Book Review: “The Road to Little Dribbling” by Bill Bryson

All the preparations for Little Baby’s arrival have been putting me on edge, so I’m thankful for books that help me unwind and make me laugh. Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain was one of those books.

Bryson was born and raised in Iowa. He married an English woman, and has been living in England for years now, where they raised all their children. His love for England and understanding and appreciation of what it means to be an American, made this book all the more enjoyable for me, especially when he discussed differences in our cultures.

I didn’t know this was a sequel to his book, Notes from a Small Island until I had already started reading. I kept going, figuring that, since it was a travel book, it wouldn’t make a difference. Now that I’m done, I wish I had stopped and read the first one first. Some of the areas he visited were revisits from the first book. It would have been interesting to have a deeper understanding of how the places had changed between the publishing dates of 1995 and 2015. He give plenty of context whenever he discussed changes, so there was no confusion, but I still felt I was missing out on something by reading the second one first.

That aside, everything else about this book was lovely. Bryson has a witty and snarky sense of humor that turns almost all of his interactions with people into laugh-out-loud anecdotes. I listened to this as an audio book, and a few times in the beginning I zoned out, until suddenly I was snapped back into reality when Bryson said something rude or absurd to a shop attendant. Just as I thought, I can’t believe he had the guts to say that he would suddenly admit that he only thought the thing, which meant that the majority of the interaction was all made up. This happened multiple times throughout the book, and seriously, sometimes it was so funny that I had to cover my mouth to keep myself from exploding with laughter in a public place. I mean, haven’t we all been there? That torn feeling of I-really-want-to-tell-you-off-but-it-would-be-rude. I sympathized while I smiled.

By the end of the book I was just in love with his writing style, a combination of history and humor, all built around lovely descriptions of places I’ve never been. Half way through the book, I was adding most of his other books to my Goodreads “to-read” list and checking my library to see which ones they had copies of. Definitely one of my new favorite authors.

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Falling in Love with Pooh

My mother has always claimed to be a bookworm from her youth, but sometimes I wonder10572249_10153375877852963_645569118810842334_o how it can be possible. The only childhood book she’s told me she loved was Charlotte’s Web. She once told me she read Flowers in the Attic, I know she used to read Nicholas Sparks, and she has this horror story she sometimes tells me about possibly throwing away some first edition Dickens novels because she couldn’t read Great Expectations due to the use of old English *cocks head in confusion, then shudders and hugs the nearest book*.

Along with these coflicting anti-booklover traits, for we all know a true book lover NEVER throws away a book, I can’t recall her shedding much light onto my reading 51Pr1yvjS9L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_pathway. Once she’d recommended Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, I’m fairly certain it was school librarians and my Grandmother who did the rest, hooking me on Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and even poor Mister Dickens *shudders again and kisses the nearest book*. My mother read to us a lot growing up, but the books I remember were Hank the Cowdog, Bible story picture books, and What Would Jesus Do?. Never the classics like Mary Poppins, The Wind in the Willows, or even Charlottes Web. Mind you, we saw all the movies, but never read the books.

About three years ago, I started picking up children’s books on my own. It was just last year that I read A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh for the first time. It was so much better than I’d anticipated. I thought it would just be a collection of sweet stories about a mismatched group of stuffed animals living in the Hundred Acre Wood, like the Disney movies I’d watched as a child, and never imagined how witty and hilarious they’d be. Even my husband was surprised when I began to read passages to him, and we ended by reading the last three chapters aloud together.
776407I just got the second book The House at Pooh Corner from the library and love it as much as the first. Some of the humor is almost reminiscent of Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams. Let me show you what I mean.

Here’s a sample passage, where Piglet is imagining a conversation he’d have with a Heffalump.

