The Power of Positive Thinking


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Fail Harder

Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, even Twitter are full of “positive thinking” quotes and hand-lettered sayings and all sorts of “You Can Do It” if you “Keep Calm and” “Think Positive.” There’s lot’s of pictures of coffee mugs with perfectly angled planners and glasses you know no one wears, maybe some glitter or pink flowers on a unbelievably white desk. (Seriously, who the hell has room on their desk for bud vases and what kind of “designer” can keep a desk pristine white without spilling coffee or ink or the leaky bits of yesterday’s lunch on it?)

These people are the opposite of “writers” though there’s some overlap, generally in the self-help genre. Most of the writers I know are surly, cynical, and will tell anyone who listens that there’s no money in writing, no money in publishing, that you’re going to need to keep your day job forever yet still probably die of a disease basic insurance could have cured, and that “writers write” everyday whether they want to or not, generally at the ass crack of dawn before going to the day job or in the middle of the night after tucking in all the children. They’re regularly drunk, over-caffeinated, under-medicated, bleary-eyed, and tend to wear their dysfunction like a badge of honor. They march around under a banner of “This Sucks and We Do It Because We Think We Have To or Maybe We Want To, We Don’t Know, But It Definitely Sucks.”

this sucks

Then there are the “creative entrepreneurs.” They are all sunbeams and rainbows and none of their unicorns are murderous. They seem to mostly be people who at one point made things (maybe?) like felted squirrel boutonnieres and embroidered planner bookmarks — things I can’t imagine anyone needing or buying, but that somehow hit a nerve with some pocket of hipsters who made the thing go whatever version craft viral causes someone to actually make a living on Etsy. Of course, eventually their fingers cramp or the market for antique cat crates dries up and they need something new to peddle. Hence, the rise of the coaching, coursing, self-help pamphlet bullshit industry.

They are wedding photographers who “tell stories” rather than just take pictures in between the shouting matches of in-laws and estranged sisters. They are the people hand-lettering signs for boutiques selling discounted felted squirrel boutonnieres and menus for events with mason jar champagne glasses. They are the stylists who blog about fashion on Tumblr, promote themselves on Snapchat, and will sell you an e-course on gaining Pinterest followers through better Instagram hashtags. They are all designing their own planner, especially for [insert super-specific niche market] and it’ll have gold coils and on-brand graphics that are equally pretty and bold to make your every to-do list come to life on the backs of glitter-coated fairies. All their Instagram accounts look the same because all their mood boards are pink and teal with white backgrounds dotted by peonies and antique cameras and cats eye glasses and any quote about following your passion over the positive thinking rainbow to thinness and wealth and brand-coordinated macaroons.

Untitled design

Unlike the writers, hunkered down in their post-economic-collapse, pre-climate-catastrophe studio apartments hoping to get through the next draft before they run out of antidepressants, the creative entrepreneur army will tell you to quit that day job, follow your passion, work it #girlboss, and for just three easy payments of $199, you can have all the SEO secrets to make a million dollars by using social media to promote your blogging about how you make your lizard socks from fair trade organic pug fur. There’s a lot of steps in the creative entrepreneur world. The first one tends to be buying an e-course or an e-book or some sort of “passive income” training that the presenter brags about having created in five hours, wants fifty bucks for, and will teach you to do the exact same thing for another fifty bucks. Because there can never be enough craft-e-preneurs selling the same branding class. Not if you think positively enough!

But, no, seriously…don’t quit your job. Eventually the world will run out of new people with the disposable income to pay $20 for your 20-page “book” about increasing followers through hand-crafted hashtags and you’ll wind up under the bridge with the writers who made $0.35 on their 400-page novel and they’ll have already had time to sharpen their sticks. That way lies madness. And glitter. There are only so many people willing to buy handmade things because most of the people are busy “hustling” at their own five jobs trying to cobble together enough money to stay indoors another month. They might want your finch-feather earrings, but they also want food that isn’t ramen and Walmart has pigeon-feather earrings on clearance and this is how you’ll eventually go from the ranks of the coached to the coach as you peddle your own expertise and start the bullshit cycle anew.

Which may sound like I’m being snarky and judgmental, but that’s not really my intention. I generally hate that sort of thing, and I mostly wish people would just let each other like what they like. At the same time, it pains my heart to see so many people line up to throw money at magical thinking while authors I adore, who actually think magically by creating worlds and people out of nothing, struggle. That, and I really want to see the scientific study proving that telling my mirror I deserve wealth will manifest money any better than saying “Bloody Mary” will cause a slumber party massacre.

