Photo Friday: Best of 2004

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image.)

This week's Photo Friday challenge is "Best of 2004." The challenge is to choose the one photo that you are most proud of from your 2004 archives.

And it did prove to be a challenge.

Looking back through the year's photographs, there are quite a few that I like, but there wasn't one that I'm absolutely in love with. I think I've made some progress in my photography this year. But I still have a lot to learn.

Anyway, I narrowed it down to three that I liked--two landscapes and one still life. Coincidentally, they were three that I hadn't posted here before. I've been taking a lot of landscapes this year, mostly because I'm living in a new landscape myself. But I've always liked still lifes best. So the photograph above is the one I've chosen as my Photo Friday Best of 2004 submission.

The two landscapes below are a bonus.

The first is from a series of photographs I shot on one miraculous day when the sun set yellow over the beach near my house. I happened by at just the right time and shot until my battery went dead. I posted another one of these pictures here, but after looking at the series with a fresh eye, I think I like this one better:

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image.)

I don't have Photoshop, by the way--only a very rudimentary photo software program that basically helps me get the pictures out of my camera and into my computer. I can boost the saturation a bit and make the picture a little lighter or a little darker, but that's about it. The pictures I post here are basically unretouched. This photo could probably use a little touch-up. I'd lighten up the surf line a little bit for starters.

The last picture I chose as runner up for my best of 2004 is one that I like, but which probably won't ring any bells with other people. That happens a lot with me and my photographs: The ones I like most get the least reaction from others. What I like about this picture is the graphic and unexpected nature of the ice machine, the quality of the light, and the pretty decent depth-of-field:

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image.)

There are already almost 200 photos posted on Photo Friday for this challenge. Many of them are simply gorgeous and absolutely worth the time it takes to click through them. Enjoy!

This is NOT a New Year's Resolution

I was re-reading yesterday's post and it struck me that the ending is kind of lame. Maybe I got bored with the subject of me toward the end and just decided to tack on a little meaningless sentiment, meant mainly to reassure myself that everything is fine: I'm happy, really. I can't think of anything I'd want to change! Everything is just perfect! Well, of course that's just not true. I am happy, yes. But I'm not perfect. And neither is my life. The truth is I have a long list of undone things on my "To Do" list. I could stand to lose five (ten) pounds. And my social life--well, let's just say there's definitely a resolution or two lurking in that area.

But there is one topic I'd like to focus on, and that's the writing. The thing about the writing is that no matter how long you've been doing it, no matter how good you are at it, you can always get better. That's one of the things I find exciting about it. Then again, it's one of the frustrating things, too. It's like a never-ending "To Do" list.

But just because something is daunting doesn't mean you shouldn't tackle it, right? So I've decided to spend some time thinking about my writing life and career. Where I am and where I want to be. And how exactly I plan to get there. I have a kind of vague and broad idea that I would like to get to a point in my writing career where I only have to write what I want to write and still be able to live comfortably. But I'm not totally sure how to go about doing that. As always, the question is where to begin.

And then yesterday I was going through the job search sites -- there are five of them listed in the sidebar to the right under the heading SITES -- and I found an article posted on the freelance writers page at It's called "Write Your Own Reality," and it lists 14 questions to help you formulate goals, dreams, and resolutions about your writing. I'm going to work through the list today, but I thought I would post it this morning in case anyone else found it worth tackling as well.

The list, by the way, is not perfect. I find questions 6 and 9 to be a little vague. And I plan to skip question 7 (already do) and question 8 (boring). And I think it's OK to go off on a tangent, if one of the questions leads you in an interesting direction. If you want to share some or all of your answers via the "comments" section, that would be great. Or, if you post them on your own blog, leave a link so I can check it out, OK?

