Monday, April 30, 2018

Junk Mail

Remember when you were a kid and you got junk mail. Real mail, through the slot or in the mailbox? Your mom got it and turned it over or not even that—and threw it out.

Today that same mom is the prime target for “fake” internet news.

PBS Newshour is doing a series titled Junk Mail. One, I like this title as opposed to fake news as that terminology has gotten corrupted. The anology of junk mail rings true with my generation (plus). We all can relate to those annoying adverts, credit cards we didn’t order, appeals for funds. We weren’t fooled. Not so today.

A young IT guy has developed for PBS a Junk News Tracker. Cameron Hickey did not have to look far for a person to base his research upon: he turned to 86-year old grandmother. This lady is total click bait, a sucker for everything coming down the drain. A self-proclaimed conservative Christian from Ohio.
Image result for grandmA On the internet

“To understand the scale and shape of a problem that was incredibly opaque, we began intensive research to collect and analyze the sources of this misinformation.

. . .  This process led us to create a tool we call NewsTracker, which helped identify new stories that would give our viewers the necessary context to make sense of this phenomenon.

, , , We used the Facebook API to collect all the stories posted to these pages as well as their engagement data — how many times users liked, shared, and commented on the stories. We continuously monitored this feed to identify patterns in and assess the substance of the posts.”

He needed someone to base algorithms off of in order to analyze the problem of junk mail. In upcoming pod- and newscasts he will be interviewing his sweet, hymn singing grandma to learn why she clicks on the most outrageous, egregious news out there. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 27, 2018

I’ve Got a Ticket to Anne Frank’s House

So yesterday I bought a ticket to Ann Frank’s house, making an upcoming trip seem all the more real. This year I will be turning 60. Some establishments are already giving me a senior discount. This is a good and sobering thing. It means I am getting closer to the abyss.

A friend who has been in Florida for 4 months doing parent care put it succinctly: You can easily imagine a death conveyor belt—and we are on it.

Of course we are from the day we are born, but it only becomes more real the older you get. A big reason to start in on that bucket list. So yesterday I bought a ticket to Ann Frank’s house.

Actually it started with purchasing an airline ticket to Amsterdam, leaving Chicago June 5. I will take my bicycle with me, and God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll end up in Stavanger, Norway where I have another ticket. All together I will be gone 40 days.

The online research is the easy part—executing the plan is freaking me out. More so now that I have committed by buying a ticket. Last time I flew overseas with my bike I was absolutely flummoxed by lack of cellphone data and bought a SIM card. This time since I’m going to a number of countries (and currencies!! More freaking out) it wouldn’t be feasible to buy SIM cards. I’ll have to rely on measly 2G and offline navigation with Mapsme and downloading Google maps when WiFi is available. Believe me nothing is more intense than being in a foreign country with no idea where to go or which direction to take. And it is 100% sure this will happen.

Also last time I flew with my bike there was a missed connection and I ended up losing all my reservations on the other end because of the delay. The what ifs can be overwhelming—what if my plane is late and I miss my connection this time. What if they lose my bike box? (I’ll write later about all the extra $$ you have to spend for this.)

So fingers crossed: I’ll actually get to redeem my ticket to Ann Frank’s house. Something I’ve only ever dreamed about. Across miles and years I’m coming to you.
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The secret annex

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

What a difference a week makes!

I was beginning to wonder if it was just me—being lazy, depressed by winter. Perhaps a bit of both. But, no, the records confirm it. This has been the coldest April in Chicago in 137 years.

When I left for Grand Rapids a week and a half ago for my writer’s conference, I had the idea of riding my bike back. This is not too unrealistic as I’ve done it about 3 times already. I say about as the first time I didn’t quite make it. Around New Buffalo, MI I retired to my tent for the night. I slept soundly as the woods were super quiet. In the morning when I unzipped my tent I was astounded to discover a world of white. During the night it had snowed about 3 inches. My husband phoned me and asked if I was alive—it had gotten down to 23 degrees. I had no idea as I was snug and cozy in my sleeping bag with a fleece liner.

