Thursday, March 19, 2020

Best-Edited Free Books on Amazon

In my last post, I processed 212 published e-books with my PREEN 3.6 editing tool. One of the numbers I obtained was the EEK score, or estimated errors per kiloword. It's a composite score, telling me how difficult a given manuscript will be to edit/read. The lower the better, but it never gets to zero because the remaining "errors" were intentional or too trivial to bother with (like eliminating all repeated words or asked vs said comments). My own books average a score of 2.5. I recommend not publishing a book until it's polished below 10. Above a score of 16, I stop reading because the frequent mistakes make the story impossible for me to enjoy. I've seen a 49, a 37, and several 26s. I could instantly tell how much effort an Indie writer put into having the manuscript professionally edited. Below are the best score of the books I rated, something to be proud of.

SCORE  TITLE

10.08 Atlantis Ship
10.07 Warship
 9.96 Trilisk Ruins
 9.85 Inheritance (FV)
 9.81 Into the Unknown
 9.76 Renegade Star
 9.56 Someone Else’s Daughter
 9.38 Schism8: The Green Ones (FV)
 9.32 Back Worlds
 9.31 The Breakers
 9.28 The Gamma Sequence
 9.10 Quantum Tangle
 8.94 Viable Hostage
 8.70 Do No Harm
 8.66 Star Shroud
 8.64 Hidden Deep
 8.45 Black Obsidian
 8.38 A Killing Truth
 8.05 Passage at Arms
 8.00 Heart of Darkness
 7.90 Of Metal and Magic (FV)
 7.79 Silver and Superstition (FV)
 7.73 Cost of Glory (FV)
 7.40 Rose Red (FV)
 6.03 Dragon’s Maid (FV)
 5.15 Snapped


Note that FV refers to Fiction Vortex titles. This company has access to a beta version of my tool, which results in quality improvement you can measure.

Unpack your Adjectives

In the movie Amadeus, one of my favorite scenes is when the king criticizes one of Mozart's pieces for having "too many notes." I feel this way every time I'm in a crit group and someone complains I have too many adverbs (and her boyfriend's story had exactly the same density). In beloved classics, I've seen everything from 33 to 87 adverbs per thousand words. It takes exactly as many notes as necessary to achieve the desired effect. However, with all my work on editing software, I know that there is a definite threshold at which adverbs become noticeable--around 50 instances per thousand words. I don't require a hard limit when I'm making my final pass on a story, but it's a signal for me to thin the number of excess adverbs in dialog tags, places where I start three sentences in a row with the same type of word, and reduce the instances of my top three addiction words (currently just, still, only). Thin areas where people may object. Think of it like hair--everybody needs it. You just need to have it properly styled to fit your personality. A rock star will have a different expectation than a drill sergeant.

I said all that to ask if there is a similar threshold for adjectives because I count them as part of the statistics for the prototype I did for Fiction Vortex/Story Shop. Editors call too many lurid adjectives being "purple." Looking down the list on one book, I discovered my use of the word "whole" 88 times was an affectation, which could be eliminated with no loss of meaning in many cases.

Running the tool on over 200 published books (25 of my own, 25 from Fiction Vortex, 13 Andre Norton, 125 free Kindle, and 23 classics from the Guttenberg Project), I found a definite recurring value. Modern writers across genres average 52 adjectives per thousand with a standard deviation of 7. For those of you who aren't math majors, a deviation is enough of a difference from the average to warrant docking you a letter grade. So, if you have 60 adjectives per thousand, you should look it over, and at 67, you're as purple as Barney.

This number is not hard and fast for many reasons. HP Lovecraft had eldritch beasts and all manner of queer folk, topping out at 77 for Dunwich Horror.

old 50
some 45
more 39
great 33
much 20
any 19
such 18
strange 18
certain 17
black 16
kind 15
big 14
monstrous 14
another 14
dark 12
ancient 12
cold 11
terrible 11
deep 11

In fact, narrative-based epic fantasy that has longer paragraphs and less dialog will necessarily rely on more descriptive words to convey setting and tone. Some action-heavy sequences are the same. You use the tools you need. Hemmingway had journalistic training, so he was a minimalist. He chose every word for maximum effect. But it bears noting that the Victorian epics like Jane Austen with 600-word paragraphs intend to be baroque and overly detailed--that was the style. So a friend who has a Victorian superhero story with lots of Steampunk battles or a Three Musketeers styled courtly romance, intrigue, and sword fights can expect to average 61+-9 adjectives per thousand. However, Dunwich is purple even for these genres, and movies made from his work tend to be over the top. But that's why his fans like them. If people went to see Kill Bill 2 and it didn't have as many dead ninjas as Kill Bill 1, people would ask for their money back. The point of a tool is to see if what you have on your canvas is what you intended.