Anyway, here are the questions:
  1. Where do you want to be with your writing in the long-term?
  2. Where are you with your writing now?
  3. What project did you leave unfinished last year that you need to finish for your own peace of mind?
  4. What creative goals do you want to achieve over the next year?
  5. What financial goals do you want to achieve over the next year? Yearly? Monthly? Weekly? (Note: Feel free to keep this number private, but you should set one).
  6. What steps do you see necessary in your life to achieve these goals? Each month, pick one step and work on it.
  7. What will make you refer to yourself, first and foremost, as “writer”?
  8. What steps do you need to take on the technical front to achieve your goals (such as improving spelling, grammar, and a general widening of skills)?
  9. What steps do you need to take on the creative front to achieve your goals?
  10. What changes do you need to make in your daily life (interaction with friends, family, job) to make this work?
  11. What marketing steps do you need to achieve your goals?
  12. How much time each day do you vow to devote to your writing?
  13. With what new type of writing will you experiment in the coming year?
  14. What new non-writing interest do you wish to add to your life this year?

[From Write Your Own Reality by Anne Wayman.]*

* Hmmm. I was just looking at this article again, and although Anne Wayman's name is at the top of the page, it does say that the article is a guest column. And the information at the bottom is for Devon Ellington. So I have to guess that she wrote the article. Ellington's blog on the writing life is Ink in My Coffee. Sorry for the confusion.

2004: My Year in Review

This past year was a big one for me. It’s kind of amazing to think of all the things that happened in 12 short months. I adopted the dog. I started this blog. I spent my first full year in my own home. My divorce became final and I went back to my maiden name. I reconnected with an old friend. I did a lot of writing, including 45,000 words in November. I took a lot of photographs, read a lot of books, and went for a lot of walks on the beach. There were hardships and struggle, yes. But there were also victories and a couple of life-changing events.

This was a year of some financial difficulties. It started with a 2003 tax bill that was much bigger than expected. I had to borrow quite a bit of money from my folks to pay it. And then I lost a well-paying and steady freelance gig. It was a company I really liked working for, too.

In the summer of 2004 my first book was published. I had been working on it (and talking about it) since 2001. I can’t tell you how many times over the years people asked me how it was going, if it was finished, or when it would be published. Now they all ask me what I’m going to do next. Good question. Let me get back to you on that one.

By the end of the summer, I still hadn’t found a regular job to replace the one I lost and things were getting tight. I was making money from other sources, enough to pay the bills and the mortgage, but not much else. My savings account was depleted, I hadn’t paid my folks back any of the money they loaned me, and I started using my credit card for everyday expenses like groceries and gas.

In the fall, I set a deadline for myself. If I didn’t get another freelance writing job by the end of September, I would get a job in a bookstore with all the other struggling writers. In the eleventh hour, I landed a job with an educational publishing company. I still owe my folks a lot of money, my credit card is completely maxed out, and I’m living paycheck to paycheck. But I’m making my pathetic living as a writer, dammit.

In December, I signed a copy of my book for someone. As I was doing it, I realized with a little rush that it was the first time I’d ever done that.

Despite the financial difficulties, I’d say that 2004 was a good year for me. It was certainly eventful. And although I’m hoping that 2005 is a little less dramatic and a little more prosperous, the fact is that I’m really happy with the way things are right now—personally and professionally.

I don't think I can ask for much more than that.

Holiday Leftovers

I have a bunch of random holiday stories (and a couple of links) that I haven't posted yet. And since we're heading toward the New Year at an alarming rate, I thought I would round them all up into one post.

It's Not a Party Without a Parade
This is my second Christmas in my new place and, like last year, I threw a little Christmas Eve party. The real draw isn't the food or the drinks, although those are nice. The real draw is the Christmas parade, which goes by the end of my block around 7 p.m. And we're not talking about a nice little New England hometown affair. No, this parade is big and raucous and a little crazy. Some of the "floats" are just pickup trucks strung with Christmas lights. Others are more elaborate, with decorations so bright they kind of hurt your eyes. We saw Spongebob and Elmo and lots of other characters--some of whom were not dressed in costumes, if you know what I mean. People wave and throw candy and the police, ambulance and fire engines go by with their sirens wailing. Santa and Mrs. Claus come by at the end with the full complement of plastic reindeer, Rudolph included. Here's a shot of the gang watching the festivities:

And here comes Santa Claus on (what else?) the John's Oil truck:

Christmas Eve-l Knievel
Following tradition, I celebrated Christmas Eve with a death-defying stunt. I didn't think I could top last Thanksgiving's great fall (my right hand still hurts, by the way). I was wrong. This time I tripped over the dog, twisted an ankle, landed hard on my right knee, pulled the dishrack and a utility cart down on top of me, and burst into tears. But that's not even the best part. The best part is that I was carrying a handful of knives.

A Dog's Life
The dog got a lot of good presents this year. Cute toys, lots of bones, and yummy treats. It was her first Christmas with me. I'm pretty sure she spent last Christmas in the animal shelter. When I first got her, she was so shy and easily frightened. She would cry if I left her alone for a second. Now she's spoiled rotten and as friendly and happy and as bold as can be. Here she is opening her Christmas morning present from me:

It Just Wasn't His Year
On the other hand, my poor dad got the shaft this year. My mom even took a picture of his pitiful "pile" of gifts. We did say we were going to take it easy this year. But we probably could have done better than a pair of socks, a shirt, and a DVD. Even his stocking sucked. He got dental floss, for crying out loud. Better than a lump of coal, I guess. But still pretty sad.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
We didn't have a white Christmas this year. But boy, did Mother Nature make up for that on Sunday. I'd guess we got at least a foot of snow on the North Shore. KK and I took a photo field trip on Monday. Now that's the way to take pictures. She drove around while I shot out the window from the warmth and relative safety of her Subaru. Here are some of my favorites:

Leftover Links
I meant to post a link to Buddy the Wonder Dog's 12 Days of Christmas, but never got around to it. He's still cute, though. Reminds me of my dog a bit. Maybe they could be boyfriend and girlfriend. I've been meaning to post a link to the Collaborative Advent Calendar, which features 24 different illustrations by some very talented artists. A little late on that one, too. You should also check out Penelope Illustration. I love her work and read her blog regularly. Finally, if you like illustration art, you will love Illustration Friday, another cool idea from Penelope.

The Power of Blog
I wrote a couple of gift-guide blog entries, mostly because I've always wanted to write one of those "ten best" columns for a magazine. Ten Best Gifts Under $50," for example. Or "Ten Best Beauty Treatments for $10 or Less." You know? So to practice I wrote an entry called Gifts for Writers and Other Wordies and also an entry on the best books on writing. I swear I wasn't dropping hints. But that's the power of the blog. My dad got me a copy of Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss, which I mentioned in the book entry, and my cousin F got me two of those beautiful alphabet mugs mentioned in the wordies entry. They're even prettier in real life.

I think next year I'll write about sports cars.

Feeling Like a Loser

OK, I'll admit it: I'm not very good at Trivial Pursuit. Never have been. Probably never will be, either, unless they come out with a special Gienna edition with questions that are all about me. I can usually answer other people's questions just fine. But when it's my turn my mind just goes blank. It doesn't help when people are sighing and tsking and saying, "Oh, this is so easy!"

Another thing about me is that I'm not very competitive. I like to play games, and I don't mind doing well or even winning once and a while, but I'm just not all cut-throat about it. I go in thinking it's going to be a friendly game and I go out with my feelings hurt. I swear, it happens every time.

Last night I played the 90s edition of Trivial Pursuit with two of the most competitive people I know. There was a lot of tsking and sighing. A lot of screaming WRONG and shrieking with laughter when I would answer, for example, Bill Crosby. When what I meant, obviously, was Bill Cosby.

Then there was the shouting out of clues if I took even half a second too long to answer. "C'mon--she was really ugly and she owned a lot of big hotels!" Do you see what is happening, there? It makes the answer so obvious that you have to say Leona Helmsly whether or not that's what you would have come up with on your own. But you don't get credit for getting it right, because you were given such an obvious clue. Never mind that you didn't ask for the clue.

