Thursday, August 30, 2012

Why this author is giving away free books

The first time I noticed an author doing a "giveaway" on Goodreads, I have to confess, I was kind of resentful.  As it turned out, I had just finished reading that same novel--a book I'd spent a few dollars of my exiguous fortune on--and now here was the author just giving it away for free.  "Hey, I'm a teacher living on a single, limited income that keeps shrinking!  Give me that book!" is what I thought at the time.  But then... I looked into what the giveaways are all about, and I finally understood.  For Indie and DIY authors, offering a book or two for free in a giveaway provides an opportunity to let a whole lot more folks know about the book.

In my case, with The Dogs Who Saved Me, I was reluctant to do a giveaway, because 100% of the profits from this book are being donated to animal rescue groups, and I didn't want to take one penny away from that.  However... after a conversation with Indie marketing guru Martin Lastrapes (who just happens to be my favorite Indie author), I realized that by offering a couple of copies of Dogs for free, I could generate more interest in the book, which would generate more revenue for a local rescue group (HOPE rescue in Upland, CA), so I jumped on board.

I am pleased to say that there are currently 500+ readers who have entered the giveaway.  Even more exciting is the fact that 72 readers on Goodreads have added the book to their "to read" lists, and several have sent me messages to say that if they don't 'win' the book, they will buy it right away as they find the premise intriguing.  Yes!  Success!  And think about it--if those 72 readers like the book and recommend it to friends, the snowball will continue to grow (hopefully), garnering new readers and more support for the rescue groups that do so much by sheer power of animal love and enthusiasm.  Bless them!

So--if you haven't yet read The Dogs Who Saved Me and would like to enter the giveaway, there's still time!!  (At this writing, 6 hours and 30 minutes--so get on it!)  Click on the link below and enter.  There are no strings attached!!  You will not be asked to write a review or give a speech or compose a lively verse about the book, nor will I or the great folks at Goodreads save your info and try to strongarm you into buying books... or ocean view property in Missouri....  If you don't have a Goodreads account, consider establishing one, as there are many, many good books available through the giveaways for free, plus great conversations taking place all the time with intelligent readers.

Okay, I'm done yakking.  Here's the link:
Goodreads giveaway of The Dogs Who Saved Me

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why going back is so hard....

On Friday, I will return to work after ten weeks of long walks in the forest, afternoon glasses of cinnamon iced tea with cookies, hours spent watching the birds at the birdfeeder, opportunities to make memories with my kids and grandkids and the blessed luxury of reading a book without watching the clock.  Thus, I will return to work with heavy, dragging footsteps.  Oh yes, I love my job; the kids are funny and warm and refreshingly honest and idealistic, and they teach me new things every day.  But…
This is what teachers do:  In April and May, when others are digging out of the winter doldrums and doing spring cleaning or home improvement projects, we who spend at-home time grading and planning lessons tell ourselves, “That project can wait until summer break.”  But when school lets out, do we dive right in and start completing all those tasks we set aside for summer?  No.  For the first two weeks we revel in not having to live our lives according to a bell schedule.  We sleep in till oh, say, 7:00a.m.  Eventually, the true meaning of “vacation” sets in, and we begin to relax… and read… and have long, luxurious lunches with friends and dinners with family that have been postponed for weeks, sometimes months.
On some days, we actually make lists of those projects that need to be completed.  In fact, I feel productive just for making the list.  But let’s face it, if I am faced with a choice between spackling a mouse hole or taking my granddaughter to the beach, I’m going to opt for the latter every time.
This insouciant behavior does, however, eventually lead to sudden anxiety and a sense of panic when we realize—oh expletive! I have only one more week to spackle and paint and I wanted to get to the beach one more time and see one more movie in the theater and is there any money left for new clothes? (no) and I never did get to the Huntington Library this summer.  Sigh.
I am especially guilty of the ‘not getting around to stuff,’ even though I tell myself every summer that I will go off the mountain to have adventures at least several times a week (Safari Park in San Diego to see the giraffes, the Sawdust Festival in Laguna to traipse for hours through the booths and chat with the artists).  But more often than not, what I look forward to most is simply staying home, having lunch on the back deck with the cats and the bluejays, sitting in the front porch swing later and reading for hours as the sun filters through the oak tree canopy and the red-shafted flicker complains to the acorn woodpeckers. 
I try to feel guilty about not spending more time on home improvement projects, but I just can’t.  Because when the school year gets into its full, exhausting swing, I won’t be longing for the days of spackling and painting. I’ll be longing for those long, quiet days of uninterrupted time to read… and write.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The bird in the basement....

           Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.--Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
             ~ William Wordsworth, "Lines (composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey...)"

As I rolled slowly around the last switchback turn, a young deer suddenly leapt out onto the highway from the brush at the side of the road.  I hit my brakes hard—not out of concern that I would hit him, but because I’ve been taught by Bob Walker, my favorite old timer on the mountain, that “there’s never just one.”  I slowed to a crawl, scanning each side of the road for the mother as the little one bounded ahead of me on legs seemingly made of rubber.  Eventually he had the good sense to veer off into the forest again, and I resumed my short journey to the post office.
That was yesterday.  This morning at 5:00a.m. I shared a banana with a polite but hungry raccoon who had grown frantic scavenging because she had three small kits to feed.  A few hours later, on another trip to the post office and in the exact same spot where I saw the deer, I watched a mama mountain quail scurry across the road.  And I stopped again and watched as her chicks turned tail at the sound of the truck and scuttled into the bushes.  I knew they would wait until it was absolutely quiet again before attempting to cross over, and their mother, by clucking, would be the one to signal the all-clear.
And this afternoon I watched in dismay as Luna Cat slunk into the cabin and down to the basement, a dark-eyed junco hanging from her jaws.  I followed her down, scolded her, and she dropped the bird at my feet.  Immediately it flew up, beating its wings frantically against the basement window.  As I approached slowly, the bird stopped fluttering and became still, turning its head to watch me with one tiny onyx dot of an eye.  I cupped my hands around its body, leaving its head exposed, and slowly walked up the stairs, out the door and into the forest (leaving poor Lu still downstairs, prowling and puzzled, searching for her bird).  I stood for a long minute, the bird now nestled on one open palm, talking softly and stroking him with a finger to pull away the pin feathers he’d lost in his brush with death.  When he was ready, wits about him now, he simply flew away.
I had this experience with a hummingbird once.  I had removed all the screens to rinse the dust off after washing windows on a brilliant summer day, and the hummingbird just flew right in.  The scenario played out in the same way; the bird, with wings whirring, pushed its body forward against the clear glass, confused, becoming still as I moved toward it.  I cupped it in my bare hands, walked outside and for an instant marveled at the miracle of holding this creature—until it dashed off without so much as a buzz by of thanks.
Two weeks ago, as I was showing the cabin to some prospective buyers, a bluejay hopped into the cabin through one of the French doors left open.  I reached down to shoo him out, but the motion startled him and he flew up to a kitchen window.  Wrapping my hands gently around his folded wings, I carried him back to the yard and set him down.  After a moment, he flew to the safety of a low tree branch.  The potential buyers were amazed.
“Yes,” I laughed, “I’m the bird whisperer.”
I’ve held a baby ‘possum in my hands as well, though I had the presence of mind to pull on my thick leather work gloves before I scooped it up.  The mother ‘possum, heavily laden with five other joeys on her back, hadn’t managed to make it back to my neighbor’s shed under cover of darkness.  The sun had risen and people were about—including some excited children—when Junior toppled off, and she was frantic, unwilling to subject the clinging babies to the danger of the humans and equally unwilling to leave the wayward child behind (a situation that, sadly, I’ve had some experience with myself).  I picked up her pink-nosed, beady-eyed child and followed her as she trundled toward their home, setting him down just outside the shed and then backing away to watch her turn and gather him in.
It’s been hot in recent days, even up here on the mountain, and after over-doing it yesterday, I chose a quiet day today, mostly reading and writing.  During a peaceful interlude of dividing my attention between the huge thunderheads rolling by and the acorn woodpeckers pecking at the hanging feeder, I wondered again what I will do to find these miracles when I no longer live on the mountain.  I have been witness to amazing things here—bears on my back porch, a baby bobcat chasing a lizard nearly at my feet, a small fox lunging through three-foot snowdrifts on a full moon night to sniff hungrily at my French doors, bighorn sheep standing proudly at dawn to face the rising sun, the gorgeous buck who simply walked out of the forest and into my backyard in search of water (which is always left out for anyone who needs a drink), the mama raccoons who’ve brought their babies at dusk so that I can see and remark upon their cuteness, countless shooting stars, a lunar eclipse…. 
And yet, as I continued to reflect, the stories of the stranded baby ‘possum and the hummingbird came to mind.  Those experiences did not occur here on the mountain.  I rescued the hummer when we lived in Chino, the ‘possum after we’d moved to a housing track in Rancho Cucamonga.
And so I guess… miracles are everywhere.  Of course, it’s easier to see these things here on the mountain where Nature still retains the luxury of being wild and unfettered, so it might be that I will have to look a little closer, be a bit more attentive to the world around me once I settle in the valley again.  But I’m sure I will have adventures there as well.  Thank goodness Nature is immutable, that we can go away for years at a time, as Wordsworth pointed out, and still return to the same “steep and lofty cliffs” to find them virtually unchanged.  There’s a certain comfort in that, as if it were possible to place a bookmark in time, and by returning to the physical place, return to some point in our past.  It sounds like magic, I know, but that’s why the mountain is so alluring… because the magic is so strong here.  

