Some Things Never Change

Some things never change.

This time last year Mike was stacking wood and shoveling snow (I just read last year’s newsletter!) in a “blustery 18 degrees” and today he does the same in 9 degrees of blowing snow. I’m comfy in my fuzzy pink bathrobe by the fire, still determined to give the snail-mail authorities a little extra business this year.

Our family continues to grow!

Travel this past year included two weeks in California where I was honored to help my sister Christine and her children with my brother-in-law Keith’s transition from this world to the next, my trip to Smith College to speak on a panel at their Leadership Conference, a trip to sister Carol’s to visit with Mum and sister Charlene, an unexpected trip to Hilton Head to visit with author Janet Sheppard Kelleher (where I parasailed and avoided gators and dropped my phone in the ocean and put together my book Haikus Can Amusebecause I dropped my phone in the ocean), a week in Maine to visit with my Mum and family at Susie and Jim’s gorgeous waterfront home, a road trip to visit Jake in Austin and another couple of weeks in the trailer at Moab and Lake Powell with Mike and the Ranger-dog. I’m becoming quite the Stand-Up-Paddleboarder and absolutely love being on the water! There were also several Colorado road trips to attend various author events at schools and libraries. Pitch: Please support your local libraries! They do much to support their communities and their local authors.

Summit Library’s Teen Reading Program director went all out for my visit with her group!

I continue to write and publish my books on Amazon and blog at www.leadvillelaurel.com about lots of things including another no-kill hunting season and my first warm elk harvesting from an early morning roadkill call. We finally had a legitimate reason to purchase a separate freezer. Waterwight hit the streets on Leap Day. It was great fun to write, and now I’m working on Waterwight: Flux, the second book in the series. I have a feeling 2017 will be a year of great productivity as I have several other writing projects in various stages of completion already.

Wildfires are always scary.

Training for and competing in his 11th one-hundred-mile mountain bike race this summer just wasn’t exciting enough for Mike, and though it wasn’t his plan, he ended the race in time to manage one of many of the wildfires in Colorado last summer. After several exhausting days he returned to a structure fire, and as soon as he was convinced all was in control, I drove him to Denver to have his second hip replacement, but not before I sent him off to California to climb mountains with his brother Mark over Labor Day weekend. He had to make sure he used up every last bone surface and I had to get him out of the house to compete in a 3-Day Novel contest. By the way, he’s now quite happy being Titanium Man, and I wrote my best piece of fiction ever. Not sure what the county would do without his Emergency Manager expertise, and he’s pretty happy with his influence in many areas throughout our community.

Our beautiful home!

He humored me by letting me offer our home for Leadville’s Victorian Homes Tour right after Thanksgiving, for which I felt compelled to complete the installation of hardwood floors in several rooms. We had a toilet in our living room until the day before Thanksgiving and couldn’t really use the kitchen for the whole week prior, but that didn’t stop me from being able to feed an Army Thanksgiving afternoon.

Have I mentioned what a great guy my husband is?

As for our sons, Jake still enjoys life in Austin working in the IT world and still working on the van that broke down there over a year ago. My Mum made the difficult decision to stop driving last summer and sent her vehicle to him, much to his surprise and delight. He visited us this past summer and at Thanksgiving, but will stay in Austin to have a friends’ Christmas this year. I knew it had to happen at some point, and it will be most peculiar having our first Christmas without him home, but we’re happy he has good friends with whom to share the celebration.

First Lieutenant Nicholas McHargue (Army National Guard promotion this past summer) continues to work at the mine while completing prerequisites for applications to medical schools. We still love having him live just a mile away, and I think he enjoys his mum’s home cooking every once in a while.

The Ranger-dog is still a goofball and loves traveling with us. If you’re interested in knowing more about him, I wrote a blog post called “Don’t Get a Dog” which you might want to read before making a decision to get a dog. We really do like him.

And so, as this year comes to a close, I reflect on things that have stayed the same, but acknowledge the many things that have changed. Like most everyone else, we lost and gained family members and friends this year. The gains are always happy, the losses always sad, especially when we think “too soon” or “not fair.”

I appreciate one of Langston Hughes’ poems about life and death:

“Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.”

Each year I try to do better at treasuring the beauty of each new moment—even the painful ones—in my fleeting life. I wish the same for you.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, whichever ones you choose to celebrate. And may 2017 be a year filled with health, happiness, and unconditional love.

~ ~ ~

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

Fruitcake*

When the fruitcakes stopped coming, we knew Nell was dead.

I met Mike’s 2nd cousin twice or thrice removed by marriage when we were young West Point cadets. We managed somehow to earn off-post passes several weekends during our last semester at the Academy, and Nell and Dave lived about an hour’s drive away. We’d hop into Mike’s sexy red Datsun 280ZX and visit the old folks at their split-level old-folks-smelling home on many acres of overgrown land and think we were in heaven. Anything away from West Point felt like heaven.

They were educated, classy people. Discussions around their dinner table always left us young kids with things to ponder when we weren’t busy making out in the music room.

“I don’t see anything, and even if I did, I won’t tell!” Nell’s declaration still makes me laugh. I guess we’d forgotten to close the door.

After we married, Mike and I stayed in touch with them by snail mail, and that’s when the fruitcakes started coming. I remember the first year the red box arrived.

“What is it?” Mike asked.

