Category Archives: National Novel Writing Month

Now What?

There.  Okay–now what? Now that I’ve gotten used to writing and proved to myself (mostly) I can actually accomplish a commitment I don’t know what to do with my momentum.

I definitely like writing down my thoughts, sharing an idea, and exhaling once I do get something written.  After NaNoWriMo I need to move on to something else.

After checking out a few other challenges I found one I’m going to try.  This one is actually taking a photo a day, but I’m going to add a bit of a story with each one–just to keep in practice. Maybe you’ll join me as well?

I’m getting a late start on this, what’s new there?  Maybe I will batch post to get caught up.  Stay tuned!

December photo a day list! #FMSphotoaday

 

Day Twenty-Eight: Good-Night, Sweet Prince

Friday is my NaNo deadline. Speaking of deadlines, I am also supposed to turn in a short story for English. We are studying the short story form in English now and Mrs. X wants us to write one.

“We have been studying the elements of the short story and we have read many fine examples.  It’s now your turn,” were her instructions to us before announcing we needed to turn it in by Friday.  How am I supposed to squeeze in a three to five-page story when I still have around 4,000 words to hit my NaNo goal?

At first there were about five of us doing the NaNo extra credit challenge in Mrs. X’s class, dwindling down to three by the second week into it, and now it’s only me.  Although it looks like no one is doing the EC challenge because I stopped adding my progress stickers when I become the only NaNoWriMoer. I didn’t want to look like an overachiever.  Wait–if I do get my word count in eouldn’t the X factor have a fit if I dropped the 150 or so pages on her desk and say: “Umm, sorry I couldn’t get the short story in–will this do instead?”

As I was dwelling on pulling off my NaNo coup, Mrs. X was busy squelching the sounds of protest of having to write the short story. Yes, even though the X factor is scary, we sometimes do rise up to rebellion, even though it is a small one. At the minute grumblings, she did her trademark hand thing.  She will hold up her left hand like a traffic cop as if she is trying to stop the undesired behavior.  The strange thing is that is actually works.  She is scary.  Have I mentioned that?

“There is nothing wrong with having to write this story.  It will give you something to do besides update your Facebook profiles and wear your fingers out playing Guitar Hero.”

When she says stuff like this we toss around surprised looks at one another.  For being someone so decrepitly old, what she does know in terms of what’s going on continually amazes us.  She even uses a cell phone.  I saw her walking out to her car actually texting to someone.  That just doesn’t seem right.  Isn’t everyone over sixty supposed to be technologically illiterate?

I had a difficult enough time coming up with an idea for a novel, now I have to come up with an idea for a short story?  Actually, I might have one.

The other night I babysat Timmy.  He absolutely would not go to sleep.  Sometimes he gets fretful when his parents go out at night.  Kid fears.  I remember getting them now and then when I was his age.  He wasn’t interested in any of his books.

“Tell me a story.”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“Both,” he said.

“I’m not very good at making up stories. Really. That’s the truth,” I told him.

“I won’t be able to go to sleep without one.”

“You aren’t even a little bit sleepy?  Not at all?  Not even a tiny bit tired?”  I asked.

He shook his head.  “Not a bit,” although I thought he rustled down a little bit snuggier under his sheets and blankets.

“Hmm, that reminds me of a story I once heard about a little boy who couldn’t sleep.”

“I want to hear it,” he yawned.

I tucked the blankets around him and began:

“Once there was a little boy, he was a prince, in fact.  He lived in a wondrous castle with his mother the queen and his father the king.  He had servants galore.  One servant helped him dress in the morning.  Another buttered his toast, while another taught him his ABC’s, numbers from one to ten, and where Pago Pago was on the big map that hung in his study room.  Besides having servants the little prince had stuff.  All the kinds of stuff every little boy would want, be he prince or not.  He had balls, bats, bikes, boats, balloons, oh my and more, and that was only some of the B toys.  He had a pony to ride whenever he wanted to ride a pony.  One for each day of the week, in fact.  He had not one, but three pools to swim in.  One for when he was hot.  One for when he was cold.  And an empty one when he didn’t feel like swimming at all.  He had a huge library filled with books to read whenever he wanted to read.

Yet, with all these things the little prince did not have one thing he wanted and needed so very much.  That would be a good night’s sleep.  Night after night he would try to sleep, yet night after night he would close his eyes only to toss one way and then toss another.  It wasn’t any use.  It wasn’t possible for him to fall asleep.  He wanted to sleep.  He really did.  He wanted to close his eyes and dream sweet dreams of places to see and people to meet and new things to try and do.  Yet sleep simply would not come.

His mother the queen would read him story after story and the little prince would simply say, “Please read me another, dear Mother the Queen.”

Then the father would say, “I will tell you a story that will surely put you to sleep, so you will dream sweet dreams all through the night.”  He would sit in the chair next to the bed and spin a story that lasted and lasted yet the little prince would not shut his eyes, though his mother the queen was quite fast asleep.

The little boy prince would say, “I liked that one ever so much, dear Father the King.  Do you know any more?”

Many remedies had been tried to absolutely no use.  Cocoa, soft pillows, dreamy lullabies sung, snuggly stuffed bears to hug, and downy blankets to cozy under.  Nothing worked nothing worked at all.

Then one night when the little prince again tucked into bed could not sleep, the time had come to say “enough is enough.“  For by now the king was getting cranky and the queen  would sniffle and weep and the servants were nervous and the kingdom became concerned..  No one, no, no one at all knew what the matter could be, and solutions tried and failed.  The king announced, ‘Half my kingdom to the one who can come with a plan for my son to have a good night of sleep is what we all need.’”

The little boy prince sat up in bed and announced,  “Father my king you can keep your kingdom for I have all I need, but I think I have the solution.  It’s true, I think I do. There is one thing that must be done.  One thing I believe that would do it, I think.”

His father the king was speechless, his mother the queen stopped her sniffing, and the servants stood at attention waiting for the command.  They all listened and waited, wanting to know what it could be.

“If it pleases you all,” the little prince declared.  “I know I need a good night’s sleep and that will start with a ‘good night’ is all.”

“That’s all?” they all declared.

“Yes,” he nodded.  Every night with the stories, books, cocoa, comforters, stuffed bears and such, I thought it all too much.  All I need, and I am sure you will agree, is a simple, ‘good night’ and then I will know it’s time to sleep.

