A Little Writing Assignment

I recently took a little 4-week writing class through Coursera, called The Craft of Plot. I thought I would share my final, 1,000-word writing assignment here.

But first, I also wanted to share the following quote. I’ve been reading The Best American Short Stories of 2011. (Why 2011? Because it was available to rent online through the Chicago Public Library.)

“My advice to young writers is, read this book. Enjoy the stories, admire the craft. Then put it in your backpack and go. As far as you can, for as long as you can afford it. Preferably someplace where you have to think in one language and buy groceries in another. Get a job there. Rent a room. Stick around. Do something. Whatever it is, you will be able to use it in the stories you write later. And if that story turns out to be about grungy sex in an East Coast dorm room with an emotionally withholding semiotics major, that’s okay. It will be a better story for the fact that you have been somewhere and carried part of it home with you in your soul.” — Geraldine Brooks

Yes!

Here’s what I wrote:

Howard Plans to Ride a Tiger by April Gardner

Howard was an old man. His memories tricked him all the time. He remembered riding a tiger, for instance. He was sure he had once done it – he could feel the tiger’s course fur rubbing against his thighs. But then his nurse would come by with a treat or something to drink. His desire for carrot juice would override his memories of tiger riding. Sometimes, he wouldn’t remember the tiger again until the next day. He could feel the heavy bolt in his hand, and the screeching sound it made as he opened the tiger’s cage.

Howard felt like he was in a cage, mentally and physically. Not only could he not trust his memories, he couldn’t trust anything about himself. He would be halfway to the can and his bowels would explode. Filthy and embarrassed, he would have to wait for the nurse to come by and change him. Life wasn’t good anymore.

Howard knew he was going to die soon. His prediction was practical. He was nearing his 90th birthday. Of course he was going to die soon. Accepting the fact of his own death became easier every day. His body was failing, his mind was failing, and he didn’t have much to live for anymore. His only daughter lived in Europe, because she and her husband both had careers with the embassy. Howard couldn’t remember the last time he had seen her.

With the approach of his birthday, Howard wanted to do something outlandish. As a child, his mother had doted on him, and always made certain his birthdays were gloriously celebrated. There had been clowns and magicians, ice cream bars and chocolate fountains, swimming and games. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember the last time he celebrated his birthday. He and his wife used to treat themselves to a nice dinner and an expensive bottle of wine. After Luisa died, so did Howard’s desire to celebrate. But with his 90th birthday approaching, he devised a plan.

He couldn’t get the image of that tiger out of his mind. Of course, the image came and went. But it would sneak up on him and torment him. Sometimes, he would awaken in the middle of the night. The tiger’s roar would still be ringing in his ears. Trembling, he would go to the bathroom and pour himself a glass of water.

Once, he was sitting in the Great Room, looking out at the expansive lawn of his nursing home. Without warning, the hair on the back of his neck prickled, and he whipped around, certain that the tiger was lying in wait behind him. There was no one in the room, except old Mrs. Pinkle, shuffling along with her walker and her ratty cardigan sweater.

Howard wasn’t usually the type to save postcards or letters, but he had saved one. It had a photo of a tiger on the front. The back was blank, except for his name and address, scrawled in a strange hand. The postmark was from Thailand.

With his life winding down to a miserable conclusion, Howard used the times when his mind was still lucid to piece together a plan. He would ride a tiger again, one last time, before he died.

He wrote out his plan on a piece of lined paper, which he kept tucked between his mattress and box spring. When he remembered, he would pull out what he had written and re-read it. Then, he would close his eyes and repeat it back to himself, trying to plant the words into the small, still-healthy part of his rotting brain.

Once, his night nurse had almost found his written plan. Howard had lost control of his bowels in the middle of the night (after dreaming about the tiger again, he was sure, though he could not recall), and the nurse came to change his sheets. As she pulled the fitted sheet free, the piece of paper fluttered to the ground.

“What’s this?” she asked, bending to retrieve it.

Though he was old and feeble, Howard somehow bent and grabbed the note before she could.

“Never you mind about this!” Howard snapped, waving the piece of paper. “A man has got a right to his privacy, even in a hellhole like this.”

“Mr. Jones!” she exclaimed.

As she reprimanded him for his negative attitude, Howard read the list again, and tried to commit it to memory.

His plan: First, he would ask Brad the orderly to take him on a walk to the corner convenience store. Brad was a big fellow, blond and handsome, but he was dumb, from what Howard could assess. He needed dumb people if his plan were going to succeed.

At the store, he would insist that his bowels were bothering him, and ask to use the restroom.

While in the restroom, he would call to Brad through the door that he had soiled himself badly. He would ask Brad to run back to the nursing home to get him a chance of clothes. Orderlies weren’t supposed to leave the seniors unattended in public, but Howard was certain he could convince Brad to leave him alone for a few minutes.