It's a way of letting you win while making you feel like a total loser.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive. People have been telling me I'm too sensitive my entire life (which, by the way, hurts my feelings, too). But, still. There must be a way to play a board game without making the loser feel like a loser.


Good Dog

Yesterday was the dog's longest visit at my parents' house yet. She was a good girl. Well, aside from eating the cat poop. And peeing on the rug. Other than that, though, she was good. Really.

Lots of snow in our area today, so some of us--including me--decided not to go to New Hampshire after all. KK called me a wimp and a party pooper. I say I'm just sane. The dog would have liked going though: there are woods and four other dogs to play with.

Candid Pictures

My Christmas pictures didn't come out too great. But then, they never really do, do they? There's actually a ban on Christmas morning pictures at our house. For obvious reasons:

That's me in my cracker hat.
But hope springs eternal. This is the second Christmas I've had my digital camera, but the first that I've really known what I was doing with it. So I thought, What would be the harm in snapping off a few shots? With the digital camera, you can see how the picture comes out right away and delete it if it's really bad. Like this:

That's J in her cracker hat.

Anyway, it's not just the Christmas pictures that have been coming out bad. All of the candid indoor shots I've been taking have been lacking something. Those taken with a flash look particularly bad:

The Aunties.

One obvious solution is to use natural light, although that's in short supply in New England in the winter. Sometimes a picture shot without the flash looks kind of cool:

The Birthday boy.

Then again, it doesn't always work:

Reading In the Night Kitchen.

Which means you have to turn up the lights if you want to get a halfway decent shot. The color is better, but it's not exactly candid any more:

Time for bed.

Also it's kind of a mood-wrecker, turning up the lights like that. So, anyway, I guess I have need to practice my indoor candids. I'll have another opportunity to do so today. Nothing like Christmas on a Saturday to make the holiday a three day extravaganza.

Merry Woofmas

Merry Christmas From the Dog.

What a Bunch of Babies ...

Scared of Santa Photo Gallery. Worth at least looking at the first ten photographs ... I don't know about all 45. You're responsible for your own wasted time, people.

[via Judgment Call]

Photo Friday: Tacky

Gienna Writes Home

My entry for this week's Photo Friday challenge. The theme is "tacky." Some people took very nice pictures of tacks and one person took a really creepy picture of some kind of gooey substance. But around these parts, "tacky" can only mean one thing. And it's not a very nice thing at that.

The people around here decorate with abandon for Christmas. This house is actually understated in comparison to some of the others. I've been meaning to get over to Saugus--you wouldn't believe it. There's this neighborhood, which we used to refer to by a very tacky name, that goes totally mental with the holiday decorating. I bet those houses can be seen from space.

The truth is, though, I don't really think that decorating your house with lights for Christmas is tacky. Well, those giant inflatable things are a little tacky. And ringing the satellite dish with lights ... yeah, that's tacky. And, to my mind, having Santa stand in a crèche is tacky, too. But you know what? People do it because it makes them happy and because it makes other people happy.

And it's kind of tacky to make fun of them for it.

(There's no Photo Friday challenge next week. )

Working Jerks

I think things are going to be quiet through Christmas and possibly even through the end of the year and I'm looking forward to having some time off. More than that: I deserve some time off, dammit. I've been going pretty much non-stop for about three weeks, weekends included.

Part of the reason I've been so busy is that I made a mistake and underbid on a job. The company gave me the assignments I bid on plus about 30 more at the same price. That should have been a clue, right? But it's a fairly new client and I didn't dare tell them no. So I accepted the extra work. That's when I realized it was going to take me waaaay longer to do it than I expected. I spent two weeks doing research-based writing at minimum wage for a Fortune 500 company. And with no benefits, either. And don't get me started about self-employment taxes.