Such a simple solution from one so young amazed and astounded all who heard it, and it was done.

“Good night, sweet Prince, good night.”

image: clatl.com

The little boy prince fell asleep upon hearing those words, and the soft little snore became the sweetest snore ever heard.

The most amazing dumb story in the world is what I told Timmy, yet it worked.  I probably bored him right into unconsciousness.  I’ll write that up and see what the X factor says.  Or I might just drop my NaNo certificate of completion on her desk with the excuse, “Sorry I didn’t get to the short story assignment, but I was busy finishing my novel.”  That would be worth the laser eye.  I believe it would be.

Day Twenty-Seven: BF Retrospect

Black Friday line

Black Friday line (Photo credit: tshein)

“You are not awake today.  Too much study, yes?”

That’s when the bell rang.  I wish I could have been a better lunch companion for Simone.  She didn’t mind.  She’s always nice.  She never complains.  I could learn to be more like that.  Here she is about a million gazillion miles from home.  She doesn’t whine about what she is missing, like I know I would.  She instead focuses on the good parts of what is happening in her life.  She had turned the conversation away from her and asked about me. What was the question again?  Do I like Christmas? Yeah, I do.  Who doesn’t? It’s not until I get home that I wonder if Simone’s real question meant if I like Christmas in general  or if I like how my family does Christmas. That could be a different answer.

If I like Christmas because of all the extra commotion of finding the perfect present for everyone, the answer would be a loud Not A Fat Chance.  It isn’t the buying of presents that is bothersome, it’s the shopping part.  Our family isn’t much on buying excursions. Even though Mom writes for catalogs she isn’t  a shopper, and I never have any money, and Dad?  I’m not sure how he feels about shopping.  Groceries, yes, he likes grocery shopping.  Regular shopping.  I haven’t a clue.

Considering how shopping isn’t our thing, it would be surprising to learn Mom and I attempted Black Friday. That’s right, we jumped right in and started off  the Christmas season with the growing tradition of credit card stampeding. I got to thinking and wondered why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday?   So I Googled it.

Black Friday originally referred to some economic panic caused by a couple of guys back in 1869, who were trying to make it rich through gold buying.   Word got out and people quickly began selling and trading and an economic panic developed. Another source said the term came from how badly the traffic jammed up due to the post Thanksgiving shoppers and how the Philadelphia police dreaded the headaches the traffic caused.  I don’t know why those two reasons would make it “black.”  Maybe the black part is supposed to mean “bad,” because black is a “bad” color.

The other reason I found makes the most sense.  Up until the Thanksgiving sales most retailers operate in the red, meaning a loss. I guess accountants used to mark any losses in red ink, and profits would get placed in the ledger books in black ink.  Thanksgiving sales help businesses get their books back into the black. I used to think Black Friday had to do with a national day of mourning or something, like a president had died.  It’s weird how ideas get stuck in our heads as little kids.

 

I think Mom wants to go because she wants a break from her writing and wants some kind of reward for hitting her deadline earlier than expected. Plus, I think she’s rather pleased how well Thanksgiving dinner turned out, even though it was really Dad who saved the day.  We asked if Dad wanted to go with us and experience Black Friday Madness. His reply?

“Let’s see, jostle elbows, push, pull, and scramble for bargains amidst frenzied consumers or stretch out on the couch and channel surf?”

That being said with a grin, we left him to the couch, remote in hand.

Black Friday Retrospect:

Going at 10 am versus 5 am meant less deals and definitely lessened the impact of shopping mania.  We contemplated avoiding the huge stores like Wal-Mart and Target, and then Mom decided if we were going to experience Black Friday to its fullest we should take the plunge and go to the mall.  When I wavered in my commitment she promised lunch.

On the way to our great shopping adventure I almost broke down and told Mom about my NaNo thing.  I feel like I am keeping some deep secret from my parents, like I’m sneaking around doing something I shouldn’t.  I know they would absolutely be thrilled about –big italics here–trying to write a novel.

The real reason of not telling them about what I’m doing is that this project has become too personal.  Instead of a novel it’s become more of a journal and there is stuff about them in there as well.  It’s kind of an empty victory (that is if I really do make the word count by Friday) since I won’t be letting anyone read what I’ve written.  I almost wish I had tried writing an actual novel instead.  Second thought, I know I wouldn’t have gotten very far with that idea.  I started reading what I wrote that one late night/early morning and stopped.  Nope, Alas in Wonderland? what was I thinking?

Writing about what is going on in my life has been easy because it’s really happening to me.  Verisimilitude. Real.  Not every girl has a vampire for a boyfriend.  I don’t even have anything close to a boyfriend.  Only visions of Eddie to keep me company.

Further Black Friday Retrospect:

Black Friday is not for sissies.  Even at 10 am the shopping sharks still prowled the town. After seven passes in the mall parking lot Mom found a space far enough away to qualify for our cardio workout for the day.

“Do you really want to do this?” she asked me.

“You’re the one who asked me!“

“Come on, then.  Now or never. Do or die.“  Her attitude made me feel like we were going bungie jumping instead creasing her credit card.

Bravely on we ventured into the mall.

I think we would have done better with a definite plan in mind.  We were swept in with the flow of shoppers like tuna caught in a swift current.  Sporadically a few shoppers would veer into a store.  Relying on Mom to set the agenda wasn’t working out so I tugged on her arm and pulled her into the first store on our right.  Victoria’s Secret.  We both began giggling.  She pulled on my arm to leave and I convinced her to look around.  Laughably there were almost more guys than ladies milling around.  I almost cam-photoed Mom’s face, she was so embarrassed by some of the merchandise.

“Come on, Mom, buy something,” I teased her.

“Where would I wear it?”

“Mom, the idea is that it is underwear.  No one knows you are wearing except you.”

That hadn’t registered with her and then I think she liked the idea the more she walked around looking at all the selections.

“I’m so practical, I couldn’t buy one of these,” Mom picked up a frothy bit of satin and lace from a display, “things.  But why not.  I’m worth it, aren’t I?”

We spent at least an hour in the store.  I convinced Mom to go into a dressing room.  She finally ended up with a bra that she said cost her more than the recent paycheck she got in the mail.  She is not used to “extravagance” as she called it. She lives in her jeans and t-shirts with zip up hoodies and I know she buys her six-pack Fruit of the Looms underwear from Target.

