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New WordPress Blog!

I've set up a new WordPress blog (with the help of my web-wrangler) because it gives me more options than the blog on this website, including the ability to post more photos, the ability to link with social media across the web, and a subscription service that sends a dandy version of the blog directly to your email inbox. Try it out.

Notes from a Western Life at WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com

You can continue to read the blogs here, however a few of the very long blogs under the category of "Writing: Where I've Been" will only appear on the WordPress blog.



An Index of Blog Topics
may be found lower down in this left-hand column so, for example, you can search for all blogs with "Writing Suggestions."

A dated archive of blogs is also available below the index.

Click here to jump to the index, or scroll down to see a selection of photos related to the blog posts.






Blacksmith or Wordsmith

Iron legs from yesteryear.

Smaller iron items inside.

The scrap-iron table.



Dust, Grass, and Writing

Like the native grasses, the roots of writing go deep and reach out in many directions.

Tough prairie grass roots splitting open a rock.

Green life may be found under dry debris.


Fringed Jacket Foofaraw

Turtle carved from bone.

Turtle made of silver.

Warrior Woman pin.

George's grizzly bear claw earring.

Powwow jingle cones made of tin.

Brass bell.

A tiny dream catcher.

Harley Owners' Group pin in honor of Jerry.

Wally McRae's cufflink and tooth.





South Dakota Poet Laureate? Not Right Now, Thanks.


"An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position."



Don't just click "like" about some political story you read.


Pick up the phone or write a letter and make a difference.



Ah! The Bathtub.

A brass hook on a nearby wall to hold my robe or a towel.

A removable wire basket stretches across the tub to hold my soap and sponges.



Windbreak House
Now on Facebook.


If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.

www.Facebook.com/​WindbreakHouse

No kitten videos, but I post Tuesday Writing Tips, Wednesday Word Posts, and various other writing-related stories, announcements, book reviews, photos and the occasional joke.



Ah, Spring!


Want to know more about this critter?

See the Gallimaufry Page for more about the bird, including more photos, and some odds and ends that don't fit anywhere else on this website.



More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.

* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.

* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.

* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.

* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.



Linda on YouTube

Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.

To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
click here.

To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
click here

Or go to www.YouTube.com and search for Linda Hasselstrom.

You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.

Thanks, Nancy!

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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog



Monitoring Your Time

April 30, 2012

Tags: Writing Suggestions, Time Monitor, Priorities, Wasting Time, Creating Calm

Outdoor seat in the hollyhocks near Homestead House, Linda's writing retreat residence.

. . .
Create a graph of an entire week, breaking days into increments of 15 minutes. To be precise, you will need 48 lines to record what you do each 15-minute segment of a 12-hour day. You can shorten the graph by using larger blocks of time for activities that donít vary, such as sleeping and going to work.

Along the side of each page, use a separate line to record each category of activity on which you spend time: sleeping, eating, work. Add other personal major categories: eating, cooking, other employment, television, walking. Leave some blank lines to add things you don't think of at first. I suggest you devote a single page to each day, and staple the pages together to form a handy-sized booklet.

Yes, this is a lot of work. Itís worth your time.

* Schedule the things you must do first: work, appointments fixed in advance. Then add daily activities like sleeping and eating; be realistic.

* Include errand time. Little things can destroy any schedule if you let them crop up in the middle of other jobs. Once you set aside time to do laundry, get groceries, ONLY do those jobs at that time. DO NOT allow yourself to leap up in the middle of a poem to run to the store. Tell your family, "Sorry we don't have whipped cream, but we were out (maybe someone used the last of it without writing it on the grocery list?) and I was working, so I couldn't go get it."

* Schedule enjoyment, and choose what it will be. Rather than sit blindly in front of the TV, decide you'll take a walk during that time, refreshing mind and body. Remember, physical activity is necessary for health, and many writers say it helps break writer's block.

* After you have included everything above, then set goals for your writing time; be realistic; don't schedule yourself for 8 hours of writing beginning at 9 p.m. Friday.

Carry the chart with you for one week. The time spent filling it out will be worthwhile in helping you create a realistic plan for scheduling writing time along with your other responsibilities.

