Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Utah in June: Week One

We just finished up a fun week at my parents' house. It is a great time to get out of the desert (we missed some major triple digit heat), and it is always wonderful to be with family.

We traveled all Thursday and got there at night. The next day my mom took me to the Provo Mayor's Breakfast. She had requested two tickets because the keynote speaker was Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad. It was a free event, so we drove to BYU a little early to snag good seats. We were perhaps a little underdressed, but it was an amazing program. I haven't felt particularly patriotic in years, but this "prayer breakfast" modeled after the presidential breakfast stirred up my inner proud American. The food was yummy, and the speaker was excellent. (He is doing some amazing work, and his stories were just heart-breaking. Look him up.) Just being there made me feel like an important person, when in fact I am just a mom from Arizona. I felt like we snuck in or something-- It is amazing that they open that sort of thing up to the public.

I snuck one little picture before they served the breakfast. Hello yummy yogurt. 

We stayed on the BYU campus and went to the book store afterward. I hadn't been there in a while. It was strange to see how many featured authors I had met before.

Dan and Asher enjoyed my dad's golf cart. Asher is an amazingly confident driver. At night Chad and Clara came over to hang out and play games. They of course brought their kids and Clara's brother Thomas. We played a game called Pandemic that I liked. They spent the night and left the next morning.

Saturday the weather was fantastic. I love when it is cloudy and rainy- I should probably move to Oregon or something. I walked around outside while it was cloudy and talked with my Aunt Joanne in the garden. (She lives in the back house on my parent's property.) Dan took me out driving in the golf cart after he took the kids. It started to rain while we were out, and I just smiled. I didn't care that I was wet and cold. It was great. My dad took us out to the Art City Trolley for dinner (YUM) and we watched Zootopia at their house at night.

Sunday we went to church, but we didn't stay all three hours since the kids were crazy and it was their Stake Conference. My parents hosted their regular Sunday night dinner, and Chad and his family came back with more games. Tracy was there as well, but the Bourgeouses were on vacation so we missed them. I talked a bit with Tracy and some of us played another cooperative game called Forbidden Island. It was another late night. Dan left to go spend the night at Ron's house in Paradise. (They replaced the brakes on our car the next day, and I didn't see him until late Monday night.)

The library had this display that put you, as art, into "book pages" on screen.  Cool.

On Monday my mom took the kids and me to the Springville library. It is a beautiful building, and pretty cool as far as libraries go. The kids picked three books each- and then we took a quick trip to Walmart. We visited my dad's warehouse on the way back home, and we ate lunch late. Asher and Gwen quietly read until my mom drove us to Thanksgiving Point where we met up with Chad and Clara and their kids. Chad got a pass from his employers that covered all of our entry costs to the museums there, so we visited the Museum of Ancient Life and then moved on to the Museum of Natural Curiosity. Both museums were phenomenal. My favorite room in the dino museum was dark and lit up all around with lights like little stars- you could hardly see where you were going. The room had amazing acoustics, I sang a little bit in there because my mom said I should. There were so many cool things in the other museum that I can't pick a favorite. If I had enough money I would build a curiosity museum in Gilbert. The kids had a great time. Ezra was a champ in the stroller almost the whole time.

"Digging" bones and putting them together. 

Tuesday afternoon Dan and I went to the new Provo City Temple. The parking was crazy, but we found a space eventually. I guess it is a smaller temple- it was beautiful but didn't seem very new. I guess they wanted that old building feeling, so they kept the scarred wood and old spiral staircases. After the temple we wanted to continue our date, so we changed our clothes and went to Wingers. Dan got wings, and I got a salad. My salad was so-so, but the wings were great. After we came home we went on a walk with my mom. We walked through a huge house that is being built. After we got back we watched a really cheesy church movie called 16 Stones. Tracy left right before it was over, which made me laugh. She just couldn't make herself care about it.

Wednesday we had our niece Amanda over with her husband and two kids. It was great to talk with them, but they couldn't stay long. After lunch Dan took Asher and Gwen to the Williams' house to swim. I stayed with Ezra while he was napping, so I missed that event. I guess Lisa wasn't there either, so the wives missed out. Hopefully we will get both of our families together next time we are in town.

