Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

Full moon from our window

Last year was my first year of NaNoWriMo. After the years of previously using Twitter, I had never heard of the event until I started following the many, many indie writers who participated. Since I had already started on my project that Spring, I wanted something to push me to get it done. Having the “game” of sharing with followers how many words you’ve written for the day was a great way to get the first draft down, so I signed up.

However, I am going to go into the second part of the project with a little bit of know-how. There are a few things that I will have to keep in mind this year in order to be more productive. While this checklist is for anyone reading, it’s also a good reminder for myself.

Planning – Now, I’ve taught writing long enough to know that at least a quick brainstorming and outline session will give you the foundation to propel you through your piece. What I did, was look at the Snowflake Method just to get basic ideas of what my writing is about. I did not go through the whole process last year because I like the creative flow rather than a “I’m going going to write a book that sells!" kind of formula. I had ideas and I just wanted to get them out somehow. I’m a list person. I make a list every day for something. I took my ideas, wrote them down, expanded in parts, then in the midst of the scenes found out that logically things had to go in a certain progression. Not everything planned went into the first book but that just means there are plenty of ideas to be use for the other books in the series.

"I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. ...
"[M]y basic belief about the making of stories is that they largely make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow."
~ Stephen King, On Writing

Pacing – It all starts with out butt in the chair. Yes, we know, and the purpose of doing NaNo is to just get the words on (electronic) paper. But when you’re a fidgety person like me, your body just argues. I’m not a “I write in my head all the time” person because the ideas come and go – it’s what I put down in a useful fashion that counts. Of course I think about ideas for my writing but the word count is what we’re looking for in November. 50,000 words at approximately 1,666 (that’s ominous) per day. I tried to write more than that the first few days so I could get ahead and slow down on other days. I think this year I’m going to have to do it in chunks. I need breaks. Before November was over last year, my eyes were twitching from strain and my thumbs were aching from overuse. This year I know ways to deal with eye strain and the No Xbox rule (Oh, the humanity!) Last year I kept treating myself to GTA IV and that driving thumb couldn’t take it anymore. (Good thing Skyrim has started to bore me.) I also plan on writing in different environments. I feel most comfortable writing at my desk at home but it’s nice to be out in the real world fairly often. Even if it means lugging a heavy laptop to a cafe down the street, it’s worth it.

“[M]y favourite way to write, used to be to go to cafés. I love doing that because I find that being surrounded by people even though I can't talk to them whilst I'm writing is very helpful because being a writer is a very, very lonely job, obviously. But these days I can't write in cafés because too many people come to me and go "You're that woman, who writes that Harry Potter" so I write at home now and I write much more on the computer than I used to.”
~ J.K. Rowling during Q&A session at Royal Albert Hall

She also confirms my No Music rule in that interview too. Yes, way too distracting.

Persistence – You’ll get there. We all get there. I’ve had some people tell me that they didn’t get there because they think the book idea was crap and they quit. I think you should keep going. We are our own worst critic. You know how many books are awful and people still love them? If you think it’s bad, it can be changed later. Look at Hugothat whole story started off seeming to be one thing, then the whole focus shifted in the middle. If you’ve been writing for a bit and are expand into novel writing, I think you’d be more proud of yourself for writing a “bad” book that can be edited than for not writing one at all. The tip I kept hearing over and over was to not edit. Just keep writing. You can go back in December and research topics, or make two scenes work together (or fix two scenes that clash – terribly) but I would suggest keeping a tally. Have a separate file of things that may need fixing, including their page number. When you revise, you’ll have that to work with. Some tools that are handy are Write or Die and Scrivener. You write all you can using Write or Die (which will make the worst sounds imaginable and the screen will turn red if you stop for too long), Tweet your word count (because having Twitter followers who are working too is great moral support), save the file and open it up in Notepad, copy and paste, and put it into a new scene for Scrivener. I was taught to write using Microsoft Word and no one will pry me away from it, so I also keep the full 1st draft (and back ups) there as well. With Scrivener, keeping the scenes separate and in order is a life saver (plus it has some great options for organizing your project too.)

