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O Christmas Tree

The tree stood a mere 32 inches off the floor. She reflected on the tree from the Christmas prior and figured she should be thankful. That one had been a literal sapling, meant to be planted outdoors after the passing of the holiday, but it had deteriorated and died before Christmas day had even come. It was just as well anyway as living in an apartment didn’t afford much of a place for them to plant the bitty tree.

She tried not to see the parallels in the trees and her own lack of thriving. The positive side was that one strand of lights made this the brightest little tree she had ever seen. And after scanning the living room portion of their one-room studio apartment, she could see that shifting the items from the small corner table to the desk by the bed would provide a better vantage point for the tree and give it the appearance of a being taller.

After placing the tree in its new home atop the table, she decided it was best to be thankful for what she had and placed their small star on top. With a feeling of contentedness, she settled down on the love seat with a cup of hot cocoa. Unexpectedly, her husband arrived home from work, emerging through the door with a six foot tree he had won at his company Christmas party.

 

Rules of the Road

I wrote this some time back for a possible upstart app and online magazine; however, it seems things never really got moving with that and I forgot about this article until I became active in running and cycling again and became annoyed with the many near misses I have been in and seen due to negligence of the laws. It is likely these rules and laws are applicable, at least to some extent, where you live, but this was written specifically for Flagler County, Florida as I live in Palm Coast:

miyagi squish like grape

Rules of the Road

There I was, running along the road in my quiet neighborhood, watching the teenager on his bike swerving towards me from a distance. The problem was he wasn’t watching me; he was texting while riding. As a result, I had to take a leap onto someone’s well-manicured lawn, dogs barking at me for trespassing, as the cyclist flew past me, never even knowing I had been there.

Then more recently, I was driving down Belle Terre Parkway when I spotted a young woman jogging while pushing her sporty baby stroller. There are sidewalks; however, she had decided to run with traffic just next to the median. Immediately, I was reminded of the mostly sage advice given by Pat Morita’s Mr. Miyagi in the original The Karate Kid: “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [makes squish gesture] get squish just like grape.”

I remember learning road safety for bicycles and pedestrians back in elementary school. Do they not teach this anymore? In today’s society maybe we just need an app for that.

Cyclists

A cyclist (or anyone on wheels that are propelled by human power) must obey the same rules as a motorist, except they are actually allowed to drive on sidewalks as long as local ordinances allow. We’ll get to that later though. According to the Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement Guide I located from 2005, “Riding as a driver makes a cyclist visible and predictable.”

As found in chapter 316 of the 2014 Florida Statutes of the Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law, the following are some of the basics in bicycle regulations to help keep you and others out of harm’s way:

How should a cyclist accessorize? Fashion is all up to you, but your bicycle needs a front lamp of white light which can be seen 500 feet away and a red reflector and a red lamp visible up to 600 feet from your bike’s tail end [316.2065(7)]. “About 60 percent of fatal bicycle crashes in Florida occur during non-daylight hours,” says the Florida Bicycle Law Enforcement Guide. A helmet may not look chic, but it is the law for anyone under 16 [316.2065(3)(d)]. Leave any sort of headset at home. Your ears should be clear from distractions [316.304].

Where should you ride? Just as in driving a motor vehicle, we are not in England and should always ride on the right side of the road [316.081].  This is what most motorists expect and are looking for, so the predictability is best for the rider, whom otherwise might not be seen. Cyclists must follow all traffic signals and devices, as well as follow the same patterns of yielding and passing as when driving a car. If there is no bike lane, ride as far to the right as safely possible, especially if unable to obtain and maintain the same speed as the flow of motor traffic [316.2065(5)].

Since bicycles do not come equipped with turn signals, a cyclist must use the proper hand gestures during the last 100 feet before the turn [316.155(2)(3) & 316.157(1)] as follows: left turn, extend the left arm horizontally; right turn, extend the right hand horizontally or upward; to stop, extend the left arm down.