When Outlining Gets Out of Control


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I’m not much for outlining. I try. I understand the concept. Except, then I write and everything goes off the rails. I write the end first, part of a prequel, thirty pages of backstory, and then the thing I outlined except with a different plot glued together from three other stories I wrote when this process happened on another project. The story, “Hollow” that appeared on Beat to a Pulp a few years back was a hybrid of three random scenes that came together after reading a magazine article and after two other plots fell out and got together to form their own thing — then those other two set a building on fire and haven’t been seen since, but I’m sure they’ll reappear at some point. The always do.

So, what I’m saying is that I’m painfully inefficient at crafting fiction. Something that seems to translate into “terrible writer” in this age of putting out five books a year in order to cobble together enough income, along with a day job and two night jobs, to live indoors someplace with plumbing. Trust me, I’d like to be a bit more organized and linear. And I’ve tried. I just keep ending up with stuff even I don’t want to read and stuff that’s utterly unfixable without dumping its parts back into the above stream of parts.

I wrote a whole novel-length manuscript this way. (And rewrote it approximately 57 times, five of which were from scratch. Seriously, there’s only about five words in common from the last draft to the first and three of those are “the,” “and,” and “a.”) Then, I wrote two more. A friend, who is way smarter than I’ll ever be, suggested I write more from the main characters’ childhood since they didn’t have a typical suburban upbringing. A couple of those have turned into stories at least one other person have read. And it’s true that the childhood misadventures of these characters can be entertaining, but that turns into a lot to keep track of. Hence, outlining the whole lives of these characters, from town to town, year to year.

Granted, that sounds crazy, but I’ve tried doing things (not writing, clearly) the “right way” and that’s never worked out.

I find the characters interesting, though, and with well plotted lives, maybe someone else will find them interesting. Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Seems selling a book these days involves some strange alchemy beyond interesting or even well-written, beyond even luck, and might actually require black magic or complicated sacrifices. Pretty sure it also requires something more commercially easy to explain than this Winchester Mystery House of fiction I’ve created on my hard drive.

Sure, there are different options. There’s stabbing blindly at traditional routes, writing things that are supposedly popular or formulaic or manage to predict trends before they happen. There’s the crossroads of indie presses with less-popular, less formulaic books that rise and fall and sometimes rise again. And self-publishing, which is often either done poorly or expensively and there’s not much going on in between. (Yes, to me the $2000-5000 it seems to cost to put out a good-quality self-pubbed book seems expensive because a nearby town is looking to hire an attorney for $54,000 a year and before the economy collapsed, I made that teaching and my last year of teaching my salary worked out to be about $10 an hour for all the time I put in.)

Best I can figure, all writing advice contradicts itself and career/industry advise is no different. A lot of it is dated because things are moving at such a speed that Joe Friendly who got an agent five years ago, a deal two years ago, and just released his debut had a vastly different playing field to work with than you likely will. Just like the advise our parents, teachers, and grandparents gave us in business and life ten, twenty years ago might as well have been written on stone tablets  or at the very least come off as dated as instructions for a transistor radio. Sometimes it still works. Sometimes not.

And everyone has a theory about why.

Because everyone has opinions on the internet. (And judging people on the internet seems to have become an international hobby.)

Writing…and junk


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A lot of writers blog about writing. Often. I have no idea how they find that many things to say, but I’ve noticed most of it falls into a few categories:

Writing advice. I don’t have any. I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t help you. Besides, most of this seems to be either highly subjective, old (as in, “this worked for me ten years ago so if it doesn’t work for you, it’s because you suck), or judgmental (self-pub sucks, traditional is for tools, Nanowrimo is for losers, etc. You know what? Do whatever works for you. You have the ability to churn out whatever formula makes you rich, go for it. You want to write your thoughts on the smell of cupcakes? Have fun. Whatever. Again, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t help you. (Just don’t let other people boss you around. They’re probably guessing, too.)

Writing is a terrible career move/doesn’t pay. Well, duh. Nothing really pays all that well anymore. Not compared to a few years ago when salaries went further than they do now and companies hadn’t yet decided getting 120 hours of work out of three temp workers scheduled for 20 hours each would be the best way to meet quotas. Then there’s the matter of no one wanting to pay for anything anymore because they’re too busy paying for food, rent, and replacing things they just bought. Can’t buy books this month because you need to replace the shoes you’ve worn exactly five times (I’m looking at you Nine West and I’m not pleased). Can’t buy that new album because the two month old toaster just shorted out and died. Nothing lasts and nothing is free. Not really. But everyone’s looking for a loophole. And it drags down everyone else.

