Being Gorgeous - Writing the Right Words

One of my lifetime writing goals is that every book I write should be the best book I've ever written, and in order to meet that goal, I set another goal for this year: to improve my writing from a craft perspective. 

I've currently got a stack of books on my desk that I'm working my way through, and right now I'm in the middle of Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant's Write. Publish. Repeat. and Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft. Ursula K. LeGuin's book has actual writing exercises in it, and I thought I might share some of my attempts to pass this imaginary class I'm taking here, on my blog. 

The first chapter in Steering the Craft (called Being Gorgeous) focuses primarily on the sound of words and the sound of language. She writes,

"The sound of the language is where it all begins. The test of a sentence is, Does it sound right? The basic elements of language are physical: the noise marking their relationships. Both the meaning and the beauty of the writing depend on these sounds and rhythms... The chief duty of a narrative sentence is to lead to the n ext sentence--to keep the story going. Forward movement, pace, and rhythm are words that are going to return often in this book. Pace and movement depend above all on rhythm, and the primary way you feel and control the rhythm of your prose is by hearing it--by listening to it." (page 1 - 2)

She goes on to quote passages from Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, Zora Neale Hurston, and Molly Glass, and recommends reading Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Kent Haruf's Plainsong, and Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs. 

The two exercises in this chapter I combined into one slightly longer narrative. The first exercise is to write a page of narrative that is designed to be read aloud, but without using rhyme or meter. The second exercise is to describe an action or a person feeling a strong emotion and to make the rhythm and movement of the words represent the physical reality in the scene. 

This, I would say, is the worst of my exercises so far. I find that I get better and better with each exercise that I do--I am able to let go more and not worry about the imposed structure, and to focus on the one skill that I am trying to improve. I like the first part, but I'm not as huge of a fan of the second part. This is something I plan to keep practicing.

Anyway, here it is!

Soaked. Completely soaked--my jeans, my shirt, my underwear. Even my brain felt wet. I stumbled forward with sand sticking--stuck--all over me, to my feet, my hands, my hair. And salt covered me too, almost sticky, a thin coating on every inch of skin.

Behind me, the waves crashed against one another and against the shore. The wind blew mightily; the palm trees creaked and bent in the face of its powerful gusts. Rain pelted my face so hard it stung, and the water in the air was so thick it was difficult to see in front of me. I slowly made my way up the sandy beach, grateful for the shore, the ground beneath my feet. But I had no idea when the storm would end, or at least calm to a steady rain or mist.

But I kept walking, up the beach, over the rocks, into the trees that groaned and screamed in agony. There were bushes of so many different varieties, and their leaves, too, swayed and waved. I pushed further and further inland, my legs sore, and my eyes burning, but all I could see were more rocks, more bushes, and more trees, swaying, swaying, swaying, back and forth, back and forth, to the rhythm of the storm, of the rain, of the wind. 

I finally sank to my knees. There was nothing--no shelter, no food, no hope--and I was alone. 

"Help," I whispered quietly. 

[Part 2] And then the clouds broke! One thin ray of sunshine peeked through. I looked up and for a moment, the forest of palm trees was so beautiful--the greenest greens I'd ever seen, and the bluest blues. And there were flowers--periwinkle, magenta, vibrant orange--and I cried. 

In the next moment, the sun was gone again, but I had seen an end, the end of the storm. I smiled and dragged myself to my feet. I would keep on for as long as the new found hope lasted. I would keep on.

For what it's worth, I highly recommend Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft for anyone who wants to improve their writing from the ground up. She gives great advice in what I feel is a welcoming and open manner. Her writing makes me want to be friends with her in real life. If you want to listen to some interviews and whatnot with Ursula K LeGuin, find her on FindLectures!:)

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A Day in the Life of a Mom

I don't know why I decided to write about Moms. Turns out it's quite a difficult topic, especially given that I'm not one. I have a Mom, and she's quite awesome, and I have two grand-Moms, a Mother-in-law, and some Mom-like women in my life who rank right up there in the Mom category. But turns out that the whole being a Mom thing is, well, it's own thing.

There are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about Moms and Motherhood. The whole "young Moms don't sleep much" seems to be pretty accurate, but there are other Mom-related ideas that might not be so cut-and-dried as they might seem. Helicopter Moms, for example, vs hands-off Moms, or tired Moms vs active Moms, or Moms with clean houses vs Moms without clean houses, or working Moms and stay-at-home Moms, or single Moms vs married Moms vs divorced Moms vs step-Moms vs unmarried but partnered Moms. Some Moms are on their own and some have a full support system. Some are perfectly healthy post baby, and some struggle with physical or emotional health issues. 

And the thing is, from what I can see, every single Mom is different.

So for this Mother's Day special, I interviewed three Moms!

Here I am holding Jack just a few months after he was born.

Here I am holding Jack just a few months after he was born.

I'm going to start with Sarah, the youngest of the three. You may remember her from my blog post a couple of years ago on National Best Friend's Day. Really long story short, Sarah and I met when we were three and are still friends, plus she has a baby now which is cool. Sarah is a mother, of course, as well as a wife, sister, daughter, Christian, health enthusiast, aspiring gardener, avid reader (though apparently having a kid makes time to read a rare commodity), half introvert and half extrovert, and she loves decorating and design. Her baby, Jack, is 14 months old, and she and Jordan also have one baby in heaven due to a miscarriage. 

