Monday, August 28, 2017

A True Story by Bethany Buchanan

Guest Post by

I thought it was a sweet gig. And it was at first.

I had lived in the barn apartment for almost a year, and things were going well. It had always been a dream of mine to live in a barn and take care of the horses. High aspirations, I know. But I was finally living the dream. My landlords, John and Priscilla, lived in the main house, and couldn’t be nicer.

Every summer they went away for about two months to go sailing in and around Europe. As part of keeping things going at home while they were away, they asked me to drive their three vehicles to keep the batteries charged.

The truck was easy; but Priscilla’s car, a Mercedes, was much fancier a car than I am used to driving. For the past decade, I have driven a Ford F150 STX which is the most basic model of F150 available. It doesn’t even have power windows or power locks. So getting behind the wheel of Priscilla’s Mercedes felt like strapping into the space shuttle.

John’s car was an Audi A4 convertible. I have always had a soft spot for convertibles, so his was the car I was really looking forward to driving over the summer. Trips to the bank, post office, and grocery store would be a delight. But after only a few weeks, the car started having a harder time turning over when I turned the ignition switch. Thinking that perhaps once a week was not often enough to keep the battery well charged, I decided to drive it more often. But soon enough, one evening I found the battery completely dead. 

That weekend my sister Ruth came over for dinner and to hang out on Friday evening. We used her car to jump the Audi, and I drove it over to the mechanic’s which is only a mile away. The guys there said they would be happy to replace the battery, and I walked home. By Monday evening I got the call that the car was ready , and I could come pick it up. However, I waited until Friday evening to do so when I could get a ride over from Ruth instead of taking the time to hoof it over during the day. 

The next day, I was working as announcer at a local schooling Hunter/Jumper show. It was just a couple of miles up the road. I decided to take the Audi. After the show was over and I was leaving, I put the top down for the short drive home. I pressed the button, and the top unlatched, the trunk hatch opened to receive the soft top, and the soft top slowly started to fold itself back into the trunk.

And half-way there it stopped.

The trunk hatch was open, and the soft top was sticking straight up in the air. Nothing was moving. After a few seconds where nothing happened, I pressed the button the put the top back up. To my great relief the soft top started to close over me once again. But when it clunked down onto the top of the windshield, it stopped. It did not latch into place, and the trunk hatch remained open, blocking my view in the rear-view mirror. 

Once more I pressed the button to put the top up, but nothing happened. I pushed it the other was to see if the top would go down, but still no response. I turned off the engine and started the car again, but there was no sign of life from the convertible top. I was in a pickle.

I decided to drive the Audi straight back to the shop, which mercifully was only a few miles away. Since the trunk hatch was still open and sticking straight up in the air, I drove at a snail’s pace. Not daring to go over ten miles per hour, I hugged the right shoulder and crept along the fairly busy two-lane highway which connected the horse-show facility to the garage. 

When the mechanics finally checked the car out on Monday, they called to say the switch would need to be replaced. Finally I got the call that the car was ready, and I could come pick it up any time. Unfortunately, I was insanely busy. So it was a couple of weeks before I got a ride from a friend in the evening to go get it. 

The Sunday after I picked it up, I drove it to church on a beautiful clear morning. It wasn’t too hot yet, so I put the top down on my way to church. When I arrived, I put the top back up, because you can never trust Florida during the summer. A sudden shower can come out of nowhere and soak everything within moments.

After church, I went out to lunch with some friends as is my usual custom. It was quite cold in the restaurant, and I did not have a jacket. By the time we finished lunch I was glad to go out into the heat. Even though it was the hottest part of the day and the sun was shining brightly, I decided to put the top down for the quick jaunt home.

I sat in the parking lot of the restaurant and pressed the button to put the top down. The top unlatched, the trunk hatch opened to receive the soft top, and the soft top slowly started to fold itself back into the trunk. And half-way there it stopped. The trunk hatch was open, and the soft top was sticking straight up in the air, and nothing was moving.