In the evening I went with Tracy to hike Stewart Falls. It is four miles total, but it isn't hard. It was nice to be alone with Tracy. I feel like that never happens. We talked a lot and took some pictures. Sadly the falls were pretty crowded, but we still stayed a while. The mist made it cold there, and the clouds were moving fast in the sky. We got back to the car just before dark. Oh- and I found a shard of glass in her car that had apparently been there a year. Crazy.

The Shard.

Thursday Kristy came over with her kids because they had gotten home from their trip the night before. Clara also came with her kids, and eventually we all got over to the Springville Art Museum. Clara had never been. I feel like I go every time I visit my parents, but I like that place. It is a manageable size and they are always changing out their art. It is amazing how many local artists there are. The kids room was closed, but they opened up a new sculpture garden where the kids played for a while. Also, the kids did an art hunt and got to pick little treasures from a box.

Maybe they weren't allowed to climb on the statue, so shhhh.

Thursday night I went to the girl who always does Tracy's hair; Nicole at Stewart Palmer Salon. She made me look AWESOME. I hadn't gotten my hair done in probably more than a year, and now I look so much better. Haha.

Best picture of me in more than a year. Because... look at my hair.

Friday morning Dan and I went to Hruska's Kolaches in Provo. Weird name, yummy breakfast. They serve kolaches, a Czech/Texas pastry with sweet or savory filling. They open at 6:30am and serve until they run out. Unfortunately, when we got there at 9:00ish they had run out. They were still making them though, so we waited around and got the only flavor they had: bacon cheese and egg. It was good.

We tried Hruska's again on Saturday before we drove up to Aspen Grove. They were still very busy, but they had more flavors so we bought two sweet and two savory flavors to take home so that everyone could try what they wanted. I liked them all. I would want to open one of these in Gilbert if I were rich and skinny.

Now we are at Aspen Grove, and I will do a different blog post when we are done here. We've been having a blast! Thank you Utah!

PS I did an epic amount of laundry at my parents' house and I didn't think it was important enough to note every time I washed something or made lunch for someone. Also, I read one of my mom's books in the first part of the week: "Lady Helen Finds her Song" by Jennifer Moore. She was one of the authors I took a class from last month.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

I have a lot of catching up to do.

Hey blog. It's been awhile. How are you? Feeling neglected? Well, I'm sorry. I'm not going to make any excuses- we both know who is at fault here. I mean, your formatting is terrible and the trends are turning away from personal blogs, but I know if I had just made you a priority we wouldn't be in this situation. I am a monster, please forgive me.

FYI I'm planning on going back in time (cause I can do that on this blog) and LaterBlogging on a bunch of stuff that happened that I didn't post about. All those posts will have an asterisk in the title. This is all strictly for my own benefit- this is my online journal and I can do what I want to. Right now I want to give a recap of some stuff from the past month or so.

Easter happened (fairly recently by this blog's standards- exactly two weeks ago, so no asterisk). We dyed eggs the night before, but we mostly painted them with water colors and drew on the hot eggs with melting crayons. Ezra still can't really participate in anything egg related. He would have broken the hard boiled ones, and he didn't care about finding the plastic ones. Someday.

The kids got a lot of candy: taffy, chocolate, jelly beans, Cadbury eggs. They each got a book in their basket as well as a small toy. I bought new outfits for Ezra and Gwen, but not Asher. I didn't make a big deal out of it, and he didn't care, but I still feel a little guilty about excluding him. I only had so much money on that H&M gift card.

We had Easter dinner at the Stecks house because they are nice people who think about others. We never have dinners at our house anymore- we haven't done a Talk 'n' Tacos for quite a while. Maybe we should bring those back. Anyway, the Steck's house looked like a Pinterest dream come true and the food was amazing. The rolls I made were great, but the deviled eggs we brought were weird because we didn't have any mayonnaise.

I've been trying to garden, but things are stunted. I tried to fertilize some plants and ended up killing all but one of my tomato seedlings. So, I still stink at gardening despite checking up on the plants every day and reading all about them. Oh well, I guess I will continue to try.

I teach 10-12 voice and piano students every week, mostly in the afternoon after school. I just went to see one of my students in an original musical (The Pied Piper) and the show was weird but she was awesome. I love seeing my students perform. Another one will be playing Alice (of Wonderland fame) next month.