Luckily, I spent the third week working for a good employer. Someone who pays me a fair rate without being all squirrelly about it. Who puts my checks in on time and doesn't wait to approve my work the day after the close of the current billing cycle. (One time is a coincidence. Every time is a conspiracy, people.) This job isn't always easy and it doesn’t come with vacation time, health insurance, or even a Christmas bonus, but it includes the major fringe benefit of an editor who sends me occasional emails praising my work and thanking me for my professionalism. Who makes me feel like a valued member of the team.

As opposed to treating me like a supplier whose pricing mistake is an opportunity for profit.

Looking for freelance clients is kind of like dating. Everybody says there's plenty of fish in the sea but the truth is it's hard to meet someone. You want a nice guy--you really do want a nice guy--but somehow you end up with the jerk every time. And the funny thing is, the signs that he was a jerk were there from the start, had you only paid attention.

What I really need is to find more employers who are nice. And to learn how to recognize the jerks a little earlier in the process. I'm not saying I won't continue to work for jerks.

But from now on I'm charging them extra.

One More Thing ...

I probably shouldn't even think this, let alone say it, let alone write it down in a place where the jinx gods could read it, but I think that maybe I am finally all caught up with my work. Except that I just know as soon as I hit "publish" I'm going to get an email from an editor saying "Just one more thing ... "

Moving Views

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image.)

This view of Boston, taken from the beach near my house, is different every day. The color of the light, the character of the clouds, and the mood of the sky are constantly changing. The tides devour the beach and spit it out and the winds change the water's texture and the light changes its color so that some days it is gray and choppy and some days it is impossibly smooth and brightest blue.

But the skyline is the thing that really gets me. That causes me, at times, to nearly swerve off the road as I'm driving by. Sometimes the city is big and bold. Sometimes it is smaller and further away. It's like the moon--you know how sometimes it is as big as a pie and hangs low in the sky and sometimes it is a high and distant speck? We all know how the moon moves. When we were little we sat, sleepy, in the back seat, watching it follow us home.

But cities don't move. Except when they do. Is it a trick of the light? An illusion caused by tides? Something to do with air pollution? Never mind, I don't want to know. On this day the city was big and bold and yellow.

That's enough for me.

Red Socks


Photo Friday: Abandoned

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer, image.)

This is my entry for this week's Photo Friday challenge. The theme was abandoned.

Took this picture in Marblehead at a small public boat launch. The docks have been pulled out of the water for the winter and there's all sorts of strange-looking stuff stored there. It's been abandoned for the season, anyway. It was another one of those days where the light is so beautiful that it makes everything it touches look beautiful, too.

And yeah, I know I posted this a day early. I have a lot of work to do tomorrow. And I spent waaaay too much time today trying to get this photograph posted. It's a long story, not worth repeating here.

Writing I Couldn't Live Without

Today's the last day to get free shipping on Amazon and have your package arrive by Christmas Eve. I have a feeling that Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss is going to be a big seller this holiday. And that’s great. But if you’re buying for a writer, you might want to dig a little deeper than that. Because writers already know that commas and apostrophes are woefully misused. Trust me.

Buying books on writing for writers can be intimidating. Won’t they be insulted? Well, if you buy a For Dummies book, they might be. But a classic book on writing is a sure thing. It doesn’t even matter if they already have it. Every writer I know has at least two copies of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. An extra copy just means you have one for sharing.

And what if you choose the wrong book? Well, in my opinion, there’s no such thing as a bad book on writing. You can get something out of nearly everything. But there are some books on writing that just stand miles apart from the others. They are the books on writing that you turn to again and again for information and inspiration.

Here is my list of books on writing that inform and inspire, that stand up to multiple readings, that are welcomed to my bookshelves by the bushel, the books on writing that, in fact, I simply couldn't live without:

On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Every writer should have a copy or two of this book.

Writing For Story by Jon Franklin. The best damn book on narrative nonfiction. Period.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. My all-time favorite book on creative writing. Makes me want to grab my notebook and a pen and head for a café to write my heart out every time I read it.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. Not so much a technical guide as a spiritual one, but one that you'll want to read over and over again. The writing is beautiful.

