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A couple of days ago I was in Indiana visiting my parents. I was taking a walk down the middle of a narrow tree-lined street when I heard a loud, splatting noise behind me, like someone had dropped twenty gallons of Jello from the tree-tops onto the road. It was loud, people.

I turned around. And behind me, on the road, was a fox squirrel laying limp. I didn’t have my camera with me but you know what they look like.

well-fed fox squirrel

I glanced upward. The nearest branch was at least thirty feet off the ground. Five seconds earlier and I’d have broken that squirrel’s fall with my head.

Anyway, I was pretty sure it was dead but I was still fascinated. I mean, I’ve seen a squirrel fall out of a tree and land on leaves and spruce needles and then run away, but this was pavement.

So, I took a step toward the motionless squirrel. My brain was a mix of sadness for the squirrel, and researcher for my writing. How did it die? Why did it fall? Poor thing. It looks so healthy otherwise.

I took another step toward the squirrel and it started to shake. I turned to my wife and said. “It’s moving.” Is it in pain? Is it having a seizure? What should I do? Am I going to be faced with the possibility of ending its suffering? If I get too close, will it try to bite me like an abandoned seal pup did years ago?

I took another step toward it and it started moving—slowly—very slowly—like slow motion-slowly, toward the base of the tree it’d fallen from. It looks like all its legs are working. It’s kind of shaky, but it’s walking.

Then it did something amazing. It proceeded to climb the very tree it’d fallen from just forty seconds ago.

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Congrats to Alissa Grosso

If you haven’t done so already, hop on over to Alissa Grosso’s Blog and congratulate her. She just signed with a fantastic agent!!

Alissa’s debut YA novel The Subrosa Semesters, will be published in March 2011 by Flux, a book deal she orchestrated on her own. Now she has Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management in her corner.

Way to go, Alissa!!

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If you missed Monday’s post, a Submission Belly is a fleshy pouch mysteriously appearing in the mid-section of the body above and beyond what might already be there. Having a book on submission, querying,  or entering a writing contest could create this condition.

I gain weight pretty quickly. I’ve been this way my whole life. The main way I deal with it is to exercise. Luckily, I am an exercise addict and seek out activities that require endurance. As some of you know, I spend about half of my writing time on my treadmill desk.

I was puzzled when I was exercising and doing a good job of watching what I eat and I put on a few pounds. I increased my activity and the weight stayed. Just a few pounds, but still, there it was, the dreaded Submission Belly.

So, here’s the deal. Weight gain can be caused by stress.

No, I’m not talking about eating junk food or carbs as a response to stress.

You might have really healthy consumption and exercise habits and still gain weight. I know, it’s not fair.

Medically speaking, my understanding is that our bodies have an ancient hormonal response in reaction to stress. That response triggers our bodies to store fat in the abdomen.

Back in hunter gatherer days it was a survival mechanism. Not so in our calorie rich contemporary times. If you want the medical details, check out these links:

Stress: The Hidden Factor For Weight Gain

Adrenal Fatigue

I ended Monday’s post with a call to make friends with your submission belly. In other words, do things to relieve the stress. (Stressing about the presence of a submission belly just adds fuel to the fire.)

We all have different ways to relieve stress. One thing I do throughout the day is to be conscious of my breathing. It’s amazing how relaxing breathing is when you are aware that you are breathing. One conscious breath can go a long way.

When I was teaching in a program for at risk teens I used this technique before responding to students who were cussing me out or threatening me. Don’t get me wrong. The kids I worked with were great. They just had a lot of anger because of their life situations. One conscious breath helped me remember that before responding.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on stress reduction. What do you do? Does it work for you?

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We’ve got a long travel day ahead of us so I thought I’d leave you with a couple of photos and catch up on news in a few days.

Yeah, that’s my wife, Dana, wrestling a gorilla. She’s always getting into some kind of mischief.

Here we are in New York before starting our journey home to Alaska.

We hope to still be smiling 5,000 miles later.

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I lucked out and got one of the last seats available to an amazing play called Alice in the Underground, written by Cassidy Phillips with help from teens in the Street Advocacy and Outreach Program (SOAP) in Fairbanks, Alaska.

SOAP’s mission is to provide protection and support for teens who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless.

Many of the actors in the play have been or are homeless. They delivered poetic, gut-punching monologues about living with meth-addicted parents, being abandoned at truck stops in the middle of nowhere, and spending nights under bridges when the temperature was twenty below zero.

I spent most of my teaching career working in a small school for at risk teens and what I heard and saw on stage Friday night rang true.

I had many students who were homeless. Some got kicked out of their houses, others fled from abusive situations, and some ran because it was the best choice they could make at the time given their specific circumstances.

I have lots of great memories of connecting teens with books, taking them camping and ice fishing and bowling. And I have a slew of memories of breaking up fights, being threatened, meeting with angry parents, and occasionally dealing with weapons and drugs brought to school. But the first image that jumps into my mind when I think about my former job is greeting each student as they walked through the door and just trying to meet them where they were.

One of the actors last night said something like: When you see one of us on the streets just remember that we’re human, just like you.

Here is the quote, compliments of Security Guard in the comments below:

“As the warm sun returns and the ice breaks keep in mind the winter. Keep in mind my story. And when it is cold and you see me alone wandering the streets remember me… Remember that I am living and breathing this cold air with you.”

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When I was teaching I used to take my students to the World Ice Art Championships every year. Once I started writing full-time the ice carving displays slipped from my mind until this year when I decided to head down to the River to check them out. Experts come from all over the world to carve. They work with 3 foot by 5 foot by 8 foot blocks of ice that weigh about 10,000 pounds cut from local ponds .

These days I put most of my creative energy into writing. But in the recent past I’ve done some basket-making

and canoe building.

Both of these projects resulted from grants I’d written for a summer program that my former employer runs for at risk children. I was able to hire a local expert who worked with me to see these projects through to completion. I was fortunate that the school I worked for was very supportive of special projects, and I was able to create some projects that both engaged the students and fed my own creativity.

When I was doing those projects I wasn’t doing a lot of writing but I’m sure they helped my writing, especially the canoe building because it pushed me into new territory, showed me I could do something that I’d never done before. We did lots of problem solving as we encountered difficulties we hadn’t anticipated, kind of like writing a novel. For a while, every time we tried to bend the ribs in place they’d break.

What other creative outlets do you have besides writing?

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Wood is the main fuel that heats our house so I spend quite a bit of time doing wood-related chores from cutting down trees,

to hauling wood in a wheel barrow,

or a sled,

to splitting and stacking wood,

and yes, burning it.

Over the years I’ve used the woodpile as a place to think. When I was teaching I’d mull over which short story to read to my class, or how to connect with a student who was in a crisis, or how to make some boring grammar lesson interesting.

As a writer I use the woodpile to try out voices for my characters, or to think through a plot problem. And to remind myself that it takes time for a story idea to mature into a novel.

I love the woodpile and the wood chores because I am working on providing a basic need. For me, that is grounding in and of itself. I’ve grown to love doing simple chores that connect me directly with being a human.

It’s all too easy for me to get caught up in worrying over things I can’t control and trying to change things that I have no control over. Working at the woodpile helps me to take a step back and breathe. It reminds me that I am alive in this amazing world.

What activities do you do that are grounding? What do you think about while you are doing them?

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