At the end of the week, add up the time you spent doing each item. These figures will tell you how you really spent your time during that week. This means that, for that week, the categories that took the most time were your REAL priorities-- no matter what you might have told yourself or others.

If you say writing is a priority, but at the end of a week have spent more time baking cookies, then you know you have to work hard to change your priorities by altering your mind set as well as by your actions.

Analyze how you might switch your priorities. Keep in mind your own tendencies, and don't try to change too much too soon. That is, don't immediately say, "Well, NEXT week I'll spend 5 hours a day writing." Work up to it. Figure out a new schedule, changing what you can. Maybe this week you will deduct a half an hour from one activity and add that time to something that has a higher priority. Move step by step. Don't try to change everything at once. Follow the new schedule for a week or two, until you feel you have made improvements or until youíve discovered what changes you still need to make.

Then make out a new time monitor, and keep track again for a week, so you can see where you have succeeded, as well as where you have failed. Give yourself rewards for what you have done well. Don't beat yourself up with guilt. Keep working on it, and maybe once a month or so, do the time monitor again so you can see where you are improving or not.


SUGGESTIONS TO CONSIDER WHILE CHANGING YOUR PRIORITIES

* Try doing the jobs that are most boring first while you're fresh, so you can get them out of the way efficiently.

* Avoid marathons sessions doing anything. Don't try to write eight hours a day at first. When you get organized and have worked up to it, you may be able to do that once in awhile. But if you try it and "fail," you may have a harder time convincing yourself you can, and want to, do it.

* Figure out your best time of day and write then, so you can be more forgiving of interruptions later.

* Carry your journal so you can use time spent waiting for appointments, at traffic lights, for children after school. Some people think "Five minutes isn't long enough to do anything," but if you've been thinking about or working on a poem or story, it can be time enough to come up with the solution to a problem, to outline an article, to brainstorm new ideas. Write grocery lists while waiting so you don't have to shop more than once a week. Use waiting time to think of little jobs you can accomplish during waiting time! Often if Iíve been struggling with a particular problem, I find the solution when I leave the computer to do something else that requires little thought--washing the dishes, say, or walking dogs.

* Write regularly in one place. Obviously, one advantage is that your working materials, such as reference books, paper, pens, are together. But also your body knows where you are. When you use the same place to work every day, your body and mind become trained, sensing that it's time to work when you are in that place, allowing you to focus more quickly and more intensely. For that reason, don't write where you sleep-- where your body and mind are trained to slow down-- or vice versa; don't eat or watch TV in your writing place.

* A ritual may be useful: perhaps looking at a particular quotation, or sharpening your pencils, or prayer might help you focus, to tell you, "OK, it's time to stop thinking about dinner and start thinking about writing." Anything that works for you is acceptable.

* Don't get too comfortable. Especially if writing is new to you and you haven't created your own disciplines and habits, trying to write while leaning against pillows on the bed can make you associate writing with drowsiness, for example. Learning-- as writing is-- requires energy.

* Pay attention to your attention span. Breaks in concentration may be caused by internal interruptions, your own thoughts jumping in. These thoughts may be related to what you are doing-- your subconscious may be trying to give you information. Stop and examine whatever seems to be causing the gaps in concentration. If it's not relevant, make a note to deal with it later and go on.

* Avoid noise distractions. I can't write with the radio on-- the ads drive me crazy or distract my thinking. But I do have particular music on tape or CD that seems to help me shut out other noises-- traffic, for example-- and which I can play while working without interruption. In my case, I don't play music with song lyrics, because my word-oriented mind follows the lyrics instead of what I'm trying to write.

* Notice how others misuse your time. Be aware of people who call you or enter your writing space even after you've asked them not to. If certain friends or relatives constantly interrupt, ask yourself what this means. Are they consciously sabotaging your work? Do they not understand your need for solitude? You may have to send a clear message. Sometimes they really don't know what kind of concentration is required by thinking. Start with gentle reminders.

In order to relieve yourself of the responsibility for making a decision about every potential interruption, try putting a humorous sign on the door:

GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL IN PROGRESS
IF YOU KNOCK, IT WILL TURN INTO A MINOR AMERICAN JOKE


A painter in the Rockies hangs this sign on the chain that closes off the road to her house when she is in a painting or thinking mode:
"I am working today and am not receiving visitors. I know you think this doesn't mean you because you are my banker, agent, or best friend. But it does."

