Thursday, September 08, 2005

Real Residents Don't Ask Directions

One important thing to remember about driving around in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is that Mall Drive does not go to the mall. Once you remember that, well…you know how not to go to the mall.

We had lived here for several months before we learned that there USED to be a mall on Mall Drive, so they cleverly named the street after it at that time. Then someone built the Oakwood Mall in a different section of town. This is what we in Eau Claire today refer to as “the mall.” The old mall on Mall Drive was shut down and razed. So now Mall Drive goes to, among other things, a big field and an old parking lot with faded yellow lines and weeds pushing up through the cracks.

But if you really want to go an existing mall, you can take Golf Road. This street will also, for the time being, take you to a golf course.

We moved to Salt Lake City almost exactly ten years ago, and while it was a bigger city than I was used to (having grown up in western Oklahoma where we thought anything over 10,000 people was a city), it wasn’t too difficult for me to learn to navigate the place. After a year in Salt Lake I felt like an old pro at the area, and even occasionally ventured downtown or other far-away and exotic places like Taylorsville. The system of numbering streets in Salt Lake County (as well as in other cities in Utah) made it relatively easy to figure out where I needed to go. Still, we laughed the lack of “real” names for most of the streets. Did the Mormon pioneers who designed the town not have any imagination? Were they so sick of moving around and building town after town that they didn’t feel like coming up with any other names besides “100 South” or “900 West”?

Well, we’ve been living in Eau Claire for a year now, and I must say that I’m missing the street numbers. Sure, “Fairfax Street” may have a more poetic ring to it than “7th East” or “10600 South,” but it doesn’t give you a clue where it is. I did learn that “Water Street” is near the water. So that helps a little, as long as I can figure out where the water is and which water it’s referring to. Western Wisconsin has some very picturesque areas and is full of lakes and rivers, so there’s plenty of water they could name streets after.

To make things even more interesting, streets here in Eau Claire have a habit of starting and stopping and curving at random. Part of this is due to the fact that they’ve had to build the streets around all these non-linear bodies of water. I am not sure what the rest of it is due to. There is one neighborhood here that I always, always, get lost in. I try to turn toward major streets and I only end up going deeper into the neighborhood until I hit one dead end after another and finally have to attempt to go back out the way I came in. It seems like no matter where in the city I am venturing, I always end up in this same neighborhood. And I still don’t know how to get out of it. Yes, some street numbers would be very helpful about now. (So would carrying a map of the city in my car, but that would be too easy.)

On another note, as for why we needed to take our trip to Seattle last month, I still haven’t seen any big reasons. Perhaps it’s just a quiet thing, like the need for our family to spend more time together. Perhaps it was for a reason we’ll never know.

But we did learn that an apartment building down the street was struck by lightning and caught fire while we were gone. So we avoided being caught in that. But, hey, that was all the way down the street.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Swimming...or Not

I've always thought it would be fun to have season passes for the swimming pool, and this year we live just down the street from our community pool. So before the official beginning of summer, when we heard passes were available at a discount, we went for it. We got a pass for everyone in the family, plus what they called a "punchcard" which we can use to bring guests with us. We can also use it to go to any of the other community pools in the Chippewa Valley here in Wisconsin. I thought that might be fun; surely we wouldn't have enough other things to keep us occupied over the summer.

The first week school was out, we went to Madison. We did swim in the hotel pool, but that doesn't count. Right after we got back from Madison, our son Kevin went to a two-week "Summer Institute" program that they run here. They offered all kinds of fun classes. One of the classes he took was about building model rockets. Fun stuff. But since we had to drive back and forth to Chippewa Falls to get him to and from class (about half an hour from Eau Claire (where we live) each way, depending on how fast you drive), that didn't leave a lot of swimming time. So we didn't bother going during that time.

Right after Summer Institute was over, we drove out to Salt Lake City for a family reunion and camping trip. We went swimming then, too, but our passes to the Eau Claire pool didn't work too well in Salt Lake City.

Then Kevin broke his toe.