“If you have a day where you don’t get to your 1,600 words, my advice is not to be too hard on yourself. You have to do what you can do. There will be days when you write more and days when you will write less. That’s really an okay thing. We get exhausted, we get sick, we get burned out. And that’s okay. That’s my biggest piece of advice.
...They keep telling you during that process that the plot will just come. I thought it wasn’t possible and I didn’t believe it, but it really does just come out. And that’s a fantastic thing.”
~ Nora Zelevansky on Mediabistro

Preparedness – Like any business trip, you have to get prepared by putting everything in your suitcase so you can have it while you’re busy working. Research, and have your links, notes, outline, list, whatever ready. Have ideas for scenes and characters somewhere to go back to if you get stuck. I even find Youtube links that are from social events that may happen in a scene. Just watching for a bit, helps you get into the moment. When all else fails, describe the sounds and smells of a place (Sara Shepard does this all the time in her Pretty Little Liars books – I love it!) You can even make a…Pinterest board. Ack! I said it! I am so not a fan of re-pinning commercial images for all to see but, if that’s your thing, go for it. Bottom line is, it’s okay to get stuck. It’s okay to go, “This is terrible and I hate it!” Just keep going – this is what I have to tell myself each day.

Remember, NaNo gets national news each year and Water for Elephants was a NaNo book so the event is kind of a big deal. If you need some inspiration, I’ll leave you with a few things to tuck away in your NaNoWriMo folder:

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Okay, fine, I admit it–I want a job

Durham Castle, England

I am finally beginning to understand a simple fact of life: when I stop worrying about things and trying to make them happen, they work out just fine.

Last week I wrote about how I had to accept that I'm my own boss and that no school is going to give me a job with my lack of Englishness and English experience. I had been called fairly often by one of the five teaching agencies that I signed up for. Each time they kept trying to get me a position somewhere and even one place they asked me to interview but it was too far and my holiday was coming up anyway. But they kept telling me they were putting my resume forward for different English teaching positions which I just thought was pointless since nothing’s happened for almost a year now.

Last week they told me they had a school they were trying to get me in for to teach Key Stage 3 (middle school) English and the teaching agency was going to offer to pay for me to come in for a few days on a trial run basis to see if they wanted to hire me on. That was fine, I told them, and figured I’d never hear back about it. I had already decided that I was staying home and writing the second book in my project’s series. I already set up my own imprint, fancies up my blogs (including my author page), and worked on the blurbs for the cover and the Smashword descriptions. Plus, NaNoWriMo is coming up next week – I’m a busy lady! I was not going to worry about some potential teaching job one bit.

Of course, they said they school accepted my trial run offer.

Now I’m looking at a week next month at a nice, Catholic School with kids aged 11-14. I’m not sure what they’ll have me do during this trial run; if I’ll be purely a supply/substitute teacher, taking over the class and teaching from lesson plans already made up, or if I’ll be working with a teacher who is getting ready to go on maternity leave. Whatever the case, I honestly am really excited.

Once I knew that I’d be going back to work, I felt a weight off my shoulders. I love being home but I would rather go in and work and try to do my best so that this school keeps me on. I miss having shopping money, and having someone to talk to at lunch, and finding ways to get kids interested in reading and writing. No, I have no idea if they’d consider keeping little ‘ol American me, but I sincerely would love to be in gainful employment again.

Plus, I need a car and Christmas money. For real.

So wish me luck that I do a great job and the school keeps me for the rest of the school year. If I can work with kids, I can write for kids even better. I’ve not abandoned my plans for NaNoWriMo or my grand series scheme. If I’m working, I know it will be tougher to find time to write but other people do it, so I will too.

Regardless of the outcome, I know I’ll have extra cash for the holidays, thank God. I am so grateful for that! Santa can’t get much done without some dosh.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I’m my own boss and other things I’ve accepted

Palace Green @ Durham, England

The leaves are changing and Fall is here. That means school is in session and I’m still at my computer. While this use to bother me greatly, I’ve finally accepted that what my job is, is going to be done from home.

I started out as a teacher when I graduated college. I was a substitute/supply teacher, and searched high and low for a full time position. I just could not find one because I didn’t have experience or an Education degree (something everyone dismissed in the English Department.) When I finally started working full-time after the school year started, I had no classroom of my own. Each day I had to push a cart or drag my books around and try to make it to other teacher’s classrooms in time, just to have them complain about how I used their whiteboard or how my students were too close to their desk. I finally was given a classroom – a portable – only to have the air conditioning break…repeatedly…in Florida…in August. Kids broke that as well as the railing that led up to the front door (and put any kind of obscenity on the windows.) Whenever I asked for help for these things, I was told to, “just push through that kind of stuff.” As a teacher, I had parents yell at me in the front office because their kid didn’t do their homework. I was given “help” on how to deal with troubled kids which entailed random people spying on me then reporting to admin while talking bad about me to my students in the process. Most of the schools I worked at had a high turn out rate and teachers like me were used for a term or two (usually hired in when someone quite mid-term). The discipline policies were a joke, the kids didn’t fear anything (they aren’t dumb – they knew nothing was going to happen to them if they go to the Dean’s office.) I really liked my students though and I wanted to do a good job. I taught until my temporary contract was over. But I never went back to public schools.