Since I was collecting stats, I threw paragraph length into the mix. I saw everything from 93 to a thousand words in the classics. But modern novels average 165 words +- 36 (expecting the range 129-201). If you are outside this range, it should be by conscious intent. All the books I wrote before 2010 were over the 200-word boundary, but this was the Ancient Greek or Tolkien style I wanted to emulate. However, at 250 words, your paragraphs are a page long and your reader may need some white space, and it can feel like a flogging (Moby Dick details on the whaling industry). More importantly, you should vary the lengths over the course of a novel so you don't bore your reader or wear them out. Also, make the length appropriate to the mood. Action passages should be brief and have punch. I remember reading what should have been a thrilling escape through the wilds of Canada and saying "Another two-page description of mountains?"

The last statistic I examined was the percent of the novel told through dialog. This was the most variable of them all. The average was 31 +- 12 (expect 19 to 43). However, my YA novels and team books have more. This wasn't a place where I could make any rules. Seven percent dialog seemed natural for a novel about survival alone on an alien planet. Call of the Wild and Robinson Crusoe are both 3 percent, whereas Sherlock Holmes is 75 and Time Machine is 87. There doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer for the average, as long as you keep things interesting and give adequate descriptions of each new person and place.

Editing sofware can be a valuable tool to improve the quality of your writing, but in the end, the artist and reader have the final say over whether the components used achieve the desired effect.


Friday, February 14, 2020

Working the System for a Scholarship Essay

My last entry was about working with my daughter on college. This one is about working with my son last year. He didn't want help on any class but Calculus for his associate's/PSEO, but he did need help applying for a ton of scholarships. This one was my favorite because it was for a structured payment purchasing company. We worked it over together like a game. The company provided the topic, and they were hoping for reasons for people to use their service. They weren't expecting a scientist to ask them how many cents they pay on the dollar. We didn't give them what they wanted, but I sure got a laugh from the movie references. Did I mention that Pierce is a John Oliver fan?

STRUCTURED PAYMENTS ESSAY

If I had both a $2.5K monthly payment and $50K in debt, the first thing I would do is declare Chapter 13 bankruptcy immediately. The payments are protected under this mechanism. Why? Even someone with an average credit rating would pay 11 percent interest for a $10K consolidation loan, but I doubt someone with that much debt could swing a bigger loan on favorable terms. I would pay $3000 for a good lawyer with a high success rate and promise to pay back the principal amount in four years, costing me only $1104.17 out of my $2500 a month. As long as I had the lawyer, I’d have him draw up a will to make sure my sister got the money if something happened to me. People my age don’t normally think of that sort of thing, but one of my cousins lost everything when her fiancĂ© died in a motorcycle accident because he didn’t plan ahead. With the proper strategy, even if you lose, you win something.

Why wouldn’t I cash in and get a pile of money upfront? RSL has offered me $373K today. My grandfather is fond of saying that the only real way to make money is to start with other people’s money. I also learned from “The Producers” that properly managed, a Broadway flop can turn more profit than a hit. Instead of paying thousands a year plus for medical insurance and another $6K in deductibles, I could get it for free if I’m broke. Unlike my hard-earned savings, which FAFSA will penalize me for, as a student in the US, any debt is now an asset. If I applied to the University of Minnesota, I could get an average total gift of $10,444. Since my plight probably came with a really good hard-luck story, I could leverage that into another $2K a year in outside scholarships and guaranteed loans for 19K over four years. Why more debt? Because Uncle Sam pays the interest for me until six months after grad school. If I die, the government pays it all!