She offered to buy me something and I said I would pass.  For one reason I would feel way too self-conscious.  I envision walking down the hall and everyone would know I am wearing a Victoria Secret underthing.  Like it would light up or x-ray show and tell.

Fulfilling our fill of frills we ventured out again.  We made it past the See’s corner candy store without caving in to the taunts of chocolates.  Mom wanted to hit Penney’s.

“There is always something at Penney’s to find.”

And we did just that.  We each found sweaters, Mom got Dad a scarf, and I bought him leather driving gloves. Actually Mom bought them and I would have to pay her back.  Penney’s was packed out.  We didn’t even bother with trying on the sweaters; instead we stood twenty minutes in line waiting to pay for our Black Friday Booty.

Afterwards Mom looked at me.  “Lunch?”

I nodded.  We ducked into the mall Chili’s and waited in line.  No seats were available they were so busy.  After about twenty-five minutes we got a booth.  We ordered, snacked on chips and sipped on our raspberry lemonades, and Mom let out a giggle.  I widened my eyes, Mom was losing it.

“We’re lightweights.  Out and out lightweights.  This Black Friday thing is more than what I imagined it to be.  What about you?  Eat lunch and go home?”

“Remember, this was your idea in the first place.”

“I’m exhausted.  I don’t know how people do this, and some of them got up before 4 am to get the bigger deals.”

We didn’t talk much during lunch. Mom said I could drive home if I wanted to, but I passed.  The traffic in the mall lot was too intimidating for anyone but a seasoned driver.  I think we could have sold our parking space.  I could see things were going to get nasty when one car saw us pulling out and stationed itself to wait, disregarding the car in the opposite direction which had already claimed the spot by putting on its blinker.

“Maybe I should pull back in and like we only adjusting our spot.”

Mom has an odd sense of humor sometimes.

We arrived home and Dad made a point of getting off the couch as if he hadn’t been asleep.

“Faker!” Mom laughed at him.  “Quick, what’s the score.  Better yet, who is even playing?”

“Umm, I dozed off during the commercial.  Let me get back to you on those questions.  You ladies get your fill of consumerism?”

We related all our adventures, and when Dad saw the Victoria Secrets bag he twitched an eyebrow up.  I left the room.

image: tumblr.com

Day Twenty-Six: Verily, Merrily Vocabulary

I doubt I’ll be using my cell phone alarm anytime soon.  Waking up before the alarm, at 6:12 am, a good fifteen or so minutes before the alarm was to go off, I tapped my organizer and shut off the one-time alarm setting. Or so I thought.

I’m in the bathroom and I hear the obnoxious fakey rooster alarm goin beserk.  Caught in an awkward moment, having just stepped out of the shower,  I am not up for dripping and streaking across the hall to my room to shut it off.  I’m frantically trying to towel off enough to get some clothes on to dash across to my room wishing for a robe. That’s one request for my Christmas request list.  It’s difficult pulling up damp underwear onto a damp. Let alone the uncomfortable sticky part of wearing them.  I don’t recommend it.

I manage to jam on enough clothes for decency to make the dash, jump onto my bed, and grab my cell phone off my nightstand.  “What is your problem?” I growl at my phone.   I go through the turning off procedure again, the log says “alarm empty.”  I bounce my phone on top of my bed firmly enough to teach it a lesson.  I then attempt a return to my morning routine, yet I have little energy from too many late nights of noveling attempting. I give up on style this morning and go for necessity.  The hair will have to air dry and not wanting to catch a cold I throw on my woolen hat.  I grab a Pop-Tart and an apple, a kind of a guilt and compromise breakfast on the run, and head out the door.  I have the presence of mind to make sure I have my keys and phone before shutting the door.  Hello to another day.

One reason for my state of flurry is while in the shower I suddenly realized I have a vocabulary test in English, causing panic to set in.  The alarm frenzy didn’t all help. I try to recall the vocabulary list, try to envision the handout, yet all the vocab words whirl together in my brain like a blender in puree mode.  I close my eyes, convincing myself to take a breath and to calm down.  I pep talk my brain into test mode.  I hope my brain is listening.

At our school the freshmen are taught the Greek side of word parts, and in sophomore year we learn the Latin aspect.  We aren’t learning the languages of Greek and Latin, only the word parts.  I guess something like 85% of our language is composed of Greek and Latin.  The rest is made up of German, French and some other languages.  It makes sense to study how words are made up of parts.  Mrs. X had one of her rare cool moments, which are very few, and explained the vocab system one day.  She did it with Oreo cookies.

English: Two regular Oreo cookies. Please chec...

English: Two regular Oreo cookies. Please check my Wikimedia User Gallery for all of my public domain works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Class,“ she beckoned to us, holding up an Oreo cookie. “This cookie is made up of three parts.   “There is the top,“ she demonstrates. “the middle,” she flashes the creamy middle after expertly twisting apart the two halves, “and the bottom.” We blink and stare.  She never does anything like this.  Seeing our glazed, unblinking expressions, she continues.  “Think of the top as the prefix, how it goes before the creamy white center.  Now the center is the root, it’s the middle of the word.  This brings us to the end part, or the suffix.  This cookie is similar to most words in that there is a front part, a middle, and a back part.”  And she put the cookie together and ate it.

Her cookie demonstration helped a little in understanding how words are put together, except I immediately want to eat cookies whenever I study vocabulary.  I wonder if she studied Pavlov.  Heck, she’s so old she probably went to school with him.  I think she started teaching the year the school opened back in 1946. The X is legendary, that is for sure.  I hear the principal is even frightened of her.  I think she’s been here so long she must have been his English teacher when he went to high school. If Mrs. X does retire some day they could hire three new teachers and still not equal her seniority in years. She is old.  Way old. She is way old school.  No one talks in her class. Death by over-the-reading-glasses glare is gruesome.  It happened last quarter.  I was witness to it.  Two girls whispered, actually whispered together, while Mrs. X went over the reading assignment.  The girls were oblivious to the quick darting glance warnings students tried to give them.  Then it happened…Mrs. X zeroed in on the offenders and before they could adjust their composure they got zapped with the famous X factor withering eye.  They stiffened in their desks and did not move the rest of the period.  I don’t talk to anyone in her class.  She is fearsome.

