On Table Shuffleboard

In October of 2019, I joined the Fun Hangers Shuffleboard League. I had just divorced and my dear friend, Neil Rodrigue, harangued me about sitting around mopping. He said I had to get out there and do something fun and different. He’s the president of the league and he introduced me to the game of table shuffleboard.

I will always be grateful to him for the huge gift. Table shuffleboard has been an amazing experience. Yes, it’s played in a bar setting. Yes, there are those who get drunk and stupid. But, it is overwhelmingly the coolest game I’ve ever played. And the camaraderie of the league, the team members, is just wonderful. Neil often says it’s like a family and I think that’s an accurate description.

The game itself is awesome. At first blush it may seem to be easy. Just throw the weight down the table. How hard can it be? Well, let me tell you, there’s a significant amount of skill required to get that weight to a good scoring position, and then to keep your opponent from knocking it out and scoring on you.

The table may seem flat, but it isn’t. It is actually concave. And so you have to learn how to use the inertia of the board and the physics of the table, the speed of the weight, and your body position to get your weight to the right spot. You need to concentrate on your breathing, your hand position, the position of your body relative to the shot you are trying to make, and all these factors create a uniquely zen feeling when you are playing. It’s almost mediative. You can’t worry about anything else, just focus on the board, your weight, and your body.

Some people who see no value in the game just get up and throw the weight nilly willy. But when you begin to really see the beauty, the mathematical and physics elegance, of it, you take note of the various kinds of shots. There’s several ways to send your weight down the board. The primary is the Jersey shot, but there’s the span, the free hand, and several others. When you are standing there, preparing to shoot, there’s a focusing of all your energy.

Besides the game itself, the camaraderie is phenomenal. It’s competitive, but there’s no put downs if you miss. The players all encourage you to keep trying. They give you feedback on your technique. Some players go out of their way to meet up and help you practice, like the amazing John Hayes who taught me so much in my first seasons and continues to be a great sensei for the sport.

And, there’s a feeling of safety here. Sure, it’s a bar sport, but the community of shuffleboards won’t let one of their own get hurt. They step up when some idiot is trying to get stupid with one of the ladies. They walk you to your car. As I’ve engaged in some first dates with only matches, this is were I like to meet them. Because here, amongst my shuffleboard tribe, I’m going to be safe no matter who the guy turns out to be.

The Grand Championship match for the season that is closing will be this coming Wednesday at the Ashford Pub off Eldridge near Westheimer. If you want to check out what Fern is gushing about, come out and join me there. Who knows, maybe I’ll make a shuffler out of you?

Road to Health

I was diagnosed with diabetes just over ten years ago. Up to that time, I was very haphazard with my doctor visits. I did not do regular check ups nor worry about my health. But right before my wedding, I went to get my eyes checked so I could buy new contacts for the honeymoon.

During the visit, I found that I was unable to see out of my left eye. It was as if someone has smeared Vaseline on the lens. Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that my retinas were bleeding in both eyes, but the bleed in the left was affecting the main area for vision. I underwent laser intervention and, after a time, the sight has healed, though not entirely. I still have slight blind spot right in the middle of my left eye’s field of vision.

When this happened, I realized I had to start taking better care of myself, and that meant better eating habits. The road to a more balanced way of life is a long and hard one, and, I must admit, I’m not there yet. However, I have made good strides towards a healthier lifestyle.

For one thing, I cut out most of the soda intake. Prior to that moment, I drank regular Coke as if it was the recommended servings of water — eight or nine a day of the 20oz bottles. Yup, a diabetes nightmare waiting to happen… which it did. It was hard to move toward drinking water. I honestly hated the taste of it at the time. However, I made myself drink it, and with the help of coffee, I managed to change my palette. Now, I really enjoy the refreshing taste of water… and of course, coffee.

I also added exercise to my life. Having dogs was a great motivator for this purpose. I enjoy a good half hour minimum walk with Arya, and, on the days when it’s possible, we extend it to a full hour. In addition, I have discovered the wonderful effects of yoga. The suppleness it leaves on your muscles, the way it helps build strength, and the relaxation of the mind as you mindfully focus on your breath and the position of your limbs have all been a great boon to my life. I even occasionally add in a Zumba class, or a bit of weight training. The latter, according to my doctor, I should do more of as building muscle helps burn sugar.

In spite of this, the main struggle remains — food. Unlike drugs, you can’t stop eating. You have to eat everyday, so the battle for what you choose to eat and how much is a continuous daily war in your mind. Balanced meals with vegetables are important, but sweets call to me like drug dealers peddling their wares. Stress makes the war harder to win. Some people don’t eat when they are under stress. I, on the other hand, feel a need to eat all the time.

Working with my doctor and my therapist has helped me build in new ways of looking at food as well as strategies for healthier stress management. But the battle continues to rage, and I don’t think it will ever be fully over. The road to being a healthy, balanced person is, in my opinion, the road of life; one which we must all traverse until our time to depart this mortal realm arrives.

** I hope you enjoy the pictures of artist Diane Gelman’s work. You can visit her studio at the Sawyer Yards in Houston, TX.

Haunted Holidays

As we begin this new month, I’m so happy to be working as head of the Houston Writers Guild with the leadership of Brazos Bookstore and Women in the Visual and Literary Arts (WIVLA) to bring to Houston a fun event connecting readers and writers.

On November 5 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm at the Brazos Bookstore locale authors will be reading out loud from original work. The theme is Haunted Holidays. The stories will be set during a holiday of the author’s choice but with a haunted element in the telling.

Last year, the collaboration resulted in a wonderful event via zoom. I enjoyed writing and reading my short story about a Witchy Christmas. This year, I’m working on a story about A Very Dragony Halloween. Some of the pictures that have inspired the tale are posted here for your enjoyment.

Having built a rich world with multiple planets to play with, I’ve decided to highlight the one which the dragons across Thyrein’s Galactic Wall have chosen for their home world. Driven out of planet after planet, hunted to extinction on many, the sentient dragons and the dragon born offspring have banded together to create a safe place for their kind.

The planet is not acknowledge by the intergalactic alliance. Many in the alliance are opposed to allowing dragon born to go unmonitored. Fear of the power that these beings hold makes gaining equal rights and protection for them difficult.

I’m still working out the details for what my story will be about, but it will feature dragons and set during the time of Halloween. What will this time of year look like for that world? What will be similar to our own? What will be different? These questions keep my mind churning with possibilities.

Do dragon children trick or treat? Do they dress up in costume? If a dragon child were to choose a costume, what would it dress up as? Would it choose to dress up as a human? If they carve pumpkins, what kinds of pictures will they carve into the fruit? Most important of all, do dragons enjoy pumpkin pie and pumpkin spice lattes?

The fun part of being a writer is getting to explore questions that probe and push the creativity of our imagination. We’ll see what I come up with.

Sign up either to read a story you wrote OR to come and just enjoy the stories of local authors. Here’s the information on the event. Go to the store’s page to learn more and to sign up.

Tournament Time

As some of you may know, I play table shuffleboard in a couple local and national leagues. This exciting game is played on a raised table that is 22 feet long, narrow and slightly concave. The object of the game is to get your weight down the table to the scoring side. Your opponent tries to knock your weights off and/or go around your weights so that they are the ones scoring.

This year, I attended the 23rd Annual Women Wondering the World Tournament in Del City, Oklahoma. Several of the Houston ladies got together to travel there and we rented a lovely house. It was like being in a sorority with your fellow sisters for a whole week. Not that I know what that actually is like as I never joined a sorority when I was at university. But I imagine it was kinda like this past week’s adventure.

There where several events during the tournament and I decided to hop into all of them. It started on Wednesday with the AB draw. This is where a top level player is paired with a beginner player and they work as a team. I was paired up with the amazing Mary Hoang. Unfortunately, we didn’t fair well, mostly because I was so nervous I gave up way too many points on my end of the board. Still, I got to see her play and watch her strategy which was a great learning experience.

The next day’s event was the ABC Draw. Like the AB match up, players were randomly sorted into teams of 3 ladies with an advanced, intermediate, and beginner player. I had the awesome Joyce Roberts and Amelia Reed on my team. We fought hard, but were defeated quickly. Again, my nervous anxiety at failing these wonderful ladies managed to make my self-fulfilling prophecy come true — I failed them.

Then there was the Singles tournament. In the winners bracket, each match consisted of best out of 3 games of 15 points each. I won my first contest against Carla Louvier. She was a tough opponent and I managed to win just barely. Then I lost my second match up against Lesley Petterson. She is an amazing player and placed in many events. Once I struck out of the winners bracket, I landed in the loser’s bracket and had to play a single game of 21 points to stay in the running. Sadly, I lost to the amazing Linda Aragon. What a great player and such a nice person too.

The last day, was the Doubles tournament. My partner was Sharon Gilmore. We are both beginners so we didn’t expect to do very well. We lost our first match up 2 our of 3 against the powerhouse team of Helen Soto and Patty Pierce. Then we went into the losers bracket and won our first match against Kathy Sparger and Tera Bradstreet. Sadly, we lost the second match in that bracket against Cayenne Kilpatrick and Leanna Prigmore. Considering we thought we would lose every match, we did very well for our first time.

I learned so much from all the wonderful players and had a blast hanging out with the great friends from my Houston league. I will definitely do this again next year.

Reflection

WIVLA (Women in the Visual and Literary Arts) have a project collaboration between a visual artist and a writer. The topic is Reflection. When I read the information about the opportunity, my mind filled with a collage idea.

For a long time, I used to oil paint. As the years have progressed, I have put that part of my creative nature aside, literally, in a closet. Mostly because I’ve lacked the space to have a studio ready to go. With time being so tight in my life, having to set everything up before painting, and then put everything away again… well… that’d pretty much be all I had time for.

For some reason, though, the WIVLA collaboration spoke to me. I could see a collage in my minds eye. I reached out to Ellen, of course, my blog partner and friend. We began to share the ideas of what I was hoping to create.

So much has been changing in my life as a woman, and the journey of a woman’s life has been filling my heart and mind. I decided to do something which expresses a reflection of womanhood.

It began with this meme. The idea behind it, that how you see yourself matters, drew me. At first, I was going to try to use smaller pictures about women engaged in aspects of their lives to somehow create the big tiger, while pasting the small kitten to look at it as a reflection.

Well, I soon got realistic. I don’t have the artistic chops for such a project. So, slowly, the project morphed. It became focused on the idea of a woman in silhouette seeing herself in a mirror. The reflection in it would be of her lifespan.

Then I started collecting the pictures from magazines. As the images emerged from the pages, the project took shape. It became about expressing the journey of a human being born female, to reflect our life’s spans and the decisions we make in each phase.

At one point, we thought of using boxes to symbolize the way that society tries to make us conform to what it considers appropriate for a woman. But in the end, we discarded that. Rosa Glenn Riley, a very dear friend, suggested adding some young girls as well, not just starting in a grown up woman.

That added an element of the men in our lives. Having found a picture of a young girl and boy playing happily together, I began to find pictures of men in the background with women in the forefront. At first we are just good friends, then society makes them become the focal point of a woman’s existence. We must be fit and sexy to attract one, but also modest and demur.

Inside us, we long to fulfill our purpose in life, with the talents and skills that we have been given. We have keen minds, and can offer professional talent to the world, yet we are pressured to be mothers and wives. While, some equality has been achieved here, there’s this idea that women should put family first, while men continue to be unencumbered by the pressure of putting parenting first.

I found beautiful stickers to add a three-dimensional element to the piece. Plus the symbolism of the animals in it: butterflies, lions, eagles, dragons. My favorite are the google eyes. We are always being watched, critiqued, and forced to stand up and defend our decisions when they don’t conform with the basic understanding of society’s traditional version of womanhood.

It was interesting when it came time to doing the older woman’s life. If you get a chance to look through a magazine, you will find that there are few images depicting a successful older women receiving accolades for professional efforts. You do find them standing behind their husbands though as they take the spot light of life achievements. And there’s a ton of pressure to remain youthful and wrinkle free. Yet, that’s not applied to men. Men can grow old and still be considered hot, wrinkled and grey hair not withstanding.

Well, here’s the end result of this project. I still need a good frame for it. But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a pretty good reflection of womanhood. Maybe that’s what I’ll call it.

Summer Writing Camps

During the summer time, I have the privilege of working with Writers in the Schools for their week-long writing camps. This year, I did one in June for 5th and 6th graders, plus one in July for 6th and 7th graders. My goal with these classes is to take the children through the full writing process to publish a book on the last day.

Naturally, “publish a book” really means create a DIY book out of a short story we write during the week, but it is a great project. The hope is that the writing process from pre-writing to publication will become clearer, and they can experience how an author feels having their book in their hands.

You may be asking, “How on earth do you get kids to do something like that in one week, Fern?” Good question. So here’s how the week goes:

Monday starts off with pre-writing. The fastest way to create a story is to generate a world. So Monday, we create a brand new world and draw a map for it. As they draft the visual aid, students begin to brainstorm who lives here, what kinds of problems might they have, and other such ideas. They jot them down and then keep drafting the map.

Tuesday, the class works on building characters. We make profile dossiers of the main characters and create a supporting cast. We also take time to look at monsters and other creatures that inhabit the world. We add to the map locations where these live and the realms of our characters.

Wednesday, we begin by exploring magical objects that could be hidden on our world. Then we discuss conflicts and story arcs. The last part of the day is devoted to drafting a first go at this story. They draft by hand as we generally don’t have access to computers. I have the students write only on the front side of the page. This is important for downstream when we revise and publish.

Thursday, I model giving and receiving feedback by sharing a section of first draft material of my own story and letting the class provide feedback for me. Then I show the class how to ‘revise’ without having to rewrite by hand the full story.

Sadly, during the summer camps we don’t usually have access to computers so it is important to use a methodology for revision that won’t have the kids groaning and mutinying. The way I show them is to look at the feedback and decide what text they want to add to the story. They write this on a separate page and then they put a letter next to the spot where the text would be inserted. They label the new text with the same letter.

The remainder of the time is the kids workshopping their story. Some have to finish the first draft. Some are ready for critique and revision. As they move through the afternoon, students get their story ready for publication the next day.

Friday opens with us cutting the pages and pasting them together on a fresh page so that we join the draft and revision sections in a fluid piece. Once the story is ready, we produce a cover, interior front and back matter, and gather it all up to publish. We staple the pieces and use some color masking tape to create a binding for the book.

At the end of the day, students exchange their final books. They read their fellow students work and deliver a sticky note review that highlights what they loved most of their colleagues work.

And this is how we do a DIY book in a week at summer writing camps with Ms. Fern. It’s not an easy road, but rewarding for these kids who sign up because they truly love to write.

Another Turn Around the Sun

Birthdays are interesting times of the year. On the one hand, they are joyous occasions celebrating ones survival through another long turn around the sun. On the other, they are times of deep introspection and assessment about where your life is presently and what it’s all leading up to. They can be difficult and emotional moments.

Some people love to celebrate their birthdays with a ton of hoopla and extravaganzas where all their friends and family participate. Other people prefer more subdued gatherings with just intimate friends. Yet others don’t celebrate at all, preferring to let the day pass as any other without any differentiation.

Recently, Sandy and I went up to Bryan TX to celebrate Aimee’s 30th birthday. We had a lovely luncheon afternoon and gabbed about nothing in particular. By the end of that day, we had solved all the world’s problems. Aimee had a fun cheesecake which involved setting liquor over it on fire to caramelize on top. Yummy!

Birthdays that end in zero, that complete a decade of living, tend to be more meaningful. Suddenly, we realize how quickly a decade can actually pass by. It is those times that lead us to deeper reflections. They are the milestones that mark our progress through life.

When we were children we were often asked to imagine what our lives as adults would be like. What did we want to accomplish in ten years, twenty even. Could we even really imagine that far into the future then? How could we have imagined the trajectories our lives would take?

I wanted to be an actress or a writer. Maybe a school teacher or a lawyer. I’ve been a school teacher and I’m a writer now. Two more to go? All kidding aside, of course, life takes us on many road ways.

July 9 is my birthday. This birthday is not one of those that end in zero, not even one away yet. Still, there’s much to reflect upon. These last few years with the pandemic and my divorce, there have been many shifts in my life. This year feels like the perfect time to consider where I am now and where do I want my life to go next.

One thing I like to do during my birthday’s is take time out to pray and meditate. I seek a special word from God for this coming year. Something to guide my way. And of course, there’s always cake. Also, balloons, because nothing cheers you up so much as a shiny helium balloon.

Share with me your own reflections on birthdays in the comments.

My Yearly Literary Pilgrimage

As a working writer, the journey to bringing into fruition the creative works that percolate in my mind includes taking critical times of the year for my writing to become the main focus. Most of my life revolves around the need to create revenue, bring in income, to sustain my existence on this planet. Additionally, as I am building my publishing company, it requires a significant amount of time and attention.

Thus, the portions of the year in which I take time out from these needs to put my writing life front and center are precious to me. The January weekend intensive is the first springboard for my writing year, and it builds the foundation to what will be the focal point for the big push month — June.

In between, I give myself the space to focus on writing once a month with my Write Now intensive weekends, the February 10-Day Bootcamp, and the April Nanowrimo camp, but all through these months, the other needs hold priority.

June is the month when everything else is moved to a back burner, and writing is pulled forward into center stage. The Boulder Colorado Writing Retreat hosted by Max Regan is the month long portion of my year where I become fully a writer. While some of the writing work goes on throughout, it is in this month that my space reshapes to give me the tools for taking my writing to the next stage.

Discovery and Design work intermingle, my wall space is covered in the pieces that help me move my project forward, and the work of digging in and writing takes priority. The retreat is broken up into two sessions. When I first started attending, I could only do one session — a ten day push. The retreat was in person and travel and stay in Boulder made the expense impossible to sustain for a whole month.

COVID brought the option to marathon across both sessions by making the retreat virtual. For the expense of a single session with physical stay, I could do both sessions. This unexpected blessing of a devastating pandemic situation has brought my year as a literary pilgrim to an amazing point. A month of being and living as a writer has been made possible, and I have embraced it fully.

As the year passes on, the writing continues with the July 10-day bootcamp and Nanowrimo camp, the ongoing monthly Write Now intensives weekends and the October bootcamp. Then we come to November.

Nanowrimo in November allows me to make that month another great push for writing, yet, because we are mid-fall semester, it is impossible to take the whole month off as I do in June. Teaching must go on and I’m usually deep into the release schedule of our fall lineup with Inklings Publishing.

So it is in June, during the Boulder writing retreat, that I get to be a writer full time. For one beautiful month, everything else goes on hold. I get to live and breathe writing in June.

On Busy Seasons

2022 planner book

There are certain times of the year that get very hectic. Times when several things seem to collide all requiring your attention at the same time. The end of the academic school year is one of those seasons.

WITS work is coming to an end and, as I shared in my previous post, I’m compiling student work in an anthology collection for my own classes as well as helping other writers with theirs. This in addition to the final lesson visits is already a crazy load, to which I am now adding a road trip. Book Fair Event

I have been offered the opportunity to spend four days in Beeville, Texas, teaching for WITS a fun, intense set of lessons to six graders. Of course, the following Saturday I have Copperfield Book Fair. So, after a week of out of town teaching I will return to help sell books at this fun event.

All of this in addition to just the regular work load of running Inklings Publishing and my volunteer work as head of the Houston Writers Guild. It’s a miracle I have time for me or my own writing and, in truth, this month will see the least amount of writing for sure.

Never-the-less, I love my life. I love the work with the students, the work with the authors, and the fast paced world I have created for myself. It amazes me that I am able to juggle so much. In truth, I seldom feel tired from the actual work load. When I feel down, it is nearly always due to emotional strains of a more personal kind.

When things get crazy like this, I like to build in moments of quiet to still my mind and refocus my energy. It can feel like a bad idea, what with so much calling out to be done, yet I have found that if I don’t make the space for a 5 or 10 minute meditation here and there, my ability to function suffers. Sometimes the down time I give myself is to free my mind with a meditation. Other times, it’s about resting with a movie or listening to some music, or even scrolling through social media just for fun.

A thing I always ask myself as I take on projects: Is this a productive use of my time? Will this help me attain the bigger picture goals? Will it help me attain a short term goal? Will it have a return on investment of the time I give it in some meaningful way?

These questions, and the increasing strength to say no to that which would not be affirmative responses to them, have helped me narrow my self down to the most effective, albeit heavy laden, use of my time.

2022 planner bookSpare time? Does that even actually exist? My schedule is of my own making so I suppose I need to take responsibility and make some spare time for myself. Now, where can I squeeze some out?