Collin Street Bakery Deluxe Fruitcake! Photo from their website. They’re still in business (hint hint!)

“A fruitcake. Looks fancy.”

“Eeww. That’s not really even a dessert.” Mike has never been a dessert person, preferring a second helping of lasagna over anything that might taste sugary. “You could probably hurt someone with that.”

I’m pretty sure I re-gifted the first several years of fruitcakes that came from the Collin Street Bakery in round red “keepsake” tins. They probably got the biggest laugh at several white elephant parties. But one year I decided to honor my by-marriage relatives by keeping their gift for myself. I remember feeling guilty about opening the seal and making that first slice knowing I’d probably end up throwing the rest away.

Collin Street Bakery Deluxe Fruitcake (image from their website): Collin Street Bakery

And oh . . . my . . . gosh. It was sumptuous. It may have taken a week, but I ate the whole darned thing. I ate the whole darned thing all by myself every year for several years.

Fast forward to our assignment back at West Point about nine years after graduation, and now we had opportunities to bring our tiny tots to visit with Nell again. Dave had left this world behind, and the woman I thought was ancient when we were cadets now appeared greatly diminished. I remember chopping down our first Charlie Brown tree on her property Jake’s first Christmas when Nick was almost three. And I remember feeling sad.

The fruitcakes kept coming for years to several new addresses after we left West Point, and we kept the snail mail authorities in pocket change with our cards and letters. Nell remained active in The Arts programs in her community and would write pages about the goings-on about Warwick, which I could easily read until in her later years when her fingers must have frustrated her greatly.

And then there came no more.

(I’ll add some photos of Nell to this post when I find them).

C-ration fruitcake. Photo stolen from Chip’s Facebook page.

* I was inspired to write this post by a West Point peer, Chip Armstrong, who has a loyal following on Facebook by posting the occasional word or phrase that provokes comment. Today’s word was fruitcake, and he even attached a photo of a C-ration fruitcake tin. We would eat anything as cadets, even those cans of tasteless, crumbly, cake-ish dried fruit. Can you say ‘constipation’?

 

Harvesting Roadkill

When Mike’s phone rings at 2:30 a.m.—or any other cold, dark hour—I anticipate the worst. His official job title is Lake County Emergency Manager, but he also volunteers for our county Search and Rescue team. Someone’s probably lost in the mountains.

“What’s that again?” Mike’s oh-dark-thirty voice sounds confused. He flips on the light and I pull the covers over my head like a vampire recoiling from a sunbeam. “Let me ask the wife,” he continues, and now I’m confused.

“Hey, dear, you wanna go carve up some tasty elk?”

You’ve got to be kidding me, I think. It’s 2:30 in the morning and it’s cold outside and it’s warm in bed and it’s 2:30 in the morning and it’s cold outside and I’ve never carved up an actual whole elk before and I’m a little bit scared and it’s 2:30 in the morning.

“Ahhhhh . . . yeah, I guess, you wanna?” I steel myself for his response. Maybe he doesn’t wanna, and then I could say, “We could’ve had elk meat this year, but . . .”

But he says “sure.”

We stumble into warm, unimportant clothes and Ranger looks at us dazed, he stretches, shakes, turns in a circle and plops back onto his bed.

We added our names to the Sheriff’s Department Roadkill List last year after discovering it was “a thing” from another hunter and had already turned down a couple of previous calls for side-of-the-road deer when we weren’t available for a speedy response. We had no real excuse this time, and we were told it was a cow elk about a 15-minute drive away. It was my hunting season. I had a tag for a cow elk (not necessary for a roadkill) and hadn’t seen a single sign of one, probably because I was hunting up in the mountains during daylight, not along county roads at night.

As we approach the mile marker we were told she was near, Mike slows his truck and I strain my eyes to find her. My butterflies wake up. My time has finally come to put my YouTube and book-learnin’ to practical use. For the past couple of years I’d watched and re-watched Fred Eichler’s YouTube video on the “gutless method” of harvesting meat from an elk until I knew I could do it when the time came.

The time had come.

“There she is,” I point to the body conveniently lying on her side just off the road. Mike parks his truck so the headlights illuminate the scene. It’s about 3 a.m. and not as cold as it could be. She’s gorgeous. She’s young.

And she’s still warm. Her open eyes, lovey long-lashed soft brown, disinterested, nonjudgmental, show no sign of fear or struggle. I stroke the so-soft fur along her neck and thank her for what I’m about to do. A knot catches in my throat and I can’t look into her eyes again.

With two short-bladed knives at the ready, my Havalon and Mike’s Gerber, I raise her right leg.

“Here, hold this up,” I direct Mike. I take a deep breath and visualize Eichler as he makes short, fast cuts until the shoulder peels away from its blade. It works, and Mike deposits our first quarter on a clean tarp.

The right hind quarter is more difficult because of its size and the bones involved and the fact that I’m cutting near the gut. After another deep breath—I’m sweating at this point—I do exactly what I’ve burned into my brain, find the hip socket, think briefly about Mike’s new titanium hip, shake that thought from my head, and with Mike holding up the weight of it, after several more slices along the curvature of the butt bone (that’s the technical name), we have a beautiful hind quarter.

“What’s next?” Mike asks.

“Backstrap,” I say, “and I’d like to keep the pelt.”

