Author: joangrasmussen

Finally writing again!

I’ve been in the process of selling my business and then using the time that was freed up to catch up on 20 years of deferred maintenance around the house. But I did get time to knock out an article for our local horse journal about the Sonoma State University Equestrian Team! See the Horse Journal here:

Fall 2018 Horse Journal

This article came about by happy accident. My friend Laura and I were riding the trails at Pt Reyes National Seashore when we came across a group of young women out for a hike. We asked them to take a picture of us on our horses, and one of them mentioned that she was a rider, too. After a bit of chatting, it turned out that she was the captain of the Hunt Seat Team of the SSU Equestrian Team. To say I was intrigued would be an understatement. I got my undergraduate degree at SSU many years ago and there was no equestrian program. Then, as now, there was no equine science program or even an agriculture curriculum. This is a fiercely liberal arts college and I suspect that the reason I was able to study business there was a concession on their part that they needed a program that brought in some revenue. So what were they doing with an equestrian team? And why had I never heard of them? I’m not all that connected with the equestrian community, but I was briefly on the board of the local Horse Council and used to write regularly for their Horse Journal, so I did have my ear to the ground at least part of the time.

I got her contact information and checked with the editor of the Horse Journal, who had never heard of the team, either. Yes, she would like an article about them. So I am back in writing mode again. Feels pretty good!

NaNoWriMo Hindsight

Well, November has come and gone. My lofty goal of 50,000 words has also come and gone.

On the plus side, I did get about 5,000 words written, which is way more progress on that book than I have made in the past. And it was a big, big learning experience on how I manage my time. That really means, of course, that I don’t manage my time. Even more obvious is the fact that I don’t manage my clutter. My time is eaten up with trying to find things, both for work projects and personal items. It’s a huge waste of time, and for the work projects, a huge waste of money because I don’t charge clients for the time it takes me to round up the paperwork and notes I have scattered around my office.

So December is dedicated to clearing the clutter and making sure I can find what I need.  Years ago, I went to a women’s conference hosted by the company I was working for at the time. One of the speakers was Barbara Sher, who had written a book called “Live the Life You Love”. One of the chapters in the books was “Clear the Decks for Action.” There has been a lot written about how clutter will hold you back, but that chapter was the first that really resonated with me, and the chapter title really says it all.

This is probably going to mean re-organizing my office, including re-arranging all the furniture to make the filing system more accessible so I actually file papers instead of throwing them in a pile because the “good” file cabinet is across the room and the little file cabinet I use every day (because it is a 2-drawer cabinet that fits under the window by my desk) is flimsy and the drawers are hard to open when it gets full. Like now, because it is the end of the year. I’ve been avoiding this project because it’s going to be a big project, but after spending a lot of time dealing with an inefficient layout, I’m going to have to bite the bullet and get this done.

And then, on to both writing and riding!

Writing a Quilt

I’ve been hanging out in the NaNoWriMo starting gate for about a week now, and the starting gun will go off in 3 days, on November 1. So it’s time to stop hanging out and get poised for a good break from the gate.

I’ve been mulling over how to approach this project, and now it’s time to stop mulling and get a plan in place. The novel I’m going to write has been in my head a long time. I have an outline. I have 3 chapters completed, for a total of about 3,000 words that will not count toward the 50,000 challenge. So now what? Do I just proceed in an orderly, linear fashion and start chapter 4, then chapter 5, and so forth?

While I do have an outline and know where this story is going (at least where it’s going right now), I also have a lot of subplots, peripheral characters, locations, that have popped into my head and may or may not be part of the finished product. It reminds me of putting together a patchwork quilt. A patchwork quilt is made up of a lot of individual squares, each put together separately, and then assembled into a finished quilt that, hopefully, will be pleasing to the eye.

It has occurred me that one approach to this project is to think of all those chapters, subplots, peripheral characters, etc., as individual squares, and my project for November could be to design those squares and baste them together (basting, for the non-sewing reader, is to temporarily stitch something together, so the stitching is easy to remove later if need be). Get them down on the page, whether or not I know how they will fit into the finished product. But get them out of my head and onto the page!

Then, at the end, it will be time to take those individual ‘squares’ and start laying them all out to see if there is a finished product in there somewhere. I anticipate that I will be changing the layout of some of the squares so they fit better into the finished product. Maybe the finished product won’t be what I think it will be. And maybe some of those squares just won’t fit into this quilt, but could be the start of an entirely different quilt later.

So that’s the plan. At least, that’s the plan at this moment. There are 3 days to go, so the plan could change! But it’s always good to have a direction in mind at the start of any journey.