When I taught at college, it was fine by me. I went to work for a few hours, helped the students out, then gave them info online and was able to work from home. Granted then I was still able to get Unemployment because I had such little money but it was enjoyable work. This is why I decided to get my Library Science degree – to work with students in the capacity that I enjoy. The librarians I saw weren’t responsible for FCAT scores, daily grading and lesson planning. They conducted lessons during faculty meetings on resources for teachers and showed students how to use the online catalogue. I loved that kind of stuff, so I got my degree.

Before I moved to the UK, I did my internship at a great, little library over the summer. I learned as much I could from everyone and really enjoyed the atmosphere of being in a place that helped people get interested in books – especially the little kids. But by the time I got here last January, I’ve not been able to do anything and that’s where my acceptance has finally kicked in. It’s been there for a while but I didn’t really go, “Okay, I get it. This is what I’m doing,” until this week.

Yesterday I got two rejection letters – one in email about a part-time library assistant job and one letter about an hourly wage GCSE (high school diploma) teacher. Some of the teaching agencies I’ve signed up for have called in the most inconvenient times like when I was on vacation or at the last minute when I have no car or money for the bus or clue how to get to the school. I’m set up to help out during testing at a school in November and I’m happy to take the job. I’m always told that my resume is in for various English teaching positions but I know I won’t get them. And I don’t care anymore. Even if I work five days out of this whole year (as opposed to the zero I worked last year) it won’t make a difference to a Head Teacher who wants to hire someone with experience in British schools. Plus, I’m not sure how stressful teaching is here compared to Florida. Do kids here crawl on top of desks and jump out windows too?

While the £50-£100 a day would be nice as a supply teacher, constantly spinning my wheels and trying to force something that’s just not going to happen isn’t worth the effort and stress. Trying to get somewhere within an hour without any kind of warning is just a pain in the butt. Also, the applications for teaching jobs are long and arduous. Schools won’t interview anyone until they’ve spoken to their references and I’m tired of bothering the nice people in Central Florida over and over again to fill out five page reference sheets. I’ve only been asked to interview for library jobs and despite being in the bottom two (and having references from a NASA contractor, thank you very much), I never get the job. Still, I’ll keep applying for jobs such as that but in the meantime I have plenty to do at home.

I’ve been working on my project that still has to get out the door. I have NaNoWriMo to work on in a week so I can get the draft of the second in the series finished up. I’ve been researching whether I need to register a Fictitious Name or DBA to have my own imprint. (According to Florida law, I do because it’s not my legal name, even if I use my name and put “Books” at the end of it.) I don’t have a lot of cash to do these things but I have an old Blackberry to trade in for the cash to get all my literary ducks in a row. (I also plan on writing a whole blog post on that process in the near future as well.)

The truth is, knowing that I’ve accepted my position as a self-employed person is really scary. A lot will depend on me to research, market, and, of course, write to keep the project going. The work is there and for the time being and it’s work that I want to do.

With that said, it’s time to get back to work! If you’re taking part this year, feel free to visit my NaNoWriMo profile and add me as a buddy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ten Things I've Never Done

Paris, France by garycycles6

I found this idea from Suzie Tullet’s blog but it took me forever to think up a full list.

It took a lot of thinking to come up with some good items for this list. I think I've at least tried most things people like.

1. I've never been on TV or the radio. I know people who were on TV because of minor acting gigs or been interviewed by the news. I know people who have called in or been guests for radio shows. I have never done either.

2. I've never gone skydiving or bungee jumping. Never will. I am not an adrenaline junkie. My sister-in-law loves skydiving even though her parachute didn't open, she broke both her legs and, well, could have died. On the same token, I’ve never flown a plane. I’ve never driven a motorcycle either (I’ve tried a scooter but not a Vespa.) I often thought maybe I’d enjoy learning to fly but now that I know how hard it is to drive in the United Kingdom, maybe not.

