Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bay Area Garden Railway Society and South County Railroaders Garden Railroad Tour

As a kid, I'd always fancied a train set. I asked Santa for one many times, but he never delivered. I guessed it was because I was a girl. I once broached the subject with My Father who told me that I'd been taken in by the ads on TV which showed the trains chuffing through cute little miniature villages.

"You're not interested in the trains," he said. "But the houses, and you don't actually get those with the train set -that's all extra."

As was often the case, my father had figured me out even before I'd figured me out!

I've always been enthralled by stories of miniature people such as The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift and The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett. I've previously blogged about visiting a Miniatures museum in Taipei during our Taiwan trip.

So when I saw the Bay Area Garden Railway Society and South County Railroaders inviting folk to their Garden Railroad Tour to benefit the St Joseph's Center and Community Pantry, I talked My Husband into going - not that it took much effort - this appealed to both our nerdy selves!

This, I explained to him on the way down to Morgan Hill in the car, was something I had considered putting in our garden when I took out the lawn.

"Thank God, you didn't," he muttered. I thought the idea of the work and expense turned him off.

"Well, after the miniature murderer on CSI, " he admitted, "I think it would have been too creepy to have in our own yard."

Seems I'd lost that garden-design battle before I'd even tried! Still, he was happy to have a look at other folk's gardens and we were not disappointed.

We visited three different gardens - each one amazing, and different in it's own unique way. In all cases the attention to detail was amazing.

This one looked like a real town with everything to scale.
Of course, there was the trains - but My Father had been right - it was more about the scale than the locomotives for me.

My imagination plunged into this little town, making up scenarios and lives. Who ran the car lot? Was it a greasy salesman or the soul of the community?
 Good job they had a good fire department on hand.
 And was it hot for the man driving this cart as he waited to cross the railroad tracks? Was there a fold in the space-time continuum or simply a buggy enthusiast? Or a nearby Amish community?
 I'd like to live in this wee house.
 The "real" house in the background shows the contrast in scale.
"My" house was on the banks of an actual flowing (miniature) creek. I thought that this was incredibly cute.
 And nearby the dramas of life (and death) unfolded.
 Who was grieving for this person? How did they die?
Or maybe they'd been trampled to death by a random herd of bison!
Oh yes... the trains...nearly forgot! Maybe that how what had happened the deceased. Perhaps they too had forgotten while taking a stroll along the tracks and had been knocked down by a runaway train?
 What ever it was this RVer waited patiently for the train to pass. Maybe he'd heard the news...
In only very rare occasions was the scale a little out of whack - wouldn't want to come this close to a skunk this big if I were camping! Yikes!
Better to stick with the town and all its mod cons!
Each garden had a different feel. In this next one, the owner had spent time actually building structures to scale from scratch as opposed to buying scale model kits.
He explained how he had cut out each tile by hand before tiling the roof of the station.
 To My Husbands great excitement, these trains were all actual steam engines, although some had run out of steam by the time we'd arrived.

I felt like I had traveled back to the Wild West... 
 This beautiful bridge reminded me of the Tassagh Viaducts near Armagh.
 It was amazing how excited you could feel as the train chugged over the bridges...
... Or approached through the "forest!"
I enjoyed how he'd landscaped the natural vegetation to scale. This Rosemary looks like a huge sprawling oak tree!
At the third garden we visited, the steam engines were still vigorously clacking along the tracks. 
The emphasis here seemed to focus on the engineering of tunnels and bridges. A couple of "full time station masters" had a busy time making sure trains didn't collide or get stuck in one of the tunnels that was too small for most of the engines.
There were canyons...
And farms...

 And under bridges too...
 It was ridiculous how long I waited to get this shot of the train coming over the bridge and how pleased with myself I was when I got the exact shot I wanted!
 I waited here for a while too but gave up before the train came back! Patience is not my strength.
 And soon I was drifting back to the town...

 Admiring the vintage cars...
 When I heard the train in the tunnel and raced to get the money shot!
Oh what joy... but isn't great to take such pleasure in innocent pursuits!

Then I risked life and limb on the tracks, as this steam train bore down on me for the final shot!

Well done to the designers of all these gardens, and thank you for not only opening them up for us to have a fun day out, but in doing so to raise funds and hold a food drive for a very deserving cause - St Joseph's Center and Community Pantry.

As we drove home, I realized I no longer yearned for my own train set - that itch had been scratched and Dad had been right - I just wanted the cutesty villages. Now, I just create my own towns, when I write, and fill them with my own "living breathing" characters.

Byddi Lee

Friday, August 19, 2016

Flash Fiction Forum - The Heart of The San Jose Writing Scene

When my book, March to November was launched almost two years ago, I was discussing possible ways to promote my book, and my writing in general, with a writing buddy of mine  - she writes fairy tales and so I'll call her The Fairy Queen. Those who know her will agree the nickname suits her well.

The Fairy Queen suggested that I submit something to Flash Fiction Forum - a fairly new enterprise in San Jose, run by a dynamic, trench-coat clad duo called Lita and Tania. The idea was to bring writers and readers/listeners together every second month to listen to local writers read a curated selection of Flash Fiction pieces. My initial reaction was that it was the wrong platform for me. I'd just published a 115,000 word novel - it was as far from flash fiction as you could get.

However, The Fairy Queen persuaded me to accompany her to check it out. What harm would it do? At the very least a night out with her was always going to be a treat.

The Flash Fiction Gals work to create an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere. They begin their evening with an optional "everyone's invited" dinner meeting in the nearby Cafe Stritch in downtown San Jose.

