Sunday, July 5, 2015

On the Bookshelf: There But For The

A clever narrative (the cleverest?) told in the voices of four different characters surrounding one unusual incident: a dinner party guest who essentially takes up residence in the hosts' spare bedroom.

Though much of the tale does not reveal the activities of the house guest in the spare bedroom, each of the narrator's peripheral stories provide insight into a small facet of his past and his character. 

Carefully constructed yet wide ranging and dynamic, There But For The is an enjoyable read for those that don't mind a narrative that is not linear in any way.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

On the Bookshelf: The Country of Ice Cream Star

My dad, who I believe would be an "end of the world prepper" if he ever took himself seriously enough to do so, gave me The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman for my birthday. Surprise, surprise, it's about the apocalypse. A bigger surprise for me, it took me longer to read than any other book this year. 

I will compare the experience of reading this book with my own personal experiment of reading a book in Spanish for the first time. I understand basic Spanish thanks to years of public school education, but the rules of the textbook go out the window when you get into the literary domain. Though Country of Ice Cream Star is written in English, it is written much like it's setting: recognizable but not 100% familiar.

At being said, once I got over the humbling experience of having to closely read every single passage, I found myself letting go of my need to comprehend every detail and get into the story. I developed a sense of kinship with the main character and her constantly evolving situation while deciding on my own which characters to trust. 

To be honest, I am still not completely sure I understood everything that went on, but it was a very enjoyable read that forced me to try something new and rewarded me for sticking with it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Dive

Each and every summer, Jessie's family put their comings and goings on hold to embark on their shared ritual: a week at the beach. Though some summers were indistinguishable from one another simply due to the distance of memory, this particular summer stood out.

The vacation started as it always did. The family car slid down the hill towards the bridge. The sun, high in the sky after several hours of driving, lit up the gleaming masts of sailboats bobbing in the glittering bay. Just across the bridge a jaunty red flag flying above city hall saluted the family in greeting. 

Her father piloted the car sharply to the right momentarily obscuring the island from view. 6 year old Ben grew fussy. He had his own plans to create sand castle fortresses for his action figures, or at least dig a hole deep enough to sit in. As Mom scooped him up to quiet him, Jessie instructed herself to be patient and helpful. After all, she did turn 10 that year, and reaching double digits ushered in an intoxicating level of maturity that demanded good behavior in public places and above all, patience.

Her family wound through each aisle of the grocery store. Jessie reviewed the week's agenda. 

"We're going to go to the swimming area for a beach day, right Mom?" she asked.

Her mother nodded. "And we'll probably head back to the house around noon for lunch and a nap."

"What do you children want to do at night?" Dad asked.

"I'd like to walk around the island in the dark," Mom said.

Ben chimed in "let's get ice cream from the candy shop!"

"We also have to go to the fun zone to play skee ball and ride the Ferris Wheel." Jessie sighed contentedly. There was comfort in the familiarity with the promise of new experiences. 

Toting a grocery bag back to the car, Jessie walked as fast as she could. Once everyone was buckled in, her father swung the car around and drifted over the bridge onto the island. The summer traffic that afternoon was almost pleasurable. It afforded Jessie and her family the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the sights and sounds of summer vacation. As the car inched through the the streets, Jessie read the street signs and counted them off on her fingers. Onyx, Amethyst, Apolena, Coral, Sapphire and Diamond; committing them to memory like a strand of precious jewels. After parking the car, the family barely got settled before running towards the swimming area.

Dad quickly overtook Jessie and Ben as he stretched his long legs in the direction of the sand. The two children ambled after him and waited for him to select the perfect place to lay a beach blanket. Much to Jessie's surprise, he didn't stop at all. Instead, he scurried across the low wall lining the sidewalk with his heels raised and arms out like a lumbering bear. Jessie followed suit, completing the circus act with long, pointed steps in imitation of a tightrope walker. Dad broke into a full run when he reached the dock and soon Jessie fell behind, keeping her eyes on the ground to avoid stubbing her toe or getting a splinter from one of the uneven planks. 

