Monday, February 20, 2017

Goosebumps, books, and birds: our weekend on Amelia Island

Sea birds on Fernandina Beach

Yep. We spent the weekend on Amelia Island! Our primary purpose in being there was (meaning, we wouldn't have been there if not for) the Amelia Island Book Festival. I take part in the Author Expo every year. A room filled with authors and their books. It's fantastic.

This year, our table was mere feet away from the Book Signing table. Here is a picture of me:


It looks like I'm standing at the book signing table addressing my many fans. When hubs dared me to weasel may way in front of Jacques Pepin (who was actually sitting at the table) and turn toward the people waiting for his autograph, he didn't think I would do it. But I showed him!

R.L. Stein spoke in the auditorium at 2:30 and before he was finished, the line started forming in front of our table. By the time he arrived, the line extended down the entire aisle and began to wrap backward toward us again. They had to enact a one-book rule! Mr. Stein didn't break the rule when he signed this kid's dummy and his book, because that's still only one book, right?

R.L. Stein signs Slappy
Amelia Island Book Festival 2017

Our best seller this year was [Surprise!] Bookish Meets Boy. We had it with us last year and only sold one or two. This year, I nearly sold out of stock. You just never can tell with these things. And a little birdie told me that while Bookish Meets Boy did not win the new Book Island Literary Award, it did score very highly. It's always nice to hear kind words.

I'll take this moment to also brag that Bookish Meets Boy received a perfect score in the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards. That, unfortunately, did not translate into a win but a great score and a wonderful review are nothing to sneeze at. (Maybe I'll post the review and score here later this week just to show off.)

While we were there, we enjoyed some of Amelia Island's natural (and not so natural) beauty. Here are some pictures!

The first four were taken on the beach accessed through Ft. Clinch State Park. The fifth is a view of the beach through one of the slit openings in the fort. The last was taken on the shore in Big Talbot Island State Park. It looks to be debris from Hurricane Matthew.

We were a bit disappointed in the lack of birds on our trip. But I did catch some pics of a few that I needed.

We're pretty sure these are black skimmers. But the white stripe separating the black on the head from the black on the back and wings is a bit odd.

Black Skimmers on Fernandina Beach

If you ask me, below is a female Gadwall. But of course, it also looks a bit like a female Northern Shoveler. Either way, it's a duck.

In a pond in Amelia Island State Park

I caught this fabulous Osprey standing in the shallows off shore in Big Talbot Island State Park.

Osprey in the shallows

And I finally got a woodpecker! There was one hanging out in my neighborhood, but he's been elusive so I was glad to find this one.

In Big Talbot Island State Park

This is almost certainly the Red-bellied Woodpecker. And naturally, once I got home, I was finally able to capture some great pictures of that one, too, plus a short video. I'll post them later.

We had a great weekend and can't wait to do it again next year!

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm just a sucker with no self esteem...

You really shouldn't leave the house, you know that?
photo by Andrew Butitta via Flickr

I just got back from Publix and on the way home there was this song on the radio and I was, like, this song is so me. The lyrics went like this:

Oh ay ohhhhhh ayo ayo eh Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh YehhhAH ahhhahhh Ahhhhhh, OOHHHHHHH Ohhhhhohohaoh Yeahhhhhhhhhh Yeahhhhhhhh ahhhahhhahhh Oooohhhhhhhhhh ohhhhhohohoah.

Seriously. Those are some of the lyrics, paraphrased of course. But, you must know the song. I'll find it for you before I leave. Anyway, truer lyrics have never been sung, I'm sure. So, now I'm sitting here at my desk (not the writing desk but the other desk) getting ready to--oh, hey, wait a sec--okay now definitely binge eating those tiny chocolate muffins from Publix. It's been a hard day, trust me.

I took part in a writers forum this morning and I showed up thinking it was going to be a panel discussion with questions from a moderator and the audience. As it turned out, each writer on the panel was going to speak for about fifteen minutes and then take questions.*

Right. Yeah. That's going to work out just fine for me. At least I got to go last. Then again, unfortunately, I had to go last. Naturally, what I said--my completely unplanned, unrehearsed speech--would be informed by what all the others had said before me. So, I will paraphrase for you, as well as I can, my ramblings this morning.

I'm yadda yadda. I write in a bunch of genres under all these pen names. I write downer fiction and romantic comedy, because the downer fiction is so depressing, I need some laughs after it. [This led me to get all moody and so I began...] I started writing very young as a way of trying to make sense of my world. I was raised by a woman with narcissistic personality disorder and a...well, I guess my father had a shrug disorder. His life has been just one long shrug. [Pretty sure I got some laughs there, maybe because of the body comedy that went along with it.] I remember writing a short story in fifth grade [may have said something about that story, but it's all a blur now.] and my father found it and read it and said it was really good. [At this point I think I tried to explain how that made me feel as a child. I don't think it went well.] The next Christmas my parents gave me an electric typewriter. The next memory I have of that typewriter [Did I say that? Very strange. It seems this speech has suddenly become about a typewriter.] was when I was a young adult. My father had left us [audible "aw"from the audience] and I was living with my mother. I wanted to go to a writers group but I was afraid to go alone so my mother went with me. At the end of the meeting, we all took pieces of paper from a bowl with phrases on them and we could write about them and bring them back next time. I got "red umbrella." So, I was at home later typing away, writing about the red umbrella when my mother came into my room and said, "Now, Dana. Don't you write anything that would upset those people."
I stopped writing the story, put away the typewriter, and never went back to that writers group again.

Hey, great story! Then I think I went on to talk about becoming a drunk and thinking that I was writing such great stuff only to come back to it sober to find out it was utter crap. Good times. Whoever said "write drunk, edit sober" was full of crap.**

Anyway, it wasn't all that bad of a speech. But at the end, I did talk about what an independent snot I am and about how I do it all myself. After all the other writers talked about how important it is to have an editor and a cover artist, etc. I stand up and say, "Forget that! I don't care what anyone thinks." Somebody called out, "Beta readers?" Like, seriously? You don't even use beta readers? And I'm like, no. Not me.

It's true, though. I just don't want any help from anybody. And where does that come from, do you think? It starts really young, I'll tell you that.

I remember once, as an adult, sending my father a short story I had written. I just sent it to him. I liked it. It was a pretty good story, and it was set in Asheville, where he grew up. I might have asked him what he thought of it. Well, he called me and wanted to come visit me. He showed up with my story, red-lined, sat me down, and proceeded to go through my story line by line telling me what was wrong with it and how I could fix it.

Another time, I gave my mother a book I'd been writing. This time, I did ask for some critical comments. Two weeks later, I went to her house to get my book back. She hadn't read it.

So, thanks Mom and Dad. It took me until I was an adult to realize that things work out a lot better if I just do them myself.

Anyway, this nice lady came up to me at the end of the meeting and she said, "Your father didn't leave you; he left her." And I said, well, he left the country, so what's the difference? Paraphrasing, of course. Then I think I said, "He's back now." As if that means anything. Still, it was kind of her to say. And she said a lot of other very kind things which made me feel like my speech maybe did something, good or bad. It was a speech.

So, note to self: when giving a speech in the future, go for the sad stuff. People will feel sorry for you and maybe buy a book.

*Now, this was totally my fault. It had been suggested by the organizer of the event that I go to a few of the other events to get a feel for the format. But I rarely leave the house, so it serves me quite right.

**We all seem to think that Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk, edit sober." But apparently he did not.

Still, I found this article about "science!" saying that there might actually be something to the idea. Rubbish! Rubbish I say. (I haven't read the article. If they're saying to write with abandon and then edit with a more logical mindset, then absolutely! But drunk? Not for me.)

Okay, here's the song.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

My Tom Brady, Patriots conundrum...

I thought you said football season was over...
photo by Ivva via Flickr

Bill Maher recently went off on the Patriots. He would normally not care for football, from what I gathered in watching the clip. But Trump has caused him to hate the Patriots and root for the Falcons tomorrow in Super Bowl LI.

Me? I don't know.

The only team in the NFL that I actively dislike is the Seahawks. I find them and their fans arrogant and prone to bouts of childishness. I mean, seriously...the 12th man? The crowd in their ridiculously loud stadium makes as much noise as it can while the other team is trying to call plays and then makes nice and quiet when the Seahawks are up. They're basically stomping their feet and claiming their team wouldn't be able to win without their ability to handicap other teams. I can't express the happiness I felt when the Seahawks lost Superbowl XLIX. And who did they lose to? The Patriots. I was so, so, so happy.

I like watching football and I do root for a few teams. Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, because I'm from Florida and I'm supposed to root for them. Jacksonville Jaguars, sure, but even though their mascot is a cat, the Dolphins and the Bucs come first. Of course, those two teams suck. Really bad. But I root for them anyway.