3. I've never seen The Sound of Music. I’ve never seen all of Grease either. I don't like musicals. When I first saw A Nightmare Before Christmas, I left the theatre because there was so much singing. I have been to musicals at our local theatre when I was a part of it but once, during a production of Carousel, I fell asleep. I’ve seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Chorus Line when it used to be on Encore a lot – they weren’t too bad. I've learned to appreciate the music in Disney movies. However, I would never go to see Les Miz or Phantom of the Opera live. I was forced to see the trailer for the star-studded musical movie version of Les Miz – I don’t care how much money they put into that or how amazing the fact that they’re singing live will be, I’d never see it. (Now, the non-singing movie with Claire Danes was fine.) I just get really uncomfortable and embarrassed when I see the singing stuff. I tried to watch Glee once and turned it off the minute the singing started. It's just not my thing.

4. I’ve never met anyone famous. Since I’ve lived in the UK I’ve seen The Queen with Prince Philip and recently I saw Kate Middleton with my own eyes, but I’ve never met a member of the Royal Family. My in-laws have met Daniel Craig and John Lennon’s family and there’s even some ancestral ties to George Washington but not me. I’m not related to anyone famous, nor have I ever shook a famous person’s hand. I’ve never been backstage at a show or even spoken to a new, up-and-coming band even though The Strokes use to hang out in the club I frequented in Orlando.

5. I’ve never had a professional pedicure. I’ve had my nails done a handful (get it?) of times in my life but I, honestly, could have done better in some instances. I liked the little hand dryers they have though but I know you can buy those to use at home. I know some women get their mani-pedis as often as they buy Starbucks coffee (and even have their little girls coming along) but I’ve never bothered. Getting the fancy spa treatments, yes, I loved doing that once a month or so when I was working.

6. I’ve never gone to a spinning class. Exercise for me is a solitary event. I read my book while on the bike or the elliptical, use the weight/tension LifeFitness machines, then head to the cafe. I use to run on the treadmill a bit, then I finally twisted my ankle. Being unable to walk is not worth it to me. (Though I’m all for having my husband, the ex-marathon runner, train me to jog.) I like my Wii and the Kinect. I’ve been to yoga class by myself and with my friends before. I’ve taken dance and gymnastics classes a lot as a kid and into my high school years. But, nope, no spinning, no Zumba, no Pilates classes for me.

7. I’ve never been on a big rollercoaster. I’ve been on Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, Thunder Mountain and Test Track but I refuse to go on anything like the Manta or The Hulk. Again, I’m not an adrenaline junkie, I don’t need to go upside down and falling to my death to have a good time. I can’t stand that feeling on my stomach which, Steve tells me, not everyone gets. The butterflies, or queasy, or whatever you call it is awful. I’ve learned just to scream my head off if I go on a Disney ride.

8. I’ve never been to Europe. I mean, I live in England but I’m talking continental Europe. Steve tells me that I’d love France, Germany, and Italy. I also want to see Ireland. When we came back from Florida in September, we flew over Dublin – looked amazing. I’ve been to Mexico, England, Scotland and the US. I’ve not even seen Canada.

9. I’ve never gone snorkelling or scuba diving. I’m not opposed to trying it, I’ve just not had the opportunity. I’ve fished a lot as a kid, and I’ve gone skiing in my life (I was terrible at it) so trying new things in an ocean isn’t beyond my scope of reason. I’ve tried to surf before in high school but I was terrible at that as well. I’m a good swimming so I’d probably enjoy the snorkelling – especially if I had an underwater camera and the reassurance that no sharks would try to nibble on me while I was swimming around.

10. I’ve never published a book…yet.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The chicken crossed the road to get another pancake


I have been saying for years that I want to live on a farm. First there was the hedgehog, now it’s livestock! I didn’t realize how soon I’d get my wish – sort of. We live on a cul-de-sac that has Council allotments right across the road from our block of flats. We’ve seen people come and go from them a lot and I’ve seen the pen on the other side of the fence where a group of chickens and a rooster were staying. I loved the sound that rooster made once in a while too. Made me feel like I was back in Ohio.

On Sunday Steve noticed a stray chicken wandering up and down the sidewalk on the other side of the fence where the allotment with the chicken pen was. He tried to call the RSPCA who gave him an automated response that said to call Animal Welfare. I figured the allotment owner, whomever he/she may be, would arrive back on Monday morning and get the chicken back home on the other side of the fence.

I noticed the silly thing was out there on Monday but didn’t think much of it. Surely the allotment owners would come back soon. Wednesday rolled around and sure enough, that chicken was still wandering back and forth in the same place. I don’t think anyone is coming to get it.

I looked up Animal Welfare and didn’t get any kind of local information except that I should call my local authority if livestock is found injured or sick. I decided to call the Animal Health Officer who flat out said, “There’s nothing you can do about an abandoned chicken.” Great. I was given a number, of course, to contact the person in charge of the Council allotments but no one would answer the phone (no voicemail option either.) I tried calling a local farm that is open to the public for tours and such. No answer. I even walked down the path that leads to the allotment where she came from and all the other chickens (including the rooster) are gone. My guess is that whoever was renting that out, took the ones they could catch and left the poor chicken.