The planks came to an end and only water filled Jessie's line of sight. It was murky, a deep brown and green swirled together by the rising and falling of the tides and the frequent boat traffic in the channel. Toes curled around the edge of the dock, Jessie scanned the water for any signs of her father, looking for evidence of his disappearance. Her eyes roamed the peaceful waters of the roped off swim area, lined gently with cheerfully bobbing buoys. With no sign of a foamy splash, Jessie closed her eyes. Her mind started to race and she felt a small tug at the base of her stomach, a feeling that brought back memories of summers before. 

As a small child learning to walk, her father would hold her hands above her head while she careened along the sand. Smaller waves lapped her heels but every once in awhile a bigger wave would come by and cover her ankles, rooting her to the sand. She would screech in a mixture of surprise and joy, reveling in the ice cold sensation of the water and the inevitable feeling of flying as her dad picked her up and let her feet dangle. As the tide rolled in, father and daughter began a dance, a dip and float, a perpetual bounce. A misstep, a slight falter in the dance sent her sideways and she was dragged into the tumbling depths. Alternate light and darkness, the ocean's roar and her own shouts mixed with those of her mother. Up became down, air and sand indistinguishable from one another, her knees scraped relentlessly along the shells.

Suddenly, stillness. 

She was bobbing in a drop off, completely submerged and a little shocked. Her eyes burned in the salt water as she opened them, seeing only the murky green and brown depths. Someone scooped her up and held her close wrapped in towels. Wide eyed, trembling and coughing, she looked back at the sea and all the boats that floated so calmly across it. Power and peace, violence and serenity in one. She did not venture out into the open ocean after that. 

All these feelings and more overtook her as she imagined her father in the same state, tumbling along the bottom of the channel. Perhaps he was being dragged down by one of those dark divers that clean the bottom of boats, constantly contending with currents and claustrophobia. She imagined his tanned back mauled by the bottom of a scraping yacht, or his limbs hanging limp in the grip of a jellyfish. Breath coming short and shallow, she opened her eyes when she heard a familiar sound. 

She saw Dad, whistling a special whistle and hanging from a catamaran with sunny colored sails. He waved her over. She approached the water tentatively and tried to ignore the image of her own back dragged across the bottom of the channel. Her toes dipped into the water and she shivered. Looking left and right to check for oncoming boats, she willed herself to take that extra push. Time passed and eventually her father swam back across the channel and returned to the beach towel. Jessie headed back too, chin tucked, fighting shame and tears. Dad was disappointed that she wouldn't jump, she, a ten year old, couldn't do something on her own even with the supervision of an adult.

So much for double digits. 

Though no one said a word about Jessie's reluctance to dive, she was convinced that everyone was watching her and saw her hesitation. She chastised herself continuously throughout the week. The dive was evidence of growing up. It wasn't like moving from minnow to shark like she did this previous year in swimming lessons. It was moving from the little kids swim area to the open channel. This required a whole new skill set. 

She was determined to prove herself. Each morning she stood on the edge of the dock to get acclimated and suppress the feeling of being pulled away by the tide. Her brother's voice broke her concentration.

"Jess, c'mon" he whined. "Come build a sand castle with me. Mom says if you wanna swim I gotta go too!" 

She sighed. "Get your boogie board and come on." 

He kicked his way alongside his sister as she swam out to the end of the swim zone. The buoys were the gateway, and she swung her legs out into the channel to experiment with the feeling of being in between, half in safety and half out in boat traffic. The two of them floated in the water, Ben kicking back and forth. 

"My back is itchy. Do you see seaweed or something?" 

Jessie peered at his back and shrugged. "I don't see anything. It looks red, did you remember to put on sunscreen?"

His eyes widened. "Mom's going to be so mad!"