I'm still doing Pilates twice a week, but I'm going to have to go down to once because it is expensive. I get on the elliptical sometimes, but I need to do better at that. I tried a boot camp class two weeks ago and I almost died. I would totally go back if it wasn't such high impact stuff on such an unforgiving surface. I'm getting too old to bounce around on a basketball court for 45 minutes. My bones were more sore than my muscles.

I've read 8 books so far this year, for book club and for fun. I've been slowing down with my writing, but I shouldn't be. Right now I'm trying to write articles- the size of an article is a little more manageable than the scope of a musical, screenplay, or book. Of course I'm still chipping away at those big projects too, but I hope it will feel good just to finish something. I STINK at finishing things. I never finish anyth

The kids are still great kids. They are hilarious and entertaining and fun. Asher is having some organizational problems in school that have turned into grade problems... but he still loves his friends and he is at a 6th grade reading level so whatever. Gwen is a perfect student and a good helper, and a new neighbor moved in and she made a friend- they are always playing together at the park. Ezra is constantly impressing his Physical Therapist. He is getting close to walking and can now climb all of our steps as of two days ago.

Ok. That's all for now. See you in the past. Or the future. I'm unpredictable. Or maybe just unreliable. Again, sorry about that.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Utah Start to Finish

We stayed with my parents in Utah for three weeks. I had always wanted to "bug out" for the scorching Arizona summer, and we finally did it. Unfortunately it seemed like we brought the heat with us, but at least it cooled down in the morning and at night. And there were other perks. My mom and dad were terrific hosts, I got to see my Utah family a lot, and my kids enjoyed playing with their cousins. I also got a break from my daily grind. I will now sum up how we spent our time.

The first week we took it pretty easy. Gwen woke up in the middle of the night two nights in a row. Once was just coughing, the next time she threw up. Dan felt sick on and off. We were tired. So we ended up hanging out with family, going on a very few outings, and binge watching Marvel Agents of Shield. I also finished a book and read a trilogy. I exercised a bit, sometimes with Tracy sometimes on my own. We sat around and chatted a lot, but there were other things we did as well.

To sum up our activities for the first week and a half: we tried to meet Tracy at a rodeo but it was sold out so we went to Discovery Park instead, Dan and I went to a few amazing properties as part of the Parade of Homes, we went to church and my parents hosted their epic family Sunday dinner, We celebrated Fathers Day with homemade signs and store bought cake, I had two exercise nights with Tracy, we hosted Dan's friend and business partner Ron who stayed the night at my parent's house (while Dan and Asher went to a baseball game with Chad and Clara's family), we went to the Provo Food Truck Roundup then to Tracy's place, we watched The Imitation Game all together at my parent's house, we had a picnic with the whole Utah family (minus the ever-traveling Tracy) up in the mountains, and we had another church day followed by the epic family gathering. My cousin Trina was there with her kids, and I hadn't spoken with her in about ten years. It was so great to catch up. If we lived close I'm sure we would be really good friends. I also got to talk to my uncle Dale and aunt Teresa. Dale told us some epic stories from his childhood... and by epic I mean shocking and scary. I spoke with my aunt Joanne several times as well; she lives in my parent's back house so she is around a lot. She is a great person to talk to.

The Saturday picnic. 
We really started picking up the pace on the second Monday. Dan took me to one of our favorite local restaurants, Magleby's, for lunch. My mom and Kristy and I took our kids to a splash pad/park in the afternoon; it was a really hot day.

Gwen tried to stop the water jets with her feet, Asher went around punching and kicking the water.
Tuesday I went for a morning jog, started washing our car (Dan finished), and then met our friends Jon and Lisa Williams at the Springville Museum of Art. We had our kids, they had theirs. Gwen and Jane were friends immediately. After exploring the museum (I love that place!) we went back to my parent's house for lunch and more talking. They are cool people. After they left, we got in the car and drove to my brother's house for dinner. He and Clara made some awesome burgers and salad and we had a great time playing Catch Phrase and talking.

Wednesday morning I took the kids to the Aquarium in Draper to meet up with Clara and her kids. The cousins had a blast together. The aquarium was the nicest and largest I had ever seen, and it had great food and a fun playroom for the kids. We ended up heading home in the afternoon, and then Dan and I went to the new Payson temple. After that I went to the mall with Tracy and she showed me one of her favorite stores before we both got pedicures. Mom met us there but they couldn't squeeze her in which I thought was pretty lame, especially since my mom just ended up dropping me off at a movie theater to meet Dan for a date afterward- I felt like a teenager or something having my mom drive me around. I am so grateful for her. Dan had put our kids to bed and we saw a late showing of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was a good action movie.

