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Anniversary Trip to the Summit House Restaurant

 

Husbeast and I celebrated our five-year anniversary last weekend with a trip to the Summit House Restaurant near Mt. Rainier. It’s a bit of a trek out there, but the drive is pretty and it was a gorgeous day. We got there a little early and checked out the base area of the resort before taking the gondola up. There’s a gift shop (with lots of high SPF products—yes! Snagged some lip balm with SPF +30) and a café, though the café was closed for a wedding. Looks like there are some nice hiking opportunities in the area too, though we didn’t investigate. Restroom facilities are located at the base, and I don’t know if there are any up at the Summit House. I commented to Husbeast that there are a lot of “don’t feed the wildlife” signs, but I didn’t see any animals—not even birds. More on that later.

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The gondola ride is fun, and Husbeast managed it fine despite not being fond of heights. You’re fully enclosed and it’s actually surprisingly quiet once you get away from the landing/receiving points. I can also report that it goes at a pace conducive to hatching Pokemon Go eggs. It’s not entirely ADA friendly, but Husbeast didn’t have a problem with his forearm crutch. The gondola can come to a complete stop if need be, so someone capable of standing transfers with a mechanical/folding wheelchair may be able to make it work. The gondolas themselves are pretty spacious, and the gondola operators were all respectful and accommodating.

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Food was pretty good, and this is the first place where Canadian Husbeast gave the poutine a passing grade. He only needs to go to 6,872 feet to get it again. Pictures of the mountain didn’t turn out great because it was super hazy that day and I didn’t have a polarizer.

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Oh, and remember the “don’t feed the wildlife” signs? The reason resides up at the Summit House,  and people completely disregard the signs: saw a woman dump a pile of seeds in front of her so she could video her kid trying to pet the chipmunk.

Not an inexpensive day trip once you factor in the drive and gondola fee on top of the food, but it’s a fun excursion for people looking to get out of the city.

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Race Day 236

Race Day

Ok, that’s a misleading title because it’s not actually about racing. But it kind of is, so work with me here. I missed blogging last month and will try to make up for it with dual posts this month. Going with more photography adventures, so expect picture heavy posts.

I have an uber Awesome Aunt who has always been big on gifting “experiences” rather than things as presents. For Christmas last year, she gifted a “race car experience” to my brother, who we’ll call Little Brother: Race Day 274and he finally scheduled the date and went out to the track yesterday. The website encourages photography, so off I went to watch. He got to bring a friend, let’s call him Friend K:

Race Day 208(not to be confused with the Intrepid K mentioned in previous posts). The company is Rusty Wallace Racing, and uses the short track at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, WA (it’s almost fair time! Yay). Unfortunately, there’s a tall chain link fence blocking off the track from the grandstands, and visitors aren’t allowed in the pit area (duh).

Race Day 036But, if you climb to nearly the top of the grandstand then you can get an unobstructed view of the cars for about half the track. No cool pit shots or of the cars coming straight on, but this was a great opportunity for me to practice panning. Also a good exercise in controlling shutter speed. The sweet spot in getting detail on the cars but with motion blur on the wheels was tight, and got worse as my arms got tired from holding the camera up. All shot with a Canon 7D Mk 2 with a 100-400mm lens at 400mm. Used a polarizer for the panning shots.

The company had I think 7 cars, and anywhere from 2-4 on the track at a time. The doors don’t open like conventional cars, so the drivers get to climb in through the window.

It’s not a large track so the cars can’t get remotely close to NASCAR speed, but they seemed to have fun gunning down the straight.

Car racing isn’t really my thing, but this was a unique photo opportunity. Awesome Aunt does it again with the cool experiences.

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I’m Not a Landscape Photographer. Also, Dog Photos

Squeaking in here on the last day of June. Oh, and happy belated birthday to my blog. Somehow I’ve managed to blog somewhat consistently for over a year! Finally got some of the Palouse photos edited. Prints available at my SmugMug site: https://jaimeomayer.smugmug.com/. Fair warning: this will be a more picture-heavy post.

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Had a great time over in (at?) the Palouse in eastern Washington with some of the Muench Workshops guys. Our fearless leaders were Mike Brandt and Randy Hanna. Going east of the mountains during a hot spell was a bit rough, but for the most part we were shooting at times where the heat was tolerable (by my “I hate the heat and live in Seattle for a reason” standards). I was also lucky to spend the workshop with a great group of fellow photographers that were friendly and easy to get along with. This was a different experience than the last workshop I was on photographing the wild horses, and eye-opening. I’m new to photography as a hobby—I decided to “get serious” about it back in December and signed up for an online course. Being a noob, I’m still trying out photographing all sorts of subjects instead of carving out a niche. But, I’m beginning to think that 1) I’m more of a nature and wildlife kind of person, and 2) I can scratch landscapes off the list. I like looking at landscape photos, and it’s nice to be out on location and all, but sitting around for two hours waiting for the horses to do something interesting never felt boring. Spending the same amount of time waiting for the right cloud to be behind a barn…yea, it’s not the same. There’s just something about getting up at 4am and then being on location for the next two or three hours, and I’m like…so, barn’s still there. Not moving.

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Or, yep, those rolling hills, not going anywhere.

