A Los Angeles Visit from St. Nicholas

With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.

Toyon ("Holly") Berries
Toyon (“Holly”) Berries in a Southern California December

‘Twas towards South California one clear Christmas Eve
That Santa and entourage readied to leave
Their snowy and frost-bitten home at the Pole
Delivery night was their annual goal

As always the reindeer all dratted and grumbled
And Rudolph their leader, he audibly mumbled
Santa said, “Rudolph, what is that you’re saying?
My Rudolph, is that a complaint that you’re braying?”

“I like Christmas Eve,” Rudolph said, “no one better
I don’t like L.A. with its cars and its weather
No cold there, no seasons,” he said, “and it bugs me
No feathery blanket of snow’s there to hug me.”

“It’s only one night,” Santa softly replied
“And kindly remember that children reside
In that sparkling city with winters so mild
They’re not even noticed compared to the wild

Winters more northerly climes endure yearly
I watch it all year as you know and it clearly
Has seasons all right. It’s the fog in the spring
That shelters the canyons and hillsides to bring

The summer most fierce which no green plant can bide
The people take refuge at beaches to hide
From airless and oven-like heat found inland
Then autumn with blast furnace winds scours the strands

And canyons with wildfire. When winter begins
The rains turn the brown hillsides green and within
The fire-ravaged canyons new seeds sprout and grow
The green spreads renewal more welcome than snow

The children who live there do not pine for winter
With cold they’ve not known. Let us go now and enter
The spirit of Christmas in South California
Posadas, poinsettias are waiting there for ya!”

Enjoy your winter solstice holiday of choice!

It’s Hockey Night in Ontario… California

20131012-192347.jpgIt’s preseason for ECHL minor league hockey! Here, the Ontario Reign lead the Las Vegas Wranglers 3-1.

— Update —

Ontario went on to a 5-1 victory!

I find minor league hockey in Ontario is an unalloyed pleasure. The players are young, and make up in enthusiasm what they may lack in experience. The fans are politer than those at Los Angeles Kings games (although as far as fan behavior goes, I understand that the LAPD would rather the Kings won the Stanley Cup than the Lakers, the NBA championship.) Besides…

I. Just. Like. Hockey. And I can afford a lot more live hockey in Ontario.

Massachusetts, August 2013

Sumac just beginning to turn, near Stockbridge, Massachusetts, August 2013
Sumac just beginning to turn, near Stockbridge, Massachusetts, August 2013

Hubby Al and I took a week’s vacation in the beautiful Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As Al grew up in a Boston suburb, and I spent four years at college in Cambridge across the river, we were both familiar with Boston and its environs. We’d done the Freedom Trail, seen Concord and Lexington. But I had never visited Cape Cod, and he’d only made it once — on a business trip many years after we’d left. The Berkshires, in the west of the state were also new territory to me. Al had been there as a Boy Scout, but had not been back in (mumble) decades.

We split our time between the Cape and the Stockbridge area. We went on a whale watching tour that was absolutely wonderful. They should have named our boat Dances With Whales, because the whales showed up, breaching, doing the backstroke while waving their flippers in the air, doing “wingovers” (sideways with one flipper in the air) along the surface, for all the world as if they were auditioning for Sea World.

My decent camera was in California. I won’t impose the horrid whale pics I managed to get with either my brain-dead phone or my iPad 2 on you.

The second half of the week was in the Berkshires. We based ourselves in a miserable little motel in Chicopee. Still, the Springfield museums were more than worthwhile, and I took Al on a hike around a pond near Stockbridge. This was the third week in August, and the leaves were just beginning to turn on the sumac. (Al assures me that it is sumac. It doesn’t resemble what is called sumac in California in the least.) My phone was up to the challenge of capturing an image of a bush, at least.

Very nice.

Camp NaNoWriMo, Day 6

20130706-182716.jpgOK, I didn’t write for three days. I’ve partly made up for it today, already logging 1800+ words, and hope to get a few more here at… the baseball game.

Yes, this is something I definitely can’t do in November. I am at an Inland Empire 66ers game, and plan to get some genuine Southern California non-Los Angeles ambiance for my novel. San Bernardino is about as far physically and spiritually from Hollywood as one can get and still be in Southern Cal.

Somehow I don’t think this qualifies me for the Secret Noveling Merit Badge, though. It’s hard for a self-employed person to earn that one…

Writers’ Tools

I may be a writer and actor by choice, but I was a techno geek for far too long for me to ignore the tools I use for writing.

20121212-131426.jpgIt’s been nearly a year since I gave up on the dear old DataChugger LD and asked for an iPad for Christmas. In the two years since I posted about the LifeDrive, the Internet (in particular electronic publishing) had been moving on, and the LifeDrive had stayed put. Software was no longer being updated. I couldn’t buy new books from my favorite authors to read on it any more.

My first thought was to get an iPod Touch (the monthly bills for an iPhone being in the “You gotta be kidding!” range), but the iPad won my heart in the Apple Store with its amazingly light weight and comparatively large screen area. Hubby generously gifted me with an iPad 2 for Christmas 2011.