After cutting the hide up the belly, I have Mike pull back on the pelt while I release it with quick slices from the warm body. I’m surprised by how easily it peels away. When I get over the backbone, I’m ready to liberate the first backstrap, that long, tender meat along the length of the backbone. Piece of cake.

Now I’m nervous because I want the tenderloin. To do that, I’ve got to make an incision below the bottom rib, reach my hand inside, grab it, and cut it on either end from its connective tissue. I’m afraid of puncturing the gut with my knife. Despite the headlights, we’re really working in the dark, and I can’t seem to feel what I’m after.

My hand slides between the gut and the ribs and I marvel at the warmth and silky smoothness. I push back against the abdomen and continue my search for the most prized piece, but to no avail.

“Let’s roll her on the other side,” I tell Mike, though I feel guilty I’ve failed this task. As we roll her over, a car creeps by and then speeds off toward the pass to Aspen.

“Bet they’ve never seen something like this before,” Mike says, and we laugh at what a sight we must be—nighttime knife-wielding roadside butchers eerily illuminated in the headlights. “At least if they call the police they’ll already know about the road kill notification.”

By the time the next two quarters and backstrap are liberated, I feel like I’ve just competed in a wrestling match. I’m sweating bullets. I’ve used muscle fibers that have been dormant for years. I must get the tenderloin from this side.

I reach my hand in again and hear the sound of air escaping.

“Oh, shit!”

“You didn’t cut the intestines, did you?” Mike jumps back with an expression of foul anticipation.

But there’s no smell. My hand probes up higher into the rib cage and I feel something flat. “I think it was a lung. You should really feel in here,” I tell him, and he does. “I think if you’ll use both hands and pull back on the gut, I can find it.” He pulls the now-bulging gut away from the backbone and my hand finds the treasure. I cut out the large-baked-potato-size tenderloin.

After bagging and storing the meat and pelt in the back of the truck, we look at what remains on the side of the road.

“We should probably pull it farther back into the brush,” Mike suggests, and this turns into no easy task. Even with all we’ve removed, it takes the two of us with arms around the weighty head to pull what remains of the cow into a place she won’t be spotted from the road.

It’s still dark when we get home and we’re stupid tired. Our garage is cold. We work together to hang the four quarters from hooks in the rafters and the place is transformed into the freezer scene from Rocky.

Ranger is happy to see us and even happier to sniff our blood-stained boots. I shower and fall into bed, knowing my real work—skinning, butchering, packaging and freezing all that meat—is just beginning.

“Bet you never thought you’d be doing stuff like this 33 years ago,” Mike says.

I had some practice butchering "leftover" quarters last year. Not the same experience!

I had some practice butchering “leftover” quarters last year. Not the same experience!

“Nope. Never in a million years.”

I close my eyes and know I’ll never forget a single moment from the past few hours. I’ll never forget those lovely brown eyes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

Don’t Get a Dog

Don’t get a dog, especially a big dog like a German Shepherd. And extra-especially an already 3-year-old one from an animal shelter. Why not? I’ll give you a whole list of reasons why not.

He’ll be weird when you first bring him home. He won’t trust you. Everything about his new home will stress him out and it’ll take months before he’s even brave enough to step into the room where you and your family are watching TV at night. When he does muster up the courage to join you, he’s in and out before you even have time to say, “Good boy!” It’ll take another month or so before he’ll come into that room and lie down near you. It’ll take far longer before he actually looks comfortable resting near you. It’ll be so frustrating waiting for that moment to happen.

Photo by Tonya's Captured Inspirations LLC

Photo by Tonya’s Captured Inspirations LLC

He’ll lick you with a tongue that’s been in unmentionable places. It’ll just be a little lick. You might even call it surreptitious, but it’ll happen. You won’t want him to lick you, because it’ll mean he’s grown fond of you, and who needs that kind of pressure?

He’ll shake every time he stands or moves from one location to another, launching dog fur to the four corners of every room. This action, performed countless times each day, will increase your workload tremendously. You’ll have to sweep or vacuum at least once a week. And when you get out the dog brush and he flops on the floor at the sight of it and lifts his rear leg to expose his belly to you, you’ll have to spend quite some time grooming his big, shedding, shiny coat while he groans contentedly and gives your hand a little lick when it gets close. And then he’ll seem to shed even more. What a mess.

Sometimes he’ll whimper in the dark of night, just when you’re in the middle of a good dream. This will force you to look over at him because you’ll want him to stop whimpering and you’ll see his feet twitching spasmodically and hear his breathing fast and shallow. You can only guess he’s trying to get away from a previous owner, someone who may have abused him or found some lame reason to throw him away, or maybe he’s running from other angry dogs who’ve never known a gentle hand. In any case, he’ll interrupt your sleep, and who needs that?

yogurtHe’ll almost always watch you while you’re eating with a look that says, “I’d like a salami and cheese cracker too, please,” even though you’ve just fed him. You won’t give him your salami and cheese cracker, of course, but he’ll make you feel as though you should. It’ll take you a long time to train him to understand that “Uh-uh” means “This is my salami and cheese cracker, I just fed you, go lie down.” He’ll flop on his bed in the corner of the room, but he’ll still sneak a look at you. What a nag.

