coming out of our deep freeze

Friday, January 31:  Here in northern Virginia, we are finally emerging from our deep freeze of the last couple of weeks.  Between a couple of snowfalls and temperatures hovering around 8-10 degrees (F), we’ve had only a few days of respite.  I for one am happy to have a break and to get outdoors for my walks again.

Walking in Tamarack Park near the W&OD Bike Path
Walking in Tamarack Park near the W&OD Bike Path

I’ve never been a gym person, preferring to walk outdoors instead, but because of the icy roads, the several-inch-deep snowfalls and the frigid air, I’ve been going to the gym to walk on the treadmill and ride the seated elliptical, a machine I’ve never encountered before now.  My regular nearby gym, Oak Marr Rec Center, has been closed for renovation since I returned to the States, so I’ve had to drive to Falls Church to use Providence Rec Center, a half hour each way.

The partly frozen Difficult Run
The partly frozen Difficult Run

At least I am meeting my goals to walk at least five times a week, despite the long drive to the gym.  Today, I even take two walks, the second through the woods at Tamarack Park, near the W&OD Bike Path and along Difficult Run, which eventually makes its way to the Potomac River.

The deep freeze is finally thawing.
The deep freeze is finally thawing.

It may not be the most beautiful of walks, but I do enjoy the way the stream meanders through the muddy banks in the shadows of brown spindly trees.  Some parts of the stream remain frozen, but some of the water has burst free and rushes past the patches of ice.  Bailey gingerly walks out on the ice, or alternately, runs after sticks. I crunch along on brittle leaves under the shadows of the trees, enjoying fresh air for the first time in weeks.

Click on any of the images below for a full-sized slide show.

As far as my other New Year’s goals, here’s what I’ve done over the last two weeks, since I returned home from California.  I’ve applied for 6 jobs, but, as expected, it feels as if my cover letters and CVs go into some deep black hole, never to be acknowledged.  I’ve revised 7 chapters of my novel, but while reading it, I’ve decided yet another revision will be in order, mainly because my dialog needs work!  And as far as pitching to travel publications, so far I’m 0 for 0.  I have an idea and a publication in mind, but this publication requires a complete manuscript, which means I need to write the entire article rather than just pitching the idea.  A lot of work, but I hope it will pay off in some way.

Trying to keep focused, and to keep moving forward. 🙂  I hope your 2014 is bringing all the things you wished for. 🙂

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weekly photo challenge: family

Saturday, January 18: The last time I saw my little sister Stephanie must have been at my mother’s funeral 12 years ago.  Stephanie has lived in Los Angeles for longer than that, and despite my best intentions, I’ve never made it to California until early this January.  It really is pathetic that we live on opposite coasts of the same country and never visit each other.

For this Weekly Photo Challenge of Family, I dedicate this post to my talented little sister.

To see full-sized images, click on any of the pictures in the gallery below.

Stephanie has always amazed me.  She’s insanely creative, energetic, and has a great sense of humor.  She can draw, paint, write, and do most anything that is inside or outside the box.  She used to work for Redbook, and later for Shape magazine, as Art Director.  Most recently she worked for Fit Pregnancy and Natural Health, magazines owned by American Media.  Now she’s taking some time to build her freelance business and pursue the non-corporate life of her dreams.  She really inspired me on this visit as we are both now trying to carve out lives for ourselves that are more fulfilling than the ones we’ve been living.

Steph and her abstract art
Steph and her abstract art

Stephanie writes of herself on her website KONSUMERISM.RUN.AMOK: the most random of desires: I’m a Creative Director, illustrator and obsessive collector.  I’m usually on the trail of something I have a sudden passion for, whether it be vintage books, tin toys, Danish modern furniture, cool plants, certain enticing vegetables, crazy looking bunnies, classic film DVDs, old jazz records, bicycles… the list goes on (and on). Everything is design. And I have an extra special kinship for old things. Mid-century makes my heart quicken. This is a place to share my latest finds and passions. Relax, put on a scratchy bop LP and meander with me through the artifacts of the last couple of centuries. I have tons more on my Pinterest than I’ll ever have time to post here, so be sure and visit.