Another sculptor hangs this sign on her gate:
"Do not disturb unless I've won the lottery or Jesus has been sighted on the Old Taos Highway."
--from Women Who Run with the Wolves
Clarissa Pinkola Este`s (NY: Ballantine, 1992)

If these gentler messages don't work, discuss the problem with that person. Rather than being negative-- "You are rude, you are ruining my work"-- try putting the message more positively: "I am having trouble with what I'm working on and I need your help in order to concentrate. Can you keep me from being interrupted for [insert number of your choice here] hours? "

Asking for help allows people to show their innate generosity, and they are less liable to resent it than if you lecture. Can you find a way to compliment someone-- your mother, for example-- while asking her not to interrupt: "Mom, you were such a help to me when I was studying French. I need you to help me now that I've created this writing job for myself." Pat yourself on the back with relatives and friends; they have no idea how hard what you do is, so remark on it to them, not as a boast, but because you know they will be happy to know you finished writing five feature stories and mailed them the same day.

* Remember, writing is a job. As you begin to get organized, keep adding up the hours you spend on it, and if your goal is to be a full-time writer, aim for a 40-hour week. (And DONíT estimate what your wages are until you have prepared yourself for the shock of how far below minimum wage most writing jobs are!)

Grafton rises at 5:58 a.m. to walk on the beach for three miles before repairing to her office at 9 oíclock to begin the dayís writing. ďI donít wear pantyhose and heels, but I treat this as a job and I wear makeup. I donít work in my pajamas."

interview with Sue Grafton, mystery writer
Publishers Weekly, 4/20/98, p. 40-41.

* Treat the telephone as just another tool. Remember that you are in control of this machine; you pay for it. It's hard not to answer if you hear it ring, but try not to be a telephone victim. Consider various alternatives-- turning the ringer off and using answering machine or voice messaging. Again, if you have made yourself available to everyone by answering at all hours, you will need to make changes slowly. Two mornings a week, for example, you might replace your regular message with one like this: "I'm working against a deadline, so please leave a message and I'll return your call as soon as I can." The deadline might be your own-- "I'm going to finish this today"-- but use of the word implies someone is paying you, guaranteeing callers will take it more seriously.

* Learn to say ďNo,Ē a simple word that is a time saver and skill for managing your life more effectively-- not rude behavior. Tell the person making a request that you have other commitments right now, and that you donít like to take on work you canít be sure of finishing without jeopardizing other obligations.


QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN ORGANIZING YOUR TIME

* What little task can I finish in five minutes?

Maybe you can brainstorm a bit on that poem idea you had while doing the dishes. Or record the dayís writing expenses in your accounts. Doing small jobs trims a little of your list of jobs, and gives you positive feedback: "I am making progress."

* Am I beating myself up?

Are you being too hard on yourself? Lighten up-- berating yourself only wastes time you could spend on the job. Take a few deep breaths and get on with it.

I copy this combination breathing exercise and prayer into the front of each of my journals and repeat it as needed. I highly recommend going through this once if you are about to get into an argument. Rarely do I get through a day without using it once!

(Breathing in)
        I am arriving;
(breathing out)
        I am home.
(Breathing in)
        I am here;
(breathing out)
        this is now.
(Breathing in)
        I am rooted;
(breathing out)
        I am free.
(Breathing in)
        I dwell
(breathing out)
        in the ultimate.

--Buddhist gatha, prayer

* Is this a piano?

Carpenters who build rough framework for buildings have a saying they use when they bend a nail or dent a two-by-four: "Well, this ain't no piano." If what youíre doing does not require perfection, don't ask too much of yourself. On the other hand, being organized encourages you to take enough time to do each job well-- doing it poorly may only mean you have to do it over.

Accept lower standards where they are appropriate, reducing your tension, and saving your energy for the times it IS a piano. Your research notes, for example, don't have to be written in full sentences or be grammatically correct.

* How did I waste time today?

As you build better work habits, ask yourself each evening how you sabotaged yourself during the day. Once you note things you do that kill time, you're more likely to stop yourself in the act next time. ďWell, Iíd love to visit some more, but I spent so much time having coffee with you yesterday that I didnít finish this project.Ē

* Do you spend large blocks of time doing a single task or leapfrog from job to job?

