“Ascent Aspirations: Up, Up and Away!”

I recently discovered a gem:  an online art and literary journal, entitled Ascent Aspirations (www.ascentaspirations.com), based in British Columbia.  (It is also published semi-annually in print media—“hard copy”.)

I love the fact that Ascent Aspirations’ mission is to give aspiring writers, poets, and artists a chance to present their work online.  All of us writers, artists, lovers of art and fiction, know that the world of art and literature is rapidly shrinking in “hard copy” format and is transitioning to a digital one.  Ascent Aspirations aims to do just that—ascend from analog to digital—for those desiring a Web presence!

Since 1997 Ascent Aspirations has grown from a small electronic Canadian magazine of science fiction, fantasy, horror and darker mainstream fiction into a journal for edgy fiction and a wide array of art. In the spring of 2011 there will be an anthology focused on the theme of work and social issues related to work and daily life. You can bend and twist your material to fit the theme. In other words come at the theme from whatever direction you wish. 
 This is a great opportunity so get the word out to all the artists and writers you know!

I enjoy the website’s archive for the artists and writers who have contributed over the past 13 years.  To see art from past issues, for example, several of my prints featured in the September 2010 issue (http://www.ascentaspirations.ca/dianapaul1.htm), go to the main page (www.ascentaspirations.ca) and click on the right column, Art Archives, (or Fiction Archives), to see a range of past contributions. The work is edgy, sometimes disturbing, even in the writing/grammatical styles used.

One note about the web design in this world of instant gratification.  The home page is on a black background. Granted it’s original, but also difficult to read.  In addition, the top line of tabs leads only to advertising, and some of that advertising repeats unnecessarily.  Ignore those tabs. Far better to focus on the left and right columns to read some very surprising flash fiction (“The Secret” by Michelle Bryan, and “The Blood Drop” by Spiel, for example).   An easier-on-the-eyes, more navigable website of the journal can be found at:  http://wordstorm-wordstorm.blogspot.com/2010/08/ascent-aspirations-magazine-spetember.html. Enjoy reading and looking at some great new work!

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“FAIR GAME”—Go see it!!

I just saw perhaps my favorite movie so far this year, the political thriller “FAIR GAME”, based on memoirs by Valerie Plame (My Life as a Spy) and her husband, Joe Wilson (The Politics of Truth). I was glued to my television set when the events were actually happening in 2004 because of the nakedness and brutality of leaking a spy’s identity. This wasn’t a John Le Carre fictional thriller. The subject matter in this reenactment of events is inherently more dramatic and spellbinding!  Go—no run—to see it!

FAIR GAME focuses on what unfairly happened to this couple, rather than preaching about the Bush Administration of 2003-2004. Plame‘s cover as a spy was blown in 2003 by the White House. In a Washington Post op-ed piece, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” former UN ambassador Joe Wilson (beautifully nuanced by Sean Penn) writes that the Bush administration distorted information about nuclear weapons to justify war against Iraq. In retaliation for that bold offense, the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame (superbly played by Naomi Watts) is leaked to the press. Karl Rove reportedly told Chris Mathews that Valerie Plame was “fair game.”  Hence, the title.

A suspense-filled, sometimes terrifying glimpse into the bowels of political power, FAIR GAME is riveting. Both Plame and Wilson are relatively apolitical. Valerie especially is portrayed as an unwilling, seemingly bewildered, but loyal civil servant who finds herself betrayed by her beloved CIA. Her career is destroyed, her marriage strained to its limits, and her life and those she loves are threatened when her identity is exposed. Yet still she is not as outraged as her husband becomes.  We see a few chilling clips of actual footage of Bush and Cheney giving speeches which underscore the deception they are about to play.

The acting by Watts and Penn is so sharp that, when Valerie Plame was interviewed, she said that her friends told her Naomi Watts nailed her personality and character. I guarantee Naomi Watts will be up for an Academy Award! And Director Doug Liman (“Bourne Identity”, “Mrs. And Mrs. Smith”) directs fast-paced and furious, always reminding us of the power in government, illegal abuse of that power, misinformation, manipulation, and character assassination. Watching this movie is unbalancing and disturbing: the personal drama overshadowed by the arrogance and brutality of absolute power.

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One Reply to ““FAIR GAME”—Go see it!!”

  1. WOW
    You should write film reviews!
    I too was riveted by the Plame story and wonder why these events don’t turn our country inside out…when you consider the nature of politicians and their behavior, I am reminded more of schoolyard bullies and spoiled brats.
    Continue writing Diana, your thoughts are compelling!

Off & Away: Travel Auction Sites—Why Am I Not Surprised?

I discovered the auction site, “Off & Away”, after reading a New York Times article in June.  Off & Away has what seems like an ingenious business model: bidding on hotel suites for what could be pennies on the dollar. I thought I would give it a try.

Being susceptible to becoming obsessed over the idea of bidding in an auction –one of my favorite things to do– but I rationalize that my bidding is usually going to a good cause such as a school fundraiser or a nonprofit charity—I had some fear and trepidation about getting my feet wet in an anonymous free-for-all public “penny” auction online. So, I first researched the website:  www.offandaway.com.  Two former executives from Amazon.com and Amazon’s venture capital firm invested in it.  Not too shabby so maybe it was legitimate, not a scam.  Each day at least two or three  hotels are listed as well as upcoming auctions for planning ahead.  Almost all of the hotels featured are in the U.S. with the vast majority in three cities:  San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  All three happen to be some of my favorite destinations so I was hooked.

With each bid you cast, the price of the suite goes up by $0.10 and up to 20 seconds is added to the timer.  There is a “hot zone”: usually about thirty minutes before the auction is scheduled to end.  Depending on how many other bidders decide to hop on board and start bidding during the “hot zone”, the auction time can be extended for hours.  I have watched it extend over five hours with the so-called  “last minute” rush of bidding.  This jacks up the price considerably.

Being the addictive personality type that the Internet further enables, I researched the site, looking for trends in time and day when traffic was heaviest. No trends were spotted, with the exception that perhaps the three cities I was looking at were the most popular and had the largest swings in final bids, anywhere from a low of $30 to a high of over $1000.  I was undaunted and jumped in.

My first and only bidding pitted me against at most four other bidders. My heart kept pumping.  I would read my name on the screen, after placing more than $50 in bids on the desired target suite.  The message was something like:  “Don’t give up.  Hang in there.  You’re the top bidder so far.”  It was hard for me not to be carried away by the excitement and emotion of the moment.  I didn’t win.  The suite went for way over the final price I was willing to pay.

Are you still with me?  I can see travel auctions becoming addicting.  I started wondering if there were software programs that helped some bidders place their bids more successfully.  Things called “bid bots”, automated bidding programs that help either the bidder or “sniping programs” which help the seller place bogus bids to inch up the bidding war.  Perhaps when the host computer sees a frenzy of bids from one bidder (let’s say me), the auction site plants a bid, jacking up the price by ten cents, so I won’t walk away.

The upside of all of this bidding is that the bids you have spent can be applied to any of over 100,000 hotels in Off & Away’s inventory.  I checked out the hotel rates.  Off & Away definitely matches hotels.com so there is nothing to lose in terms of booking a reservation using up your bids, within seven days of the auction closing.          Wondering… is hotels.com far behind in acquiring this formidable competitor?  Hmm…. that wouldn’t surprise me one bit!

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One Reply to “Off & Away: Travel Auction Sites—Why Am I Not Surprised?”

  1. Too bad it didn’t work out for you. I bet someone you know said “if it sounds too good to be true it probably is” and I guess you did’nt listen to them. Have you used all you losing bid money to make hotel reservations?

Blogger Nube—What’s Up with That?!

This Friday, November 19, will be my blog’s two-week anniversary.  So, for those of you out there who have been contemplating writing a blog, here are my Top Ten tips from my past two weeks’ blogging experience.  Obviously, I need to do a lot more blogging to give advice to non-nubes.  But what I learned in my first two weeks is very fresh, so I want to pass it on to those of you in the midst of what can be a rather scary process! As my experience grows, I will be adding more suggestions.  If you’re a nube at this too, by all means send me your comments!

1)    Read others’ blogs to get a lay of the land. Blogging is a time suck!

2)    Set aside time to write at least two times a week. The week goes by quickly! Blogging is a labor of love. One of my friends with an award-winning blog takes her laptop on vacation to make sure she gets her new posts uploaded on time!

3)    Use a simple, free version of WordPress or Blogspot for your “beta site” (Silicon Valley jargon for “testing site”) to see if you like it. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice—lots of it! The upside to a free blogging site: less time to get accustomed to the templates and software.  The downside:  WordPress is sandwiched in between the blog title and “.com”.   My blog had the middle name “wordpress” (www.unhealedwound.wordpress.com) until I hosted my own website.

4)    When you graduate to wanting a blog without the word “wordpress” or “blogspot” or whatever blog hosting site you are on, then you have to go to the trouble of re-entering all the information onto your own hosted site.  I use www.godaddy.com because their customer service is outstanding.  This costs money: about three times as much for a two-year contract.  So, make sure you want to do this!

5)    On your own website, make sure you look at it frequently to see if the appearance and content are what you like.  Again, read more blogs by others.  See what you like and ask yourself why.