HEFFALUMP (gloatingly): “Ho-ho !”
PIGLET (carelessly): “Tra-la-la, tra-la-la”
HEFFALUMP (surprised, and not quite sure of himself)“Ho-ho !”
PIGLET 
(more carelessly still): “Tiddle-um-tum, tiddle-um-tum.”
HEFFALUMP (beginning to say Ho-ho then turning it awkwardly into a cough): “H’r’m! What’s all this?”
PIGLET (surprised): “Hullo! This is a trap I’ve made, and I’m waiting for a Heffalump to fall into it.”
HEFFALUMP (greatly disappointed): “Oh?” (after a long silence) “Are you sure?”
PIGLET: “Yes.”
HEFFALUMP: “Oh!” (nervously) “I – I thought it was a trap I’d made to catch Piglets.”
PIGLET (surprised): “Oh, no!”
HEFFALUMP: “Oh!” (apologetically) “I – I must have got it wrong then.”
PIGLET: “I’m afraid so.” (politely) “I’m sorry.” (He goes on humming.)
HEFFALUMP: “Well – well – I – well. I suppose I’d better be getting back?
PIGLET (looking up carelessly): “Must you? Well, if you see Christopher Robin anywhere, you might tell him I want him.”
HEFFALUMP (eager to please): “Certainly! Certainly!” (he hurries off.)
POOH (who wasn’t going to be there, but we find we can’t do without him): “Oh, Piglet, how very brave and clever you are!”

The entire chapter had me giggling aloud, but you’ll have to read the book yourself to get the rest. Honestly, I don’t care what your age is, these books are a treat that you should not deny yourself. Along with the humor, he has a gift for making poignant moments of tenderness that warm your heart.

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Every writer has authors they idolize and dreams of what they could one day become. One of my dreams is to be able to write like that. To be able to make people laugh, smile, and cry all at once. Yeah, yeah that would be fantastic. ❤

Text ©Rachel Svendsen 2016
Quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

How We Met: featuring Sad Robert, the Gloomy Bear

I was on a bench in the park when he sat down beside me. The boards creaked beneath his weight. I felt his heavy breathing and heard him sigh. When I looked up, I tried not to panic.

IMG_4265It’s not within my usual daily experience to find a large brown grizzly bear sitting beside me on a park bench, or any bench for that matter. I comforted myself by remembering I never heard him approach since I was so absorbed in my book. If his object had been to hurt me, he already would have done so. Besides he didn’t look very threatening, just sad. I decided not to run away screaming, and casually turned the page of my novel to resume reading. He sighed again, the heavy hearted sigh of a bear in the midst of some deep trouble or other. The park was empty today but for us and he could have sat on any empty bench. Assuming he was lonely, I closed my book, marking my place with my finger, and cleared my throat. He turned his head towards me. His sad brown eyes looked briefly at me then turned to gaze mournfully over my head at the surrounding park.

“Good morning,” I said.

He didn’t seem to hear me, so I cleared my throat and repeated, “I said, good morning.”

He heaved another sigh and mumbled in a deep gruff voice, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.” I eyed him curiously. After a few silent minutes he sighed again and slowly turned his head towards me. “I don’t suppose you have change for a dollar?”

I checked my pockets. “I’m afraid not. Just a dime and a five.”

He sighed and closed his eyes. “I might have guessed it.” He turned his mournful expression out over the park. We sat for a while, watching the leaves skitter and blow in the breeze before I spoke again.

“You seem to be in some sort of trouble.” He made a noise deep in his throat, but other than that made no reply. “Perhaps,” I said. “If you tell me what’s troubling you, I can be of some help.”

He grunted and raised his eyebrows. “I doubt it.”

“Well, would it hurt to try?”

He didn’t answer immediately, but when he did he pressed his paw to his forehead and messaged his temples. His deep rumbling voice made the bench tremor as he spoke.