As you might imagine, having Jack changed Sarah's life. She explains: 

"Quite a few years ago I began working on becoming a healthier person--physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Since having Jack, that desire has only increased as I realize that what I want for him in life isn't always what I model. I will never get it perfectly (that's not my goal) but I feel like working on my heart issues will actually make me a better parent, and so I have been continuing to pursue health and that is really a lifelong goal, parenting aside."
Sarah with one of those baby backpack things.

Sarah with one of those baby backpack things.

But it's more than that. Having a child has been a huge learning experience for Sarah. On one hand, she says she wishes she could have been more prepared for things like breastfeeding challenges and other similar things; but on the other hand, every day right now is fun as Jack learns new things for the very first time, allowing Sarah to see things for herself in a brand new way.

She has also learned to let go a little bit more.  

"[I have learned] that I am not in control and never will be. God is the only one in control. Germs are out of my control, whether he sleeps all night long is, what foods he loves, etc. I am not helpless and I have a say in what he is introduced to and influenced by, but ultimately we are talking about another human here, an individual with free will. My heart's desire is to teach him how to govern that free will and become a healthy and confident adult." 
Stef and 3/4 of her clan!

Stef and 3/4 of her clan!

I'm going to take a minute here and jump to my second interviewee, Stefanie Jolicoeur. Stefanie is a Mom, but she is also a wife, a sister, an author, a sarcasm pro, a TV addict, and a book lover. I met her in NH when we were doing all the same book events. Stefanie writes books for kids (Mousamus!) and has a middle grade novel and an adult horror novel. She has been a Mom since 2004 and has four kids--a boy aged 12, and three girls: 11, 9, and 7.

Stefanie is in a much different stage of Mom-hood than Sarah. Gone are the months of sleepless nights and the dirty diapers and the baby's cries. Other challenges have appeared instead--like bickering kids and having to break up fights all the time. She mentions that managing play dates can be difficult, with constantly having to interact with and reach out to the other kids' parents, people that she might not know very well. 

HE'S REAL

HE'S REAL

But Stef's kids have changed her life as well. She says, "They've made me want more for myself and for them... I put them before myself most of the time--sometimes it is hard to remember what I like to do!" Having kids has also impacted her writing. She didn't write books before she had kids, but her kids inspired her because she was able to see what they liked. She wanted to give them something fun they could someday share with their own kids and say, "yeah, your Grandma wrote this!" 

She has learned a lot from her kids, and says,

"I've learned that new things might be scary but you'll survive. I've also learned that I'm very glad to be done with school, the mere idea of homework is awful. As a parent I've learned that your kids love you no matter how bad you screw up (like forgetting to pick someone up, etc). They are forgiving and thankfully don't hold grudges!"
Me and the sibs

Me and the sibs

Finally, let me introduce you to my own Mom. Nancy is her name and being the best Mom ever is her game. Anyway, in addition to being The Best Mom Ever, Nancy is a wife, a daughter, a gardener, a seamstress, and a friend (also did I mention the Best Mom?). She has three kids--me of course, and my two brothers. I'm the middle child. She has been a Mom since 1985. That's almost 33 years and she is waaaay past the days of diapers and sleepless nights. All of her kids have grown up, moved out, finished up college, and bought houses. Two of us are married, and all three of us have pets. Mom is even past the so-called empty nester stage, and has spent the last 10 years filling up our old bedrooms with things that are more fun than kids (like antiques and fabric). 

Having kids changed Nancy's life. I should know. We made a lot of messes, after all. But according to Nancy, having kids forced her to become more flexible and spontaneous. She likes organization and order, in addition to quiet and solitude (ha!). This is, of course, exactly the opposite of life with children--particularly us. Evan played drums, just saying. And when I was quiet, it usually meant I was drawing on things. Like my face. Or the walls. 

Mom, Dad, Gary, and baby baby Ariele

Mom, Dad, Gary, and baby baby Ariele

Anyway, Nancy quickly learned that she needed to carve out quiet and creative time for herself, or else she would go crazy. She would get a babysitter to come to our house (Jodi!) a couple of days a week after school so she could get things done. Sometimes Dad would watch the kids, too, so Nancy could have time to herself. We also had mandatory nap time, apparently, until we went to school. Even if we didn't sleep, we had to play quietly in our rooms. Nancy says, "This made me a much better mother and ensured their survival." :D

She enjoyed the moments of intense discovery for each child, how we learned to interact and understand the world around us. It made her see, discover, and appreciate the world all over again. On the other hand, she didn't like having to discipline, being the mean parent all the time--but it was still a critical part of the job.

 Parenting is a learning experience, no matter how you look at it. She explains: 

"I learned how easy it is to fall into the habit of parenting the way you were parented, for better or worse. Children are individuals and what works to motivate or discipline one child might not work for the next one. It takes work to understand your child and break from what your parents always did but it's worth it." 

And just like in the rest of life, the learning never stops. So I asked Sarah, Stefanie, and Nancy: what advice would you give other Moms out there? 

JackJack the Giraffe

JackJack the Giraffe

Sarah said: 

  • If you want to be a Mom, go for it! You are strong and capable. 
  • Don't fear failure.
  • Don't be pressured by other people's expectations.
  • Leave room for evolving and changing because that is part of stepping out, and more times than not it helps make us into a better version of ourselves.

Stefanie said:

  • Carve out time for yourself! 
  • If you have something to say, say it!
  • Be flexible--learn to work around the baby's schedule.
  • You might feel like you exist for the sole purpose of cleaning up puke, changing their diapers, and feeding them and that's it--but it doesn't last long!
  • Get that baby in its own room.
  • It's okay to let them cry.
  • Give the milk machine a break!
  • You are never too old or too young to chase your dreams! Work hard and put your work out there and you can make it happen.

