Tag: random

Travel Tuesday: The Land of Smiles

I love to travel, and I love to seek out experiences that maybe don’t involve the best judgment but always result in the best stories.

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Bangkok

Boats transporting tourists on the Chao Phraya River

 

Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles,” and aside from the apathetic customs agent at the Bangkok airport who expressionlessly stamped our passports, the country seems to be living up to its name.

According to the internet as well as several locals we’ve talked to, saving face is very important in Thailand. This means that Thais will smile not only when they’re happy but also when they’re seething inside at some affront from that damn tourist. And they’ll also smile when they’re ripping you off.

My son and I are spending a month in northern Thailand, and we opted to take the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, partly as a chance to see more of the countryside but also mainly because I like trains. This left us with about twelve hours to kill in the capital. We checked our luggage at the station, then ventured out to find some food and explore the neighborhood.

Part of being a Westerner in a non-Western country means that you’re an easy mark. I’ve spent enough time in India to realize just how much pale-skinned people stick out, and also how lazy tourists are and how easily they make dumb decisions. Tuk-tuk drivers and travel guides have also realized this, and that results in Westerners being accosted by offers to take them places rather than letting them walk.

As soon as my son and I stepped onto the sidewalk, a tuk-tuk driver approached us. Would we like a boat tour of Bangkok? Only two hours, and he would take us there, just 50 baht (about $1.50USD). I didn’t want to spend a whole day sitting at the train station, so off we went.

Our driver was very friendly and chatty. He knew enough English to tell us about his young daughter, and that America meant freedom, smiling all the while. He delivered us to a boat company’s dock, where we paid a ridiculous amount to take a boat along the Chao Phraya River to the floating market, then to the Royal Palace, and then back to our starting point. Our driver emphasized, several times, that we would end up where we started.

We climbed in our boat and headed out, our boat pilot (captain? driver?) delighting in hitting the wake so water sprayed in our faces. Several smaller boats approached us selling cheap crap — I mean handicrafts — and I bought a bottle of water from one just because the seller was so damn smilingly persistent. We stopped for lunch at a small market, then hopped back in the boat to go to the palace. We landed and paid a small dock fee, and then our pilot waved and sailed off.

I tried to find out when and where he was coming back to pick us up, but all the smiling people conveniently didn’t understand my English. We eventually stumbled across a man with a similar racket to our tuk-tuk driver, who took us back to his tour organizer — who then tried to sell us a pricy one-way ticket back to our original location.

I declined.

My son and I were fuming. We’d either been blatantly lied to and ripped off, or we’d misunderstood our own tour organizer and this new person was trying to rip us off now too. Then add insult to injury that the palace charged admission of 500 baht per person, it was 90 degrees and sunny with 90% humidity, and we were jetlagged from traveling halfway around the world in the last 36 hours. Suffice to say, we were not happy campers.

But then we stopped for a bit of perspective. The boat ride had been exhilarating, the market food was delicious, and we’d had the chance to see more of Bangkok than we would have had we stayed in the train station (especially when you add in the tuk-tuk ride we took back to the station). So we chalked it up to a stupid tourist learning experience and ended up enjoying the rest of our day.

After all, we were in the land of smiles.

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This story originally appeared on Medium.

 

Crochet as stress relief #AtoZChallenge

When I was in college, I taught myself how to crochet. It was a great way to keep my hands busy while watching TV, and now I frequently do it while listening to lectures for my online classes. it’s also something to do on long car rides (when I’m not driving, of course!), since I can’t read due to extreme motion sickness.

It’s also very relaxing for me. Counting stitches, as well as figuring out the symmetry and stitches to make a particular shape, helps me clear my mind.

I started out with blankets, but what I really like making now are little things: finger puppets, stuffed animals, and especially miniatures. Maybe it’s because they’re easier to do on the go? It’s one thing to work on a blanket while sitting at home on the couch; it’s another thing entirely to take into work when I’m watching the kids play basketball in the gym.