NaNoWriMo–Now I Know What It Means

There is nothing like a massive wildfire in your county that killed many and displaced thousands more, many of whom you know, to make you take stock of your life. All those things that you plan to get around to someday take on new importance. If you aren’t going to do them now, when are you planning to get around to them?

Take writing, for example. This is my “writer’s blog”. That’s in quotes because, in reality, I rarely write. I’m running a business, maintaining property, caring for horses and cats. I have a life, damn it. I love to write but it seems like a frivolous luxury compared to the other things that need to be done.

Truth be told, though, I do have time to write. But every time I think about it, I get the disheartening feeling that nobody really wants to read what I would be writing. I don’t tend to delve into the deep, dark thoughts. I’ve had a shocking lack of angst and torment in my life, so there is very little fodder for an earth-shattering exposé, or words of wisdom that might help someone through their darkest hour. My non-fiction writing has leaned toward human interest, and my fiction writing toward light romance.

But people do write about this stuff, many of them quite successfully. So I really need to get something down. I’ve heard success defined as a series of small, daily actions and decisions that move you in the right direction, one foot in front of the other.

You need to pay attention to what shows up. A friend who knows of my writer-ly ambitions mentioned that someone she knows is a member of our local writer’s group. Yeah, but, I don’t really write anything… Nevertheless, I looked them up online. Wouldn’t you know it, they meet on Sundays. I go riding on Sundays with a friend. So that’s out. Now wait a minute, is it really? I don’t go riding EVERY Sunday. I don’t need to attend every meeting. I could just join the group and see what happens. Upon further browsing of the website, I stumbled on their October newsletter, which had an article on NaNoWriMo. I keep getting emails about this from Writer’s Digest and have been scratching my head about it but haven’t bothered to find out what the heck it is.

Now I have looked it up, and it is National Novel Writing Month. This is a non-profit group that sponsors a project that takes place every November, where writers are challenged to write a novel in a month. You can’t start before November 1, and you should have written 50,000 words by the end of the month. Now that is ambitious—1,667 words a day, and I have probably averaged less than 5 words a day (that would be zero words a day if you are looking at my actual novel writing efforts). But I have signed up. And with this blog post, I have formally announced my intentions to the world (or at least to the maybe 3 people who will actually read this). So with the words of Yoda in my head (“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”) I enter the starting gate, where I will hang out for the next 10 days. Then on November 1, the starting gun will go off, and the race will be on. Wish me luck!

Coffey Park Memories

Coffey Park Brochure

The wildfire storm that is currently devastating our county and neighboring counties is affecting all residents in varying ways. I know people who have lost their homes and are grateful to be with family and friends. Some are dealing with it by relentlessly helping others. I have, blessedly, not been directly impacted. My home and animals are safe. I haven’t even lost power. Briefly, I was hit with “Survivor Syndrome” (“why everyone else and not me?”) but decided instead to be grateful for my incredible good luck and my ability to, hopefully, help those not as fortunate.

My biggest impact has been that the home I bought after my divorce, my big move toward independence, was leveled during the firestorm. No, I don’t live there any more. Someone else’s live was disrupted by this event, and my heart goes out to them and to everyone else in the same situation. But still, that home was a big deal to me, and the loss still hurts.

I got divorced in 1987, and the big bright spot was that I got to buy my home, my way. I shopped around a lot for older homes, but it was a seller’s market that year, and the cute little “charmers” I found were quickly snapped up by higher bidders. Reluctantly, I dropped in to view the model homes at a new development, “Coffey Park”, and was surprised to find myself won over by the compact and workable floor plan of the smallest model, the “Annadel”, 1250 square feet of livability. (Notably, I had forgotten the name of the model until I just now found the brochure). With HSA financing, I was able to afford it ($106,000, a huge stretch!). In July of 1987, I moved in. I was on the far north end of the development, only about 5 or 6 houses on Dennis Lane, our backs to the rest of the subdivision. I think I was the first on the street to move in, followed quickly by the families on either side of my house. Everyone moved in at the same time, so there were no “newcomers” and it was like settling a new frontier. We all got to know and like each other. Bev, also recently divorced, moved in with her daughter, and we did some traveling. We saw the elephant seals at Año Nuevo, Hearst Castle and Italy together.

