Saturday, March 27, 2010

Little more speed, little more rope

I could not imagine a more perfect day for the opening of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. Okay, maybe it could have been warmer, but the conditions were perfect for the traditional kite-flying kickoff to Spring.

Kite flying really isn't as easy as it looks. We had to work pretty hard to get our kites in the air, and most of the time they'd go up for a few yards and then go diving into the people around us. It reminded me of that song from You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, and we were definitely a Charlie Brown group.

But what a group to be with. Check out my beautiful girls. We got to spend time together without worrying about SAT prep or college applications or math homework. It was just us, the wind and about 3,000 other people on the National Mall.

Once we moved down to the Washington Monument, we had a little better luck. The wind conditions were gustier and people were a little more spread out.

The girl I tutor proved to be good at getting the kite into the air, but it seemed like every time she'd let out the string to give it some height, it would come plummeting back at her. I think she won the award for sustaining the most hits from runaway kites--both her own and other people's.

My friend's baby even got in on the action. I know she looks like she's about to cry in this picture, but really she was just trying not to laugh. Of course I have no photographic proof of this because every time I'd lift the camera after making a fool of myself to get her to smile, she'd stop giggling. Cheeky girl.

Finally one of the boys got our kite in the air and maxed out the line. Our kite is the one about halfway up the monument between the white bird and the rainbow kite with the long streamers. It's the little speck that looks like a piece of dust on my camera, but I promise it's really our kite.

How could I not have enjoyed such a perfect day? I love the city dressed in pink!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Unexpected Hero

I love research. No, really. I love it. And last night I got to spend a few hours in the library pouring through books. Kind of old books. That no one has looked at for a lot of years.

Casimir Pulaski. There aren't a lot of books or even articles written about this Polish nobleman. And even though kids in Illinois get a day off school in his honor, probably the only thing they really remember about him is that he bled to death after being shot in the genitals during the American Revolution.

Long before he met Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, he was a war hero in Poland. He started his military career when he was only 18 because one day his father got sick of the Russians and decided he and his three sons would create an army. They had no idea what they were doing. The were rich land owners who didn't know the first thing about military life, and they were far outnumbered by their enemies. In fact, they lost their land, their country, and their family. One brother died in battle, another died in exile and the father died in a Turkish prison. Pulaski ended up in a French prison with no hope for his future. The Russians had falsely convicted him a regicide and confiscated all his land and holdings. If he ever tried to go back to Poland, he would be exactitude.

But Pulaski wasn't done fighting. If his homeland couldn't be free, at least he could fight to give other men the freedom he was denied. So he volunteered to fight for America. He would teach them how to use horses on the battlefield. He would inspire men to do great things. He would also be a reckless young man who didn't believe he had anything left to live for.

Research is like a treasure hunt. You start with a few clues, and before you know it, you're digging around, discovering riches beyond your wildest dreams. None of the things I just wrote about will be in the article I'm working on, but they are all a part of what made Pulaski who he was. Because of his background, he went on to revolutionize how the Americans engaged in battle. Because of his ideas and the training program he created, America gained her independence.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Writing Marathon: Overcoming Disapointment

Sometimes I wonder, really wonder, if I can pull off this whole writing thing. Things go wrong, like missing the SCBWI WIP Grant deadline to attend a funeral. Or I get massive writer's block, like the fact that I've only been rewriting and not generating anything new since before Christmas. Or I get a string of form rejection letter all at once, like the three "Dear Author" emails I received in succession.

My ten-year high school reunion is supposed to happen this summer, and I started thinking about what I'd say about my life to my old high school friends. I've had a lot of opportunities in the past ten years. I have a college degree and a good job. I live in a great city and know some pretty amazing people. But I haven't done the one thing that is most important to me.

I'm not a published author.

That can really get you down.

But then something magical happens. Someone offers you a challenge, like the girls over at Throwing Up Words. Or you see something that totally inspires you, like the eye candy in the new Alice in Wonderland. Or someone unexpectedly sends you words of encouragement, like my dad's email "Keep at it, I KNOW you will achieve your dream as long as you don't give up on it."

That is what keeps me going.

That is what makes writing worth it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Marathon of Writing:Reward Yourself

So today begins the writing marathon hosted by the girls at Throwing Up Words. My goal is to finish some rewrites on the first two chapters of my yet-untitled WIP and complete two new chapters. As a reward I get to buy myself a new pair of shoes.

