There’s an Echo in Here

Hard to believe that Christmas will be nothing but a memory in less than one week!

Friday night was our company Christmas party, and we had a grand ol’ time. At least I assume we did, though my recollection is a bit hazy. I am no stranger to the boozes, but I don’t usually mix ’em like I did that evening. In my defense, it’s not very often I am handed free drink tickets, so naturally I wanted to take advantage of my employer’s generosity. My final tally for the night: three tequila sodas, a Negroni (gin + vermouth), and a Sazerac (Cognac + absinthe). Is it any wonder my memory’s a blur!?

I ordered the Negroni based on Candace’s recommendation, a coworker with whom I share a similar fondness for good food and alcohol, but didn’t care for it that much. I suppose if you’re a fan of bitterness you’ll love it, but I am not, so I did not. The Sazerac, on the other hand? That’s a different story! I was sitting next to Deb’s roommate Jess, and we were sampling each other’s drinks. She ordered the Sazerac first and I liked it so much I ended up getting my own. So if anybody is the bad influence here, it is her.

The food was pretty good. It was your standard buffet fare – hand-carved prime rib, spiral-sliced ham, pasta, rolls, salad, veggies, etc. – but the plates were fancy little rectangles that were more artistic than practical, and did not hold a lot of food. Which is pretty much the sole purpose of a plate, when you get right down to it. The roll alone took up half that prime real estate, and the huckleberry butter was mostly frozen so you had to devote a square inch of space to that since it was too hard to spread. This meant you had to get creative and pile items on top of each other, resulting in layers of food that resembled a geological strata. My slice of roast beef rested atop a mound of green beans that, in turn, covered my salad, the vinaigrette co-mingling with the horseradish. It was a bit annoying, if I’m being honest. A decent plate (read: big and round) would have made a world of difference. Is it any wonder I got so drunk? I hardly ate any food! (Apparently I did eat a s’more, according to Tara, though I have no memory of this. I find it rather surprising given my general avoidance of sweets. I also do not recall an entire conversation about my meet-n-greet with Bruce Springsteen, but am told I was discussing at length how he smelled. WTF?)

After finishing my precariously-balanced dinner there were casino games, and I actually did pretty well at the Blackjack table. I must have been pretty sloshed, because 21 is not normally a game I excel at, but I kept raking in the chips. I cashed them in for raffle tickets when I was finished and ended up winning an Amazon Echo Dot. Score! (I do not even know what to do with this device, not really, but I did have it on my wish list so I will happily figure this out.)

All in all, it was a fun party. My rock ‘n roll boss played two sets with his band, and I even got out on the dance floor for a bit. This part I do remember. We ended up ducking out around 11:30, and only reluctantly, because we were driving north to Bothell the next morning to visit Tara’s family.

We ended up leaving around 10:00 Saturday, and Audrey even came with us. It had been a long time since she tagged along, so that was nice. It was snowing when we left – again! – (after another storm last Wednesday that wreaked havoc for Portland commuters), but just flurries. In any case, we enjoyed a scenic drive up to Puget Sound, and spent the afternoon hanging out at Tracy’s apartment. She bought an Atari Flashback gaming system that came pre-loaded with 101 games, so I whiled away the hours playing Frogger, Missile Command, Asteroids, Centipede, and Space Invaders with my nephew, Anthony. So much fun. I was a big Atari fan back in the day and loved my 2600 console. At one point we realized it had gotten dark and we were hungry, so we  drove out to the local McMenamin’s tiki bar for dinner and cocktails. Went back to Tracy’s place and watched Elf before turning in for the night. The next morning she made eggs Benedict, we whipped up Bloody Marys, and opened Christmas gifts early. We left around 1:00, but made a stop in Tacoma at Bass Pro Shops, where I bought a really good quality pair of hiking shoes. I figure this whole hiking thing is more than a passing fad now, so it seemed worthwhile to invest in something sturdy and waterproof. The Keen brand I ended up purchasing was very highly rated. Can’t wait to break them in.

