make ourselves feel better, like the woman who told me once, when I had a toddler and a baby, that I had no idea what stress was like, because she had four kids, and I only had two.

When we compare, we're judging—another person and ourselves.

That can't be healthy. I know that it certainly isn't for the ladies in my book. They range in age from twenty to fifty-five. One is a newly wed. The other four have children. One is an empty-nester. One's a nurse. They are all now dealing with the same difficult situation, yet each responds to it differently. And they're all judging and comparing.

In addition to the one common burden, each woman has her own additional struggle to face, something she keeps back from the others, because of course they wouldn't understand, or they'd judge her, or they'd think it was silly, or they wouldn't be able to relate.

She thinks.

The the truth is, if they could all take off their social masks and get real, they'd discover that while their individual trials are different, that all of these women are very, very human. They're all under pressure. They're all imperfect. They're all barely keeping their heads above water.

What a comfort such a revelation would be to them.

Somehow I don't think my characters are alone in this. I think we all put up barriers, put on a face for the rest of the world, and then compare ourselves with everyone else's pretend faces.

So now I have to wonder . . . what would happen if we all dropped those social masks? What if we let one another know, really know our insecurities, fears, and weaknesses?

I imagine that at first it would be terrifying. But eventually, I think it would be liberating. I imagine we'd actually judge one another less because we'd have more compassion and understanding. I imagine we'd be able to find strength and support among other women because we'd rally around one another instead of worrying about what each other thinks. We'd stop pretending.

I hope the five women I'm writing about can learn to trust one another like that. They'll need one another's support to get through what they're facing. But they'll have to learn to let down those barriers first.

Maybe I can learn a thing or two along with them.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Dilemma

I am known for my intense opinions as well as my tendency to voice those opinions. Loudly. It's taken me a lifetime to learn when to keep my big mouth shut, when to speak up, and more importantly, how to speak up in a diplomatic way that doesn't end up with those involved hating my guts.

Actually, I'm still trying to learn that one. I'm still caught far too often with my foot lodged securely in my mouth.

Which is why I'm in a dilemma today.

There is an aspiring writer I know. This person has been taken under the wing of another writer in a mentor-like situation. All well and good. But some of the advice flowing from teacher to pupil is, in my never-quiet opinion, waaaaaaaay off track.

I can argue the reasons with intensity and prove my point. I drafted a short, polite (I think!) e-mail to the pupil letting them know my concern. But I haven't sent it. Probably won't.

See, it's none of my business.

It's not. It's not. It's not. I have to keep telling myself that. I've been watching this for months now, and not saying something is killing me.

But if I speak up, I'll make the teacher person look bad. I'd likely get both people mad at me, which would be . . . uncomfortable for several very big reasons. I'd end up in a nasty situation of my own making.

And yet . . . I know full well that I'm watching a train wreck in the making. If this person follows the instructions they've been given, they'll end up wasting months (if not years) of time and work in their efforts to be published.

The two facts are tearing me in two directions.

I can either put my nose into someone else's business because they're heading into a ditch (and open a giant can of squishy, angry worms I could never close again) or stay out of it (and keep the peace, but know full well that I had a chance to prevent someone from failure).

Yikes. What to do? I want to hit "send" on that e-mail. Real bad. But I think I'd better delete it.

It's none of my business. It's none of my business. It's none of my business . . .

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Searching for the Right Cup

To the few male readers I have, a warning: You probably don't want to keep reading this one. The ladies, most likely, already know what I'm going to be talking about, and they likely agree with me.

Right, ladies? Right.

Okay, then.



About a year and a half ago, I went on a shopping mission. It wasn't a fun shopping trip (you know, that kind that's full of, "Oh, look. Cute shoes!"). It was the absolute worst kind of shopping. And no, I don't mean for swimsuits, because as miserable as that is, one suit will generally do the trick for years, so it's not something that bears repeating very often, and frankly, during the process, your middle section (the area with stretch marks and bread dough) is covered.

Bra shopping, however, must be done a bit more frequently. And it's a hideous, hideous experience. You'd think that all the sizes would actually mean something, that the shape and style wouldn't matter all that much.

You'd be wrong.

This time, I had put off the dreaded trip too many times, to the point that my current supports were flimsy and really . . . . well, not doing the job, shall we say. I finally gave in and dragged my toddler—and a feeling of impending doom—to the store.

I wandered the aisles, looking for sizes and shapes that I thought would work best. With about ten different bras in hand, I went to the dressing room, jaw clenched, eyes narrowed, much like facing a lion in its den.

The first bra one was a definite no-go. I tried the second. Same thing. Frustrated (but not surprised), I went for the third. Meanwhile my little girl was getting bored. She began belting the alphabet at the top of her lungs.