So I decided to try and lure her into Jake’s carrier that he used when he flew over to England with me. Now, I use to live in rural conditions and it’s been a long time since I was anywhere near chickens, turkeys and the like. I have no idea how to reason with a chicken, catch it, feed it, house it, or even make friends with it (though my mother, a former farm girl herself, assures me it can be done.)

All I could do today was give Henrietta (yes, I named her) some left over scotch pancakes and let her hang out where she is. She wanted no part of that carrier, despite my putting pancakes into it. She did, however, cross the street and poked around the front of the flats after I went inside. Maybe she will end up trusting me and she’ll follow me to the back yard. But since we’re at this block of flats we have no where to keep her really. I thought even if I got her in the back garden, she could walk around off the street (I should have named her Roxanne) but the garden runs into the garages and the parking lot where she could get out and go right back to the road. Plus, knowing my fabulous overseers, I’m sure they’d throw up some kind of issue with a loose chicken roaming in the back yard. And chicken coops are pricey!

I sent in an application to rent one of the allotments across the street (I had no idea they weren’t over £100 a year to rent a large garden area.) If we get one of those, I’ll put her in one. Until then, I’ll feed her and keep and eye on her. She sleeps next to the fence in the bushes but we’re worried about her getting hit by a car, eaten by a cat, of frozen by cold weather.

Maybe I can make her a house. I always said I had no need for Pinterest. Maybe now’s the time to try and make it useful! It seems like such a pain and I have no where to really put her unless I make some kind of pen where it won’t bother anyone. Who knew an abandoned chicken was so much work?

This morning, Henrietta was out in front of the flats, stalking one of the neighbours as he was getting in his car to go to work. No doubt she was looking for more pancakes. I put my coat and slippers on and headed out there to give her a packet of dry oatmeal for her breakfast. I even patted her but she squawked about so I left her alone. Right before my driving instructor showed up for my lesson, the guy who owns the allotments where the chickens were kept, showed up to rescue Henrietta. All he had to do was call to her and she followed him down the path and back to her house. I’m glad she’s back where she belongs and I can visit her whenever I want.

Makes me want to have chickens now though. It would be nice to have eggs from my own garden.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

How to post? Who cares?

Paper (I am not)

There is plenty of advice about how to conduct ourselves online. The WIP will be finished soon (I promise - the cover is almost ready!) so I've been looking into marketing more.

I come from the old school way of doing things without fluff, fakery or salesman-like pretence. However, when it comes to being your own boss, what we do has to be curtailed to our target audience. I understand that.

But I have a hard time thinking that I have to blog a certain way or change the way I use Twitter (or use Pinterest - I'm still not interested in my account there.) In the last few days, I’ve read advice columns for writers saying things like, “Don’t write about what you had for breakfast. I still don’t understand why some people do that.” Well, it’s called real life and people live in it. Some people enjoy reading about real life instead of empty articles that lack personality. Heck, I even made a blog dedicated to my breakfast (lunch and dinner). I also read a book blog article today discussing how your Twitter account should have personality but if it’s a professional account, they only want to read news about your book.

Um…no. While I sort of understand what the reviewer’s getting at, I absolutely will not follow accounts that are only about their work. I want someone to have a discussion with, who has a pulse! While most agree that we don’t want to read a timeline full of links, some people are saying, “Oh, but if you’re having a discussion with someone do it in DM.” Makes me laugh. I love seeing people have conversations – it encourages others to jump in and chat (which is how I see Twitter anyway – as one, never-ending chat room.) DMs are used once in a while and whenever I check them, they’re usually the result of an account being hacked.

Now, that’s for an author’s account. Authors are people and readers want to connect with them. I just don’t see why we have to write articles in our blog about the topics we put in our books or why we should even limit ourselves at all. Most accounts that have no personality get ignored. I love to chat out my fellow writers but I don’t want to read announcement after reTweeted announcement about how everyone of my followers have a book to be read. I want to discuss and share about the craft (and everything in between), not the product that speaks for itself.

Now, when NaNoWriMo is going on, I do post about my word count because that’s all part of the “game.”