I absolutely do not want to fail this vocab test.  Not that I have failed any so far, but I have this “driving desire to pass it with excellence”, which is what Mrs. X tends to say as she passes out the test sheets. If we do well we’ll be spared her Vocabulary Speech.  This speech is among several she pulls out, dusts off, and drones to us.  Speech #42: “How Vocabulary Should Be Taught.”

“Because of the block schedule  I cannot teach like I used to. The old system allowed for continuity.  I would give students their word list on Monday, methodically go over each word, give a sentence example, and ask students to supply a word using the prefix, root, or a suffix from the word list.  The next class I would give the synonym and call upon a student to give the equivalent off the list.  The third day  would be “pop-offs,”  meaning I would randomly select words and students and expect the word to be known She chuckles at saying “pop-off” as if she thought it was cute for her to use such an expression.  Maybe she thought she was being “hip” for using it.

After her momentary inserted chuckle she continues: “If five words were answered incorrectly during the review I would have the students write them out fifty times on a piece of paper.  The Friday of that week the test would be given.  It would be rare to have a student get less than 95%,” she would crow at us.  I am so glad we are block schedule.

Block schedule has been in effect for at least five years; however, Mrs. X is still holding on the hope they will return to the Old Way.  She reminds us on a frequent basis how much better it was when teachers could meet every day with their students instead of this “willy-nilly haphazard excuse” of a schedule.  We get the vocabulary of yesteryear speech every time she hands back a set of unsatisfactory vocabulary results.  “Top grade today was a 87%.  Study, people,” she cajoles.  She threatens to reintroduce us to the proven method of repetitious writing for vocabulary if we don’t bring up our scores. Ack, please spare us the drone repetitive writing and rewriting.

I usually manage to learn my weekly vocabulary by sheer intimidation.  She personally hands back the papers and I tend to hold my breath as I glance at the score. Last test she handed back my paper pointing to the circled red 90% with an equally red fingernail.  I don’t know if that is an indication of condemnation or congratulations.  Her expression is this one-sided grimace, or maybe that is her smile.

I know I sound like I am whining.  Okay, I am whining.  Vocabulary shouldn’t be this hard.  Then again I have collected some absolutely bodacious words from my weekly vocabulary words.  Here are some of my favorites:

1.  petulant: insolent in speech or behavior
2. loquacious: full of excessive speech
3.  dubious: fraught with uncertainty
4. magniloquence: characterized by a high-flying style
5. veracity: adherence to the truth
6. consanguinity-relationship by blood
7. expedite: to speed up the process
8. aureate: of golden color
9. sagacious: sound judgement
10. mordant: bitingly sarcastic

I tend to hoard certain words like they are bits of found treasure, only to find that they sometimes accidentally drop into in conversation or in writing. If that happens at school students will remark, “Oh, we just finished week 4 or I spelled that one wrong,” since we all suffer through the same vocab program.  However, outside of school people tend to look at me oddly for interjecting an ocassional treasure vocab word, as if I am not privy to it. My parents are word freaks like me, or I should say  “connoisseurs,” which is a nicer term.

I may not especially appreciate Mrs. X and her vocabulary tests, but I relish the introduction to all the new words.  Not surprisingly, I also have grown quite fond of Oreo cookies.

Vocabulary - Words Are Important

Vocabulary – Words Are Important (Photo credit: Dr Noah Lott)

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Day Twenty-Five: A Novel Start…Finally

Hamlet and Ophelia 1883

Hamlet and Ophelia 1883 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is 2:40 in the morning and I am typing.  I know I should be sleeping.   I woke up absolutely wide awake at 1:15 am.  I was asleep and then I wasn’t.  No noises woke me up. No weird dreams.  I was suddenly and absolutely awake.  I tossed and turned and really, really tried to get back to sleep.  One reason could be because of how it’s too quiet. The silence is so full there’s that kind of ringing quiet.  Usually when this happens I plug in my music, set in my mellow tunes and drift back into dreamland.

Instead, I am hauling out my laptop and I’m going to focus on actually getting my NaNo novel going.  With only a week to go it would be ridiculous to have spent a month writing and have nothing to show except my babblings.

Six days left.  I can’t possibly give up now.  This is the closest I have gotten to  completing something significant.  Maybe that’s what woke me up: the threat of failure.

Failure doesn’t ever sleep.  It doesn’t nap or even hibernate.  It lurks.  Did I write lurks?  That’s ridiculous.  I can tell it’s way too early in the morning.  Lurks.  What a word.  I envision a green Frankenstein thing lumbering around giving me a slow chase.  Lurks.  I’m not going to write anymore if that’s what’s coming out.

Later on…

I did it.  I actually got inspired to start my novel.  I was about to shut down my computer and do my “good night room” routine from the Margaret Wise book of my childhood.  “Good night door. Good night poster.  Good night dirty sock upon the floor…” I get to the stuff around my bed and I see the Lost in Austen DVD I need to return to the library, and the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next book I want to start reading, and my battered copy of Hamlet, next to a stack of classic children’s books I picked up on a whim from the library.  ABrainwaveHits. A major, bonfide, in-depth, variably exciting, inspirational brainwave.  Here’s  what I got so far:

 Alas in Wonderland:
A retold tale of wonder and delight
with Shakespearean tone and word of flight

            “Ophelia?”

“Prithee, I marvel much at thy appearance.  How didst thou come to my chamber?”

‘Umm, actually you’re in my room.  I was just reading about you.  I must be in one of those strange book-induced dream sequences.  It’s a popular means of time travel in literature.”

“What hath thee wrought!  Thou hast pulled me from my chambers into thy own.  I marvel much!”

“No kidding.  I didn’t think I had what it takes to do something like that.  I have practically zero in the imagination department.  Well, come on in, while you are here.”

Ophelia.  Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet emerges from my clothes closet. She looks just like I thought she would.  Her long chestnut-brown hair pulled into a simple braid, her dress is a plain linen frock, flowing down to her feet.  No makeup, yet her pale face radiates a quiet beauty no Seventeen or Vogue magazine model would be able to copy.  Her eyes widen upon taking in my room.

“Madam, I am full of wonder.  All this is yours?”

“It’s a little messy right now.  And it’s miss, or would that be mistress?”

“My pardon.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it.  I’m wondering something, if you came into my room through my closet, do you think we could go into your room the same way?  I would love to see your place.  We don’t have too many castles around my neighborhood.”

