Giant Mutant Tomatoes from Our Space

In retrospect, the fertilizer might not have been a good idea. Over the last few weeks, this summer’s garden plot has become a very scary place. We’ve been overrun by groping vines and in-your-face leaves. Melon sprawl and wall-to-wall carrot carnage. Sweet pea forests. Six-pound marbled orange beefsteaks. Eggplants that grow like Pinocchio’s nose, expanding by the second.

The only thing that’s not getting any bigger is the size of our garden space.

"Giant Mutant Tomatoes from Our Space" by Caryn Caldwell

A specimen from yesterday, pulled up with both hands. In case you thought I was exaggerating. But then, you know me. I never, ever exaggerate.

Give me strength. I fear I may not make it out alive the next time I venture in. Yesterday I barely escaped, stumbling onto the safety of the back patio with just a fistful of dirt-clotted weeds and most of my sanity. Today? Who knows. The lettuce is looking feisty, and the cucumbers have come of age. We may have a real fight on our hands.

Still, someone has to prune the pumpkins before the patch infests the neighborhood, so I’m going in. Soon as I re-tie my shoelaces. And adjust my sunglasses. And gas up the chainsaw. And any other delay tactics I can think of while still looking brave and unhesitant. I hear pumpkins can smell fear. (more…)

A Warning

Dear Spring:

We would like to thank you for your continued years of faithful service. Your performance has been unfailingly cheerful and, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, your grooming beautifies the place.

However, it has come to our attention that your lack of consistency has caused a number of problems, especially in the areas of production and public relations. This has resulted in considerable delays in crops, such as those illustrated below, as well as dropping customer approval ratings. As a result, the board has determined that you shall be subjected to a probationary period, which will last no less than one half decade and no longer than one century. This is effective immediately. This has been a difficult decision, made with heavy hearts, but in the end we must ensure that all seasons, fronts and spells we oversee best represent the Weather Oversight Board, as well as the weather in general.

In order to receive full reinstatement of your powers, you must agree to and meet with the following requirements:

1) March shall no longer “come in like a lion”. It shall be a lamb throughout. Leonine behavior is merely an excuse for spotty service, and shall no longer be tolerated.

2) Once the flowers arrive, you do, too. This means no more frost, and most certainly no more snow. You may exercise your powers to the point of providing brisk breezes and occasional hail; more extreme weather is limited to those who control winter and, in some cases, late autumn. If you wish, you may request a transfer to either of these departments.

3) Blatant favoritism shall be considered inappropriate and grounds for immediate dismissal. This refers specifically to your habit of providing certain areas of the country with balmy, late-spring weather while other parts are mired in temperatures befitting mid-January.

As you are aware, we encourage communication between members of the Weather Oversight Board and those seasons, fronts, and spells we oversee. For this reason, if you have any questions during or after this probationary period, we encourage you to contact us.

Once again, we would like to thank you for your continued service.

Sincerely,

Jack M. Frost
President, Weather Oversight Board

plumflowersblog

Huh. Wow. So this is what the internet looks like. I’d nearly forgotten.

My dearest blogosphere,

In the words of a pen pal from my elementary days, how are you? I am fine. Mostly. I know that it has been ages since I’ve written, but I promise that there are reasons, many of which are even valid.

For one thing, blogging minus the internet doesn’t work so well. It’s been nearly a week since my (former) phone company, a bottomless reservoir of brilliant communicators, interpreted a clear request for ditching our land line as an order to disconnect all service, including our internet and every one of our well-established email accounts. ((That means that if you wrote to me in the past week, I may not have gotten it. And since I’m not about to post my shiny new gmail address online, you can use my contact form to try again.)) It’s possible it was an act of spite, brought about by their jealousy at our choosing somebody else’s cell service over their land line offerings. I, however, prefer to think of it as an honest mistake somehow perpetuated by, well, no fewer than six different customer service reps, four technical support gurus, and two managers. ((This is no exaggeration. I actually counted how many people couldn’t help me. I had to do something with all that time on hold.)) In an act of breathtaking incompetence, they managed to make the problem worse every time I called. While their communication skills may be lacking, their determination to screw things up is admirable.

