Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's a Conspiracy

Lots of things are conspiring against me lately. For example:

A couple of my friends just got back from Lisbon--one of my favorite places.

One of my friends is about to hop through the islands of the South Pacific.

I have been sorting a bowl full of foreign coins from a dozen countries.

This afternoon I caught a whiff of that pre-rain smell mixed with the smell of car exhaust...which always reminds me of the city I lived in in Spain. (Romantic, I know.)

Counting Crow's Holiday in Spain came out of my speakers when my ipod was on shuffle. {...We could simply pack our bags and catch a plane to Barcelona 'cause this city's a drag...}

And now, just like that...I'm feeling restless.

So, in honor of wanderlust, I present you with:

{Barcelona's Sagrada Familia}

{Venice's Grand Canal}

{German tourists on a canal boat in Amsterdam}

{A Christmas tree in front of Notre Dame in Paris}

Just because. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Novel In Review!


So I am having a nice cup of hazelnut coffee after almost a week on coffee detox. Mmm. I missed that over caffeinated kick, but I needed to let myself recover a bit from the gallons of coffee I downed while finishing my novel.

That's right. I finished my novel!

I pulled it off--and with 3 whole hours to spare! Here's my certificate to prove it:


 Let's hear it for a comeback! I started basically on day 14. That, my friends, was a bad idea. If you start at the beginning of the month, writing 1600 words a day or so, finishing on time is totally doable. Trying to catch up was a feat--especially when you throw in Thanksgiving week. In the end I made it to 30,000 words by day 27. That sounds pretty good until you realize that it left me with 20,000 words to write in THREE DAYS.

People told me to give up...but I was determined to finish--or at least go down typing. I dug deep, threw in some pointless stories, drank a lot of coffee, and almost went blind from staring at a computer screen--but I made it!

You copy and paste your novel onto the NaNoWriMo website for them to validate that you have at least 50,000 words when you are finished. Turns out Microsoft Word's word-counter is not quite the same. All finished, I had to go back in and add another 300 words to make it to the NaNoWriMo's word-counter's 50,000. (Those 300 words were really good examples of life altering prose, let me tell you.)

I finally made it though. My favorite part was that once you are validated as a winner (aka, finisher), a video pops up with their staff all yelling--You did it! They all clap and cheer, and considering I was sitting in Panera all by myself when I finished, it was a lot of fun.

Now to answer some of your questions:

When can I read your novel? Never! OK...maybe one day. But not any time soon.
When are you going to publish it? Never! (See above.)
Why can't we read it? My novel is "finished," true. But it is a draft. A rough draft. A makes burlap feel like Egyptian cotton kind of rough draft.
Why did you write a book no one is ever going to read? Well, because it was fun. Fun in a painful-lose-your-eyesight kind of way, sure, but fun nonetheless. I like a challenge. Plus, I always wanted to write a novel, and now I have. I can also now tell people I am a novelist. (Which is fun, no?) Finally, I learned a ton. Oh yeah, and its like a month's worth of free therapy.
What did you end up doing with your main character? As you saw here I got a little stuck and decided to take some advice to "Let the freak flag fly." I decided to have my main character just do something fun. Well, in a way that I never understood was possible before I started writing the novel, she refused. Yeah, I know. I did stumble upon the best plot device of all time (as far as I am concerned at least).
What is this "best plot device of all time"? (Spoiler alert!) I took another piece of advice to "Put your characters through hell" and sent mine into a coma.
Does writing a novel make you feel like God? In a weird way, kind of. When my characters refused to take my suggestions and ended up surprising me at times I had a nerdy discussion with myself about open theism. (Shout out to Dr. Stiver!).
What did you end up naming your main character? Yeah. She never got a name. See the "rough draft" bit above.
What's next? Who knows...

OK, that's my novel in review! Check out their website for more info so you can join in next November. (There are also a ton of great pep talks on there, too!)

Finally, I give you all permission to now answer the question Who is your favorite novelist? with my name.  : )

Monday, November 28, 2011

Progress Report

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog lately. What have I been up to? Well, I've been busy cooking butter laced dishes for Thanksgiving, visiting with friends and loved ones in from out of town, and getting very, very far behind on my novel. 

Don't get me wrong though. I have been writing almost every day. I even got 3,000 words written on Thanksgiving day! I even kinda-sorta sorted out my boring plot. The thing is, starting basically on day 14 was a worse idea than I originally thought. Not only have I been struggling to get past that original (ginormous) hurdle, I have had to try to make up for the days I have missed here and there in the last couple weeks. 

The NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) website has some fun graphs and stats set up to help you monitor your progress. I say they are fun graphs...but they stopped being fun a while ago. I am still very far away from where I should be and there are precious few days left in November and the words per day number needed to finish on time is creeping higher and higher... So, what is the plan you ask?

Throw in the towel? Try again next year?

Nope. I'm not giving up. Not yet at least. 

As of this morning I had a whopping 20,000 words to write before midnight on Wednesday. (You know, just 2/5ths of the entire novel.) I am not deterred though. I'm still pre-tired and just as determined as ever to complete this unreadable piece of literature before the arbitrary deadline. 

I've dug deep into some of my old motivational and writing strategies and I'm proud to say that at the moment I'm already at 35,000 words--meaning 5000 words written today (a record for me this month). My eyes are tired of looking at a computer screen and I'm tired of sitting, but I am pressing on. 

Today's writing blitz strategies have included: 
  • Self-imposed word count requirements before I can eat/have another cup of coffee/get up to go to the bathroom. (So far nothing makes me write faster than really having to pee.)
  • Coffee. I just took the last sip of the fourth cup. 
  • A place away from my house with just enough movement to keep me from getting restless, but not distracted--Panera is today's winner! (And three cheers for Panera's bottomless coffee cup!)
  • Placing a singing quartet in my story. A quartet which likes to sing songs in their entirety. Lots of songs in their entirety. 
  • Lots of obscure details about Marco Polo (hooray for wikipedia!). 
  • A character that likes to read passages from the Lonely Planet. 
  • My patented combination of water/coffee/chocolate--it keeps you hydrated, caffeinated and happy!
Yeah. As you can see I have no shame. You can also see that you can stop asking me if you can read my novel when it's done--believe me, you won't want to. I don't care though, I am going to finish this thing! Even if my main character has to pull up a chair in the library and start reading passages from the encyclopedia. 

OK, I'm taking my last bathroom break and diving back into my story. Wish me luck and feel free to leave me suggestions for the next 15,000 words!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


So you know how I was talking about studying for the GRE a while back? Yeah. Well, I changed my mind. (Surprise, surprise. I know!)

What am I doing now, you ask?

I'm writing a novel. 

(I love how when I say that in person it garners a round of uproarious laughter.) 

OK, so here is the deal: For those of you who are uninformed, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, if you will). People all over the world sign up to write an entire 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I love the idea and the challenge of it. I decided way back in Belgrade, as I browsed through a bookstore on a rainy evening that I would give novel writing a shot this November. Even though I already have a book with my name on the cover, writing a novel has always been on my bucket list. This seemed like a fun way to spend the month!

Until I decided to study for the GRE, and well, when you are learning 100 math concepts and memorizing Greek and Latin roots you don't have a lot of time for novel writing. I thought, maybe next year. That is until I put the whole PhD idea on pause...

And now, it's novel time! Why not? At least I'll have something to show for myself a the end of the month. Besides, it's incredibly fun to tell people you are writing a novel. I started a whole 9 days late, but hey, I like a good challenge!

So far, it hasn't been too bad. But, in what seems happens around the 5-10,000 word mark, last night I was so sick of my main character. My plot was boring me. You know what is the worst though? Well, my main character is mainly me. The plot? It's pretty much my life.

Why I decided to do that is beyond me--I have no idea what to do with my life at the moment, so how am I supposed to move my character along? I'm much better at solving problems that aren't my own though, so what did I do? I drank 4 cups of coffee, got a piece of scratch paper and let the ideas flow.

Nobody's actually going to read this, so I might as well have some fun, right? So, just for fun here are the random things I'm contemplating for my character (and...may or may not be contemplating for myself):

  • Alpaca farming (Oprah gave me that one!)
  • Move to Haiti
  • Learn to make coconut flan
  • Marry a crown prince
  • Become a mail carrier
  • Be a professional canned-laughter laugher
  • Go to the circus
  • Fortune cookie fortune writer
  • hot air balloon racer
  • quilt sewer
  • befriend monks
  • turn Nancy Drew on her neighbors
  • Road trip!
  • become a travel agent
  • set more things on fire
  • move to the north pole
  • get a grant doing research somewhere
  • sail the Mississippi
  • start a band
  • learn to dance flamenco
  • volunteer at a hospital?/prison?/nursing home? and meet some interesting people
  • deliver flowers
  • give myself an education in the public library
  • write a lot of postcards 
  • raise armadillos
See? The novel is looking much better. I'm at 10,000 words and things are about to get interesting!

