Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Everything tastes better with a spoonful of honey

He that lies with dogs comes up with fleas.  The love of money is the root of all evil. Nice guys finish last.  Threatening with colorful negativity, these sayings hold a certain amount of truth.   But when it comes to practical application, I prefer a “do” to a “don’t.”  You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, after all.  Just be nice.   It’s what we do in polite society.  Or do we?  Well . . . not so much.  Just look at politicians, warmongers, and creepy bosses. 

But I’m not saying that a little meanness isn’t warranted at times.  Sometimes, you need to get tough if you want to be treated fairly.  I learned that the hard way; too many times, I’d just roll over instead of standing up for myself.  So I adopted writing as a means of expressing myself.  While other students grumbled about English, I majored in it.  As a result, I learned to write reasonably well--at least when it came to writing
letters of complaint.  After a few false starts, I learned the value of honey-coating my indignation and adopted a temperate style of letter-writing.  An example follows.

Dear So and So.  [Name of CEO or manager]  We were impressed with the quality of your sheets.  [Compliment]  The bedbugs must have been pleased as well.  [Complaint]  I expect high standards from you, and that’s why I chose Hotel FancySchmancy.  [Compliment]  Because of your reputation, I’m sure you to want to know when bugs feast on your customers.  [Appeal to their professional standards]  We may want to use your hotel again, [fat chance] so I hope that you’ll credit my account 25 percent.  [Concrete, reasonable suggestion]

Letters like these really work.  I’ve received apologetic phone calls, airline vouchers, checks, gift certificates, and coupons through the years. 

You might not want to catch flies, but try some honey if you change your mind. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Take one aspirin, and go to bed

Keeping a blog requires an active mind and a time slot begging to be filled.  While I usually have the first, I don't seem to have much of the latter.  Switching back and forth between revising a couple of my picture book stories and editing my middle-grade novel, I've spent my recent writing hours, well . . . writing.  But on top of that, Sunday night found me in the ER.

If you're looking for a good time, this isn't it.  I tried to put it off.  The chest pain started mid-morning, but I knew what precipitated it--a change in medication--so I thought I'd just sit tight to see if my body would work through it.  Meeting with my critique group at my place that afternoon helped take my mind off it awhile, but I finally had to kick the group out to pursue other interests.

My concern centered on trying to rid myself of the pain.  The ER's focused on trying to figure out if I had a heart attack--both extremely important goals that were apparently at odds with each other.  The closest I got to pain relief was a brief moment when the nurse attached me to the oxygen.  Too bad the right side kept falling out of my nostril.  And apparently, I looked healthy enough to be ignored because the machine beeped at me every time my pulse rate or my BP failed to live up to its expectations, yet no one showed up to check on me. 

The ER was busy; others were far worse off.  I knew that.  Yet, it was a bit disconcerting to watch my BP go all over the map and my pulse rate slow down so much that I thought a doc would walk in any minute to declare me dead.

But that didn't happen.  Someone did show up to make sure I had some blood left to take.  She tried twice before throwing up her hands.  Ouch.  So now I had chest pain and stuck-arm pain.

I'm really very healthy.  No heart attack for me, and no reason to think I'll ever have one.  My husband tried to tell me this, but it was hard to hear him over that very vocal pain in the center of my chest.  But the pain finally lost its power to speak . . . when I got home, took an aspirin, and went to bed.  Eight hours in the ER was time well spent; it exhausted me just enough to ensure a decent night's sleep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Admittedly direction-challenged

Some of us follow directions.  Some of us don't.

Usually, I try to be a follower.  Before a recent trip to visit my daughter, I conscientiously printed out directions; I'd never driven there by myself and knew very little about the city.  Following the directions, or so I thought, I ended up pouting in a parking lot nowhere near her home.  An additional hour and a half dragged by before we hugged hello.  Goodness. 

My friend and I roamed Dollywood for hours with our kids in tow, trying to figure a way out.  Was it really our fault that the map was useless?

Then there was the time I followed directions when putting together an inexpensive stereo cabinet.  I slapped the thing together, screwing in the appropriate screws.  I realized, too late, that the raw edge of the pressed board faced frontward.  Gosh! 

What do you suppose happens when I don't follow directions? 

If you read an earlier entry, you know about the dreaded treadmill incident.  I still have the bruises and skinned knees to prove it.  My bathroom faucets bear evidence of products wrongly used.  Those are visible scars--no telling the damage to my psyche.  I've had to replace things, make do, and apologize.

So my advice today is to  follow directions--whether they come from an agent, a publisher, or the back of a household cleanser. 