Ezra was in his stroller and Asher is pretending like he needs to hold on to the tail or he will fall/die. 
Thursday our family ate lunch at the Art City Trolley which is a cute little restaurant with a hipster/antique vibe. The food was AMAZING. I went to my sister Kristy's house and the cousins played, then we all had dinner at their house. Dan left around dinner to drive to Ron's house so he could spend the night and the next day with him and his family.

Since Dan was gone Friday, I did a lot of laundry and cleaning. I watched this silly Mormon/mafia mashup movie with my kids and my mom called Inspired Guns. Asher loved it. I could appreciate things about it.

Saturday was Independence day and Dan and I took our older two kids to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out. We were SO impressed by that movie. That's all I will say, because I could write a book about that story and its execution but I have neither the time nor the space. Let's just say we recommend it. Gwen hopped into my arms and cried a little during the last half of the movie because she had so many feelings. Anyway, afterward we went to the food court and sub-zero ice-cream so Gwen could have a pink shake. It was cotton candy flavored and I snuck some and it was delicious. Later my parents hosted a big dinner and then a street firework show. I caught the first half, but I missed all of his arial stuff because I was putting Ezra to bed. But I went outside and sat with some family and watched other fireworks from people shooting them off in the neighborhood. Utahans LOVE fireworks, especially in July.

Sunday was another church/family day, complete with the normal BBQ feast. I miss doing that every week, but it was fun to be there for three in a row.

Monday Dan and I took all the kids to Salt Lake City. Our first stop was this place called Les Madelines that my friend Nicole (who did the Big Sur trip with us) had recommended. It was CLOSED. I was SO BUMMED. I'm going to be thinking about that place until I can go back. After we drove by the capital building and then took a tour of the conference center. The kids didn't seem to think it was cool or interesting that the roof had flourishing plant life everywhere; maybe it was because it doesn't seem like a roof while you are walking around on it. Anyway, I walked the kids around temple square while Dan worked in the car for a bit. We went to lunch at a place called Blue Lemon in the mall across from the temple. The mall was very cool and if I hadn't had my family with me I could have looked around there all day. As it was Ezra wouldn't nurse and the kids were tired.

Not the best picture, but you get the drift.

Tuesday my grandma took our little family to lunch back at the Art City Trolley. I got a different salad that was just as delicious as the first. After she treated us to lunch we went back to her house and she gave my kids candy, chips, gum, and ice cream sundaes! When I refused that stuff because I was full from lunch she said, and I quote, "That's terrible." Ha! I love my grandma, she lives to serve others and to make people happy. I talked with her for a bit and I always love talking with her. Apparently her dad was a real-life "Steve Rodgers" (Captain America): he was a small man but he wanted to fight so badly that he just kept going to the recruitment office even though he knew they would turn him away. Eventually they gave in and let him fight. My grandma always has new and interesting things to share. I should have packed my family up Tuesday night, but we decided to go on a hike with Tracy and her friends. My mom and my whole family hiked Stewart Falls, which took a little longer than we thought and zapped our energy more than we expected. We had to take turns carrying Ezra, and Gwen was a little slow. We seriously got to the falls, took a couple minutes to breathe, and then started back. We hiked a significant portion of the way back in the dark! It was an adventure, and even though our bodies felt like they might fall apart afterward, we had a great time. We felt like we accomplished something.

Dan was pretending Asher was a prisoner at this point. "March! Don't try anything funny..."
Wednesday we all left for the Grand Canyon... but that is another post.

I would love to do this again next year if my parents would let us. Ezra had a hard time adjusting at first, but I think he got used to the new places and faces within a few days. He also learned how to scoot/army crawl on his belly while we were there, so I think Utah is good luck! His PT was very impressed with him when we got home.

Thanks Utah family! We really had a great time.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Adventures with Ezra and Easter

On Thursday I had an appointment with a GI specialist for Ezra. It was at a Mesa location for Phoenix Children's and when I drove up I thought "I remember this place!" I hadn't been there since Ezra had his CAT scan when he was four or five months old. I almost thought I dreamed this place, where there is plenty of parking in the front and you can just walk right on in. I have been to many specialist locations, and to the PCH in Phoenix a dozen times and a different Mesa location a handful of times. It was kind of nice to come back to this place, just to know I wasn't crazy and that this building really did exist. Plus, the people were really friendly the first time we were here.