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This morning I got up early to walk, but had to cut my pre-dawn stroll short because it was 31 degrees and sleeting. I still ended up doing 2.75 miles, but it was getting pretty icy and I was afraid I was going to slip and fall and break something fragile so I decided not to push my luck. We are having quite the winter, and it isn’t even winter yet! For a while there it looked like I would once again be going in late, but the temperature warmed to just above freezing and the sleet turned to rain, so I made the trek to work without issue. It then warmed all the way up to 47 degrees, which feels downright tropical after the cold snap we’ve had.

My team surprised me with a Christmas gift this morning that is right up my grammar-loving alley.

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Aww. It’s perfect!

I, in turn, gave them gift cards to the coffeeshop around the corner. We were just chock full of holiday spirit today.

I’ve got three more days of work this week, then I am off for ten. I plan to do a lot of writing over the holiday, as I am anxious to finish my novel and am nearing the home stretch.

Puffy Coats and Cat Sweaters

Audrey bought a sweater for our cat today. Suffice it to say, she was not a fan of playing dress-up. Poor Sydney. You can practically see “you shitty humans” written all over her face. Hey, I thought she was cute!

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Last week was pretty interesting. I ended up working from home  Thursday and Friday due to the weather. We didn’t even end up with all that much snow – no more than 1″, really – but then it turned to sleet and freezing rain, and that created an icy mess. Fortunately, I have a very understanding boss and a job where I can easily work from home (and usually get a lot more done there, anyway). But after being cooped up for a couple of days I was feeling a bit stir-crazy come Saturday morning. So we probably shouldn’t have started watching Disc 1 of the Stephen King miniseries 11.22.63, because we got totally sucked in and ended up watching all four hours’ worth before budging from the couch around noon. It’s such a great book – probably my favorite King novel, and that’s saying a lot – and the miniseries is just different enough to make it feel unique. James Franco nails the lead role. When we finished I finally got outside and took a nice, long walk around the neighborhood. I’d tried venturing out  on Friday afternoon but the sidewalks were icy and after nearly falling a couple of times I gave up on that idea and decided staying inside and drinking Wild Roots vodka was the better idea. Mama didn’t raise no fools.

Yesterday, we went out to dinner at Der Rheinlander, a German restaurant in Portland that has been in business for 53 years. I have a longstanding love affair with the place; the first time my parents came up for a visit in 1994 we went here, and have been going ever since. It has been a holiday tradition for many years, one that I have written about fondly right here on ye olde blog. Sadly, they are closing for good on December 31st. Apparently there was big demand in the marketplace for a castle-shaped building. So we wanted to go one last time, and invited my parents along. My dad has been battling a cold and wasn’t feelin’ the schnitzel, but my mom joined us and, as always, we had a great time and an amazing meal that consisted of – for posterity’s sake – cheese fondue with white and rye bread and German sausage links; bier onion soup; and a chicken breast in a pepper cream sauce with sauteed mushrooms and spaetzle. Plus a couple of cocktails. It was so, so good.

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The family that owns Der Rheinlander opened a chain of similar restaurants called Gustav’s, and their menu is basically the same, but the ambience just isn’t the same. The Rheinlander is more like a theme park: it’s a dark maze of adjoining rooms replete with cuckoo clocks on the walls and  strolling accordion players dressed in  Lederhosen. Campy? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. I will miss the place very much.

Today I ended up venturing out to the mall, a place I never go. Especially this time of year. But I was in need of a winter coat, since our weather is supposed to remain cold (30s – low 40s) for pretty much the next 10 days or so. And they’re predicting more chances of snow, which might translate to more days working from home. I can live with that. My mission was successful: I found a nice, warm “puffy” coat (Seinfeld, anybody?) and treated myself to conveyor belt sushi. I am living the high life, folks.