But once I got on the road it was clear that the roads were icy and the wind off the lake felt even colder. So in Michigan City (Indiana) I called and asked him to come get me. What would have taken ¾ of a day took 60 minutes to get back home.

You win some and lose some when it comes to weather and outdoor activities. One year I was surprised by how hot it was for the middle of April and got a bad sunburn. Often I get rained on. So I usually try to come prepared. Yet I was unprepared for last weekend’s weather. Rain, freezing rain, snow, oh and winds 25 – 30 mph. The amount of slush on Grand Rapids’ streets on Sunday was ankle high. It was a good thing I cancelled.

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But now I am left with having to put in extra hours training. I simply need time in the saddle to condition the fanny for an upcoming long-distance ride. This weekend the weather though still a bit chilly was glorious. By the lake temps were in the 50s, but away from the water it got up to almost 60. The wind was from the NE but relatively calm. I rode a 44 mile loop from my house up to the Botanical Gardens via the North Branch Trail and then southward along the Green Bay and Channel Trails. Once home I sat out in the garden and observed green blades coming up=irises. The daffodils were out as well as the crocuses. Siberian squill filled in. I drank tea from my thermos and pondered: What a difference a week makes!

Friday, April 20, 2018

There’s Nothing for Certain

Which is why I’m intrigued by stories of mystery and faith. That crux where one must rest despite ambiguity.

Which is why I suspect the Norwegians say there is no such thing as bad weather but bad clothes (gear). Readers of this blog, particularly of my posts pertaining to cycling, know I have issues with claims of waterproof. Waterproof for me has ended up being a misnomer. I am a waterproof skeptic.

So for my aborted ride home from Grand Rapids this past weekend I seriously looked at and came to the conclusion that I needed something at least a bit more water resistant that what I’d brought. Let’s face it: most of my performance gear has been collected off the ground from runners waiting at the start for the Chicago Marathon—something I last did five years ago. All that ended with the Boston Marathon bombing. Now you need a Presidential invitation to get within a half mile of the start and finish line.

Riding the 2.5 miles from my host’s house to the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids for my writer’s conference was like being lashed to the mast of a sailboat during a category 5 storm. I was absolutely soaked by the time I arrived and had to sit all day in damp clothing. The temp outside never rose above 35 degrees. On top of rain was freezing rain and 25 mph winds. It was crazy. It made more sense when it actually just settled down to snow because it only accumulated in the crocus and tulip beds and not on the sidewalk.

As a waterproof skeptic I’ve come to the conclusion that what passes for waterproof is financially cost-prohibitive and that anything less than Gore-Tex though still a gazillion dollars only works to a degree—like it keeps me dry on the outside yet WET on the inside from sweat. And I have a bone to pick about colors: usually black or charcoal (basically a light black) when visibility is a necessity.

I thought if I just can wear something that sheds rain or me somewhat dry then layers of wool will take care of the rest. At least I can stay warm while wet. But that theory got blown up this past weekend. When I was wet and cold wearing wool.

Even if nothing is for certain, I’m going to have to have a minimum of confidence that I’m not going to die of hypothermia. Thus, I’ll be looking for a new rain suit and plastics to go over my riding shoes.
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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Riding Back from Grand Rapids

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This pretty much sums up my aspirations to cycle home from Grand Rapids starting Sunday – Wednesday in mid-APRIL.

Yes, I know spring can be iffy, that April showers bring May flowers, that one day it can be sun and the next cold. But certainly not ARTIC. I experienced a range of weather that would baffle and frustrate even Shakleton. My plan was to drive in a van with my friend to the Festival of Faith & Writing in Grand Rapids and then cycle back to Chicago. I’ve done this trip before. In brilliant sunshine and unseasonable warmth, and in rain and a douse of snow. And also in what might be described as “normal” conditions. What happened this past weekend defies anything close to what I’m used to.