Ophelia glances around my room, and I can see she wants to explore it.  She nods, though I notice somewhat reluctantly, and turns round, gently pushing through my clothes, until she comes to a wooden door where the back of my closet should be. The door opens upon lifting the latch, revealing a sparse chamber, lit only by the daylight coming from the slit in the alcove.  I tentatively step in.  Instead of her bedroom we enter a small workroom. A large wooden table stands near the window accompanied by a stool. Bobbins of thread lay scattered on the table next to material and a dress.  She must have been sewing.

“You are welcome to enter my sewing closet.  Nay, be not afraid. No one is about,” she encourages when I hesitate.

Facing her, I ask, “What part of the book are we in?”

“I know not your meaning?  We share a book?”

I shake my head, “Play, I mean.  Umm, has Hamlet come and talked to you yet?  Doesn’t he come and talk about you going to a nunnery and all that?  I have always wanted to give him a piece of my mind about that.  He really ripped you off.  He had no right to say all that stuff to you.”

Ophelia’s face clouds in confusion. “You speak not plain. The prince has not confided in me of late.  Much is on his mind.  You know of his father’s death and how his mother’s recent marriage troubles him?”

“Oh, absolutely.  But I don’t think it’s any reason to act so crazy.  He didn’t have to involve you like he did.”

Approaching voices distract us. Ophelia turns towards my closet and I turn towards the hallway. When she steps back into my closet the door shuts between us and I cannot open the latch.  As the voices near I panic and frantically look for a hiding place.  I do not want to be the something rotten found in Denmark.  Not seeing any options I lift up the wall tapestry and then remembering Polonius, I think better of my hiding spot. Inching along the wall I sense fresh air and detect a bit of daylight.

“Secret passage,“ I reason, since I knew this to be a dream, I thought nothing of going to explore.  The wall turns into a hallway and I cautiously walk down it, drawn towards the daylight coming through the window at the far end.  The hallway seemingly shrinks in proportion the further I walk down.

“Poor design or they were all midgets back in Elsinore,“ I grumble.  The hallway continues narrowing until I have to bow my head to avoid the ceiling. Not liking the claustrophobic feeling I turn around.  The hallway has disappeared leaving me facing a wall with a small table. On a wooden tray lays a loaf of bread, what looks like wine in a cup and a note beside the food and drink: “Refresh Thyself.”

I have second thoughts about drinking any kind of wine found about the castle, and turn away from the tray.  Now instead of a narrowing hallway and a window I face the back side of another tapestry.  I pull back a corner which reveals  a door. Hidden doorways, shrinking hallways which disappear and concealed doors.  Either the castle designers had been bored with the usual plans and decided to spice things up or were lunatics.  Since I have no way back I pull aside the tapestry and try the door.  Fortunately, it opens upon lifting the latch and I enter into a garden. I don’t remember Shakespeare mentioning any garden in Hamlet, but I do remember the graveyard scene and hope I won’t be headed in that direction.

I notice movement towards my right and discover several animals gathered by the entrance of a hedge maze.  No way–rabbits, mice, ducks, and some odd creatures dancing on two legs?  Dreams can be so weird sometimes.  I decide to gamely go along with this new turn in events.  Stepping over to the gathering I address them.

“Alas, what party of creatures be gathered here?
Forsooth, tis a menagerie of gaiety that draweth near.”

That’s me?  Now what?  I’ve gone Bard all of a sudden?

“Alice? You’re late, so terribly late.  The duchess will be ever so vexed.  Don’t dawdle any longer and hurry along,” a white rabbit scolds me.

Alice? Rabbit?  No, no, no. Have I somehow gotten myself into a Lewis Carroll hybrid?

When I protest that my name is not Alice, out comes,

“Stranger than curiosity grows this tale.
Did I down a hole did take a fell?”

I mutter an apology to William S. for that bad approximation.

The animals all scamper through the hedge opening and I try to follow.  I stick my head and shoulders through the hole and spy a dirt road, with a small cottage on the right side.  Fairly rude to not wait for me I complain to myself as I wiggle and squeeze through the opening and follow them.  Hurrying up to the cottage I knock on the door.  No answer.  Maybe the party is around the back.  Taking the path I turn the corner, practically bumping into a ladder. Looking up I notice a lizard clad in overalls clambering halfway up. We both startle at one another’s appearance.  “Oh, so sorry,” I exclaim, jumping back.  The lizard squeaks and scuttles up the ladder, disappearing into the chimney.

“Bill?”  I vaguely recall a lizard called Bill and ladders.  I hope he doesn’t hurt himself going down.  But then maybe he meant to go down the chimney.  Walking past the ladder, I turn the corner of the house and find myself facing the backyard garden, which is empty of person, fin, or fowl. I push open the gate and enter.
It’s such a pretty garden with an abundance of all my favorite flowers.  I breathe in all the scents of narcissus, lilacs, lavender, and roses, not even noticing that it’s spring instead of what should be late fall. I do wonder how all the flowers are blooming catawampus out of their usual time.  Bird song melodies weave through the trees and butterflies and dragonflies cavort among the flowers.  It would be so easy to sit down on the bench next to the gate and simply relax and rest.  I don’t though.  I feel absolutely drawn towards an unexplainable something.

My feet pull me up and along the path which leads into a wooded grove of mainly oak and birch trees.  Oddly, I reflect: Do they even grow together?   I then wonder how Ophelia is faring in my room.  I hope she doesn’t mind how messy it is.  I so rarely have people over that I don’t pick up like I should.  Oh dear, speaking of picking up things, what if she picks up Hamlet and reads about herself?  That wouldn’t be good at all.  Maybe I should turn back.  Yet, my feet keep moving forward.  I’m a bit distressed in that I really cannot turn back.

The path meanders through the woods and I do so want to stop and rest except my feet keep walking.  My brain kicks in and yells, “STOP!”  Aah, the feet listen. I veer off the path and sit down, leaning against a smooth white tree trunk.  Closing my eyes, tempted to rest I sniff.  Cherry-tainted smoke?

“Whom might you be?”

Standing, I look about until I see a man situated on top of my tree, which is no tree at all.  It’s a mushroom I‘m under.  A very large mushroom. Rather a pretty one I think, with its white spots splashed across the vermillion coloring.  The sun shines behind him making it difficult to see him clearly. Swathed in a large blue satin robe, wearing Ray Bans and smoking a pipe, he looks rather smug and comfortable as he reclines on some sort of couch supported by mounds of soft plumpy pillows.