Outside my state, I like the Broncos, the Packers, the Eagles, the Vikings, the Ravens, the 49ers, the Steelers (except when they wear the bumble bee uniforms), the Bengals, and the Jets, And the Patriots and the Falcons. If I had to put them in order (behind the Dolphins and the Bucs), the Patriots would be right up there near the top, maybe first.

I like the other teams well enough, except for the Seahawks. I just don't root for them when they're playing one of the teams I like more. And when two teams I like play against each other, sometimes I pick one to root for and sometimes I root for both of them.

I did not buy into Deflategate. I thought it was much ado over nothing, and I thought Tom Brady was maligned. I agree with a lot of football fans, and Dan Wetzel, that the whole thing was a "bizarre and shoddy investigation into the air pressure of footballs."

And worse, in Wetzel's words:
Goodell and his office are blamed for a rush to judgment on deflate-gate, for conducting a lengthy investigation that was about proving a conclusion, not seeking the truth, for leaking prejudicial and inaccurate information to frame the Pats in the arena of public opinion and even completely misrepresenting Brady’s under oath testimony, essentially punishing him for saying the exact opposite of what he actually said.

So, what I'm saying is that I still like the Patriots.

And I hate Donald Trump with an icy hot passion unrivaled by anything I've ever felt before.

Maher's reasons for suddenly deciding to root for the Falcons this year is that the Patriots' owner, coach, and quarterback all support(ed) Donald Trump. But I can't find it in me to hate the Patriots just because some of the people involved with the team are idiots. Seriously, though. Such. Fucking. Idiots.

Yeah, I'm really disappointed in Tom Brady. But he's always seemed a bit stuck up, hasn't he? He's a privileged, cocky, rich, white guy without much of a clue or a care about anybody's suffering. And he's clearly not very smart.

But I just can't turn against an entire team of players because their owner, coach, and quarterback are dumber than rocks. I can still root for the Patriots tomorrow. And I might. I think they're going to win. But since I like both teams, I'll probably just root for both of them.

Oh, I'd unfriend Brady, Belichick, and Kraft on Facebook in a heartbeat. If they were my friends and went all gushy over the Orange Blowhard. (So don't even send me a friend request, guys. Not even.)

I guess there wasn't a conundrum after all... Oh, well. Maybe there will be some controversy over the commercials.

Enjoy the Big Game!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

My Florida backyard...

I think it was the painted bunting that did it.

There we were, in our car (because it was freezing!) driving around the Viera Wetlands, when we saw a volunteer with an enormous lens, photographing something on the ground. As we drove by, he pointed, excitedly.

We stopped the car, I rolled down my window and asked, "What is it?"
"Painted bunting," he said. "A rare treat."

And sure enough, there in the grass, playful and pretty as you please, was a painted bunting. But, alas, my husband's camera, the good one, had run out of battery. Stupid camera. Stupid battery. All we had was my little Nikon CoolPix S70, the one Ashton Kutcher sent me years ago. (Well, that's what the gift card read. I'm pretty sure it was from my hubs.)

So, I took some pictures as best I could. Here's the painted bunting:

Can you see it? Try this one:

Better? No? How about now?

It's there. Trust me. That red spot in the middle. That's a painted bunting!

So, a few days later, a box arrived for me. Inside was a Canon PowerShot SX530 HS and an array of accoutrements. A funky little tripod, batteries, cards, lens cleaner, a bag, etc. etc. I charged that baby up and took some pictures. Look what I got!

At one of our bird feeders:

We think it's the American goldfinch, because the bill does't look dark enough for the lesser goldfinch.

And I got the best shots I've ever had of the red-shouldered hawk that sits atop the pine out front of the house every morning and calls out to his friends. I can even hear them answer.

He saw me!

I'm pretty sure he's the red-shouldered variety, because of his call. It's like "A yee, A yee, A yee."

Here's some other cool pics with my new camera, around the yard.

Orchid tree blossom

Bark of the elm tree (?)

Florida gray squirrel in the oak tree

Rusted decor

bark of an unidentified tree

Bark of a pine tree of sorts. (Look, I don't know my trees, okay?)

New growth on one of those weird pine trees.

Okay, I'll figure out what kind of trees those are and update this post later.