I couldn’t believe it. I pressed the button the put the top back up, and the soft top started to close over me once again. But when it clunked down onto the top of the windshield, it stopped. It did not latch into place, and the trunk hatch remained open, blocking my view in the rear-view mirror. Just like last time. Only this time I was twelve miles from home instead of two or three.

I turned on the hazard lights and crept out of the parking lot. I believe it is an unarguable fact that there are a lot of idiot drivers in South Florida. As I drove slowly along the two-lane road I hugged the right shoulder to make it easier for overtaking cars to pass me when the lines on the road and oncoming traffic allowed it. However, at least one car decided that that meant there was plenty of room on the road for me, him, and the oncoming car to be in the two lanes all at the same time. 

At one point, a man on a motorcycle passed me going the other way; he then turned around, got behind me, and shouted that I should pull over. I pulled in to a fire department and asked if he was a mechanic. “Of sorts” was his response, which meant no. But he wanted to help. He opened the fuse box and checked to make sure it wasn’t a blown fuse. Which it wasn’t, but I told him I appreciated the effort all the same.

Once I was out of traffic on the long stretch of road between counties, things were less stressful, but no more enjoyable. The road has a wide shoulder as well as a bike lane, so I was able to get all the way out of the driving lane and putter down the shoulder. The song “Driving Slow on Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5 popped into my head, but I don’t think this was exactly what the singer had in mind.

What should have been a fifteen minute drive took an hour and twenty minutes. I had failed to charge my phone the night before, so my phone battery was only at 5%. I didn't even have my music or podcasts to help pass the time. And I don’t like listening to the radio. I tried not to think of all the things I needed to get done at home. I reminded myself that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. I tried to enjoy the scenery. I tried to be thankful that I didn’t have to walk everywhere. 

Once home, I drove the car straight into the garage. As far as I am concerned, there it can sit until John gets home. John and Priscilla have an office manager who used to have the same car, and as I have been keeping her apprised via text of what’s been going on with the car, her response has been, “Thank you for reminding me why I don’t own that car anymore! Lol.”

Thanks, Linda.

Monday, August 21, 2017

How Not to Make Your Own Solar Eclipse Glasses

There seem to be a lot of crazy ideas floating around about how to view the solar eclipse without sizzling your retinas.

Perhaps this should go without saying, but no matter what you've read on the internet, it is absolutely NOT safe to view the eclipse through any of the following:
  • Fake nose-and-glasses sets
  • Rolled up federal tax forms
  • Two doughnuts
  • Light mist from a garden sprinkler
  • Clear plastic spoons
  • A coconut bikini top
  • Bladder of a Portuguese man o' war
  • Antique monocle and/or pince-nez
  • Two mason jars filled with honey
  • Cheesecloth Zorro mask with no eye slits
  • Half a ping-pong ball on a stick
  • Disposable contact lenses
  • A one-way mirror
  • Straw hat over face
  • Petroleum jelly smeared directly on eyeballs
No matter what, do NOT use any of the above to view the eclipse. If you haven't had time to track down real solar eclipse glasses, make note to figure it out before the next one.

As for me, I plan to spend the day indoors with a cardboard box over my head - just to be safe.

Photo Credit:

By NASA/SDO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Fault in My Stars: My Problematic Book-Rating System

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
Cassius, Julius Caesar, (I, ii, 140-141)
William Shakespeare

I've been reviewing books online since 2011. In the last six years, I've read and reviewed over 1,200 books on Goodreads, writing short assessments and assigning star ratings for most of them.

I do have a system for assigning stars - though, admittedly, a subjective one. Since writing is both art and science, there's simply no way to assess a book objectively. However, I try my best to be straightforward.

Below in bold, you'll see how the star ratings are explained in the Goodreads system. Beneath is my explanation for how I assign them.

1 star - "I didn't like it." 

I don't use this rating very often, mostly because if I don't like a book, I don't finish it. If I do give one star, though, I explain why; but my reviews aren't mean or vindictive. They're an honest assessment of my reaction to the book: the story, the development, the writing, the dialogue, or some combination of those elements.

2 stars - "It was ok." 