Nancy said: 

  • Make sure you have enough physical and emotional energy for what you hope to do so your family doesn't feel neglected. For me that meant getting part-time work once the kids were in middle school. 
  • If you don't have one, find or make yourself a support network--people who will listen and/or help when you feel overwhelmed. 
  • Don't use the TV as a babysitter. 
  • What you do matters as much as what you say--kids copy what they see and you are their primary role model.
I react this way to food, too.

I react this way to food, too.

So what about the kids? Kids are fun, right? Sarah says that she loves watching Jack's face when he tries new foods. She also says that the joy on his face when he goes down the slide makes her day, and watching his personality develop and grow is fascinating.

Stefanie's kids are each a little different. Her son is a little shy and loves to read and watch videos--though finding that quiet time can be difficult with three boisterous little sisters! He loves jokes and making up puns. Her eldest daughter loves to travel and try new things. She likes animals and wants to be a veterinarian one day. Stef's second daughter can be very dramatic. She loves to paint and create, and while right now she tends to be the one who gets in trouble the most, Stef can see her one day becoming an actress or an artist. Her littlest daughter is very fierce and protective. She tells you exactly what she thinks and is very funny.

"All of my kids enjoy and use sarcasm," Stef adds, "a trait they've inherited, no doubt, from both sides. I'm very proud of that!"

And my Mom has a million and one stories about me. I'm just going to leave them here. Make of it what you will. 

I dunno.  I don't seem all that curious about what Gary's doing in this photo.

I dunno.  I don't seem all that curious about what Gary's doing in this photo.

"Ariele went AWOL, and we found her under the piano having colored her entire face with markers. She drew on everything. I still have a photo of her early stick figure drawings done in red marker on her sheets."
"In the custody of her father, she snuck off (at age 2) and made it almost 1/4 mile down the road before she was found."
"She took a "shower" under the gutters one year during snow melt and learned it was very cold."
"At 3 months old, she was zooming around in a walker and followed her older brother everywhere. She was fascinated by everything he did."
"At age 3, Ariele saved a picture on my computer and named it STOP. I assume she knew it as a word from riding in the car. I was amazed that she had managed to save a file so young."

The definition of Mom changes from culture to culture, era to era, and person to person, and there is no one definition to fit them all (unlike the one Ring--sorry LOTR on the brain). But there is one question that we haven't addressed yet. What is the most important part of being a Mom?

Sarah says:

"Wow! That is a big question. I think the most important part is to love. As a Christian, the basis of my beliefs stem from a God who loves us unconditionally. If I can learn to love purely and healthily, the other dimensions I seek in motherhood will flow out of that." 

Stefanie says: 

What a cute bunch of egg-hunters.

What a cute bunch of egg-hunters.

"I think the most important thing about being a mom is letting the kids learn how to be independent. Teaching them how to butter toast lets you know they can feed themselves in a pinch and that is very liberating as a mom. A lot of parents tend to baby their kids which is a very easy thing to do if you watch the news/read the internet. It seems horrible things happen all of the time and you just want to protect them from every little thing. I try my hardest not to sugarcoat things if they've seen something on the TV or heard something at school. I always tell them the truth, even if is difficult." 

And Nancy says:

"Love. It sounds like a pat answer, but I think love means a lot of things--including but not limited to giving of yourself, disciplining and teaching self control, listening, helping your child find their own voice and their own path, protecting them from danger, celebrating their successes, and encouraging them when things aren't great."

So there you have it. Everything you could possibly want to know about being a Mom. 

Ha.

Just kidding. There are SO MANY facets to being a Mom, this essay doesn't even touch the iceberg, let alone get a glimpse at the part that's under the surface of the water. But this Mother's Day, just remember that your Mom, if nothing else, gave you a chance at life--the most important opportunity you'll ever have. So maybe say thank you, buy her some flowers, and leave her alone for a half hour or so. She deserves it. 

So Happy Mother's Day to my Mom, Nancy; and to Ellen, my mother-in-law; and my grandmothers Bernice and Dorothy and Deidre; and to my grandmothers-in-law, Faith and Bea; and to Sarah and my cousin Alicia who just had her first baby; and to Stefanie and to Ellie and all my aunts and great-aunts; to every Mom I've ever met, or who has advised me, who I've lived with, or who has been my friend. A very happy Mother's Day!

Ariele with her Mom and her Mom's Mom.

Ariele with her Mom and her Mom's Mom.

A Day in the Life of a Scientist

The universe is huge, in case you hadn't heard, and even the small planet we live on is rather large-- so large, in fact, that we've only explored a fraction of the ocean's floor (less than 5%, according to NOAA) and we're still discovering thousands of new species of animals every year. It's probably no surprise, then, that when a person decides to become a scientist, it becomes a major part of their identity for the rest of their life.

Meet Dr. Richard Fralick, scientist, scuba diver, explorer.

Meet Dr. Richard Fralick, scientist, scuba diver, explorer.

Meet Richard Fralick, Ph.D, aka Dick. Dick actually didn't actively decide to become a scientist as much as he just fell into it by way of the movie "The Silent World," by Jacques Cousteau (which coincidentally, you can watch here, for free!). After watching the movie, Dick and his friend decided to go learn how to scuba dive--and that decision completely altered the course of Dick's life.