If it costs me $109,876 total for my STEM degree at U of M, including room and board, that means $539.58 a month left over. If I invest that in SMTFX the Minnesota Tax-Free Bond Fund, I am historically guaranteed 4.62 percent totally tax-free, which will not affect my broke status on FAFSA. I will, however, spring for one share of Proctor and Gamble stock because they send out great coupons with the quarterly report, and I’ll need them. And if I couldn’t get that much aid, I could start at Brigham Young’s Hawaii campus until I proved myself. With annual tuition and fees of $5400, one Pell Grant would cover that. Hawaii would be a hardship, but they have great telescopes!

At the end of four years, I would have none of my original debt, $28,584.57 in the bank, and only $19K in loans. Note that I didn’t have to work a day so far. With this degree, I could get a job making $114K easy. However, I won’t pay my loans off yet. I will attend a world-class grad school in Astrophysics at Ludwig Maximilian University—for free. Tuition doesn’t cost a dime, but living expenses are about 800 Euros, or $912 a month, including medical coverage. Now my profit has increased to $1558 a month. By the time I graduate, I can work as a physicist wherever I want in the $130K salary range. I will also have $70,704.66 in bonds. I now elect to pay off my loans and improve my credit score. Instead of taking a 20 percent discount on those 6 years of payments and sacrificing $36K, I turned the debt into over $50K of free money and medical benefits—a net gain of $170K.

Once I find my dream job (with medical insurance), I would be ready to cash in at RSL. Why? Because my settlement isn’t really $720K in a bank. It’s probably more like $350K in a stable 7-percent annuity. I can manage a better return on my investments than that. With the same discount rate RSL offered before, I could realize $298,400. After buying a plane ticket home and a year-old hybrid for $14K (so someone else takes the first-year drop in value), I would still have $37,704. I would set aside six month’s salary in bonds as an emergency fund. I plan to take a vacation each year with the interest. A guy has to have some reward for all this hard work!

What should I do with the remaining $271,104? I could invest all of it in growth stocks because, without dividends, they wouldn’t show up as income until I cashed them out. If I give them as a gift (say to a spouse or children), I pay nothing. My Dad says to keep wealth like an iceberg, mostly hidden under the surface. I would start with funds like AMAGX, which performs well even in down times, and something trendy like Netflix. I would also invest in unglamorous things people must have, like Waste Management. After the 24 years left in the settlement, at a modest 11 percent, I would have about 3.5 million in investments. But that’s a long time to wait for my big payoff.

What if I wanted to live better sooner? Since I’m single, I could buy a duplex house and rent out the other half. I won’t get stuck with a thirty-year mortgage where you pay three times the price of the property. Instead, I’d form an LLC and pay cash through a lawyer for a flat fee, which saves a bundle on closing costs. I’d use that savings to reduce the purchase price and lower my tax assessment. From my recent experience, people also take less when offered guaranteed cash now. That means I could buy a house worth $300K. Rent would bring in an estimated $1250 to $1500 a month. It should pay my property taxes, house insurance, repair bills, lawn care, snow removal, Internet, and utilities while being a tax write-off. Extra rent would pass through as a capital gain at a lower taxation rate, but depreciation over 27.5 years will bury $11,000 a year. The profits should net me more than enough to pay for my gas and groceries. Even if I lost my job or the stock market crashed, I would be covered. With all my recurring expenses taken care of, almost everything I earn at my physics job, minus taxes and my share of the healthcare, can all go toward investments. That’s $77,750 a year of disposable income. With the same 11 percent assumption, this method outperforms the “invest everything” model after only five years. After 16 years, I’d have the same 3.3 million plus a house. I could improve the performance by maxing out my 401k at 6 percent salary pretax for the first few years and getting any company match.

But I would definitely want to retire before my oldest child reaches 17. I’ll sell the child the family duplex for a dollar and claim the loss on my taxes. Then I could rent it back from him so he shows a paper loss as well. That way, we wouldn’t have the income to report on the FAFSA. College will probably cost a fortune by then, so every cent will count. I should be able to spend the rest of my days in comfort, relaxing while my financial decisions pay off. I’ll get a library card and crack open a good book. If my children ever need sound financial advice, I’ll be right there for them to ask me.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Wight Privilege

My daughter (age 15) is taking a film appreciation class for college credit, and as a project, she has to outline a film. She chose horror because it has well-defined rules and tropes. The rough arc she sketched was that the workers on a certain cruise ship are monsters and they eat the gradually eat more passengers over the trip. The table-ready passengers are inept and cannot defend themselves, rather like Wall-E. Three stumble across the meat-packing room. In the end, those who know the secret die in different ways to demonstrate their unsuitability for the gene pool. She came to me because she didn't know what to call it or how to flesh it out from the outline.