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The workshop leaders thought it was amusing that I’d tend to get bored and go photograph something like bees…

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…or sit on the ground during all the waiting.

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Yes, getting low makes for a nice, different perspective. Also, spoiler alert, but contrary to popular opinion, my “get low” approach wasn’t so much of a “it must be easy for the short, young(ish) person” as it is me not being able to kneel or crouch after the car accident a few years ago. Sitting is easier. Especially since I FORGOT my freaking Walkstool at home. That thing would’ve been so nice to have on hand.

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I think my favorite part was the night shoot where we practiced astrophotography. That was the part I was most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. Of course, shooting on a crop sensor (I use a Canon 7D Mark II) with a 24mm lens while standing next to a guy with a full frame camera and a rented Zeiss 15mm lens that is nothing but gorgeous—it has a way of making one feel inadequate. Actually, I think everyone in the workshop, including the leaders, were feeling the Zeiss envy. But, I’m still happy with my photos, and seeing how the light-painting technique is done was cool.

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In non-Palouse related news, I can finally post a few shots I took of this cutie pie, Gambit, who is co-owned by my sister and her roommate. Did the photoshoot to get some shots for said roommate’s birthday, which has now passed, so no risk of spoilers.

I never wanted to get into portrait photography since I vaguely hate people, but pet portrait photography I can dig. Consider this my hanging out a shingle. Rates to be determined.

Wish my cats would be more willing models.

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Photo Adventures with Wild Horses

Ok, I know some might quibble with me calling them “wild” rather than “feral,” but whatever. They’re one of the oldest herds in America and have been surviving hurricanes and island living for centuries and I’m calling them wild. Nnnyaaaah.

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I’m back from a trip to Beaufort, NC where I spent a week photographing the wild horses that live at Rachel Carson Reserve. The workshop was led by Jared Lloyd, and was a triumvirate of fun, informative, and exhausting, but in a good way. I heard some interest about prints, and I have a bare-bones website (https://jaimeomayer.smugmug.com) up if people would like to peruse some of the “picks” I’ve accumulated.

There were two other lovely ladies on the workshop with me, and we were fortunate to be based out of a house on Front Street, which runs right alongside a narrow creek that separates “Carrot Island” from the residential area. Several times you could look across the street and see horses out grazing. It also meant that we had a nice and short walk from the house to the boat. Jared is a fun guy and is both an excellent teacher and photographer, and all four of us got along well. Which was great, because those 5am jaunts out to watch the horses sleep all morning could’ve been really awkward otherwise!

There are around 40+ horses at Rachel Carson, with what seemed like half of them being what I came to think of as the “waterhole herd.” There are several spots on the island where the horses have dug down for drinkable water (the photos of horses in water is actually saltwater from when the tide comes in and floods a big section of the island), but the waterhole herd tended to hang out around an area that has fresh water on a (relatively) consistent basis. Jared had referred to the waterhole herd as a bit atypical for wild horses, and after being around them (and the others on the island), you can see it. There were three separate harems in the waterhole herd, but they’re all more or less ok with living in close proximity to one another and hang around as one big herd. There were still squabbles…

…especially if one of the stallions decided to test his luck and try to get too close to one of the other guys’ mares, but overall they live together with a weird truce in place.

They dig down pretty deep!

Contrast that against the more typical, “fringe” herds, who tended to have much smaller harems (2-4 others compared to anywhere from 5-8 of the waterhole stallions), and kept their distance from each other as much as possible. The fringe groups were much more watchful and on alert if they saw other horses, and tended to keep to themselves. However, they all need to drink water daily, and that sometimes meant coming into close contact.

One of the fringe stallions is Wavelength, who lost his mares to a stallion called Cyclops (he only has one eye) last year. Wavelength is interesting because his staked out territory is along the coast all the way across the island from where the waterhole herd tends to hang out, and he swims out to grazing areas rather than walk the long way around.  For him, we did all of our photographing from the boat, which made for some cool shots with high key water/sky backgrounds.

We got excited because near the end of our trip, Wavelength appeared to have gotten one of his girls back from Cyclops. Yay! But, wild horses, remember? We also had the sad privilege to see him lose her the following day. They headed inland for water, and by the time we zipped around in the boat and got out to try and photograph them at their waterhole (a different one from the waterhole herd), Cyclops had reclaimed her and Wavelength was far off, swimming back to his marshy area. Hard to say what happened for certain, but we were guessing that the mare got too far in front of Wavelength and at some point he decided it wasn’t worth it to fight Cyclops again and headed back. Cue the David Attenborough narration about the instinct to breed being a constant struggle, and one that this little horse has lost.

HoofprintsWhat you can’t really tell from the photo without something better for reference, is that these horses (ponies really, 11-maybe 15h (I didn’t see anyone on Carrot Island that tall)) have huge hooves for their size. They’re short, stout, and built to last for island living.

We had a bit of a slow week compared to Jared’s previous workshops, as the horses tended to hang out around the waterhole for most of the morning. They got a little friskier in the afternoon, but not as much action as one might have hoped for. Then again, that’s how we knew we were photographing wildlife. Getting up before sunrise and spending the next few hours out sitting with the horses was a nice change for me from sitting behind a computer for most of the day. Crouching in the water when the tide was up, fighting off the evil little snails that have a sneaky way of getting into your shoes…yea, not so much. But being in the water and photographing the horses moving through it is what makes these particular herds so unique.