6)    Set your “comments” section to  “needs approval” first.  I was so excited when I got comments from people who were not my friends. However…

7)    Comments need to be screened! I received requests to be guest bloggers.  When I tried to respond by email with follow-up questions, my email bounced back—a bogus email address!  What’s up with that?!

8)    Some comments from strangers seem really nice, even complimentary.  Go to their URL address (if given) to check the commenter’s background.  I did. One was a porn site!

9)    For possible strategic alliances read blogs and links you may want to be associated with.  Be careful out there in cyberspace.

10)  Most of the blogging tips online are still too technical for me. For additional tips here is one website I found that’s down to earth and really helpful: www.toptenblogtips.com.

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Printmaking at MPC: Feel the Love

This past weekend there were two workshops/demos at Monterey Peninsula College (MPC), located on Fremont Street (at Aguajito Road) near the Hilton Hotel, in Monterey. This little-known resource in Monterey is a gem in the midst of our community!  How many of you out there have never set foot on this campus?!

Any county resident can enroll in any of a huge variety of courses at  minimal cost in tuition and student fees.  I am amazed at how inexpensive 60 hours of instruction per class can be!  The MPC print studio, a small part of this community college, is a haven for artists and neophytes like me who want to open their eyes to a new world—the art of making lovely one-of-a-kind art work or an edition of multiple copies—in a relaxing and inviting environment that supports you through each step.  As one newer student said in an email to all MPC Print Club members:

“This club, quite simply, is the most enjoyable group of people I have met in my life. When I try to explain to those outside the club why I so enjoy all things print-related, this is what I say: I have never worked with a group of people (and I have worked with a LOT of groups) who has such a great sense of humor, gets things done, has a great sense of humor, is so decisive, has a great sense of humor, is so embracing of all, has a great sense of humor, is so darn DEPENDABLE, has a great sense of humor, is so collaborative, and best of all, has a great sense of humor!!!! “

On Friday the class  in Relief Printmaking and members of the MPC Print Club attended a demonstration by Denese Sanders on Simultaneous Color Printing, aka Viscosity Rolls, a rather sophisticated printing process developed in the 1950’s to accomplish multi-colored printing without multiple times sending the paper through the printing press.  How fortunate we all were (about 40 students) to watch the step-by-step process!  Soon a video will be available on the Club website: www.mpcprintclub.org.  Go check it out!  If you are interested in becoming a print club member (NO FEE required), just inquire on the website.  I know I talked two friends into joining and now they are hooked.  Some of you will be too, I guarantee it! A members-only community website is also posted: www.mpcprintmakers.ning.com for members to post their prints and other information about what they are doing and what they are interested in.

For those of you who don’t want to make the plunge into a semester-long class, there are excellent workshops by the same instructors who teach the full-length courses.  One of these workshops was held last Saturday from 9:00-3:00 and others will be offered for two-day weekend instruction.  On Saturday we had loads of fun making cards , both all-purpose and Christmas cards, some of which will be sold at the MPC Holiday Sale coming up Tuesday, December 7 through Thursday, December 9, from 9:00 am-7:00 p.m.  If you have never been to this sale, by all means come and see the handmade jewelry and ceramics from local artists as well as from MPC instructors and students.  While you are at it, stop by our table with the big MPC Print Club banner to say hi, look at our cards, cookbook with reproductions of some of our prints, and beautiful hand-screened aprons which would make gorgeous presents!  Enjoy! We would love to give you a personal introduction to what we do and who we are.

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What’s not to like? Post Ranch Inn’s Wine and Food Event

On Saturday afternoon, our daughter Maya and her boyfriend joined us for an afternoon at Post Ranch in Big Sur, for part of the Big Sur weekend wine and food extravaganza.  What makes this event different from other wine and food events is that you can sip wine, eat and then work some of it off walking from one station to the next on the Post Ranch’s spacious 100-acre grounds.  Guests wander the ranch’s picturesque paths while visiting seven stations in which there are at least four boutique wineries pouring their finest wines paired with a  delicious assortment of small plates prepared by the executive chef of Post Ranch’s Sierra Mar restaurant. Although the day had started out as a harbinger of drizzle and fog, the weather forecasters were proved wrong (again). The sun came out as we drove through the gatehouse and we were not disappointed! With map in hand, the four of us enjoyed a beautiful day of eating and drinking.  At the first station, we were treated to both French and local California wines.  One of our favorites was the Adelaida white (Version 2008), a combination of Rousanne and Grenache, which we happily sipped along with nibbling on mushroom crostini, fresh sardines topped with an herbal breadcrumb topping, and two types of cured, smoked salmon.  And that was just station number one!

