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Friday, August 11, 2017

Flagg's storytelling makes up for frustrating beginning

Have you ever picked up a free book or two just because the cover looked interesting?
I recently picked up "Daisy Fay & the Miracle Man" by Fannie Flagg, who is, of course, well-known for authoring the book "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe." 

"Daisy Fay & the Miracle Man" is worth the read, despite
the first half being seriously frustrating. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

I so enjoyed Flagg's style in "Fried Green Tomatoes" that I didn't think I could go wrong with "Daisy Fay." For the first half of the book, I was wrong. 
It's set in the South during the 1950s, and focuses on Daisy Fay Harper, an 11-year-old whose father's a drunk and mother is fed up with it. The book is composed of Daisy Fay's journal entries. The first half of the book was not fantastic. I was annoyed by how it seemed to jump all over, but that's life and Daisy Fay's journal entries reflect that pretty well. 
Once we jumped into 1956 about half way through the book, Daisy Fay's life really seemed to take shape. It was in a serious upheaval all through the first half. 
The second half of the book lived up to critics' acclaims on the back cover - "Side-splittingly funny!" and "A hilarious, endearing novel!" Throughout the first half of the book, I just shook my head at how dumb and irritating Daisy Fay's dad was.
Several times, I set the book down in disgust and my husband asked why I kept reading. I replied, "I'm invested in it now. I have to see how she turns out."
Throughout the second half, I giggled through almost every page. 
The ending - which I will not divulge - was particularly hilarious and satisfying. It left me wanting Flagg to write another book just so I could know what actually happened to Daisy Fay Harper. 
So, if you do pick up this book, stick through the first half so you can get to the second.
It is worth the two-day read. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"On Writing" Best Writers' Book on the Market

For Christmas, my brother sent me On Writing by Stephen King, which I requested.
Many writers have praised this book as the best book on writing. A few of my writer friends have said the same thing. While I loved the narrative portion of King's book, in which he tells snippets of his life that influenced him as a writer, I really love the sections called "Toolbox" and "On Writing." 
The entire book is geared toward those who write fiction, but really this book can apply to every writer -- even this trained journalist. Many of the principles he discusses I've often applied as a reporter, such as don't write in passive voice, don't be over descriptive, and be brief but clear. 
But as a (struggling) fiction writer, I find King's list of tools we should all employ particularly helpful.

Every writer needs these items in their toolbox (so says
Stephen King, and I think we should listen to the King.)
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
This book is inspiring and around every bend are humble
words of wisdom from an incredibly down-to-earth guy.

(Photo by Anna Jauhola)

I wrote down the overall list of tools I need to keep in my writer toolbox at the beginning of the section in the book. And I completely agree with each and every one. I can always improve on vocabulary, grammar, and basic elements of style, but the tool I struggle with the most is PRACTICE. 
King's advice for this? You just have to. You have to force yourself to practice. Good advice, Mr. King. But how? His thoughts are simple and to the point. 
He says (and I'm paraphrasing here) to pick a time every day to write, and preferrably a place where you can close the door, literally, so that you are able to concentrate. 
If you're serious about writing, you will find and make the time to practice. AND, the best part? It doesn't matter what you write. Just as long as you write. That's one way to generate ideas. 

King's varied background in the 1950s, 60s and 70s seems, at least to me, so ridiculously frought with situations that inspired his stories, it's still hard for me to imagine drawing any inspiration from my childhood spent in on the northern prairie of Minnesota. 
His book has moved me, though, and I've been racking my brain for any details - however small - on which to base a story. 
A few come to mind. 
Cemeteries were a central theme in my life, as odd as that sounds, and are something I've always wanted to use in a good story.
My brothers and I spent a good deal of time at the river growing up. That setting could spawn a story or two. 
Most of my time was spent at school, which could obviously spawn a lot of ideas. 
A good portion otherwise was spent at either my part-time job at a gas station or at Grandma's house. Come to think of it, Grandma's could be a great setting for some interesting stories. 

So you see? King really got me thinking. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! In his book, he told the story of how he first envisioned the story for Carrie. He was a janitor just out of high school and had never seen a container for feminine napkin disposal until he was cleaning the girls' locker room. He envisioned an embarrassing scene of a girl getting her first menstrual cycle in the shower at school while her classmates taunted her. He later remembered a tidbit about adolescent girls developing telekinetic abilities around puberty. He connected the two and he had a story. 
I've been working, and will continue practicing, to identify small details like that and couple them with life experience to find a good combo to create a compelling story. 
Can I do it? Sure! With the right amount of practice and the use of my writer's toolbox, I can succeed.