He explained the impact to me from two different angles. From a societal perspective, he has been extremely productive and had a fulfilling life, and he has added greatly to the research and literature about exploring our planet. As a person, he has learned that he can motivate young and old people to not fear scientific knowledge, and to pursue the things that fascinate them. Plus, now he has a ton of cool stories.

After getting his scuba certification, Dick began to assist with some diving courses at the Cambridge Y. There he met Dr. Mackenzie Lamb, a botanist, who invited him to work as a Technical Research Assistant at the Farlow Herbarium. Dick's primary task there was to go diving with Dr. Lamb and collect algae at different depths. Over the next few years, Dick worked on a variety of projects in a variety of locations, improving his diving skills and expanding his knowledge of the ocean and algae.

In no time, he found himself on a ship, headed to Antarctica to continue exploring the ocean floor via scuba diving.

Yes. I did say Antarctica. Scuba diving. In Antarctica. 

Just in case you don't know where Antarctica is. See that little green tail at the top? That's Chile, South America. Seriously though, go on Google maps sometime and check out the bottom of the planet. 

Just in case you don't know where Antarctica is. See that little green tail at the top? That's Chile, South America. Seriously though, go on Google maps sometime and check out the bottom of the planet. 

During the Austral summer of 1964 - 1965, Dick lived in Antarctica in a small bunker with several other scientists, divers, and naval officers. In his book, Antarctic Expedition, Dick explores everything from what it was like to plunge into the frigid waters of the Antarctic in nothing but a neoprene suit, to what they did on a day to day basis, to his encounters with the interesting and curious animals that inhabit one of the coldest places on Earth. 

Here he is! In his neoprene wetsuit and scuba gear, collecting algae.

Here he is! In his neoprene wetsuit and scuba gear, collecting algae.

His stories are exciting and intriguing--after all, I would guess that Antarctica isn't even on the list for most people to visit, let alone go there to live for a few months! It's an exciting place, with so many things left there to be learned and discovered. But it is also filled with danger. 

Here is a short excerpt from Dick's book (page 118) in which he and the team encountered a killer whale: 

We arose one morning at 10 AM and had our usual breakfast of fresh rolls, cheese, butter and coffee. We also reviewed our day. The dive plan today was for Lamb and Waterhouse to make a deep dive to 135 feet. The bottom time was not to exceed 15 minutes. The planning and execution of such a deep dive made me nervous. A marked line had been set the day before. 
Lamb, Waterhouse, and I were towed to the dive site by Cueli and Zimmermann in a second small boat. A large canvas collecting bag had also been placed at the bottom of the diving line. I set underwater watch bezels, and the divers grabbed a lead weight ring and mesh collecting bags and headed for the bottom just before 5 pm. 
The divers found a dense covering of red algae and some large Phyllogigas plants, starfish, tunicates, like rugby footballs, and Crinoids with a peduncle and huge logghead sponges. A unique green alga, Derbesia Antarctica was also found. The depth of 41 meters 130 feet was reached. Samples of algae were collected and bagged. The divers stuffed the collecting bags into the large canvas bag. After slowly ascending the dive line they reached the decompression stop at 10 feet below the surface. After taking several breaths of air, the danger signal (four tugs on the line) signaled the divers to surface immediately. 
I described it in my journal as follows: 
“As the divers reached the ladder I grabbed the tanks on their backs and hauled them into the boat. The divers were one on top of the other tangled in a mass of arms, legs and diving equipment. I rowed madly toward shore.” 
Lamb’s journal adds: 
“The sea leopard must be following and trying to upset the boat. When we got close to land and the divers somewhat untangled.” 
This is an orca. (Picture from Morguefile.) An orca can weigh up to 6 tons (that's 12,000 pounds!!!) and be 23 - 32 feet long. That's as big as a school bus.

This is an orca. (Picture from Morguefile.) An orca can weigh up to 6 tons (that's 12,000 pounds!!!) and be 23 - 32 feet long. That's as big as a school bus.

Two orcas had probably, out of curiosity, came very close to us. So close, in fact, that I could have easily reached out and touched them. When the orcas blew air and my face got wet, I knew it was a close call.
While the divers were down at the decompression stop, Zimmermann suddenly heard the expulsive hissing blast of the two killer whales close by. The whales cruised over the marked line where Lamb and Waterhouse had been only two minutes earlier. Zimmermann said, “That was really a close call,” his face very pale.
Zimmermann’s journal gives by far the most detailed account:
“ORCA! GET THEM OUT QUICK! I have heard this sound before. The sequence of events that follows takes a mere 4 1/2 minutes, however it seems to us like a long time, and we shall certainly never forget it. It is absolutely clear to me that we have no chance to reach the shore in time. Killer whales are very much faster than our ridiculous little row boats. Furthermore, nothing would be easier for them than to tip over our boats; they have been observed to break 75 cm thick ice floes to get seals. 
I turn our boat (I happen to be on oars today) in order to throw Dick the line. But he has already pulled the divers (who came to the surface with the four-tug emergency signal) into the boat. He first grabbed Mack, yanked him in, face down, then Richard on top of Mack. Before I have made the full turn and am ready to throw the line, Dick grabs the oars. I therefore turn again and we both row madly toward the shore. Cueli begs me to let him row, we change places and I keep an eye on the water surface. I expect the orcas any moment, maybe we’ll all spill in a few seconds. 
Cueli, the hardy Navy officer, is very pale. When we have moved some 50 meters toward the shore I see the orcas again, there are two of them. They are evidently not interested in us, they have made a sharp turn and travel now parallel to our shore from right to left. The divers’ breathing and our rumbles with the oars on the boats, must have been conspicuous to them, they were so near. The scare still sits within our bones, and we continue to row toward a shallow cove. 
Dick’s boat, that had the divers, was ahead of my boat with Cueli. Four flippered feet can be seen sticking over the edge of the boat. The poor divers have no idea what happened, they lie in the most uncomfortable position at the bottom of the boat on top of each other, face down. With every pull of the oars, Dick’s feet dig into Mack’s body.
When we reach the little cove inside Gallows Point we feel relatively safe again, we rest and relieve the divers. Now we can tell them what happened. Dick looks at his stop watch and makes the comment that exactly 4 and a half minutes have passed since we heard the breathing sound of the orcas. We row back to the station. Cueli, Dick and I are still in a state of shock, the divers, on the other hand, are rather cheerful, this annoys us. This psychological tension, which we begin to understand only gradually, remains with us for several days.”
In Antarctica, the potential for dangerous situations is ever present. We could never be complacent with any situation nor were we fully cognizant of the potential for problems. All of us had to be ready to expect “glitches” every day and prepare in our own minds how we would cope with any adversity. All of us had read and admired Shackleton and knew that our problems with weather, animals, and navigation were negligible compared with his. 
But, in retrospect, we did become a little overconfident toward the end of our expedition. For example, we did not wear life jackets every single time, nor did we always sign out for excursions outside our living quarters.  Nonetheless, we were able to finish our fieldwork safely and efficiently.