Professional accounts that I find done very well include writers and literary blogs. They are interesting to follow and aren’t out to just “sell” themselves by being dry and boring. A couple of them include publishing advice sites like DuoLit book review blogs like ShouldBeReading. Those sites are professional but they aren’t overly promoting what they and their friends are doing. I understand keeping those sites for posting only links to their site. Now, when you have an author page such as SarahDessen, you need to have some personality to the updates.

Again, I’m not saying that there doesn’t need to have a level of professionalism and a mindful eye on what your account is for but, really, do we need all this advice on how to conduct ourselves? It’s pretty much common sense, isn’t it? These are our accounts, our books, our online presence. We are free to use them as we wish. I doubt Amanda Hocking is losing any fans by posting on Instagram.

Oh, and by the way, I had an Activia granola pot for breakfast.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Visiting Durham Castle

From the castle courtyard.

Yesterday we took another trip to Durham in hopes to get on the tour. We’ve tried to do this a few times before and either the tours were booked up or the castle was all together closed. Even though the University Library told me that the tickets sold out quite quickly and that we should get there first thing in the morning, around 9AM, we were able to get out tickets around noon.

Getting up early on a Saturday is not our strong suit. Plus, the highway was being worked on so the bus was really slow getting through there.

Anyway, we ventured through town to the Cathedral and then to Head of Steam for lunch (awesome pies.) Every time we’re in the Cathedral, we mention how Harry Potter was filmed there. Sadly, we can’t take pictures inside but the place is beautiful. I would love to go to see the Christmas tree this year but, again, going out there on time for something is a bit of a tough one for us.

We came back to Palace Green Library for our 3PM (also found out that there are public toilets by the red phone booth on Palace Green for anyone who travels there in the future.) Our castle tour was led by Kevin, a third year Durham University Geology student. We didn’t realize that the university uses the castle as student quarters, which makes it the only living castle in England (the rest are just used as historical sites for the National Trust.) We learned that the crests on the castle were representative of the different bishops who lived there. Also, the kitchen is still there as it was when it was built. The kitchen food was blessed by an engraving over the door which read “Est. 1499” but back then the number 4 was written as half an 8.

I was impressed with the intricate and odd carvings on the pews in the chapel. But mostly I was amazed by the oldest Norman chapel there that was not only built in 107 but was also the first place ever to depict an image on a mermaid (which was engraved on one of the pillars.) The older, the more interesting, in my humble opinion. The fact that England has such a history just boggles my mind. It really puts the newness of America in perspective. There has been a world for longer than we can imagine and there are still remnants around today for us to experience. Sort of puts our little place of time in perspective as well.

It also makes me realize how vastly different the university experience is for English students. If there is ever a little Pick in the future, I’m sending him/her there. It’s a beautiful place and for those kids to say they went to school in a castle is amazing. They still use the Great Hall for formal dinners on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 7PM sharp. I didn’t realize that the set-up for Hogwarts wasn’t that different from school life in England. They really do have houses and scholar gowns and sit down dinners and ancient stone walled classrooms. Unbelievable compared to my UCF experience.

Anyway, as I said, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but the Durham University website has some as well as some virtual tours.

The slideshow from our trip is here. My new camera is serving me quite well.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I saw Kate Middleton!

Kate visits Gateshead.

Yesterday morning our local news announced that Kate Middleton would be visiting NewcastleGateshead that day for the first time. Of course, I had a driving lesson first thing, so I figured by the time I got back home at 11:30, I would have missed the bus and wouldn’t be able to get into town in time.

So I had my driving lesson – new car and everything. I was the first one to drive (and stall) the car. The gear shifting was much easier even though going from 2nd to 3rd gear is a tricky one. I also finally got my head around the stupid roundabouts and how far away I should be from the junction when I downshift. I can hear the same things over and over again and not understand but the minute I hear it explained differently, I get it and all is fine. I’m still not ready for my test but next week I get to go onto the motorways again and do complex roundabouts and all sorts of fun.

When I got back from my lesson, Steve had texted me that he saw things (cops and people) going on between the library and our doctor’s office. I still didn’t think I’d have time to get down there but when I looked at the article from the paper, it said she’d be there at 12:30. I ran and got myself back into my contacts and winter clothes, then rushed out of the house and down the street as quickly as I could. (I was trying to get there so fast that I even forgot my hat.) Since I don’t know what’s going on most of the time around here, I just followed the crowd to where they were all hanging out at a little side street that was blocked off.

Apparently I got there right after she had gone into the local charity because I stood around eavesdropping on all the people from the Jewish community we were in and waited for the Duchess to come back out to her car. Steve said that she would come out and say hello when she was done but some people speculated that we’d just get a glimpse of her. But we waited anyway and it was about an hour out in the cold before anything started happening.