If you are serious about writing fiction, or any kind of writing really, pick up On Writing. It's completely worth it, even if you aren't a Stephen King fan. His advice is solid and his success speaks for itself - he obviously did something right. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Discovering S.D. Communities: Wessington Springs

When we moved to South Dakota, and I began venturing around the countryside as a reporter, I found so many great small communities with fantastic hidden gems. 
I'm featuring one of my favorite communities for the first of many summer outings my family and I are taking. In conjunction with Jacob's third baseball game, we took a road trip to Wessington Springs, S.D., a community of just more than 1,000. We arrived an hour early for the game, and I suggested we stop by Shakespeare Garden.
This amazing garden, up on a beautiful hill on the west side of town, turned 90 years old in April. It is home to thousands of flowers and gorgeous landscaping, AND the only structure with a thatched roof in South Dakota.

Derek and Jacob visit with Kathy Dean at the Ann Hathaway
Cottage in Shakespeare Gardens in Wessington Springs, S.D.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
A little about the history of the garden on a plaque as you enter the historic landmark. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
The shining jewel in the garden is the Ann Hathaway Cottage, which is registered as a National Historic Landmark, and - of course - features the thatched roof. Unfortunately, the cottage wasn't open when we visited the garden. But, we met Kathy Dean, a community volunteer who was working on removing plants around the cottage to make a clear path for sprinkler heads. Dean is one of many volunteers who help take care of the garden and cottage, and was full of friendly information. 
The Shakespeare Garden's annual music in the garden events begin in July, and I'm excited to venture back to the beautiful town in the hills. The cottage will be open then! And I'm so excited to see it. 
Since we couldn't visit the cottage this time around, we took a slower walk through the garden to enjoy the crazy variety of flowers and plants, such as: irises, daisies, peonies, snapdragons, and hastas. The garden offers several benches for resting and viewing, a little pond with a fountain, and - my favorite - a tiny fairy garden.

This is one of two fairy gardens you can discover at the
Shakespeare Garden! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

It was a fun treat to accidentally discover this tiny little village, complete with houses, garden furniture, fences, and fairies. I was just tickled. 
I'm pretty sure I could visit Shakespeare Garden a hundred times and still be excited to stop by just to enjoy its beauty. The people of Wessington Springs truly have a treasure hidden within the edge of its western residential area.

The grounds are open to the public during daylight hours. The cottage is open by appointment, but also during special events - like the music in the garden, which will take place every Thursday in July. 
Oh, one more thing. Thank You, volunteers, for keeping this amazing landmark in such great condition for the public. And to Kathy, who took time to visit with me and my family. We will be back! And on our next trip, hopefully we can take the day to see a few other places in town.

P.S. Jacob's game was awesome! He's on the Rookie team and they defeated Wessington Springs 25-15. Jacob scored a run and tagged one player out when he played second base! 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Black Hills: Worth every penny - even for the flat tire

"What's the best part of our vacation so far, buddy?" I asked Jacob as we drove back to our hotel on day two of our Black Hills vacation.
"The rock shops!" he said.
That's right. Jacob's favorite part of our amazing vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota was the rock shops. Naturally, I did not take any photos of Jacob with his rocks. So I will first share this classy photo:
Jacob and Frances at Mount Rushmore National Monument -- a trip he's been
begging to take for two years. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Mount Rushmore was a close second, he said, third was the swingset at Mountain View Lodge & Cabins, and then fourth was the cave at Jewel Cave National Monument. And in fifth place, the Museum @ Black Hills Institute (dinosaur skeletons).
"Really? The swingset?" I asked.
"Yes! It's awesome!"
Again, I did not take a picture of him on the swingset, which is goofy, because he spent a LOT of time on the swingset while we were there. But, I did take this shot of the view out or hotel room door:
We woke up to these lovely rocky hills every morning. Mountain View Lodge & Cabins
was amazing! Best stay around! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
On our last night, we had a bonfire!
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Our first morning in the Hills greeted us with a flat tire. Thankfully, our host, Kirsten, pointed us to Dales Tire in Rapid City - awesome service!
Two hours, two nails, a fixed tire, and $20 later, we were on the road to Mount Rushmore. 
It's still just as amazing as when I first saw it 10 years ago. This year, though, we ventured down the Presidents Trail so Jacob could get the best possible view of the Four Famous Faces, as he kept calling them. 
And he did. Around every turn he got a different view of the monument. This was his favorite: 