I have another photo workshop at the Palouse with the folks behind Muench Workshops in early June, so hopefully I’ll have some nice landscape photos to show y’all in a few weeks. I thought I’d have more time to write during the off-hours on the photo workshop, and I guess I did have the time but lacked the energy. Very little progress was made on the novel. I even took a nap! I hate naps. However, I got a lot of reading done. Perhaps Palouse will be different. Meanwhile, I’m trying to churn out some words while I’m home.

 

Cascade Writers 1-Day Recap

A bit late in writing my post on the Cascade Writers one-day workshop, The Business and Craft of Writing, that happened last weekend. I had a great time meeting up with some old friends and making new ones.

I like the one-day format because it’s a lot of information, but isn’t as draining as a 3 or 4-day workshop. Being within driving distance helps. We were fortunate to be graced with the presence of authors Spencer Ellsworth and Mark Henry, as well as agent Sara Megibow. They each offered something different to the workshop, which lent it a nice feeling of depth.

Admittedly, I primarily went for the opportunity to practice my pitch with Sara. It went pretty well, and she gave me some tips on how to focus my pitch better. This was interesting for me as she wanted pitches with a tighter focus than other “formulas” I’ve seen online that were more summarizing/broad. I still need to play around with it, and come up with a few versions/lengths for different circumstances.

The programming was great because I thought that Sara covered a lot of the business/publishing side (duh), which is in its own way more straight forward and no nonsense. As she put it, there are two circles in writing: the art of writing circle, and the business of publishing circle, and they cover distinct aspects of the process. I need to start reading more of the current releases in my genre. *looks mournfully at stack of new YA books*

Mark sort of bridged the gap between Sara and Spencer. His programming (to me) seemed more career/life-oriented, complete with war stories from his writing career thus far. He went over how to manage social media, ways to reach and keep your audience engaged, and in a sense how to not burn out when you reach that inevitable point. If only it were sunshine and roses after getting that initial acceptance, whether that’s an agent or a book deal or whatever.

Spencer covered more of the craft component, with sessions on pacing and dialogue, complete with handouts, a whiteboard presentation, and several film clips. I missed part of the dialogue session because my pitch appointment fell during it, but the pacing segment also included dialogue and how the two work together to progress the story. I liked this approach and the use of film clips because they were great visual examples expressing how good dialogue does what we want it to: reveal character, move the story forward, be entertaining, etc. That programming might be enough to tip me over the edge into watching The Wire. Maybe. Drug dramas aren’t really my thing. I watch Food Network for a reason.

An interesting part of this workshop was that we pretty much stayed together as a group the entire day. Meals were taken as a large group (20ish people) inside the hotel restaurant, which was nice…for the most part. I liked that we stayed together because it made it easier to chat with new friends and the speakers in a relaxed environment without people having to break off into tiny groups (again, for the most part. The hotel restaurant wasn’t really set up to accommodate all of us). The not-so-great part was that the La Quinta restaurant food, while ok, was served at a snail’s pace. It took so long for our lunch orders to come (and we were basically the only people eating at the hotel) that it threw the programming schedule off. Dinner was only marginally better, despite our group number going down as some people had left early.

Still, a fun and informative day. My novel is plugging along, though I don’t know if I’ll have a polished enough draft to submit to Sara, who graciously offered to take the first 50 pages if the manuscript is complete by June 1st.

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Norwescon 39 Recap

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My lowly assortment of con ribbons.

Norwescon 39 has come and gone, so here is my recap of a fun weekend. This was my first Norwescon, but hopefully not my last. There were more positives than negatives, though the negatives were aggravating. Thankfully (I guess?), most of the negatives happened right at the beginning and the con experience greatly improved once I got over those hurdles.

The main negatives: 1) Parking is atrocious. The lot at the DoubleTree isn’t small, but for a con with a few thousand people in attendance it doesn’t cut it. Being in Seattle that’s not surprising, but the hotel didn’t do anything to help the situation. The ticket booths to enter the lot were unmanned, so the poor souls that didn’t arrive early on opening day (I didn’t get there until 3pm) got to drive around for however long you could stand it until giving up or being fortunate enough to find someone leaving their spot. I get it, parking frustration isn’t a new thing, but it would’ve been nice if Doubletree had posted a staff member at the ticket booth either directing people away or putting signs up indicating the lot was full (they did start to put up signs later on during the weekend). Because the hotel is right next to the airport there was airport parking/garages available, which kinda sucks, since the con rate for parking at the hotel was $8, and parking at the airport garage was running somewhere in the $20+ range.

2) Registration at the hotel (not Norwescon reg) was super slow when I got in. This is really more on the hotel than Norwescon, since you’d think if the hotel knew thousands more people than usual would be in that weekend then it might be a good idea to have an extra person or two at the registration desk.