“Well, it all started yesterday,” he began, his eyes roaming slowly over the empty park. “It began just like any other day. I woke up, made my bed, took a nice cold shower and brushed my teeth. I live on Acorn Street in an apartment above the fishmonger. I usually take a walk before breakfast, so I put on my rubber boots and headed out.” He paused and leaned his elbows on his legs. “I didn’t realize I had left the door open. My cat ran away.”

“Your cat?” I asked.

“Yup. Her name’s Sniffles on account of her allergies. She kept telling me she needed air, space, to chase butterflies. I didn’t think she meant it.”

“I see,” I said, though I didn’t see at all. This was the first bear I’d met with a pet cat.

He nodded slowly at me. “So I drove to the airport and flew my helicopter to Sweden. I beat her there by twenty minutes. She’d had a taste of freedom now though and said she wouldn’t go back. I tried everything. I offered her chocolate covered grapes, tickets to the movies, and even promised to bring her with me on my vacation to the Rockies next spring. She just shook her head and said she’d rather suck Cheerios up her nose then go back with me.” He flicked some lint off his leg. “Claimed she’s allergic to me.”

I had no response to this. It’s one thing for a bear to own a pet cat, but it’s another thing entirely for that pet to be allergic to him. He let out a long sigh, and as he exhaled, his shoulders drooped and slouched. Fearing he might begin to cry, I reached over and patted his shoulder.

“There, there,” I said encouragingly. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Well,” he said. “I should have known. I’ve never been able to keep a cat more than three months. They all run away.” He turned his face towards me so his snout nearly touched my nose. “Or die,” he added.

If you’ve ever had a grizzly bear rumble the word, “die” at you while looking in your eyes, you would probably understand me when I say that it made me a little uncomfortable. I patted his shoulder again.

“So,” I said, after clearing my throat. “So you decided to take a walk then I suppose. That’s how we’ve come to meet?”

The bear shook his head. “No. Not right away. This all happened yesterday, you know. After she left me, I did what any bear would do.”

“Fishing?”

He raised his eyebrows at me. “Tennis.”

“Tennis?”

“Tennis.”

“Ah. Right. Tennis!”

“I stopped in at Stephen Harpers.”

“Stephen Harper?” I asked. “As in the former prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper?”

He nodded. “You know him?”

“Uhh…No.”

“Well, we play tennis on Tuesday’s. He’s a good listener. But then I accidentally landed in his wife’s rutabaga patch and she had a fit. She practically threw me into Lake Ontario.”

“Wow.”

“So I gathered what was left of my pride and came home. I made myself some bran muffins for dinner, but they burned because I forgot my egg timer was broken. I barely slept all night for dreaming of unicorns and pancakes.” He looked forlornly at me. “And I hate pancakes.”

“Gosh, you’ve sure had a time of it.”

He heaved another broken sigh. “You can say that again,” he said. We sat in silence for a while, just listening to the breeze ruffle the trees. I know that the sounds of the park this time of day usually lift my spirits and the sun had come out of hiding from behind the clouds, casting vitamin enriching rays over the gloomy slouching bear.

Eventually he rose to his feet and turned a wan smile towards me, “Well, thanks for listening ma’am.”

“Rachel,” I said. “You can call me Rachel. And may I know your name?”

“Robert.”

“Robert. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” A world weary half smile touched the corner of his mouth, giving more an impression of forced cordiality than actual happiness, as though he doubted I meant it. He nodded politely towards me and began to shuffle away.

I watched him for a minute, replaying our odd conversation in my head, when a thought struck me. Unsure if we should ever meet again, I called out to him before he had a chance to disappear. “Wait,” I said. He turned back to me. “Why did you need change for a dollar?” I asked.

“I wanted a coke from that machine.”

I turned towards the machine. From my seat, I could see it had one of those new fangled slots that took credit cards. I smiled to myself and turned back to him.

“Just hold on a sec,” I said. I ran to the machine, and, in the work of an instant, was jogging towards him with a soda in hand.