He’ll have “accidents” in the house. This might happen because he’s decided to eat his own poop while you were away for the day and left him outside. This is a disgusting habit, even if he felt compelled to do this out of necessity because he wasn’t fed well in his pre-rescue years. And some dogs just like the taste of their own poop. Whatever the case, this will always be revolting. If you’re home and asleep when he has an accident, you’ll know right away because he’s a big dog, and big dogs have big, smelly accidents. If you’re not home, you’ll know as soon as you walk into the house because big dogs have big, smelly accidents. You will eventually get smart and install a dog door, and that will be a pain in the you-know-what for your husband and son to complete. Your dog will wonder why you didn’t do this earlier because he knows he’s not supposed to poop on the dining room carpet, but it really is an inconvenience to have to modify your home to suit your dog.

He’ll poke his cold nose in your face early in the morning while you’re still in your warm bed. It’ll startle you awake, and then you’ll be face-to-face with his mischievous brown eyes and those ears sticking straight up and you’ll see his long tail wagging tentatively at first, then faster when he sees the grin you’re trying to stifle. And then he’ll poke his nose in your face again, and you’ll be forced to get out of bed, or at least stick your hand out from under those warm covers so he can flip it up on top of his head for a good-morning ear scratch. What a drag.

snow-noseHe’ll expect you to take him for walks regardless of the weather. You’ve installed the dog door so he can come and go as he pleases, but as soon as you open a closet door, he expects a “doubleyou, ae, el, kay.” He’ll turn circles and whine until you attach his leash and he’ll be so happy once you get going. If it’s sunny out, he’ll walk for as long as you’d like. If it’s snowy out, he’ll walk even longer, leaping like a goofball through the snow and flipping piles of it into the air with his nose. When you get home, he’ll be wet and sometimes quite dirty and you’ll have to keep a towel near the door to dry him off and work the snowballs out from between his toes. He can’t do it by himself, and while you’re holding his cold paw in your hands, he’ll probably try to lick you. He’ll be like a 3-year-old his whole life. So needy.

He’ll demand your attention. Oftentimes this will happen when you’re enjoying a glass of red wine with friends. He’ll find the hand holding the wine with his big ol’ nose and flip it vigorously in hopes of having the hand land on his head for a petting. When his invitation to pet him is greeted by sounds of consternation when you see the contents of your glass splattered on your white shirt, he won’t understand. He’ll tuck his tail between his legs and look up at you cautiously, timidly, wistfully, until you finally do pet him on the head and tell him it’s okay, you were the guilty one for holding wine in a hand clearly meant for petting.

Sometimes he’ll even demand your attention when you’ve spent several hours at the computer doing work you think is more important than spending five minutes with him. He’ll be so unreasonable. Who needs that?

And he’ll get in your way and possibly even topple you over if you’re not paying attention. This is another way he expresses his neediness. For whatever reason, he’ll want to be near you always. You’ll have to anticipate this, and you might even have to work on your own agility skills around him. You’ll have to be far more aware of your surroundings, and this requires constant attention to detail. You’ll want to just chill and relax or do whatever you want to do, and a dog will expect to be included. That’s a lot of pressure.

He’ll stress out when you change his environment. Once he’s figured out he just might be safe with you and in your home, if you decide to move around the furniture or change his bed from one wall to another, he’ll act as if his world has been turned upside-down. Maybe he’s thinking if you got rid of that chair that’s been here all this time, he could be the next to go. Anyway, he’ll look at the change and then look at you and then look at the change and then look at you again. It’s almost like he’s wondering if you’re still going to be there after he blinks. You’ll sense his stress, and who needs that?

He’ll destroy your house every time the mailperson or UPS delivery person comes to your door. It won’t matter that you’ve tried a training collar and have thunder-hugged him until his heartbeat returns to normal and have lectured him on your theory that the delivery person is good and that this happens every, single, day, and that he should be used to it by now. No. He’ll want to protect you from potential nefarious activity every, single, day.

moab-2016-ranger-wakeupHe’ll look at you. He’ll do this often, and he’ll expect you to look back at him. When this happens, you’ll be forced to feel something you don’t want to feel. You’ll be forced to feel a connection with the being behind the honey-brown eyes. You might even feel his love for you.

He’ll make you laugh, especially when you don’t want to. If he senses you’re sad, he’ll probably whine like a little baby. Then he’ll nudge you. You’ll push him away because it’s your right to wallow in your own sorrow when you want to, but he’ll come back and nudge you again. He’ll do this until you finally give in and give him what he wants—your hand on his soft fur. And you’ll have to pet him until he feels better. You’ll never be able to cry alone.

Probably the biggest reason why you shouldn’t get a dog is because he’ll die before you do. I know this because it happened with our first big ol’ German Shepherd. We’ve only had Ranger for three years now, so he’s about six, and our first dog died when he was nine, so there’s another three years at least before we can think about not having to feed him and walk him and groom him and pet him and laugh at him and snuggle with him and call him a good boy.

I could probably come up with lots more reasons why you shouldn’t get a dog, but I think I’ve covered the major ones. Hope this exposé has been helpful. Gotta sign off now. Here he comes, about to nudge my hand with his big ol’ nose because he just noticed the snow falling outside our window.winter-2015

p.s. Out of the 8 or so books on dog training I read before bringing 8-week-old Guntar into our home (our first dog), the best by far was The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete. Guntar was a truly remarkable dog. Ranger is too. But don’t get a dog! ;)

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

 

 

Hunting 3.0

Walk with me while I reflect on our third year of hunting the wily elk in a not-quite-stream-of-consciousness style. I’ll use punctuation, but I’ll make no effort to turn this into an essay. If I didn’t use punctuation, I’ll would look like Ill, and I’ll get to that next.