After 6 years or so, my feet got itchy. I was doing a lot of hiking at Annadel State Park and had also bought a little sailboat that I sailed at Spring Lake, which adjoins Annadel. I liked the east side of town by those parks, and finally decided to make the move to be closer to the recreation sites.  I moved me and my sailboat (and by then, my new family members, kitty Smudge and Cocker Spaniels Byron, Sofie and Bart), to a 1975 ranch house on Fernglen Drive, just off Parktrail Drive.

Eventually, I sold that house, too, and moved to country property where I could keep horses, and that’s where I am now. I often thought that, had I stayed on Dennis Lane, I would have paid off that house and been living carefree. Until a couple days ago, when the firestorm hit, and it seems that, instead, I would have had to evacuate quickly in the middle of the night and lost everything. That’s what happened to Bev and so many others. Life is a series of chances. Who would think that a subdivision in town would be more at risk than country property?

The fires are still raging. Ironically, homes from Parktrail south are under evacuation as Annadel State Park (now Trione-Annadel State Park) is at risk. The home I bought on Fernglen is just north of the evacuation zone (maybe 500 feet north).

Yes, I was incredibly lucky. No, I don’t own that house any more. But that house was the first home I owned on my own, my claim to independence. I decorated it, I had Thanksgiving dinners there. My Cocker Spaniel, Sofie, had puppies there. I had a little Tupperware-bagging business there in my garage to bring in a little spare cash. So, while I can’t compare it to the loss suffered by those who lost the homes they were currently living in, there is still a little part of my history that has been dashed.

Here are some of my memories, between 1987 and 1993

Insomnia

It’s 6:41 a.m. and I’m on my third cup of coffee. Usually at this time, I’ve fed the cats and horses, and I’m just starting my first cup with my breakfast.  But I’ve been awake since 3 and finally got up just before 5, so I’ve seen the sky go from star-pricked ink to moody blue-gray, and now a misty blue as the fog has risen up.

I usually sleep pretty well but there are nights like this when my thoughts just won’t shut down. My usual tricks (think of every word I can that starts with a random letter–last night it was “R”) didn’t work. Little thoughts pop into my head. Am I eating too much sugar? Is it the wrong kinds of sugar? Is sugar keeping me awake? Then the bigger thoughts make an appearance. Is that client ever going to pay me? Am I going to get the info I need to run those 2 payrolls that need to be submitted by 5 tonight to make the direct deposit deadline? Can I dump the bookkeeping business and make my living as a writer?

Aha. There’s the big question. I’m ready for a change. I find that every 10 years or so I’m ready to shake things up. Fear of the unknown and lack of security usually make me hold on for a lot longer than 10 years. Sometimes more like 20 if I’ve got a really good thing going on, job-wise. In this case, I’ve been at the freelance bookkeeper thing for 15 years. I have a solid client base and a reasonably steady income. But I’m at the point where I’m bored, and I don’t want to grow the business.

It seems I’m getting signs I should move on. It’s getting harder and harder to get the information I need to get the work done on time. Clients are getting slower and slower about paying their bills. My schedule and my bank balance are getting a bit tight. The thing about signs, though, is that it’s hard to tell if they’re really showing up to tell you something, or if you are just reading more into normal events than you should because your are looking for signs.

So on to do a bit more work on this and explore my options! And hopefully get some sleep.

Read to Your Kids!

After I posted my children’s story, Cowboy’s Day On The Trail, somebody asked me what age range it was written for. I had to think about that,  and came up with a range of 4-6 years, and it was really designed to be read out loud to a child.  My mom read to us constantly and it seemed obvious to me that some stories are designed for that. Turns out the person who asked the question, and who does love to read, had not been read to as a child, making me reflect on how much I had taken that childhood pleasure for granted.

Mom loved to read to us, and she was good at it. She got all the inflections right and it was like a little mini-theater performance in our living room. I suspect she learned that from listening to radio when she was a child. It wasn’t an entirely selfless act on her part–we had to rub her back while she read to us. Even then, I wasn’t the touchy-feely type, and I learned to read at an early age so I could enjoy the stories and skip the back-rubbing. Mom’s been gone about three years now and I’d give a lot to be able to rub her back again! She wouldn’t even have to read to me, although that would be nice.

Studies have shown that children who are read to experience a wide range of benefits, including learning to read earlier themselves, developing better imagery and language skills, and bonding with their parents. Check out this article that goes into more technical details This is What Happens When You Read To A Child.

My brother and sister and I did gain the benefits listed in the article. We’re all readers and in addition, we can tell a pretty good story.  But what I loved was the ability to have an adventure right there in our living room on a chicken farm in Northern California. Sitting on the couch, tickling Mom’s back, we traveled to France with Madeline, found our way around cities with “city kids”, rounded up ponies on Assateague Island, and generally found out that there was a lot of life to be lived outside our safe little bubble.  We developed a thirst, not only for reading and the well-written word, but for adventure and for seeing the world. We also found out that there are perspectives other than our own that have value and need to be honored.