Once Brad was gone, Howard would leave the store and walk to a bus stop in the opposite direction, two blocks away. He used to wait at that same bus stop to take his daughter to school. The bus route passed right by the zoo.

He would have his “shopping” money tucked into his wallet. Since he wasn’t going to buy anything at the store, he calculated he would have more than enough to purchase one-way bus fare and entrance to the zoo.

Once inside, he would check the zoo map and find the tigers’ pen.

After that, he would admit, his plan got a little fuzzy. He was going to walk to the pen, climb the fence, and attempt to ride the tiger.

He knew he might die. But he didn’t care.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet Project

I’m not a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when I saw this adorable crochet project on Pinterest, I was inspired to try it (the pattern is very easy to follow). Someone in my cohort is a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I decided I would crochet him a surprise TMNT doll.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 1
Totally radical
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 2
Turtle Power!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 4
Back details …
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crochet project 3
Cowabunga!

Fun Fact: The Shqip (Albanian) word for turtle is breshkë.

One of my most successful blog posts of all time is Jennifer the Unicorn, which is amusing but also a little disheartening. I’m supposed to be sharing information about my Peace Corps host country of Kosovo. But, everyone just wants to read about my unicorn.

You can see some of my other crochet projects here:

The Island of Misfit Toys, and Other Adventures in Crochet

I haven’t posted about many crochet projects lately. That’s because most of what I have been working on have been gifts for other people (and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise). Now that I am back from my trip to the States (and have distributed said gifts), I want to share what I’ve been working on over the last few months. I have also included some small projects I didn’t bother posting earlier.

Back in the fall, I crocheted this small heart pillow for my host mother. I followed along with this YouTube video.

crocheted heart pillow

My sister asked me to make her a winter headband. I made two — one for her, and one for my friend Nicole (who I met up with in Paris for New Years). I followed along with this easy YouTube video.

I’ve followed this pattern numerous times to create different scarves. I crocheted this one for my mama, modifying it slightly by adding a single crocheted row of red for extra ridging.

crocheted striped scarf

My mom had sent me this crochet book in a care package. I used one of the patterns in it to create this cardinal for her. (I followed the pattern exactly … I have no idea why its head turned out so big.)

crocheted cardinal.JPG

I modified a “beaver” pattern from the same book to make this panda bear for my friend Chelsea’s birthday:

My parents have an inside joke about alligators, so I crocheted this toy, following along with the free pattern I found here. My critter did not turn out as cute as the one pictured … I thought this pattern was pretty difficult to follow.

crocheted crocodile
In progress and unstuffed …

Isn’t it funny when serendipitous things happen? My friend Lisa sent me this book, after purchasing a copy to support the Michigan Humane Society (which happens to be where I adopted my cat, Sweeney Todd). Then, my friend Christian asked me if I could crochet a hat and scarf for his kitty back home. I said yes, but I told him he’d have to wait until after my trip to the U.S. I wanted to use Sweeney Todd as a model for pictures.

cat crocheted hat
This is why cats don’t like humans …

Last, I followed along with this very easy YouTube video to create a series of crocheted purses.

purple crocheted purse
.
crocheted purse
.
purple striped crocheted purse
.

crocheted beach bag

If you like to crochet, follow along with me on Ravelry at http://www.ravelry.com/people/hellofromkosovo.

Jax the Unicorn

I pay attention to my blog stats and lately, I’ve noticed a big spike in the number of times my post, Jennifer the Unicorn, has been looked at. It is by far my most popular blog post to date.

Around the same time, I noticed a big spike in blog traffic from Canada. (Hello, Canadian friends!) I don’t know if it is a coincidence, or if Canadians really like crocheted unicorns …

Anyway, I mentioned to my mom that I was thinking of doing another unicorn project, since the first one had been so successful. (Hey, I’m not above pandering to the masses.) She suggested I make my unicorn, Jennifer, a boyfriend. My mom also suggested that I give my new unicorn a “J” name to go along with Jennifer, so I chose Jax. (And no, I’m not a Sons of Anarchy fan. I just think it’s an interesting name.)

Processed with MOLDIV
Jax

I used the same crochet pattern that I did for Jennifer. It was much faster going this time. Jennifer took me weeks to complete, while Jax only took the better part of a few days. Maybe that’s because it was my second time using the pattern.

The only change I really made this time around was to follow a different pattern for the horn and mane.

Unicorn Mohawk

So now I have two crocheted unicorn toys. (Are you worried that I’m cracking up over here? I know! Me, too!) 😛

So happy together!