Later that week, Ben and Jessie went out to the edge of the swim zone for another one of their explorations. Jessie slowly sunk completely into the channel, feeling the current moving under her feet. After a just few seconds she came back up for air and an engine shuddered to life behind her. She kicked vigorously towards shore and didn't stop until her stomach scraped the soft sand of the shore. She looking back towards the dock, Jessie promised herself that tomorrow would be the day. It was now or never. After tomorrow it was time to pack up and head home. 

The morning arrived and Jessie rose early. She marched downstairs to announce her intention to dive but she found only her mother sitting at the kitchen table.

 "Where's Dad?" she asked. 

"Oh, the boys will join us later" her mother replied, smiling mysteriously. 

Just like any of the previous days, she felt the overwhelming feeling of tumbling through the murky water at the end of the pier. She anticipated it and channeled it into her memory of yesterday's swim. It still nagged her that her father wasn't around to notice. She was ready to jump! How could she show him how much she's accomplished on this vacation? On the other hand, her mom was watching her carefully, as always, and who knew how long this burst of confidence would hold out? 

Seeing no sign of her dad, she closed her eyes, leaned towards the water, and counted down in her head. Three, two, one...

Jessie gasped and opened her eyes. She'd forgotten to check the channel traffic! She hastily looked right and then left, and noticed a familiar pair of faces paddling towards her in what appeared to be a banana. As they drew closer she recognized her father and brother in a yellow kayak. Dad dropped Ben off within the confines of the swim area and watched him doggie paddle his way in to shore. "Come on in and I'll give you a ride", he called to her. Jessie stepped off the dock and kicked her way to the kayak. Boosting herself into the front seat, she waved at her mom and brother and set off down the channel. 

The island looked completely different from the kayak. The boats seemed friendlier, each with their own face and personality. They paddled towards the bridge. Jessie tried to picture her family driving over that bridge on the first day of their vacation. A boisterous giggle escaped her throat, leaving her feeling buoyant as a bubble emerging from a diver's tank. She trailed her fingers in the water as her dad paddled. The ripples shimmered all the way to the sand and the sun's rays piereced the murky green, making it clear enough to pick out individual strands of sea grass or tiny fish flitting beneath the boat. Jessie turned around to point them out to her dad, but he was nowhere to be found.

Jessie was gliding in the middle of the channel on the kayak with an abandoned paddle. She considered swimming to shore and running up the beach to get her mom. She could also paddle around in the water to find her dad in those clear depths. She tried to hoist the paddle from the back of the tandem seat, but the kayak rocked dangerously. 

Just as she regained her balance something emerged from beneath the kayak causing a surge powerful enough to capsize the boat. Jessie flopped into the water and kicked as had as she could towards a neighboring buoy. Scrambling to take hold of the mossy, rounded surface, she flailed and slipped beneath the water a few more times. Reaching high above her head, her palm made contact with the rough and salty sun bleached rope. Hoisting herself atop the buoy, she looked around. Her dad was laughing and hanging off the capsized kayak with the paddle in hand. 

Jessie made a face and crossed her arms in mock consternation. "Why'd you do that?" she shouted, and splashed him. 

He shrugged. "I thought it would be fun to take a bit of a swim, just then." 

Jessie laughed, shaking her head at her father's nonchalant approach to life. "Now how do we get back into this thing?" she asked. 

They couldn't flip the kayak over with both of them treading water. Hanging from the sides of the boat, they kicked towards shore on an oversized boogie board. Taking hold of each end, they walked the vessel down the sidewalk. When they finally made it back to the swim area, Ben jumped up and down. "My turn! My turn!"

While Dad and Ben paddled back out, Jessie ran down the dock and yelled after them. 

"Wait! You haven't seen me dive yet!" Her dad turned back and shouted over his shoulder.

"Of course I did! How else did you get into the kayak?"

Monday, May 26, 2014

200 Words on Breakfast

Though the chimes of her alarm sounded promptly at 6am, she was already awake, contemplating the Sunday sun peeking under the flimsy blinds. Tossing back the covers, she dressed quickly and hurried downstairs from her tiny apartment. Pushing off the curb on her bike, she pedaled smoothly away from the bustling city and down a tree lined street towards the farmers market.