That's all for now! Happy Groundhog day.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Cats in hats...getting your mind off the apocalypse

Rice Cake in his dinosaur hat

Sometimes, to keep from tearing your hair out, it's a good idea to keep your hands busy and your mind occupied. I've started crocheting again and I'm still plugging away at learning to sew.

To get my hands back into the motions of crochet, I chose this small project: a hat for the cat. I purchased a book called, appropriately, Cats in Hats by Sara Thomas. It includes some crochet and some knit patterns.

The first hat I wanted to make was the stegosaurus or dinosaur. Rice Cake approved it. Sort of.

The problem was that this hat was in the knit portion of the book and I don't knit. I've done it. But I don't care for it. And I wasn't about to start up again for a cat hat. So, I chose a base from the crochet section and then just created the fins on my own and attached them. This is what I got:

Not bad, right? The next part involved getting the cat to wear it. I spent a couple of days introducing the hat to both cats. Squeakers was very suspicious of it and wanted nothing to do with it. But Rice Cake didn't mind it so much. At first, when I placed it gently over his back, it freaked him out a little and he walked all hunched like until it fell off. But I used it as a plaything and put it on his head a few times until one day, he was sitting on the sofa and I tried it on him and he just let me do it.

I didn't tie it on and I think I'll tie up the ends and try to slide it on him next time. Looks like I'll be making some more hats for the cats--this cat, at least. Maybe if Squeakers sees Rice Cake in his fancy hats, he'll be more interested in the idea. We shall see.

As for sewing, egad.

Do you remember the t-shirt I made by tracing one of my favorite tees to create a pattern? Well, I wanted to embellish the hem because I didn't like the length very much. So, I did it. Here's how it looks now:

It looks okay, but the trim is stiffer than I expected.

I made some jammy pants. This was actually my second pair. The first I made according to the size on the pattern and they are really too big and baggy. So this pair I made in a smaller size. I wear them all the time.

I made this shirt and added this really nice trim to it. I'm still having trouble getting necklines to lie flat.

Again, the size I was supposed to make according to the pattern was too large on the shoulders and under the arms, so a lot of tailoring went into making the shirt look this way. And in doing all that, it moved this rather large dark spot right over the boob. I wear it anyway.

And I'm still working on this next top.

Another major tailoring  project. When will I learn that I'm going to have to seriously try to fit these patterns before cutting out the fabric? Anyway, the fabric here turned out to be super sheer and delicate so I ended up creating a lining. All by myself! I still have to sew the sleeve hem and then it's ready to wear.

The problem is that I keep making these tops that are too fancy for every day wear. What I need is t-shirts for wearing around the house and to the store. So, I took another one of my favorite tees, this one with set in sleeves (The one above doesn't have set in sleeves, it's called a kimono sleeve. The sleeve is part of the bodice pieces. Very simple to make, but the fit isn't as neat.)

I even took an online sewing class on how to create a pattern from your own clothes. That class, naturally, had nothing to do with creating a pattern from a knit top, but I figured, piece of cake, right? And I've done it once already.

So, I laid out the top and started putting pins in it, then I connected the pin dots on the paper. But every time I tried to double check my work, the lines were different. It was very frustrating, especially when it came time to do the sleeves. They looked pretty wonky.

Well, I took some fabric that I had left over from an earlier top and made one. Here's how it turned out so far.

You can see where I've been pinning it to shorten the sleeves (there's a story in itself!) and the hem. The neckline is too low. That's part of the sleeve story I guess. It goes like this...

When I held my new pattern up to my body, the neckline seemed way too high. And rather than trust the pattern, I lowered it. And now I don't like it. I had planned to make the sleeves longer anyway. So I measured my arm from the edge of my shoulder down to about where I wanted the sleeve and then I extended the sleeve pattern by that much--and ended up with grotesquely long sleeves.

Honestly, I don't get it! (Not entirely true. I should have extended the pattern piece from the top of it, at the shoulder, not from the bottom edge. Honestly, sometimes I don't know about myself.) Nothing measures correctly. (User error, I'm guessing.) Nothing turns out right. (Well, that's life, isn't it? I mean, just look at this whole Trump thing!) Just more and more work. (Oh, it's good for you, stop whining.) But I'm doing it. (Damn right you're doing it.) And it is kind of fun, even when the projects turn out unwearable. (Not even good enough for Goodwill!) So, I guess I'll add some kind of binding to the neck of this thing and wear it around the house.