And I promise you this:  I will not operate heavy machinery under any circumstances.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Time's a'wasting!

Whatever did we do with our spare time back in the days of BC (before computer)?  Hardly a day goes by without me obsessing over a computer-related matter.

Recently, deciding that there really was no method to my madness, I reorganized my files and favorites into folders.  Although I should have been taking care of business all along, of course, the project was actually well worth the time. 

But therein lies the rub.  That’s rarely the case.  Today I tried to track down a question about my new CD label maker.  Since the package came without instructions, I’m not sure anyone ever knew the answer.  After a couple of hours of this, I’d like to say that my husband heard me cry Ah-ha!  But that’s not what happened.  Closer to the truth is that my husband heard me cry.

Earlier this week, I spent time on several different days trying to make our financial software work the way I wanted.  Same result.

When I buy airline tickets, I check out first one site, finding a pretty decent price.  Then I check out a bunch of sites, trying to find the best deal, only to come back to the first one.  I waste so many frustrating hours, and I do it every time. 

And every single time, I tell myself that I’m going through a travel agent next time.  Maybe next time I really will.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Free books!

Sign up here for Club Read!  Once a month, you'll receive free bilingual books including my very own Alicia Saves the Day!

These digits were made for smoking

I love the concept in the following video.  Get those words out before they get away from you!

My fingers were smoking yesterday—not from a get-out-of-my-way standpoint but an I-can-get-this-to-a-second-grade-level-if-only-I-change-this-word-and-this-word-and-this-word-and-this-word standpoint.  Goodness!  I think like a second grader.  Why can’t I write like one?!

Kathi Appelt: Wise Words

Monday, April 4, 2011

Know how? Know-how!

I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember; and each time inspiration struck, I was euphoric.  The creativity would last as long as it took for me to spit out a story and then would retreat into some part of me I couldn’t reach.  It was as if I had no control whatsoever over my own imagination. I would patiently wait for the next lightning bolt, but at times I felt like a character in Waiting for Godot—bored, boring—not a good thing for a wannabe author.

A different kind of lightning bolt struck me recently.  I realized that there’s a pretty simple solution to put me back in the driver’s seat—attend a workshop.  I've attended three over the past six months with the same results.  I came away from each one feeling completely energized, anxious to apply my newfound knowledge. 

Isn’t know-how just the coolest motivation ever?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down!

According to Word, the title is written at an 0.5 level.

I can be slow on the uptake.  I just found out that spell-check determines the grade level of a piece fairly accurately.  In my effort to write children’s books, this feature keeps me focused.

This is fresh on my mind as I struggled to create a new story today.  Writing on the second-grade level is unbelievably challenging.  But it’s definitely fun, fun, fun.  And did I mention fun?  There’s no better description than it provides me a natural high.

Speaking of high, a flashing sign in front of a wrecked car at the local high school warns, “Do not huff while driving.”  In a letter to the editor, a concerned citizen took offense that the sign read “while driving.”  I found it humorous that he objected; he interpreted it to mean that the school must condone huffing at other times. 

I’m sure the only huffing schools promote is the huffing and puffing and blowing the house down variety.

(P.S.  This is written at a 5.8 grade level.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Communication Gone Awry

The days of letter-writing have all but disappeared.   There are few people left who don’t simply dash off an e-mail, too hurried to think about its tone, too careless to think about using spell-check.  And it’s a shame, really a shame.

I cherish my stack of letters and re-read them about every ten years.  My nieces and children wrote me delightful notes from camp.  My husband sent me a few love letters so you can bet I kept those, too.  I have letters from my mother and in-laws; my husband and I eventually acquired the letters we had written them as well.  I particularly relish a smart-alecky one my husband sent his parents while in college.  He addressed the envelope “Occupants.”

What I don’t have are letters from a former friend.  Dear to my heart for 25 years, she bridled at one of my e-mail responses.  I can’t claim complete innocence.  I did respond too hurriedly to a comment that hurt my feelings.  Always valuing our closeness, I didn’t intend any offense and apologized profusely once I realized her position.  I was crushed when the apology didn’t take.  So when I re-read my other letters recently, hers went into a clean, white trash bag.  Keeping them was a painful reminder of things gone awry.  But then, reconsidering, I retrieved the bag and sent the letters on.  I hoped she received them in the spirit I intended; her friendship was so special that I wanted her to have them as a chronicle of her life while we knew each other.   After all, they spanned nearly two decades of new journeys, new jobs, and the miracle of bringing babies into the world. 

Perhaps I’d still have a friend if I’d taken pen in hand.  Writing in longhand takes so much more deliberation . . . unless you’re formulating an e-mail to an agent, that is.