Again, not the end of the world or all that unexpected, but coming on the heels of the parking frustration, seeing the row of empty stations at the registration desk and the lone person trying to handle it all…

My #3 actually got fixed by the second day, but originally programming was scheduled up to the hour without a break. As in, panel A goes from 10-11, panel B from 11-12, etc. Without a break period, you’d have panels cutting into the subsequent panel’s time. At the end of each panel there’d be an awkward shuffle to get people out of the room and then to get people waiting in the narrow hall (that’s my #4 gripe) in, settled, get the speakers situated, etc. It really sucked for the authors’ who had readings where the panel before them ran over and ate into their reading time (usually 30min). This did get fixed though, and panels started ending at 10min to the hour.

4) Norwescon is so-so, in my opinion, on being accessibility-friendly. The big plus is that the elevators were decently sized, there were 4 of them, and they ran quickly. I never encountered long waits or broken elevators. The Doubletree in Spokane for Worldcon was a different story. However, the halls for the conference rooms where the panels were held weren’t very wide. I guess Norwescon can get away with it since attendance is only around the 2-3k mark, but there were times where the flow of traffic had to completely stop so that someone in a scooter or wheelchair could move forward because the halls weren’t wide enough to accommodate a lane of traffic moving in both directions.

There also wasn’t a lot of seating available if one needed to sit while waiting for their panel, and what seating there was could end up being a long way from the room where the panel you wanted to attend was located. I know there were volunteers running around, but I’ve been to cons in the past where each room has a door attendant who usually handles getting someone with accessibility needs into the room without fuss or fanfare. I didn’t really see that at Norwescon, but that’s not to say they weren’t around. I’m also not sure if people were issued accessibility badges or stickers or whatnot to access rooms ahead of time.

I went solo to Norwescon and am fortunate to be in a position where most of the accessibility issues don’t impact me anymore, but having been in the situation where they once did I tend to be sensitive/aware of them or the need. Norwescon isn’t the worst with regard to accessibility, but it isn’t the best either. Some of that isn’t its fault in a direct way; they can’t control the physical width of the hallways. But these are things to consider for non-able bodied people.

Now that I’ve ranted about all the negatives (oops. I’ll cut some of it down in post), Norwescon really is a fun con. I think of it as Worldcon Lite. Lots of programming dedicated to the many aspects of SFF fandom, writing, cosplay, etc. An eclectic mix in the Dealer’s Hall, and a nice-sized art show. It was great to be able to meet up with friends that I rarely see otherwise, and to meet some in person that I’d previously only conversed with via social media.

Oh, and the DoubleTree’s food is actually pretty good. Not inexpensive (not surprising), but tasty, and they re-worked some of the items on the menu to cater to attendees with dietary restrictions. Example: the roasted cauliflower soup apparently is normally a vegetarian option, but they made a vegan version for Norwescon. And it was good. Maybe the server who told us that was making it up, but considering that she went back to talk to the chef, I doubt it. Or bravo for going through the work to make up an elaborate story. Never did find out why the bread pudding wasn’t considered vegetarian though.

I mainly attended Norwescon for the Fairwood Writers’ Workshop, which was lovely. My critique session was Saturday night with Catherine Montrose, Elizabeth Guizzetti, Tim McDaniel, and Pat MacEwen. I submitted a short story for the workshop, and was selected for an individual critique. The critiques were held at the top of the DoubleTree tower in the Mountain conference rooms, which do have a few stairs down to the table, though they were quick to note this during the workshop registration process. I imagine accommodations are made if you can’t navigate stairs. Our only gripe about the room was that we couldn’t get the lights to go above what we were calling “mood lighting.” The other room didn’t seem to have that problem, but we managed just fine. It was light enough at 7pm to get by, and dim lighting is a better trade than getting roasted by the sun with all those windows.

The workshop was great from registration to the actual critique. The guidelines were clear, and the workshop was great with communication. They make accommodations so that you don’t get put in the same group for a round robin session with someone you’re already critiquing with outside the workshop if that applies.

My critique went well, and I’m all squeeing inside because overall my story was well-received and doesn’t need a complete rewrite. They gave suggestions for ways to tighten it up and other revisions, and it was pretty nice—and telling—that all four agreed on what the structural flaws were. Onward to revisions I go, and hopefully can get it out to markets in April.

The novel’s progress is steady if also a bit slow. I’m past the first act of the rough draft and wading into the soggy middle. I think I said last blog post that I was hoping to have a post about the novel/my writing quirks…well, maybe next month! It’s only a few days away after all.

I was able to get a crash course on pitching as Jennifer Brozek offered to teach a 2hr class for the workshop participants on Thursday night. My takeaway is that the cobbled together logline I had for the novel was actually decent, but my title needs work. Brozek is a big proponent of titles not being generic, and fulfilling a promise to the reader in that it tells a little something about what the book is about. So I need to work on that. I’ll be attending the one-day workshop hosted by Cascade Writers next month covering the business of writing and will be doing some more pitching there, so this was a nice starter.

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Photography Fun

A bit of a photo-heavy post here recapping some of my recent photography adventures. Currently mulling over a writing-related post so that will come in the next weekish or two. The novel is finally underway (yay), if also a bit slow-going. First chapter down!