There was a Jaguar, a van, and a Land Rover parked outside the building and one of the ladies next to me asked the serious looking cop which car she had come out of. He mouthed the words “The Jag” which, of course the lady repeated for all to hear and the cop looked really sorry he’d answered her. Then we heard someone say, “Two minutes!” which would have been about 1:30 when she was coming out. So I got my new, fancy camera ready and aimed it at the Jaguar.

It was so interesting to see these people get ready for her too. There were cops all over, even some on the roof somewhere, I heard. Then big dudes in suits and earpieces came out and stood in various spots on the street. Now, where we were, there was a hedge blocking the entry way, so all we could hear was excitement by the kids at the charity building. Then some lady who was part of the entourage got into the Land Rover and moved right in the way so the whole crowd made a collective groan. (Figures – some woman driver!) I went as far as to wave and yell, “Get out of the way!” (I’m American. We shout at drivers.) which she finally did.

I thought my option for taking a photo was dashed but all of a sudden, there she was!

Screw you, Land Rover! I see her anyway!

Now, the amazing thing about this was, when I saw the Queen in July, everyone was excited and cheering and waving flags. With Kate, people were just in awe. I waved at her but people didn’t make much noise at all because they just wanted to look at her. It was the same face we saw at the Royal Wedding and in magazines all over the shops and there she was – in real life!

I had noticed the kid holding some flowers (that child had a smart mother.) I though, yup, she’s going to go straight for those and sure enough she did. When she came over, the crowd just sort of swooned. I, of course, got teary eyed because she was right there! So, I got my new camera and tried to get whatever photos I could of her while still making sure to look at her with my own eyes. (That was a big mistake I made when I saw The Queen. Looking at something through the lens of technology isn’t as impactful as taking in the world and what’s going on for a moment.)

She was only out there for a few minutes and she didn’t come close enough for me to shake her hand (if Prince William would have been there, he probably would have gone to my side of the crowd while she took the right) but all in all, it was just amazing. Now I’ve seen two members of the Royal family in close proximity in the same year. If that doesn’t constitute British Citizenship, I don’t know what does!

Reminder: Must get a kid and flowers next time a Royal comes to town!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Living and driving in the UK

The leaves are starting to change.

Now I'm back at home, sitting with my coffee, looking out my window at the cold weather rolling in. The cat sitter has stopped by to return the keys. She took good care of our grumpy cat for two weeks.

It's taken me more than a week to get back into working at the computer but after getting some things done yesterday, I think I'm getting settled back on nicely. Not everything is done, of course, but some.

So far my main objectives are:

  • To get the project out the door in e-book
  • Get it in paper format ASAP
  • Get the author site set up (working on it but Blogger and GoDaddy won’t play ball.)
  • Marketing - research more of what needs to be done.
  • Get set up for NaNoWriMo for the 2nd project of the series.
  • Of course I also have to get my driver's license test passed, my Life in the UK test passed, and my settlement application sent in.

And it's going to be Christmas soon!

I’ve been studying this stupid Life in the UK test with my books and app, highlighter in hand, but they still throw insane statistical curve balls that even British born citizens don’t know the answers to. But luckily I’m use to standardized testing, remembering facts, and knowing what kind of questions to expect on things like this. What percentage of the Scottish population is a minority? How many people in England own their home? What percentage of women in the work-place have children? Etc., etc., etc. If I keep studying and memorizing and highlighting, I should be fine to take this before the end of the year. Maybe November?

The driving is still going to be a pain too. Every time I’m in the middle of a lesson I think to myself, “I’ll never be able to drive here.” If anyone ever wants to feel more stupid, attention-deficit, or incapable of learning basic tasks, try learning to drive in England. I swear, it’s not the gear shifts so much as the way the roads are set up - though the stupid gear shifting confuses me too. For two hours each week, this driving instructor tells me that I’m not keeping things simple, making mountains out of molehills and not thinking about what I’m doing. Well, I’ll tell you why – everything confuses me!

You get to a roundabout. The sign says you’re going to a town that is for the third exit. So, I have to remember which exit to take. Then I have to know to get to 10mph and 2nd gear (Cue the driving instructor shouting things at me like, “Suzanne, is it clear to go? Quickly, Suzanne! Quickly! If it’s clear to go, then go!” Every. Single. Time.) Then I have to get into the right lane, keep screwing with the signals to make sure they stay on (Seriously, did they not consider this when making roundabouts?) Then I have to get over in the other lane when I get half way around (“Check your mirrors, Suzanne! Stay in your lane! Don’t cut the lanes!” The lane markings are usually too faded to see most of the time.) Then I have to take my exit.