Strolling amongst the vendors' booths, she paused at the end of each row to inhale the scents that promised fresh, crisp produce in the next aisle. Trying to decide between a golden pineapple and a sonorous cantaloupe, a basket of ruby red strawberries caught her eye. Thanking the vendor, she nestled the berries in the bike basket and hastened home. 

After a quick rinse, she arranged the strawberries in a bowl. Selecting the ripest, she carefully separated their feathery leaves and sliced the hull into thin slivers. Spreading crunchy peanut butter on sugary sweet cinnamon raisin bread, the berries made a perfect topping for a Sunday breakfast.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

150 Words: Vegetable Fried Rice

Trying to get back into my writing this summer, I've picked up a book of creative writing prompts from the library. When I'm not working on a story, I'm going to try to work through a few of the prompts. The first one is about food, as apparently taste is the most overlooked sense in creative writing. 

The lime green bowl drifted slowly in circles, the wax paper puffing like a sail in the invisible gales of the microwave. Tapping out an impatient rhythm on the tile floor, she inhaled breath after breath of the salty sweet sauce emanating from the kitchen. A few staccato beeps indicate that the vegetable fried rice is ready for consumption.

After tangling with the pair of chopsticks, she takes the first bite and determines the edamame are the popcorn of the vegetable world. Salty and delightfully chewy, they pop under the pressure of each chew. Accompanied by a symphony of crunch provided by onion, red pepper, and carrots, these green nuggets put the punctuation on each bite of the savory dish. A few bites later, the chopsticks are scraping ceramic and the promise of more fried rice waits in the freezer.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


From time to time (and especially on stressful days) I hear a voice in my head that chides me for my lack of commitment to my writing. 

You could be talented, it says. If you just set aside some time to work through things. You hardly ever write, and that's why you're suffering. That's why your work feels flat and your inspiration tapped. You need to work for it

Then, there's other times like today when I was cleaning my closet (ok, really my whole apartment). Re-arranging the books on my shelves, I started pulling down a spiral bound notebook to see if it can be recycled. To my surprise, all the pages were filled. So I pulled down another (same thing!). 

Finally, I pulled down a fistful of colorful Moleskines. I can't recall when this happened, but one year my family colluded to give me a bunch of Moleskines in different colors for my birthday. Though they're different sizes and different grid line rules, they're all full. 

All Ten.

Every. Single. Page.

At first, I couldn't believe I'd written that much. Then, I sat down and read through some of the short stories (many of which are posted on this blog). Some are too hilariously awful to ever face the internet, while others are not promising enough to be a short story but interesting enough to potentially become something else. 

So, a simple fit of spring cleaning taught me something today. I learned not to doubt myself as much as I do (especially when it comes to writing!).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bundles of Joy

I love getting mail. This week was a particularly good week for it, too. In addition to the usual roundup of bills and bank statements, I received some fun presents each time I opened my mailbox. 

First, I got the March issues of my two favorite magazines, InStyle and Yoga Journal.

Then, I got valentine's day cards. Thanks to all of you that love me! I miss you all and I am sorry I am not a better correspondent.

Finally, I got a package from my new favorite mail subscription service. Step aside, birch box, and make way for Graze:

Four servings of snacks picked out for me based on my likes and dislikes. In this box, I got dried berries (extra serving of iron!), banoffee pie trail mix, summer berry granola bars, and Texas corn salsa savory bites. I get my next box in four weeks so my original plan was to try to stretch this box out. Everything looks so tasty I might not be able to do it! If anyone wants to give Graze a try, click here for a friends and family discount code.

I love mail subscriptions; it is so fun to come home to something picked out for you. I also subscribe to Stitch Fix, a home styling service. I am expecting my spring box from them in late March. We will see how it goes!

What other mail order subscriptions are out there? What are your favorites?