Whatever the cause, this incident, as you may imagine, has not exactly filled my days with sunshine and rainbows. The good news is that I have now developed an exciting new hobby: unsuccessfully battling the company that ate my internet. Which is excuse number two for not having written. You know how hobbies can be, so all-consuming that at times they almost cease to be fun.

The public library, with its abundance of light, foliage, and wireless internet, is perhaps an obvious choice for those who find themselves marooned in a house without a workable way to surf the web. If only I hadn’t also been battling something mean and contagious, a fight I plan to win tomorrow, or maybe Friday.

Then there was the possibility of writing from work, with its many doors to all things online. Let’s just rule that option out now, though, shall we? I don’t typically blog about work, and I definitely don’t blog at work. The two entities go together like plaid and stripes.

I would like to think that my remaining time has been spent well, however. For example, I’ve attacked my new cell phone, associating different ring tones and photos with almost all of my contacts, a crucial first step in breaking in a new device. And then there are the book revisions. It’s astonishing how much less painful they can be without the worldly web tempting me at every turn.

All of this is to say that there is more coming soon, when I am less annoyed and more coherent. And to apologize for my lack of communication. A new company swooped in a few hours ago to hook us up to the rest of the world, which means I’ll be touring the blogosphere – and adding to it – in no time.

More soon,

Caryn

P.S. I think everyone should probably be without the internet for a while. At the very least they can rewnew their relationships with the dictionary and the phone book, two worthy publications that don’t see a lot of use these days.

Spreading the Blog Love

As anyone who’s ever tagged me for a meme knows, if I don’t answer right away then I never do. And to be honest, I never answer right away, usually because I can’t think of what to write. By the time the words would have come to me, I’ve usually forgotten the assignment. (Incidentally, this is not very different from my middle school years, when I procrastinated on my homework until long past the expiration date. Of course, back then I could blame it on friends, lack of motivation, and an unhealthy interest in a certain few boys who, in turn, had no interest in me whatsoever.)

But when my friend Robin Bielman awarded my blog — and six others — the lovely badge to the left, I knew I couldn’t ignore it. Sheer terror had much to do with my dutiful response, since Robin knows where I live, she could totally take me in a fight, she knows several of my more potent secrets, and she critiques my writing. There was more to it than lack of courage, however. I loved the spirit of this award, which was designed to acknowledge bloggers who tirelessly entertain near-strangers with regular, good-quality content — and all for free.

It’s deciding which worthy bloggers deserved the honor next that gave me the most difficulty, of course. How is it possible to narrow down my favorite blogs to just seven, even when accounting for those who had already received the badge from someone else? And how could I do that without hurting the feelings of those who were left? After all, I think everyone on my blogroll is deserving of recognition. And so I grabbed all of the eligible names from my sorely outdated list of links, shuffled them in a high-tech fashion, and chose the top seven. If you have the opportunity, please take a few moments to check out the following blogs, as well as the ones from my blogroll that ended up later in the randomized list and so didn’t get chosen this time around. I bet you’ll find some fun new reads that way.

And now, without further fanfare, I hereby present the I Love Your Blog badge of honor to:

  • Katie from Cactus Kate for her gorgeous photographs and awe-inspiring gardening abilities
  • Courtney from Five-Second Dance Party for her unflinching honesty and warm-heartedness
  • Sandi Kahn Shelton for writing posts that never fail to make me laugh and, on some occasions, tear up
  • Alyson Noel from Tales from the Real OC (Really!) for her fun updates, insights into the life of an author, and many cool website recommendations
  • Chemical Billy for writing drop dead gorgeous prose that makes the world around her come alive for her readers
  • Eileen Cook from Just My Type for finding the most random, bizarre, and entertaining links to pass on to the rest of us. I don’t know how she does it!
  • Emily from The Sassy Lime for being such a sweetie, and for her cheerfulness in the face of near-constant pain

Thank you, ladies, for your inspiring, entertaining, and always-interesting posts! Please pass on the blog love by putting the badge of honor on your sites and awarding it to seven other deserving bloggers.