And finally, cyclists may ride on sidewalks, as long as there is no local ordinance prohibiting such use. In my research, I could find no such ordinances for Flagler County. However, a cyclist has the “rights and duties of a pedestrian” while on a sidewalk [316.2065(9)] and must also yield right-of-way to all pedestrians, as well as give audible warnings to pedestrians if planning to pass them (I have had many a bell jingled at me while I was out running) [316.2064(10)].

All of this information can be found online, but I was also able to request a couple pamphlets from PC Bikes. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0300-0399/0316/Sections/0316.2065.html

Pedestrians

Of course, walking, running, skipping, or hopping should not be done in the middle of the road, but Mr. Miyagi was incorrect that either side is safe. Only if there is no pedestrian sidewalk, a pedestrian must be facing oncoming traffic and remain on the left shoulder [316.130(3)(4)]. Pedestrians and motorists can then have better visibility of one another.

Pedestrians should follow appropriate signals at intersections, but what about when there are no signals to follow? A basic rule is that pedestrians always have the right-of-way over motorists as long as they are within a crosswalk and made sure not to enter the roadway without allowing a vehicle time to safely stop [316.130 (7)(a)(b)(c)]. This does not mean all motorists are aware of this law, so be wary. Also, if you intend to cross a road in an area without crosswalks, you must yield to motorists [316.130(10)]. Don’t get cocky out there. The chicken may have crossed the road to get to the other side, but do not play chicken with oncoming vehicles. Another small note about crosswalks: travel on the right side within one to keep a regular flow of movement [316.130(13)].

What about safety accessories for pedestrians? I have run in overnight races when I was required to wear a reflective vest, a headlamp, and a blinking red light on my rear, but I was unable to find anything in the Florida Statutes requiring any of these for pedestrians. The definition of pedestrians is not broken down between early morning runners on a rural road or those taking leisurely strolls along a sidewalk in the middle of a city, thus, regulations of this sort are not as clear. In this case, I suggest considering your environment, the safety in numbers factor, and good, old-fashioned common sense to make a decision on your precautions.

Riding or running along a road is always a bit more risky since we must factor in motor vehicles. Fortunately, Flagler County offers bike and pedestrian paths galore. It is important to remember though, that many of these rules should still apply to give consideration to others recreating along said paths. Always keep to the right, as you would if you were in a car on the road, and always give audible signals when passing, which should be done on the left.

While cyclists should not wear any sort of headsets, headphones, or listening devices, other than a hearing aid, while riding [316.304], there does not yet appear to be any rule on texting while riding (or jogging, for that matter), though I would personally classify it as an equally, or more distracting activity and safety violation. Perhaps a petition will be created to add this to a campaign against texting and driving.

Also, remember to continue to use caution and care. You may now know the laws set for your safety, but unfortunately, not all motorists or other pedestrians or cyclists do. Always use common sense above all else.

The following are some other resources to check out:

Bike Florida www.bikeflorida.org

Florida Bicycle Association http://floridabicycle.org/

State Safety Office Florida Department of Transportation www.dot.state.fl.us/safety

Terri Klaes Harper, October 2014

 

My Story

If you’ve been in a church, you’ve probably heard about peaks and valleys. Life is full of them. About a year ago, I was checking out a pretty great view on my own mountain peak… and then was shoved from behind into a canyon. Every time I think I’ve found some hand and foot holds to start to climb back up, I slip.

The thing is, as miserable as this experience has been, I know I won’t be down here forever, and what I do while I’m down here matters.

Because one day, I am going to have an amazing story to tell.

I am a writer; however, God is the author of my life. All truly good stories have several intertwined subplots, and as the reader, we don’t always see how all those subplots fit together, but the Author and Creator always sees how it will all connect in the end.

I am learning that I am not the author of my life. God is. I cannot get out of this valley on my own. I have to trust He is working behind the scenes to pull me up. He is giving me an amazing story to tell. He didn’t knock me down here, but He knew I would fall. He already had a plan to raise me up.