Each of us must find our own best work method, but if you bounce from one task to another, you may never quite finish anything, growing more frustrated and scattered as you survey the undone jobs sitting around you. Blocking out a specific period of time to accomplish a single task also allows you to notify people who interrupt-- that deadline, you know-- and at the end of the job to feel a sense of accomplishment.

* How many of the jobs on your time chart are things you really WANT to do? Can you cut any of them out?

Using what you have learned from the time chart and your analysis, set up a schedule reflecting how you WANT to spend your time. Remember, as soon as you get serious about writing, it becomes real work and you will try to weasel out of it.

* How many of the categories on your time chart are really unavoidable? Can anyone else help you? Are all of those jobs really your responsibility? Did you take over doing dishes because your ten-year-old or your husband didn't do them QUITE to your satisfaction? Maybe you should lower your standards, or train someone else how to do the job well.

The investment of time will pay off-- often our companions have no idea how much time we spend in household chores. Your family should support you by helping with work that benefits everyone. Women often do household tasks like cooking, washing dishes, washing, folding and ironing clothes, cleaning, taking out the garbage. Yet everyone in the household eats, creating dirty dishes, wears clothes, and creates dirt and garbage. Spreading these tasks among family members can be viewed as an educational program, helping each member of the family understand the responsibilities of living. This educational program is especially useful to children, who will grow up and have their own homes where they are responsible for all these jobs.

*Spend five minutes brainstorming, scribbling ways in which you waste time. Limit yourself to five minutes. Think about the list. Put an X by the two time-wasting habits you use most often. Write down why you think they are so attractive to you-- what rewards do they offer you? What is the cost of wasting time in those ways? Review the list. Which two or three time-wasting activities can you give up tomorrow? This week? Repeat this exercise as needed.

* Would I pay myself for what I'm doing right now? A good question during the work day, particularly if you've just taken your third popcorn break.


AN EXERCISE THAT REFRESHES AND RECHARGES

The Roaring Lion

Lock the door if you are easily embarrassed. Sit on the floor, cross-legged-- with each ankle on the opposite knee if you can manage it. Shoulders back, arms extended, hanging loosely over your knees. Take a deep breath, exhale hard through your mouth. As you exhale, open your eyes wide and stick out your tongue. Spread your fingers apart and stretch your arms down. Hold the pose without inhaling for a few seconds. Close your mouth. Inhale deeply through your nostrils. Breathe out slowly through your nostrils. Relax. Repeat three times.


The work of art which I do not make, none other will ever make it.
--Simone Weil
The Notebooks of Simone Weil, 1951

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Writing Letters

April 15, 2012

Tags: Letter-Writing, Email, Family: Father

Does anyone save old family emails?

. . .
Many of the writers I know are quite proud of it.

ďOh, I never write letters anymore,Ē they say, nodding. ďIím just too busy. I email or text.Ē

Elsewhere, Iíve already confessed to how I changed my mind about computers when I realized how efficient they were for preparing manuscripts.

And Iíll even admit that when pressed for time-- let me rephrase that-- when PARTICULARLY pressed for time-- I may do a little recycling with a letter. Iíll write a letter saying what Iíve been doing lately and then change the "Dear____" part to fit the recipient. After I print it out, I add the personal notes at the bottom before mailing-- and I usually say, ďExcuse the generic letter.Ē

But I stubbornly continue to write personal letters to many friends. Not only that-- but I hand-write some of them, proving that I am stuck in antediluvial times, sinking in the swamp of prehistory.

Here are some of my reasons.

I have only a few of my fatherís letters, usually headed with the date and ďAt the breakfast table.Ē My parents lived in what is now my writing retreat house, which doesnít much resemble the way it looked when they were there. The round oak table at which my father wrote is gone; the curtains he pulled aside to look out the window have been replaced by modern shades. The buffet on which he kept a dictionary so he could look up any word about which he was uncertain is in someone elseís home.

But when I see my fatherís handwriting on those letters, I can picture him just as he was on those mornings, the blue eyes, the smile he never wore for photographs because he hated them. My mother is cooking breakfast in her blue bathrobe. He has been out and looked at the weather, recording the nightís low in his journal. Heís planning his day. And heís writing words of advice and love and encouragement to his daughter.