 

Guest Blogger: Andrew Bivins (Outdoor Sports and Ecotourism in Kosovo)

A while back, I asked my friends and family members to send me questions to answer on the blog. My Dad asked about sports and the outdoors in Kosovo. Since I’m not exactly Sporty Spice, I decided to outsource his questions to someone more knowledgeable than I. My friend Andrew has participated in a lot of outdoor fun since he moved to Kosovo. Without further adieu … –April

skiing kosovo
Andrew Bivins

Përshëndetje! I am excited and honored to be taking over April’s blog this week. Apparently I have gained a bit of a reputation for loving the outdoors, especially in Kosovo. In fact, the nature here is so beautiful that I started documenting it, which led me to discover another passion of mine, photography.

waterfall Kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

Back in the U.S., I was just getting into hiking and kayaking before I moved to Kosovo for my service. I am from Atlanta, so it was quite common for my friends and I to flee the city for the weekend for some fresh air on the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. I wasn’t sure what to expect once I found out I was moving to Kosovo. I had read that Kosovo was mountainous and forested, so I knew there was potential, but I wasn’t sure how accessible outdoor activities would be.

rock climbing kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

During my first year, I went on a lot of hikes with other volunteers and we usually found some great trails on our own through trial and error. The town I live in is pretty flat, so I usually relied on my friends who live in the more rugged areas to ask around and get an idea of where we should go. Unfortunately, unexploded landmines from the war are still a concern, especially in the mountainous border regions. It’s best not to get too adventurous, unless you really know where you are going and that the area has been confirmed to be free of mines. Luckily, there are many public and private organizations in Kosovo that are actively working to rid Kosovo of mines and other unexploded ordnance. There are also a lot of resources available, such as maps and local tour guides, that will allow you to safely enjoy the nature here.

mountain skiing Kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

I was talking with a local friend the other day and we were discussing how we have both noticed the recent increase in opportunities to take part in organized outdoor events. It has been amazing to watch Kosovo develop in this way during my nearly two years of living here because I truly believe that Kosovo has an incredible potential for ecotourism. Seeing that potential slowly turn into reality is pretty cool. Every week you can see new tour companies popping up on your newsfeed, advertising organized group hikes, bike rides, rock climbing, cultural tours, etc. These offers are usually at a pretty low price and they include transportation, food, and an expert guide. I recently took advantage of one of these opportunities and I went snowshoeing for the first time. We started in a village called Restelica and walked 10+ km over a mountain to the village of Brod. This was in one of the most remote regions of Kosovo and I never would have felt comfortable to do this without a guide, especially in the snow when visibility is so low and avalanches are such a risk. It was certainly a challenge, my legs are still burning three days after the fact, but it was an amazing experience. The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and I was able to learn the basics. My only disappointment is that it is the end of winter and I only just now discovered that I love snowshoeing. Next winter I plan to snowshoe as often as possible. I am also hoping to pick up skiing. I went once when I was in high school, but I would hardly call myself an expert. Kosovo is definitely a great place to learn! Depending on where you are, you can find slopes for beginners, or more challenging ones if you already know what you’re doing. I’ve also seen a lot of snowmobiles during my visits to Brezovica (the main ski resort in Kosovo) and I think it would be awesome to learn how to do that as well. With that said, PCVs aren’t allowed to drive cars or motorcycles, so I assume there is some sort of rule about snowmobiles. If you are currently serving, it’s probably just best to wait until you close your service before you give that a shot.

snowy mountain kosovo
Photo courtesy of Andrew Bivins

I think a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers in Kosovo will tell you that winter is tough. My first winter was the most difficult part of my service. I didn’t know how to deal with it and I spent far too much time sitting inside and feeling sorry for myself. My second winter has been the exact opposite. Yes, it was still cold, but I got out as often as possible, enjoyed myself, and stayed busy. Winter was still there, it didn’t change, actually it was colder this winter, but my perspective changed and it made all the difference in the world. My family and friends back home have been shocked to see me enjoying the snow so much. I was never really a winter-type of guy, but I suppose you can count it among the MANY things I have learned to love during my almost two years in Kosovo.

April’s Note: If you enjoyed Andrew’s beautiful pictures, please follow him on Instagram: instagram.com/seekosovo

Read posts by other guest bloggers:

 

Owl Baby Bib Crochet Project

owl baby bib easy crochet project.JPG

Given my mood lately (which borders on “ugh” or “meh”), and the slew of half-finished crochet projects I’ve got lying around, I told myself last Sunday I would feel better if I started and finished a project.

I’d seen these cute owl baby bibs on Pinterest (where else?) a while ago. A close friend of mine is expecting her third child this summer (good Lord, when did I get so old?), so I decided to make this bib as a gift. It was ridiculously easy.

You can download the free pattern here. As an added note, I used a size J crochet hook for this project.

I’m not exactly sure what size baby this bib will fit. Hopefully it isn’t too big for a newborn, otherwise, my friend’s new son or daughter will have to wait until they’re older to enjoy his or her owl friend.

Also, at the suggestion of my friend Katie (thanks, Katie!) I joined ravelry.com. You can follow me here. I don’t have all of my projects loaded on the site, but hope to at some point.