So much more to a book

This photo hangs on the wall at my brother’s house. Here he is with the smiling Wildebeest and Zebu, many years ago. I’m not sure any of them remember the exact moment the picture was taken, but love and happiness are written all over this image. It’s no coincidence that a book’s involved.

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.
~  Maurice Sendak

Every creature fast and small

Every creature is better alive than dead,
men and moose and pine trees,
and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.

~  Henry David Thoreau

Over the past weekend, we were in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. My two sons, Wildebeest and Zebu, got into a lively debate over running ability and were finally coerced by those sick of listening to that debate into running a short race. While their uncle got ready at the finish line with his camera to capture their final steps, their father (Zippy) lined them up at the starting line. But just before Zippy shot the proverbial starter’s pistol, he saw a tiny creature on the race course:

Horned Lizard aka Horny Toad

After moving the Horned Lizard to safety, the race commenced.

 

(NOTE: Wildebeest won by a slim margin, pulling a quad muscle in the process. The two agreed to switch “lanes” and run it again, and that time Zebu won by a whole bunch. I’m guessing the Horned Lizard is as happy as the rest of us that the two of them have, at least temporarily, moved beyond that whole running debate.)

Remember the Vasa

I photographed these carved figures with my phone while visiting the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, and have held onto the bizarre image for months as I waited for the right time to display it here.

Today feels like an especially good day in the Corporate States of America to share these figures from the Vasa’s prow.

I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
[The Vasa] was constructed at the navy yard in Stockholm under a contract with private entrepreneurs in 1626–1627 and armed primarily with bronze cannons cast in Stockholm specifically for the ship. Richly decorated as a symbol of the king’s ambitions for Sweden and himself, upon completion she was one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. However, Vasa was dangerously unstable and top-heavy with too much weight in the upper structure of the hull. Despite this lack of stability she was ordered to sea and foundered only a few minutes after encountering a wind stronger than a breeze.

Militarization.
Privatization.
King’s ambitions.
Dangerous instability.
Greed and arrogance.
Epic failure.

The Vasa sank after traveling just 1300 meters.

Today I’m indulging in a little wishful thinking.

(NOTE: As a writer, I’m also thinking about how there’s truly no such thing as an original plot line. Greedheads gonna be greedheads, from the beginning of time…)

Drama in the backyard

I was working here at my desk, next to an open window, when I became aware of frenetic activity in the yard below. A split second later, another fact penetrated my brain fog: squeaking/screaming.

I jumped up and looked outside. Emma had a squirrel in her mouth. More shrieking (this time, from me).

Fast forward to Emma inside with me while Zebu went outside to check on the condition of the squirrel. He found it, alive, but motionless. It then took off running for the fence. Zebu came back inside to give the shocked animal some space. As we watched from the window, the squirrel tried climbing the six-feet-tall wooden fence. The bundle of fur made it halfway and then dropped to the ground. We agonized for the squirrel.

And then Zebu’s brain kicked in.

“That’s not a squirrel. It doesn’t have a tail.” Pause. “That’s a prairie dog!”

We were SO happy! The “squirrel” wasn’t failing to climb the fence because it was injured, it was failing because it wasn’t a fence-climbing creature!

Zebu leaned a timber against the fence for the prairie dog to use as a ramp. Didn’t work. He then opened the gate that lets out onto the wild hillside behind our house. Unfortunately, the prairie dog ran past the open gate, multiple times, and tried climbing the fence at the other end of the yard.

By then, Zippy was home. He and Zebu tried “herding” the frantic prairie dog to the gate. It was pretty stressful for everyone. Obviously, it was most stressful for the poor prairie dog.

He hunkered down and froze in front of Zebu. Right after I caught this shot, I was enlisted to help with the herding. By the time I put on shoes and got outside, the prairie dog made one more sprint.

This time, he went out the gate!

The three of us celebrated the liberation and apparent good health of our visitor, and wished him a safe return to his burrow (wherever that might be). Some days (and today is most definitely one of those days), it’s important to embrace the roles we play in setting things right on our little patch of the planet.

 

Thankful Thursday: Zebu’s Big Adventure edition

Last August, my 20-year-old son left for Uppsala, Sweden. He lived and studied there for two semesters. As I write this, he is flying back to Colorado. His study abroad adventure is nearly over. (The adventure continued up to the last minute: He and nine other passengers were caught in a long, passport line and arrived at their gate just after it closed, so Iceland Air stopped the plane  out on the runway and had a bus deliver Zebu and the other nine passengers to the plane.)

Zebu in Stockholm when we visited in May.

Over the past several months, Zebu has said that his study abroad experience has been the best year of his life. It didn’t start out so well.

When he arrived in Uppsala, he discovered that TSA had locked his suitcase. Half his belongings, including his raincoat, were inside. He paid a taxi driver way too much to drive him into the city and then spent an entire rainy day hauling the 50-pound suitcase around the cobblestones, trying to get it unlocked. Kind people in luggage stores tried different keys, with no success. Someone finally directed him to a shoe repair store where the man cut the locks off the suitcase.

Zebu later confessed that that day, as he struggled with language barriers, a lack of wifi, hunger, and jet lag, he wanted nothing more than to turn around and fly back home.

Obviously, he’s very glad he stayed. And here he is in May, standing outside that shoe repair store.

I asked to see that store when we visited, because it felt symbolic. I was privy (via phone call and texts) to his frustration and panic as he couldn’t get his suitcase open, and tried to help from my end. He ended up finding his own solution. And ten months later, a confident young man is returning home after the best experience of his life.

For that, I am very grateful.

 

 

 

To smile, or to stab — that is the question

Today is the day, I thought. Today, the photo of me with the Stabby bus will make its blog debut. (The image was captured our first day in Uppsala. Zebu spotted the bus coming up the street, and I quickly handed off my phone and posed next to it when it stopped. Those who know me well know that I quite frequently “feel stabby,” which is why I was thrilled when Zebu captured the original Stabby bus image for me.)

Today is one of those “I’m feeling stabby” days. So I went back and found the photo.

Huh? That woman does NOT look as if she’s feeling stabby. She’s smiling, happy, and, aside from the claw-like curve to her right hand**, looks pretty damned relaxed. Not at all stabby.

I almost gave up on today’s stabby theme. And then it hit me: this photo is perfect for today’s post. Why? Because the reason for my stabby feelings is that I’m struggling with two characters’ friendship in the opening pages of my new project. I’m struggling to smooth out their interactions so as to establish their relationship and character arcs, and suddenly, it feels as if the first 60 pages are a steaming pile of mixed messages.

So what better photographic representation of mixed messaging than this photo of the smiling me next to the Stabby bus?

HA! I’m suddenly feeling slightly less stabby.

** me simulating holding a pointy object in preparation of stabby motions.

Day 9: Almost home

We got up at 5:30 this morning, Uppsala time, and just barely caught the-bus-we-thought-was-a-train (when we purchased the tickets yesterday) to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. From there we flew to Amsterdam. After promising that all checked luggage was our own and that no one had asked us to bring anything on the plane, we got on a packed plane. Our flight to Minneapolis took 7+ hours. Once in the airport, I got busted by the agricultural-sniffing dog for carrying an orange across the ocean. I relinquished the citrus and then we had to re-check our bags and go through security again because, you know, we could’ve spent that 7+ –hour flight filling our shoes with knives. We’re now sitting in a bar/restaurant, drinking local craft beer and eating fries while we wait for our flight to Denver.

It’s already been a loooong day, and there’s still miles to go.

Here’s a somewhat appropriate image from our last day in Stockholm:

Almost home.

.