Now, even if that doesn’t sound too difficult, I get totally confused once I get in there because between the time that I decided what exit to take and finding the actual exit, 20 things have already happened. I’ve been checking traffic, checking my mirrors, down shifting, up shifting, lane switching, and being shouted at the whole stinking time. I don’t think most Americans would be able to handle this at all but maybe I’m just special.

Anyway, tomorrow the driving instructor’s going to “see where I am” in regards to setting up a driving test. Personally, I think I need a year of driving lessons before I could even attempt one but we don’t have the money to go through all that. I was thinking today that during the driving test, the examiner won’t speak to me, so maybe I’ll be able to concentrate a little better. I get confused driving in Florida in traffic and trying to talk to a family member, let alone being told to do something every 2 seconds while driving on a 10% decline down a hill that is flooded with parked cars on either side. It’s stressful, I tell you.

But when I finally get to drive on my own, I’ll be able to give my full attention and concentration to the road. After driving a Hyundai for our rental car last month, I’ve already chosen what car I want to get. I even bought cute vinyl stickers and a magnet for it over vacation, just to give me some motivation. Now all I need is a license and, you know, money to pay for the car.

Hyundai new i20

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Holiday recap post

Rainbow over the Atlantic @ Daytona Beach

Blog entry for 25 Sep 2012. Location: Florida

I started to actually write the header on the 21st. Now we're two days in before we head back to Newcastle. I'm standing in Wal-Mart, listening to a customer at the register talk about how chocolate is health food. I already witnessed the "dirty protest" (as Steve calls it - the official term) in the bathroom and I thought to myself, "Why am I not getting UK citizenship?"

Now I'm writing from the bowling alley. My old hometown doesn't have much going on (it never did, honestly) so this was about our only option for local fun (aside from the trip to Wal-Mart, of course.) Even the award winning bakery we keep hearing my FB friends rave about is totally closed on Mon & Tue. Yup, very dull living unless you're at the theme parks around Orlando.

Bowling shoes - I never remember to bring socks!

So far we've stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge [Video of a running giraffe outside our room] and went to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. I was Alice, Steve was Finn - everyone at the park went wild for his costume too. I got my picture taken with the real Alice and the Mad Hatter though [Actual photo HERE]. Then we hit EPCOT and Hollywood Studios.

Let the Not-So-Scary Halloween Fun begin!

Now we're back in the hotel and I've been watching the Twilight movies on Showtime. I'd only seen the first one. It's amazing how tired I can get when we're in relaxation mode.

I feel bad that we didn't visit anyone other than family this trip. However, as part of the holiday, we ended up running around each night doing something in search of fun. I would have liked to see a handful of people but making the pre-arrangements wasn't really possible since it was usually a matter of, "Today we should go to ___!"

Gatorade Victory Lane @ Daytona International Speedway

But now we've returned our amazing Hyundai Elantra with the XM radio that we figured out we had only yesterday (go us!) Now we have to lug the giant 23 kg suitcases in to be checked.

Finally, I'm home! I'm suffering from a terrible change in my sleep pattern so I'm falling asleep at 4/5AM now. Very uncool. Still, it's awesome to be home. Unfortunately our PC died last night do I have to phone tech support to come and revive him. This makes sense when we were still trying to get the project out the door ASAP.

C'est la vie.


We celebrated our second anniversary on the trip and had dinner at a new restaurant in Italy at EPCOT. I also had an amazing birthday the day before we left. I am now the proud owner of a new Fossil watch, Wonder Woman pyjamas, a Fossil necklace, a Minnie Mouse purse (okay, I bought that myself), a Nerdy Hello Kitty plush doll, and a new Canon camera! Sleep schedule is better but still not what it use to be. PC is fixed – seems it just didn’t like the static electricity going on from the power source. Tech Support had a very IT Crowd approach to the whole thing, “Unplug it and plug it back in again.” And our luggage weight limit was a combined 46kg – ours was 45.8kg! Awesome packing job, Steve! We also got to spend our last hours of our Florida holiday in the Royal Palm Lounge at Sanford Airport. They had a full bar, game room, from snacks, PCs with Internet access, a mini theater and even had the hoodie Steve left on the plane, waiting for him. Nice.

Finally, the project is still almost ready!

2nd Anniversary dinner with a pitcher of white sangria @ Via Napolia.

My full photo set of the vacation is HERE. Feel free to browse.

Best. Holiday. Photo. Ever.