And, to round out the list, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Destined to be a classic. On my to-read-again list.

So I showed you mine. I'd love to see yours. Just click on that comments link at the bottom of the post and tell me which books on writing make your can't-live-without-it list. While I wait, I'll be praying that I didn't make any punctuation mistakes in this post. Is it just me, or does it seem like there are a million apostrophes in this one?

A Chicken in Every Pottery Class

Chickens are the new suburban pet, according to this article in today's Boston Globe. As usual, Daphne and Bobby are way ahead of the trend ...

Where the Hell is Kyrgyzstan?

[Via StuckHereWithNoTV]

I don't usually do these quiz things, because the results don't usually make sense to me. But this time, for some reason, it pegged me. I totally am Kyrgyzstan:

You scored as Kyrgyzstan. No one knows who you are or where you come from. There’s a very real possibility you might be a communist, although it might also just be that you’re misunderstood. Congratulations, you win the wo\man of mystery prize.

What country are you?

The Race From Freeport

You know what's great when you have an obsessive personality? FedEx shipment tracking.

I ordered some things from L.L. Bean that are coming in two different shipments and I've been watching them race down the coast to my house from Freeport, Maine. I love that you can track the exact minute they complete each step in the process. Surprisingly, the single item that I ordered yesterday is in the lead over the two items I ordered the day before.

Update: I just hit "refresh" and found out that the package with the single item is on the truck and out for delivery. You know, for those of you who are keeping track. Or placing bets.

Or really, really bored.

Someone's Been Googling Me

Hey! Did you just Google me?

I can tell, you know. When you Google me, that is. About a month ago, I signed up for site statistics from Sitemeter. It tells me how long someone visits, for example, and how many pages they click on, and the referring URL (what page they came from). If you want to see who visits this site, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on that odd little multi-colored square.

I can't tell who you are or anything. Just what you (and by you I mean you, but only in an anonymous kind of way) do just before and during your visit to the site. And, it just so happens, that if the referring URL is a search engine, I can see the search words you used to find me. Today two people searched for "Gienna" and ended up at my site. Actually, one person searched for "Gienna." Someone else, oddly enough, searched for "giEnnA."

I get the most visits from people wanting to know "What is wrong with the misfit girl doll?" And now I kind of feel bad, because in that post I was flip about the girl doll's problem. I said she was depressed. I should have said that her problems are psychological. Mental illness is not a joke, people.

The second most popular search is for various members of the Fox 25 News team. And I even got one search for "Colin Farrell's package." It's not even like package is the standard term, you know?

People are such a fucking mySterY.

My Christmas Tree (Detail)

Photo Friday: Reflections

Gienna Writes Home

I like the way this picture came out, but I'd like to try again when there's a full moon. The problem is that there are so many variables. The moon for one. But there also has to be a high tide at the right time of night. It can't be too windy, otherwise the water is too rough to show the relection of the lights. And it has to be partly cloudy. If there are too many clouds you don't get that pretty Maxwell Parish blue sky.

I'll keep checking the phases of the moon, the tide charts, and the weather forcast. Meanwhile, this will have to do as my Photo Friday submission for this past week's challenge, which was "reflections."

This week's challenge is "abandoned."

Gifts for Writers and Other Wordies

I'm a little behind on my Christmas shopping. I have a couple things for my mom, one thing for my favorite baby, and that's about it. It seems like this is the year for online shopping. But even that takes a little planning ahead.

One site I'm definitely going to shop: The Reader's Catalog. It's got great gifts for anyone who loves words. Among my favorites: the alphabet mug; the alphabet tie; and journals in different sizes and colors.

I also like the 2005 Granta diary, but it is less expensive at Amazon. Amazon's description is inaccurate, though -- the diary actually features 52 different book jacket designs from the past 100 years, including first edition covers of The Hobbit, Casino Royale, Trainspotting, On the Road, and The Old Man and the Sea.