So if you aren’t already reading to your kids or grandkids, start! You have an opportunity to bond with a child and to plant the seeds of learning, curiosity, and expanded horizons.

 

 

In Spain

Ah, Sundays on the ranch.

I’m lounging on a chaise on the stone patio overlooking the olive groves, the heat rising from the trees, the sound of songbirds in the background, clasping a stoneware mug of strong coffee. This is my favorite part of the week. Down the hill at the arena, Roderigo is working with one of the Andalusian stallions, the two of them performing a lovely dance in the dust. So beautiful to watch.

Perched on a chair at my feet, Raul is a study in concentration as he performs our Sunday morning ritual. Finally he leans back and puts down the small object he has been working with.

“There, Cara, all done.” He blows softly on the shell-pink polish he has just applied to my toenails. “I think this is a good color for today, no?”

Having my dashing Spaniard unexpectedly turn pedicurist a few years ago was unsettling, but really quite fun for a bit. But as time wore on, and the toenail-polish routine became just one more task on the list, I’ve started to find the predictability of it annoying. For example, I knew exactly what Raul was going to do next.

Sure enough. He patted my calf and stood up, advising “now let that dry before you go dragging your toes through the dirt.”

Yes dear. I know.

To hide my annoyance, I picked up a catalog and studied it carefully. I’m always on the lookout for new product lines to carry in my Scandinavian home goods import business, “Dane Jane’s Cupboard”, and this catalog featured the new rage, the Danish concept of hygge, or “coziness”. Lots of plush fabrics, earthy accessories, and comfort food. I peered at the food section for ideas.

Raul headed into the house. “What will we be having for dinner, Cara?” Sunday is the cook’s day off and I’m in charge of food, much to Raul’s chagrin. Cooking is not my strong suit.

Still poring over the “hygge” section of the catalog, I found my inspiration. “Porridge, darling,” I responded.

Raul paused in midstep and a look of painful nostalgia passed over his face. It was at these moments that he most missed his deceased sister, Maria, who died while delivering  her illegitimate child Roderigo. The identity of the father  remained a mystery. Maria had been in charge of meals, and while the woman may have been a slut, she could cook.

He bit his tongue and continued inside. I smiled a bit and looked for more recipes. Raul was on the brink of learning to cook, as a defense against the blond and bland Scandinavian dishes I continued to serve up. I figured that porridge just might be the dish that would entice him to learn his way around the kitchen.

Once the obligatory toenail-drying time had passed, I slipped into riding clothes and made my way through the olive groves to the arena to watch Roderigo work, and maybe get in a ride. He was just finishing up with Brioso, a lovely fiery 5-year-old who was coming along nicely.

He gave me his dazzling smile as I walked up to the arena fence. “Ah, buenas dias, Tia.”

I hate it when he calls me “Tia”.

“How is our boy Brio doing?” I asked, using the horse’s stable name.  Brio searched me for treats and found the carrots tucked in my breeches pocket.

“He’s doing very well. They are all doing well. Except for Sabado. That horse needs some leadership.” Roderigo pulled down his sunglasses and gave me a mockingly stern stare. Sabado is my personal riding horse and I tend to be just a big indulgent with my baby. The other horses would never dream of challenging Roderigo, but Sabado figures, what the heck, I can pull stuff with the chick, why not with the guy? He’s a merry little horse and it’s all a game for him.

“I promise I’ll change my ways,” I stated solemnly. Then we both had a good laugh, knowing full well that nothing was going to change.

“So, I have an idea for a new direction for the horses that needs some exploring.” Roderigo was trying hard to contain his enthusiasm. He loves new ventures and tends to plunge headlong into them, a trait that has proved a bit costly sometimes.

“Well,” I mused thoughtfully, “we could sure use something new since you ruined the old horse industry around here.” Raul’s family has for generations bred horses and bulls for the bull rings, a traditional but distasteful and brutal sport. Roderigo had brought the family participation in it to a screeching halt with his gift for connecting with all animals, turning the fierce bulls into pets and refusing to let the horses go into the bull rings.

“Working Equitation. It’s becoming more popular all the time and I think we could do very well training and competing there. It’s big here but even bigger in Portugal, and most of the horses are Lusitanos.”