What [they’re] writing/promo/etc. I don’t know. I’m interested in the things I write, but I’m not sure anyone but me will ever read them, so I’m not sure where this category makes any sense. Might as well talk about how often I do laundry. Or how I planned how to run the white belt stripe tests tomorrow, but I’m still worried that’s not going to go as planned because 4-year-olds do not do anything as planned. I don’t seem to know how to write the sort of blockbuster thing that has all the right elements to make commuters tingle, so I’ll probably end up with a string of self-published books only two of the five buyers every even started reading.

What [they’re] reading/watching/listening to — the inspiration post. Yeah, I’m apparently not good at reading or watching or listening to anything the cool kids are into. My real life friends alternately whine (or wine) and quietly tolerate my terrible Pandora stations full of things they’ve never heard of, things they think sounds like cats on chalkboards, and things they’d prefer never to hear again. I still haven’t seen Breaking Bad. The last movie I saw at a theater was Nebraska. I went a good five or more years not really watching any TV because I was too busy and distracted to keep up with broadcast schedules and now that we have Hulu/Netflix, I’m mostly just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices and end up watching shit like Twin Peaks that I was supposed to watch with everyone else on the planet twenty years ago. I also seem to watch random episodes of Supernatural because despite being about four sociopaths who consistently lie to each other and alternately try to save or destroy the world while being resurrected at least once a season, it’s darkly and absurdly funny. I have also seen enough episodes of The Mindy Project to know that I do not find that show funny. (Granted, there is very little gallows in Kaling’s humor.) I appreciate the non-skinny, non-white lead and all. It’s just a sitcom and I never seem to find those funny. I am broken, humor wise. And I bought a math book on vacation. I don’t read enough genre big deals and I don’t read enough high brow literary masterpieces.

Mental and Physical Health. There’s nothing inherently interesting about my brand of depression, my occasional anxiety, or anything else. It sucks sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t. I have adverse reactions to most medication and antidepressants are no exception. The only one that ever worked and didn’t make me crazier or narcoleptic makes me itchy, so that’s out. Exercise helps. Being stubborn is a double-edged sword. As far as I know, I’m otherwise healthy. I out-kick the fourteen-year-old brown belt. I run like an old asthmatic in an allergen factory, but aside from various pharmaceuticals, I’m only really allergic to vast quantities of mold. Cleaning chemicals make me sneezy. None of this is earth-shattering information. It’s not even interesting.

And thus, this blog goes through long spells of inactivity. Because I just don’t know what to say. And I’m not sure it’d be interesting if I did.

Be well, peeps.

Protectors 2 is in the wild


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The new Protectors anthology (benefiting PROTECT) is out today.

Look at some of those names: Joyce Carol Oates! Harlan Ellison! Joelle Charbonneau! Reed Farrel Coleman! Hilary Davidson! (And 50 more!)

Seriously, this thing is huge, contains the work of some great writers, and benefits and organization that works to protect children from abuse. There is no downside to buying this since all the proceeds benefit Protect.

So, seriously. You don’t even have to read my story. There are so many others to chose from. Go get yours now.

Back in Time


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I don’t remember watching the first season of The X-Files. I may not have. It first aired my senior year of high school and while I had a small black-and-white TV in my room, I was rarely home. Not that I was busy having fun with friends because I was never so great at making those, but I had extracurricular activities and a part time job and a habit of driving randomly all over as many counties because I’ve always thought best behind the steering wheel. (Back then gas was .99 a gallon near the mall (in the next county) and 1.02 in my town, which felt like a ripoff. Yes, I’m older than the moon.) I mean, seriously, I used to keep track of my mileage every week and I tended to average 500 miles a week.

The husband and I started rewatching (or watching) old episodes of The X-Files on Hulu a couple weeks ago because neither one of us is good at keeping up with whatever is actually on the air. I only recently found out how Buffy actually ended. (The first time around I got lost after she jumped into a magic light and the show changed networks and I found a life since that was before DVRs and watching things on your phone.) Which brings us back to The X-Files and how the first season could largely have been shrunken down to a half hour or so if they’d just had iPhones. The show could seriously be used to explain oldentimes to elementary kids. “Children, this is microfiche. It was like Google, but way less reliable and hurt your eyes.” On the other hand, how awesome are some of those old motels?

