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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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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Goldfish weekly newsletter 02

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

Mani/Pedi

Ahhhhhhhh…pedicures…where to begin? How about a cold winters day with a good friend?

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Tara: You know what? We need some ME time. Do you like pedicures?
Me: Sure
Tara: Want to go next week?
Me: Sure

Now I wasn’t lying, I DO like pedicures. I usually splurge and go once or twice a year during the summer when my feet come out to play. I enjoy them about as much as I find them incredibly uncomfortable.

I know I’m paying to have my feet rubbed and painted, so obviously I want it done, but I never seem to go to the same place twice. This means a stranger and I are about to get uncomfortably close for at LEAST a half hour. During this time, said stranger will be washing my feet, clipping my toenails, and rubbing lotion on my legs. Perhaps it’s better to always have a stranger. Then I can mentally trick myself into thinking that I never have to see this person again, like an impromptu drunk make-out session that you regret in the morning with a vehemence equal to that in which you participated in it the night before. If you see the person at work the next afternoon it compounds the discomfort.

(“Hello Tanya! I’m here for my monthly wash-my-grubby-feet-and-message-my-hairy-legs session.” (Okay, I did shave the night before, and I am a regular bather. I’m talking worst case scenario.))

Everyone has hobbies. One of mine is to make everyday social situations awkward. We show up at the place and walk in. A bunch of women smile at us and say, “Yes?”

“Mani Pedi,” Tara says, whipping her coat off with a self confident flourish. Then turns to me.

My eyes widen and I whisper. “What do I do?”

She cocks her head. “Tell em what you want.”

I look like a doe in the headlights for a moment then blurt out too loudly “Mani Pedi?” They’ve already moved to the pedicure station to run the water. I guess they read minds.

Time to pick out nail polish. I decide to jump out of my box and pick neon yellow for my toes and black for my fingernails. Tara tells me I’m going to be a bumblebee. I cock my head then laugh two minutes later.

I walk towards the chair. The stranger about to rub my feet turns to me and smiles. She has a pleasant pretty face, so why is my stomach turning? I realize it’s not her face that matters, if she looked like Quasimodo I would be just as apprehensive. I peal off my shoes and socks, feeling like I’m beginning a striptease. I can barely remember how to climb into the chair. I can almost hear her asking, “Is this your first time? I’ll take it slow.”

She dips my feet into the water. It’s warm. I tell myself to relax.

“The seat massages.” Tara says.

“Oh yeah?” I reach for the doohickey in the pocket. The loose arm of the chair drops down like a guillotine, blocking any plans I had for escape. The remote falls to the floor with a clatter about as subtle as opening a cough drop in church. I manage to draw it up by its tail and look at the buttons.

I pick one at random and lean back. Preprogramed mechanical hands with ball baring knuckles try to push me out of my seat. They start just above my head and roll down towards my shoulders. WRENCH WRENCH WRENCH I’m sliding down the leather chair. My date pauses mid-toenail clip to share a laugh with the woman beside her.

Okay, maybe they aren’t laughing at me while I fumble with the remote, desperate to avoid any further nerve impingement to my neck and spine, but how should I know? They spoke perfect english, both of them, but they also spoke perfect Spanish. I would love to be bilingual. I envy anyone who is. But it’s disconcerting when they turn to each other and chatter away. Is it egotistical to think they’re talking about me? I prefer the term “Self-conscious”. I had a boyfriend who once told me that I have freakishly long toes. I’ve never forgotten that. (How do you say, “would you look at her freakishly long toes” in Spanish?)

She brings out a holster thing and places my ankle inside it. Then, with a loud sigh, she vigorously files the bottom of my feet. This part is almost as bad as when they run that little picker thing under your toenails to clean them. One makes me feel like I’m a grubby little street urchin, the other makes me feel like a scullery maid being cleaned up to dance with prince charming. I love going barefoot so my feet are…tough? Call em tough. She rubs with abandon, not as long as most of them do, perhaps she saw it was futile and gave up quicker than the rest. She dropped my hobbit foot back into the water.

I tried to relax during the massage. This feels good, I told myself. My mind wandered. I lost my mantra and began to wonder if I had missed any spots when I shaved.

The foot ordeal ended. The manicure followed. These are relatively painless, except I find it difficult to stare into the eyes of the person who just seconds earlier massaged my feet. Plus there’s the whole hand holding thing and…meh maybe I’m overthinking this. Just like when I get my hair washed at the hairdressers. (If I close my eyes does it look like I’m enjoying this TOO much? Should I leave them open? Okay I’ll open them. Oh GOSH! Armpit!)

I paid before she painted my nails. Good system. Then you don’t have to screw up the new paint job digging through your purse. I sat down with my nails under the dryer and realized I didn’t tip the woman. I tapped my freshly blackened nails, contemplating how to accomplish this. In the end, I gingerly unzipped my bag, nuzzled the mouth open with my nose, then extricated my wallet with my teeth. I’m sure they’ve had plenty of freaks like me in there. I was nothing o write home about.

I hope.

The next morning I hopped out of the shower and noticed I missed a spot on my knee when I shaved the night before. I yelled aloud, “Oh Crap! Did she notice?”

I’ll bet she did. That’s probably why she never called.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

The Day I Almost Invested in Poor Grammar…

I do not have perfect grammar. I find myself being corrected by others, or even correcting myself. Most of what I do know grammatically I blame on my extensive reading. Most of what I don’t know, I blame on some of my lame teachers growing up.

I love reading about grammar and how to use the English language, it’s important to know the rules before you try and bend them, which is a writer’s privilege. I love to find out what I’m doing wrong so I can improve it. I almost don’t mind if others correct me. (I only say almost because I have relatives who like to call people out in the most obnoxious ways at the most inopportune times. If you’re reading this…you know who you are. *shakes a condemning finger*)

All that to say…I nearly bought this shirt the other day…IMG_6047

I want to make a public apology to the world at large for almost investing $5 on this horrendous, public display of missing apostrophe syndrome. I also want to point out the irony, that this shirt was specifically designed for nerds and no self respecting nerd would ever purchase it.