Ah, I felt like Christopher Marlowe when Shakespeare approached him for advice at the bar. We discussed back and forth.
Me: are they zombies who just each the brain, or vampires who just drink the blood?
Em: no. they eat the whole person. It's their buffet.
Me: Hmm... that would put them in the ghoul/shinen gaki catergory. Investigators would notice the bad breath. What's the theme? Why doesn't the captain put a stop to this?
Em: they only eat really annoying people. Like that woman who got caught smoking marijuana and playing her TV too loud at 3 am--the one we never saw again after day three of the cruise, and everyone cheered.
Me: Or the drunk rich guy who spilled his chilled champagne bottle all over the stone dance floor on New Years' Eve. Ah... so your theme is to make the audience cheer the monsters because they're striking back against smug white privilege. That's your name then: Wight Privilege. Wights are a vague British flesh-eating fairy. They could be like the Morlocks in Time Machine who eat the upper class Eloi like cattle.
Em: The second group of people eaten could be the group at port who came back from their tour half an hour late, making the whole ship wait. The captain explains to anyone who asks that they missed the boat and all their belongings leave the ship at the next stop. But someone sees the blood.
Me: The old person with the heart condition who has to be evacuated by helicopter. He's so drugged no one will believe him.
Em: Now we know the real reason the decks were closed and nobody was allowed to watch or film from their balconies.
Me: I'm so proud of you, planning justifiable and neat mass murders.
Em: And because it is on a cruise ship, there aren't police to stop them.

Here are a few photos from our cruise.
New Years' Eve at sea:
Rainbow Falls:

Ukelele practice:

Hula:

















Saturday, November 30, 2019

Signs that a Car-Rental Place is Planning to Rip You Off

I've traveled a lot for business, kids' college shopping, and vacations. I've been angered and ripped off by a lot of places but never as blatantly as at a rental place this month in Orlando. Normally I try to just let stuff like this go; however, I don't want anyone else falling prey to these guys. If you see any of these signs and you haven't run a credit card or signed your contract yet, WALK AWAY! I wish that I had listened to my instincts at any point on this journey. It felt like I was living through a John Oliver investigation without the laughs or even a cute dancing squirrel.

ELEVEN SIGNS TO FLEE BEFORE YOU SIGN

1. They are the low bid in the area every time by exactly a dollar--and you've never heard their name before. Everybody runs a special that's the low sometimes, but would you trust a mom-and-pop store that underbids Walmart every time? No. The big guys make money from economies of scale and repeat customers. Someone like this often relies on other methods for profit. Don't think you're more clever than someone who does this for a living and can grab the bait and run without getting caught.
2. You call their 24-hour helpline or the front desk of their only location and can't get a person. In fact, the robo maze hangs up on you or redirects to a voicemail box over half the time. Real companies provide customer service. Scams want to dodge complainers.
3. The company only has one location that only services the airport, not locals. This is also the only place you can drop off and wait patiently for a ride back to the airport. They have your credit card number, and you can't sue them in small-claims court unless you want to come back for it. Local users would keep the company accountable and make sure they were motivated to maintain a good name in the business. If you'll note this example even the sign is peeling, an indication that they don't spend resources to maintain their site or products. This is the very definition of a warning sign. The bottom half of the sign looks fine. Have they been forced to change their name recently?

4. They don't share a van with the other six companies on the same block that have a common transport. Other bus drivers refer to them as "the white-panel van with the magnetic sign on the side." They are an hour late for your scheduled pick up when the other companies show up every fifteen minutes. Other vans have twelve people while yours only has two. Sounds like the start of Rocky Horror Picture Show, not your Disney dream vacation. When you arrive in Florida, you're renting hours of good weather and daylight. Don't waste a moment.

