What to post?

I keep thinking lately that I should blog about something, but there just isn’t much to say lately. The boys are still funny and smart and fun, and I’m sure they’ve done things worth writing down, except that any time I sit down to write, I can’t think of specifics.

Our good friends who lived upstairs in our house just moved down the street.

Our thoughts have been consumed with Big Decisions about a) whether or not to apply to PhD programs, b) which PhD programs to apply to, and c) how to make our future work.

I had another piano recital. It amazes me how quickly each of my students is progressing (some way more quickly than others). It warms my heart to hear kids play beautiful music and feel pride in their work.

Halloween was fun, even despite the hailstorm at 6:00 p.m. It cleared up afterward and the boys had a great time trick-or-treating.

We got to go to Denver to meet my brother at the airport as he came home from his mission to Honduras. It was so great to see him again and spend some time together as a whole family again.

The nice weather continued into November, ending only a couple of days ago, which means we’ve been playing outside a lot until recently. That is such a blessing for the boys, who play so much better out there than inside, and for me, because I really thrive on sunshine.

I am all but finished with our year of international meals. The only three that remain are Venezuela, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

Gripping, not Good

First off, I knew it had been a while since I’d blogged, but I didn’t know it was over two months. I don’t think I’ve ever been that much of a blog-slacker before. The good news is that I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been doing some freelance editing and have started writing in my novel again, after about a seven-year hiatus. I wrote all the time in college, but once I met my husband, the urge to write kind of went away. I wanted to want to, but that usually wasn’t enough motivation when it came to day-to-day living. Then, almost out of the blue, I started thinking about it again and having ideas as to what would happen next, and I had to write. It’s been satisfying and fun, and I think I’m mature enough now to not really care about publishing, so long as I can say I finished the darn thing.

But that’s not the point of this post. What I really want to talk about is Hunger Games and Twilight. You know, since everyone else is talking about them. Twilight in particular has been talked to death, but I personally haven’t seen anyone discussing it from a writer’s perspective. Some people say it’s a work of genius, that the Twilight books are among the best books they’ve ever read. They stand in ridiculously long lines for the movies. They may even have posters of Edward or Jacob in their rooms, if they’re teenage girls. Others say the Twilight series is potentially dangerous to young girls. It promotes relationships with bad boys, and it portrays attraction and mystery as all there is to love. I personally fall into this camp, but that’s not what I want to talk about either.

What I want to talk about is why Stephanie Meyer is a genius. She’s obviously doing something right with her writing if such a huge number of girls and women have become such fans of hers. And what she’s powerfully good at is pacing.

Pacing is a skill writers use to keep a story rolling. Writers who are good at pacing deftly mix happy, relaxed moments with tense, page-turning moments at just the right ratios to keep readers reading but not too stressed out. They often place minor cliffhangers at the ends of chapters (like in the TV show Lost) to make sure you don’t stop at the “easy” stopping points. They don’t load down their writing with too much description or any unnecessary scenes. In other words, they keep the ball rolling, but not too fast. And Stephanie Meyer is awesome at pacing.

I noticed this when I read Twilight, specifically because as I was reading, I thought, “I’m totally not buying the romance. I don’t even like vampires. The main character is kind of annoying. So why can’t I put this book down?” I started paying attention from a writer’s perspective, and I noticed how tightly paced the book was. If nothing else, it can be unequivocally said that Twilight is gripping. It’s a page turner.

The same is true of the Hunger Games series, which is the next big thing among LDS moms (not sure how big it is outside my community). Now, the Hunger Games series did not annoy me as much as the Twilight series did. I actually liked the characters, usually liked the romance(s), and definitely found the world interesting. Again, though, I noticed as I read that Suzanne Collins was a master of pacing. You have times when Katniss is frantically fighting for her life for a day or two at a time, and at times her survival seems impossible. Then she finds a moment’s peace and even has a few happy hours with a friend or love interest, before the crazy fighting for her life begins again. Collins is mixing tension and peace, fear and warm fuzzies, romance and tragedy in order to create a book that is very difficult to put down once you’ve started it.

Reading these books and watching what works is very valuable to me as a writer. I can learn from watching what they did right in order to try to emulate it. But that isn’t what I want to talk about either.

My main point is that pacing isn’t all there is to writing. It’s a great skill, and I do think that books with extremely poor pacing will probably never become very popular. Everyone loves a page turner; it’s an amazing feeling to get totally sucked into a book. At the same time, though, there are books I’ve read that weren’t page turners, but they were still very good books. There are books I couldn’t put down at the time that weren’t very good books. A good book says something worth saying. It satisfies at the end. It contains realistic, dynamic characters who linger with you after the book ends.

I wish more readers would recognize the difference between a gripping book and a good one.

Yard Work

One of the perks of living in the basement of a home in a residential neighborhood is that we get to share a good-sized yard with our upstairs neighbors. This also means that we have a yard to care for, which is something I’ve never done before. Growing up, I couldn’t care less about gardening or mowing the lawn, and I positively hated weeding.

Here, though, I find that I’ve developed an enjoyment of working with my hands to make the yard more beautiful, or at least, less ugly. See, when we moved in, the yard had been badly neglected. The upstairs neighbors at that time (the current ones moved in three months later) were getting discounted rent to “take care of the yard,” which meant that they mowed the lawn every three weeks whether it needed it or not. 😉 Every single flower bed was a mess of three-foot-tall weeds (sometimes taller), every bush or rosebush was wild and overgrown, the lawn was full of crabgrass and morning glory, the “sandbox” in one corner of the back yard was unidentifiable as such because it too was full of weeds, paint was peeling on the columns on the front porch and on the mailbox, and not a single pretty thing was growing, unless you count the roses that were occasionally peeking through weeds. I longed to attack the weeds, but I wasn’t sure whether I’d be stepping on toes since they were the ones getting the rent break, and I didn’t know them very well.