These letters are particularly precious considering how his life ended, in anger and bitterness and confusion. Without seeing that strong handwriting, I might gradually let the good memories be submerged in the horrible ones. The handwriting provides an anchor; a typed copy of the letter would not be the same. Had he been emailing his thoughts, theyíd have long since vanished.

Perhaps nothing I write to any of my friends is as important as those notes my father wrote and it may be that none of my friends keep my handwritten notes. That doesnít matter either. I like the feeling of holding that pen and seeing the words flow onto the paper, even the recycled scraps I sometimes use for notes, tucking them into envelopes with a few clippings of news stories I can imagine discussing with my friends.

I like seeing in my mindís eye my friends taking those envelopes out of the mailbox, slitting them open, sitting in their favorite chairs. My handwriting conveys my voice, my thoughts, my image in a way no computerized facsimile ever could.

And when I am hand-writing a letter, my mind slows down. I take time to form the letters, picturing the person to whom I am writing.

Fairly often, I discover as I scribble a thought that had been eluding me while I sat at the computer and pecked and stabbed and jabbed and dug and prodded the keys, a thought that could not be born as the cursor blinked.

So whether the post office is efficient or not and no matter how much it charges me for the privilege, as long as mail service exists, Iíll keep folding those letters, hand-addressing the envelopes and hauling them to town, thinking of the people whose handwriting will be on the envelopes Iíll get back in a few days.

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How to Live in Spite of Your Computer

April 5, 2012

Tags: Computers, Email, Writing Suggestions, Creating Calm

. . .
A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exception of handguns and tequila
--- Mitch Ratcliffe
Funny Times, April 2006, p. 4.


I drove away from the computer repair shop that day feeling pretty darn smug. My computer needed repair over a weekend, so Iíd spend four days without it. Not only was I not worried, I looked forward to the weekend as if it were a vacation.

Since I didnít get a computer until long after most people were speaking glibly of their PCs and I habitually write in longhand and read widely, I expected to have no trouble at all filling time without the mechanical device.

When I got home, I carried my groceries upstairs and then whipped downstairs into my office to check my email.

Hmm. Maybe computer withdrawal would be harder than I thought.

So I set about reconstructing my life of writing without the blasted thing. The results were satisfying enough to convince me that it would be beneficial to any of us to deliberately choose computer-free days in the future.

First, I realized that without the computer, my schedule could be changed. On the average day, I get up at 4:30, turn on the coffee, let the dogs out, and return to bed for an hour or so of reading. After breakfast, I go to my computer-- and I could begin writing at that moment.

A few years ago, before I got email, a fellow writer, commented on how productive I was, how much writing I got done. ďWhatís your secret?Ē she asked. Well, I said, I started work early in the morning and stop only to fix lunch.Ē

ďI do the same thing,Ē she said and then stopped. ďWell, first I take a quick look at my email. And sometimes when Iíve finished that Iím amazed that a couple of hours has gone by.Ē

These days, I donít start writing as soon as I sit down at my desk. I know that my assistant has probably sent me email from my public email address, so I check. Ah! Thereís the answer to my question about what accommodations are available for that speaking engagement. And Iíd better see if I can accept that writer for a Writing Conversation by eMail. And I ought to let that officer of the history group know that I will attend the meeting. Thereís the schedule for the workshop in October; Iíll print that out. Oh, and Nancy has played Scrabble; Iíll play my turn now.

And before I know it, an hour has passed. Iíve done what I so deplored in my friend.

So I shake myself and get back to work on the latest project, feeling a bit harried and hurried and guilty for wasting that good writing time. Feeling guilty and harried is not a good way to begin oneís writing day and yet only rarely do I slip through the email reading only positive messages.

One way to begin my writing day in a better frame of mind would be to leave email unopened until I have written something. This is easy when the computer is twenty-five miles away, a little harder when itís sitting on my desk. Fortunately, I have two desks: I try to keep the old-fashioned one clear for hand-writing.

That weekend, I set out to break the Email First habit by tackling the job of writing a foreword for a soon-to-be-published book by a friend. I collected the manuscript and stretched out in my comfortable recliner with a yellow tablet. The dogs settled on the couch beside me; outside the window, grouse gurgled in the trees. Ah! The life of the writer!

