Andi Winter

Writer, Reader, Tea Drinker, Chrononaut

Category: life (page 1 of 4)

Hitting the wall

brick wall

Exposing the wall under the plaster – hits a little too close to home

I didn’t think it would happen to me. After all, I’ve been writing for around fifteen years, I’ve “won” Nanowrimo eight times, I led/taught a writing group for two years, and I regularly give talks on “How to Write a Novel in 30 Days”. Heck, I published a book! I’ve got this writing thing down.

Um, yeah, no.

Not entirely sure what happened. I started some flash fiction stories back in July thinking that would be a simple, quick kick in the butt for getting some stories written. Come on— five stories running 500 words each. Piece of cake!

Um, yeah, no.

Each of those stories went longer than 500 words. Some a little longer (1400 and 1800 words), a couple longer than that (3000 and 3200 words), and then the Big Kahuna at 8200 words.

And I don’t think I was longwinded.

Then I went to Japan and that took me way off course between the planning, packing, and coordinating with friends over there. Had a great time (despite catching a monster head cold), and was looking forward to getting back into the swing of writing things. After all, November is National Novel Writing Month, or as I was thinking, “National Short Story Writing Month”. I’ve completed the Nanowrimo challenge enough to know that I can do it, so I set a goal of writing 30 stories in 30 days. It would be a stretch for me, but I read about other people who had done it and had amazing experiences. I wanted those experiences, too!

Well, I certainly got an experience. Just not the one I was expecting.

See, I hit a wall. A very big wall. The wall writers (usually the inexperienced or not-completely-dedicated) will bemoan. The dreaded Writer’s Block.

I thought it couldn’t happen to me. I was smarter than that, more dedicated than that. From everything I had seen, “Writer’s Block” was just an excuse people give for not being able to sit their ass down and write.

That’s true, but I think there may be something more behind it.

And that would be Fear.

Ah, yes. Hello, dear friend Fear. It has been awhile.

So I am working my way through this, and will share that process as I figure it out.*

Photo source: Gabriele Diwald



*Really. If I can help others who are struggling with this, then it will have been worth it. Painful, but worth it.

I’m not dead – I just went to Japan

map, passport, camera

Travel! Yay!

So you know how your life is just humming along, everything is cruising smoothly with not a care in the world, and then all of a sudden you go into overdrive?

Yeah, that was mid-September through, oh, about now.

The thing is, I kind of forgot I had a trip to Japan planned. I know you’re saying, “How could you forget you were going to Japan?”

Well, you see, life was humming along . . .

Honestly I have no freaking idea how I forgot. The best I can figure is that I had the airplane tickets and then my brain said, “Tickets!” and promptly went back to the usual state of things.

Saw a lot of this while in Japan. Except with the phone on a selfie stick.

Usually I would have been obsessing planning from the get-go: itinerary, lodgings, transportation, Buddhist temples, bookstores. This time there was pretty much none of that.

Oh, yeah, I remember now. It was mid-summer when I got the airplane tickets. You know, mid-summer. In Oregon. The one season where the sun will shine and it is absolutely delightful to hang out outside.*

So at T-minus seven days to departure, regular life got pushed aside and the focus turned to JAPAN.

My apologies for the delay in getting back to the blog. It would seem that not only did a monster head cold (which I picked up on the trip – what an awesome souvenir!) lay me low, but did you know that jet lag actually gets worse the older you get? Or maybe it’s just me. It took a few days for me to acclimate to the 16 hour time difference this direction. And I still have the lingering cold, but I had a great time catching up with friends, exploring areas of Japan I had never been to (Ninja Temple! JAXA!), and getting my Japanese language skills back.

That said, it’s good to be home. Just in time for Nanowrimo!**

Japanese tea house

I am totally going to build myself one of these in the backyard. But probably without the moat.


*Unless there are forest fires that are blanketing the air with smoke, and you have to remain indoors because, seriously, the smoke is so bad. And do not get me started on the idjut who set off the Eagle Creek fire – WHICH IS STILL BURNING! Capital punishment would still be too light for that twerp.

**Actually, I think this year will be NaShoStoWriMo, as I will attempt to write 30 short stories in 30 days. Because a 50,000 word novel was just too easy.***

***I’m kidding about ‘easy’.


So the eclipse came

Natural pinhole camera effect through the Japanese maples

Partial eclipse viewable via pinhole camera effect of the trees.

And went, and I was so very wrong about “oh, 98% of totality is close enough.”

Yeah, no.

I got to watch* the eclipse from the comfort of my driveway with deck chairs, coffee, and maple bars. Actually, that’s probably how I would spend a nice summer morning regardless of Apocalyptic Doom. Or especially, in that case.**

Most of the time I spent dashing between the house (with KPTV’s live newscast—oh no! Fog has descended on Lincoln City!) and the outside.