I have not regretted my choice. My old books from the LifeDrive have moved over to Nook, new ones have been acquired on Kindle, both of which have iPad apps. The mobile hotspot I’d gotten to feed Internet to the LifeDrive works just as well with the WiFi-only iPad.

But then, in May 2012, I decided to take another whack at writing with Camp NaNoWriMo in June. I’d also replaced my ancient Mac with a new Mac Mini two years ago– which meant that I had NO tools to write with, as my Microsoft Word was too ancient to run on the newer Mac.

This resulted a great deal of flailing around, and acquisition of free and cheap software for the Mac and the iPad. (How happy is she? As happy as a geek on a software buying spree.) Here’s my current suite of tools.

Hardware:

  • Mac Mini with max memory available in 2010
  • 32Gb iPad 2 WiFi only
  • ZAGGkeys SOLO Bluetooth keyboard. (Can’t do serious writing without a keyboard. Sorry, Apple.)
  • Novatel 4260L mobile 4G LTE hotspot.

Software:

  • Scrivener. This Mac program is amazing. All the frustration of trying to build a REALLY LARGE document in Word, or any other word processor is gone. It even claims to remove distractions with its “composition mode.” (Ha. Might work for you. My brain creates its own distractions.)
  • Textilus. This IOS app (iPad side) lets me write on the iPad and sync with Scrivener without chewing up my data allowance. It is not the polished tool that Scrivener is, but it does what it does reasonably well.

Network services:

  • Dropbox. Without this free cloud service, using my iPad to write would be hard; iCloud isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. All my files are on their server AND on my Mac, AND available to my iPad. This is the substructure that enables Scrivener and Textilus to be in sync.
  • LogMeIn.This is a free (for what I want to do, at least) remote desktop service. If what I want to do absolutely cannot be done on the iPad, I fire up LogMeIn, connect the iPad client to the server installed on my Mac, and do it from my Mac. Wherever. (Note: it only works well if a 4G connection is available. It will work over 3G, but is ssslllooowww, and drops a lot.) While I can write without this on the iPad (and had to, while I was in the Sierras), it makes life easier. In fact, with this and a bluetooth keyboard, why bother with a laptop? Your tablet or smartphone will happily pretend it’s your desktop computer for those things that a tablet/smartphone can’t do. Yet. The only drawback: it tends to use a lot of data on my data plan.

Things I tried that didn’t really work for me:

  • Open Office. This free Mac Microsloth Office replacement is awkward, and even slower than the original. It is usable for small projects. I use it for spreadsheets, mostly.
  • QuickOffice Pro HD. Nothing wrong with it, as MS Office tools for the iPad go, and I use it for spreadsheets, letters, etc. But– it won’t edit files from Scrivener without losing formatting.
  • Index Card. This iPad app syncs with Scrivener and allows you to structure (outline) stuff in much the same way as Scrivener, but while the ordering part of the structure is transferred to and from Scrivener, the hierarchy is not. Also, no formatting available for main text you write in IndexCard, and it loses formatting from Scrivener. I spent too much time duplicating effort.

That’s the lot. Oh, there are all the usual wonderful widgets on my iPad, and on my Mac Mini, but these are the ones I use for writing. Other writers: What do you use?

Writers’ Retreat

A good deal of the output for my NaNoWriMo novel and more than half of son Andrew’s output (Yes, he won too!  And finished while we were there.) was accomplished in the lovely Sequoia National Forest.  Hubby Al had bought me five nights at the twee little cabin above for my birthday, and the three of us spent Thanksgiving there.

It was challenging in some ways; it was only 500 square feet and there were no internal doors, so that while we had some visual privacy (Al and I took the bedroom, Andrew the loft) there was no sound privacy; everyone heard every conversation unless wearing headphones. There was no dishwasher, no doubt because sanitation was via septic tank. The water heater was of very small capacity. Main cabin heating (desperately needed at 4500 feet in November) was via a wood stove, which I later learned was improperly configured, requiring the menfolk to fuss with it a good deal.

But — peace and quiet!  Living in The Big City, I really had forgotten what true, 150 proof quiet was.  Deer wandered across roads in the night with total unconcern.  (Truly, the roads were so twisty that you couldn’t get up enough speed to hit and damage a deer if you tried.) And the green!  Everywhere I looked was green.

Andrew and I got amazing amounts of writing done.  Poor Al was quite bored, and reduced to playing Sudoku on his iPad (no internet or cell phone service — did I mention that?)  We had mercy on him, and went with him in the car for a couple of outings to see BIG TREES, and quaint mountain villages.

The area we were in (Camp Nelson) was commercially unspoiled.  Not a big ski resort, comparatively few out-of-area tourists come in summer to see the big trees (the major place for seeing the giants is Sequoia National Park, some hundred miles north.) It is mostly a summer retreat for the little cities of California’s Central Valley (Porterville is the closest.)

I was truly sorry to leave. I would go again in a heartbeat.

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