I’ve never had to cancel a bike trip, though there were times I should have.

I ended up cancelling. 1) Wind, there were tree branches scattered everywhere after a night of high-winds that continued into the day and part of the next. 2) Rain. I commuted 2.5 miles to the festival and by the time I arrived I was soaked. This despite I was wearing protective gear. Albeit NOT waterproof, but had served me in the past as tolerable. 3) Temps, hovering above freezing. 4) Which leads me to freezing rain. On Sunday, the day I’d planned to begin cycling to Kalamazoo there was freezing rain to the extent that when it fell to the ground the roads looked like slushy machines. The accumulated ice was up to my ankles.

By this time I’d already decided to cancel. My friend and I waited before getting on the highway to come home after the conference. We drove to a movie theater to see A Quiet Place. The car ride there was scary. She slowed down before slowing down at intersections where we saw cars slide sideways. I fully expected to be rear-ended. After that the apocalyptic horror movie seemed calming. I felt like someone who had survived the end of the world. When we emerged from the theater the sun was shining.

Quick! Get in the car before anything else happens. We were able to drive home because of a window in the weather. Right now outside my window here in Chicago it is snowing. In APRIL!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Places to Submit

Check out the tab=Places to Submit
I've tidied it up and tried to eradicate dropped links, defunct publications etc

Here's a new one:

  • Glassworks Seeks Flash Fiction, Prose Poetry, and Micro Essays
  • Deadline: Rolling
Glassworks Magazine seeks flash fiction, prose poetry, and micro essays for publication in Flash Glass, our online feature. In glassworking, "flashed glass" is a specific technique by which color is not simply added, but is created by layering, opening almost unlimited possibilities of variation. The glass allows light to shine through but prevents inquisitive eyes from invading people's privacy. Send us your written work that does the same! All work published online in Flash Glass is included in a print anthology at the end of the year. Submit up to three shorts under 500 word. Guidelines and submit

  • Brilliant Submissions Wanted
  • Deadline: Rolling
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Submissions wanted: 1,000 words or less. We are looking for short works that give the reader a "flash" of revelation or surprise; or beautifully written (or humorous) short, short stories that burn into the reader's memory... and, check out our no-fee writing contests. No poetry, please.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Festival of Faith & Writing

I’m off for a week at a conference in Grand Rapids called the Festival of Faith & Writing. This is my thing. I never knew how much I looked forward to FFW, but now it is a part of my spring ritual. (Actually it’s held every 2 years.) FFW to me are crocuses springing forth, the green blade arising. In the dead of cold, dark winter I begin to read the authors invited to the festival. I make itineraries and mock schedules. I reserve a car, I request a bed with a couchsurfing host.

I’m so ready for next week. So ready for warmth, conversation about books, crossing the quad and seeing some of the same faces I’ve come to recognize. This is a time of renewal.

Then I plan to cycle back from Grand Rapids. This is where things get tricky. The weather has been very unpredictable.

Well, it’s spring you say. Yes, when you wake up to snow almost every morning this week, you begin to question the calendar.

So good wishes, thoughts, light, vibes=send them my way as I ride back to Chicago. I will spend one night camping at Dunewood Campground and I expect it to be cold. And, of course, there will be rain. What is a bike trip for Jane without rain??  

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Vernacular Flash

Readers of this blog know that I am addicted to Antiques Roadshow. I watch mostly for the description. Crenulated. Wingback. Bezel. That thing on the top of cabinet clocks. When is an object more than just a thing—when you hear one of the Keno brothers go into detail about it. You come to understand it is the sum of the parts, the work invested, the craftsmanship.

One of the appraisers was evaluating a book of police mugshots from Portland, Oregon circa 1900s. The term she used to describe it was vernacular, as in vernacular photos have become very popular.

Here’s how Daile Kaplan defined the term: The photography of the everyday, the photography that's a record, that's a document, that has a historic truth.

This is also how I might define flash memoir.

This is not the letter from Abraham Lincoln or the guy who found the Rembrandt in the trash. This is more like the story behind the toy train. I got it for Christmas one year and it’s been in our family ever since.

Some of us might use this as an excuse to get something out of the fridge or make popcorn. While some of us will lean closer to the TV and say out loud: I have something just like it! We learn that that thing we’ve always had and took for granted is now of value. That moment we almost forgot about, is suddenly the linchpin of an important memory. The thing that binds us together in a universal experience.

This is why it’s important to capture and write things down. We never know when the landline will disappear or that when we talk about a video or even now a DVD kids will look at us cross-eyed. We never know when writing the ordinary that it will someday become historic, a record of the past.

*the avocado-colored wall phone
*film cannisters
*station wagons
*MAD magazine

Try to think of something that was ubiquitous when growing up has already gone the way of all things. Write about it.
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Monday, April 9, 2018

The Thing that We Shall Not Name

So what’s been happening?

Well, there have been the edits on my new book coming out this fall. That was scary—until I finally opened the file and realized it wasn’t a deep hole. In fact, it was WAY easier than I thought it would be.

I’ve actually been putting a lot of things off, thinking they might overwhelm me. I try to reason with myself. Overwhelming is not death. It isn’t forever. It’s scary, yes, but it shouldn’t be paralyzing.

But it is/can be.

Which is why I’m going to confess: I’ve been somewhat writer’s blocked.

Of course, it might not seem like it with over a dozen publishing credits in the last year and the book contract. But most of this was previously generated material. The newest bits were also flashes, some as small as 50 words. It seemed I couldn’t get started. More than that my confidence level has been nil.

Again all this seems the opposite of what one would be experiencing especially after what must be objectively considered a “good” year.

I tried not to let Trump consume my emotional life. Yet, the anger and frustration is there. Boiling beneath the surface. At this point I don’t even want to talk or write about him anymore. He’s already taken up too much energy, valuable resources from me.

Maybe he was a convenient excuse. I think I know what’s been inhibiting me. And, when I tell you, I believe you will understand why I’ve been reluctant to start writing new stories, telling a tale longer than a few pages.

About 18 months ago I wrote a story. It was a bit like wringing out a washcloth. A struggle to get the words out. It was an ugly story. I knew it needed a whuppin’, a heavy-handed revision, and planned to get back to it. I waited and when I had gumption I went to my Documents file.

Where was it? Oh my God. I used a dozen search words and still nothing. I did manage to locate my research file and the file for false starts. You see I have a tendency not to accurately label or title files. Word tries to help me be better organized and if I were organized this would be a big help. But a disorganized person haphazardly doesn’t get around to using the tools in their toolbox.

I had a tech friend come and help. He found duplicates of the files I’d already (Now, finally!) organized. But not the story. It was gone. Then came the election.

Then my critique partner moved to California. I felt like I was losing my grip on so many things.

Well, this week I opened a blank page and SAVED it before even putting down a line of words. I named it the same name as the file I’d lost a year and a half ago. AND I REWROTE THAT MOTHER. I faced up and wrote it out better.

The relief I’m now feeling is like----I’m back!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Killer Flash Contest

Enter today! Win big by killing it!

The top three entries will win cold, hard cash.

$200 for Killer Flash winner

$100 for 2nd place

$50 for 3rd place

We also give mad props to 4th-10th place,
publishing them in our Killer Flash mega-issue
and in a future print anthology,

Follow these guidelines, and you could have some extra coin in your pocket, and some bragging rights as the Killer Flash winner.

– All submissions must absolutely be under 1,000 words, and we tend to look more kindly on 750 or fewer

$7 to enter contest

this is a KILLER FLASH contest, so something’s gotta die. But again, this can be in any form imaginable.

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Monday, April 2, 2018


Hey! my kid (yeah, she's not really a kid, but she's my kid) has a story in a new anthology: Bright Bones--writings about Montana.

Order a copy today for $20, because in May the cost goes up to $25

Super proud.