What surprised me was that it got eerie. I expected the birds to stop chirping, but the change in sunlight quality surprised me. As the moon eclipsed the sun and started blocking the light, the sunlight seemed to turn almost blue, like a grey filter was getting applied to the world. Then the temperature quickly dropped and I had to run inside to grab a fleece jacket and wool socks. No wonder one could think the world was coming to an end! And then before I knew it***, the eclipse was over and the sunlight got warmer, the birds returned, and it was time to see about lunch.

As much as I enjoyed getting to stay home and watch the (mostly) eclipse there, now I would like to have the full-on Total Solar Eclipse Experience.****

If I can only remember where I filed the eclipse glasses . . .



*”Watch” via eclipse glasses, a welding helmet, a cereal box pinhole camera, and natural pinhole cameras through the trees. Not all at one time.

**Probably with a stronger drink, though.

***Seriously. It was all of maybe one minute.

****That didn’t come out right. I meant more of a “the moon completely covers the sun and there is absolutely no sunlight” full-on TSEE.

The eclipse is coming! And now I get it

male action figure in a panic

Oh, no! The eclipse (and a whole lot of crazy) is coming!

There has been a crazy amount of hype* around the upcoming total solar eclipse, with daily updates of estimated visitors to Oregon (now at 1 million!), announcements of National Guard readiness, tales of preparation at local hospital emergency rooms, in addition to the reminders to essentially prepare for the Zombipocalypse: have a full tank in your vehicle, take lots of water and food, have an emergency kit and a communication plan for your family, be prepared for no cell phone service, and have a stash of weapons readily available**.

I will admit that I’ve been more on the side of the Grinch or Scrooge about the eclipse. I mean really— it’s two minutes of darkness. I get more than that every night. And as for the Zone of Totality***, seriously, my fellow Oregonians: in the grand scheme of things 99% is pretty darn close to 100%. You don’t need to trek to the coast or eastern Oregon to get the PERFECT viewing spot.

But perhaps I was mistaken.

The other night I saw this TED talk and my view has completely changed. It’s only twelve minutes. Do yourself a favor and watch it. Really. Go ahead. I’ll be waiting right here for you when you get back.


So, am I right?

After watching that talk, for the first time I thought, “Maybe it would be worth getting to that absolute 100% Zone of Totality to see the eclipse.”

And then I saw the local news with all of the arm-waving and ZOMG EVERYONE IS COMING AND IT WILL BE A DISASTER.****

Guess I will have to settle for watching a 99% solar eclipse from the comfort of my back yard. With snacks, drinks, and a greater appreciation of our place in the universe.



*I’m understating this.

**Okay, maybe they aren’t saying that last one, but you know it’s implied.

***Doesn’t that sound like something out of Superman?

****There is already a 15 mile traffic backup in eastern Oregon. Granted, it’s for an electronic music festival being held out there through the weekend (“The Global Event of a Lifetime” per, but still.

One time, one meeting

hands holding a cup of tea

There is only this moment

I studied Japanese tea ceremony for awhile* and one of its key concepts** is Ichi-go, ichi-e: 一期一会 “one time, one meeting”. It seems suitably vague and mysterious, but it permeates every aspect of the ceremony.

If you go to a Japanese tea ceremony, you will sit on straw tatami mats while the host makes you a bowl of green tea. You will eat a sweet confection while watching the host make the tea, and then you’ll drink the tea when offered the bowl. Then you will sit back and watch as the host finishes the ceremony by putting the tea components away, before then leaving.

Eat a little, drink a little, get some entertainment in the meantime. It seems simple, and normal, enough.

And yet.

What you may not have realized was the amount of thought and preparation the host did to make the experience special for you:

  • The flowers were seasonal and arranged to reflect that.
  • The calligraphy on the scroll hanging in the alcove on your way in contained a phrase of intention (theme) for the ceremony.
  • The tea was chosen specifically for this ceremony.
  • The tea bowl was chosen because it reflected the season and perhaps the calligraphy, or has special meaning for this event.
  • The bamboo tea scoop was chosen for its poetic name that complemented the theme of this ceremony.
  • The tea caddy was chosen for its artistry and shape which resonated with the theme and season.
  • The sweets were made to suit the season and the nature of the ceremony.
  • The clothing the host wears reflects the season.

And that was for a very simple tea ceremony***. For the more elaborate ones, there would be two very different types of tea, as well as a complete meal, taking several hours.

All of this effort for a single event.

One time, one meeting.

This moment will never happen again. We may meet again, and we may have tea again, but it won’t be exactly like this. The weather will be different, the season different, the location different, the states of our hearts and minds different.