When I came home I called an old friend. Actually, my best friend from high school, Ted. We had been inseparable for three years when we lived on Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota, but had completely fallen out of touch with one another. I last saw/spoke with Ted in 1987 before he dropped off the face of the earth, and had been searching in vain for him for years. After turning up exactly zero leads, I figured one of three things had happened: he’d died, ended up in jail, or entered witness protection. Seriously. In this day and age, it’s not too difficult to find people.

And then, about a month ago, I got a message from his daughter on Facebook. I’d emailed her two years ago, thinking she might know him (she shared his last name and had also lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, where I knew he had at one time resided), but had never heard back from her. Then, quite suddenly, I did. Turns out Ted is her father, and he had legally changed his last name years earlier, which is why I was never able to find him on social media. We had not spoken in 29 years, and yet, it was almost as if no time had passed. Growing up an Air Force brat I never made any “permanent” friends, and Ted’s whereabouts had long been a mystery to me. I’m so glad I found him! He is the closest I have to a childhood friend, and we spent 45 minutes catching up and reminiscing today. It’s amazing how quickly you can bridge a three-decades gap. Ted’s a good guy. He has had his share of challenges in life, but haven’t we all? It sounds like he’s emerged stronger for his experiences. Turns out we have actually followed similar paths in life. Best of all, he now lives in Roseville, CA – a suburb of Sacramento. I have two other close friends who live there. I’m thinking a road trip in the near future might be just what the doctor ordered.

The “S” Word

Tara and I drove into Portland yesterday to pick up a few things (an $11.45 bag of Jacobsen sea salt, a bottle of Wild Roots Marionberry infused vodka, a package of smoked steelhead trout – god, we’re weird). While on Sandy Blvd. we drove past a huge vintage store we had never seen before and decided to stop in. This place was great! In addition to a million knickknacks, including more than a few lava lamps, they also apparently bought out an old clothing/costume store and there were all kinds of groovy outfits. I really, really wanted to buy a yellow ruffled tuxedo shirt and houndstooth jacket just because, or maybe to wear to the upcoming office holiday party ironically, but we didn’t have a lot of time to browse so we will have to go back sometime and invest a solid hour or two for looking around.

Along the way, we passed this car.

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Guess you’d call that a tree-cylinder, huh?

Oh, Portland. I love you so.

On the way home there was a woman on the side of the road selling homemade tamales out of a cooler for $5 each. “You just know those would be the best tamales you ever had,” Tara said, and I was tempted to stop but I had already passed her by and we really needed to get home so I could start cooking, as we were having my parents over for dinner. Come to think of it, I should have just picked up a bunch of tamales and served those – would’ve saved me a heck of a lot of trouble, huh? But I was already planning on making enchiladas and guacamole, so we just stuck with that.

I’m tempted to drive back over there sometime and pick up a few, though.

The dinner turned out very well. Doing it all from scratch, right down to the enchilada sauce, is a lot of work but definitely worth the effort. Our apartment is all decked out for the holidays and we had Christmas music playing, so it was very festive. Audrey and her girlfriend were there too, so that was nice. After dinner my parents went home and we watched my favorite holiday movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Tara made popcorn and it was a grand ol’ time.

I was itching to get out of the apartment today and Tara had some stuff to do, so I took an impromptu drive into the Gorge. The weather was very dramatic. Check out the storm clouds from the Cape Horn Lookout.

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I wanted to climb Beacon Rock, but the trail was closed for maintenance. What?! So I ended up hiking to Hardy Falls and Pool of the Winds instead. It’s been really wet lately, and the falls were quite spectacular.

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I also drove into Stevenson, our future home, to check out their community Christmas tree. It was, umm, cute. Pretty small actually. I also stopped in the grocery store for a few items, and the checker was addressing the lady behind me by name and asking about her kids. How quaint. I guess that’s something we’ll have to get used to when we live there.

On the way home I ran into a massive hail storm; that provided some excitement!

I am currently drinking wine while Tara is making a beef and butternut squash stew. We are watching football and will put on The Walking Dead later. Yesterday I hit page 200 in my novel, not a bad feat considering I started out on page 30 a little over a month ago. I am not that far away from the home stretch, which makes me want to keep banging away at it.

So people are getting excited around here because the National Weather Service mentioned the “S” word. As in, snow. They’re predicting that just in time for the morning commute tomorrow, but it’s doubtful that anything will stick unless you get up into the foothills. There’s a better chance of snow and/or freezing rain later in the week, and that offers a little more promise. We shall see. For all the times they predict snow around here, it rarely materializes. We just don’t live in the right climate for it, so everything has to come together perfectly. Regardless of whether it actually does end up snowing, it’s going to be cold this week. Highs in the 30s. We haven’t had temps that low in quite awhile, so it’ll feel especially frigid for those of us more used to a damp 48 degrees.

Have a great week!


NNWM/30: Final Words

Happy last day of November! If you participated in NaNoWriMo, I hope you hit your word goal.

I, for one, am glad it’s over. NaNoWriMo was harder than I imagined it would be. 50,000 words in a month is tough. I did the math before signing up and figured 1,667 words a day – the number needed in order to reach your goal – was do-able. Well, it is, but if you fall behind even one day, you are stuck playing catch-up. And let’s face it: there will be days where you are unable to write 1,667 words. Life gets in the way, especially when you have a full-time job and a hundred other daily responsibilities, like cooking and showering and sleeping. Suddenly, you find yourself needing to write 2,100 words a day to get back on track, and that creates a lot of pressure. Four of us signed on at work. I’m the only one who successfully finished. I don’t blame the others, though. Maybe they’re the sane ones?

I basically devoted every spare moment I had over the past month to writing. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I did it. And yet, I still fell behind, and found myself scrambling the last two weeks. The long holiday weekend saved me. There were slow periods at work where I was able to knock out a few hundred words. As soon as I got home, I fired up my laptop. Weekends, in between errands, I focused on my novel. With that deadline looming constantly over my head, I had very little time to relax and have fun. I feel fortunate, at least, that I never suffered from writer’s block or ended up getting hung up on the plot. When I wrote, the words flowed. Research slowed me down more than anything else. So, yeah: great accomplishment and it was very inspiring and motivational, but I am mentally exhausted. Do I really want to put myself through this again? I’m sure in 11 months I’ll be all fired up again, but I reserve the right not to be.

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I kind of wish NaNoWriMo took place in a different month. One with 31 days, for starters. That alone would reduce your burden by 54 words a day. And preferably a month without a big holiday that required your attention. I think March would be perfect. Maybe we can circulate a petition?

As for the book, 50K words doesn’t even bring me close to the end. According to Dr. Google, most novels clock in at 80,000 – 89,000 words on average, and that feels about right. Here’s an interesting link showing the word counts of popular works of fiction. I probably have another 1/3 of my novel to go yet. But NaNoWriMo was instrumental in providing me with the motivation needed to pick it up again, wipe off the dust, and plunge back into the story. Honestly, if I had never signed up, I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten back around to working on Dream Sailors again. It’s too hard to find excuses not to write; NaNoWriMo provided me with the exact lift I needed and got me back into the habit of writing. It helped me rediscover the joy of creating fiction, and for that I will be forever grateful. I love how the story has unfolded and can’t wait to finish. I’m estimating that will happen in January(ish). Then comes the editing, which will take several more months, if the past is any indication. I figure I might be a year away from publication yet, but I will get there. Mark my words.

I have also really enjoyed the daily blog updates. They have been very helpful in keeping me motivated, as well, and have done wonders to hold me accountable. Life is busy and my blog has sort of fallen by the wayside this past year; I’ll make an effort to update more often moving forward.

So…that’s it! I’ll continue to keep you posted on my novel progress as I go along.

Just not every day!

Word Count Today: 622.
Total FINAL Word Count: 51,023.