All I have to say is I really want these boots, so I'd better meet my goal.

Then again, summer is approaching, so maybe I should get some new warm-weather hiking shoes. These are totally cute and perfect to wear in the Shenandoah.

If I exceed my goal, can I justify getting both of them?

Maybe I should get writing first.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Warning: this post is an emotional dumping ground

In some ways, this has been one of the most difficult weekends of my life, and in other ways, it has been an experience I wouldn't trade for anything.

I am the type of person you want to have around in a bad situation. I respond well in emergencies because I can control my emotions and keep a level head. This very much comes from my father who is a former volunteer firefighter and hospital chaplain. From him I learned how to recognize needs and see a way to fulfill them. But I also have equal parts of my mom in me. My mother is the most soft-hearted person I know. Every action she takes is motivated by compassion, so I have learned to emulate that by example.

Being with the (Walquist) Winn family this weekend afforded me the opportunity to put both of these traits into action. Ashley has three little brothers and eight cousins along with five aunts and four uncles on her mom's side, which made for a very full house at grandma's. I spent much of my time cooking, cleaning and wrangling kids, all tasks that made me feel useful in a situation I felt so helpless about.

I come from a rather large family, so I'm used to cooking and cleaning for a small army. The food basically took care of itself as Paul, Idaho, a town of 998 people, rallied around the family and filled the house to the rafters with meals and snakes for the kids. All I had to do was make sure the kids ate more than just fruit roll-ups and that the appropriate food was heated and on the counter before people got too hungry. I've also had a lot of practice making lists and then making sure everything gets done on those lists, which came in handy Monday morning when kids needed baths, last-minute items needed to be picked up at the store and everyone needed to be on time for the funeral.

Being with the kids so much also meant I had a pretty much constant supply of hugs and kisses as long as I didn't mind being run into the ground by adolescent boys, answering endless questions about death and dealing with a wide array of extremely strong emotions coming from children who didn't know what to do with their grief. But they were as much a comfort to me as I hope I was to them. We spent a lot of time together both talking about Ashley and trying to keep our minds off what was going on around us.

So from fingers stuck in an elevator door to 30 helium balloons attempting to escape before the appropriate time to a very lonely puppy licking my feet at 5 a.m., I managed to keep pretty busy this weekend. And while the thought of giving the service invocation made me sick to my stomach, I got through it with minimal mascara-runnage while still being able to take comfort in the words that were spoken by the people who loved Ashley best.

Now that I've had a chance to sit still and be alone with my thoughts for a few moments, I can't believe Ashley is really gone. I already miss her smile and laugh and complete love for life. She was my dear little friend who taught me more than she could possibly know. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to love Ashley and be loved by her in return.

The next few weeks and months (and possibly years) will be extremely difficult for her family, but knowing them like I do, they will come away from this a stronger family. Her three little brothers will learn that Ashley wasn't just a gift to them, but they were also a gift to her. They have so much love and joy yet to give this world, and I know I will enjoy watching them grow into the amazing young men I know they will become. Connie and Jason are also two of the most incredible people I have even had the pleasure of knowing. The love that binds that family is a rare gift that was not given to them by chance.

As I make my 2,000-mile return trip today, my heart breaks a little knowing I am leaving so many people I love so much behind. I wish I could stay to cook and clean and tend them back to happiness. If only life were that simple. A little piece of me will always be buried in the Paul, Idaho, cemetery, but the next time I am there, I will be able to place a little bouquet of flowers tied in a purple ribbon on Ashley's grave, knowing that she is in a better place without the pain and suffering she felt on this earth. I will see Ashley again. I will hear her laugh once more. I will be greeted by that great, big smile of hers and know that she is happy to see me again, too.

Until then, I have faith in the Lord's promise: "I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you to bear you up" (D&C 84:88). That little angel is still with us. Our hearts might be failing in this moment, but I truly believe that joy comes in the morning (Psalms 30:5).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Loving Memory

We lost our little angel this morning. She passed away with her mother by her side and her faith in God carrying her through. Please keep her family in your thoughts and prayers.

In loving memory of Ashley Marie Winn: July 19, 1997-March 2, 2010.