I return from a week in Maine in time for my hunting week and try not to think about how much it’s going to suck going from sea level to Leadville level. And I never-ever get sick, but I picked up a cold from a snotty-coughy-cute kid who sat next to me on the plane. I feel like I’m in a tunnel. But I will hunt the wily elk.

We’re up at 4:30 a.m. and I hate getting out of bed in the morning because it’s dark and cold and I have a cold and I’m in a dark cold tunnel in my head.

I’m less nervous this year, maybe because I already have two unsuccessful hunting seasons under my belt. Or maybe it’s my cold medicine. Mike hesitates, asks if I’m sure I want to go because I’m a snot machine and making noises like a grunting snorting bull elk. Maybe it’ll help.

We go. Our high sky is infinite black behind comets and constellations and a half-moon. The Big Dipper looms on the horizon spilling good luck onto our heads and under all of this majesty, I pee behind a bush. My cheeks are cold. All of them.

We climb. I’m happy not to be in too much pain, and what a difference a year makes after ankle surgery last year, but after a week at sea level, I’m sucking wind up the formidable Weston Pass trail, but once we get to the top, the sweet, cold, piney aroma of the waking earth fills my senses.

Spreadable, not edible.

Spreadable, not edible.

Blackness turns to purple turns to barely blue against a powerful pink before all fades to light, and when I can no longer see the stars, the moon overhead sparkles on the icy grasses we crunch upon. Mike is solely focused on the trail, finding tracks, finding elk poop—some even spreadable—that shows only they were here once but are here no longer. I’m focused on this blog and writing sentences like “Daylight greets us like a fond memory.”

No signs of anything alive but us. As much as I want to hunker down and wait for a herd to pass—because they should be here, they always should be in the perfect places we stealthily approach—it’s too cold for that. My nose runs in the cold and I’m a snot-rocket factory.

#22kill push-ups for 22 October.

#22kill push-ups for 22 October.

We each do our 22 push-ups for veteran suicide awareness (#22kill campaign) and head back to the truck, willing a herd or even just one tasty treat to cross our path. It doesn’t happen. We sigh, heavily.

In the evening we hike around Mt. Zion. “We’ll zig-zag,” Mike says, but I know how Mike zig-zags and how many punctuations of straight ups there’ll be and when we get to the fifth or sixth or seventh straight up and it’s starting to get dark, I pout. I struggle to think of an analogy for what we’re doing because it’ll take my mind off pouting.

Trying to find a wily elk in endless acres of forest and valleys and ridgelines and mountain sides is like trying to find the one sane almond in a nuthouse. It’s nearly impossible and quite possibly futile. Especially since almonds rarely talk.

There.

Acres and acres and acres and acres of nothin' but nuts.

Acres and acres and acres and acres of nothin’ but two nuts.

I want to laugh when Mike’s pack catches on a dead limb and its release results in a cartoonish “BOING” sound. And then we both hear a sound that stops us in our tracks. Suddenly all senses are on fire and I’m barely breathing. Even my snot stops running.

“Move r-e-a-l-l-y slowly now,” Mike whispers, and we head toward the animal sound. Half of me hopes it’s nothing because it would be a bitch to get something big out of these trees at night. The other half wants to get something big out of these trees. We move like molasses in winter toward the patch of trees waiting to hear our prey and there it is again!

Simultaneously, we look up.

No, no elk in the treetops, but the rubbing of one dead tree against another in the blustery breeze makes a sound much like a large, grunting animal.

We end the day—and every day this hunting season—as we begin it, with stars and various moons emerging against darkness, more beautiful than any painting on black velvet.

And “Darkness greets us like a black velvet hug.”

Elkless, but happy to spend time together!

Elkless, but happy to spend time together!

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

Haiku Workbook and Contest!

Are you (or do you know) a middle, high, or home school teacher? If so, I’d love for you to check out a new user-friendly classroom resource with the added bonus of motivating students to do their best work for a chance–a very good chance!–to see their work published in an anthology!

Hai CLASS ku provides 90 haiku “starters” (a full semester of warm-ups, prompts, potential homework assignments, substitute teacher lessons), and it’s only $5.75.

teacher tool

Hai CLASS ku
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Check out this Press Release for more details, or contact me directly.

Let’s have some fun with this!

Hai CLASS ku example page

Example page from Hai CLASS ku. Finish the haiku, draw a sketch, write about your inspiration!

Toilet Rules

… heed ’em if you need ’em.

Toilet Rules posted in public toilet, Delicate Arch parking area.

Toilet Rules posted in public toilet, Delicate Arch parking area.

“Keep this Toilet Clean” reads the sign directly over the open-to-the-bowels-of-hell pit into which I will pee before our hike to the largest freestanding arch in Arches National Park.  Delicate Arch stands 64 feet high by 45 feet wide—nothing short of breathtaking!—and there will be no place to cop a squat along the heavily touristed 3+ mile round-trip journey over powdery-sand-coated stone punctuated by the occasional dead tree or struggling juniper.

I’ve never seen this sign before, and since it looks quite clean and new, I assume the following rules have recently become an issue for the brave folks who keep our comfort facilities usable. I laugh, take a photo, and break the first rule:

“Sit on the toilet during use.”

