Hidden California

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The landscape on Interstate 5 glows under shafts of light.  A visual feast spreads before me: blond hills dotted with the shadows of grazing cattle, live oaks stark against the rolling slopes.  We drive north through the central valley, toward our first stop at Los Banos.  My rudimentary Spanish tells me there may be hot springs for bathing nearby.  And so it is: we pass a sign just south of the Los Banos exit announcing “Mercey Hot Springs.”

That’s where we go the next morning, taking a long, winding detour through the golden hills and gullies.  Steers lean against the fencing, reaching for the greener grass.  Hidden in a copse of feathery trees, we come upon the place.  (Don’t be fooled by the clothing–it wasn’t that cold!)

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At Mercey Hot Springs, you can rent a cabin or camp, or just stay for the day as we did.  There is no restaurant, but snacks are available at registration.  Towels, too.  We changed into bathing suits and chose the “bathing suits required” option as it is not fenced in for privacy.

The individual tubs are arranged in a circle.  We were advised by a fellow bather to rinse the tub with the mineral water to heat up the metal tub before filling it.

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The day was cool and cloudy, but the water was hot.  Not scalding, but comfortable.  To my right, I was joined by a mother and her daughter who came all the way from Hawaii.

Unlike my hot-tub-loving husband, I do not enjoy soaking idly for hours.  After a half hour or so, I get fidgety and drip away to the mineral-water-fed swimming pool.  This is more to my liking: I can move around and still be in water–88′.  As I grew up with a backyard pool in southern Los Angeles, I love to swim.

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From the tubs and pool, we move to the sauna, sweetly smelling of cedar.  Then, a picnic of Trader Joe’s wraps beside a slow trickling stream lined with agave cacti.

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Revived and relaxed, we press on to the north, after experiencing another hidden wonder of California.

Who Is Listening?

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                   Photo of my sewing chair and stillness.

Who reads this blog?  I’ve been writing it for at least two years.  Lately I’ve been wondering if I should continue.  It began as a site to expand on my books in the Karakesh Chronicles.  I wrote about the different kinds of faeries that appeared in my books.  Then I detoured into other topics.

Many authors write blogs, maintain websites, and have a presence on Instagram and Twitter.  I wonder–when do they have time to write?  Luis Alberto Urrea posts frequently on Facebook. Authors are pressured to have a platform and be highly visible on social media.  In fact, on some applications, there are places for writers to supply this information.

Yesterday I sent out an application to participate in the Hudson Childrens’ Book Festival in May.  I offered to present in schools, doing what I know: talking about writing process and guiding students in creating characters and plots.  I made a point that this would be for individual classes.  The idea of standing on a stage in front of an entire sixth grade (100+ kids) terrifies me.  That is not a writing discussion, but a performance.  Perhaps I’ll work up to that someday, but for now, it’s not a possibility. I don’t believe I’m that entertaining!

I do love writing with kids.  The excitement, the originality, the surprises–it’s addictive.  But this–the blog–tossing out thoughts into the ether and never knowing if anyone is receiving–is unsatisfying.

Are you reading? Listening?  Drop me a comment and let me know.

May all be blessed with health and joy in this new year.

Travel Plans

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a year since I booked a flight.  I needed almost three months to overcome the resistance to making the trip, mostly because of the stress of flying.

Getting there is so much work!  If we leave from our local airport, two or more stops are necessary and the journey to California is at minimum twelve hours.  Hub airports are a better choice for departure, and the cost is about half.  Newark, NJ to California’s LAX takes only six hours.  That’s time on the plane.  But–we have to get to the airport, park the car ($$$), and check in.

No carryon bags are allowed on basic economy.  Why? I ask.  There are storage cubbies provided.  Why can’t we use them?   Checking our two bags will cost $70.  If we check in late, another $25 per bag is added on at the gate.

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Photo by Mo Productions on Pexels.com

Once, God willing, we arrive at LAX, we track down our luggage at baggage claim.  Then it’s a shuttle to Union Station, and a train ride to my sister’s town.  No one wants to pick up visitors at the airport anymore.  My sister says there are new, stricter arrangements for where shuttles and friends are allowed to pick up and drop off passengers.

The rest of the trip’s traveling will be done by rental car.  Although I’m not thrilled with making our way through the web of LA freeways, LA was my home turf for many years.  Plus, we have the added pleasure of meeting up with relatives and friends along the length of the state.

I remember flying to New York when I was about 5 years old.  In those days, everyone dressed up to ride on airplanes.  It was like going to a fancy restaurant.  The trip in the prop plane (possibly a Lockheed Constellation with three fins) was long and noisy.  Toward the end of the flight, the girl with whom I’d been playing threw up.  And yet–there were no long lines, no one asked us take our clothes off, and the passengers were made to feel as if they were honored guests.

“Flight attendants served meals on china plates, passengers relaxed in lounges on the plane, and most seats turned into sleeping berths.”

Read more here:

https://www.insider.com/vintage-photos-airplane-flying-2017-4

I’m not knocking security.  I’m glad the procedures are there for our protection.  I just wish–sometimes–that flying was a little more comfortable, and a little more fun.

Switching Bodies?

I’m writing a book about two girls who magically switch bodies. Not because they want to. It’s a challenging plot that I contemplate often.  So I searched online to see what others have dreamed up about switching bodies.  There are several manga-style cartoons that didn’t make a lot of sense, as I had the sound turned off while sitting in Barnes and Noble.  The one above was clear enough to understand the consternation of the “switchees.”

My questions are many, as I block out the scenes:

-Do the girls meet?  How and where?

-Do the people who know them notice the change?  Who?  How?

-Who believes them?  Who is an ally?

-What is hard for them?  What is easy?

-What do they learn from their switch?

My story differs from most of the “switches” I found online. Those switches stayed in the same time and setting.  My girls come from two very different places: one is from contemporary suburbia, and the other is from a kingdom north of Karakesh (see my Karakesh Chronicles).

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https://charmed.fandom.com/wiki/Body_Swapping_Potion

One of the great joys of writing is the element of surprise.  Though I have a basic plot sketched out, I never know what detours may come up.  Stay tuned!

 

 

Amoral Grassmen

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Illustration by Matt Wall, Awakening Magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grassman first appeared in a short story I wrote that became the beginning of Guided by Magic:

I never told anyone that I saw the Grassman steal our baby. I was four years old, minding my newborn baby sister, Toola. Mam had set Toola in a basket in the sun.

            “Keep the baby quiet, Sada,” Mam said. “Don’t let her holler.”

She went into the cottage to gather the washing.

            The day was fine, bright and sunny, and I closed my eyes while I leaned on the porch rail. It was a rare moment that I wasn’t doing some chore or other, like picking burrs out of my brothers’ socks, or carding wool for Mam to spin.

A shadow fell across my eyelids. I opened one eye just a slit and saw a small green man carrying a bundle. He was hurrying along the neighbor’s wall. Jumping down, he tiptoed up to Toola’s basket. He set down his burden, and peered at Toola asleep in her blankets. Then he leaned over and pinched her cheek between a long green finger and thumb.

            “That’s my sister,” I said.  

            “Oooh, yes, that’s so! And a fine wee worka girly she is, too. We Grassmen be making a trade today–a girly for a girly,” said the green man. He bent down with his arms outstretched.                                                    –Chapter 1, Guided by Magic

 

As the Karakesh Chronicles expanded, the Grassmen gained depth as characters.  They were the middlemen between the dwarves and others in the kingdom.  In Guided by Magic, Miela’s stalker, Mick Curmin, hires a Grassman to find her.  A Grassman has no conscience.  He would, as I wrote in one of the books, murder his own mother for gold.

When the Grassman Vetch kidnaps Prince Emric (Awakening Magic), he has no regard for his victim’s misery.  Vetch first pulls a sack over the prince, then callously slings Emric across the back of a horse.  Hardly able to breathe, Emric passes out.

Grassmen are horse-lovers, but they prefer to steal a horse rather than pay for it.  In Tangled in Magic, Malcolm loses his good pony to a Grassman after his mad escape from the half-warlock, Santer.

Grassmen, of course, are all green.  They have green skin and wear green clothes.  Rami, the changeling from Guided by Magic (Chapter 1, above) is half Grassperson.  Her skin is pale green, and her hair almost white.  The Grass People reject half-breeds and exchange them for human offspring.  They sell these children to the dwarves to work as slaves in the mines.

The Grass People live in Liriope, a town of grass buildings shaped like stooks (sheaves of grass or grain stacked on end).

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In the evening, the grass houses glimmer with faerie lights, since candles or fires would be a foolish, dangerous source of light or warmth.

The Grassmen in the Karakesh Chronicles seem to have an odd appeal.  Readers mention them more often than other fantasy characters.  Here’s one reader who made himself a Grassman hat for Halloween!

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The three Karakesh Chronicles (Tangled in Magic, Guided by Magic, Awakening Magic) are available on Amazon

or at

www.handersenpublishing.com

Tuesdays at Barnes and Noble

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Tuesday  mornings are mine.  For three and a half hours, I can do whatever I choose.  This past month or so, I’ve chosen to bring my laptop to Barnes and Noble.  With a medium chai latte at hand, I write uninterrupted.  Here I get space of mind.  No obligations to fulfill, no one I know at my table, nothing to attend to except my own rambling thoughts.  It’s glorious.

I’m an introvert.  It’s only recently that I’ve understood what that means for me.  I need solitude.  Being alone is how I recharge.  Extroverts get energy from being among people and in stimulating places.  Not me.  Crowds and noise stress me out.  If I can’t get time alone, I get crabby.  Worse, I don’t know what I’m feeling, or thinking, or even who I am.

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I remember when my first husband and I returned from our wedding in New York.  We had a small ceremony at my aunt’s and uncle’s house in Mount Kisco.  It was a great deal of excitement for me to manage, especially since I’d met my husband’s parents for the first time.  Lots of moving around, lots of noisy Spanish relatives, lots of hoopla.

Back in our quiet rented house in Santa Barbara, I took a deep breath.  But wait! We had visitors–friends of my husband’s from Iowa.  My husband planned for us to take them out to dinner.  I refused to go.  I had reached my limit and was feeling the ominous beginnings of a head cold.  That’s how many introverts’ bodies work: if we can’t get the down time we need, we’ll get sick in order to get it.

My husband was furious.  He could not understand.  “What’s your problem?”   I didn’t have the self-knowledge to explain, but I stayed firm.  Looking back, I’m amazed that I didn’t cave in and go out to dinner with them.  I recall curling up under the down comforter on our bed, sighing with relief into the silence.

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Now that I’m quite a bit older, I find it easier to accept and care for my introverted self.  I set the alarm for 5:30 or 6:00 a.m.  My husband sleeps on while I meditate, or do some rounds of EFT (tapping).  Or do yoga.  Or work on my writing.

That precious time has so many possibilities that I always run out of minutes before I do everything I want.  I love the quiet of my time in the early morning.  With an hour or so of solitude, I am a much friendlier person when we start the day.

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Whales and Elephants: Katy Payne

Yesterday I listened–twice–to the podcast On Being while Krista Tippett interviewed acoustic biologist Katy Payne.

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I first heard about Katy Payne years ago when she and her husband were studying whales off the coast of Argentina.  I believe the article I read was in a National Geographic magazine.  I remember particularly the photos of rugged coast, the huge waves, and the researchers out on the rough sea in their tiny boats. The Paynes’ children were with them.  I speculated on what it would be like to grow up in such a place.

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Roger Payne and friend.

Katy Payne is the scientist who figured out that the humpback whales were singing songs.  With amazing listening, precise recording and documentation, she realized that not only were the whales singing complex songs, but that the songs changed each year.  She and her research team produced the recording Songs of the Humpback Whales.

In later years, Payne spent some time observing elephants in a zoo.  She became aware of the vibration produced by low or “infrasound,” and discovered that the elephants were communicating.  She went to Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Namibia to study the elephant herds.  What she learned about elephants’ social and emotional lives makes for fascinating listening.

https://onbeing.org/programs/katy-payne-in-the-presence-of-elephants-and-whales/

It pains the heart to hear how the culling of the herds causes such harm to the elephants who survive.  Payne exposes the threats to the elephants’ existence.  She is an eloquent speaker, and an admirable woman scientist.

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This book is on my reading list.