But, on to photography fun: Things I Learned…

Things I Learned Pretending to be a Wedding Photographer

A dear friend of mine had a small courthouse ceremony the other day and asked if I’d take photos during it. Of course, I said. Ermagurd what do I do? I thought. Fortunately, there are plenty of tutorials, tips, and blogs full of advice and “## Things Every Amateur Should Know About Wedding Photography.” So I did some reading, though not a ton of it was relevant since this was a small, informal ceremony. It helped that Dear Friend is very understanding and it’s not like I had a contract with a bridezilla to deliver perfect wedding memories.

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The main thing I learned pretending to be a wedding photographer is that…I’m not cut out to be a wedding photographer. Based on the experience of my own wedding, plus ones that I’ve attended, a good wedding photographer is unobtrusive. They crouch, kneel, climb up high—whatever it takes to get the good shot, without getting in people’s way. The good ones can slip up to the aisle, quietly kneel down next to a row of chairs, get the shot, and back away. The bad ones go into the middle of the aisle and block the guests’ view. Or get in people’s way. Basically, they’re not unobtrusive. Then, there’s me. “Quietly” doing anything like “kneeling” or “crouching” doesn’t happen anymore post-car accident. I’m working on being able to go down on one knee, but it’s one thing to kneel on a yoga mat that’s on top of carpet, and another to try and do it on hardwood floors. I’m also not comfortable being, shall we say politely pushy, to get the shot. Good thing this wasn’t a “real” shoot because I wasn’t in position to get the first kiss. Also a good thing that the couple was happy to kiss again😉

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All in all, a fun event and a happy one, but not something I’d want to do “for real.” I much prefer candid shots over poses, and think we got some good ones.

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Things I Learned Climbing a Mountain

Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit—we only climbed partway up the mountain. Elevation was around 1850ft on West Tiger Mountain. Dear Friend and I have been meaning to go on the Poo Poo Point-Chirico Trail hike for a while now, but between the weather and random things coming up we kept getting delayed. Last week we finally made it out, and it was a hike full of the glorious and the awful. Glorious: the weather was great—I think it hit the low 60s toward the end of the hike, nice breeze, beautiful views. Not a crowded hike, but we saw many other hikers and there’s a friendly sort of, as Dear Friend put it, hiker solidarity that happens on the trail.

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The not-so-great: well, Dear Friend is a few months pregnant now and this wasn’t the best trail for a couple of noob hikers to attempt. We made it up, but it’s a gain of 1700ft within just short of 2 miles. As we neared the first launch point (paragliders tend to hike this trail often in the spring-fall), the breeze picked up, and it’s a bit unnerving to see the trees swaying and hear the branches cracking as they bump each other. I’ve already had a tree fall on me, don’t need to repeat that experience. None came down while we were there, though there were plenty of fallen trees on either side of the trail.

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The views from both launch points are awesome.

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The awful part: for me, going up the trail was fine, whereas Dear Friend thought it was torture. We were switched for the hike back down. Thankfully I had trekking poles because otherwise I’d still be inching my way down. The trail is mostly rocky, some are wider, flatter, step-like things that aren’t too bad, but other parts of the trail are an uneven nightmare. Descending was really hard on my ankles in particular, followed by the knees. So, I learned that I’ll need to evaluate future hikes’ elevation gain and assess accordingly because even though the length roundtrip and the ascent weren’t a problem, getting back down was sucky.

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Things I Learned Attending the Northwest Flower & Garden Show

Ok, that title’s a stretch, but anywho. Well, first thing I learned was don’t go to the garden show two hours after a monster hike, ugh. However, it was a nice show, though I thought the theme, America the Beautiful, was a bit…I don’t know, I guess vague would suffice. I’m not saying America’s not beautiful, but it’s a big place. Most of the exhibitors went with Pac Northwest themes, which I like because 1) I live here for a reason, & 2) I like green.

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Really, what I learned from the garden show is that it’s an awesome place to see cute ideas for the dream writer’s cottage/shack/retreat. Sadly, I don’t have the pictures I took from last year’s show (they were less-than-great phone shots anyway) because there were some really cool standalone shed-type structures, but this year had some gems too.

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I love the idea of the dedicated writing space. It’s a sort of romantic, dreamy ideal that I love to pieces. The notion of it, anyway. Thing is, I’m enamored with the idea of being spirited away for weeks or months to do nothing but write. I mean, that sounds so awesome, right? Nothing else distracting me but writing, I’d-get-so-much-done. The words would just flow.

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Then I wake up and, you know, remind myself that I’m an adult and know myself well enough that there’s a reason I say that I like the idea of it. I do, it sounds great, but in reality it’s something where the fun factor would wear off really fast—for me. I’m a homebody. I pretty much already have a dedicated writing space…my desk. And, yea, I get distracted sitting at it, but here’s the thing—as much as I like to think that I need a big block of time to get into the groove during a writing session, say 4 hours, I’ve learned that realistically I write in bursts. I’m way more productive if I have a focused 30-45min session (sometimes longer depending on the situation) instead of sitting down with 4 hours of “free time.” If I sit down thinking I have 4 glorious hours, other stuff finds a way to come up. I’ll fall into a social media time suck, or the cats will need snuggling, or maybe I should go practice the violin, or I need to catch up on some reading, or…you get it.