Steph's house
Steph’s house

Stephanie is an avid collector, with an array of mid-century modern furniture, vintage bicycles, toys, books and movie posters filling her house.  Black & white family photographs adorn her walls and toy wind-up birds sit on shelves waiting to cock-a-doodle-doo. The whole ambiance of her house evokes our childhood, and the era of our parents and grandparents. On her living room wall hangs a photo of our brother Rob, Steph and me (with an especially bad haircut) in a New York diner, from her days in the city.  In her backyard, she has an aviary full of birds, especially finches, and a chicken coop where three chickens, rounded up by Horatio the rooster, lay eggs for her breakfast.  She has orange trees and a pond, and rusty vintage lawn chairs like the ones my grandmother used to have.  She has two friendly dogs, Babe and Buster, several cats who curl up by the heater and like to mark their territory on the guest bed, and rabbits who enjoy gnawing on electric cords.

We spend our time together on this visit reminiscing about our childhood, laughing, eating sushi accompanied by Sapporo and warm saké, watching The Invisible Woman at Sundance Sunset Cinema in West Hollywood, exploring the boardwalk & walk-streets of Venice, and watching Downton Abbey and the Golden Globes. We eat shrimp dumplings and calamari at P.F. Chang’s.  We talk of art and our goals and we encourage each other in our dreams. I loved spending time with my long-lost sibling.

Or, maybe it’s me who’s been long-lost.

In case you missed the homage to my visit that Stephanie drew in her journal, here it is, one more time.

~ journal entry by Stephanie Birdsong, in homage to my visit :-)
~ journal entry by Stephanie Birdsong, in homage to my visit 🙂

weekly photo challenge: window

Wednesday, January 15: The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is Window.  Writes Cheri Lucas: {Windows} are portals into the world’s stories. Glimpses into other people’s lives. Looking out (or into) a window can tell you about where you are — and where you’re not — and mark a particular moment in time, linking you to a physical place. Windows are also enablers of our daydreams and desires, and can stir up memories and big ideas.

Here are some shop windows from Abbott Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California.  In 1990, West Washington was renamed to Abbot Kinney, after the man who built the Venice Canals.  The street boasts fine restaurants, unique art galleries, prestigious wine shops and exciting nightlife.

Urbanic
Urbanic
Perfectly Imperfect
Perfectly Imperfect ~ Topo Ranch
Local 1205
Local 1205
Juicy Leaf
Juicy Leaf
Next door to Pork Belly's Sandwich Shop
Next door to Pork Belly’s Sandwich Shop
Bountiful
Bountiful
cake stands at Bountiful
cake stands at Bountiful

a fond farewell to my little sister in los angeles

Sunday, January 12: After leaving Rosie’s house, I head to my sister’s house in Reseda, only about a half-hour drive.  I want to spend my last night with her, since we lost our first night together because of my missed flight connection in Denver on my way to L.A.  I had packed my schedule so tightly that I didn’t have nearly the time I wanted to spend with her.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro
Stephanie & me at P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Stephanie & me at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

We try to go back to our favorite sushi restaurant, but sadly we find it closed on this Sunday night.  Instead we go to P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, where we share a fabulous meal of appetizers along with some beers.

We have such a fun night together, as always.  Stephanie used to work as the art director for Shape magazine, and most recently Fit Pregnancy magazine, but she lost her job recently due to a downsizing. She’s excited about forging a new life for herself, outside of the corporate world.  She’s so talented, she won’t have any problem making her dreams come true.  Her enthusiasm is infectious, and I even start to believe I can live the creative life as well.  My talents are so limited compared to hers, but at this point in January, I have hope that I can publish my book, do some travel writing and travel photography, and carve out a life for myself that will make me happy.

We go back to her house to watch the second episode of Downton Abbey and then go to sleep so I can get an early start to the airport tomorrow.

Monday, January 13: This morning, I take off early for the airport, taking some pictures of Stephanie’s house and her old Studebaker before I leave.

Steph's colorful house
Steph’s colorful house
Studebaker
Studebaker
Stephn's house
Steph’s house

Here’s the lovely Bob Hope Airport.  Waiting.

Burbank Airport
Bob Hope Airport
My plane
My plane

First stop, San Francisco International Airport.

San Francisco International Airport
San Francisco International Airport

And looking out the window at a piece of the American landscape.

Flying home
Flying home

I posted this before, but here is my sister’s rendition of my trip to California.

Stephanie's journal
Stephanie’s journal

My sister’s illustrations can be found here: KONSUMERISM.RUN.AMOK: the most random of desires.

Little do I know that this will be my only trip during the year, from when I returned home on July 25 of 2013.  Sigh….

the corral canyon loop & lunch at malibu seafood

Sunday, January 12: After our excursion to the lively Sunday market, Rosie, her husband, and her personal trainer Monty take me to Malibu.  We park the car in a parking lot beside Malibu Seafood and hike the 2.5 mile loop around Corral Canyon.