I met a lady in the lobby who was a former nurse and a foster mother to two babies. She had a medical binder as thick as my arm for the boy. He had a different chromosome disorder than Ezra, and she told me he had had open heart surgery. Meeting so many other kids with issues (from all the hospital trips we've had) makes me marvel at the human body, and at the human spirit.

When we finally got into our room, Ezra had a hard time. He is not loving hospitals nowadays. Any place where I have to take his clothes off, where there is crinkly paper on the squishy tables, and where people poke and prod him sends him into a panic. He cries and shuts down. I have to hold him the whole time.

They almost  re-weighed him because he weighed less than their previous records of him. You know, the records they had from over ten months ago. I had to confirm, yes, he does weigh less than when he was four months old.

We finally met the doctor, and she was a no-nonsense business-like woman. She was there to solve our problems. She did no tests, she only asked about his history. She told me I needed to try harder with weaning him, with his eczema, with feeding him more calories. His current therapists weren't right for him, I needed a new and better team of people. I wasn't doing enough. What were my thoughts on the G-tube?

This is why doctor visits stress me out, it's aways like a slap in the face. It's not enough that I put on a song and dance show every time I want Ezra to eat more, that I pretend to be in love with the honey bear so that maybe he will try to drink from it one day. It is not enough that I am still breastfeeding him although I would like to be done so that I can finally start to lose my substantial baby weight (50 pounds isn't a fun amount of extra weight to carry). It is not enough that I schedule for him, even though I am not organized and do not prefer to spend my time driving to appointments. It's not enough that I work with his little body personally every day, knowing which muscles need to exercise. None of it will ever be enough for these doctors, because he still has problems. He still has low tone. He still has intestinal problems. He still isn't crawling. He still is below the weight charts. His head still isn't growing. I feel like I am failing a very important test, and these people are shaking their heads like you should have studied harder, Dummy. I want to yell "The test is rigged! I can't do any better than this! I'm trying my best."

So I told her I'm not opposed to the G-tube, but maybe it might be nice to try the NG-tube first because it is less invasive and doesn't require surgery. And really, could she give me a little bit more time to try to feed him normally? Ezra had lost weight due to a month of sickness, and he was doing so much better. He is never sluggish or dazed-looking, actually he is usually smiling and happy. He is feeding well now, and we started to turn a corner recently, could she please wait?

So now we need to go and get weight checks every two weeks. She gave me a list of people to call and things to get from the drugstore for his skin, for his food, for his colon. And so it goes.

And now for something completely different!

Easter. It happened. I dyed eggs with Asher and Gwen while Dan was gone. Asher says that his favorite color is pink right now, and that is fine by me. We, I mean the Easter Bunny, hid eggs inside because it is already starting to get hot. The Easter Bunny left some baskets for the kids with candy, a book, bubbles, games, and a toy. We watched an epic amount of church on TV. It was a great day.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jesterz with the kids

Jesterz is a family friendly improv company in Mesa. We've been before, because we love clean comedy. I actually gave Dan a few gift certificates to this place for Christmas this year. 

Recently Jesterz has been partnering with different actors from Studio C. My kids LOVE Studio C right now. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look them up on YouTube: there are a plethora of sketches to watch. We decided to go to James Perry's matinee, and I was crossing my fingers that the kids would like it. We asked them if they wanted to take pictures with him afterwards. Asher didn't want to, and Gwen said "First I'll see the show, then I will decide." She must have liked what she saw, because we waited in line and snapped this cute shot.
"Look, I found a small child!"
Gwen was quiet for most of the show, Asher laughed hysterically for the first thirty minutes, and Ezra was at home napping with a sitter. Dan and I enjoyed ourselves as usual. (That makes us sound like regulars. We're not, because we rarely go on dates. However I can say with certainty that we've never had a bad time at Jesterz.) Anyway thanks James Perry and Jesterz for the fun afternoon, and for adding the word "muhlarge" (a cross between medium and large) to my kid's vocabulary.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cinderella and Tooth-hurty

Our Spring Break vacation was a little shorter than it normally would have been, because I had purchased two tickets for Cinderella at the Gammage Theater on Friday the 13th. We had to go home or sell the tickets, and I didn't want to sell them. I was excited to see Cinderella, because it was newly re-vamped Rogers and Hammerstein, and I love a good modernized classic.