PS. Want to join me?!? It's not too late! (And as you can tell from the list above, no skill or grammar is required.) I know some people who have barely started, and next week is Thanksgiving--lots of time to write folks! Check out NaNoWriMo.org for more info (and graphs and pep talks!)

PPS. Friends are giving me even more fun ideas! Feel free to comment with more ideas! : )

Monday, November 7, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 31--Pedrouzo to Monte do Gozo

Talk about waking up with a smile on your face--time to make it to Monte do Gozo! (Mount of Joy--The hill sits right outside of Santiago and traditionally pilgrims would stop and spot the tips of the Cathedral of Santiago in the distance.) And the best part? It was only 16 kilometers away!

Or at least...it should have been only 16 kilometers away.

Anyway, I stuck the white rose Maica had brought me behind my ear, had breakfast (toast and apricot jam with cafe con leche for the probably 30th time--it was still delicious) with some gnarly locals in a bar with animal heads on the wall, and hit the trail!

By this point you start to see lots of boots and sticks that are being abandoned and/or memorialized. This one reads: These shoes saw me through the best and the worst of times...Walk with heart

Into the municipality of Santiago!

The domigueros' bus. I let out a sigh of relief once the huge group was off the trail. 

Like I said above, it was only supposed to be 16km from Pedrouzo to Monte do Gozo. There was a problem though...It started when I stumbled upon friends Juanma and Maica (along with some others--like a girl I met back in the Meseta whose reputation preceded her: she'd gotten attacked by bedbugs...on her face! Anyway, she was looking better). We stopped for a leisurely coffee and stamp and then continued on together. 

The problem happened when Maica and I were slowly walking along and chatting it up. Maica is short with a soft voice and strong accent--meaning I was frequently bent over trying to hear better. She was always patiently trying to get me to understand. At one point we were so involved with trying to communicate that...we missed the yellow arrows and veered off the Camino. It took us a while, but we began to notice that there were no other pilgrims around (the'd been buzzing past us all morning). Typically Juanma walked a ways ahead of us, and would wait at intervals for us to catch up--but where was he? 

We were lost. 

Thankfully it struck us as mostly just funny that we'd gotten lost on our last day of the Camino. We kept asking for directions and people kept telling us to just keep going down the street we were on. We doubted whether that would actually get us there (and worried that Juanma was waiting for us somewhere) but eventually we made it to Monte do Gozo and spotted him having a cold drink at a cafe. 

We registered and dropped off our bags at the 500 bed (!) hostel (where the overly friendly (and delusional?) hospitalero was shocked by my passport and insisted that he thought I was Andulician because of my Spanish). He tipped us off on a local lunch place, so we walked a little extra and sat down in a restaurant filled with blue collar workers. 

Look at the pile of meat and potatoes they brought us! (That is for three people, and we had already eaten a first course!)

It was the best meat and potatoes I have ever eaten. 

We oohed and awed over each bite of that food. We then later learned that they "reused" the uneaten (but perhaps not untouched!) portions of the trays. 

Oh well!

On top of the hill they built a Papal monument for the Pope's last visit to Santiago

Supposedly from this monument you could spot the spires of the cathedral. After lunch and a shower I sat in the sun on the hill letting my hair dry and looking for the cathedral (No luck). I met a group of nuns and then a group of middle aged male pilgrims from Madrid who joked about me being dead (no, just sleeping in the grass!) and then insisted I take their pictures.  

I also gave my poor, poor feet a final assessment. (Oh man, that looks scary to even me now!) As I said many times, the Camino is many things--but glamourous it is not!

Eventually I made it back to the hostel and made tea and new friends (and ran into my favorite Korean friends--a total surprise!). I caught back up with Juanma and Maica later that evening, and with just enough time to make it before dark they tipped me off that it wasn't actually the Papal monument from which you could see the cathedral--but from a pilgrim monument on the other side of the hill. 

I hiked through a field and right before the statues came into view I glanced to the right and saw it! The Cathedral of Santiago! I literally screamed with surprise and joy. 

The pilgrim statues tipping their hats to Santiago in the distance (I symbolically tipped my sunglasses in the same manner). 

You can't imagine how happy I am right here. 