(photo by Anna Jauhola)
Until we got to this particular position quite a few miles from Mount Rushmore on day two:

Mount Rushmore from Iron Mountain Road. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

A view of Mount Rushmore through one of the tunnels on Iron Mountain Road
on day two of our trip. (photo by Anna Jauhola)
After a few hours at Mount Rushmore, we stopped through Keystone and took a quick look around. My husband gifted me with a Black Hills Gold ring for Mother's Day and my birthday. Great gift! 
This is where Jacob discovered the joy of filling a pouch with beautiful rocks. From then on he couldn't help but talk about rocks and beg to stop at every rock shop along the way. 
Then we drove back through to Hill City and stopped at the Museum @ Black Hills Institute. It's a great museum full of prehistoric skeletons and fossils, many of which have been unearthed in South Dakota. It's amazingly full of sealife found in South Dakota, too. Why? South Dakota was mostly covered in water during prehistoric times. 
The most impressive piece in the museum is Stan, the most complete male Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. He's an impressive specimin and Jacob was amazed, despite being super tired.
Jacob with Stan the T-rex at the Museum @ Black Hills
Institute in Hill City. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
The Museum is totally worth the admission, which is way cheap, by the way, for a year's pass! Definitely should be on your tour list the next time you go through the Black Hills. 
After the Museum, we went to ..... a ROCK SHOP, just a block from the Museum. So, Jacob spent some money there. 

On day two, we ventured to Jewel Cave National Monument. Bonus - it was free! April 15 happened to be National Parks & Monuments Day, offering free admission to the park and cave tours. 

A close-up of the end of the bacon strip.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
My camera skills aren't great, so my pictures from the cave tour aren't awesome, but below are a few I got that are still pretty cool. 
This is the largest strip of bacon formation
within Jewel Cave. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

One of the calcite formations inside Jewel Cave,
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)

Jacob enjoyed the cave, really, despite his
unimpressed expression. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

After the cave, we took a drive along Iron Mountain Road. It is a beautiful drive, which includes three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore and pigtail bridges that are unique to the area. We saw three deer, five antelope and one bison. 
Then we had enough time left in the day that we drove back into Rapid City and went to Reptile Gardens. It's still super amazing. Jacob wanted to go back on Sunday, but decided not to. Here are a few pics from that excursion: 
Jacob was not excited about this big rock, but about either lizards
or brightly colored birds behind me. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Derek and Jacob enjoying the botanical gardens. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

Bubba the parrot showing off. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Derek eyeballin' a Chinese crocodile. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Gigantic sea turtle skeleton! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
There's one weird prairie dog in this village. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
He was only crabby because I made him take
this photo. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
On Sunday, after we checked out of our beautiful hotel, we took a quick drive up to Deadwood. It was Easter, so very few businesses were open, and we just walked around. We did take the steep drive up to Mount Moriah Cemetery to see Wild Bill Hickok's and Calamity Jane's gravesites, but did not trek up to Seth Bullock's grave, 700+ feet above the cemetery. 
Jacob observing Wild Bill's gravesite.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Signs denoting where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane
are buried. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)

Perhaps on another trip, we'll go visit Mr. Bullock, but holy crap, that was a steep road and we were tired. 

On our way out of town, we did stop at the Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, but I haven't downloaded those photos yet. I'll add them later. 

For anyone who hasn't been to the Black Hills, it is definitely a trip worth saving for! I can tell you, it's one you should take over and over again, at different times of the year. We went in April because it was cheaper. Despite the fact many of the shops weren't open, it was a great vacation! 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Honoring Veterans through Park Project

Working on Main Street in Mitchell comes with its pride and challenges.
I'm proud to be a part of a successful small business and happy to serve customers who visit The Framer. We have some amazing and unique shops downtown. Sometimes, it's hard to boast about downtown, though, because the amazing shops are accompanied by some rundown buildings and empty lots.
BUT! There is good news! While some property owners do not take care of their buildings, most do and that's what makes Main Street awesome.
The most recent addition to Main Street will be a brand new Veterans Park at the corner of First and Main. Finally, construction has started for this long-awaited project.