5. The cars on their lot all have some kind of damage--scratches, dents, and paint on the interior ceiling. (Bridal shower party where they were painting their nails? It can't be Home Depot delivery when no local access is allowed.) So what? That means you save money. Right? Wrong. It means they collect exorbitant fees for that damage and then POCKET that money without maintaining their products. Next time someone gets a bill, it could include BOTH scratches. For some reason, you have to present proof of insurance and they need to talk to your agent on the phone to confirm. They also have to retype everything you already entered online, including a copy of your driver's license. Checking people out in these labor-intensive circumstances takes 40+ minutes a customer (plus another twenty or so for the van rides). When the rent is $9 a day and Florida minimum wage is $8.46 an hour, how are these companies making money? From the hidden charges. You want a second driver on the contract? $25.


6. Before you sign, they casually mention for your $36 four-day rental that they are blocking off $500 on your credit card for two weeks for "incidentals" in case they find anything. That's an oddly specific amount. I mean, if you drained the vehicle of fuel, oil, and antifreeze, it wouldn't be that much. Yet it's less than any reasonable collision repair amount. What are they expecting to go wrong in that price range? Is this a bizarre money-laundering scheme?

7. The site does not have any lighting outside, and it's dark. You have to inspect the car by iPhone flashlight and the worker beside you pretends this information about previous damage is new. He starts with a clean sheet of paper, not a form that already lists known problems. If you miss one rock chip in the dark, you just paid for it. Suspicious contracts usually have an independent section on page one that states you are responsible for any damage to the vehicle "whether it's your fault or not." Or they put on page-one how much they charge if they have to come out and tow you back to the one service location. Why would a legitimate company have to underscore that type of rare occurrence unless it's not rare?

8. Toll tags don't come with the vehicles like at other rental places. You can't leave MCO without paying $5 in fees or driving twice the amount of time on surface streets. Without a SunPass/e-pass sticker, you have to stop and pay tolls every couple miles by the airport. If it's late or remote, the stations will be unmanned and you can only pay in coins. Yet, the company charges $11 a day for a toll tag when the whole car is only $9 a day. How much for four days of tolls? "$48," they replied. Hmm.... where did that extra $4 come from? Fees multiply like rabbits in those dark boxes.

9. We reserved an economy car, and they don't have any on-site. They upgrade us to a land-yacht with multiple blind spots that we really don't want. Worse, when we turn on the vehicle, it shows a previous trip average of 11 miles per gallon. I kid you not. Are they hoping it will burn more fuel so they can charge $10 a gallon for refilling it? The performance didn't get any better as we drove. I didn't think that rate of burn was possible after the Obama legislation and buybacks of fuel hogs. How could these rental people possibly be doing due-diligence maintenance on this fleet? They can't. Any vehicle that out of tune could DIE ON YOU at any minute. They don't care. You'll pay for the towing plus diagnosing and "fixing" of any problem if you happen to lose this lottery because you agreed that any problem was your fault.

10. The last person left their contract in the glove box and there's an old piece of hard candy in the trunk. That seems trivial, but it means they don't really clean their rentals between users, despite their "comprehensive return checklist". When obvious litter is overlooked, what more significant details are they skimping on to get that car back on the road sooner?

11. The company boasts a TripAdvisor rating under 1.5 with 89% of them one-stars, leading with the headline "Complete Scam." The economy rental website we used was at the top of the print-out, not the name Routes. We booked over a month in advance, not thinking to check their reputation again on the day of our arrival. You'd think with a rating like that, it's time to change the business's name again. No. They're advertising a $7-a-day special for Black Friday.

There's another rental agency just next door. Run! Pay the extra dollar a day for peace of mind.


SIGNS YOU SHOULD FILE AN FTC COMPLAINT OR HIRE A LAWYER AFTER YOU SIGN

What happens if they catch you with their scam? These are signs that it's not you and that others are in danger too. Call your credit-card company and contest as soon as you can. Post on social media. Give as many one-star ratings as you can. File an online report with the Federal Trade Commission.
1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or www.ftc.gov/complaint.

Help save others from this fate.