I sat and soaked up my final sunset on the Camino, with a view of the cathedral. (Right about in the middle of the picture you can see the three peaks of the cathedral)

I was so thankful and so excited to be sitting so close to Santiago. Many people rush into Santiago in the evening, which is incredibly tempting, but I forced myself to stop in Monte do Gozo--I wanted the time to process things.  I took the chance to think back over the beautiful places and the quirky and open hearted people I had met over the last 31 days. 

It's funny because amidst the hundreds of Camino metaphors you run through your brain or talk about along the way, the most lasting one is about how a Camino is like an entire lifetime. In so many ways this is true. And following the metaphor, Monte do Gozo is something like sitting on your death bed. 

Looking towards Santiago seemed a bit like looking toward heaven--I was excited to reunite with friends I knew were days ahead of me and already in Santiago. I also knew there were people I'd met who were coming up behind me. I couldn't wait to get to the city, celebrate, and meet them all!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I've been studying GRE math for many hours over the last couple of days. But now I have had three large mugs of coffee. And I'm sitting in a cafe with wifi.

I'm in the mood to procrastinate! So here you go. Some unrelated things I feel the need to say (mostly because the coffee has removed my filter):

You know where I would be today if I could be anywhere?


Maybe here:

{Agia Napa}

Or here:
{Turkish side of Nicosia}

I don't know why, but it looks good, no?

Also, to kill even more time in useless pursuits I was looking through the travel/places section on Pinterest (Don't ever do this. You will waste so much time.). I saw a picture of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. It made me laugh thinking about how I am likely the only person to throw a penny into the fountain (to ensure that you will one day return) and...miss. Yeah. I missed. What, you don't know about that?

Here's what happened:

It was raining. And I had an umbrella. The penny went right up into the umbrella and bounced down right behind me, somehow missing the fountain. 


Which is why I haven't been back to Rome. C'est ma vie.

The End. 

(Didn't you like that story?)

(OK, now back to work.)

(But seriously. GRE math is hard! My eyes are already about to cross, and I keep rereading this paragraph: 

Many more difficult probability questions involve finding the probability that several events occur....The probability that both events occur is the probability that event A occurs multiplied by the probability that event B occurs given that event A occured. The probability that B occurs given that A occurs is called the conditional probability that B occurs given that A occurs. Except when events A and B do not depend on one another, the probability that B occurs given that A occurs is not the same as the probability that B occurs. The probability that three events A, B, and C occur is the probability that A occurs multiplied by the conditional probability that B occurs given that A occurred multiplied by the conditional probability that C occurs given that both A and B have occurred.

I mean, is it just me, or are they just saying occur and probability as many times as possible?)

Camino De Santiago: Day 30--Castaneda to Pedrouzo

Day 30 and it's my last long day of walking! The next day is a moderate hike to Monto do Gozo, and from there its only a 5 km morning walk into Santiago! This thought had me skipping through the forest...(OK, maybe not quite! 27 km still makes for a long day, even if it's your last one!)

Unfortunately there were tons of "domingueros" (think weekend tourist-pilgrims) out and about. I got stuck behind a huge line of them chatting up a storm. Eventually I had to hit a higher gear and power past them when the path widened as they started driving me crazy.  

Outside of the tourists I walked most of the day by myself, but I did get the chance to take in some good company here and there as well--my retired Sevillan friends (of course! By this point we just resigned ourselves to the fact that we weren't getting rid of each other!), the young Sevillan girl I met under the tree a couple days before, and a pair of girls from Valencia who I'd had dinner of paella and gazpacho with a few days before. 

I also ran back into a group of sisters and their mother I met in Saria. They were just walking the last 100 kilometers of the Camino, and, on their first day, I think I scared them a bit with my talk of blisters and painkillers. The most memorable thing about them though was their backpacks--they were HUGE! One of the daughters told me she brought four books with her. I couldn't believe it. I hadn't even brought a hairbrush with me out of consideration of pack weight!

More old stone churches

More green tree tunnels 

And more rain! All day it went back and forth between sunny and rainy--which is almost worse than pure rain. Wearing the rain gear in the sun was like wearing a trash bag--hot and sweaty--so I was constantly having to stop and put it on and take it off. 

More Gallego cows! (They walked even slower than the domigueros!)

Mid morning I stopped at a little cafe for Galician empanada--this particular one had fish and caramelized onions in a tomato sauce, mmm! Turns out that the cafe's claim to fame is that the Bush daughters stopped here when they were going through the region. Random. 


Who's excited?!