Note on a Unrelated Topic: If you’re reading this through an email subscription or an RSS feed, or at http://www.caryncaldwell.com/blog, you have been successfully transferred over to my new blog. Stay tuned for a fun surprise later this weekend!

41 Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block

For the past several years I have volunteered at the local high school, advising a number of very talented students in the creative writing club. This year I mentioned NaNoWriMo to several of them. Word spread, and now we have a large group of students who are all determined to write an entire novel this month. Only problem? Some of them had no idea where to start. Since I’ve dealt with this same issue, I made up the following list for them. Since many of you write — books, term papers, blog entries, thank-you notes — I figured I’d share the list with you as well. Have favorite ways to jump start your writing? Please share!

1. Go back to when everything last worked and to see if you went off-track.

2. Skip ahead to what you do know and write that. Sometimes you’ll find that the scene you agonized over really doesn’t need to be there, or in the meantime you – or your subconscious – could think of a good way to fix it.

3. Think of ways to make your characters’ lives worse, then implement them. It’s hard to have a book if you don’t have conflict.

4. Make a list of all the scenes that have to happen in your book. Good. Now you know where you’re going, and you have a goal. Start figuring out how to get from your current scene to the next one.

5. Read what you’ve already written to get back into the groove. Danger: Don’t let this lead you to edit too much; it’s possible to spend all your time polishing the first three chapters and never get anything else written. You’ll have a great beginning, but you won’t have a book.

6. Write with someone else. This can often be inspiring; when others around you are being creative and productive, it’s hard to keep your own pen off the page.

7. Writer’s block is often caused by fear. It may be fear of writing something imperfect, fear of what others will think, fear of rejection, or even fear of success. What are you afraid of? Sometimes just knowing will help you conquer it.

8.Remind yourself that this is only a first draft. Most books go through many, many revisions, so if it’s not perfect the first time around that’s normal. You don’t have to show anyone until you’re ready.

9. Perhaps you’ve lost sight of your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts. What would your character would do next in order to reach his/her goal? Now prevent him/her from it.

10. Watch a movie or read a book for inspiration. Sometimes the creative well just plain runs dry.

11. Brainstorm with someone.

12. Or, the reverse could be an issue: Perhaps you’ve talked about your book too much and now it doesn’t seem fresh or fun anymore. If that’s the case, try going in a new direction to freshen it up a bit, and keep it all to yourself for now.

13. 90% of all people who begin a novel never finish it. 85% of all those who began NaNoWriMo last year never finished. Beat the odds no matter what, even if means writing utter crap. You can always revise later.

14. Reexamine why you’re doing this in the first place. Write your motivation(s) on a sticky note and post it next to your monitor.

15. Sometimes having too many options can cause a block. For example, should the character be an architect or a plumber? Should his/her parents be divorced or still together? It’s difficult, but make a choice and stick with it. If you still can’t decide, write each choice on a piece of paper, fold up the pieces, throw them in a hat or bowl and draw one.

16. Set a timer and tell yourself you’ll write for this amount of time, no matter what – but that you’re allowed to stop after that if you want to. Anyone can write for 15, 30, or 60 minutes if they put their minds to it. Take a break to eat or do something fun, then set that timer again.

17. Develop a writing routine – light a candle, write at the same time each day, choose a special writing chair, etc. Just going through those motions can tell your brain that it’s time to write.

18. Shake up your writing routine. Write at a different time or place.

19. Allow yourself some awful first sentences each time you begin a new writing session. After all, quite often the hardest part is just getting started. Once you’ve warmed up, it usually becomes much easier.