“Here,” I said, handing it towards him. There were tears in his eyes and his expression was the closest thing to a smile I’d yet seen. He looked down at the bottle and it was as though someone had cut his bungee chord and he now stood a fair chance of plummeting to his death.

“It’s pepsi,” he said with a soft choke in his voice.

“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry, it was a pepsi machine. It’s all they had.”

He sighed again, shook his head, and said in a low gloomy voice, “I should have known.” He handed it back to me and left me standing alone in the park with the pepsi in my hand.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2016

The Trouble with Technology

Even if I wasn’t a writer by profession, one of my wifely duties to my seminary attending husband would be to help proofread his papers. When you’ve spent hours pouring over a document, you tend to miss those little things (the the “of” that should be “if”) that a second pair of eyes will always catch.

It was during his first semester of seminary, and Timothy and I were locked together in a struggle to turn in his research paper by midnight. I’m by no means a night person, but I wanted to stay up with him; to fight this battle by his side, like Eowyn rushing to aide Aragorn in battle against the dark lord.

Don't ask how long it took me to make this horrific image, for I shall not tell.
Don’t ask how long it took me to make this horrific image, for I shall not tell.

So, he was on his computer, typing and editing, and I was running back and forth to the printer, getting hard copies for us to read over and edit.

But our foe was greater than the deadline. Its evil had spread to inhabit other intangibles, wreaking havoc on the internet, wifi, and the cables connecting his desktop to the printer.

I had to go outside every time he printed, because the printer is housed next door at his Grandparent’s house. The air was cold and damp and so was my temper. It was about the three-hundreth (possible exaggeration) time Tim had sent the printer job. I sat down in the office chair beside that blasted piece of grey and white plastic and waited for it to connect. Miracle of miraculous miracles, it’s innards began to click and whir. I sat up straight, hardly believing my ears. My feet moved without my knowing it, until I found myself leaning over the machine with tears in my eyes. The title page of his paper rolled out of the machine. I picked it up greedily and held it to my chest. Glorious victory! I had moments before been  a weary warrior, beginning to contemplate if it would not be better to lay down my arms and crawl back to bed in defeat. But no. No! Patience and diligence had won out over…

I hardly need tell you what happened next. So I’ll describe to you what I heard in onomatopoeia:

FISSSSSSHT-whirrrrrrr…click…click……. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep! Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep!

I pounded my fist on the desk and said some rather unpleasant words in my head. After I had regained my composure, I sent a text off to my husband to try again. I was not going to cross the enemy lines again until necessary, for fear that, once I reached home base, I would lose my will to return to the fray. I sat down to edit the three pages in front of me, while my husband fiddled with the connection on the other side. Eventually the printer relented and coughed up a copy of his paper, like a signed treaty of peace, and I stumbled home, bitter with what seemed unsatisfactory reparations for the loss of life and limb I’d sustained.

I came into our room and put the edited pages on Tim’s desk, slipped the top cover page from the pile, and read to him the following words I had composed during our painful separation. It was not a letter of love from a warrior who missed their homeland, nor was it anything so deep and thought provoking as some material that foxholes produced during the great battles of yore. But it spoke of the feelings from my deepest heart, and I knew my husband would appreciate it. I will now share it with you. *A-hem*

The printer is blinking,
That means it’s not printing,
I’m standing here watching it flicker.

The silence is killing,
I wish it were willing,
To click and to whir and to blipper.

I swear if I knew what,
Was screwing it up,
I’d do everything in my power,

To help it connect,
Via wireless internet,
And print out my husband’s damned paper.

*bows low to the ground while the crowd cheers and throws roses* Thank you ladies and gentlemen. I will be here all week.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Just A Frustrated Genius

The real problem is that nobody appreciates genius when they read it!

Okay I lied, but I still said that to comfort myself when most people believed that the anonymous letter I sent them was from my 9-year-old sister-in-law, Bethany. Granted, the letter was completely random, but still, even though I purposely misspelled egregious, how many 9-year-olds can use that word properly in a sentence?