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Actually, this one is probably more along the lines of a writer’s budget.IMG_2316-HDR

There were a lot of cute small spaces that could work as writing spaces, and I adore them. But, at least when I’m in the first draft phase, they’re just an idea that I have to like from afar. In the revision stage, well, now we might be getting somewhere. But, let’s not put the cart before the horse.

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The Dogwood 52 challenge is in its 8th week! Still going strong. Had a quick family vacation in Vegas last weekend and got my Week 8 shot- Landscape: Wide Angle/Panorama. This is a 3 picture stitch of the Colorado River during a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon the husbeast and I went on. Taking off in a helicopter is way more fun than in an airplane. Just sayin’. More photos are on my flickr page.

Week 8- Wide Angle or Panorama

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January: New Year, New Goals

Here we are, nearly halfway through January and I’m finally getting around to my New Year’s post with resolutions/goals and all that jazz. Well, one of my resolution/goals for this year is to blog more regularly…so there’s that. I’m trying to set what I consider realistic goals that I’ll actually attain with a little effort, rather than setting myself up for failure. So, my goals for 2016:

  • Blog at least once a month. I’ve been puttering around trying to think about content and figure out what I want this blog to be, getting hung up on “oh but it’s not writing-related enough.” I do plan on putting writing bits on here, but the blog is going to branch out a bit more to encompass my other hobbies. I’ve been getting more into photography, so expect to see more pictures on the blog. I’m also participating in the Dogwood 52 Challenge which is open to all, and it’s ok if you join late as there is no “start” date. It’s a weekly themed challenge with a ginormous facebook group, and several splinter groups also on facebook, flickr, twitter, etc.

Here’s my submission for the Week 2 theme: Traditional Landscape. Found a short, flat loop to hike near my house that goes around this little lake. It hasn’t been super cold here, so I was surprised to find the lake was frozen all the way across.

Fog on Yellow Lake

  • Have at least two works on submission at all times. When the flurry of New Year posts came out, I saw a lot of writers setting high submission goals (like, 10 pieces on sub), which was awe inspiring and depressing. Then I slapped myself and remembered rule #, I don’t know, it’s usually in the top 5 depending on who you ask: “Don’t compare yourself to others.” Two pieces isn’t a lot, but I think it’s a good goal for me that is achievable with a little effort. The number also fits with some of my other goals for the year.
  • In an ideal world, start, finish, and get the novel out for querying. I’d really like to have a rough draft done by summer so I can pitch it at PNWA this July. We’ll see. I’m finishing up the outline and trying out plotting using the index card system. I’m liking it more than my previous traditional format. Law school left me with a nervous twitch upon seeing traditional outlines.
  • Write some flash fiction. I’m considering flash anything less than 1500 words, with less than 1k the ideal. All last year I kept meaning to write some, even took a class with the fabulous Cat Rambo, but didn’t write any flash. The only short piece ended up being 2700 words (doing well, making the rounds and receiving some encouraging personal rejections).
  • Read more. And probably review more too. I probably won’t be doing reviews on the blog, but rather over on Goodreads. I go through phases of reading a lot, and then tailing off where I read more magazines and stuff rather than books. Actually, this really should be a goal aimed at curbing the book buying. Something like “must read x books before can buy a new one.” Bought a lot of books this year, especially at cons, but only read 4 or 5 new ones. I tend to reread a lot. I’m thinking that 3:1 is a good starting point.
  • Get back to my pre-accident weight. What New Year post would be complete without a weight loss goal? I’ve been holding steady at about 4-5 pounds heavier than I was before the car accident at the end of 2012. Some of that is me having more metal in my body than before, some (hopefully) is more muscle in my upper body since I’ve varied my workouts more than I did pre-accident, and definitely that I’m more sedentary. I think this might be the hardest goal to get done.

Week 1 theme: Self-portrait! Found out that what feels like a nice smile on my face I don’t like the look of on camera. Took 15-20 shots, settled on this.Week 1- Headshot self timer1-5-16

Onward and upward! Oh, and a sort of post-LASIK update. Very happy with the results overall, but I’m finding that I’m more sensitive to light, whether that’s the sun, interior lights, or the computer screen. I wear my Gunnar glasses a lot more at the computer. Not unexpected or uncommon, and I’m still so glad I decided to go through with the LASIK.

SIWC 2015 Recap

Last weekend was my first time attending the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, held in Surrey, BC at the Sheraton Guildford Hotel. This was its 23rd year, and first time selling out!

It was amazing.

It’s a professional conference geared at writers of fiction and/or nonfiction, all genres, and at all levels, though it does assume a level of dedication. Beginners are certainly welcome, but the workshops and content covered are designed in a way that expects you to have a basic understanding of the craft, and really, the dedication to improve. There were plenty of unpublished writers in attendance, but everyone was there to get better. I don’t mean to dissuade newbies from going because the bar isn’t high. If you have the enthusiasm (and can park your ego at the door) and the desire then I highly recommend going. It’ll help if you have a basic understanding of things like plot and character development, but the point of the workshops is to learn and ask questions about how/why/what. There’s a different vibe than the writer panels you’ll find at cons like PAX or Worldcon (no cosplay, for one). Not a bad vibe, just different. Still fun and friendly. But all the offerings are aimed at the craft and business ends of writing. No panels on games, geekdom, or fandom.