Tonight the husband’s off with a buddy and after writing the whole time I was supposed to be listening at a neighborhood association meeting (it’s mostly dialog at a victim’s apartment, there’s probably also some notes about city managers and zoning), I thought about zoning out. Hulu suggested Twin Peaks and I realized that despite everyone I know having talked about it to the point that it feels like I watched it, I never saw that either. It aired the year I was a freshman in high school and I don’t know what I was doing, it wasn’t watching Twin Peaks.

Some observations about the pilot:

  • Rotary dial phones. These people could teach 1993’s Scully about old tech
  • The percentage of abusive men in just the pilot is both astounding and probably (sadly) statistically probable for a remote town of that size.
  • The cinematography is pretty excellent. I love it when stuff seems like each scene was perfectly framed. Gotham is pretty like that, but I only know this because they aired part of it on a plane I can’t remember why I was on. I never heard the show, though, because I was near the wing and I don’t like turning headsets up too high. I’ve heard pretty is about all it is.
  • Some of the sets look remarkably like actual homes. So few places on TV look like actual homes. The movie It Follows has houses that look like real houses. I know this because my sister rented it when I stayed with her last time. Some of the sets look like sets they couldn’t afford to fully furnish.
  • I remember all the hubbub about the dead girl trope and since Twin Peaks aired, I have read way more about the feminism and tropes and the line between writing what’s “real,” writing what’s “fantasy” and when torture and murder of female bodies is one or the other. There’s also a lot of discussion about the responsibility of writers to report or reflect reality while also showing consequence or at least not glamorizing, encouraging, making real life worse. There’s a subtle difference between “fiction” as “made up” and “fantasy” as including unreal elements. If people are really raped and murdered, then media representing “real” must include those things (not all, not all the time, but also not never), but at the same time not decent to a level of salaciousness, gratuitousness. It’s a narrow line. But it’s an important one to find the right side of. Because for all the dissection of Twin Peaks, Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak spoke to so many of my students they read books to disintegration, stole them by the dozen, wrote heartfelt notes in the back of.
  • For someone who never drank or did drugs in high school, I have no recollection of any of this fashion being a thing. It’s like a J Crew catalog mated with Desperately Seeking Susan.
  • TVs were much smaller back then. (I say this having only a few months ago finally replaced my 11.5″ TV with the built-in VCR with a “smart” TV because the old one kept cutting out at random.) I suspect they originally shot this a bit wider and it got condensed, though, because otherwise they found an entire cast of people with bizarrely-narrow heads.
  • This was clearly from the era of TV teenagers being old enough have PhDs they got the slow way.
  • The pace is slow compared to modern shows, which is nice. Adds to the suspense.
  • How are these characters functioning at all? The town looks like the place where Seasonal Affective Disorder was born.
  • A lot of the show feels quirky for the sake of being quirky but only if I really think about it from an editing standpoint. Like, if I imagine writing a “log” lady” and think about editing, I’d guess log lady would end up deleted because just weird. Except, I’ve lived in South Florida for 20 years now and before that I lived in a small town that since has become obsessed with pirates. If a lady carrying a log showed up at the grocery store tomorrow, I’d probably just be annoyed she was blocking the cat food aisle.
  • No, seriously, what are these people wearing?


Wearing What Works


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I follow a couple of entrepreneur groups on Facebook that, honestly most of the time annoy the hell out of  me for many of the same reasons Berni Xiong talks about here and here.  Mostly? It’s the excessive cheerleading, the cannibalistic nature of constantly selling each other life coaching and web designing and branding stories and dozens of online courses and pamphlets that will turn us all into Fortune 500 execs by building our Periscope following and…this sentence is annoying me. Granted one of the biggest things that annoys me about them is the constant positing of plastic Starbucks cups despite no apparent sponsorship deal and that as “creatives” shouldn’t they have access to a street festival or craft fair or bohemian friend with a potter’s wheel who can supply them with a reusable mug? Seriously, straws and plastic disposable cups get on my nerves. But I also just think a lot of it is that they come across as consumerism-focused, shiny attracted, and overall the girls with the bouncy hair and perfect pink hair bows that didn’t want me at their lunch table (not that we’d know what to say to each other if we did share lunch).

At any rate, someone posted something the other day about how she had only a few minutes to get ready for a meeting and wanted to know what everyone’s go-to power outfit was or what everyone else reached for when they wanted to feel powerful, competent, and put together. Most of the responses had to do with nail designs or gels, jewelry, well-coiffed hair, nice clothes, expensive bags, high heels… You know, the usual Pinterest Fashion meets business casual stock photos.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a few dresses and a pants and jacket outfit or three that mimic the business suit look. I have heels and I can pretend and I do feel put together in those outfits, but I don’t feel like “me.” I don’t feel overly confident because I feel like I’m wearing a costume. I don’t feel like I can “do anything” because my feet hurt and keep slipping off the clutch when I drive.