As Dan and I walked from the parking garage to the theater, we saw dozens of little girls dressed up as princesses. It was precious, and it made me think how nice it would have been to take Gwen and Asher. I consoled myself by remembering that I bought four tickets for The Phantom of the Opera in May. 

The theater was packed. Before the show, a voice announced that Cinderella would be played by a different girl and that Madame (stepmother) would be played by Fran Drescher. The audience went wild. I could not believe that so many people were that excited to see "The Nanny" perform. I'm pretty sure she hasn't been in anything since the 90's. The crowd gave her lots of love through the night. But I digress.

The show was very well done, and the sets and costumes were amazing. The actors were wonderful and funny (oddly the Prince's herald was a stand out performance), and the choreography was great. There were of course a few things that bothered me: the prologue singing was very disjointed and everyone had crazy vibrato for that song, the people who re-wrote the book went a little crazy and decided to make the people vote for a Prime Minister at the end, etc. Despite those few bothersome things, I enjoyed the show. It was sweet and magical and they made this crazy love-at-first-sight story believable somehow.

So it was a good show, but sometimes when I see a good show I get this strange feeling. It's a mixture of sadness and jealousy and having missed my calling. It is as if someone is dangling some beautiful thing that I love in front of me, and I cannot have any part of it. I loved the show, and I was so glad I went to see it, but I kept thinking things like "I'm too old to play Cinderella now, if I ever could have. I'm too fat to play anyone but the bigger stepsister. I'm too settled into my life to even audition for anything like this..." And I know that it is okay and that my life is pretty great, but I just get a little wistful and melancholy to see people living my dream. I was even jealous of the set designer. 

Anyway, it was a lovely night.

(PS, start this video at about the 53 second mark to see a medley of Cinderella songs. I WISH Santino Fontana was our prince, but the replacement sounded a lot like him.) 

The next weekend we took the kids to see the new Disney Cinderella movie, which we all liked. I thought the "be kind and have courage" thing was a little heavy-handed, but it isn't a bad message, so I was okay with it being repeated ad nauseam. The casting and the performances were great. I would buy the DVD. 

Before I sign off, I just need to mention that my tooth hurt for a few days so I made an emergency dental appointment on Monday the 23rd, for 2:30. TOOTH-HURTY. I mean, if you are going to have a root canal where the local anesthetic isn't really working because your tooth is so infected, that is the way to do it. It took a few hours because they had to break off my crown to do the procedure and get to another cavity in between my teeth. I just kept thinking "Better me than Dan, he would hate this." and "I would totally go through this in proxy of my kids, especially Ezra. If there was a way to transfer his tooth issues to my mouth, I would totally do it." They shot me full of anesthetic every ten minutes (because I kept feeling what they were doing, ouch), so my gums felt like a pincushion the next day. But I didn't even need the pain meds they prescribed. That was nice. 

PS I don't know how this happened, because I just had my teeth cleaned and x-rayed and everything was fine. Sigh. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Writer's Journey

It all started with a Facebook post.

Part of the long and winding road.

My friend Nicole said she was excited to attend this writers workshop in Big Sur. She had been planning to go for years, and she wondered if any of her writer friends were going. That was it. Normally I'm not the kind of gal to hop on board a random weekend getaway, but for some reason the idea stuck. It didn't matter that my book wasn't quite finished, that we would have to pull the kids out of school two days early, or that Dan would have to come because someone would need to take care of Ezra while I was busy. I don't know how it happened, but we went for it.

Nicole and I were planning to leave on the same day. We were also going to stay overnight in Santa Barbara; me at my in-laws with my family and she by herself at a hotel. We had tentative plans to meet up, but we didn't talk about caravanning or carpooling. (I couldn't offer, because our car was full.) Anyway, we were almost to Riverside when she texted me saying that her vertigo was back (she had it before for several weeks) and she wasn't sure she was going to make it. She had left late and had been stopping to throw up on the side of the road. She was trying to wait it out in Palm Springs. We turned our car around to get her.