“I said, ‘Whom might you be?’”

“Alas, I once might have known,
That name has from memory flown,” I answer.

Dratted iambic.  I never could get the meter straight.

“Alice, is it?  I once knew a Alice.  I doubt you are she.  But you’ll do.”

“Anon, t’would be folly to be one I am not meant to be
I fear I must run this dream’s course, my purpose to see”

“Aah, the old  to be or not to see question.  Well, good luck with that one.”

“Aye, luck would I need, for on my mission I must speed.”

“Then have some mushroom before you go,” the blue man suggests.

What is this, a foodie’s convention?  I’m pretty sure eating strange food in a strange land is not to the best of my health.

“Forsooth, nor food nor drink will I have a taste,
for on my journey I must make haste.”

Upon those words my feet fairly fly me down the path leading ever deeper into the woods, which becomes thicker with trees until it appears much more like that of a dense forest.

“Oh fie, I cannot go another step
I’ll now weep until I’ve wept.“

“Had a hard day of it then, dearie? Tsk, you do look all done in then. Have a wipe then, ducks.”  A white cloth handkerchief floats towards me.

I grab it, dabbing at my eyes and nose.  Why does it not surprise me to see a cat perched on the tree limb above me?

“Alas, from the top this day has beheld many a shock:
Closets gone awry, a merry menagerie of fur, fin, foul did fly.
No princes found, only this path I am bound.
Blue-robed men of pillowed comfort left, and now a chatty cat,
I am quite bereft.”

“And your rhyming could definitely use some polish. Rather stuck in the meter thing, eh? Been seeing rabbits and such?  Don’t know about princes, but I’d say it’s been a full one.  But no mind, love.  More adventures I dare say are to visit you.  Or you will visit them.”

With that the cat winks out.  Before I can protest its disappearance he returns, or at least his smile reappears.  “Oh, you might be in a bit of a mix up. Me names not Alice, by the by.  Most call me Chessy. Bye then and cheerio, love.”  And the smile pops out like the click of light switch.

Back on the path or can I possibly wake myself up?  It’s my dream, shouldn’t it be easy to choose?  I pinch myself.  Yes, that does the trick.

I am somewhat stuck as to what happens from “Alice’s” encounter with the Chessy Cat.  At least I’ve got a start, though I doubt I’ll get 49,000 more words typed out before the 31st to make it novel.  Writing is tough.  Then again would it be as satisfying if it weren’t?

Day Twenty-Four: Pretty as You Please

My parents haven’t met Simone yet and Mom really wants to. She says she wants to try out her high school French.  I hope she isn’t serious.  Simone says she finds it funny when people try to converse with her in their bad French.  She make a waving motion in front of her face indicating their French stinks.  It took me a  bit to catch on to her sense of humor.  She doesn’t make outright jokes, instead she makes these little play on words.  She tells me, “My English “trips and falls down before the joke can run its way.”

When we met up at the mall for the movies I had no problem spotting Simone. It’s not that she is tall, it’s how she manages to stand out in crowd of people.  She is in this bubble of style.  She is so European.  There is something about how she wears her clothes.  She drapes her scarf, while I wrap mine around my neck.  Her earrings dance off her ear lobes, and my earlobes are naked and embarrassed to be found undressed.  Her colors complement boldly, and mine are blah, blah, blah.  She has an ensemble.  I have something on dug out of my laundry hamper.  You would think hanging out with her I would feel intimidated.  I actually feel inspired.

With her long  brown hair, the bluest of eyes, and winning smile I still wouldn’t say she is pretty. I first thought she was gorgeous, yet  now I think she isn’t pretty at all, instead she is alluring.  Strange word to use, I know.  She has a mystery about her that makes me want to discover more about who she is.  I’ve not been around many European people, so I don’t know if it’s because she is from France or if it’s because she is who she is. There is something about her that comes out and completes her, yet she is not totally finished. That sounds weird, I know. How can someone seem complete, but still have a bit hidden?   I don’t know how to explain it.  Maybe it’s because she is not gorgeous or even that pretty.  Her looks go deeper.

Pretty girls, in my opinion, are already done.  One look and their story is read,  already known. I know that sounds shallow, like I’m just saying this because I’m not pretty–au contraire–I’m picking up on Simone’s expressions already.  Pretty girls have this “My-face-gets-me-where-I-need-to-go-in-life look.”  They have the votes, the guys, the clothes, everything.  Except personality.  Did I really mean that?  Did I really lump them into the stereotypical Barbie mold?  Yup, I sure did.

Our school has a bunch of pretty girls.  I call them the “cookie cutter girls.“ They wear the same kind of hairstyle, same type of clothes, they sound the same, and act the same.  Nice they usually are not. I have known a total of two pretty girls who were nice.  They were better than nice–they were sweet.  They were cheerleaders, best friends, sisters even, and really, really nice.  They volunteered for clubs, tutored other students, and weren’t any bit stuck up.  Teachers liked them, most everyone liked them.  They weren’t in the loud popular senior crowd, that group of twelfth graders who are known by everybody, who seem to be getting in the school newspaper, or are getting awards, or are mentioned in conversations.  Instead they were they “you know, the blonde senior twins,“ and people would nod and say, “oh yeah, they are so sweet.“  They didn’t say, “right, those two gorgeous twin sisters with the flawless complexion and naturally blonde hair, who get good grades, stay out of trouble, and are incredibly nice.“ Maybe people thought they were too good to be true.  How can anyone be pretty and nice?  Maybe because they were seniors when I was a freshmen I lived in a delusional void.  I thought they would be the most popular girls on the campus, if not the world.  Surprisingly, I don’t think they got voted as prom queen or anything big like that. Maybe because they were twins it was hard to tell who was who, and people didn’t want to favor one over the other.  So, two pretty girls over a thousand I’ve seen or been around.  I rest my case.

Pretty.  What is pretty?  There is the fashion magazine definition, the Hollywood style, the popular girl version.  I prefer the Jane Austen style.  Her heroines seem to win the male characters over with their sass more than the bat of their eyelash.  Maybe Jane was plain.  She would know what it was all about then.