When left to my own devices, the outfit(s) that make me feel most “me” is something like the clothes the Brennan character wore in the first season of Bones (back before she stopped dressing like an anthropologist and started dressing like “office worker number five”) but with a tropical touch since tank tops and sandals make more sense in South Florida make more sense than boots and jackets. The key thing that makes me feel like I can pull off anything is a pair of jeans that fit (long enough but not too long, loose enough to move in but not so lose they fall off) because I like having belt loops to hook my keys to, a pocket for my phone. My “confidence” shoe is more like this, than anything in Carrie Bradshaw’s closet. I don’t feel confident if I don’t feel like I can run away – odd, maybe even ironic.


My go-to bag when I want to feel like I’m getting shit done? Big olive canvas messenger bag from MediumControl. I have a few black purses that mimic business, but there’s something about the structure that makes me feel more confined, boxed in than the messenger the husband and I have been sharing back and forth for years.


Which isn’t to say I don’t also like wearing big chunky jewelry with metals and beads and rougher-looking minerals. And makeup – like red lipsticks in a variety of shades. I just hate shopping so I’m still wearing the wood and bead necklace I got in San Diego ten years ago.

I guess, I just felt out of place. I often do, even when I’m wearing my fitting-in costume. So often, creatives who aren’t “Creatives” are introverted, shy, and whether I qualify as a creative person or not, those things apply. My go-to outfit of jeans, sleeveless shirt/tank top, pretty but simple sandals, chunky jewelry, and big messenger bag (or my alternative swingy dress and cowboy boots) makes me feel a little bit invisible, a little bit prepared for whatever happens, and capable. It’s also comfy as hell.


What’s your go-to outfit?

5 Tips for Road Trip Savings


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I love a good road trip. Far, near, don’t care. Few hours down to the Keys, out into the Everglades, up to the lakes region or further north, across the desert, wherever. Road trips can get pricey, though, if you’re eating every meal in restaurants and sleeping in fancy hotels every night. Being all vegetarian and mostly vegan (I’d happily eat vegan every meal, but if I do eat out, I don’t get too picky about what’s in the bread or throw a tantrum if they forgot to leave off the cheese), sometimes getting a meal in a restaurant is a challenge anyway, so it’s easier to make my own.

So, here’s 5 ways to decrease your budget on road trips:

  1. Bring some or all of your own food and make use of rest stop picnic tables, public parks, ferries, beaches, campgrounds, or just your car for preparing and dining.

2013-07-03_13-36-37_557When we go places, I bring a soft-sided cooler we picked up in a Texas HEB store for $10. It’s got a divider in it so sealed stuff liked drinks can go underneath with the ice and supports the bag of vegan cheese or pack of Tofurkey or Just Mayo or whatever else you have in there. Personally, I can’t seem to go anywhere without salsa. I use it as a condiment, as an ingredient in rice dishes, as a snack. And sitting next to the salsa is usually at least one tub of hummus.


Depending on the length of your trip, you may also want to bring along a campstove. We take a big propane Coleman stove on most trips because propane is cheap and easy to find. For trips where space is premium, we have a small butane cookstove. With a pack of aluminum cake pans, I can make rice dishes, heat up beans, saute veggies, cook potatoes, and more.

Our first stop on road trips with an air travel component is to unpack the cooler and find a grocery store to stock it.

The key to making road-side eating seem like a fun adventure instead of a poor chore is to use imagination and flair beyond PB&J (unless you really really like PB&J). For example, if you didn’t eat all your potatoes an veggie sausage the night before, you could heat up the leftovers with a can of baked beans while you smash an avocado and some salsa together as a chip dip. Plenty of food for lunch and leftover dip for later in the day when you’re still hours from your destination and you need a snack.

Overall, if your supplies and food are well-organized, you can pull into a nice rest area, heat up something, eat, wash up, and be back on the road faster than it would take to get lunch in a diner.

2. Go camping.

I love camping. I really do. I’m not saying that because I just like having a beautiful place to sleep for half or a third — even a fourth — the cost of a nearby hotel room. I genuinely like being out in nature. I like hearing bugs and birds and the wind blowing through the trees.

20140526_062048_Richtone(HDR) Camping Flagstaff

I also like waking up to views I can’t get from a hotel (or can’t afford).

IMG_20131206_232744A good tent is a good tent. (Note: “good tent” may vary based on need. I don’t take my on long hikes or suspend it from cliffs. It’s not designed for that. It’s also not big enough for more than two adults. It has, however, held up for roughly twenty years and it’s been used in Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina, and all over Florida.) For my purposes, a good tent is lightweight but durable. It’s easy to set up and take down. (Some newer tents have a “key” design and poles that don’t line up to the stake holes and they’re frankly too much of a design mess to be setting up at 10pm in near total darkness after driving all day.) It fits back in its bag easily and the whole thing fits in a suitcase or small tub for shipping (tip 4).


3. Mix up camping, Air B&B, motels, and nicer hotels. (And look for deals and discounts.)


Some places don’t have campgrounds or national parks. Some places are too cold, too hot, or too urban for camping to be an option. Sometimes you want to be in town or you’re in a hurry or whatever.

My sister goes to a lot of conferences for work, so she has boatloads of points and rewards for certain hotel chains. She can usually find a good deal on one in any city and if not, she collects the points to use later. My friend has a rewards credit card and collects points to spend on other travel because she loves travel, high-end things, and paying off her cards before the 30th of every month. Maybe you’re a family and participate in one of the programs through the low-end chains (like Motel 6, Super 8, Choice, etc.). And has a rewards program for frequent users.

Me? I’m not good at any of that and I’m not crazy about chains. I want each experience to be different. And I check everywhere (from the nicest 5-start resort to the skeeviest motel) for bed bugs and exceptionally gross stuff before I put down my bags. I like boutique hotels, small B&Bs, hometown inns, and roadside motels and motor courts with neon signs older than I am.


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Here’s the thing about non-chains and regional (as opposed to national) chains: You have to do a little research. Sure, you might find a Best Western that looks like the set of a horror movie and you might find another that looks like a Westin, but for the most part they all look the same and they look the same as every Holiday Inn, Ramada, and converted HoJo on the same exit ramp.

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Researching smaller places:

Read all the reviews you can find, but take them with a grain of salt. If you’re the kind of person who needs a room to look like it was just built yesterday and scrubbed to surgical standards, this isn’t an adventure for you. If a person’s complaining about the thread count of the sheets or that the carpet has a few stains, you have to decide if that’s a deal breaker for you. Me? If I’m staying one night, I don’t care if the sheets aren’t Egyptian cotton as long as they’re clean. Carpet? Is it just old (cause it’s not like I’m eating off it), or is the stain from a triple homicide last month? Is that picture of “bed bugs” in the review actual bed bugs or just ants? (Related, someone freaking out over a couple of ants in a hotel room in Florida isn’t being taken seriously by me. It’s Florida. It has bugs. Everywhere.)

Use Google Earth or Street View to “walk” the area around the place. Keep in mind that a sketchy area shot on a bright sunny day may look safer than it is and a lovely part of town may look sketchier if Google drove through on an overcast day. Look at what’s around the place you’re thinking of staying in. Look at the outside of the building. Does it have natural barriers to keep guests safe (things like vegetation at the edge of the property or set on the lot at an angle that keeps the lot well lit or hard to wander into) or have they built up obvious fences with barbed wire like an impound lot? (Don’t stay at the impound lot. You’re just as safe catching a nap in the parking lot of a truck stop.)

Use social media to see what kinds of pictures people post and what kinds of people post them. If you want a quiet, relaxing night but most of the pictures are from large groups of college kids doing bong hits in their room, you probably want to pick another place. If you’re a bunch of twenty-somethings looking to hang out late by the pool, maybe the place that’s all grandparents and toddlers on Facebook isn’t for you.

Keep your sense of adventure. Did I reroute a whole trip so I had an excuse to stay in a Clown Motel? Yes. Yes, I did. And because of it we found an awesome old cemetery and mining park. (That mining park is so damn cool.) Did I drive through sleet and snow, past multiple good quality chain hotels to stay in the Wigwam Motel the first time? Yes. Absolutely. Because why stay in a box when you can stay in a giant concrete tee pee? Seriously, why?

4. Ship stuff ahead of time if you’re flying.

If you’re planning a week or two on the road and you’re camping and cooking, there are things that are either too heavy to put in your luggage without paying crazy fees, would take up too much space without you having to wear the same outfit the whole trip, or would cause the TSA to jump you.

That leaves you with two options: stock up when you get there (which is necessary for things like propane, butane, lighters, etc.) or ship it out ahead of you. A plastic tub shipped parcel post is generally cheaper than paying for an extra or over-weight suitcase, depending on just how much is in it and how far it’s going. (Check with your airline. When we fly Southwest, that extra bag each holds almost everything we need.)