NNWM/29: Turning 24 Into 10

When I got to work this morning, I told my coworkers how happy I was to be back in the office. They assumed I was joking, but I was deadly serious. I feel like I’ve been cooped up for days. Probably because I’ve been cooped up for days. Vacation felt like work, so in this backwards reality, work felt like a vacation. I did not have to spend hours toiling away on my novel and could instead participate in meetings! and edit documents! Once I convinced them I was not kidding, they assumed I was insane instead.

Actually, much of this morning was spent figuring out holiday schedules. I realized that with a little planning, I could turn 24 hours of PTO into ten days off. All I had to do was request Dec. 27-29 off. It took me all of five seconds to decide that was too tempting an offer to pass up. With so much time off, I should do something productive.

Maybe I’ll write another book.

Ha. I kid.

I did manage a couple hundred words today. I’m holding true to my promise to write every day. It’s so much easier now that the pressure is gone.

Here’s a photo I uploaded to Instagram this morning. This is Dewey Lake in Mount Rainier National Park, taken during a hike the end of July. With winter-like weather forecast next week, I thought it would be nice to share a little slice of last summer.

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Word Count Today: 220.
Total Word Count: 50,401.

NNWM/28: 50,000

I have a new favorite word in my vocabulary. That word is several. It’s a simple word, really. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an indefinite number; more than two and fewer than many.” I like it for another reason: it is the 50,000th word in my novel, Dream Sailors. Which means I have successfully completed my first-ever NaNoWriMo! With two days to spare, no less. Although, in all fairness, I got a jump start on my book two days early when I embarked upon my writer’s retreat in a vintage trailer on the Washington coast over Halloween weekend. Still, I completed it in 30 days either way, so there is no asterisk beside that accomplishment as far as I’m concerned!*

*Except one. But I’ll talk about that in my final post this month. I’m too busy celebrating now.

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Up until a few days ago, I wasn’t even sure that I’d reach my NaNoWriMo goal. You have to write 1,667 words a day, every single day, for 30 days, in order to hit that magic number. That’s a lot, especially when you haven’t so much as looked at your novel in almost a year. Doubly so when you’re working without any sort of outline or draft. But I’m a sucker for personal challenges and was able to plow through and pick up my pace over the holiday weekend. When I realized I was getting close, I decided to take today off and focus 100% on writing. And that’s exactly what I did. I forced myself to get out of bed at the usual time – 5:45 – and other than a walk, coffee, lunch, and a shower, I did nothing but write. And at 4:45 p.m. I reached my goal with the word “several.” Honestly, I am relieved as hell. I feel like I can finally take a breather for the first time in a month. No, my novel isn’t finished. I probably still have another 30,000 words or so to go. But I will get there, and I can do so on my own schedule now.

I’ll still update my blog the next two days. I promised one entry a day all month long, and that commitment is an easy one to keep.

Word Count Today: 4,580.
Total Word Count: 50,181.

NNWM/27: A Lot Like Christmas

I woke up this morning dismayed that the long holiday weekend was already coming to an end. It’s amazing how quickly the days fly by, huh? But I’m not ready to go back to work just yet, so I texted my boss and asked if I could take a last-minute PTO day on Monday. He gave me the okay, so – woot! My weekend isn’t over just yet!

It’s been incredibly productive but busy. We ended up decorating the apartment for Christmas, which turned into an afternoon-long project. But it looks great, and I love that we have a real tree again this year. It’s been a while.

I also hit 2,000+ words for a third consecutive day, so I’ve made up quite a bit of ground and am now rapidly closing in on reaching my goal. This is the main reason I decided to take tomorrow off. With an empty apartment and nowhere to go, I should be able to make a big push toward finishing. By “finishing” I mean hitting 50K words, not completing the novel. I figure that’ll take at least another month. But I want the trophy, dammit. Or whatever it is you win for a successful NaNoWriMo.

Please don’t tell me it’s only bragging rights. Those are so overrated.

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Word Count Today: 2,442.
Total Word Count: 45,601.