At the mall Simone and I eat and discuss whether to see the newest apocalypse film or one of the new animation flicks.  I don’t understand the trend of films.  In the last couple of years we either have gloom-and-doom-the-world-is-ending movies or the here-is-yet-another-superhero movie.  We need to figure out whether to spend ninety or so minutes watching how the world might end, or if we should relax and let our minds coast and simply watch one of the new Pixar films.  Cartoon laughs or CGI tragedy?  We decide tragedy would have less kids.  Simone comments, “I like little kids, if I am relative to them.”  I know what she means.  I can’t stand to be in a store and hear some kid screaming and the parent is totally oblivious.  Maybe being an only has something to do with it.  I have low kid tolerance.  I like Timmy because he isn’t a whiner.

image: fanpop.com

As we waited in line for our tickets I told her while she is getting to know America pretty well, the only ideas I have about the French are what I have absorbed from watching Sabrina. I’ve watched both versions at least fifty times. Simone suggested we watch them back to back.  “We stuff ourselves on the movie.”  I told her it sounded like we would be eating a meal instead of watching a couple of old movies.

“We enjoy all of life.  We work.  We play.  We love.  It is all so nice.  We embrace all of life.  Americans enjoy life too.  It is different though.  For the French we take a nice, long stroll, talking and walking arm and arm.  We are not in a hurry.  Americans are different.  They take a fast run with music in their ears.”  She emphasized this with plugging her ears with buds.  “America lives very fast.  It’s better to take a nice, long stroll.”

I can see her point. We microwave our food, race down freeways, dash around on errands, and speed dial our phone numbers.  Hurry, hurry, hurry.  I like the idea of living life more slowly.

The movie turns out predictable.  The family figures out how to stay together and get over their petty pre-disaster differences, and the one brave, most likable scientist figures out how to save the planet, even though more than half the world’s population is destroyed and the major architecture of the world is totally blown to bits and pieces.  It rates a see again when it comes out on DVD.

Simone’s host mother picks us up since she had gone shopping and it wasn’t a problem or out of her way to take me home.  “It gets dark, really dark, much too fast these days.  Besides, it’s really getting cold, don’t you think so?” she throws out, as she backs the car out of the mall parking lot. She sounds like a worrier to me.  I wonder what it must be like to be responsible for someone else’s kid.  Who takes on the responsibility for having a teenager live with you for almost a whole year, someone who is a)foreign b)a stranger and c)a person who might make your life absolutely miserable for nine months.  I think Simone must be fairly easy to live with.  Simone shivers in the car and we both laugh.

“I think it too cold.  It should snow soon, yes?”

We don’t always get snow, but the air has that sharp tang to it, that pinch to the air that hints of snow.  We’ve lived in the area for almost three years.  Most of the places we have lived in have some kind of winter.  Mostly rain.  Dad isn’t too keen on living where there is a lot of snow.  He hates shoveling, which is another reason we live in apartments.

“Let the manager do it.  If we owned a home I’d have to lift that shovel, toss that snow,” he tried in a southern accent.  Fine.  I like the snow.  The freshly fallen type that veils the trees, frosts the ground, lightens the overall landscape.  That Christmas card type of snow.  I don’t like snow when it’s been around too long.  It becomes a tired-looking grey, that ashy worn out snow of  hanging around too long.  I think it should snow after Thanksgiving and be all done by February.  Spring should be all ready to go by March 1st.

Some of the places we’ve lived in are a bit like that.  Sometimes it doesn’t snow at all.  Last year a hint of snow came and went.  I hear that this area doesn’t have too many white Christmases.  That bit of information makes me want the snow all that much more.  Simone says she hopes for snow as well.  “I want to know what American winter is like.”

She waves good-bye at the curb and drives off with her host mother in their common-around-here Subaru.  Mom drives her Alero and Dad has a Jeep.  He likes to go roughing it and I’ve gone with him a few times.  His Jeep is older, and has seen its days of roughing it in the woods.  Dad likes to get away and camp now and then. I remember as a little kid we would go backpacking and hiking quite a bit.  Now, I’ll only go if it’s warm out.  Mom rarely goes at all.  Her idea of roughing it these days is not having a microwave and mini-frig in the motel room. I guess the incident of finding bugs in her sleeping bag put her off on camping out.

I was about ten when we stopped going hiking and spending so much of our weekend time in the woods.  It was about the time my parents got serious about their careers.  Dad’s writing began to become more steady.  His assignments came from bigger magazines and paid better too.  Mom discovered the world of cataloging blurbing, as she calls it, and together they entered the semi-consistent life of freelance writing.  Since I’ve grown up with the feast and famine lifestyle we live I don’t think much of it.  It’s been this year though, as I listen more to what other kids’ families are all about that I realize my parents are a little different.  We don’t have a lot of flashy stuff that measures typical success.  No boats moored at the marina, the cars my parents drive are older, I doubt I will get to have my own car to drive,  no enviable vacations, no i-Phones, and it’s okay.  I would even say we are content.  No wonder I don’t fit it in so well at school.

Day Twenty-Three: Talking Turkey.

English: Half of a homemade pecan pie in a gla...

English: Half of a homemade pecan pie in a glass baking dish, served at a Thanksgiving dinner in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dad’s parents live in Scotland.  I’ve only seen them a handful of times.  He has gone to visit them a couple of times, usually on his own.  I have always gotten the feeling that Mom is uncomfortable about her in-laws.  There is a story that is not being told to me about the background of their marriage and Dad’s side of the family.  Dad gets along great with Granna and Gramps, and for the longest time I didn’t think I had any other grandparents.  Then when I was about four we drove to the airport, something I hadn’t done before. The jets, different kinds of people, and the busyness of the place absolutely dazzled me.  Being in a state of awe of my surroundings I wasn’t prepared for the silver-haired couple who hugged Dad and greeted Mom.  I leaned close to Mom when the man smiled down and greeted me as “Wee bonny lass.”  The woman smiled at me as well, and said, “Och, Tommy, she has her eyes and nose of your Grandmere.”  This I found confusing.  As far as I knew I had my own eyes and nose.  The strangeness of their speech, yet their warmth and friendliness mixed me up.  My parents hadn’t done much to prepare me for their visit.  Dad’s parents had rarely had been mentioned in our house.  My initial wariness melted on the way back to our house.