After getting her to shush (and nearly swearing because bra #4 didn't work either), I tried on yet another and another, and another. Each one had its problems, which I'll leave up to your imagination, because you women know what I'm talking about, don't you?

Thought so.

None of the ones in the stack came even close to doing the job. I got dressed, and we trucked back out to look for more.

I spent time investigating the displays, managed to gather another armload of potentials, and dove back into the dressing room. This time my daughter noticed feet on the other side of the divider and decided it would be neat to crawl underneath and say hello to the other women on either side of us.

With one arm in a strap and one out, I quickly grabbed her and pulled her back into the booth, trying to explain why there are times we aren't friendly and go out of our way to say hello to people.

In the end (after some two or three hours), I managed to find a bra that worked. I wanted to sing! In such cases, you buy multiples, because you never know when you'll find another one just like it. But there wasn't another of that style in my size. But since I also know that you can tweak sizes just a bit (increase the band size and the cup is a bit smaller, or vice versa), I got another one in the same style and a slightly different size. It would have to do.

Turns out that after wearing either of those bras for about an hour, the result is the "quad effect." I won't describe it further, but again, I'm sure the ladies know what I mean. It's been a frustrating experience. I don't know what I could have done to know this beforehand except for wearing them and staring at the mirror in the dressing room for an hour.

A couple of months after this bra-shopping expedition, I began taking a particularly nasty medication that didn't address the reason I was taking it and instead caused my brain to fall out of my head. Another side effect was making me nauseated all the time. As a result, I lost a bunch of weight. Remember this post?

At the time, I had lots of people wishing they could take the same pills and lose some weight. Yeah, right. And feel as if you're in your first trimester but you're not making a baby? And not even chocolate sounds good? And you're moody and can't think or focus, to the point that not only can you not write, but you're unable to add 6 + 4 without the aid of your fingers? (You think I'm kidding.) It was a miserable period.

So after about three months, my doctor and I decided it would be best to go off the medication. (Very good decision, by the way. Yes, the weight came back when I actually ate food again, but I'm a much happier person.)

But I had lost weight everywhere. So I bemoaned in the doctor's office, "I just bought new bras. I'm going to have to go buy some new ones."

Assuming he knew my concern, he said, "Oh, don't worry. When you go off the medication, you'll get your full size back."

Who cared if I lost a cup size or so? I just couldn't face racks and racks of brassieres and the accompanying trauma that comes with bringing them to the dressing room.

Save me now!

In the end, I just waited for the weight to come back so I wouldn't have to go on another 3-hour torture quest.

But the time has come again. I really need to face the dragon, as the "quad effect" is becoming a real problem.

This time, I'm leaving everyone home and facing the misery alone. To calm the trauma afterward, I'll be treating myself to some chocolate. It's the least I can do for myself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I've Been Hagged

My local library has a lot of fun throwing parties for families. They do at least two every year, and they're quite the productions.

For years they had a Harry Potter party each summer around Harry's birthday. (Last year's in celebration of the final book was mucho cool. Totally blew me away.)

And there's the an annual princess ball, which they always connect to a neat theme (this year it was Chinese new year).

Kids often dress up for these things, and there's always a ton of fun activities connected with the theme. Families come in swarms. It's a big deal.

This year the fantasy party focused on a new series. Yesterday, the library turned into Fablehaven. The lengths to which they went for the celebration were stunning. Among the features of the night:

  • A decorated archway marking the entrance to Fablehaven.

  • A search for different fairies as well as Olluch and the Gatekeeper's keys

  • Human Foosball (based on Kendra and the Sphinx playing the game)

  • Chickens to feed (kids got to guess which one was Grandma)

  • Nymphs shooting kids with water guns

  • Hags handing out curses (Things like, "Every time someone says your name, yell out a pizza topping." Curses could only be broken by a fairy kiss . . . Hershey's kisses handed out by one of several cute high-school girls dressed up).

  • Fairy crafts

  • "Magic" milk provided by Meadow Gold (and their giant, inflatable cow as Viola)

  • Seeds to plant your own fairy garden

  • Fablehaven posters awarded to a handful of attendees

  • A magical well with creatures inside (condensed sponges that turned into animals in water)

  • and more
The big draw of the night was the author of the NY Times bestselling series, Brandon Mull, showing up to talk and then sign books for an insanely long line.

As in the past, I was once again roped into helping with a library party, and this time I got to be one of the hags running around, doling out curses. (As soon as some kids realized that chocolate lifted the curse, they kept coming back for more curses. I had to put a limit on how many times I'd curse the same kid.)

I struggled at first on what to wear, but finally put together something I thought worked okay. You can't see all the glory in this picture (the huge rusted earrings, the thick gray witch stockings, the torn and ragged shirt, the moles, the blackened teeth). But as I trotted out to my kids to get opinions, they all shrieked.