I started by weeding the flower beds at the back of the house, where the entrance to our apartment is. I figured that was probably okay. I also weeded the sandbox so that Lego could play in it. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the sand had been full of weeds for so long that it was very dirty and full of bits of plant matter, that it was horribly infested with ants, and that cats used it as a litterbox on a regular basis.

When our current neighbors moved in, it took them less than a week to weed the main flowerbed at the front of the house. I soon got to know them, and we worked together almost every day, weeding, pruning, mowing, spraying, watering, sanding, painting, sweeping, raking, whatever. We dug up all the gross sand and replaced it with garden soil, and planted a garden in it. This year we even got permission from our landlord to double the garden’s size (it was pretty small), which involved digging up grass. I have come in many a night sore from a hard day’s work—and loved it. While we work, the boys (our two and their three) play together. One or two adults will watch the kids while one or two work.

I am happy to report that the columns and mailbox look much better. The flowerbeds are usually weed-free, or as much as can be expected. I find myself wishing for mulch, though, because it’s almost a constant battle. The lawn is still full of weeds, though I hope the weed killer I sprayed on it today will start killing the morning glory. (Does anything actually kill morning glory for good? It is the bane of my existence.) The garden is thriving, and pumpkin plants are growing and even flowering in a strip of the leftover sand from the sandbox. Every rosebush now looks like a rosebush, and each is blooming beautifully, with the exception of one that may not be retrievable. The bushes are nicely pruned. The grass is mowed regularly (I can’t take credit for that, since the upstairs neighbors do it).

I’m still fighting the weeds in our gravel driveway, though. See, the gravel is on top of a weed blanket of some sort that is utterly ineffective. In fact, in early spring, the grass coming up through the gravel looked greener and lusher than what was growing in our lawn. When I finally sprayed, it took about three weeks for the weeds to look dead, and after that, they just looked like tall, dead weeds. Today I raked them all up and pulled about 40 thistles that were growing despite having been sprayed. It looks a lot better, but I am realizing that gravel = bad news.

Overall, I’m really glad to have had this opportunity to take care of a yard before becoming a homeowner. Now I know how much work it takes, for one thing. I also know that, if I can avoid it, I will never own a home with gravel anywhere. I also know how important constant upkeep is if you don’t want to spend hours and hours weeding because years of not doing it have thoroughly seeded your flowerbeds with all sorts of nasty stuff. I’ve learned how to prune rosebushes and other shrubs, and I’ve learned what to do with a garden. With time, I think I could actually develop a true green thumb.

Family Reunion

My Grampy recently turned 80 years old, and to celebrate, he wanted to have the family get together in the mountains for a camping trip. I hope I’m up for camping by my 80th birthday someday!

Anyway, we had a great time, including swimming at a hot springs pool, feeding fish at a fish hatchery, going on a hike to a waterfall, visiting a ghost town, meeting a family of chipmunks there, and enjoying witty and intelligent conversation around the fire back at camp. Here are a few pictures. We left our camera behind, so we’re at the mercy of our families to send us lots of pictures. (Hint, hint.)

A Day for Disasters

The toilet overflowed this morning. Then, when Jonathon was in the shower, I noticed that the carpet next to the utility closet (furnace and two water heaters) looked damp. It was. I opened the doors to the closet and found an inch of warm water.

I told Jonathon to get out of the shower, and we called the landlord and cleaned up the mess with just about every towel we own (we have a lot of towels). Thinking it was the water heater leaking, I turned on the hot water to the sink full blast and didn’t notice any new leaking. Landlord and I thought it was probably a leaking pipe from the water heater to the shower, and if we simply avoided using the shower until it was fixed, we’d be fine.

I washed all the soaked towels and once again found lots and lots of water on the floor. Only this time it was coming up the bathtub drain too. And I noticed that there was sand and poo clogging the drain in the utility closet. The only way sand and poo get into that room is if the water is coming from down, not up. Which means all the water soaking our carpet is sewer water.

Called the landlord back and he said he’d get a plumber right away. I took the kids outside so they wouldn’t be in contact with the nasty carpets, etc. While outside, Lego and a 3.5-year-old neighbor kid, let’s call him B, started arguing and kind of fighting. The kid’s dad and I were each dealing with our own kid while his other kid (2.5 years old) found a can of gasoline in the garage. Thinking it would be really fun to put gas in our Cozy Coupe car, he poured it all over it—with Duplo inside. Duplo got gasoline in his eye and started screaming bloody murder. I freaked out and ran to the water spigot and splashed lots of water into his eye and all over his face. The kid’s dad said he’d watch Lego so I could go to the ER, so I did that. The nearest hospital is 15 minutes away, and Duplo screamed for probably 10 of those minutes (why is it that you get stuck behind people going 5–10 mph under the speed limit when you’re in a hurry?). His eye was red and swollen, and they admitted us right away. Apparently, though, the doctor wasn’t that concerned because we got sent away fairly quickly without him really do anything but check Duplo’s vitals. He said I’d done the right thing by flushing with water and didn’t even chew me out for leaving gas out where a two-year-old could reach it (incidentally, I wasn’t the one who left it there, and that particular kid is quite the acrobat and probably would have gotten to it in most of the places in the garage if he was determined to).

Came back home to an exterminator in our yard and two phone messages from the plumber wondering why I wasn’t at home. The plumber is here now and thinks maybe a tree root is blocking/compressing/whatever the pipe out from the house.

The good news is that the ugly carpet in our hall will have to be replaced and that Duplo is just fine. Also that we’re not the homeowners who get stuck with the bill.