The Mood Swing Shift

If anyone out there is thinking about becoming a freelance writer (Work in your pajamas! Take Oprah breaks! Sleep late! And take naps!), there is something you should know.

It is a totally crazy way to make a living.

For days on end there's no paying work to do. So you rearrange the furniture, balance your checkbook to the penny, read books and day dream. You muse about how wonderful your life is, and remember the days when the alarm clock woke you (or didn't) at 5:30 a.m. You sip your coffee while watching the neighbors scrape ice off their cars. Brrr. Put on a nice, warm, sweater and update your blog and work on that short story you've been neglecting. And then you start to get bored. Just a little at first. But then that feeling that you're forgetting something important starts to grow. There's only so many errands you can do, after all. There's only so much cleaning. You can only check your email a few hundred times a day before you start to consider reading the spam.

And then, suddenly, there is not one project due but three. And they're all due on the same day. And then suddenly that day is tomorrow. And how exactly did that happen? And, by the way, the dentist appointment you made six months ago? Without fail it falls in the middle of the madness. So you write from sunup to sundown (well, you write from sunup to sundown in the winter, anyway, when the days are shorter). Sometimes you take a quick break for supper and then go back online to do some research. Some days you kind of foget to eat. On bad days you forget to shower.

It feels good to be working again, of course. And you can't complain that you're finally earning some money, either. But, bottom line, it's the occupational equivalent of manic depression. High highs, low lows and nothing in between.

So if you're the kind of person who likes a nice, orderly, 9 to 5, structured, predictable, non-crazy, scheduled life (and, by the way, I'm not) do not under any circumstances become a freelance writer.

That's my career advice/public service announcement for today. Now I either have to get back to work, get something to eat, or take a shower.

No Tea For You!

KK has been itching to go to the Wenham Tea House for a while, now, and on Sunday she finally convinced me to go with her. I agreed to go despite the fact that it seemed like an extremely girly thing to do because she told me that yes, she was sure that they also served coffee. I drew the line, however, at visiting the Wenham Museum's world famous doll collection.

The circa 1910 building, in lovely Wenham Village, houses the tea room as well as the shops, which include a small bookstore, a gift shop, and an antiques consignment section in the attic. It is all owned and operated by the Wenham Village Improvement Society, a philanthropic organization formed in 1893.

Apparently, some of the original members are still running the place.

Sadly, the tea room is closed on Sundays. Well, when we asked, it was closed. You see, KK and I made the stunning mistake of wearing jeans. We had on nice tops, cute shoes, our hair was neatly brushed and our fingernails were clean. But the dungarees were a big mistake.

The little old ladies of the Wenham Tea House acted as if we were members of a girl gang. They struggled not to make eye contact while also watching to make sure we didn't steal anything, set fire to the place, or try to kidnap any small children.

I bought something for my cousin's son, who will be turning two soon, partly because it was so cute and because I love him madly, but also just to prove to the tea house ladies that I wasn't indigent.

As we left the building, a gaggle of ladies--none of whom were wearing anything even remotely resembling casualwear--pushed us off the walkway and headed inside for tea and a fashion show. The girl gang was not invited. We went back to my Neon, with the wet nose prints on its windows, and tried to exit the parking lot without hitting any Jaguars.

And we almost succeeded, too.

Photo Friday: Prosperity

Today is Friday. I didn't submit a photo for last Friday's Photo Friday challenge. (I always want to write it Foto Friday, even though I know that would be very, very wrong.)

Last week's assignment was "prosperity." It was a toughie. I went out to Marblehead neck to take some pictures of mansions and sailboats. But while I got some nice pictures, none really said "prosperity," you know? Because prosperity, to me, means growth. It has some movement to it, some energy. The houses on Marblehead Neck are too staid and solid and motionless. Too old money.

I think a better tack would have been to go to a mall on the day after Thanksgiving, get a shot of someone in nice shoes carrying lots of shopping bags. Or the mad rush of people going into the stores. But that's never been my thing. I don't like people. Well, at least not crowds of them. One-on-one they're usually OK. Sort of.

Today's challenge is "reflections." Much better. I have a bunch of ideas already. And, thankfully, none of them involves people.

Daily Candy

OK, I'll admit it. I have a thing for handbags. But, you know, I wouldn't exactly call it a problem. Because I could quit any time I wanted to. I swear I could.

Daily Candy launched its Boston edition yesterday. Today's installment features some really cute Boston-grown bags from Tart Industries. All you men out there with fun, funky girlfriends who are looking for Christmas presents: you could not go wrong with any of these. And no, you can not buy them at WalMart. Sorry.

Oh, but I digress. Daily Candy is a hip site focusing on style, arts and culture, dining, travel and gadgets and ... well ... stuff. Fun stuff. There are five daily editions, delivered through e-mail: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston, plus everywhere. A Kids edition (for "busy and hip parents") is published once a week.

The site also features really excellent illustrations by Sujean Rim and an interesting and engaging writing style. See how I managed to tie shopping and writing together there? Aren't I clever? Doesn't it make you want to buy me something?

No? Well just wait 'till I start regaling you with gift ideas for writers.

Golden Sunshine, Part 2

Here are two more pictures from Tuesday's photo field trip. They almost look like paintings, don't they?

(Click on either picture for a larger, clearer image.)

Golden Sunshine Fills Your Eyes

(Click on the picture for a larger, clearer image)

The girls and I took a photo field trip yesterday. We went to the beach during that magic hour when the sun is low and casts a golden light on everything. I got some really nice shots. I'll post some this week. See, this is just one of the things I'd like to have time to do in addition to writing.

Lessons Learned in November

November is over, and so is National Novel Writing Month. I finished my novel, but fell short of the 50,000 word count, ending up somewhere in the mid 40’s. I’m still kind of processing the whole experience. But I do know a few things. First, I feel good about what I accomplished, even if I didn’t “win” by writing 50,000 words. And second, I couldn’t have written one more word of the story if you had paid me a million bucks.

It was pretty awful.

Don’t get me wrong. I did a lot of writing and some of it was good. I ended up with a story that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. But, for me, this month-long writing exercise wasn’t really about the story. It was more about doing something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, something I have been putting off year after year after year. It was more about facing my fear of failure. Or of success. Or maybe it was just about overcoming laziness and a tendency to procrastinate.

Here’s one thing I learned for sure. There are a lot of poor excuses for not writing. Doing the dishes. Watching crappy television. Browsing the Internet. Sleeping late. Just goofing off. There are things I am willing to give up for writing. And, it turns out, you can get a shitload of writing done if you put your mind to it.

On the other hand, there are plenty of valid reasons not to write. Taking long walks on the beach and hikes in the woods. Reading. Spending time with people you like. Watching good television. Taking naps. Going on photo field trips. All things I enjoy. Things I had to give up or cut back on in November in order to write all those words. And I don’t actually want to live my life like that. Not to the extreme, anyway, and not year-round. One month out of the year? Maybe. I’m pretty sure that I will take another stab at crossing the NaNoWriMo finish line next November.

This November, I tried to write 2,000 words a day. Some days I wrote less, some days I wrote more. Some days the writing was a joy. Some days it felt like a chore. I think the key is to make time in your life for writing. But not so much time that you start to hate the writing. I figure that I could easily write 1,000 words a day and have plenty of time left over for the other things I enjoy. And even if that’s not 50,000 words a month, it is a whole lot of personal essays, short stories, poems, and pages of a longer work, such as a novel or a memoir or a screenplay. Not to mention blog entries.

So that’s what I’m taking away from my November noveling experience. There’s a deeper lesson in there somewhere about facing your fear of failure and failing anyway and finding out that that’s OK. I should probably be writing about that. And I should probably write about some of the technical lessons I learned about plot construction and character development before I forget them. And I will. Later.

Right now I’m going to take the dog for a nice, long walk.