And all our plans changed.

He hobbled around through the camping trip (he even carved a really nifty walking stick for himself) and then spent much of the next few weeks at home with a sore toe. He got to play on the computer a lot, and got waited on a lot, so it wasn't too bad. But we didn't think jumping around in the pool was a good idea.

Just when it was starting to heal enough that we could consider swimming, we ended up going to Seattle. The week after that was Cub Scout camp. He did go swimming at scout camp, in the lake with the other boys. He had a lot of fun, too. Meanwhile, those pool passes have been burning a hole in my wallet, so to speak.

Now it's the week before school starts. And it's the end of August in Wisconsin. And it's starting to feel like fall. The weather has really cooled down. But, darn it, the pool's still open through Labor Day. And, darn it, we're going to use those season passes if it's the last thing we do. So today we're going to bundle up and go down to the pool, and sit and splash and swim in the water, and we're going to freeze, but WE ARE GOING TO LIKE IT. So help me.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Home Again AGAIN!

Summer has really thrown a lot at us this year, including a last-minute trip to Seattle last week. On Friday afternoon at about 4:30 the week before, I got a phone call from my husband that went something like this:

Him: "Should we go out to Seattle next week?"

Me: " mean, should YOU go out to Seattle next week, right?" He travels a lot for work and I'm used to him scheduling trips. Especially to Seattle, where he'd already been earlier in the week, and also the week before that.

Him: "No, I mean, should we go out to Seattle next week?"

Me: "Uhhh..."

Turns out that his company wanted to send him to Seattle yet again for work, and he decided that if he was going he wanted to take us with him. Our son's still on summer vacation, so it really would work pretty well. Except for some small details, like getting space in a kennel for our dog for the weekend at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. Not to mention his bordetella shot, which is required for boarding a dog at a kennel, but our dog's previous vaccination had expired exactly three days earlier. (Talk about timing.) Strangely, though, while it did take some effort and several phone calls, we were able to get him an appointment for a shot and a spot in a kennel we felt good about. And we felt good about taking the trip, too. It almost seemed like we were supposed to go.

Which really has me worried. We really had a great time in Seattle, visiting the piers, some local museums, and taking a ferry ride across Puget Sound. But why was it so important for us to go? Does this mean something terrible's going to happen to us now? Is there some great reason why we were supposed to visit Seattle together?

I don't know the answer to that one--yet--but we did have a marvelous time.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Home Again

It's good to be back! We just returned from a few weeks in Salt Lake City. Latter-day Saints who have never been there tend to think of it as a kind of paradise, where everything is wonderful and there are so many important things to see and do. But when you've lived there for a while, you start taking the opportunities there for granted. And, for the most part, it becomes a regular city just like anyplace else. Your house is there, you go to work, you go to school, you go to church...the difference being that you can walk to church and most of your neighbors are there, too. But there is plenty of normalness about Utah and Salt Lake City that you'll find anywhere else. There are stores there, there are good people there, and there are also people who do things they shouldn't. Just like anywhere else.

For those of you who aren't familiar with my background, I grew up in Oklahoma and attended a small branch that we had to drive half an hour to get to each way. My parents still go to church there, though it has grown enough that it's now a ward. But the drive's the same. I was one of only a few Latter-day Saints in my high school, or in any other school I attended, and I didn't know any other way. After I'd been married a few years, we moved to Salt Lake City. Talk about culture shock! Here I was, used to being one of very few Latter-day Saints in the area, and SLC was swarming with them! But we grew to love the city and the people...and, I admit, we got a little spoiled having our church and the temple so close, and having many of our friends and associates being LDS or at least understanding who Latter-day Saints were.

And now we're living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It was a little jolt to our systems to be away from "all the Mormons" again, but the circumstances here aren't anything we haven't seen before. The nice thing is, the Church is true wherever you go, and you don't have to go too far anymore to find a Latter-day Saint congregation...and home.

Friday, July 01, 2005

A Really Quick Entry

I'm posting a bit irregularly because we're on vacation right now. But through the miracles of modern technology, I can still write when I get a chance. Isn't the Internet cool?