Friday, August 3, 2012

Leaving before it's time to go....

The family member of a close friend killed himself last week.  His funeral is today.
It’s been a long time since I wrote about suicide.  Most of my bi-polar and depressive friends have been doing just fine on their meds or using the strategies they’ve learned in therapy so that they can quickly arrest a descent into the ominous dark spiral.  I’m grateful for that.  I love all of them and would be devastated if any one of them chose to take the shortcut-of-no-return, as J did.
This was a young man who had been troubled for a long, long time, though he was not without love and support and encouragement from patient, sincere, understanding family members.  But… in spite of their best efforts, he began to feel helpless in the face of the events which comprised his life… and one night when that feeling overwhelmed him, he opted for permanent relief from the pain….
And so my friends, this is just the gentlest of reminders:
We can never control the circumstances of our lives.  We can only control our response to those circumstances.  This is true for all of us, whether we’re happy and well-adjusted or have been bashed around by the harsh, capricious nature of life in this world.
As I wrote in The Dogs WhoSaved Me, forty+ years ago I was a clinically depressed teen who had lost all reason to live.  Well… save one: Rufus, the dog who taught me what loyalty and unconditional love are all about kept me from leaving before it was really time to go.  Back then, if someone had told me, “Just hang on, K; in a few short years you’re going to have four incredible kids and even more grandkids and you’ll go to college and earn a master’s degree in literature and become a published author,” I would have told them they were nuts.  And yet here I am with a thousand blessings to be thankful for every single day.
We cannot know, day by day, which way the path of life will turn or what obstacles will appear before us.  But from this side of life I can see that there is balance in all things.  For every rotten tomato life throws at us, a golden apple will fall from a tree nearby and roll onto the path at our feet.  We just have to keep our eyes open, keep looking for the beauty (because believe me, it’s there, even when the dark clouds above us shut out the light for a bit and we can’t quite see it) and above all, keep making forward progress—even if it is measured in inches—so we don’t miss the good stuff.  And trust me, there’s a whole lot of good stuff along the way.  Sometimes we just have to hunker down in the bottom of the boat and wait until the storm passes.  (Hug yourself and rock if it helps.  Don’t laugh; Dr. Temple Grandin would agree with me.  I did this in a figurative sense when I would sit on my bedroom floor and listen to music for hours.  Better yet, hug a fur person.)  Just… don’t give up and jump overboard.  Your feelings are real, and I would never discount them.  I’ve had them myself.  I know how much it hurts.  But when the pain seems unbearable, gather around you those things that you love and hang on; clear skies and a gorgeous sunrise are just a few moments away….