Just make sure the container you ship in will fit in your rental once you get there.

5. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

It’s not just good environmental stewardship. It’s good for the budget.

Two years ago, we were buying stuff for a trip and had to chose between a mixed-box of plastic utensils for $6 or a four-pack each of metal spoons, forks, and knives for $3. The extra $3 went toward a small bottle of dish soap and a sponge. The mini soap is still in a side-pocket of the cooler along with the sponge and we refill the bottle whenever it gets low. The silverware isn’t pretty, but it’s been used on many camping trips and taken along with a lot of boxed lunches. Even better, if you have older silverware (maybe that half a set from when you first moved out) that isn’t part of your every day set (in case it gets lost along the way), or you have a thrift shop that sells old utensils on the cheap you can find reusable serving spoons or big forks to use instead of grill tongs.

Then again, maybe you already have a bamboo set. I perpetually lose mine; I probably need a set for every purse and backpack I own. Bamboo doesn’t hold flavors, cleans up easily, doesn’t conduct heat well so it’s great for use with the cookstove.

Stainless steel to-go containers, tin or bamboo plates, and other earth-friendly items are great long-term investments. Don’t have that kind of cash? a set of plastic plates from a dollar store that you wash and reuse is still loads better than disposable plastic or styrofoam.

Travel mugs, and refillable water bottles can be taken through security (if empty) at airports and used all along the road. Most truck stops, a lot of gas stations, and even many coffee shops will give you a discount for bringing your own mug. Camelbak, Brita and others sell refillable bottles with filters to make tap water tastier. Stainless steel is a classic. Durable, easy to clean, you can’t go wrong with a good water bottle. Besides, disposable sucks.

Gainesville — bookstores, nature, and vegan food for all


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IMG_20150807_135404 (2)We went up to Gainesville this past weekend for the husband’s graduation. While there, we explored as best we could with the massive storm system moving through the area.


Gainesville always strikes me as this weird blend of old and rundown, abandoned or derelict buildings and obvious poverty mixed with all the shiny new construction, youthful exuberance and hope of a college town. It’s the kind of place where you find trendy restaurants that are actually affordable and you kind of expect to stumble across a drum circle in every vacant lot. And, of course, you know I like any place with plenty of books and vegan food.


We had planned to wander around Payne’s Prairie some, but the sky looked like Weather Channel special so after picking up his cap and gown at the university bookstore (he managed to get me out before I snuck into the textbook section) we checked into the hotel (Paramount Plaza, which gave us a lovely view of the lake). The hotel is a bit old and the hallways give off a creepy vibe, but the rooms overlooking the lake are lovely, the price isn’t bad for its location — few minutes from campus, downtown, and Payne’s Prairie — and it has a pool and fitness room as well as conference center, bar, and restaurant. I’m not sure I’d recommend the restaurant. They claim to have one vegan item on the dinner menu, but the staff seemed a little confused by it. (I called down to ask since it didn’t look like the storm would abate for us to get downtown.)

IMG_20150807_161026 (1)We spent the rest of the late afternoon checking out Florida’s only independent feminist bookstore (Wild Iris), and getting ice cream (VEGAN!) at Karma Cream. First off, I can’t express how exciting it is to walk into an ice cream shop in summer and actually be able to get a little cup of ice cream because they offer a vegan option. Secondly, the ice cream was delicious (ginger cookies caramel). Honestly, I don’t know why more ice cream shops don’t offer a vegan option, not just for vegans but for all those people who are lactose intolerant who might like to stop into a shop on a hot summer day without popping pills or worrying about after-effects. And coconut milk ice cream is so rich and creamy no one would know unless they were allergic to coconuts or told.

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We spent a few hours hiding out in the hotel room watching the thunder and lightning and rain over the lake until it broke up enough to head out for dinner.

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For dinner, we went downtown and walked around until we found Boca Fiesta (it’s tucked down a side street or alley behind the Hippodrome). The tempeh tacos were awesome and the salsa was yummy, though hubby said it was a little too hot. The hot sauces were pretty good, too.



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After commencement, we found a place selling falafel out of a strip mall, picked up a few things at Publix, and went over to Payne’s Prairie to climb the watchtower and check out the place.

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From there, since we were already on 441, we decided to keep heading south on that, highway 301, and then highway 27 until it got dark and we hit the Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction. We both love taking the back roads. It’s where all the most interesting stuff is. Stuff like this drive in and the House of Presidents (just missed it being open by about forty minutes).

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We also found a little Italian restaurant in what looked like an old tourist fruit stand/welcome center that had delicious spaghetti with an olive oil based sauce full of garlic, tomato and fresh basil. (Hubby really liked the chicken parm sandwich.) We also played some classic video games — joystick was a little sticky which made play kind of a bummer.)

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I told the husband I we should head up to Gainesville more often. Any excuse to travel some back roads and eat some vegan food.


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He’s a Master! (Finally)


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The husband has finally graduated from the University of Florida so this weekend we drove up to Gainesville for the commencement ceremony. Officially, his degree is a Master of Science in the Geomatics program that’s part of the School of Forestry and Conservation in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Florida. More layers than an opera cake, that.

He’s a good blend of coder, environmental science geek, cartographer, and statistician. He’s absurdly smart. Yet goofy.

IMG_20150808_171130 (1)That’s his excited to be done, but trying to smile like he’s happy instead of melting in the August heat face.

We have friends who’ve gotten master’s degrees through online schools, for-profit colleges or schools that have cohort programs. From what I can tell, a “cohort” is sort of like a team that you work on a degree with and you all kind of stick together and share assignments. At least, that’s how the one friend described it. Another said it was the best way to do school because it was like working where everyone does everything in teams. When I got my master’s degree, we didn’t have cohorts and most of our “online” content was via email. But, I got a degree in criminology so most of it was theory and writing papers and all that stuff comes pretty easily to me, so it didn’t feel like much of a challenge.

The husband’s program was partly online, but not in the “post a comment to three other student’s answers” way. More that students were scattered around the Gainesville, Davie, and Plant City campuses and the professors were divided between Gainesville and Davie so they taped lectures as they gave them. You could watch live and participate in discussions/ask questions via chat box or microphone, depending on setup, or you could watch them later and submit any questions via email.

Gotta say, the University of Florida is littered with overachievers. As such, some of the professors don’t really explain things; they just kind of assume “you should have had this in your high school physics class,” which is all fine and well if you did indeed study that in high school physics and high school wasn’t two decades in the past.

Which is to say, it wasn’t an easy degree to get. And he did really, really well (straight As on everything but an extra, experimental class the university was just kind of building out of random ideas they had and wasn’t part of the actual program). And I’m super proud of him.

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The commencement speech seemed like it was meant more for me than the husband, though. The speaker — the university’s new president — talked about how it’s okay to not have the future mapped out, to not have a seventeen point plan from high school through college to the exact jobs necessary to get you to the spot you envision by the time you’re forty. He talked about majoring in one thing and changing, about going to seminary school and transferring out to something else, about being a teacher (professor) and never wanting to get into administration, and yet he enjoys his new role. Basically, it was about not getting upset if your path deviates, that the person you become will come from all those experiences and will give you the unique talents and skills that will make you valuable, that will serve you and those around you.

Pretty sure his plan was to alleviate the fears of the overachiever graduates who hadn’t gotten into the exact next program they wanted or who had the car packed full of their apartment or dorm “essentials” but had no idea where to drive except back home to the ‘rents or who were maybe non-traditional students surrounded by the kid with the the wall-sized poster detailed every moment of life until death.

Thing is, the husband (“Lumpy”) and I were never really the high school fuck up or the high school overachiever, but we sat in those classes. He took a lot of classes with the kids who were average or were retaking algebra for the third time. I took a lot of classes with the kids who memorized the anatomy of horses before calculus in the morning, the kids who fought over who was going to be valedictorian, and bet each other over which schools they could and couldn’t get into . Yet both Lumpy and I were the ones who saw homework as optional. At least he was awake for most of high school. I’m not sure which was better sleeping, calculus or AP history.

Yet, he’s now the man with the plan. Not so much the “I do this for three years and then do this for two years and then apply for this and then…” kind of plan so much as he has an identifiable career path that led from an environmental science degree to working for an environmental engineering company where he used his knowledge of GIS to do a few projects and move into a GIS job at a city where he picked up new skills like he was picking strawberries at a U-Pic farm and then parlayed that into a management position. You know, a path.

I’ve worked in communications, advertising, and education. When I put it like that, they sound related. When I say I edited news for pagers, set up SKUs for inserts and proofread them, and taught English and math to delinquents, it sounds a little less cohesive.

However, I have gathered a bucket of skills and one of these days I’m going to find the perfect use for them.

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In the meantime, maybe we’ll start trying this thing people call “weekends” now.


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