I have registered for a sewing expo! How cool is that? It's in Lakeland. I'm going over on a Friday afternoon and coming back late Saturday. I've signed up for three sewing classes and I'll spend the rest of the time hanging out and buying stuff.

So, get a craft going and get your mind off things for a little while every day. You'll be happier. Maybe. It's worth a shot.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Our Big Year's a bird thing

This week there was a video going around of a local alligator eating another local alligator and at the very beginning of it, I heard a familiar bird. I've grown up hearing this particular bird call, mostly around ponds and so I associate its call with my childhood.

When I wrote Always Magnolia, I needed to know the names of a lot of the birds I grew up with, as a lot of the story takes place in the scrub. So, I listened to bird calls on the Internet. When I came across the red-winged blackbird, I was pretty sure that was the sound of the bird I'd known as a child.

So, I posted the alligator cannibalism video on Facebook and asked if anyone knew for certain and got confirmation. I was also shown some pictures of the bird. I can't say I have ever seen it. And I wouldn't have thought that was the bird making the call. I always assumed the bird was a water bird...with a long neck. What do I know about birds, right? Nothing.

So, today, hubs and I went out on our very first birding expedition. We brought a small set of binoculars that were barely up to the task, my iPhone and his camera, and set out for the Viera Wetlands. We were not alone. There were wildlife photogs out there with enormous lenses on tripods, and plenty of amateurs driving around in their cars. We walked and took pics and notes and got sunburned and learned a lot. I think the biggest thing we learned is that we don't know anything about birds.

Some of my notes are:
small gray bird
orange beaked black duck
white beaked black duck
laughing hyena sound
turtle on log
tiny brown birds

And I think those might not have been crows, after all.

Hubs is at his computer right now comparing his pictures of the "tiny brown birds" with a long list of flycatchers trying to figure out which one we saw.

I think the lesson is this: you're going to have to know birds to look for birds.

That being said, we saw a lot of very cool birds and I will post some of the pictures for you. We also saw a lot of alligators. A few of them were small, maybe three or four feet. But then we saw a large one that I say was six feet. Hubs says eight. And after that an even larger one! That was an eight-footer for sure. Of course you can't tell how big they are without anything to compare them to. So, I walked right up next to them so you could----just kidding!

So, here are some birds. If you know what kind they are, be sure to comment and let me know.

1. I've lived in Florida my entire life (well, okay, except for that year in Denver) and I've never seen a white pelican. All the pelicans I know are gray and hang out at the pier begging for fish scraps. But these have to be pelicans.

2. Well, it's white and it's tall. And it has a yellow beak. Is it a heron or a big egret? I'm always getting herons and egrets mixed up.

3. Or is this a heron or an egret? It's gray, with a yellow beak. My notes would say "big but not super big gray bird."

4. Tiny little gray birds in the grass, possibly flycatchers.

5. Ducks? They don't have beaks like ducks. Their beaks are pointed-ish and white, although some looked pretty much the same with orange beaks. And the duck(?) up top looked...mottled. And on the board at the park there actually was a picture of a duck that was called a mottled duck...or something like that. So, I'm going with that. I saw a mottled duck.

6. Cormorant, right? Please tell me it's a cormorant because that's what I've been calling this bird for years. (Update: probably an anhinga. They're a lot like cormorants, but not the same.)

7. This bird was as big as the sand hill cranes we see in our neighborhood, but its head is totally different.

8. Here's a sand hill crane. So what's that one above?

9. Here's the bird I thought was a crow, but it could be a grackle. But then again, what if a crow is a grackle? How is a person supposed to know? This could take a lifetime of study.

10. Here's another shot of the grackle crows. If you look a the vertical beam in the middle of the picture, just above it is the moon. I thought it was very artsy, but it was better in person.

We got to see a bald eagle, but only through the binoculars. There were lots of cormorants, some hawks, osprey, some little white birds with split tails that dove into the water and wouldn't sit still. Lots of black vultures, ibis, alligators, and a turtle or two. Oh, and an adorable caterpillar. Here are some pics:

The six-footer (imo).

The eight-footer with teeth!

Smaller gators:

And the caterpillar:

I thought the caterpillar was the cutest thing we saw. He had quite a big personality. We stayed by him while he crossed the road to make sure he made it to the other side safely. I wanted to bring him home, but I'm pretty sure we're not allowed to molest wildlife in the parks.

All in all, it was a great day birding and a good start to our Big Year! I'll have to do some bird study before we go again...not that it will help.