1. When a problem occurs a mile out, they "don't have the manpower to address it." One of our tires registered 3 pounds low on the dashboard as soon as the gauges displayed at the gas station a mile away where we had to stop at to pick up $10 in quarters. By the time we reached our hotel a 30-minute drive away, the indicator warned us we needed to reinflate immediately. When we phoned, the person at the desk wasn't alarmed. "Put air in it or bring it back." For $10 in tolls and an hour more driving plus another hour of paperwork, they offered nothing for the inconvenience. Our hotel concierge was shocked. In her experience, real rental agencies dropped off a replacement and apologized. Some rental agencies I've used had brand-new cars with stickers on the window advertising 24-hour free road service from the manufacturer. The agency closed by the time we had eaten and decided to take the vehicle back. The next morning, we weren't sure if we'd be able to make it the 3 miles to Disney the next morning. We couldn't park in the Magic Kingdom lot for 15 hours and come out to a flat tire. By the time Disney closed and we picked up the family, it was too late to return the vehicle again.

2. When we did take the defective vehicle back (after waiting in line to refill the air twice), the agency started with the assumption that we would pay to replace the entire tire after they took it to the shop for an estimate Wednesday (after we were gone for two days).  But wait, the last guy said you folks do all your maintenance on-site. When we take him outside to explain, he points out a nail and has an explanation in under a second. "Oh you must have taken it to highway X. They have a lot of construction there." No. The 6-lane road to Disney World is the cleanest highway I've ever been on. Blaming the victim automatically is a sign that this fraud happens often.

3. When my wife replies, "That's a rock in the tread, not a nail. Are you sure it's not just the pressure sensor?" he finds the real nail head in the same relative position in a few more seconds That makes me suspect he knew where the puncture was all along. We know for certain it left the site with the damage, and their negligence could have killed me and my family if that tire blew in traffic. They didn't care about our safety, only their profit.

4. There is no manager on site during normal daylight working hours. The clerk "doesn't know how to reach" a manager who can override this mandatory charge even if there is a hurricane. When you ask for the number for a local lawyer on your cell phone, the clerk suddenly has his manager on the cell phone, asking for advice.

5. They didn't replace the broken vehicle with a new one until we argued for an hour. Even with other workers testifying to the accuracy of our statements, they didn't hand us keys to a replacement vehicle until the next vanload of suckers comes in from the airport and we started telling them how the place works. What worries me is they made a BIG deal of saying the key and contract would stay on the manager's desk until this was resolved. How do we know this next vanload of folks didn't get stuck with it for another bonus payment?

6. When I put fuel into the replacement, the tank overflowed onto the tire INSIDE the car frame before the pump shuts off. It had clearly been in an accident and improperly repaired. Instead of going to NASA for the day, we had to walk around in a random town for an hour waiting for the fumes to subside enough for us to start the car safely. This thing was a death trap. I would never risk my family to this company again, and neither should anyone else.

7. After promising we would only be charged for a simple tire patch and to give them a few weeks to resolve it, a mysterious $266.25 bill showed up on the same day as the initial pickup--almost as if they knew how much they were going to charge at the moment they pre-authorized. The whole tire wouldn't cost that much! A tire plug only costs me about $10-15 in Minnesota with a higher hourly wage. They're clearly hoping we wouldn't notice or the amount won't be enough for us to fight. When we called back from home, nobody at the agency could explain the amount. Somehow, the only person we could to talk to wasn't in, and the invoice and key were no longer on his desk. Who could see that coming?



After three weeks of phone calls, we did get our money refunded, but not everyone is that fortunate. Although the wasted hours and sleep missed will never be replaced.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Volleyball Tournament

This weekend was a two-day Christian Athletic League tournament, the culmination of months of driving around the state and late nights squeezing in homework. Early Friday morning, we drove two hours to Wilmar, the host of this year's tournament for both soccer and volleyball. Our soccer team had driven the night before to make their 8 am game. Since Irene had never had donuts before, we stopped at Cold Springs Bakery on the way to get a sampling. Mmm. (Don't tell coach--no food before games.)

Because CCS had beat only one other team this year, they were seeded next-to-last in the rankings. Emily was out most of the beginning of the season due to a dislocated knee but still subbed in for serving. Irene rode the bench as a first-year, though she should shine in basketball starting next week.