Along the way, approximately 200 guests were scattered around the tables so  we never felt as if we were in a crowd.  It was so refreshing, compared with other wine and food festivals, to walk around the grounds, including a sustainable vegetable garden and beautiful sculpture, as we worked up an appetite and metabolized the alcohol (or hoped we did).  The eclectic range of wines from less well-known vineyards, some of which were poured by the winemakers themselves, was truly superb as well as very personal. Wine professionals, including importers and distributors, were on hand to discuss their favorites so for us it was a mini-seminar on wine and pairings.  This was our second year attending this event, and we were so happy that some of the vintners remembered us from last year (the inaugural event).  We think we will make this an annual celebration!

There were orange wines as well as rose cavas, including one we had first tasted in Spain three weeks ago:  Raventos i Blanc.  Sparkling and delicious!  We had the cava at station number seven, the last station,  on the crest of the hill –a 1200-foot cliff– on the patio of the Sierra Mar restaurant, overlooking the ocean with its panoramic views, next to the infinity pool. With our cava paired with raw oysters on the half shell, a buffet of pates (which I never wanted to stop eating) and platters of chocolate truffles and other scrumptious morsels of dessert, we all waddled down the hill to our car, content and waiting to return next year for more!

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4 Replies to “What’s not to like? Post Ranch Inn’s Wine and Food Event”

  1. I am really sorry I missed this event but I will be sure to watch for it next year. Don’t forget to post a reminder BEFOREhand.

    What a delicious day.

    1. It is a fun event, and different because of the hiking from station to station. If you decide to go next November, let us know!

Lacerated Tongue–In the ER on Halloween

Last night during a delicious dinner made by my husband, Doug, amateur chef extraordinaire, I bit down hard into my Thai pork basil curry with yams, zucchini, and eggplant and hit the calloused divot on my tongue, which I have clamped on before.  That’s what  happens when I eat and talk at the same time—my two favorite activities. No doubt about that!

The blood spurted out.  Very scary to say the least.  The tongue is very “vascular”, meaning that it is filled with capillaries ready to gush out blood at the least provocation.  My mouth filled.  Rushing to the bathroom mirror, I gasped to see not only the blood but a flap, a u-shaped, in the center of my tongue,  now lacerated so deeply that it was loose.  What Doug reported was an avulsion—no, not revulsion—a severe laceration of the tongue that is not quite completely ripped off.  Not quite.  The wonders of Internet research!

Two hours later, the ice cubes in my mouth were covered with blood, the large sized Ziplok baggie was filled with blood-drenched paper towels, and the blood had not decreased at all.  So, I knew I couldn’t sleep that night without reassurance from someone with medical experience.

On Halloween night no less, at 11:15 p.m., we were in the ER room with about ten other people—no one in costume–waiting for medical attention.  Not so bad, I thought.  Wrong.  Even though I had reported nonstop bleeding and the tongue flap, the others in the waiting room had certainly more serious emergencies:  a man with severe gout and pain in a wheel chair, several 20-something males with slashes on their upper thighs.  Ask me how I know?  One of the less shy guys with low-slung jeans, pulled them down and scrunched up his boxers to show the slashes to his girlfriend.  I winced, and swallowed the blood down my throat.

Around 1:00 a.m. the triage nurse called me in, kindly swabbed the tongue and gave me a box of gauze pads to exert strong pressure on my tongue.  Then, I was instructed to go back and sit down in the waiting room.  By 2:30 a.m. there were a lot more young men with a few female supporters (companions?) waiting.  One had fainted.  Another had severe trauma to his head.  His friend seemed very calm.  Asked me if I had that day’s Monterey Herald (I was reading the Wall Street Journal), because he wanted to see an article about himself working at the Fish Hopper restaurant.

At almost 4:00 a.m. I was too wiped out to stay.  My medical emergency didn’t seem so bad now.  The bleeding had stopped, but my tongue was so swollen my mouth wouldn’t close.  We left, explaining to the triage nurse we  understood the circumstances.

Walking out the exit door, it looked like a gathering place of young people loitering in front of a Seven-Eleven.  With police standing next to their cars.  I refused to jump to conclusions about what happened to the young men inside.  I just knew we all had wounds.

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3 Replies to “Lacerated Tongue–In the ER on Halloween”

  1. I very much enjoyed your story.
    I like your writing style; it is captivating, entertaining and well written.
    I felt for your unhealed wound.
    I look forward to more “unhealed wound” stories and hopefully healed ones too.
    xoxo
    Evelyn

  2. I can hear your voice as I read your written word…sorry about the tongue, been there too…
    Well, congratulations on the new Blog, I look forward to more of your writing!

  3. good descriptive writings, but what was your take on
    our medical delivery services…spending 4 hours in the ER
    bleeding as you describe sounds serious…
    Eugene
    PS…
    The ER blog I found more interesting…