It hasn't always been easy for Dick. Aside from the dangers of swimming with orcas or leopard seals, traveling on a boat in 25 foot high waves, or wandering around in the freezing temperatures of Antarctica, Dick has faced more normal challenges as well. For example, as a kid, Dick lacked academic discipline, and didn't receive much inspiration or support from his home. In addition, his family didn't have the money to send him to school. He had to figure all of that out on his own. But now, based on his own personal experiences, Dick believes strongly that a kid from poor circumstances can really succeed. They could build a spaceship or feed the world or swim to the deepest part of the ocean. Challenges are there to be overcome. 

Dick isn't only a scientist. He labels himself as a husband, father, and grandfather, as well as a mentor to students and colleagues throughout the world, including places such as Portugal, the Azores, the Philippines, Greece, and China. I would argue that words like explorer, researcher, and teacher also apply. But being a scientist is an extremely important part of his identity. He has a lot of confidence in his knowledge about algae and about the world, and knows he has inspired many students to pursue science as their passion as well.

This is just a really cute Weddell seal, also from Dick's book.

This is just a really cute Weddell seal, also from Dick's book.

Though Dick's trip to Antarctica was an exciting part of his life of a scientist, it didn't end there. Far from it. Throughout his life he worked on a wide variety of projects, including spending time on a submarine and living in underwater habitats. He then became a teacher and taught at a prep school, UNH, and Plymouth University, spending nearly 40 years of his life encouraging students to pursue science. He lists his work with marine algae as his favorite thing about being a scientist. He explains, "the algae are complicated, different, and incredibly interesting. They play an important role in food cycles in the ocean and oxygen production and climate change." It's crazy to think that algae, such a small and largely unnoticed (by the general population) part of the ecosystem could be that interesting. But did you know that between 70-80% of the oxygen that we breath is produced by algae? And all of science is like that: there's always something, waiting to be learned.

I asked him if he had any advice for aspiring scientists. He said: 

"If you are interested in science, find a way to do it. Get highly motivated, don’t give up, share your knowledge, meet scientists, become an intern or volunteer, and get involved... Discover what you really like, develop your skill sets, and really make a difference." 

To learn more about Dick and his trip to Antarctica, check out his book, Antarctic Expedition, available on Amazon. It's got tons of great pictures, and even better stories. You can also learn more about Dick by visiting his website. In addition, if you're in NH, come to his launch party! It's happening Thursday, April 20th. He will be giving a talk at 10:00 AM, and the book launch will follow across the hall, starting at 11:30 AM, where he will give a short signing and have books available for sale. I'll be there, and we hope to see you there, too!

To learn more about oceans, biology, and all kinds of science, check out FindLectures.com, a website which curates free lectures and talks from around the web. (Paid for by the friends of nothing--it's my brother's site and I think you'll like it. ;) <3)

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Keep Antarctica Cool!

A Day in the Life of a Plus-Sized Woman

Meet romance author K. L. Montgomery!

Meet romance author K. L. Montgomery!

Mirrors--gotta love 'em, gotta hate 'em. They're great because they show us what we look like. They're also terrible because they show us what we look like. In my last blog post, I talked about how we are like onions--we have many layers of identity that represent many versions of our self. In our society, how we look is a superficial, yet important layer of our identity. What clothes we wear, how we do our hair, what color our skin is, how much we weigh--these all effect how we feel and how people interact with us.

Today I would like to introduce you all to romance author K. L. Montgomery. Like me, she has a lot of layers of the onion. Wife. Mother. Author. Social media guru. Teacher. Friend. Self-professed fat girl. Survivor. Queen of the Testosterone Empire (meaning that she has lived in a house full of boys for most of her life). Librarian. Drama queen. And much, much more. But Montgomery has spent much of her life as a plus-sized woman, and now speaks out passionately about body positivity and acceptance.

Age 6, dressed up in a costume for her first ever musical, Babes in Toyland.

Age 6, dressed up in a costume for her first ever musical, Babes in Toyland.

Montgomery began gaining weight at age 8. Her mother was mortified. When Montgomery turned 10, her mother took her to the doctor to find out what could be done to solve this problem. This trip to the doctor resulted in Montgomery's first ever diet.

Montgomery's attention to her weight continued as she got older, and in junior high, her mother bribed her to work out. Between the summers of 9th and 10th grade, Montgomery starved herself and exercised over three hours a day. At the end of the summer, she returned to school having lost 40 pounds.

"I can't tell you how many times I nearly passed out from starvation during that period of my life. My mother never said ANYTHING. When she had to buy me new clothes (I went from a size 13/14 down to a 7/8), she went from body-shaming me to slut-shaming me. I just couldn't win."

When Montgomery went to college, she gained some more weight, and so handed down some of her clothes to her sister. Seeing those clothes on her sister's svelte cheerleader body made Montgomery realize how thin she had really been in high school, despite the fact that she always considered herself the fattest girl on the swim team. In reality, she had looked and weighed about the same as the other girls.

In 2003, after losing 100 pounds--she got here by starving herself, over-exercising. She says, "Just because someone is heavy, it doesn't mean they're unhealthy. Just because someone is skinny, doesn't mean they're healthy.

In 2003, after losing 100 pounds--she got here by starving herself, over-exercising. She says, "Just because someone is heavy, it doesn't mean they're unhealthy. Just because someone is skinny, doesn't mean they're healthy.

Montgomery has faced other challenges in her life as a result of being plus-sized as well--for example, her romantic life. She has had a range of experiences with men, from her husband struggling with his own weight issues, to men who secretly want to hook up with her but wouldn't date her publicly, to men who were attracted to plus-sized women but who didn't think she was plus-sized enough. BBW (big beautiful women) can be considered a fetish, too, and she was never comfortable being fetishized. 

Doctors over the years have forced her to take numerous tests, trying so hard to find something wrong with her. She says,

"They test me for diabetes and thyroid issues all the time, but all of my bloodwork continues to come back perfect. My blood pressure is 120/80. I can swim a mile. I try to get 10K steps a day... I'm a vegetarian and I watch what I eat.
"It really pisses me off when fat-shamers say they are concerned about my health. Bullshit. My health is none of their business. Last I checked, my health is between myself and my doctor.

"And even if it was their business, guess what!  Even unhealthy people are worthy! They are worthy of respect, kindness, and love. As are people of all races, ethnicities, religions, orientations and backgrounds."

And then of course there are the bullies. We all know people can be jerks. And Montgomery points out that sizeism is so rampant because it's so visible--it's hard to hide how much you weigh. She has experienced the difficulty of being treated differently because of her weight, and not just from strangers--from her own mother. Montgomery is 5' 6" and over the course of her life has weighed anywhere from 135 pounds to 275. She struggled with wanting to weigh less, finding fashionable clothes, and getting insulted by others. 

Author K. L. Montgomery at RVA Romance in 2016.

Author K. L. Montgomery at RVA Romance in 2016.

So she speaks out. She talks about body positivity and acceptance. She writes books with plus-sized characters. She shares her own experiences and listens to the experiences of others.

Montgomery has experienced many different responses to the body positive movement. Many claim that it's unhealthy to be fat, or that it's wrong to glorify obesity. Some people truly believe that fat people are sick and lazy, and that they don't deserve to be treated like normal people. But there are just as many people out there (or more!) who support the body positive movement. Montgomery has received support from men and women who have struggled with their weight. She says,

"I can't tell you how many reviewers said they relate to Claire Sterling in Fat Girl. And I think that solidarity and sense of community is growing because of books like Fat Girl, because of celebrities who have spoken out about fat- and body-shaming (Lady Gaga most recently, but also Amy Schumer, Jennifer Lawrence, and others come to mind), and brave 'ordinary' people who share their photos and stories on social media." 

Montgomery believes that one important parts of the movement is to reclaim the word, "fat." "People hate the word 'fat,'" she said. "It's a big pet peeve of mine when I say I'm fat and friends retort, 'No you're not! Don't say that!' At 275 pounds, I think I can safely call myself fat!" In Montgomery's novel, Fat Girl, the main character Claire talks about how the word "fat" is just a label. Sometimes it's the most accurate label, in fact--just like "skinny," "thin," "tall," or "short." And yet it is still avoided entirely or used as a slur as often as it's used as a descriptor. 

"I felt it was important to write about these issues. Not just because it's cathartic for me, but because women need to hear and see alternatives to fat-shaming. Seeing Claire transform from a depressed, eating-disordered woman to one who accepts herself AS IS, not because she lost a lot of weight finally, but because she finally realized she is worthy no matter what her weight, is a lesson everyone needs to learn."
Montgomery's adorable cat, Ziti.

Montgomery's adorable cat, Ziti.

Montgomery's experiences with weight gain and loss over the years have significantly impacted her writing. She writes plus-sized heroines because, "I get tired of reading about tiny, petite, pixie-like female characters all the time. Fat girls can be sexy too!" And she's right. Plus-sized women have boyfriends and husbands and friends. They have jobs and hobbies and interests. They face challenges and struggles; experience joy and achieve goals.

This sentiment is shared by many women and men. The community that supports plus-sized individuals is growing, and a solidarity is building. There are more and more plus-sized role models for women and girls who demonstrate that they are happy and comfortable with who they are.

Montgomery's experiences have made her stronger and more empathetic too. She quoted the old adage, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," and explained that, "Battling my weight and the demons of my eating disorder, not to mention the ridicule of my family and others, has made me a stronger person. I feel like I have more empathy as well because I know what it feels like to be bullied and disrespected." 

We all have our own demons, and these demons affect who we are and the choices we make, just like any other layer of our onion. But as we come to terms with the challenges we face, and accept them as a part of who we are, then not only can we transform our attitudes and beliefs, but we also grow the ability to connect with others who share in the same struggles.

I asked Montgomery what advice she would give to women out there of any size or shape. She says:

"Hating yourself or feeling ashamed of yourself does far more harm than good. The worse you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to make bad decisions, such as to overeat or to be sedentary. Life is too short to tell yourself "I'll be happy when I lose the weight." NO! Be happy now. Tomorrow is never guaranteed! My hope for all women is that they learn how to love themselves at any size and to surround themselves with people who love them no matter what their size. 

You can find KL Montgomery's book, Fat Girl as well as her other books on Amazon, and you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

<3

A Day in the Life of a Wife

Everybody's an onion. And I don't mean we all make other people cry (although, that actually might be true). I mean, none of us is just one thing. My brother's not just a software engineer. My dad isn't just my dad. I'm not just a writer. We all have a multi-layered personality that is filled with everything from past experiences to the way we perceive the world to the jobs we've had to the skills we've developed to the other people we have built relationships with. 

These are onions. Not that pretty, but they taste great. 

These are onions. Not that pretty, but they taste great. 

I think it's easy, especially when you don't know someone very well, to identify them by one characteristic. For example, "oh yeah, that lady is super friendly." But that's really all you know about her. And you might even refer to her as "The Friendly Lady." Or someone else might be really passionate about politics or a cause or religion. And you might say, "Oh yeah, the Christian guy," or "the guy that makes sandwiches for the homeless," and that's all you know about him. There are tons of labels: occupation, sex, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, citizenship, gender, wealth, weight, and a hundred other things. Sometimes these labels are used out of ignorance, laziness, or mean-spiritedness, and sometimes they are intended as kind, encouraging, or a way to simplify a relationship.

But we all have dozens of these labels. Some labels we were born with, some we chose, and some we earned. Each of us has gotten to where we are over time, and the path we've taken has been convoluted, confusing, and often times upside down and sideways. I want to explore this idea, and so I will be interviewing a variety of writers in my life over the next several months, and asking them: what exactly makes you, you? Besides the fact that you're a writer, that is.

And it's only fair that I start with myself.

I have a lot of layers. Daughter is probably the first one, if you want to go chronologically. Also sister. Friend. Child. Chicken catcher. Adult. Painter. Drawer. Musician. Writer. Dancer. Someone that likes to be outdoors. That likes plants. That likes work. That likes cats. That dated. That went to public school. That went to college. That worked in the corporate world. That has a cat. That started my own business. That got married.

This is me, right before the reception. Rory is doing stuff to my hair. 

This is me, right before the reception. Rory is doing stuff to my hair. 

Anyway, out of all those, I picked wife. I am a writer; but I am also a wife. This is one of the newest parts of my identity that I have been grappling with for the last year. Josh and I eloped in December, 2015, and since then, honestly, everything has changed. Literally everything. Josh is working for a different company, we're living in a different state, my workload has shifted considerably, and oh by the way we're married.

Being married isn't a piece of cake. Sometimes we argue.

"You didn't do the laundry," one of us says to the other.
"I thought you were going to do it," the other one says. We have this same conversation over dishes. And vacuuming. And doing the kitty litter. Cleaning the bathroom. Trash. Watering the plants. Etc.

Being married can also be a lot of fun.

"Let's get a dog in April," I suggest.
"Tomorrow," Josh says.

Really great socks. They have planets on them. I picked them out myself.

Really great socks. They have planets on them. I picked them out myself.

Sometimes we exercise. Sometimes we eat chips and dip for dinner. Sometimes we hang out with other humans. Sometimes we ignore each other in the same or different rooms of the house. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we don't. Sometimes we take 10-mile long strolls around town. Sometimes we don't get out of bed until dinnertime and binge watch an entire season of Doctor Who (or two) in one day. 

But honestly, getting married didn't really make me feel any different. It didn't change the essence of who I was. I am still me. I didn't change my name. I just signed a piece of paper. He was on board with my career goals and I was on board with his. We both wanted the same kind of family (lots of dogs and some cats--maybe a rabbit or an alpaca). We both felt the same way about cleaning the kitty litter (we'd rather not) and we both liked each other. As humans. 

I was serving a meal one day, several weeks after the reception, and the priest at the church smiled up at me and asked, "So how's married life?"

I responded, "About the same as being engaged. Not much is different."

"Well," he said, his smile growing. "We all see you differently."

Both sides of the family--Howards and Sielings.

Both sides of the family--Howards and Sielings.

I thought about that for a long time. I'm still thinking about it in fact, months and months later. It reminds me of a quote from the song, "The Piano Lesson," in the musical The Music Man:

"But, darlin'--when a woman has a husband
And you've got none
Why should she take advice from you?"

Seems like a stupid question. Being married doesn't make you smarter, or make you suddenly have all the answers to life's questions. It doesn't make you wiser or more clever. It just gives you a different set of experiences than someone who's not married. Just like they have different experiences than you in other areas. And being married doesn't make you not you anymore. it just makes you a different version of yourself.

Society really does see married people differently than unmarried people. And that's okay.

But I'm still me. The essential part of me that makes me, me is still there. All the layers that were there before are still there. The part of me that ran barefoot through the woods in the middle of the country as a child is still there. The part of me that listened to my dad's stories growing up is still there. The part of me that decided she absolutely hated pink more than anything else in the world is still there. The part of me that painted the faces of small children for the library is still there. The part of me that learned how to buy my own groceries while at community college is still there. The part of me that moved 600 miles away from home to get my Bachelor's degree is still there. The part of me that was an electrician and loved hanging high over the heads of actors on a stage is still there. The part of me that worked 5 jobs to make ends meet and cried every other day is still there. The part of me that loves hanging out with my brothers is still there. The part of me that sliced my finger almost to the bone when I was the maid of honor in my best friend's wedding is still there. The part of me that loves wearing the scifi costumes my mom makes is still there. The part of me that published a book is still there. The part of me that quit my job to pursue a full time job in writing is still there.

It's just that Josh is there too, now. That brings along a whole new set of onion layers: daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, spouse, not to mention just general in-law. Outlaw. Josh's wife.

And the onion just keeps growing. Eventually I'll be a full sized onion. But I'll still be me.  

“Marriage is not a ritual or an end. It is a long, intricate, intimate dance together and nothing matters more than your own sense of balance and your choice of partner.” ― Amy Bloom

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Everything is Finite

A couple of years ago, I went to a conference, and the keynote speaker was an extremely successful woman. The title of her presentation was something along the lines of "Always Say Yes," and her point was that the reason she had been successful was because she had said yes to every opportunity--and that we should do the same.

It's a great concept and motivating, but it doesn't actually work. For example, if I get two full time job offers, then I have to say no to at least one. If I eat an entire cake, I will have to say no to another cake (presumably). If I say, "yes, I'll go live on a space station," I am then foregoing all of the opportunities for me on Earth.

Opportunity is finite.

A few months ago, during the election, my brother and I were having a discussion. He made a really interesting comment. "One of the problems," he said, "is that there is a limited amount of freedom to go around." Of course, my gut reaction was, "there is plenty of freedom! It's freedom!" But once I actually thought about it, I realized I agreed with him. Take me, for example. According to the Declaration of Independence, I have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But as soon as you give me the right to be alive, you take away someone else's right to kill me. If I have the right to be free, you take away someone else's right to enslave me. I recognize that this is a concept that could be argued to death, but the point is, depending on the society in which you live, what constitutes "freedom" can mean drastically different things, and there is no such thing as ultimate freedom, in which everyone can do anything they want.

Freedom, then, is also is finite.

Life is also finite, in case you hadn't noticed. I have been walking in the cemetery a lot lately, because I like to imagine the time bubbles of everyone buried there. I went in October when the trees were covered in orange leaves, and everything was bright and beautiful (and dying). Then I went again in December, when the trees were covered in snow and everything was dark and beautiful (and dead). And I thought about how the cemeteries in Baltimore were likely to be different, and how I might not walk in the Dover cemeteries again. It also occurred to me that all of the people buried in the cemeteries would never walk in them again because their lives had ended.

I'm not very old, but plenty of things have ended for me. My childhood. My teenage years (thank goodness). Four years of college. My time with my first cat, and my aunt Joanne, and my grandfather. My first crappy part-time jobs out of college. My first less crappy full-time jobs after my part-time jobs. Dating. Renting. And now, my time in Dover is also at a close. And there will be many more endings for me as I move through my life. 

Everything ends. Even taxes, believe it or not (if not any time soon, you can be sure they will disappear when the universe ends). 

Everything ends, and that's okay. Because when high school ended, college began. When college ended, adulthood began. When renting ended, ownership began, and when dating ended, marriage began.

When something ends, it leaves room for something else to begin.

 I think if I were to write a speech about success, it would be called: Everything Ends, And That's Okay. Because success often comes when you begin something new. 

So this year, I am going to try something new. I'm going to move to a new city and walk on new streets. I will explore new cemeteries and write new books. I will meet new people and eat new foods; try new marketing strategies and volunteer for new organizations; build new habits and grow new plants; live in a new house and buy new curtains; go to new grocery stores and try a new workout routine; get a new dog and vote in a new state-----

-----all the while, keeping in mind that eventually, this will end too, and something new will begin.

Win Your Own Unicorn Sheep

Hi! If you read my book release newsletter, you'll have learned that I'm doing a free giveaway! Anyone that buys a book from me before December 20th will be entered into a contest to win your own stuffed toy unicorn sheep! He's a cutie patootie, hand-knitted by my very awesome cousin Renee. 

Rules for winning are as follows: 

  • You cannot be my brother, mother, father, or husband.
  • You have to buy a book before December 20th.
  • It can be a Rutherford the Unicorn Sheep book OR a science fiction novel. I'm not picky :) Click to see the selection.
  • I will do the drawing at 5:00 PM Dec 20, EST.  Then I will ship it to you the very next day. 
  • If you buy a book on Amazon, please email me and let me know because Amazon doesn't tell me who those individuals are.
  • If you buy a book in person, I will ask you if you want to be entered into the contest and if I forget to ask--REMIND ME! :) Click to see where I will be this month!
  • I'd appreciate it, if you are entered into the contest, if you would share the details with your friends. However, I am not going to make it a requirement for winning, because I'm nice like that. If you want to help me out, you're awesome. If you don't, I totally understand (because I don't like doing that stuff either).
  • EDIT: For every book you buy, you get an additional entry in the drawing!

Anyway, Happy Holidays from Ariele, Josh, Rutherford the Unicorn Sheep, Wilfred the Walnut Skunk, Goblin, Rowan, and Wilfred! I hope you win!

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And for your enjoyment: what happens when you try to take pictures of a unicorn sheep with a cat in the house.