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It all started when I was writing to an old friend. She and I were inseparable during my teen years, but we lost touch when college, jobs, and marriage put hours worth of miles between us. I hadn’t written her in a while, but it felt silly to write another, “Dear Christie, How are you? I am doing well. Timothy is too. We just blahdy blahdy blahdy blah…” I mean, nowadays a letter is a letter. Since the advent of email, letters have died off a bit, so I know I’m not the only one who squees with glee when they get handwritten mail. But after all the hours spent on the phone, the shared heartaches, the stuffed carrot I made her that she named Sargon, and that weird movie we made with completely random disconnected scenes (one of which I wore a paper bag over my head and tried to eat goldfish crackers like cereal), two friends with history like that, should not be writing crusty ol’ letters to each other.

So I opened with the following line: HELLO SPARTACUS! THIS is your wakeup call!!!

I leaned back, a little daunted. A letter with an opening like that could not, nay should not have bland content, and my recent life had been rather bland. So I decided not to write about my life at all. I decided to concoct utter baloney. I sniggered the whole way through then ran to my husband to read it to him. He thought it was pure genius. High on his approval, I typed, printed, and sent out multiple copies of this letter to close friends and family. I even hand drew a little logo for my new company.

This is the letter:

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The only letter I signed with my real name was Christie’s, because it mattered to me that she knew it was me who sent it. Perhaps it would have been funnier to toy with her, since my new address is a mystery to her, but goshfriggindanggit I miss her, and really this whole shenanigan was her fault anyway. I’m sure that some of the others knew it was me, but the only one that told me so was Steve, who recognized my handwriting on the envelope from back when I used to write him soppy love letters (just kidding! I never did that. (Just kidding, I did…)). Everyone else recognized the address, but since the letter was typewritten, were apparently baffled. My mother-in-law started to get comments to the effect of: “Umm…yeah, and I also got Bethany’s writing assignment in the mail…” To which she bewilderedly responded, “What writing assignment?”

Really? A 9-year-old? Come on people! I was hurt, wounded, offended, and just plain…well honestly I tucked my tail between my legs and crawled under my covers. I thought it was funny. Tim thought it was funny. Jon and Steve thought it was funny. And I had already written a newsletter I intended to send out to the same gaggle of people. I pushed it away like putrid slime and said I would never touch it again.

Then I realized I had to.

I mean, I had already begun, and if I didn’t send the next one people would just assume I was utterly duck-up-a-tree potty. So, I sent it.

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Now be honest with me, perhaps it’s not as hilarious as SNL, but if you got this in the mail betwixt bills and adverts, wouldn’t it at LEAST make you smile?

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Newsletter used with permission from the Editor & Chief of “GOLDFISH WEEKLY” © GOLDFISH WEEKLY 2015 all rights reserved

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Like Us On Facebook!

IMG_1752Why, you may ask me, would I take a picture of a port-o-potty? That is an excellent question. I’m not much of a photographer, but normally I confine my photo snapping to people and nature, not Tardis shaped bathrooms. No, the reason I took this photo was because the little sign on the door amused me. Here, I’ll make it bigger so you don’t have to grab your reading glasses.
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Since Facebook’s popularity boomed, it has become “the thing” that every business, organization, or aspiring so and so, have a Facebook page to advertise themselves. This does not bother me, I mean it’s free advertising so it totally makes sense, but I couldn’t help but snort back a loud mocking laugh at this little sign. I myself have a Facebook page. It receives minimal traffic, but I was advised to start one as part of “building my author platform” and I did so.

I decided out of curiosity, to look up their page and see how many likes they have. I smirked indulgently at their neat little pile of 117 likes.

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Then, a little later, I realized to my shame that I have only 36 likes on my Facebook page. I’m not sure if I just need more exposure, or if the world of Facebookians are trying to gently inform me that they like portable toilets better than me.