I guess it did the trick:



A lot of people showed up in costume (mostly preschooler girls as fairies), and my family came to enjoy the evening as well.

When Brandon himself arrived and mulled around, I thought I should go say hello, because while we're not exactly close friends, we had met before when we sat at the same table at the Whitney Awards dinner in March. And I don't know about him, but fellow writers are always a happy sight for me.

But I don't think he recognized me. I mentioned my name. Nothing. That we were at the same Whitney table (WHEN YOU WON. REMEMBER THAT NIGHT?!). Nothing seemed to turn on a light bulb. I think he was stuck staring at the black teeth and icky eyebrows. He just smiled and nodded.

It was all I could do to not tell him that while I think Fablehaven is a really great series, that no, I'm not a weird fanatic woman who dressed up like a hag just for his party like most of the six-year-old fairies running around had. I was there working as a vol-un-teer.

And I'm a fellow writer. We have a ton of mutual friends. Oh, and I was a Whitney finalist too. That night, I presented one of the awards. Ring a bell? Rob Wells mentioned during the ceremony that I came up with the name of the award?

Hmm. How about: I was the only one at your table who didn't take home a trophy?

Never mind. Next time I'll be sure to talk to a fellow writer (NY Times bestseller or otherwise) when I'm, oh, not sporting two gigantic moles on my face.

But hey, I got my daughter's book signed. Before the actual book signing. So there. :D

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

It's Brillig the Frog!

By some twist of fate, I ended up guest-blogging on TWO blogs on the very same day.

Today come visit me at Twas Brillig

and

at Six LDS Writers and a Frog!

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Funky Reading Habits

I’ve gotten better about not always finishing books that I start, which is a very good thing. Feeling compelled to finish a book I don’t like has been a bit of a curse for me—a curse I’ve had hanging over my head since high school.

Case in point: One year in English we were running out of time to read a novel before the end of term. Miss Drummond (whom I idolize; it’s because of her I’m a grammar fascista) summarized something like ten chapters and then told us to skip ahead.

I COULDN’T DO IT. I had to read the whole thing, which necessitated a few long nights of extra homework so I wouldn’t fall behind the rest of the—sane—class.

I know. I’m a sad, sad person.

Part of my obsession with finishing books is getting personal "credit" for them, because for many, many years, I’ve kept a running tally of the books I read. If I don’t finish a book, I can’t very well put it on my list of books I’ve "read" for the year, now can I?

Well, for 2008, I decided to make a sub-list: "Partially-read Titles." I cannot tell you how liberating that list has been. So far I’ve added half a dozen books to it in just the first five months of 2008. That is UNHEARD of for me.

Yippee! What freedom!

My other reading habits are still a bit odd, and I’m the first to admit it. The other day my husband noticed me swapping between various books and teased me about leaving four—yes, FOUR—books on the couch, all with bookmarks in them.

"Exactly how many books are you reading right now?" he asked.

"Oh, not that many," I assured him, with a dismissive wave of my hand. And then I began counting.

I always have at least one book in my purse or in the car. Ya never know when you’ll have time to read in a waiting room, lobby, or whatever. A car book is a MUST. That’s one.

There’s the one I’m reading to the kids at bedtime. That’s two.

The novel hubby and I read together before bed. That’s three.

The book I read a page or two of each night as I brush my teeth. That’s four.

And the classic I’m slowly working my way through (it’s not one you can sit down and absorb hundreds of pages of in a sitting, but I do love it). Five.

The library book I need to get through because it’s due in a couple of days. Six.

And don’t forget the one that #2 and I started awhile back and haven’t gotten around to finishing. Seven.

And the audio book I’m listening to via iPod. Eight.

The non-fiction book I pick up when I have a few spare minutes. Nine.

Not to mention two writing books I’ve cracked open a bit here and there but haven’t really committed to reading. I don’t think I should count those, though. Not until I have actual bookmarks in them.

I did have two books I was going through for research, but that project is on a backburner, so I'm not finishing them right now.

(No, I don’t have a book in the bathroom. At least, not right now. I have read plenty of books that way in the past, though. For now, that’s where I do my magazine reading. Of course.)

I have a stack of other books waiting for me on my dresser. I have two big cardboard boxes stuffed with books that I’m "storing" for my parents while they’re away. (In reality, Mom let me raid her bookshelves before she packed them up prior to their latest mission. She’s got some of the coolest books ever.) Then there’s the huge list of books I plan to read that grows faster than I take away from it.

Hubby asked if keeping all the stories and writing styles straight isn’t a bit difficult. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose it is a bit odd to flip between Victorian literature, Fantasy, Non-fiction, LDS literature—and a couple of other genres—in the course twenty-four hours.

Or maybe I just have a short attention span.

Hey, look! What’s that over there?