Nope. Not going to happen. There’s no way I’m going to allow a speck of my skin to touch the surface of something thousands of strangers have abused before me. Not even lining the rim with toilet paper will do in this case. I’ll squat, thank you very little, and hold my phone and the crotch of my pants away from danger as well. I’m pretty sure this is what I’ve trained for all those years in the Army. The perfect squat.

I have to think about the second rule because it takes me back to my childhood years:

The fresh air of Delicate Arch!

The fresh air of Delicate Arch!

“DO NOT stand on the toilet.”

While this might sound like a ridiculous rule—why would you stand on a toilet unless you needed to reach something high above it?—I do recall a youthful time when I had to “go” after hours of shopping with my Mum. There were no rules posted in public restrooms back then, and I remember being instructed to place me feet on the seat (I was young enough to be lifted onto it) and squat to do my business. It was awkward, for sure, and I remember fearing I might slip into the bowl.

I couldn’t have imagined the horror of an open-pit toilet at the time, and the thought of losing my balance and sliding into the Delicate Arch toilet—even just a foot, my foot—gives me the willies as I write these words.

I also remember my three months in Korea supporting a military exercise and wonder if this rule is meant to assist the predominantly Asian tourists we’ve encountered this week. The public restrooms along our bus route in 1989 had holes on the floor with footprints painted on either side. You can read about how I almost started an international incident one day in my story Battle-Dressed Breasts (in Not Your Mother’s Book…On Being a Woman).

In any case, the rule makers don’t need to fear my feet, or hands, or any other body part coming in contact with their toilet.

Mike at Delicate Arch

Mike at Delicate Arch

The third rule is—hands down—the best (but there will be no hands down, either):

“DO NOT use the floor. Use the toilet.”

I glance around me and am happy to note this rule has been followed, at least so far today. Then I look down the hole into which I’m preparing to pee (don’t ever look down those holes!) and wonder if peeing in a corner might be preferable after all. But I do follow this rule.

After I say “Eeeew!” out loud, the fourth rule makes me laugh because I start to imagine other creative ideas:

“Put used toilet paper in the toilet.”

I envision a 3-D collage lining walls and ceiling in varying shades of brown. I will say no more about this rule. I have said too much already.

The last rule, the rule that is likely the bane of every honeysucker’s existence, is one I’m quite certain many users won’t follow:

“DO NOT put trash in the toilet. Use the trash can.”

 They won’t follow this rule because they’ve already done unmentionable things. And they’ve looked down the hole. They may even have forgotten to secure things in pockets pulled down too quickly.

They’ve seen things, things that will haunt them the rest of their lives. Things they’ll write stories about someday. They’ll make the trek to Delicate Arch and try to forget what they’ve seen. They’ll take pictures, many pictures, and post them on Facebook and send them to friends who wish they could be there breathing the clean air and watching the birds float on air currents overhead . . .

But the picture that will forever clog their internal hard drives will be the horror . . . the horror, of what they’ve seen in that hole! *

Mike and I make the trek to Delicate Arch!

Mike and I make the trek to Delicate Arch!

* Thanks to Joseph Conrad for inspiring my final words.

Mike completes Day 14/22 push-ups at Delicate Arch for the #22kill veteran suicide awareness campaign

Mike completes Day 14/22 push-ups at Delicate Arch for the #22kill veteran suicide awareness campaign.

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

“Deep Work”

I’ve done it before. It’s time to do it again, but I’ll do it differently this time, and I’ll ask you to join me.

In the summer of 2014, I deleted my Facebook account. Wiped it clean out of the interwebs and then blogged about my decision. Sadly, my story Seven Days to Sanity: Regaining My Life after Killing My Facebook Page went unnoticed by my hundreds of friends, many who complained they didn’t know where or why I had “gone.”

I’ll explain myself better this time, this first day of October 2016, this first full day of our fall trailer vacation in Moab, Utah. I’ll try to ignore the incessant whining of a snarf-dog left behind by its family in the Battlestar RV parked next to us.

Mike and I enjoy listening to podcasts. He’s downloaded hours of them on every topic onto his iPod, which makes travel time pass quickly and gives us lots to discuss. Yesterday, on our journey to our favorite campground, we listened to James Altucher’s interview of Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. Before the podcast ended, I knew what I had to do.

I’ve been telling everyone I know that I’ll finish Waterwight II (at least in beta) by the end of this year, and although I’ve made great strides in outlining and noting spectacular scenes, I’ve not yet written beyond the first chapter.

It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing while ideas and dreams sneak up on me. Marketing Waterwight: Book I while re-releasing “Miss?” and publishing Haikus Can Amuse! and writing my first spooky novella during a 3-Day Novel Contest over Labor Day weekend have kept me as busy as anyone with a full-time job, yet I know I can do more. People have convinced me I need to keep in touch with my audience to maintain interest in my work, yet after years of daily Facebook/Twitter/Instagram interactions with daily (hourly!) “Likes,” I’ve not seen the same numbers translate into sales and reviews.

At some point, people who want to sell their products need to reevaluate the time and money they spend on marketing. My time is now, and my evaluation tells me the time I spend on social media is distracting from the time I should spend working on my craft.