So we appreciate the people we are with in this very moment, because we know that it will never occur in the same way again.

Or ever.****


*And dearly loved it. I would love to start up again, when I can catch my breath.

**Dare I say “the foundational concept“?

***And one that leaves out the entrance and exit aspects of the ceremony, and probably a fair bit more that I’m not recalling at the moment.

****In remembrance of an acquaintance who suddenly passed away, and of the loved ones who are no longer with us. Perhaps this is my early Obon.

Tea image: Antonio

7 Tips for a Not-horrible First Surfing Lesson

dog surfing

It’s something like this. If you’re lucky.

Ah, so the tropical waters beckon you, enticing you to fulfill your vacation dream of learning to surf those gorgeous blue waves . . .

I know all about it, and can share some top tips to make your first surfing lesson not entirely suck.

  1.  Schedule an early morning class. Earlier in the day means it’s a little cooler, a little less sun, better water conditions*, and fewer people on the beach to see your epic fails.
  2. Skip breakfast, or lunch. Or really any food. In fact, don’t consume anything before your lesson.
  3. Smother yourself in sunscreen. Including your scalp. Because that sun will burn every last micrometer of your skin—even the bare slivers that show between your roots.
  4. Wear a one-piece suit. And guys? Skip the trunks and go for the retro look. I highly recommend something from the early 1900’s—less likely to come off when you get pounded by a wave.
  5. Swallow your pride. You are going to fail. Just accept that.
  6. Figure out early on if you are goofy. “Goofy”** in surf terminology = right foot forward. Knowing ahead of time if you are left or right foot forward is helpful.
  7. Take the taxi. There is a distinct reason there are no fat surfers—because surfing is a lot of work. You paddle all the way out to catch a wave, then maybe you catch a wave, then you paddle back out for another wave, and you keep doing this until you decide to paddle back to shore. For the record, it is a VERY LONG way to get back to the beach. So when your instructor offers to “toe” you in (he hooks his toes over your surfboard and tows you back to the beach), take it.

My one and only surfing lesson on Waikiki Beach formed the basis of my short story “Surf’s Up” in Out of Time. However, the fictional version has a happier ending than my own experience, which involved feeding the local sealife my continental breakfast, and having to get pathetically “toed” in to shore. I am now more than happy to skip the waves and just enjoy myself on the beach, on an unmoving towel, admiring the view of the water between page turns of a brain candy book***.



* At least that’s what my instructor said. I wouldn’t know.

** There is a lovely little breakfast join named “Goofy Cafe & Dine” on Ala Moana Blvd. Kalua pork in Eggs Benedict? Oh, yeah.

*** The kind of book that does not tax your mind, that is the mental equivalent of cotton candy—light, fluffy, inconsequential. And the kind that, like eating too much Halloween candy, gives you that icky coating that you have to floss and scrub away, and makes you vow never to eat that stuff again and as of tomorrow you’ll only eat broccoli and brown rice. Or maybe that’s just me.

The Missing Circle of Hell

In his Inferno, Dante details the nine circles of Hell, each circle increasing in wickedness:

  1. Limbo
  2. Lust
  3. Gluttony
  4. Greed
  5. Wrath
  6. Heresy
  7. Violence
  8. Fraud
  9. Treachery

I remember reading this in college and thinking, “How interesting—Fraud and Treachery are worse than anything!”*

Oh, no, Dear Reader. There is one thing worse than even those wicked acts. Something far more heinous and abominable.

Tearing pages from library books.

I did my research** and found Her Royal Baking Majesty Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible. I just knew this was what I was looking for: an excellent book on baking cakes. With a few keystrokes, I placed the book on hold and waited, hoping it would arrive in time for the 4th of July so I would have a day to bake a fabulous cake from this highly regarded cookbook. The book arrived on the 3rd, and I took it home and immediately began flipping through it. Oh, what cake will I try? Oooh! Here’s a good one, and Birnbaum recommends a buttercream frosting. I’ll just look at that recipe to see if I have everything to make it-

DOH! Someone had ripped out the pages of the basic buttercream recipe!

Upon further inspection***, I discovered that the fiend had also ripped out the pages of the key cake recipes:

missing pages from a library book

The tell-tale sign of a sinner! (Can you see the remains of the ripped pages? Ugh, I hate camera phones.)

Who would do such a thing? Was there no photocopier nearby? Did the brute not have a smartphone to snap a photo? If it meant that much, it would be a far better thing to steal the whole damn book than to disfigure it and then leave its remains for unsuspecting bakers to discover and flail upon.

People suck.

So now I am debating whether to place a hold on a different copy of the book, or to find a different cookbook to work from, or (heaven forbid), just find something from the Internets.