20. Next time you write, try stopping in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, or scene. This way you’ll know where to begin when you come back to it.

21. Write daily. Make it a habit. Often the longer you go between writing sessions, the harder it can be to get back into it, and the more time you’ll have to psych yourself out.

22. Tell everyone your goal so that you are held accountable. Then you have no choice but to get something down.

23. Start with success: Do something important but easy, such as finding a good last name for your character or doing some simple research. This gets you back into your story, and the success is often motivating.

24. Sometimes you just have to get yourself out of your own way. Take a shower, do the dishes, knit a scarf, take a long drive, play a computer game, hike, run, swim…Do something that keeps your hands and body occupied but your mind free. Then assign your brain the task of thinking about what to write next.

25. Disconnect your internet, so if you’re ever tempted to conduct another email check you have to get up and walk over to the modem to plug it back in. Quite often your willpower will return before you set aside your laptop or notebook.

26. Think of what you could be doing that you want to do even less – homework, cleaning house, writing that thank-you note to your Great Aunt Pearl, whatever.

27. Give yourself silly goals such as finding random words in the dictionary and having to use them, or starting the first sentence with the letter A, the next with B, the following with C, etc. The challenge can help get your mind off your fear and spark your creativity.

28. Open a new document or turn to a clean page in your notebook. Anything goes when you’re starting fresh. If you like what you come up with, you can always add it in later. Sounds silly, but it’s actually one of my favorite — and most effective — methods.

29. Type with your eyes closed. This can remove inhibitions.

30. Begin a free-write with, “I don’t know what to write,” and go from there, writing whatever comes to mind but slowly working your way into examining your book and then, perhaps, starting to write it again.

31. Interview your main character, or write a monologue from his/her P.O.V.

32. Keep a notebook by your bedside, in your car, in the bathroom – wherever you’re likely to get an idea. When one comes to you, take a moment to (safely!) write it down. Next time you’re stuck with your writing, look through your notebook for ideas.

33. Maybe you’ve gone the obvious route with your writing, and you’ve ended up boring yourself. Throw something big into the works to change things radically: someone new (dead or alive) turns up, your character finds out a devastating secret or is suddenly faced with what s/he most fears, the hero fails at an important task.

34. Make a list of 20 things that could happen next. Cross out the first 10-15 since those are often the more obvious choices, then consider implementing the last few.

35. Let your subconscious do the work. Long before you sit down to write, give yourself a problem that needs to be solved, anywhere from “What should I write next?” to “How should my protagonist react when s/he finds the dead body?” Think about it from time to time. By the time you write, a solution will often present itself with minimal effort.

36. Eat, go to the bathroom, and do any urgent business before writing. That way you have no reason to get up from the keyboard once you start. Just make sure you don’t put writing dead last, or you may never get to it.

37. Whatever you do, don’t delete! If you really don’t think it’s worthwhile, cut it from the manuscript and paste it in a new one so you can put it back in or use it in something else. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective, and that can take time and distance. If you’re stuck, go through your file of deleted scenes for inspiration.

38. What do you like about certain books/movies? How can you incorporate that into your own work in a creative way? What do you hate about particular books/movies? How can you write it better, and with your own creative twist?

39. Work on something else for a while. Ever have several books going at a time, reading whichever one interests you right then? The same can work with writing.

40. Remember that writing is hard. Just because it doesn’t always flow, it doesn’t mean you’re blocked. So realize that it might not be easy, and work through it. After all, things that are worth it rarely come easily.

41. Examine your attitude before you go into it. Are you expecting to have a fun, productive writing session, or are you expecting pain and blockage? Your brain often delivers what you expect.

Seeking the Elusive Elixer of NO

Dear Friend / Employer / Charity / Business Acquaintance / Neighbor,

I regret to inform you that the answer to your recent request is a firm and resounding NO. I do understand the position that you are in, and that you would appreciate my: help with the move / coming in on my day off / making a generous donation / becoming a dues-paying member of your newly established professional group / walking your dog five times a day while you’re on vacation. However, due to a recently expanded work load in my personal and professional lives, as of this morning I have committed to saying NO to every request and offer, and you have the distinct honor of receiving this message first. Congratulations.

Please understand that this was a difficult decision, and one about which I deliberated for quite some time, but I find I must be consistent in my refusal, lest hurt feelings and resentment ensue. As this is a new program, it is subject to change at any time, so you may wish to renew your application in the future.

Once again, I appreciate the importance of your request and am honored that you thought of me. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the same manner in which you have done so previously.

With regrets,

Caryn
a.k.a. The Chronic Yes-Woman

P.S. Hey, that was a good attempt, wasn’t it? I almost had you going! Anyway, for those who want my help, I’ll be over next Saturday — say, around eightish? Who needs to sleep in on the weekend, anyway? For all others, the check is in the mail. I should warn you, though, that next time I really will say no. I’m not kidding. Meanwhile, thanks for the chance to practice my rejection technique. I realize it needs a little work on the follow-through, but I think I’m onto something here.

P.P.S. I’m serious here. Next time, the answer is NO. Really. I promise.

In case you were wondering…

The woman in the grocery store parking lot the other day, the one who accidentally hit her car’s panic button again while stuffing her keys into the front right pocket of her jeans? Yeah. That was me, moving through life with my usual grace, beauty and stealth.

Things I Won’t Blog About Today

I’ve decided not to blog today. I thought I’d announce this decision, so you’d know that you were being neglected, instead of just suspecting it. It’s a beautiful May morning, and I plan to enjoy it. But just so you know what you’re missing, I’ll fill you in on a few things you will won’t learn on here today.

I won’t share my new secret knowledge: ring-billed gulls (commonly — though incorrectly — known as “seagulls”) practice kung fu when we’re not looking. Maybe I’ll mention it another time instead. If it comes up.

If only I were blogging today, I could mention in passing that hubs requested a pie in the face for his birthday and a rutabaga for Christmas, and now I’m terrified and intrigued — what will he ask for next? But since I’m busy elsewhere, I will be forced to disclose that tidbit another time.

On this fine morning, I will not share my suspicions that Echo the Cat looks like an Olsen Twin. This is especially clear in the link I would post if I were posting a photo to back up this information which I will not share today. Which I’m not. Or something. Now I’m all confused…

I hereby refuse to admit that our other two cats are unusually close. Often.

On a day like today, when many of you are probably hard at work on your novels, it would be far too embarrassing to reveal that I take pictures of random objects when I have writer’s block. Much better for you to suspect that I dedicate 100% of my attention to my book whenever I’m not at work or blogging.

And, because I’m afraid of public humiliation, I will never — today or any other day — reveal that I refer to this picture as “Cactus Itt” and am desperate to take scissors to the plant’s shagginess. I fear you might disagree or, worse, laugh at me.

So there you go. I bet you feel as if you’re really missing out, with scintillating topics like these available if only I were willing to take the time. Maybe on a day when there aren’t flowers to enjoy and books to write,  and cats to tease, I will go more in-depth. Or perhaps not. In the meantime, if you’re feeling bereft of bloggie tidbits, I suppose you could always stop by my photoblog, Playing with Pixels. To navigate through the album, just click the right or left side of each picture to go backwards or forward, respectively, or use the arrows beneath. Or, if you haven’t done so already, read the post below and then enter to win an autographed and personalized copy of Jess Riley‘s hilarious and poignant debut novel Driving Sideways. Or find some other way to entertain yourself. You’re resourceful; I can tell that about you.