Waiting in the stands, I chatted with fans who bore easy-to-read labels on their shirts like "Clara's Grandpa." In the first game, we were up against third-seeded Saint Cloud. Below, Emily serves three in a row, improving team morale.


The girls were so excited when they won this upset victory. The SC fans and players kept remarking on how surprised they were that we beat them. Our later game against the favorite and the host of the tournament did not go as well.

The girls had a full schedule of events: cheering on our soccer folks, pizza, secret-sister gift exchange, and trying to get to sleep in a busy hotel full of excited teen athletes. I used the time between games and chauffeur duties to read "Leviathan Wakes" -- an excellent noir buddy novel.

On day two, the girls rallied in an extremely scrappy match that went to game five. Everyone pulled together, and even shy Anna made some very aggressive spikes. Unfortunately, no one told the stands that the last game only went to 15 instead of the normal 25. I was planning to tape the ending but was shocked when the entire team went bananas and rushed onto the court jumping and screaming. After a disheartening season, they won third place in the league!

The medals on our setter and senior blocker are for players voted all-tournament by other coaches. Congrats CCS!

We shared decompression and dazed anecdotes over a Chinese buffet. Now we drive home and do laundry so we can hand back uniforms by Monday.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Family Vacation Part 3: National Parks


We woke bright and early to visit Devil's Tower. Up close, the formation reminds me of the Causeway of the Gods, with perfect geometric shapes in nature.
Below, there were no open food places, but the ranger warned us that Yellowstone might not be open tomorrow if they got snow. I didn't relish the thought of 9 hours of driving for nothing. So while the ladies hiked, I phoned the Yellowstone information line. They had no plans to close but said to monitor their website or phone for updates.

Irene loved the Wyoming landscape, with all its varying colors. She said that, other than the lack of water and very small towns, it reminded her of her hometown of Alicante. When we reached a "big town" for lunch, she said "Town? No, this is a village!" We explained that Alicante has 450K people, and the entire state of Wyoming only has 577K. Having a smartphone makes me seem brighter than I am.


The trip over the mountains in the dark with icy roads is not an experience I would recommend to anyone. In fact, in another two weeks, chains will be mandatory on tires. We ate dinner at the dude ranch in Moran, since the close hotels in Grant Village sold out so fast. I wouldn't recommend finding your room in the dark without labels or lights, and a porch roof that's about 5' 5". The food was sketchy, and the WiFi dropped every five minutes. I couldn't get a call out to Yellowstone.  DON'T COME HERE OFFSEASON, which is after Sept 30, but the views of the Tetons were great in daylight.


Thirty miles from the Yellowstone south gate, we were turned away. All the roads on the website but one were gray... which I would have painted red. The roads were too icy and bear activity was at a dangerous level. No geysers or hot springs for the rest of the year. We were all sad that we couldn't show Irene the wonders we had promised. However, Irene was in awe of the snow.

We spent the rest of the morning exploring the slightly icy roads of Teton Nation Park around Jackson Lake. On the daylight / warmer trip back through the mountain pass, we got to see the bears we had promised. To Irene, this had been worth the trip.

When we returned the way we had come, gas stations were open, but no restaurants. We bought lunch food at the grocery store and had a picnic in the car.


A few minutes into the Wind River Indian Reservation, an engine malfunction light came on. I was terrified of breaking down in the desert... until I remembered a similar situation in the past. I had my daughter check, and the gas cap hadn't been completely tightened. This was likely a false alarm, but the manual I pulled up online told me it could take a few days of driving before the light went out in this case. If I guessed wrong, we were talking serious engine damage. Reading more on my phone made me feel confident that it was only the gas cap. Everyone else was out of roaming data, so I had to conserve what little remained of mine for the GPS.

We decided to take the long way home through Montana and North Dakota for maximum cultural exposure. The resumption of cell service, green hills, and eating dinner at a real restaurant in Billings did wonders for our morale! The fact that the dash light went out after twelve hours of driving and adding a better grade of fuel didn't hurt either.

We did manage to find one last tourist attraction in North Dakota. "Look, a giant cow?"
Without her glasses, Irene asked, "Where?" We lost it and took this picture to tease her. How could you miss a cow this size out your window?