They pull the little tables together to make a crazy long higgly piggly stretch of diners - usually between 10 and 20 people show up for this part. That first evening I was struck by the strong atmosphere of friendship they generated. Everyone was introduced to each other by name amid laughter and gentle teasing if names were mixed up or forgotten. We soon realized we were all in the same boat and rowed in unison towards a common goal of mutual respect and support.

After dinner we ambled over, still in conversation, to the art gallery, Works San Jose, that generously hosts Flash Fiction Forum free of charge. We sat amongst the stunning and sometimes curious art exhibits as the writers took turns to read their work. Each piece is short, 5 - 10 minutes long, and all good, many excellent.

It set my brain whirring... Could I do it? Was I good enough? They did say we could read excerpts from our novels, but I had a little piece up my sleeve that I'd writing years ago. It was an anecdote about a farmer who tries to save a new born lamb that seems to have stopped breathing - based on a true story told to me by said farmer. Simply entitled "The Lamb," I submitted it and was excited when it was excepted for the next Flash Fiction.

I was nervous when the time came to perform "The Lamb," but the audience was generous and supportive. I got a huge kick out of their reactions as they gasped at the shocking parts, laughed at the funny parts and applauded at the end. I sold a few copies of  March to November, but the best part was having strangers come up to me and tell me how much they'd enjoyed listening to my reading. To praised-starved writers, it's the best thing ever!

This week is Flash Fiction Forum's 3rd birthday. Over the last three years, Tania and Lita have given the arts community in San Jose a much needed intravenous drip-feed of culture that has helped take it out of intensive care to a stable condition that is rapidly improving all the time. They've had Literary Pub Crawls, taken part in Art Parties, been nominated for art awards and are now involved in the upcoming Los Gatos-Listowel Writers festival in October organized by Irish Culture Bay Area.

Lita runs a weekly workshop for local writers too. It is great value and very informative. She shares local events and contacts as well as giving us opportunities to explore beyond our comfort zones.

On one such occasion she had read a short piece of erotic fiction to us and we were exploring how the writer had achieved her goals. Lita gave us three writing prompts and 10 minutes to come up with our own piece of erotic flash fiction. The writers on either side of me set to writing furiously, but I was flummoxed. I didn't know what to write! I am an Irish Catholic - we don't do erotica - at least not out loud (or in writing) In a pure panic I froze... but I had to write something! Then I thought, what if I write about something else and make it sound sexy? Perhaps that would work!

I only had half the time left, but I scribbled something out. Lita called time, and when we shared our work sure enough mine got the laugh I was pitching for. In fact, Lita like it so much she told me verbally to submit it, then followed up with an email...

I polished it up and submitted it. It was accepted, but then I realized I had to read it, out loud, in front of strangers! The Fairy Queen, ever loving and supportive videoed it for me. And so here you can all see my attempt at erotic fiction...

For the record - I like mine boiled and fluffy and slathered in butter, with salt and a with a dab of brown sauce!

To find out why it's my last Flash Fiction Forum, keep tuned - all will be revealed shortly in future postings.

Byddi Lee

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Tassagh, County Armagh - A Pretty Fine Day

I've heard Tassagh Road, in County Armagh described as the prettiest road in Ireland. 
It was an easy claim to believe with it's  rich green fields...
burbling steams...
and majestic Viaduct.
My friend took us there for the day. She's the friend I've known longest in my life - we met on the first day of primary school, sat beside each other and became best friends. You could say she is my First Best Friend Forever - FBFF! She married a Hairdresser From Keady (HFK!) and was one of the first of our gang to walk down the aisle. I love hanging with them - they are the poster children for getting married. Three kids and a lifetime later they are still sweet and funny with each other. When we get a chance to meet up nowadays the years in-between melt away. Or perhaps they've been using the DeLorean to time travel...
This DeLorean drove past as as were were taking pictures of the Viaduct. HFK was yelling at My Husband to turn around and look at it. My Husband didn't hear us and missed the whole thing!

HFK grew up in this neighborhood and FBFF "immigrated" here when they got married. Us Ballymacnab girls had a "friendly" rivalry with Keady back in the day! Not quite Sharks and Jets, but not far off it! But even though it's Keady, I have to hand it to HFK, he has every reason to be proud.  Tassagh is very beautiful. It was a great place to be tourists for the day!

They're still a bit old fashioned in this neck of the woods - you might still find a few shillings tucked away in a person's "Holy Communion Money," so this fine could still be paid!
The highlight was lunch at Basil Sheils.
This restaurant/bar/inn is simply an adorable setting for great food... 
 ...or a nights craic.
I love the detail in the charming decor.

And the feeling that you were having lunch in a cosy home!
It would be an idyllic weekend retreat (I'm thinking "writers retreat"?) The owner allowed us to view the overnight accommodation they provide. There's a self-catering option. I mean, seriously, how cute can a kitchen be?
And the bedrooms were gorgeous...
... and so cosy!
Outside you could sit by the river and take in the creative flower displays!
We were lucky to get a beautiful day too top it all off.

Afterwards FBFF and I took My Husband and HFK on a tour of our old stomping ground - the beautiful Segahan Dam. My writing group will recognize this scene from my next (written but as yet unpublished) book. FBFF and I spent many's a Sunday afternoon up here... no Pokemon Go or Shopping Mall's for us back in the day!

Funny how it looks smaller than I remember it - but then I suppose since those days I've seen other larger Dams like Shasta and Hoover Dams... They may be more impressive but certainly not as pretty!
And the water, clean, tasty, and above all, plentiful.

Byddi Lee