“Well, I’m sure our Andalusians will do beautifully and will show very well.” This was my hopeful but undoubtedly futile attempt at controlling the damage from what I knew was coming.

“Well, yes, they would, but if we are to get established, I think we would do well to start with the traditional horses of the sport,” Roderigo said hopefully.

“Yeah.  I know you. You just want a trip to Portugal to go horse shopping.”

Roderigo smiled at me without denying it.

“I can’t give permission for this. You will have to talk to your uncle about it. Somehow he doesn’t trust my judgment when it comes to buying more horses.”

“Okay. I’ll come up to the house later today and give him the sales job. Meanwhile, go get Sabado and we can go for a ride and see if we can undo some of the damage you’ve done with that horse.”

I am only too happy to comply with that type of request.

 

It was evening when Roderigo made it up to the house. It probably took him that long to figure out how he was going to sell this idea to Raul. We were, in fact, in the middle of dinner on the veranda when he arrived. As promised, I had made porridge from one of the hygge recipes, and Raul was trying, not very successfully, to pretend he was enjoying it.  Privately, I had to admit that it was not a great success, but managed to down it with apparent gusto. In this war of Who’s Going To Cook Dinner, I couldn’t afford to show any cracks in the façade.

Roderigo rounded the corner onto the veranda and after greeting us, pulled up a chair. He glanced into Raul’s dinner bowl and had to stare for a moment. Roderigo had inherited his mother’s gift for cooking and I don’t think porridge was on his culinary radar.

“Uncle, I have an idea about how to put some life back into the horse business,” he began energetically.

Raul sighed. First porridge, now this. He had a difficult time saying no to Roderigo, and that usually cost him money when it came to horses. Roderigo spilled out the concept of redirecting our efforts into developing Working Equitation horses. “And I think we should use the traditional Lusitanos. I could make a scouting trip to Portugal next week to see what’s available.”

Raul directed his gaze at me. “Did you know about this?” he demanded.

“Me? Of course not. I’ve been too busy cooking,” I responded virtuously, downing another yummy spoonful of porridge.

Raul grilled Roderigo about details. Roderigo had certainly done his homework, and had everything but Powerpoint slides detailing the plan. Finally Raul sighed and dropped his head, a sure sign that permission was about to be granted. “Fine. Go to Portugal next week. I’ll have some stalls and paddocks readied. But please, don’t bring back six new horses.”

“I have an idea.” Roderigo looked at me. “Why don’t I bring Tia Jane with me? She can keep an eye on the budget and keep me in line.”

What a great idea! That’s why he’s my favorite.

Raul rolled his eyes. “Great. In that case, I’ll have twelve stalls and paddocks readied.”

Roderigo tried hard but unsuccessfully to contain his excitement. He gave his uncle a hug, then peered again into the bowl. “What IS that?”

“Porridge,” Raul stated mournfully. “It’s hygge, you know,” he added, knowing that Roderigo was all too familiar with the concept, having been recruited to drag box after box of product samples to the storage shed he had dubbed the “Hygge Hut.”

“Ah! That explains a lot. I’d ask to join you, but I’ve started dinner already and it will be ready in half an hour or so. Uncle, you could stop by in a bit and we could discuss the trip in more detail. I know you’ll be full, but perhaps you could sample the new recipe I’m trying and let me know what you think.”

A look of salvation flashed across Raul’s face. I turned my head to hide the look of annoyance that flashed across mine. How am I going to get this guy cooking if Roderigo is going to feed him? Maybe Roderigo is not my favorite after all.

He must be punished.

Welcome!

I am finally pursuing a long-held dream of doing a bit of creative writing for public consumption. For years, this has been on my “someday” list, and as I recently turned 64, it has occurred to me that the “someday” window is getting smaller, not larger. So it is time to start down this road.

My first step is to set up my author website, which includes this blog. Until now, I’ve only been involved in business-related activities, and all communication is meant to inform or educate. Since my professional writing career consists of articles written for our local horse journal, I was stumped as to what I was going to blog about. Then I decided that I will just share my journey with my two followers (those would be my cats, Jasmine and Maxie) and see what happens. I hope you will join them and tag along for the journey.

My first writing venture will be to revive a character that I used to write about to relieve the boredom of my day job (true confessions—I wrote about this character while actually AT my day job). She was my alter ego, a much bolder and comelier version of me, who cavorted with wild abandon with her lover Raul. She’s been lurking in the shadows of my imagination in the 15+ years since then, and is now emerging as an older-but-not-much-wiser woman, now known as Dane Jane. Visit Dane Jane’s page on my site. The Adventures of Dane Jane

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