Corral Canyon hike
Corral Canyon hike
Corral Canyon
Corral Canyon
A little shad
A little shade
little flowers
little flowers
and desert plants
desert plants
Corral Canyon Trail
Corral Canyon Trail
Dried little tidbits
Dried little tidbits

According to hikespeak.com: corral canyon loop in the santa monica mountains, the 1,000-acre Corral Canyon State Park protects a span of the Santa Monica Mountains between Dan Blocker Beach and Malibu Creek State Park. This is the only canyon on the Los Angeles County side of the range that remains undeveloped from the ridge top down to the Pacific Coast Highway, allowing the 2.5-mile loop through the park to plunge hikers in to a world of natural scenery and vegetation.

the dry & arid trail
the dry & arid trail
brown brown everywhere
brown everywhere

The trail climbs to 525 feet at the north end of the loop. The trail then makes a U-turn heading-south to what is labeled on the map as an overlook. There is a nice view up and down the coast from this shelf on the ridge, 1.5-miles from the bottom of the loop.

view of the Pacific Ocean
view of the Pacific Ocean
the Malibu coast
the Malibu coast
Malibu, looking north
Malibu, looking north
Rosie at the lookout
Rosie at the lookout
Me at the lookout
Me at the lookout
looking south from the lookout
looking south from the lookout
Rosie, her husband and Monty, her personal trainer
Rosie, her husband and Monty, her personal trainer
flowers at the trailhead
flowers at the trailhead
Me with Rosie at the trailhead
Me with Rosie at the trailhead
California flora
California flora

After our hike, we’re famished, so we sit outside on the patio of Malibu Seafood and eat some delicious fish tacos.

Malibu Seafood
Malibu Seafood
Malibu Seafood
Malibu Seafood
Malibu Seafood with a queue
Malibu Seafood with a queue
fish tacos
fish tacos

I have a lovely day with Rosie and her husband, but now I plan to spend my last evening in California with my sister.  So we return to Rosie’s house, where I pack up my stuff and drive to Stephanie’s house in Reseda, back to where I started this trip. 🙂

 

 

a sunday market in los angeles

Sunday, January 12: This morning, Rosie has a day planned for us in Malibu, but first we stop at a Sunday market.  If I weren’t flying home tomorrow morning, I would indulge in a buying extravaganza at this lively market.

Strange alien cauliflower
Strange alien cauliflower
rhubarb or red kale - who can tell me?
red chard
Sunday market in L.A.
Sunday market in L.A.
teas
teas
spices
spices
artichokes
artichokes
veggies galore
veggies galore
asparagus and beans
asparagus, snap peas and broccoli
bok choy
bok choy
VERY sweet strawberries
VERY sweet strawberries
orchids
orchids
reflections
reflections
more reflections
more reflections
L.A. neighborhood
L.A. neighborhood

After our stop at the market, we head to Corral Canyon for a hike.

poets & writers LIVE! & a night on abbott kinney

Saturday, January 11: This morning, Rosie and I are going to the Poets and Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, but before we do, we take a nice walk around the Toluca Lake neighborhood.  Being in LA, it’s hard to believe it’s January. Back home in Virginia we’ve had below freezing temperatures and snowfall after snowfall, and here in sunny LA, it feels like a spring day.

Pretty Toluca Lake
Pretty Toluca Lake
Walking around Toluca Lake
Walking around Toluca Lake
Toluca Lake farmer's market
Toluca Lake farmer’s market

We drive to the Poets and Writers Event, which, much to my surprise, is just around the corner from Abbott Kinney Boulevard, the main drag that my sister Stephanie and I explored when I was in Los Angeles at the beginning of my trip.

Rosie & me at Poets & Writer's LIVE!
Rosie & me at Poets & Writer’s LIVE!

Poets & Writers magazine was started in 1970 to help writers. Editor-in-chief Kevin Larimer introduces the event, the first of many face-to-face events that Poets & Writers will sponsor around the country. The event is organized into four sessions of 1 1/4 hours each.

In session one, Larimer discusses why we want to publish: 1) for validation and 2) so people can read our work.  As authors, he suggests, we should buy books and literary magazines, thus supporting the community we want to be a part of.  He advises that an agent is helpful to writers when sorting through complicated publishing contracts, as he/she can give legal advice.

In session two, a number of speakers discuss how to build community in the Los Angeles area. This is the least interesting talk to me, since I don’t live in LA and can’t take advantage of the myriad opportunities.  The general consensus: “Creativity flourishes in community.”  Suggestions for building community include surveying the neighborhood you’re in and encourage whoever wants to participate.  Align what you’re doing with your own needs as a writer, because the needs of the organizer should be met as much as the needs of participants.