At the time we were renting a small house,  Granna, dad’s mother exclaimed, “Tommy, it’s a bit of a cottage.   I thought all Americans live in mansions on a lake.”  In later years I realized Granna and Golly, which is the name Dad’s father said was his very much real name, had an odd sense of humor.  Their words sounded serious, yet there was something about how they said them sounded like they were laughing, but they didn’t laugh out right. Their visits tended to be around two weeks and maybe five years in between.  Dad wants me to go to Scotland for the next visit, saying his folks are getting much too old and the changes in traveling have confused them.  Since they have always seemed old to me I couldn’t imagine them getting any older.

In some ways they seem so sharp and clear.  I probably wasn’t aware of it when I was four but I saw them differently when I was nine on their second visit. I noticed that Dad’s words sounded much like his father’s, with that brrr-ing sound to his speech.  Dad became even more easygoing and cheerful with his parents around.

Mom, on the other hand, became more quiet.  She and Granna didn’t talk much together and I could tell when they did talk they were talking about the right things. It’s like  a whole separate conversation existed underneath the one they were having.  I noticed a sort of stiffness when they talked together. Even at nine I sensed a tension between Mom and Granna.  I knew that conversant tension because I had experienced it first hand.

I had gotten into a fight with a girl named Bethany over something, who knows what at that age, and though we had supposedly made up we tended to be a little stiff with each other, like we weren’t having a true conversation, the one we really wanted to have. It was like our real words needed to come out, except they didn’t.  If those words had come out they may not have been very nice because even though we were nice to each other I don’t think either one of us would admit we were still ticked off at the other.

That’s how it was with Granna and Mom.  I wondered if they had some unresolved tiff between them.  Yet, grown up adult women didn’t have tiffs like silly nine year old girls, or did they?  It still makes me curious.  I didn’t know how to go about asking the question then, and I’m not sure I would know what question to ask now.

“So, Mom are you ticked off about something Granna did or didn’t do?“ Or “Granna, how come your accent gets even thicker when talking to Mom and your eyes have a bit of unhappy about them when you talk to her?“  Some questions need remain unasked.

As soon as Granna and Golly returned to Scotland Dad became a little sad and Mom wore this look of release, the type similar I get when I would I get to peel my best dress and pinchy black dress shoes after church when I was little and trade the scratchy discomfort for jeans and a t-shirt.  Someday I will ask the “what‘s up” with my Mom and Gran.  We tend to not ask the unaskable questions in our house.

Our little threesome, Mom, Dad, and me, we don’t interfere and prod and poke into one another’s business.  Call it respect or understood boundaries, we don’t talk a lot about our feelings.  A little.  Not too much. We like it like that.  It’s how I grew up and I didn’t know any other way.  I do have questions to ask.  Someday I’ll toss them out and see what will happen.  Maybe I’m old enough to ask and get some answers about Mom and Granna.

This should be the year when Granna and Golly come, but Dad did say it’s time for me to visit them.  I think I am slowly working my way up for such a huge trip.  Only if he comes with me.  I hope he’s coming if we are planning on going clear to Scotland.  I wonder if Dad would be willing to swing by France?  Now that would be a memorable summer vacation.

As for Thanksgiving this year?  Definitely memorable.

Gran called up saying she and Gramps were getting over the flu and Gran said she wasn’t up to cooking the big dinner this year. This left Mom in one of her states of meltdown.

“I can’t believe she expects me to whip up a Thanksgiving dinner all on my own!” she said in that almost wail she tends to do when getting stressed out.  Dad immediately took over.  He is quite good at that.  I stayed in my room and wrote about guinea pigs. I did come out briefly for a snack.  The tension was thicker than Mom’s attempt at gravy.

“It’ll be an adventure.  We’ll make the pies.  I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a pie.  You know your mom must be ill to blithely give out her heirloom pie recipes like that.  I wonder if we could sell her recipes on E-Bay?” This was Dad trying to convince Mom that Thanksgiving could happen. I know Gran must have been sick to give Mom her recipes.

It’s a family joke that Gran’s recipes are so handed down that we could probably declare them as national treasures.  I think the pie crust recipe has won a few blue ribbons at the county fair.  Gran still enters those.  She was a die hard 4-H leader when Mom was a kid.  Mom for all her years in 4-H never got the knack of cooking.  Good thing Dad learned to cook, and in fact he had considered becoming a chef except he decided he liked to sit and create a masterpiece with words instead of standing on his feet to create one with food.   He does cook well, when he does decide to cook.

“It’s too late to pick up a turkey.  It takes at least three days for it to thaw.  Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without turkey.  This isn’t what I wanted to deal with, I got a deadline to work on,” Mom fretted flipping through cookbooks.

Dad kissed Mom’s forehead frowns and said, “I’ll be back,” in his cheesy Terminator imitation.  He winked at me, and said, “Staying? Or do you want to be my  navigator?”  Seeing Mom’s mood,  I decided to go with Dad.

To make it all short and to the point.  Dad pulled it off.  We got all the ingredients needed from Gran’s recipes, but then Dad did something incredibly smart–he bought a Thanksgiving dinner instead.  No kidding. We were wheeling our cart by the deli and saw the sign advertising the no fuss Thanksgiving dinner special. Smart marketing. The local grocery store must know there are other families who run into Thanksgiving dinner glitches and with that knowledge they prepare the whole dinner, turkey slices (you specify dark, white or combo), mashed potatoes, the vegetable (bean casserole, broccoli florets, or baby glazed carrots) and rolls.  Salads and pies are extra.  You can build your own dinner, mixing and matching for as many people as needed.  Dad opted to buy only the turkey slices and a carton of gravy.  “I really suck at gravy,” he laughed. “Worse than your Mom’s. I do make a mean twice baked potato casserole. We can do our own veggies, let’s get a package salad mix and pick up some rolls.  Cranberry sauce.  We definitely need cranberry sauce.  Don’t ever tell your Gran, but I can’t stand the berry kind she gets.” Dad makes a face.  “Little lumps of cranberry when it should be a nice smooth jell.  Well, the chef on duty says its sauce on the table this time.”

Forty-five minutes later we wheeled our cart up to check out.  We weren’t the only ones doing last minute T-Day fixings.

While my parents fussed around in the kitchen I escaped to my room and whipped up my own Turkey Day creation consisting of guinea pigs. Not to eat.  Yuck! No, Twinkles got his share of salad fixings and tomorrow he’ll go back to Timmy’s.  I’ll miss the little squeaker.