Newport points out the lingering effects of distractions, especially those we delude ourselves into thinking we can handle. Of course I can multitask! I’ll just take a quick peek at my Facebook, my gmail, my Instagram, and then get right back to writing my next chapter. So why does it take me so long to refocus my attention? Because I can’t. I can’t multitask without consequences, and the consequences of taking my attention off of a big project—even for just a moment to count the number of new “Likes”—are significant and detrimental.

I know this is true because of my 3-Day Novel experience. I wrote The Hare, Raising Truth: A Naughty Tail in 32 hours. It’s 19K words, a fast-paced novella, and I never once opened my social media while writing it. It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written. Check out my post about my write-a-thon experience: “Feeling Lucky?”

What does that experience tell me? It tells me I could finish an 80K novel in about four long weekends of focused work, and that’s pretty darned exciting. It’s what I must do. Pigs will never fly until you color their wings.

Would Samuel L. Clemens have completed Innocents Abroad if he’d had a Facebook account? Well, probably, because I’m attributing far more maturity to him as a writer than I have, but it might have taken him longer. When I think about the time I’ll retrieve by stepping away from my media-crack, I might actually be able to finish reading Innocents soon!

So while I’m not going to delete my social media presence, I am going to step away from three platforms that distract me horribly—Facebook (my strongest crack), Instagram and Twitter—until I complete Book II. I will continue to create and distribute my mid-monthly newsletter (let me know if you want to be added to my list) and will post blogs like this one on my website ( www.leadvillelaurel.com ), and I will check my email each morning before disconnecting, so you can still contact me if you’d like. I suppose I’ll still post my 22 push-ups on the 22nd of each month because I vowed to do that to keep alive awareness of veteran suicides (and I’m posting Mike’s 22 because his phone can’t), but that’s it.

My goal? I want you to be totally excited about reading my next novel, and that means I have to write it! I have to do the “Deep Work,” which I cannot do if I’m constantly posting trivial things.

And boy-oh-boy, will it be a relief to step away from all the political animosity choking social media this election year. Yes, it will.

And here’s where I’ll ask you to join me. Join me in stepping away from your greatest distractions. You’ll need to be honest about them, and you’ll need to be strong. If you want to produce something noteworthy, you must focus on it with your heart and soul. Are you ready? I am.

Laurel, OUT!

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!

“Feeling lucky?”

I dreaded the approaching 3-Day Novel contest because I was afraid—afraid that after haphazardly pondering my plot for two months, I wouldn’t be able to pull off anything worth reading. The magnitude of what I was about to attempt brought me back to the 20-page final paper I had to write at West Point, the paper for my favorite instructor, the paper that would determine my grade in his class, the paper I had pondered for months before putting it all together and pulling it out the night before/morning it was due. I remembered the pain.

The 3-Day Novel rules allow for outlining, but no actual writing before midnight on Friday of Labor Day weekend. “Pencils down!” would be called (in my head, anyway) at midnight on Monday. I had 72 hours to write a novel.

Stephanie gifted me with a charm bracelet, the charms are my book covers with one titled: My Next Book! I hung it on my flying frog (Orville from Waterwight) above my red room work space!

Stephanie gifted me with a charm bracelet, the charms are my book covers with one titled: My Next Book! I hung it on my flying frog (Orville from Waterwight) above my red room work space!

I wanted to participate in this crazy contest to test myself, to prove to myself that I could write thousands of word per day, to convince myself that I’d be able to complete Book II of my Waterwight series by the end of this year. Oh, and my friend Stephanie—the one who challenged me to compete in NaNoWriMo in 2012, resulting in the publication of “Miss?”—was going to do it. I had no choice, really.

Mike decided to visit his family in California Labor Day weekend, generously suggesting Stephanie and I could “have the house” for our insane endeavor. He’s seen what it’s like when the two of us get together to write and respects the creative energy he knows will ensue. We would have no distractions aside from feeding Ranger and scratching his butt every once in a while. I would have no excuses.

Stephanie and I pre-stocked the house with chips and chocolate and vino and veggies—there would be no cooking for 72 hours—and I set up little exercises areas around the house, a mini-stepper in one room, a mini-trampoline just outside the house, a yoga mat and stretchy-bar upstairs . . . it was a writer’s dream house! Other than the ‘no cooking’ rule, we agreed we’d each keep our own schedule and not disturb the other. Stephanie took the dining room and I took my little red room. If we happened to find ourselves in the kitchen at the same time, we could use that time for chatting and hugs and scratching Ranger’s butt. We were both actively typing by 06:00 Saturday morning.

I set a timer for one hour and was shocked by how quickly that first hour passed. I logged my word count, stretched, reset for an hour and continued. I followed this routine throughout the weekend taking stretch or exercise or snack or butt-scratching breaks each hour, and occasionally bumping into Stephanie in the kitchen to exchange excitement over our projects. Stephanie chose to use the weekend to knock out a chunk of a novel-in-progress. I chose to write something completely different from anything I’ve ever written. One of my author goals is to write in as many genres as I possibly can while I’m still on the green side of the grass, and the story I had mulled for months would check several categories.

We decided to play it sane by going to bed earlyish Friday night and setting our alarms for earlier Saturday morning. By 6 a.m. we were both at work, and on Day One I wrote until 11 p.m. My lusty house muse took over sometime around hour 5 and I couldn’t stop my giggles every time a ridiculous line would appear on the page. After putting in 14 hours of writing on Day Two, I told Stephanie my story was “a little bit corny, a little bit porny,” and she suggested I might want to consider a pseudonym. “Larry McLarge!” sprung from her lips and we both burst into laughter.