This is taken out the window of our hostel. It turned out to be a quite long day. Once I got into town I had to walk and walk and walk to find my hostel. It seems I always picked the furthest one possible. 

It turned out to be a great albergue though. Clean sheets! Pillows! They had a whole stack of blankets! (After 2 municipal/Xunta hostels we changed our strategy and started sleeping in the private pilgrim hostels!)

I ate at a cafe up on the main road, watching the rain and the pilgrims, and restocking my energy to make it to Monto de Gozo--where hopefully I'd be able to spot the Cathedral of Santiago in the distance--the next day. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Camino De Santiago: Day 29--Palas de Rei to Castaneda

Day 29--Getting so close to Santiago! Can you feel it?!

I left Palas De Rei...

...danced with the statues...

...walked past yet another traditional corn crib...

...hiked through green field after green field of smelly cows...

...and through shaded tunnel of trees after shaded tunnel of trees. 


It was a beautiful morning and I snapped quite a few pictures as I went just to try to capture and remember the experience. 

Another typical cross in another typical Galician small town. In some parts of the region you can definitely tell that Galicia still remains one of the poorer regions of Spain. 

Yes, another cemetery!

The church of Santa Maria de Leboreiro (a 14th century UNESCO site), where I stopped for a looksy and a stamp in my pilgrim credentials. 

Back outside...clouds were starting to roll in...

Getting close to the city of Melide

I stopped in another little church and found this pinned to the back of the church

In Melide, there is really one thing you cannot leave town without doing--Eating pulpo (octopus). Spain is famous for their octopus, and within Spain the region of Galicia is the most famous for octopus. Within Galicia the most famous city for octopus is Melide--and in Melide this bar is the place to eat it. So you see, we had to stop!

They boil the octopus in giant vats, snip it into discs with scissors, drizzle it with olive oil and then shake spices over top. It's served on traditional wooden plates and eaten with toothpicks. Juanma had a bowl of wine (the traditional way to serve it there), and we finished up with an order of pimiento de padron: small, local green peppers which apparently sometimes are super spicy, and other times not--Which leads to the refrain: 

"Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non" (Gallego), or, 
"Los pimientos de Padrón, unos pican y otros no"(Castellano). 

I had lunch with Maica and Juanma and ran into my Korean friend Bonnie (which got the song "My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean" stuck in my head all over again). Her friend also needed our help translating a text she received from her boyfriend that was written in Spanish--taken literally, it said roughly: You are the garlic of my life

Cute, no?

Anyway, I'd had octopus before and wasn't a fan. Squid I like, octopus not so much (the texture of the tentacles weirds me out), but, I will say, this was by far the best octopus I've had. I ate almost all of it--except the tails. That was too much for me. Luckily Juanma was ready and willing to eat my rejects! : )

After lunch we passed by the 15th century Capela de San Roque. Supposedly it had some nice Romanesque features (Maica's favorite) and a nice ceiling, so we wanted to have a look inside. 

The reason it happened to be open was that there was a baptism going on inside. The family was all gathering and taking pictures...and we totally crashed it!

The frescoed ceiling

Romanesque capitals

Juanma checking the map. 

We were talking about where each of us planned to stay for the night and all decided that we would make it an easy 23 km day and stay for the night in Castañeda, if we could. I say "if we could" because there was only one private hostel there and it only had 4 beds. In the end Juanman let me use his cell phone to call them and we all reserved beds for the night. 

When we got there (unfortunately not before it started raining!) we rejoiced in that we might have a quiet night. None of the 3 of us snored and the 4th bed belonged to an older Italian woman. It was this night that I officially put off the notion that women snore less than men. The italian woman's bunk was underneath mine and I swear she shook the bed growling like a bear the entire night. On the plus side--for the first time we had clean sheets AND blankets on our beds! Que lujo!

With nothing else in town we sat around the cafe attached to the hostel, ate (I had a big steaming bowl of Caldo Gallego, typical Galician soup of mostly cabbage, potatoes and white beans) and chatted with whoever came in. As we planned out the next day's journey, Juanma and I joked about the refrains/riddles he was always confusing me with. Maica, stopped me mid sentence and said basically--Look Lauren. Enough. Get it right!

Turns out Juanma hadn't been laughing all this time solely because he thought his refrains were funny--it was also because I was unknowingly butchering them! For the first time since he taught it to me way back in Santo Domingo (yeah, day seven!) I got it right. I wrote it on the paper table cloth and took a picture of it for future reference: 

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me como le entra el agua al coco!