I’ve also moved on from other people’s patterns to my own. Sometimes I write them down, and sometimes what I make is a one-off. For example, I made a lizard, and then I made a dozen baby lizards with the same pattern.big lizard

I also use the same basic pattern for all my finger puppets.

Minions

Then, of course, I run into a problem – what do I do with a dozen crocheted lizards, gnomes, Minions, monsters, and whatever else I end up making?

So, I branched out and offer everything on Etsy. I currently have a dozen or so listings, but I’m always adding new stuff. I also have some stuff available through my crochet Facebook page (stuff like the Minions finger puppets, which I can’t sell on Etsy since they’re licensed), plus I’m always open to requests!Octopus fight

Every day this month, I’m participating in the 2018 A to Z Blogging Challenge. Please take a moment to check out some of the other blogs that are participating.

The world is falling apart – be a pessoptimist

fistI was at a talk today about race in education, specifically focused on the role that white teachers play in regard to black boys, and the presenter ended by urging us to be “pessoptimistic.”

It’s like optimism, but you don’t just hope things get better – you’re out there doing something and demanding results.

According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s

A philosophy that encourages forward-thinking optimism with an educated acceptance of a basic level of pessimism. Optimism’s fault is it’s naivete, pessimism’s it’s blind jadedness. We live on Earth and are human. There is, was and will be good and bad. Shit happens, dreams come true.

As I write this, American headlines are detailing our 18th school shooting this year, with at least 16 dead. As an educator, as a parent, as a human being – this breaks my heart, especially because it’ll happen tomorrow, or next week, and we’ll see the same response: handwringing, thoughts and prayers, and nothing.

When I go to my job, I work with kids who have been beaten and raped and witnessed attempted murders and all kinds of horrible things that no one, not even adults but especially not kids, should endure.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially when everywhere you look there’s negativity and it seems like people with power are going out of their way to be cruel to the least among us, only to protect and enrich themselves.

Today, however, was a reminder that we CAN do something.

We can become pessoptimists, and demand accountability from our leaders.

We can become pessoptimists, and step up as community leaders that will be accountable to our communities.

We can become pessoptimists, and talk to the people who are most affected and learn what they want us and need us to do.

I’m not saying bad things won’t still happen. They will. There will always be apathy and greed and a million other reasons why someone can walk into a school and kill 16 people, or beat their children, or systemically deny others basic human rights.

Change won’t happen overnight, but it also won’t happen at all if we don’t make an effort to do something, anything, to speak up and fix the problems around us.

Will you join me in being a pessoptimist? What will you do to make things better, not worse?

New stories to share!

Eight years ago, in 2009, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I came out of it with a really crappy novel and a renewed love of fiction writing – it had been over a decade since I’d done any creative writing. Although my first novel will never see the light of day without massive rewrites, I’ve built up quite a collection of short stories that are ready to be released into the world. Some have been published in various online and print journals and anthologies, while others have been compiled into collections on their own.

But I still have a lot of stories that are just languishing in the cloud. While I intend to release them in collections some day, when I have enough to combine into a decent offering, I want to be able to get them out NOW. I’ve been too busy with grad school over the past few years to focus on submitting them to publications, so I was glad when I found out about Medium as a platform.

Medium is a website that delivers your work to potentially millions of readers. I’ve set up an account, where every week or two I plan to publish something new. I already have a handful of stories that you can read.

I also plan to publish articles and guides related to my career passions – trauma-informed care, education, and research. I’m hoping my fiction readers aren’t too turned off by this stuff, but I don’t feel like maintaining two accounts so you’ll just have to learn while being entertained.

Please, if you have a chance, follow me on Medium and read the new stories I have to offer!

The most pointless roadtrip ever?

Alberta has dinosaurs.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I like traveling – especially roadtrips. I take a lot of them, and often for random reasons:

 

  • I went to Detroit for a couple days last month just so I could pop into John King Used Books and eat delicious shawarmas and hummus at my favorite Dearborn Middle Eastern restaurant.
  • For spring break 2016, we detoured through Tulsa, Oklahoma, simply because I wanted to see what was there (answer: the Center of the Universe and nothing else).
  • Last summer, I drove up to Nipigon, Ontario, because I wanted to see the bridge that had collapsed.
  • Summer 2014, we detoured through Medicine Hat, Alberta, because I liked the name.
  • I plan on heading over to Alliance, Nebraska, in the next couple weeks because I need to check out Carhenge.

So, basically, I am the queen of random roadtrips.

sunset

Heaven is watching the sunset on Lake Superior from a secluded cabin in the woods

Yet when I was up in the UP of Michigan last month (different trip from the Detroit one), while I was driving up through Wisconsin I remembered that episode of That 70s Show where the gang drove to Canada for a beer run. From Wisconsin – which doesn’t share a border with Canada (including water ones).

I checked and it’s about 3-5 hours to drive from northern Wisconsin to Canada (either Grand Portage convenience stores north of Duluth or Sault St. Marie). It’s 5+ from southeast Wisconsin (down near Chicago) to Windsor. Regardless of where in the state they live, driving from Wisconsin to Canada just for beer seems like a lot of effort – and this is coming from someone who wants to go to Flin Flon, Manitoba, and Truth and Consequence, New Mexico, simply because of the towns’ names.

Wouldn’t it have been easier and cheaper just to bribe someone in their town to buy them beer?

A high mileage odometer is a badge of honor

I like to travel. A lot. And seeing as how I’m kinda poor, being a grad student and all, most of my domestic travel is by car.

That’s why I’m happy to report this milestone I hit this week:

250k miles!

Yep, that’s right – I hit 250,000 miles on my car!

It had about 130,000 when I got it in the spring of 2012, so that’s 120,000 miles in 5 years – an average of 24,000 miles per year.

A lot of it, of course, is due to commuting to my university, driving 125 miles roundtrip 2-4 times a week for the past couple years. But it’s also a couple trips to Canada every year, and California, and the East Coast, and everywhere in between. So far in 2017, for example, I’ve gone to India, San Diego (flying, not driving though), Georgia and the Carolinas, and Michigan – twice. That’s a lot of miles. 🙂

timeline map

Google has a cool feature that plots your adventures on a timeline, and here’s what my US/Canada trips look like, starting in August 2013 (so excluding a roadtrip to New Orleans I took in March 2012). This summer, depending on my work schedule, I’m also heading to the Pacific Northwest and taking several small trips around the Midwest. And I’d love to get down to Mississippi to research the sequel to my novel Yours to Keep or Throw Aside (spoilers: it involves Aida in Andrew’s hometown). No matter where I end up going, though, I’m looking forward to adding more dots!

How’s your odometer looking? Any memorable trips you’ve taken or cool dots you’ve earned?

Thursday Things: The best book store in North Carolina closed!

thursday thingsOne of the settings in my novel Yours to Keep or Throw Aside is a bookstore, McKay’s, in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. It’s where Andrew and Kasey, the two main characters, meet, and several scenes take place in its attached coffee shop.

While Asheville does have a downtown bookstore, I actually modeled McKay’s after the Books-A-Million I worked at while I was in college – not that the specific details of the store actually matter to the story, other than it has coffee, books, tables, and couches. I don’t think its baristas or employees even have names.

I stole the name from my favorite used bookstore, Edward McKay’s in Raleigh, NC. I probably spent way too much money there (is that even possible at a used bookstore?), but they had a wonderful selection of everything – lots of obscure titles that look great sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. When I was back in the Triangle in March, I may have spent an hour or two there, browsing the shelves and buying a couple bags of books.

AND NOW THEY’RE CLOSED FOREVER!!!!!

About a week or two ago, without any warning, they announced they’d permanently closed that store (although they still have a couple locations around the state).

Good news, however, in that MY McKay’s – my fictional one in Asheville – is still open, and it’ll even have a brief cameo in the sequel to Yours to Keep or Throw Aside that I’m currently plotting out.

RIP, Edward McKay’s. 🙁

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YTKTA coverAbout Yours to Keep or Throw Aside:

After her husband’s infidelities are revealed, Kasey Sanford just wants to rediscover who she is. After an abusive childhood and years as a career soldier, Andrew Adams just wants someone to tell him that he’s doing the right thing with his life. When their paths cross, Kasey and Andrew embark on a tumultuous journey that demonstrates just what they’re willing to do to save the ones they love.

ebook and paperback: Amazon

audiobook: Amazon * Audible

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

 

Thursday Things: random facts about the history of mental hospitals

ThursdayThingsMy short story “Tim and Sara” takes place at Kirkbride, a state hospital. Although the story is fictional, the hospital isn’t.

My Kirkbride is based on the state hospital in Fergus Falls, Minnesota (which is also the building on the story’s cover). What makes this building different than other state hospitals is its design and purpose.

Pre-Civil War, people suffering from mental health issues in the US were treated like criminals: locked up in tiny cells, often shackled and abused.

In the 1840s, Dr. Thomas Kirkbride came to the now obvious conclusion that people suffering mental health issues would do better in airy, light-filled buildings with private rooms, so he designed a bunch of state hospitals that tried to respect patient dignity. The Fergus Falls building was one of these.

As the US has moved to community-based, out-patient treatment for people with mental health issues, many Kirkbride buildings have been torn down or sit empty, like the one in Minnesota.

Fergus Falls state hospital

Fergus Falls state hospital in 2013

I used to drive past it on the interstate, and although no one’s there now, it still makes for a cool story.

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Tim and SaraAbout “Tim and Sara:”

The victim of debilitating flashbacks, Tim is content to spend the rest of his life at Kirkbride, a state mental hospital. But his friend and fellow resident Sara is concerned that she has to save her soul before it’s too late, and so she devises a plan to break them out of the hospital. Can Tim help his friend while holding onto what’s left of his sanity?

Available for $.99 at Amazon or free through Kindle Unlimited

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Thursday Things is a weekly-ish feature highlighting little known facts, ideas, and stories behind my stories. Is there something you want to know more about? Let me know!

Why I get political on social media

protest picOne of the strongest suggestions for authors is to avoid politics on social media so you don’t offend your readers. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll notice that I do not follow this advice. Here’s why, in no particular order (as well as why I won’t stop):

  1. Professional obligations. I’m currently in a social work PhD program. Although I’m not currently a licensed social worker (hopefully I’ll have time to take the test and get my LMSW this summer), I still follow the National Association of Social Workers’ Code of Ethics, which calls on us to advocate on the behalf of our clients. When crappy things happen that adversely affect my clients, I’ll speak out about it.
  2. Personal impact. This goes along with #1. A lot of politics affects me personally – like when the Iowa House did away with collective bargaining for state employees (including graduate students), which means that there’s a good chance I’ll lose my tuition scholarship and healthcare for next year. Politicians listen to their constituents, at least at a local/state level. Speak out for me and I’ll speak out for you.
  3. Client, friends, and family impact. Here’s another anecdote – a Sudanese woman in my grad program went back to Sudan to visit her dying mom over Christmas break. She made it back to the States two days before the travel ban went into effect. Had she not been allowed into the country where she’d lived for the past ten years, she would’ve been separated from her husband and three kids. I share issues that effect the people in my life, because chances are they’re affecting the people in your life too.
  4. Setting an example. My son loves politics and history. By speaking out, I’m showing him that it’s possible to change the course of history through your actions.
  5. Lack of awareness. Lots of people aren’t aware of what policies are being enacted and repealed, as well as how those policies are being followed. By letting people know what the issues are, hopefully they can help find a solution.
  6. My book content. I write about a lot of social issues. The Futility of Loving a Soldier is about veterans’ issues. Yours to Keep or Throw Aside deals with domestic violence. “A Place to Die” focuses on end-of-life care. “Us, Together” touches on the impact of poverty on children. If you’re offended by my posts, chances are you wouldn’t like my books either.

These are just a few brief reasons I’m political. And until the bad hombres in charge get their acts together and stop taking away needed programs and infringing upon our rights, I’m going to keep posting. And writing about it too.

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What are your thoughts on authors getting political?

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