Opportunities to connect abound: 1) Find an art buddy to check in with to see whether you’re writing or not; 2) Make writing dates, where you get together with another writer in the same room to write; 3) Have writing practice groups where you practice meditation and then do a “fevered writing;” 4) Join writing groups where you get feedback within a set of guidelines.  This gives you a way to know how your work is “landing;” 5) Put together readings with other people; 6) Approach a publisher with a common-themed group project.

Other advice: 1) Find your own niche and 2) to inspire your own writing, get out of your element.

If you decide to form a writing workshop, try to discuss the works in a positive way: 1) What meaning did you get from that? 2) What did you notice in a piece of work? 3) Invite people to ask questions about form, content, what if?  Guidelines in a writing workshop should apply to everyone.  Someone should be chosen to facilitate in a smooth manner, using humor to transition.  Try to be communicative and transparent.  The workshop facilitator should be consistent about times and run a tight shift.

Sound advice: As a writer, the best thing you can do is to read aloud your work.

In session three, a panel of writers have an interesting discussion about writing, and answer questions from the audience.  Ron Carlson, American novelist and short story writer, most recently wrote Return to Oakpine.  He talks about his life as a short story writer.  Poet Harryette Mullen, who wrote Sleeping with the Dictionary, shares her story about being a poet.  Novelist Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, discusses his style of writing and why he loves the craft.  Meghan Daum, an American author, essayist, and journalist (L.A. Times columnist) who wrote My Misspent Youth, The Quality of Life Report and Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House says she became a writer because she literally couldn’t do anything else.  She had no other talents.  I doubt that’s true, but it makes for some funny stories.

The panel discusses writing in different mediums: crayons, chalk, or play dough — to spark creativity.  Draw pictures.  Think of five things and draw one, write a caption, add five more lines.  Play Sculptionary or Lego-nary.  Always try to trick your mind into opening up.  Just sit in a chair, stop whining, and do it.

In the final session, author Dani Shapiro reads from her book Still Write.  I always love it when I hear authors speak about how, no matter how many times they’ve been published, they still feel dread and self-doubt when they sit down to write.  That’s how I feel, of course, so to know that published authors feel that way gives me some small bit of encouragement.

Dani writes a blog about the creative process: Dani Shapiro.  She wants her book Still Write to be a companion to fellow writers, similar to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life or Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary.  It’s about beginnings, middles, ends, and the puzzle-like pieces of writing.  She challenges writers to write about the things they do that they’d be mortified by if anyone knew about them.

After one of our breaks, I come back to my seat to find a Chinese man sitting next to me, in what had been an empty seat. He hands me a card: Da Chen.  His latest published novel is My Last Empress.

He asks if I’m a writer.
I hem and haw.  “Yes, I’ve written a novel.”
“What is the title?” he asks.
“I don’t have a title yet.”
“Oh.  Do you have a business card?”
“No, sorry, I don’t.”  I fidget uncomfortably, feeling embarrassed by my lack of confidence and professionalism.

He turns away, having lost interest.  I feel disheartened that I blew an opportunity to talk with someone who might be in a position to help me get my novel published.  Live and learn, the hard way.

I am thrilled that Rosie heard about this event and that we signed up for it before it was sold out.  It was so inspirational!  During the time I started writing my novel in 2002, I used to go all the time to listen to authors give readings in bookstores, and I found them inspirational.  They prodded me to finish the first draft of my book.

For the next several months, my goal is to get my novel done.  To give the book a title.  And to make up business cards for future encounters with other writers!

***************************

After the event, Rosie and I drive around the corner and stop in at The Brig for cocktails.  The picture below was taken the week before when I was here with my sister.  By the time we arrive here tonight, it’s dark.

The Brig on Abbott Kinney Boulevard
The Brig on Abbott Kinney Boulevard

We stand around drinking wine and chatting with other writers who attended the event.  It’s all very lively and authorial.  I feel a bit of a thrill by the whole thing. 🙂

There seems to be no food served at The Brig, so we walk out the front door and pick up some very decadent food at a food truck.

Rosie at the food truck
Rosie at the food truck

After everyone disperses, Rosie and I take a leisurely stroll up and down Abbott Kinney Boulevard, enjoying some nighttime window-shopping.  If you want to see the daytime view, you can check out window-shopping on abbott kinney boulevard.

A fun and inspirational day all around!  To learn more about Poets & Writers, check out this link: Poets & Writers.