With one chapter to go at 11:30 p.m. on Day Two I decided to go to sleep and finish my story on Monday. I knew it wouldn’t take me until midnight to finish what I had started, and by 11 a.m. on Day Three my story was done. I did a quick read-through and submitted the 19, 316-word document to the contest. Significantly short of the 100-page average “past winner” suggested length, I nevertheless believe I have a winner, and if I find that’s not the case come January, I will happily publish my novella myself. And humorous as it may be to consider, I won’t use a pseudonym. I own this one. I’m truly proud of this one.

During my mulling months I learned things I never knew about rabbits, rabbit’s feet and lucky charms. I had a blast finding tidbits to tie into my tale, like the Twilight Zone episode with the rabbit’s foot, the Keystone Beer review, and the Shakespeare allusion. And after Mike read my final product (in the hospital while waiting for and after his total hip replacement), he said if anyone thought it was porn, they should probably “get out more.” He really enjoyed it, but then again . . . the anesthesia . . .

The real reason I’m able to put my name on this work is because my almost-88-year-old Mum read it and said that even though it’s “devilishly evil,” she “couldn’t put it down.” So there.

My 20-page hand-written-then-physically-cut-and-pasted-then-electric-typewriter-typed paper earned an A. My 3-Day Novel Contest 19ish-thousand-word novella earned me the satisfaction of knowing I could produce something worth reading in a cumulative of 32 hours of writing over a 72-hour period (I had to sleep). Sure, that ends up being only about 600 words per hour, but they’re good words.

If you would like to read The Hare, Raising Truth: A Naughty Tail in exchange for adding you to my mid-monthly newsletter, please email me (laurel.mchargue@gmail.com) and I’ll send you the pdf and Word doc! And here’s an advance warning:

Warning: Strong Language and Mature Themes

17-year-old Aeron McCloud just wants to get lucky. Despite warnings from his best friend, an old rabbit’s foot makes him believe he can get what he wants. But for how long?

* * *

I wrote this story in 3 days, and the final product was not the story I originally had intended to write. I’ll blame/credit lack of sleep and a powerful muse! I ended up with a Twilight Zone/Grimm’s Fairy Tales/Teenage boy fantasy mashup (heavy on the teenage boy fantasy). It’s a fast read. Let me know if the ending surprises you!

And hey, do something to surprise yourself today.

 

 

Summer’s End

We love the trailer
Life, it’s simple if you love
the one you’ve chosen

Chillin at the Gunnison KOA dog run.

Chillin at the Gunnison KOA dog run.

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: I love our trailer-trip adventures.

Two nights. Two nights of unplugging from the requirements of home and the barrage of politics and the lull of routine is all we needed this past weekend to return to it all feeling like we’d just spent a week at a resort.

 

Our resort: a KOA in Gunnison with full hook-ups, lots of green grass, clean facilities,

She only loved me for my carrots.

She only loved me for my carrots.

friendly owners, and surprise visitors. Ginny and Herbie must have known Mike and I were ass-kissers, or perhaps they were curious about our handsome dog. Maybe they smelled the bag of carrots I’d just brought out to munch on. In any case, they were both at least 29-years-old, and Ginny was nearly blind.

Ginny and Herbie, the Gunnison KOA's welcome burros.

Ginny and Herbie, the Gunnison KOA’s welcome burros.

Ranger was not inclined to welcome the unleashed beasts as freely as we were, however, and after an initial sniff (with Mike pulling him away from unpredictable rear-ends), decided they were untrustworthy. He remained quietly aloof for the duration of their visit.

Ranger meets Ginny, but decides he'd rather she moved along to other campers.

Ranger meets Ginny, but decides he’d rather she moved along to other campers.

In the evening, we kayaked/paddleboarded on Blue Mesa Reservoir, and I marveled at how different an experience it was from our peaceful paddle at Twin Lakes last week. This reservoir was enormous, and when clouds filled the sky and the wind picked up, the waves were Old Man And The Sea-worthy. I hooked up to Mike’s kayak for the final push to shore after 90 minutes of hard, enjoyable work, and after a few games of Cribbage and a shot of Dewar’s after the sun set, slept like a cat in a hat.

#22kill Day 7 of my 22 push-ups per day to raise awareness of veteran suicides. Hug a veteran today. Let him/her know you care.

#22kill Day 7 of my 22 push-ups per day to raise awareness of veteran suicides. Hug a veteran today. Let him/her know you care.

While Mike rode his bike at Hartman Rocks the next day, I did my trailer push-ups (to spread awareness of the number of veterans who commit suicide each day, the #22kill campaign) and wished I’d thought to do 22 push-ups against the burros during their visit.

We returned home to an extra layer of snow on the mountains and a brilliant sunset, the perfect Leadville summer evening. Soon our lake will freeze, but for now:

Fiery August sky
Turquoise Lake oblivious
Snow on Mount Massive

(thank you, Mary Howard, for reminding me to haiku my visions!)

Sunset over Leadville mountains and Turquoise Lake.

Sunset over Leadville mountains and Turquoise Lake.

Yes, you all know by now that I love haiku. I think my opening haiku for this post is the best I’ve written. See how many ways you can read/interpret it! Haikus Can Amuse! (get your copy today!)

If you like my writing, you might enjoy my books! Check them out here, and thank you!