Masterclasses were offered on Thursday, the day before the official start of the conference. I was fortunate to get into the class on short stories taught by the fabulous Mary Robinette Kowal. Mary is awesome, and a great teacher. She’s a professional puppeteer as well as an award winning author, and the way she integrates her experience as a puppeteer to writing is unique and informative. The masterclasses were 3 hours, and it was a lot of information to cram into a relatively short window, but I felt that I got my money’s worth. It was nice to have a class dedicated to short stories that looked into their structure, and how they’re similar and different to novels.

SIWC restructured the days for this year’s conference to fit four workshops in a day: two in the morning and two in the afternoon. The day started with the morning session at 9am and a keynote speaker, then attendees had two mornig (and afternoon) sessions comprised of four 90-minute workshops to choose from. You could leave workshops that didn’t work for you and attend others if you wished, and every room had a door monitor to make sure entrances/departures weren’t disruptive (so nice!). This was one of the most organized cons I’ve been to ( a sentiment I heard echoed by several pros in attendance), with lovely volunteers to keep everything running smoothly. There were several hundred (I heard numbers from 400-700) people in attendance and I didn’t run into a single problem. Well, small and slow elevators, but they can’t really change that.

The Sheraton staff were also polite, helpful, and kept the banquet hall running like a well-oiled machine. I purchased the “full conference pass” which included lunch and dinner (full conference and single-day passes included lunch, dinners were only for full passes) all three days in the banquet hall, though there are options to skip the meals if you so choose. But, then you miss out on the keynote speakers, and they were amazing. The food was great too, and the kitchen staff were polite and accommodating for people with dietary restrictions.

Everyone was friendly and inviting, and I didn’t run into a single snobbish person. I went solo (sort of, husbeast came along but went to see his family/friends during the days) to the conference, which is always a bit nerve-wracking. Fortunately, SIWC had a hashtag going and I tweeted a “first timer going, anyone want to meet up?” message a few days before the conference. Got plenty of responses, because that’s just how friendly this conference is, and I found a “tribe” of people which included first timers like myself as well as veterans of several years. I hope to attend this conference annually in the future.

Some particular highlights/things I really liked: the depth of workshops and the time length. Four options every session offered great variety, and with 90 minutes to work with the presenters could really get into some substance. It did make for some really long days though, in chairs that weren’t the epitome of comfort. Due to personal issues, it was a bit rough on my knees.

Keynotes at every meal (aside from breakfast because that was on your own). Variety in speakers who represented different genres, backgrounds, ways to approach the craft, all were motivational in their own ways.

The Saturday luncheon was the “This Day We Write” meal where each table would be joined by a randomly assigned presenter. They didn’t come in until most people had already sat down so that you didn’t know who would be at your table. My table was graced by C.C. Humphreys, and he was wonderful. There were 8 or so of us at the table and he chatted with all of us. He also has a lovely English accent.

Really, all the pro writers I encountered were kind, encouraging, and pretty laid back. Terry Fallis joined my group briefly for drinks after the afternoon session on Friday, and was so at ease with us that it felt like a bunch of friends chatting, not a bunch of unpublished newbs making nervous chitchat with a Published Author.

Door monitors. Enough said.

Blue Pencil and Pitch appointments included in your registration fee. These were fifteen minute sections that you signed up for during registration, and the list of pros available to choose from was amazing. I didn’t do a pitch since I don’t have a novel ready, but I did have a Blue Pencil with Mary. These are quick critiques where you can bring up to three pages of a story, and I was amazed at how constructive Mary was able to be within such a short timeframe. Plus, she uses fountain pens too, so I have huge amounts of geek love going on. There was also an option this year to wait in line for second/third pitches and Blue Pencils if someone dropped out, and from what I heard it was successful.

Things I didn’t love/could use improvement: the armless chairs. OMG, my neck/shoulders/back were sore after every workshop from the hunching over to take notes on my lap. This isn’t really something SIWC can fix since there probably isn’t the space or availability to put in tables, but it sure made me appreciate the Cascade Writers workshop having tables for every group. To be fair, the CW workshop is much smaller, but that has its own set of pros/cons. If you’re in the area go to both, as they’re quite different experiences.

It’d be nice if there could be a first time attendees meet and greet, or a mentor/mentee event since there were a lot of returning attendees as well as many first timers (I think this was the most first timers in attendance) either as an informal event on Thursday night, or on Saturday night since there isn’t anything slated after the dinner banquet.

That about sums it up. Great event and I plan to go next year.

Cornea Carving…aka LASIK

Sorry for the radio silence, but I swear I really have been writing. However, I thought y’all might be interested in my recent foray into LASIK.

For nearly twenty years I’ve needed corrective lenses of some sort. I started with glasses in grade school, and graduated to contacts in junior high (my school district’s equivalent of middle school). I wore contacts for 14-16 hours a day, every day, for about thirteen years. My eye doctor wasn’t that pleased, and in law school I started having “floaters” appear in both eyes and signs of “laddering.” I received a stern lecture about the necessity of wearing my contacts less. Something about corneal detachment may have been mentioned but it’s been a while and I can’t really remember. “Wear contacts less or else,” was the gist of it. I tried to wear my glasses more, but back then, “more” meant taking my contacts out in the evenings. Maybe.