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“Replace All”

Autocorrect. Spellcheck. Tab stops. Cut and paste. These are a few of the little things in word processing that are a mixed bag of blessings and curses. They may help us if we perpetually misspell “disease” but sometimes they may cause us to accidentally send a text to our mother to inform her that Dad’s hysterectomy went smoothly. I do most of my writing on my computer, and make regular notes on my iPhone, so I am constantly in a tussle with some smart technological device or other.

This includes the “Find and Replace” feature.

I only used this nugget of blessing once or twice in high school. I wasn’t very computer savvy, so most of my editing was accomplished with a printed copy, pencil, and eraser. Even now, I don’t have the feature quite figured out, except that I know it’s a tricky devil.

When I was working on Immortal Bond, my first novel, I spent the first few drafts trying to think of a decent name for the capital city and country of my setting. Until I decided on one, I just had the words “The Capital” as a place holder. Once I decided on “Cathair,” I opened up the Find and Replace box and found and replaced. This box has a deceptively helpful looking button labeled, “Replace All”. (Beware the Replace All button people. Beware!) I smiled benevolently at it. How sweet, I thought. Some programmer is saving me time. I clicked. I printed.

Somehow, every time “The Capital” was replaced with “Cathair” there was now an odd spacing issue. A sentence that once might have said: “Father, I can’t wait to get to The Capital!”, now said: “Father I cant wait to get toCathair !” I scratched my head, and manually fixed every single one.

Since then I’ve been more cautious.

So the other night when I changed a character’s name for the third, and hopefully final, time I was sweating.

This character suspiciously looks and acts very much like a friend of mine. In my first drafts, this character even, veeeeery suspiciously, had the same name. Obviously this would not do, so I changed his name to Don. It didn’t work for me at all. So my husband and I have been trying to rename him. Last night I decided to try Nick on for size. When I opened the find and replace box, I groaned. There was over 350.

I whined to my husband, “This is going to take forever.”

He shrugged and took the laptop from me. “Just do this.” The mouse hovered ominously over the “replace all” button. I squealed like a wild boar and slapped his hand away.

“Are you MAD?” I snapped. “D-O-N is in all kinds of words! It’ll turn all my ‘donuts’ to ‘Nickuts.’”

“Ooooh,” he mouthed and began to play with the box. A few seconds later he smiled at me. “Just do this!” He clicked a little checkbox that said, “whole words.”

I narrowed my eyes. “What will that do?”

“Watch.” He refreshed the box and the word count dropped by over 150. I turned my skeptical gaze to him.

“You sure that worked?”

“Of course.” His confidence eased my mind. I let him hit the “replace all” button then kissed him affectionately.

“You’re amazing!” I said, then skipped off to shower while he set it up to print.

Shortly thereafter, I was holding the first printed copy of my second novel in my hands. Giddy as toddler with a mini drum set, I sat down to play with my second child. I flipped open to a random page. My face fell.

“TIMOTHY YOU NINNY-FOPPER!”

Yes I did yell that for real. This is normal for me, for these are the names I call my husband. He did not respond. He was in the basement doing laundry. (See! How can I yell cuss names at a husband who does laundry without me even asking?)

He came up the stairs humming. I waited, patiently scowling at the door, until he stepped inside the bedroom. He saw my face and cocked his head at me.

You are a Ninny-fopper,” I repeated, softer and with additional menace.

“Why?”

I motioned to him with one finger. He sat down beside me on the bed. I lifted my laptop onto my lap and opened the find and replace box. I typed the word “Nick’t” into the find section and got a little grey notification that said “167 found”.

Every “don’t” in my story was now “Nick’t”.

Timothy proceeded to hug me and say “I’m sorry” while simultaneously giggling. I changed all my “Nick’t”s back to “don’t”s in my document, but I refuse to print another copy. Save the trees and all that.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015