When I climbed in Nicole's car she looked drugged, which of course she was. She had taken some dramamine and maybe something else. She had sunglasses on and was lying down. In fact, she needed to go to the bathroom but opted to stay in the car and hold it because she didn't think she could move. I drove her to her hotel in Santa Barbara, and we decided to caravan up the rest of the trip in her car the next day. By the time I dropped her off, she was feeling much better. We had some great conversations in the car. And we stopped a few times to eat (and feed Ezra) and to get gas.

The next day we got a Blenders smoothie, packed all of our writer's stuff and baby gear in her car and drove up the coast. We were running late because we had to make multiple copies of the chapters we planned to take to critique groups and the copy shop had terrible service.  We were stressed, but the drive was beautiful. I was in the backseat with Ezra for the last part of the trip, which also happened to be the most winding. (Blarf.) But we made it to the writer's workshop welcome segment with a few minutes to spare. Phew!

When Dan and I went to our room/cabin to unpack we saw it was filled with smoke. We thought it might be on fire, but it was only burning ash in the fireplace with the flu closed. Dan got it sorted while I went to my presentation and first critique group. Our room smelled like a campfire for the rest of the weekend.

An overview:

- My first critique group was awesome. I gave good advice to others and received good advice in return. Reading your worst chapters to strangers is hard, but immensely helpful. My second critique group wasn't as good, but I'm sure it was mostly my fault. I chose weird chapters to read.

- I had at least three people tell me I looked like someone they knew. In fact, one lady in my first group spent two hours nervously wondering if I was her adopted son's birth mother. She hadn't seen her in seven years, but she apparently looked just like me and her name was Jamie. She asked me how old my children were and what my maiden name was, and when she explained why she was asking I gave her a hug. She must have been freaked out by my story (teen pregnancy).

- The editors panel was interesting, the agent's panel was enlightening, and the query letter event was informative. There are so many simple things I did not know. For instance, I did not know that all queries are now submitted by email. And that 99% of the time you NEED an agent to submit your story to a publisher. Things were different before 9/11 and anthrax scares, now the writing industry sounds as difficult to navigate as the entertainment industry.

- The food was excellent, and the service was impeccable. I would totally go back to Big Sur Lodge.

- I was amazed at all the different types of people attending this workshop. Our group wasn't large, but it was diverse. There was a sweet lady who looked like she could be a great-grandmother, and there was a sixteen year old girl (I didn't meet her, but I heard she was a great writer). I saw a lady that reminded me of a viking woman, complete with a crown of flowers in her hair. We sat next to a guy at dinner who had written down things to say to others, and he kept consulting his paper so that he could ask us where we were from and tell us what he was writing. A nice girl stopped her car to give me a ride up the hill, and I later heard that she was autistic. I was not the only writer who had a spouse and child in tow. I kept wondering how many of us were introverts really stretching our comfort bubbles. I was consistently amazed that so many writers would want to meet together like this. At meal times we were a loud group.

- I found myself wanting to encourage certain writers in my groups. One man was writing a book called "The Day Elijah Learned to Fly." He thought his story was a middle school book, but the voice and themes seemed older. He got the advice to center the story around the children instead of the old man, and to try Christian publishing houses because the kids listened to sermons at church. I kept wanting to say "I like your book as it is, and I think anyone could publish it. Just make it an adult book, and your problem is solved!" Another woman in the same group was writing a middle school version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" which I loved. She was given advice to make her characters and tone older (which would require re-invisioning and rewriting the entire book) so that publishers wouldn't be scared of the Shakespeare tie. I wanted to say "Who cares? It is a perfect story for that age group. Your middle school voice is perfect. Don't change everything, just tighten up some of the writing." But I wasn't the professional. I wish I had gotten emails for these people (and a few others) so that I could be a positive voice for the stories they created.

- It was a busy weekend, and I didn't get to do much other than write and attend workshops. But we did visit a few picturesque spots on the way out. Luckily Dan had lots of time to explore and to take Nicole and I to the good spots. Plus, he is an amazing photographer.

I call this one "Swirly Swirly Sea" because it reminds me of Van Gogh's "Starry Starry Night."

I could have stood in this spot and looked at this scene all day. It was gorgeous. 

Anyway, it was a great weekend. I learned a lot, got a few new books, made some contacts, and started tightening up my first chapters. Thanks Nicole for the random Facebook post that turned into a grand adventure, and thanks Dan for everything always.