Usually when I am reviewing a manuscript, I fill it with sticky notes to mark passages, writing cryptic notes. Every few minutes, when an idea becomes too complex to fit a manuscript margin or a yellow sticky note, I go to the computer and expand my immediate responses into more coherent paragraphs.

Because I couldnít go to the computer, I had to hand-write every step of my thought process. Iíd read an essay, taking notes in the margins and on my yellow pad about its contents. Then Iíd make a cup of tea to sip while I thought about the implications. How did this piece relate to the previous essays? Each period of thought led to more notes. Without the cursor blinking at me, I seemed to have more time to flip back through the pages to check references, re-read passages and appreciate them again.

Sometimes, even when I get to the computer fairly quickly after making notes on the book, Iíve lost track of some convoluted idea. Having to write out my thought process helped clarify my thinking about many points.

The slow speed of hand-writing my thoughts allowed my brain to race ahead of my fingers-- and this meant I had to consciously think out each step of what I was saying. ďNo that is not what I mean; itís more nearly this.Ē I leapt up often to refer to the dictionary. The resulting foreword is, I think, better than it would have been had I done all the work on computer.

Naturally, when I got the computer back, I first copied my notes and then reviewed the manuscript. I am convinced that I covered the points I needed to make more thoroughly because of having to write them out by hand.

Of course the job wasnít finished-- I did considerable revising on the computer, reminding myself that when we first began to use these things, we called them ďword processors.Ē And it is easier in many ways to ďprocessĒ a lot of words with the machine: one can tentatively check spelling, though no spell-check program is very reliable. I do like using the word counter to keep track of the length of the writing, and moving paragraphs from place to place in the manuscript is easier with the machinery. And since I do my best proofreading with a hard copy, I can without guilt print multiple drafts-- on the back of already-used paper.

Throughout that weekend without the blinking cursor, I didnít have to work hard to find both jobs and entertainment that didnít involve the computer. My partner was away, so my only companions were the dogs. We took longer, slower walks, played many more games of kick the ball. They could stay longer in my lap because I didnít get up as often to go to the computer to check on some point or write a paragraph.

During my free time, I let my mind relax, wander. My reading broadened, rather than being simply an escape from the constant demands of writing. I picked up a mystery and then swapped it for a couple of nonfiction books Iíd been meaning to read and a volume of poetry.

Still, I had to remind myself not to check email. The need to do so was a gnawing that reminded me of how hard it was to break myself of chewing my fingernails. And of course thatís the secret: Much of our addiction to the computer, in whatever way we express it, is only substance abuse-- like smoking a cigarette. Itís not good for you but it digs its talons into your body and mind so you have to be determined to break its hold.

Unlike most of the other substances we abuse, computers really do have benefits: but only if used in moderation.

Friends received notes, postcards and long thoughtful letters. I baked cookies and didnít eat all of them. I read six books, some for enjoyment and some because they related to various writing projects. I found dozens of packs of cards and was chagrined that I had to concentrate to remember how to play solitaire without a screen. I couldnít play any of our board games-- I had no partner-- but I did put together one of the many jigsaw puzzles Iíve found at secondhand stores.

I counted wildlife: a dozen rabbits, two antelope and then six antelope, a bald eagle, an owl, and four chukar partridges along with a couple of dozen sparrows. I took the camera with me and studied patterns in the grass, tracks in the dust, rocks.

Before my weekend of solitude, Iíd take breaks from my writing to fix meals, help my partner with a project outside-- but Iíd always check the email first when I came back to the computer. Now, unless Iím expecting an important communication, I often spend most of the morning working on my current writing project before giving in to the Email Desire.

Some of the changes I made that weekend are, I hope, permanent. Nowadays, instead of automatically thinking ďemailĒ every time I look up from a job, I try to do something else: stroll out onto the deck and take a good look around. Perhaps go to the greenhouse, pet the dogs, check my paper file of unanswered letters.

And Iíve started shutting the computer off at 5 p.m. daily just as if it represented paid employment: no games, no email, no flashing cursor. Since we have no TV, we play board or card games, entertain the dogs.

Hmm. Now where did my partner put that magic trick he bought so long ago?

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