*Yeah, I’m sure that is exactly what I was thinking. It was more likely along the lines of “What the $#@&? How did Dante get to that? Someone must have seriously screwed him over.”

**”Research” = searching Amazon for “Most Popular” “Cookbooks” “Baking” “NOT Kindle”

***”Inspection” = starting with the title page, looking for other missing pages because, you know, criminals don’t commit just one crime.

Parisian planting

lettuce under an umbrella

Everybody needs a little shade sometimes

This is what happens when a heat wave hits and you want your lettuce to survive. You do everything in your power* to shade that plant. Everything, that is, that doesn’t require moving the container inside (too heavy and wet). Or moving it to a shadier spot. Or putting out any effort at all.**

Yup, a Die Hard Gardener. That’s me.

Alright, time to get back to writing . . .***


*This should be said in the movie trailer guy’s voice: deep, resonant, and overly dramatic.

**To be fair, I had to find the umbrella. And that umbrella was one I bought in Tokyo a number of years ago (it has cherry blossoms!). So actually, if one were to include the time and effort it took to bring that umbrella back to the States, store it, then find it for this purpose, well . . .

***As for the title of this post, my husband saw what I had done and asked, “What, are they Parisian lettuce? They need a parasol?”

Another milestone – um, yay?

mammogram machine

“Tea, Earl Grey. Hot.” As if.

After a few years of my doctor saying, “You know, you should probably get a mammogram, just to have a baseline,” now was apparently the time to have one*. So two days after going in for my annual exam, there I was in a spa-like changing room getting ready for my first mammogram.

I’d heard horror stories (just the description of squishing did not sound like the Most Fun Ever), so I expected the worst: a drawn-out embarrassing process** that would involve discomfort, pain, and another Awful Medical Experience***.

It was so very far from that. The technician was upbeat and pleasant, and more to the point ON TIME****., so not drawn out. No embarrassment, even with a little cotton gown-vest (I appreciate concerns about modesty, but by the point you have someone handling your body parts and positioning them ‘just so,’ embarrassment no longer exists). And no pain! Sure, it’s not the most comfortable of procedures*****, but it’s over quickly. Hurrah!

My only moment of “Arrrooo?”****** was seeing two aerosol cans of deodorant in the changing room. I hadn’t seen aerosol deodorant in a long time, and yet there they were. It took a few moments to realize, “Oh, that would be the most sanitary way to provide deodorant” since you’re not supposed to wear any for the scan. It also had me wonder if mammography in its own strange way is keeping one aspect of the deodorant industry afloat.

tldr: I got my first mammogram, and it didn’t kill me.



*Funny, the same thing happened with the gum graft. Not sure what to make of this.

**I wasn’t sure it could top either of my EKGs, but hey, anything is possible.

***Admittedly, these experiences make great story fodder.

****I’m still unclear on why medical appointments (even at the earliest, first thing in the morning time slots) seem to still require the doctor to take twenty-plus minutes after the scheduled appointment time to show up. Is this just a standard modus operandi? Do they set physician’s clocks behind by twenty minutes? Or are the docs just trying to be kind, figuring that they don’t want to interrupt you while you’re reading that fabulous article from last month’s People magazine about Pippa Middleton’s wedding?

*****Take any solid object and try to squish it flat, then hold it there at 20 psi for 30 seconds. Good times!

******Picture a dog looking at something that looks familiar, but just knows that something is not right: head cocked to the side, ears at attention. Yeah, that was me.

Summer reading program is on

Summer Reading Bingo Card for adults

This summer’s Reading Bingo Card for adults

It’s summer*, which means it is time for the Summer Reading Program! My love of the SRP dates back almost 40 years** when my local public library had a Reading Bingo Card*** and I was so excited to read books that fit the different categories. I can’t remember exactly what I read, but there are proud X marks on some of the categories.

Well, in my current mild-mannered day job, I get to put together the summer Reading Bingo Card for adults, and every summer I still get excited about reading the books to complete the card. However, this summer I did something slightly different—the card is not just about reading, but also about exploring library services and “Building a Better World”****.

So of course I started strategizing and creating reading lists for the 14 different book categories, and of course I looked at how many squares I could finish ON THE FIRST DAY. Because I just could not wait.

Yeah, kind of sad.


At any rate, as of Day 2, I am in progress on six (6!) squares. And that’s me being restrained.

Yeah, I like to read. A lot.

<another sigh>

So what’s on your summer reading list? Anything you can’t wait to try?



*Summer in Oregon apparently means 60 degrees and drizzle. It’s starting to look like Juneuary again.

**Okay, I’m definitely starting to feel old.

***Yes, I still have the 1980 Reading Bingo Card from my childhood library. And no, I am not ashamed.

****That’s the SRP theme this year. FWIW, the theme was decided two years ago.

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