We're visiting Salt Lake City for a couple of weeks, and I've been travelling to many of the LDS bookstores in the valley and meeting the managers and employees. I've been impressed with how friendly and helpful these people are, and how many great LDS books are available on the shelves. Of course, I am a book junkie and sometimes wish I could spend all my waking hours perusing bookstores and buying books. If I could actually do that, I think I've found some great ones to spend those waking hours in. I did come away buying more books than I originally meant to. (Don't tell my husband. ;-)

Till next time...


Friday, June 17, 2005

Learning to Swim

(A poem by someone (me) who doesn't claim to be a poet.)

When I was a young girl,
my mother tried to teach me to swim.

She held me in her arms
and helped me to float on the water.
Then she told me she would let go.

Well, I knew better than to let her do that.
My earthly experience with water had taught me
that if you don’t have something holding you up,
you sink.

I tried to explain this to her,
but my mother didn’t seem to understand this fact.
She told me to just be still and relax,
and I would float.

I felt the support of her arms leaving me,
and I kicked and struggled to stay above the water.
“See,” I told her. “You sink.”

“Just be still,” she told me. “The water will hold you up
if you let it. I have been swimming for many years
and I know these things. If you are still,
you will float.”

Eventually I tried it.
And the funny thing was, I did float.

Sometimes I remember this now,
when I don’t like the trials that come to me in this life.
(This happens often.)
Sometimes I kick and struggle to get out of them,
or at least argue that they should not be happening.
My earthly experience has taught me
that my trials are not a good situation.

But God has been God
for much longer than I have been me.
And I must have faith.
It isn't always easy.
Usually it is very hard.
But we are here to learn to walk by faith
and to trust in Someone we don't even see
but who knows that if we will,
we can float.

Be still, and know that I am God.

All material copyright 2005 Katie Parker

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Vacation in Paradise

We just spent the last several days in Madison, Wisconsin, which is about three hours away from where we live in Eau Claire. Since we are new to Wisconsin, we'd never been there before. We weren't too sure what we'd find. Madison is one of those cities you learn in fifth grade when you memorize the states and capitals, but it isn't one you hear of much as a tourist spot or big-league city. In fact, every time I asked friends in Eau Claire what there was to do in Madison, the response was pretty much, "Uh..."

I've come to the conclusion that Madison doesn't have many big attractions that tourists must see the way Disneyland or Washington D.C. does. But Madison's a pretty cool place. It's got an atmosphere all its own. State Street starts downtown and ends up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it's closed to cars, so it's a great place to go walking. And walking is one of my favorite things to do. There are lots of interesting stores (the travel guide we read called them "funky") and tons of restaurants with all types of cuisine and open-air seating right on the sidewalk. (This, of course, would not be nearly so much fun in the wintertime.) After dinner, you keep walking up State Street and end up at the university's student union. Get some really yummy ice cream inside and then go outside on the terrace, which is directly on Lake Mendota, and watch the sunset and chat with the people you love. How cool is that?

We also travelled down to Janesville and went on a tour of the GM factory there. Then we visited the LDS bookstore there, Line Upon Line Books. What a neat little store! I am amazed that there is an LDS bookstore in the area at all, since there aren't tons of Latter-day Saints or a temple nearby. But there it is, and the owner is a neat lady who loves LDS books. I remember growing up in our little branch in Oklahoma and feeling so disconnected from other Latter-day Saints in general, but when we had the rare opportunity to visit the LDS bookstore in Dallas it was almost like coming home. There were books and music there that spoke specifically to me and my needs and beliefs. People in the Janesville area or who visit are very lucky to have this gem in their midst.

I think that one reason we remember the places we vacation so fondly is because everything is just right when we go. Usually we don't have to worry about work, homework, school, bills, housework, laundry, making dinner, or any of that stuff. We can just relax with our loved ones and have a great time. So I will remember Madison and Janesville very fondly. I've got that sunset etched in my mind forever.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Random Thoughts

I have no brilliant thoughts popping into my mind today. And I looked through my journal entries for the past week and learned that I've had no brilliant thoughts for about a week. (Well, one could argue that I've NEVER had any brilliant thoughts, but that's another story.) Anyway, so here are some random things going on with me.

  • Today's my son's last day of school. He is very excited. Yesterday he told me he was bored already.
  • We saw Star Wars Episode III not too long ago. I wish they would have cut down on the battle scenes and spent more time on plot and character development, but overall it was a pretty good ending to the saga. I thought Palpatine was particularly convincing as he twisted the truth in order to lure Anakin to the dark side. Pretty scary, isn't it, how the dark side and the Evil One work just like this in our own lives--making bad things appealing with half-truths and shreds of goodness.
  • My dog sometimes meows like a cat. Go figure.

Enjoy the summer!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Laundry Scene: Creating Fiction from Reality

(Note: I recently cut this entry down because it was so much longer than the others. If you'd like to read the longer, more detailed version, please e-mail me at or post a comment here and I will be glad to send it your way.)

Some readers have asked me how I created the scenes and characters in Just the Way You Are. First, let's start with how I did not create them. A natural impulse of someone trying to write fiction might be to write about something that really happened and change the names and maybe a few details, and call it fiction. This is how I wrote one of my very first novels, one that will never ever see the light of day. (NEVER EVER!) I wrote it when I was fourteen and bored with my life. The story was about a girl who looked suspiciously like me, acted suspiciously like me, lived in a house in suspiciously the same location as mine, and had a family suspiciously like mine. Then she had experiences that were strangely just like mine were. I just changed all the names of the characters. Sometimes I got really creative and changed the hair color, too. Oh, and the other main difference was that the guys the main character liked (who were identical to the guys I liked in my own life) actually liked her back.

This is a good way to get started in writing, but it isn’t fiction until you start deviating from real life. Really writing fiction is more complicated than changing a few details. The more I write, the better I get at completely creating scenes and situations and characters from scratch. (At least, I think I do.) But every writer still borrows details from reality every now and then.

I like to use the first scene I wrote with Catha/LaNae in Just the Way You Are as an example of a process you can go through, because the way I did it is very straightforward. The first scene I wrote with her was not the first chapter in the book. It was the one where Emmett is in her dorm room chatting with Mandy, and Catha/LaNae believes that he is actually there to visit her, since he had shown an interest in her before. Then it slowly dawns on her that he is chatting with Mandy because Mandy is the one he came to see.

But the first thing I started with was the other characters and the general idea of the story. I already knew about Emmett and his dating habits. I already knew Mandy the space-case roommate, because I’d previously written a short story about her. (Her story does not appear in the novel.) Neither of these were people I pulled from real life, by the way. They started much the way this scene did—with some basic ideas, and then watching them to see what happened. I drew the general situation from something similar that I experienced when I was in college. I thought that with the right starring character, it could be an interesting scene. And so, Catha/LaNae was born.

The conversation material concerning raisins came from a discussion I had in early high school with a Real Boy. I do not know why we talked about raisins. I don't remember what we said about them. But it made it into my journal, and it was something I could use later when I needed a ridiculous conversation for this scene.

So far we have snippets of a few different occasions in my life, plus three unique characters. The clincher of the scene comes when Catha/LaNae gathers up all her laundry, hoping to get Emmett’s attention because he will feel obligated to carry her load for her. Now, this is something she did on her own. It's a real thrill when you get your characters to a point where they just start acting independently of anything you have planned for them.

People who don’t write fiction often don’t understand this aspect of fiction writing, and probably wonder what mental issues we writers must have. For those of you who are more scientifically-minded, you can think of it almost like a formula. This happens to this character, and so she does…this. If it had been Jane or someone else in the same situation, she would have behaved differently. Try the same experiment with yourself: If you were in this situation, what would you do? Now put someone else you know in the same situation. They’d do something different, wouldn’t they? When you know your characters well enough, you know what they’ll do. Then it’s just a matter of writing it down.

But using details from life is something that a fiction writer can never entirely get away from. Our writing, no matter how vivid our imaginations, is a product of who we are, and we are products of the lives we live.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Time Mismanagement System

Lately I've been feeling like I'm not getting enough accomplished in a day. Actually, I feel that way quite often. When that feeling comes over me, the first thing I do is revamp my goals and time management system. Surely if I'm not getting enough done, then it must be due to problems with the system and not anything that I myself am doing wrong...right?

So yesterday I came up with yet another fantastic refinement on my system that I’m sure will be a winner. I've described it here in detail for you.

1) Pray for help. That way I have someone else to blame if it doesn’t work. ;-)

2) Write down on a big piece of paper everything that’s been nagging at me that I need to do.

3) Go through my schedule for the next month and identify more things I need to do. Write these tasks on my paper also.

4) Go through my goals and find yet more things I’m not doing that are making me feel guilty. Write these things on my paper.

5) Copy each item onto a new paper, this time dividing them into four categories:

  • A-level items (important and urgent)
  • B-level items (important, but not urgent and could be put off, which means that I probably will until they become urgent)
  • B-level items that I’ve been putting off long enough that I feel incredible guilt over them and they are now almost as urgent as A-level items
  • new B-level items that could reasonably be put off several weeks so I don’t need to feel guilty over them yet.

6) Decide I’d rather have these pages in my day planner for easy reference instead of on big loose papers. So, after I’ve copied down all my items into one of the four categories, the next step is to spend several minutes cutting and punching paper to fit my day planner (because I’m out of paper and buying more would be too easy), and recopying my lists again.

7) Now that these pages fit my day planner, the next step is to take a weekly planner page and recopy all of the tasks again, distributing these items by day so days are more or less equally weighted and more urgent things are scheduled for earlier in the week.

8) Remember that I forgot to take my schedule into account when I distributed my task list over every day in the week. Go back over my schedule for the week and recopy the tasks again, making sure that more tasks are scheduled for the days I have fewer appointments.

9) Recopy tasks again into daily planner pages so I know what I'm supposed to do every day.

10) Buy a new pencil, since I've decimated the last one I had after recopying my task list in fifty different places.

11) After Day 1, panic because I didn’t get everything done that I needed to.

12) Repeat as needed.

So far it has been working well. I've gotten everything done on my list, except for the things that I looked at and decided I didn't feel like doing. Maybe I'll have to fix my system again next week, so I'll have a better chance of getting some of these other things done.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Seminary Woes

I'm the home study Seminary teacher in our ward, and we're hitting end-of-year crunch time. In home study you have to go through the assigned activities in the book on paper and turn them in to the teacher for a grade, sort of like homework. (Well, it makes sense, considering that it's home study Seminary.) But it's easy to put off doing the assignments, especially when you're busy with school, and our deadline is right around the corner. I'd heard that last year they'd had a chat room where they worked some of the assignments together, and that had worked well. (I was not the one teaching last year. This is why it was news to me.) Anyway, I thought it might get the students motivated a little, and give them a break from having to work through all those exercises themselves. So I figured out how to set up my own chat room, worked up a big involved schedule for us to work on the assignments during the next week, and called everyone to invite them to participate. (I was very proud of myself.)

The time for our chat arrived, and no one logged in! I guessed that no one was interested, and I went about my evening. Then about 20 minutes later I got a phone call from one of the guys who had been trying to log in, but couldn't get it to work. So I worked with him for several minutes, trying to get the problems solved for him. Then I got another phone call from another student in a similar situation.

The end result was, we spent the whole time trying to get the chat room to work, and it never did. Well, it did when I logged into it. My husband could log into it, too. But apparently no one else could. I feel bad that it took so much of their time that they COULD have been using to work the activities on their own! It seemed like such a good idea at the time I set it up.

But I really have to put in a plug for Seminary here. It is such a GREAT program! I graduated from home study Seminary myself in Clinton, Oklahoma, and I learned so much. In fact, much of my understanding of the scriptures and my testimony of the gospel stems directly from the time I spent plowing through those Seminary lessons. So keep at it, guys! It is so worth it in the end!

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Translation Problems

I grew up in western Oklahoma in the midst of a bunch of “Okies.” Neither of my parents are from Oklahoma, so I didn’t pick up too much of an Oklahoma accent, except for a few things like short “e’s” being pronounced with a long “a” sound. I worked really hard on that one after I grew up and moved to Utah with my husband, actually. I had spent my life eating “aiggs” for breakfast, shaving my “laigs,” and thinking that Greg and Craig would be good names for twins because they rhymed.

I tried to overcome this tendency in Utah, so as to sound more like the natives. When I thought of eggs, I would mentally remind myself to pronounce them like “ehggs,” and not “aiggs.” It usually worked pretty well. When I went back to Oklahoma for my high school reunion a few years later, in fact, I suddenly discovered that all of my old friends had very pronounced Okie accents that I’d never noticed before.

I can’t comment much on strange accents in Utah. My dad is from Utah, and I grew up thinking that he sounded pretty normal. Some people probably think that Utahns sound pretty weird, but I am not one of them. But my sister in Oklahoma started making fun of me for pronouncing the word “mountain” with a Utah accent after I’d been there for a few years. Well, if you think about it, that really would make sense. People in Utah talk about mountains a lot more than people in Oklahoma do. The landscape in Oklahoma’s about as un-mountainy as you can get.

After spending nearly nine years in Utah, now we’re living in Wisconsin and facing new language challenges. One thing we’ve noticed is that sounds that we’d pronounce like “ow” are often pronounced here with more of a long “o” sound. So, in Wisconsin we don’t live in houses. We live in hoses. We don’t go “out and about.” Where we go sounds to us more like “oat in a boat.”

And then there’s the long “a” sound. Here in Wisconsin, words like “bag” and “flag” are pronounced with something of a long a sound, like “baig” and “flaig.” Which presents something of a problem for me. My mental translation processes that I worked so hard on in Utah really break down here, because the long “a” sound no longer necessarily represents an “e.”

For example, the first time I bought something at a grocery store in Wisconsin, the checker clearly asked me, “Wanna beg for that?” I stood there panicked for a few seconds as I wondered what she wanted me to do before she gave me what I thought I’d just paid for. Who knew what kind of strange customs they had here in this foreign land (Wisconsin)?

But I finally answered yes, hoping that was indeed the correct response to her question. And a few moments later, my purchases were happily riding home in the beg…or bag, or baig, or whatever it is.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

White Sheep

Hi, everyone! I am so excited to have this opportunity to visit with you all on a regular basis. The Internet is truly an amazing thing.

Well, enough of that. I have tons of things I'd like to say, but before I get started with those, I have a matter of business that's been on my agenda for the last 28 years or so.

You see, when I was in first grade, we had to do an assignment where we were to look at several pictures and color the ones that started with a "sh-" sound. So, for example, we were supposed to color the picture of the shirt and the shell, but not the dog or the refrigerator. We were also supposed to color the picture of the sheep. This I did. Since many good sheep are white and fluffy, I chose my white crayon to do the job.

You guessed it. Mrs. Smith didn't notice that I'd colored my sheep white, and she counted it wrong. (I have to admit that I had a hard time seeing that I'd colored it myself.)

So now, once and for all, I'd like to make this clear: Mrs. Smith, I realize that it may not have been obvious at the time, but I really did know back in the first grade that sheep starts with a "sh-" sound! And if I'd been braver when I was six years old, I would have come up and told you then.

Thank you all for allowing me to set the record straight here. I don't know if there's any great lesson to be learned from all this--maybe, don't be afraid to speak out and defend what you know to be true? Yeah, that sounds good.

The other lesson would be, don't color with white crayon on a white paper and expect your teacher to be able to see it. If you want to make your mark in the world, you gotta use a color that will show up.

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