NNWM/26: Inception-ish

When I’ve talked about the plot of my new novel, a lot of people say, “Oh – like Inception!” And while both stories center around dreaming, that’s the only real common ground they share. But enough folks made the comparison that I began to worry. I saw Inception when it came out a few years ago, but only that one time. The truth is, I didn’t remember many of the details other than the fact that it was a visually stunning film and starred Leonardo DiCaprio. I began to worry that I might have inadvertently “borrowed” from the script and incorporated those elements into my book. The subconscious is a powerful tool, after all. Which is sort of the whole point of Inception, come to think about it.

So last night we watched it again. I’d picked up a BluRay copy at Value Village a few weeks ago for $4. God, I miss that store already. Tara had never seen the movie and I wanted a refresher course to ensure that what I was writing was, indeed, original. You’d think I’d have done this prior to committing to NaNoWriMo, huh?

But it’s all good. My book is, at most, Inception-ish. But barely. Overlapping themes aside, it’s totally original.

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Today we picked up my parents from the airport. They have been in New Zealand and on a cruise for the past month. I’m glad they’re back.

We bought a Christmas tree this afternoon from the Boy Scouts lot across the street. I was surprised when Tara suggested a real tree, given that we’ve relied upon her artificial tree the past few years. I love the smell of fresh pine. Tomorrow we will finish decorating the apartment for Christmas.

Tonight we went to Shanahan’s for cocktails and dinner. I don’t think we’ve ever gone there on a Saturday night – usually it’s Friday after work. We had a great time even if our usual server, Alicia, was not there. Tomorrow we will finish decorating. It is taking so much concentration for me to type this post without errors, so I think I’ll wrap it up now.

Word Count Today: 2,081.
Total Word Count: 41,130.

NNWM/25: Rabbit Hole

Originally we’d hoped to take advantage of the long holiday weekend and embark upon a mini getaway today, possibly to check out the Painted Hills of Oregon before holing up in Pendleton or The Dalles overnight, but poor weather and a lack of daylight made us reconsider those plans. The rain we could probably deal with, hardy Northwesterners that we are, but the sun sets early this time of year, and there aren’t very many hours of available light. So we decided to scrap the idea until sometime next Spring, when we won’t be in such a hurry to see all the sights before they disappear beneath a blanket of darkness. Tara actually ended up going to work, while I spent a relaxing day working on my novel. I was able to bang out 2,000 words, and would have done a lot more but I fell into a rabbit hole of research and ended up perusing online transcripts from a number of arraignment hearings in order to get a feel for how to write a convincing courtroom scene. I was able to locate a copy of the inmate handbook from the detention center in which the action in my book is currently taking place, which is proving extremely helpful. I actually reached out to an attorney friend of Tara’s in Nevada for help, but now I do not need it. Thanks, prisonhandbook.com! (For real. It was that easy.)

So instead of a big overnight trip, we are hanging out at home eating leftover turkey and watching movies. It’ll be a lot cheaper, at least, and we can sleep in our own bed tonight.

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Word Count Today: 2,081.
Total Word Count: 41,130.

NNWM/24: Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pretty laid back day for us today. For the first time in years, we did not host. We did not go anywhere, either. It ended up just being me, Tara, and Audrey – but that was alright. I found a small turkey at Chuck’s Produce (9.something lbs.) and we just downscaled everything else. We brined it with a seasoning we found from New Seasons, and it turned out perfectly moist and delicious. For the sides, we made mashed potatoes, creamed corn, balsamic and bacon Brussels sprouts, and potato rolls. Oh, and deviled eggs. Currently I am turning the leftovers into soup – another longstanding tradition. I’m looking forward to digging into that around 8:00.

It was a great day to stay inside, as it rained nonstop all day long and never made it above 50 degrees. My kind of weather!

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I didn’t get a lot of words written today, but I’m not beating myself up. It was a holiday, after all. And I’ve got tomorrow off, so I’m hoping to make up for that then.

Word Count Today: 794.
Total Word Count: 39,049.