For the most part, the books that I assign two stars aren't horrible: they're just not for me. Though some authors might be insulted by a 2-star review, I don't think they should be. Two stars means I actually read your whole book even though nothing about it particularly gripped me. So even though I clearly wasn't in the book's target demographic, you must have done something right.

3 stars - "I liked it." 

Good news! A three-star review means I stayed fully engaged the whole time. More than that, I got into it. I stressed over the characters or laughed out loud or genuinely learned new things. A three-star book is one I'll recommended - both generally online and specifically to friends and fellow readers who I know will appreciate it.

4 stars - "I really liked it." 

A four-star book offers more than just an enjoyable reading experience. It also has something that sets it apart: at least one element that the author does extremely well. Either the plot's perfect, the development exquisite, or the dialogue just killer. Whatever the reason, these books are clearly a cut above. If the writer has any other books out, I will track them down and read them. And I'll do more than just recommend these books: I'll actually pick up extra copies at used book stores and keep them on hand to loan out.

5 stars - "It was amazing."
Five-star books are better than great. They're rock-my-world amazing. Five-star reads not only do everything right and have standout elements, but they go further. They transcended genre and set a new bar for future reading experiences. I believe that any reader, regardless of taste or usual reading choices, would enjoy these. They're the books I'll come back to again and again. And I will do more than just recommend these and keep extras on hand. I'll buy multiple copies and pass them out unsolicited to friends, family, and fellow readers.

No Stars

Occasionally I don't assign a star rating. In some cases, it's because I have a personal connection to the author (we either know each other, share an editor, or write for the same publisher). In such cases, anything less than a 5-star review might offend; and yet unless those stars are truly earned, I would feel dishonest giving them (since I know that quite a few followers base their book selections around my reviews). Sidestepping the pressure, I write some honest thoughts about the book (although not all my thoughts) and post the review with no stars.

In other cases, I don't assign stars because I recognize that my personal response to the book has been unreasonably negative. Whether I take issue with the plot or the writer's underlying worldview, I dislike the book -- yet I recognize that my reaction is disproportionate, so I refrain.

My Turn's Coming

With my first books set to release this fall, I'm curious to see how my reaction to my books' online reviews will temper how I write them. Because that's bound to happen.

To keep up with my reading, feel free to follow me on Goodreads

See you over there!

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Notes from the Back of the Pack

This past weekend, I ran a 5k with my favorite running partner, who is currently thirty-four weeks pregnant. Having decided ahead of time to let her race-day condition dictate the pace, we planned a quick 5-minute warm-up walk and then some tight little run/walk intervals for the duration of the race. We started at the very back of the pack so that we weren't immediately trampled.

As a solid middle-of-the-pack runner, I'm accustomed to a race start quickly giving way to the rhythm of slapping steps and measured breathing. At the back of the pack, however, we joined a cheery throng of good-hearted jokesters, who commenced the race calling encouragement to one another and exchanging friendly insults. Jostling and shuffling their way across the start line, they fell into no recognizable pattern or rhythm. 

These people knew themselves. They were under no illusions about what we were all doing at the back. These were the fast walkers, fast talkers, and don't-care-about-the-clock-ers. 

And let me tell you, we loved it back there.

We quickly learned the advantages of running from the back of the pack:
  1. Less overt competition! No one at the back is in it to win it.
  2. Leisurely pace! You don't feel pressure to stay out of anyone's way.
  3. Entertainment! Surrounding runners actually have wind to chat -- and so do you.
  4. Free ego boost! If you bump into people you know, it's generally because you're passing them.
Not that it's a competition. That's what this race reminded me.

While I've never been fiercely competitive with others, I sometimes feel that I'm engaged in one long war against myself. Running has been no exception, and since I picked up the habit a few years ago, I've been constantly pushing for longer runs at higher speeds. It's never just about the running for me. There's always another goal.

This race reminded me, however, that not every event needs to trigger an internal battle. 

Sometimes it's okay to lean back and enjoy the run.

* * * *

Photo Credit:

By Fit stezky (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons