Monday, May 30, 2011

I've Got What on my What?

Apres-ride fashion: The Country Classic 2009

I got a smile out of Michelle's May 17th blog entry at From the Horse's Back in which she confesses to being a cowgirl. She begins by observing that folks in the grocery store were giving her odd looks. Come to think of it, she'd noticed it before. It seems she was still in her barn gear which was decorated with random bits of hay, a butt sweat stain, and a lovely green muzzle smear on the front of her shirt.

As one who occasionally runs errands on the way home from the barn, I could identify. Although in my case I'm wearing black full-seat breeches coated with white hair,muddy paddock boots, and I smell like Phantom's turnout blanket that I had recently removed and replaced.

Interestingly enough, stable wear is relatively common at the grocery store I most often frequent. Seems our little burg is at the center of a thriving sport horse community with several hunter/jumper, dressage, and eventing stables nearby. Riders coming and going from the boarding/training facilities often stop at the local businesses wearing their barn regalia.

Like Michelle, we don't take much notice of bilious green smudges, bits of clinging stall shavings or hay, or mud-caked boots. Hats pulled low to camouflage helmet hair are de rigueur. Sweat stains (our own or our mount's) are signs of accomplishment. We can generally be found in the produce department loading up on carrots and apples where we assess each other by our breeches. Knee patches? Must be a hunter from the other side of town. Full seat? Eventer or dressage rider from down the road. Kindred spirit? You bet!

Apres-ride fashion: Dressage at Devonwood 2009

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Stills: Weeds and Grasses


Scotch broom in bloom.

Volunteer poppy in the park.

Wetlands under the power line.

To see how others met the challenge, visit Sunday Stills.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Kiss for a treat.

Soft eye.

Who's the new horse?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Plain Language Act

I got a chuckle from the AP article that appeared in last week's Oregonian regarding the Plain Writing Act recently signed by President Obama.

Why are government documents (from the feds to the states and local entities) written in gibberish? My experience (30 years in state government) leads me to believe that people don't know the difference between legalese and sharing information.

My first question was always "who is the intended audience?" When drafting Administrative Rules I worked with an assistant attorney general to assure that the language was legally correct. Scientific reports had to be biologically accurate and could be more technical for a savvy audience. Correspondence and documents for public consumption needed to be correct, yet brief and easy to follow. Was the audience an attorney, a research biologist, or a deer hunter?

Decades ago when I took over the administrative rules from a wildlife biologist, I realized he was writing the regulations synopsis as if it was a legal document. Over time, I worked with staff to develop the regulations into a more informative and less stilted publication. Not that the multiple seasons and legal descriptions for agricultural damage hunts were easy to follow. However, we used bulleted lists and graphs when we could, and I applied the active voice to the documents instead of the passive voice common to scientific writing.

Government documents are often written by an expert in the topic. That expert may not have the natural skills or training in written communications. The expert may be able to convey technical information to others in her/his field, but lack the ability to simplify the subject matter for a general audience.

Plus -- there is stilted-essay-syndrome. You know how it goes -- you can write an entertaining and amusing postcard to family and friends, but as soon as you must write an essay to be graded you become stiff and stilted. For some reason many people revert to 18th century English in their formal writing.

But what I really found amusing about the whole "plain language in government" subject was the Oregon Department of Education's proposal to reduce its budget by eliminating the statewide writing assessment system. Not to mention texting abbreviations and syntax making its way into student reports. Plus the grammar twisting language of interviewees on the nightly local news (I particularly loved the young woman who used "have tooken" during a segment on high gas prices).

So who, I wondered when I read the above article, is going to write this plain language for the government? It seems few students are acquiring correct English during their K-12 schooling. And liberal arts degrees are considered "useless" now that colleges and universities are treated like trade schools.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Club Read: "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

Our foray into science fiction was of dubious success. Two members were absent from our monthly meeting and only two of us in attendance had actually read the book.

Both of us who completed To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis enjoyed the novel. A couple of months ago I read Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog in preparation for Ms. Willis' book. Although not necessary, it did contribute to the enjoyment of the Willis novel.

The science fiction aspect of To Say Nothing of the Dog is time travel, something Ms. Willis has applied in others of her books (most recently Blackout and All Clear). The majority of the story occurs during 1888 in the same general setting as Jerome's earlier novel. The book does suffer from the inevitable "information dump" common to all science fiction and fantasy. However, once the story gets rolling it has all the fumbles and bumbles of a Shakespearean comedy of errors. Ms. Willis captures the spirit of Oscar Wilde with laugh-out-loud episodes.

Yes, there is a dog. And a cat with a taste for expensive koi. And mismatched couples that must be righted before the end of the book. To say nothing of the missing "Bishop's Bird Stump" that serves at the macguffin for the novel.

Our discussion of the book consisted mainly of describing it to those who hadn't yet read it. But we did consider how minor situations or actions have affected major historical events. The contributions of muddy roads and an illegible note on Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo were a repeated topic throughout the book. The misplacement of a cat was the impetus for the events in To Say Nothing of the Dog.

The customs and mores of past periods was another topic of interest. The main character of the book had an inadequate period briefing before dropping into Victorian England, which made for anachronistic complications.

Then there are the tools from previous times that are no longer in use and rendered unrecognizable to subsequent generations. The search for a can opener and how to use it once located made for an amusing scene. Antique stores are full of items once necessary for daily life that have become collectible oddities.

Willis deftly handles the "grandfather conundrum" (you know, what if you travel back in time and inadvertently kill your will you be born?) by creating the "continuum" that self corrects the errors made by well intentioned Oxford historians of the future who study past eras first hand.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is science fiction light. An excellent introduction to the genre for newcomers. Anyone who enjoys a rollicking comedy of manners will find it a fun read aside from the sf aspects. It is also a lead in to Blackout and All Clear, set during the London blitz of World War II.

Our next reading selection is Michael Connelly's Lincoln Lawyer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Northwest Author Series: Eric Witchey

Eric Witchey
The Short Story: Write It & Sell It in 90 Minutes

This was the final workshop of the 2010-2011 Northwest Author Series (supported by the Wilsonville Public Library and Friends of the Wilsonville Public Library). I was looking forward to Eric Witchey, since I've attended his workshops at the Willamette Writers Conference in the past. Although I don't write short stories I hoped I would be able to apply his concepts to the young adult novels I'm writing.

The workshop was well attended, which resulted in a lively collaborative session. Eric shared an informative handout compiled for the workshop that may be the starting point for a future book on writing. :-)

Eric began by describing Story as an extension of language. Learning to write prose is like learning a second language -- we use the same areas of the brain to learn and acquire the skills.

Per Robert McKee, "Story is a metaphor for life." Thus, our story doesn't have to be true in the real world, but it must be true and consistent in the world of the story.

The exercises Eric taught us are a means to teach ourselves the story development process. It is an exercise we can practice daily until (like a new language) it can become a more natural and smoother process.

We worked within the framework of the seven point story arc:

1. character
2. setting
3. problem
4. try/fail but learn something
5. try (apply what learned)/fail but learn something more
6. try (apply additional learning)/figurative death (do or die)/fail (tragedy) or succeed
7. Climax/resolution

We began by brainstorming interesting jobs for our main character. The job may or may not be an important element of the story, but it is important to the make up of the character. After selecting a couple of unusual jobs we then chose the gender for our protagonist -- a female doing traditionally male occupations. We then discussed what the jobs revealed about the female protagonist and to these we added additional characteristics and situations with potential for story conflict.

With the protagonist sketched out we then moved on to "The Other" -- the character who would create the greatest problems for our main character.

With a start on Point One of the story arc, we moved on to Point Two -- the setting. Again, what would create the most problems for the protagonist and establish conflict for her with The Other.

Themes (cultural expectations) began to emerge as we placed the two characters in the setting. Since each character in a story will have a position on the themes, we designated conflicting beliefs for our two primary characters.

Point Three, the Problem, evolved from the character and setting conflicts.

With the first three points sketched out we then discussed potential scenes that would develop the Middle of the story.

The classic story scene typically has the following elements: setting, conflict, climax/resolution, and result.

Eric applies "ED ACE" to scene development. Emotion leads to Decision leads to Action leads to Conflict, leads to new Emotion. Each character enters the scene in an individual emotional state with agendas (conscious and unconscious). These influence the decisions and actions of each character. The character's "normal tools" for dealing with conflict will fail her and by the end of the scene the character is experiencing a new emotional state with which she enters the next scene. Since the old tools for dealing with the world aren't working, the character attempts to adapt what she learned in the previous scene for the next confrontation.

Eric guided the group as we drafted Point Four, the first try/fail scene of our story. This set us up for what we believed should occur at Point Five.

Regrettably we ran out of time to flesh out Points Six and Seven. However, we were well on our way to an understanding of the process.

As for publication, the writer cannot always predict what editors and publishers will want. Eric's handout included four stories (literary, horror, and fantasy genres) that he developed and wrote in about two hours. Per the whims of the publishing industry, one of the stories he least liked has had the most success. Go figure.

Eric left us with a process for creativity. Using prompts from any source of our choice, he suggested selecting three random concepts to use in a 15 minute writing exercise. Whether practicing the pieces of story arc separately or in combination, don't worry about producing a publishable product. Consider it practice in learning the language of prose. If one of these practice sessions produces the germ of a good story, then fly with it to see what happens.

Per usual, even though I've attended Eric's workshops in the past, I learn something new each time. He is one of several frequent presenters at the Willamette Writers Conference that I watch for.

Many thanks to Christina Katz for coordinating the Northwest Writers Series.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sunday Stills: Looking High, Looking Low

My mother and I gave Emily a college-to-career makeover at Synergy Artistic Salon this past week (Pacific University class of 2011). Between capturing pictures of the process for Em, I also took a few "high" and "low" photos for this week's challenge.

Looking high at hair styling utensils.

Looking high at hair colors.

Looking low at hair styling products.

And my favorite of the day, looking low at fingernail polishes.

Visit Sunday Stills to see what captured the imagination of other photographers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I've Been PANKed!

Not punked -- PANKed. That is: Professional Auntie, No Kids.

I've been referring to myself as the "adopted auntie" of twins Emily and Steven. But I've just discovered that I am an "aunt by choice."

Those of us who have no children of our own but love and nurture the children of others have been validated by Melanie Notkin's book (see above), website, and Facebook page.

Notkin is the author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids. I recently heard her interview on NPR and rushed to her website.

Someone had acknowledged me! Not only that, but I now have an official day!

Women become Savvy Aunties through various avenues. Some choose not to have children, others cannot have children for various reasons. I had the old-fashioned notion of getting married before having children -- but never encountered the guy. And back in the day, single women of modest means didn't have a chance at adoption.

Since I had no siblings (basic requirement for nieces and nephews), I never became a "legitimate" auntie.

So I became the "auntie by choice" to the children of friends and coworkers, and the young equestrians with whom I shared a passion for horses.

It is nice to at last receive some recognition in addition to the affection and friendship of my "adopted" nieces and nephews.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sunday Stills: Doors and Doorknobs

No doorknobs. Just doors from the old barn aisle.

The facility was originally a Trakehner breeding barn. It is now an all-breed boarding stable focusing on eventing and dressage, or just plain enjoying our horses.

The antler logo is the official brand for registered Trakehners, a warmblood breed originating in Germany.

To see how others met this week's photo challenge, visit Sunday Stills.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Naughty Phantom

Must be spring fever. Phantom hasn't been this naughty about being caught in a long time.

I took my camera to the barn to capture pictures of the "naked horses." After the third wettest April on record...we finally have a dry, warm day. Obviously Phantom was enjoying the sunshine and turnout sheet removal. Too much.

Fortunately, other boarders gave Trainer Julie a heads up and she rescued me. Naturally, Phantom waited politely for Julie and allowed her to walk right up to him.


Monday, May 2, 2011

"The evil that men do lives after them...."

Good riddance.

Problem is, Osama bin Laden wasn't the first.

And he won't be the last.