At the end of 2012, a car accident and the resulting recovery period forced a return to glasses. I can count the number of times I’ve worn contacts since then on one hand. It helps that I finally got frames that I liked (funky little shop in Wallingford called 4 Your Eyes Only). And, things were great. I’d thought about LASIK before, but my vision hadn’t been consistent for a year (one of the requirements), and the thought of having my eyes held open for ten minutes was freaky. But, as I met more people who’d had it done, I started thinking about it more. So, here I am.

October 1– Went in for LASIK at 9:05am and was out the door at 10:15. The actual laser surgery part is quick—maybe 10 minutes in the chair. It’s all the pre-op stuff that causes the appointment to take an hour or two. I was told to expect to be there for 2-3 hours, but I was the second person in the chair so I got done early.

This is kind of the best “surgery” I’ve had thus far because you get to eat breakfast in the morning. And, the surgeries seemed to run on time. Win-win. That may seem like nothing, but for anyone that’s had an 8am surgery scheduled and still been waiting come the afternoon and no food or liquids since midnight…yea.

There’s paperwork to start, mainly confirming what procedure you’re there for and the follow-up schedule. The first med I received was an anti-anxiety liquid that looked like dark cherry cough syrup and tasted about as bad. Then there was the first of many rounds of eye drops, and an alcohol swab over the eyes (disinfectant?). As I said earlier, I was most nervous about having my eyes held open for several minutes. What do they do about your eyes tearing? Doesn’t it burn? Nope. Eye drops to slow eye movement, capillary action (I think?), numbing, etc. No burning or tearing.

For me, the most uncomfortable part of the whole process was having the eyelid spacer thing put in. I have small eye openings, so there was a chance that I’d either have to have a blade-made flap (microkeratome) instead of a laser-made flap on my cornea. Whether using the blade or laser for flap creation, the machine needs to get good suction on your eye, and the laser one is slightly larger (it’s not as bad as it sounds). Fortunately, they were able to get the laser one to work. The eyelid spacer in my right eye was the only part that “hurt” in the entire process, and I hesitate to say “hurt” because it’s really more a discomfort. Accidentally poking yourself in the eye hurts; this doesn’t.

I was getting eye drops all the time (it felt like), and during the flap creation part it looks really weird. You can’t feel it aside from a sort of removed pressure, but you can “see” it happening. There’s no change in vision (that I noticed. I went in with -5 eyes though), but you can see/feel them peeling the flap back. It sounds gross, but I thought it was cool.

Once the flap was made in both eyes they do the actual laser correcting. I basically just sat there looking at a red dot. I didn’t feel the laser, but I could hear and smell it. It sounds like a machine rumbling near you, not overly loud, and smells like burning. It reminded me of what it smells like when you get a cavity drilled. They put a clear contact in to protect the flap at the end.

That was it. My vision fluctuated noticeably the first day, and it’s expected to for the first few weeks with gradual changes for a few months. My vision was markedly improved as soon as I sat up in the chair, but it’s not at the same level of clarity as with my glasses yet. My vision was blurry immediately upon getting up (they said it’d be like opening your eyes underwater, but honestly it’s been so long since I could do that I can’t say if that’s an accurate analogy), but it improved throughout the day. 5 hours after surgery most of the blurriness was gone. My nearish vision is good—I can see the TV from the couch!—but not yet to the glasses level.

For the first four hours after surgery I was instructed to put in artificial tears every half hour, then every hour until bed. Starting two hours after surgery, I’ve been putting in an antibiotic and a steroid eye drop. The antibiotic continues 4x a day for a week, the steroid continues until the bottle is empty. Artificial tears are as needed/frequently for the first month, & likely on a regular basis thereafter. I want to say they said my eyes would return to the same dryness level they were at before surgery, but I can’t remember. I was given a pain relief eye drop but didn’t feel the need for it.

My energy level was good after surgery and I didn’t find that LASIK impeded my normal activity. I didn’t spend much time in front of a computer during the first four hours after surgery, but I was at it in the evening without a problem. However, I’ve been wearing Gunnar glasses and will continue to do so for a while to reduce eye fatigue.

October 2– So, the plastic eye shield you have to sleep with the first night is the most irritating thing in the entire process. I found it annoying to try and sleep with it. My eyes were kind of blurry when I woke up, but after I put some artificial tears in they cleared up and are blur-free. Still not at glasses-level clarity/accuracy, but getting there. No pain. Have my one-day follow-up in a few hours.

Follow-up recap– Everything looks good according to my follow-up appointment. Healing well, and it looks like I’ll have 20/20 (or close, I was able to get half the letters on the 20/15 setting) vision once my eyes stop fluctuating. At this point it seems like what I’m lacking is crispness of images. During the vision test, I could see the letters but they appear blurry on the edges. This should resolve in a few weeks as the flap finishes healing. They took the temporary contact out & said everything looks good.

So, yay. If you’re able to get LASIK, I’d recommend it. It’s really not scary or painful and the results are fantastic. My surgery was performed at PCLI in Bellevue, but there are a number of LASIK surgeons in WA (and beyond, obviously). Blahblah disclosure, PCLI didn’t ask me to do this review, but if you’re considering LASIK I’m happy to chat more in depth.