Ground work started on building the Mitchell Veterans Park last week.
It's going to be a beautiful entrance point for our Main Street! (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
This park has been in the works for a long time, and so many people and organizations have been instrumental in making the park happen.
The short background started several years ago when the roof of the building that formerly occupied this empty lot collapsed. The building sat for a year or so before anyone could figure out how to demolish it without ruining the American Legion next door. The American Legion and the building shared a wall.
Once officials finally had the building torn down, the lot sat empty for some time while ideas formed and fundraising began. Slowly, the public could notice changes at the scene.
A crew sandblasted and painted the huge side of the American Legion building. Then the Mitchell Veterans Park signs and lettering appeared. NOW, we have light at the end of the tunnel! Soon, the park will come into existence and we'll have one more reason to boast about Mitchell's downtown.
Not only will the park beautify the southern entrance point to Mitchell's Historic Main Street, it will honor those who have fought and served to protect us.
What a fitting way to honor our veterans! They so deserve our respect and this great observance of their sacrifice. Thank you to ALL who served and are serving.
I, and many others, are looking forward to seeing Mitchell Veterans Park completed and being a place of beauty, reverence and pride for Downtown Mitchell.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen! For your entertainment ...

It is so gorgeous outside, I couldn't resisit a little excursion to a lesser-known nature area on the north end of Mitchell Lake. 
Celia Kelley's Pines is a small trail system through a pine wooded area, rich with history. Celia Kelley helped found it in 1932 in order to better preserve the area around Mitchell Lake, which is a reservoir built in 1928. If you live in or around Mitchell, definitely check this place out. It's so peaceful. 

This sign explains the history of this secluded trail system.
(Photo by Anna Jauhola)
The trail system leads quickly to a small clearing with a couple picnic tables and rocks. It's wonderfully secluded and brings you today's post. 
Purely for your entertainment, I took some self portraits.Okay, so that's not entirely true. I wanted a new headshot and there's no improving this face, so I figured the great outdoors can only distract you with its rugged beauty. 
Below is the final shot I liked the best (with a little bit of editing).

Here's a great senior photo, at age 33, with help from
my notebook and cell phone that propped up the camera.
(Self Portrait by Anna Jauhola)
On a hilarious note, it took a bit of tweaking and moving around and adjusting the camera and settings and so on to get this amazing photograph. First of all, I had to remember how the hell to work the timer. It's not that hard, by the way, I just had to turn one dial. Doi
Then, I had to remember tips I learned from my photographer friend, which took a little more digging in my scrambled brain, but I remembered. 
Below, please enjoy some of my laughable outtakes. And, be careful, the pale glory of my skin may cause the following: Sunburn, eye irritation, uncontrollable giggles, bursts of laughter.

At left, I was just setting up, so I look like a complete idiot. At right, I totally did NOT focus the camera, nor did I even remotely have figured out where it was pointed.
Below: Yeah, I fogot to scale back the zoom. HAHAHA!

Here are two failed attempts at some decent self portraits. The one on the left can give you a great tan, or burn, depending on your skin type.
(In case you're wondering, I did NOT burn in my half hour or so at this park.)

Below, however, is a complete Senior Picture pose that doesn't look entirely horrible. It's a keeper -- for a few good laughs on my off days.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Forgive, but learn

Intent is all well and good, as long as you follow through.
"I intended to do my homework, but I didn't." 
Throughtout life, I've intended to be more understanding, more helpful, more forgiving. It's hard to be any of those things when I often lose sight of anything but the juggling act of doing things for other people and making my family happy.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about ordering a token from MyIntent.org
I received the token late last week, imprinted with my chosen word: 

This token now resides on my keychain. I see it every day, and it keeps me mindful
of letting go of my toxic attitude and remembering I am worth something. (Photo by Anna Jauhola)
Why did I choose this word? 
My life has seemingly been filled with failure after failure, with various people reminding me of these failures in different ways. 

I am my biggest obstacle.

When life doesn't go according to plan, I completely blame myself, which can have negative impacts on those around me. 
In recent years, forgiveness has played a large role in releasing guilt I should never have felt. 
But forgiveness is a lot more difficult than most can imagine, particularly for oneself. I anguish daily for the mistakes I've made in life, rather than focusing on the triumphs and joys I've found in being a mother, a wife and a writer. 
So, my word FORGIVE is to remind myself that I am good enough, I am strong and that everyone makes mistakes. Forgiving those mistakes gives me worth and creates my strength. 
My intent is to make sure the word "forgive" stays in my mind and that I use it often for myself, and for others - for to give ourselves a break from anger and resentment will help create a better world.