How to Use a “Resealable” Bag

Oh, dear. You’ve really done it, haven’t you? You just fell prey to one of consumerism’s biggest myths — the resealable bag — and now you’re staring at your new purchase, wondering how to get the thing open. What was it? Cheese? Cereal? Doggie treats? Come on, you can confide in me.

Well, no matter what it was, let me tell you a little secret. You are not alone. Those so-called easy-open/easy-close bags? Yeah. They aren’t. And the directions? Ignore them; they encompass only a fraction of the steps you’ll have to take in order to use your product. But I’ll tell you what. I like you, I really do. And so I’ll give you a hand. I’ve been duped, too, after all. I understand. And so, for your tutelage, I will provide sample package directions, followed by the actual steps for opening, and then closing, such bags. Advanced users may wish to skip to steps seven and ten, respectively. Oh, and one more thing, from me to you: next time don’t believe the hype. Okay? No more buying products just because of the package’s ingenious engineering.

What the directions say:

1. To open bag, tear along dotted line.

What the directions mean:

1. Search in vain for mythological pre-torn notch said to enhance tearing power.
2. Give up. Use force in attempt to create notch.
3. Bandage bleeding finger.
4. Attempt to break into bag with teeth.
5. Make appointment with dentist to have chipped tooth repaired.
6. Study bag, looking once more for notorious notch or tear strip. NOTE: The red dashed line along the top is not a clue. It is only there to taunt you.
7. Use scissors.
8. Pull bag open.
9. Perform victory dance.

What the directions say:

1. To seal bag, press closed.

What the directions mean:

1. Clear seal strip of any obstructions, such as product residue, fingers, and air.
2. Line up both sides of strip.
3. Press strip closed.
4. Tug package opening gently to ensure that seal worked.
5. Repeat steps 1-4
6. Vow not to let a simple plastic bag defeat you.
7. Line up both sides of strip.
8. In surge of pragmatism (or is it despair?) press along just two inches of strip, so you haven’t wasted energy when seal continues not to function.
9. Test to ensure seal.*
10. Give up and tape, staple, or clothespin the @&*% thing closed.

*In the unlikely event that the seal works on the smaller section, continue as follows: Finish pressing along strip. Test seal. Realize you forgot to squeeze out all the air. Attempt to open only a small section of strip. Fail. Pick up spilled cheese, cereal, dog treats, etc. Discard. Squeeze air out of bag and begin again from step one above. Repeat as necessary until bag is sealed. NOTE: You may wish to simply skip to step ten.

A Quiz and a Vow

Well, we are now nearly three full months into 2008, and guess which one of the following I still have not done? Go on, circle one:

a) Licked an envelope and received a paper cut on my tongue.

b) Roasted Peeps over an open campfire.

c) Started my diet yet again.

d) Stood under a dripping eave to photograph the snow covering my newly-hatched crocuses, just like a photojournalist in a war zone.

e) Used my cat’s paw to kill a spider when he wouldn’t get around to killing it himself.

If you guessed c you are, unfortunately, correct. And I did so well last year, losing twenty pounds, developing a rather scary craving for veggies, and upping my exercise tolerance by a factor of ten. Turns out such habits take maintenance — unlike a habit of scarfing chocolate and lounging on the couch, which comes naturally.

Oh, no. I just realized where this post is going. See, now, this is the problem with blogging. I start out with an innocent little quiz about my ever-increasing girth, and suddenly I realize that I now must promise to improve, since there’s little point to baseless whining. (Okay, there is — it makes me feel better — but I do try not to subject you to it. Which means I need a point.)

Fine, then. Here’s my vow: By the middle of July I will lose those seven stubborn pounds that sneaked back over the winter. And since I’m announcing it to these here internets and, more specifically, to you, that means I’ve got some accountability. Okay. That’s fine. I can take it. You now have permission to ask me at any time how my healthful lifestyle goal is going, and I promise to try to answer nicely. In the meantime, I’m slinking back to Sparkpeople to begin my diet and exercise regime again. Here’s hoping they’ll take me back.