My story is not finished yet. One day I can share the story and the happy ending of eternal life.

(I had this post fermenting in my mind as the first of 2016 over a week ago, and then my pastor gave a message last Sunday that confirmed this was the right thing, right down to the video I had already decided to include. God is funny that way.)

It Would Be a Sin Not to Read this Book: I Kill the Mockingbird

I don’t go to bookstores very often because it is dangerous. I already have a huge and growing list of books to read, and bookstores just increase the chances that I’ll end up with a book not even on my list. I should just admit to myself that I will never complete my list, but I’ve been trying denial for a while now. Books on my list are like that old wive’s tale about gray hairs, where if you pull one out, two more grow in its place.

I was recently in a bookstore, and yep, it happened again. I was innocently walking by a shelf when this book caught my eye.

kill mockingbird

As an ardent fan of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, I could not ignore this cover.

(BTW- I’m still not sure where I stand on Go Set a Watchman)

I picked up the book and read the back cover, then the first few pages. I quickly realized this book is for juveniles and a far stretch from the A Song of Ice and Fire series I have been reading. It appeared it would be a quick, yet humorous and pleasant read, and also something good to read as a gauge for a comparison to my own juvenile fiction series (please, if you do not understand the naming of book age categories, do not think I am insulting this or my own books). And yes, it is a tribute to the book I love so much.

So I bought it.

And I took it to read on days at the beach (between walks, and searching for starfish with a five year old).

Oh, and I loved it!

First of all, the trio of young friends was not only a group I personally connected to because they were intelligent yet fun book nerds, but one of them had a Star Wars backpack as well. Seriously, I loved that these kids were not portrayed as a bunch of trouble-making hoodlums out wreaking havoc all summer long, but a group of awkward kids with their own issues, making the most of their summer by “fighting for the books” in a way that would have made their late English teacher proud.

Though technology played an important role in the progress of the kids’ summer project, kids being kids reigned and there was an Americana feel of how simple summer should be and an innocence similar to that of Scout, Jem, and Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird. Sure, they witnessed Atticus having to put down a rabid dog and defend a poor black man wrongfully on trial for the color of his skin, and Lucy, Elena, and Michael deal with the death of a beloved teacher while Lucy comes to grips with the near loss of her own mother to cancer, but they are still all just kids trying to have fun in a small town setting.

There is also an understanding of our culture that is a little sad, but still funny. This excerpt will illustrate that:

“We know people are talking about the book,” I say to Elena. “I wish we could be sure that they’re reading it.”

“How about we go online and start a rumor that To Kill a Mockingbird is violent and lewd? she suggests. “That would get people to read it.”

“The story’s got rape, murder, lynching, and rabies,” I remind her. “There’s also a man named Boo, and an old lady drug addict, and a kid dressed up like a pork chop. How are we going to top that?”

There is also a beautiful scene where Lucy and her mother finally talk about her mother’s near miss with death by cancer:

“Lucy,” says Mom, “I am going to die.”

Suddenly I feel like I can’t catch my breath. “What?” I say again.

“You heard me… But that’s not all.”

“There’s more?”

“I’m not going to die today…We all die, Lucy. Me. You. Everybody. But you know what we do first?”

I shake my head.

“We pretend that it’s not going to happen. We make believe that we’re never going to die. Do you know what that’s called?”

“Lying?” I say.

“Living, Lucy. It’s called living. That’s what I’m going to do now.”

I Kill the Mockingbird was an easy and funny read, yet had deep messages. In that way,and the presence of a protagonist who is mature and intelligent, I compare this story to my own book series. I loved this book, and it was a great respite in the middle of the violence and death I’ve been reading.

My Writer’s Block Poem

so just write

I haven’t really done much poetry in years. Somehow the perfect storm of discussing writer’s block and reading the poetry of a few talented kids made the following today:

I can’t start to finish

when I can’t even begin.

Lack of inspiration

may be all in my head.

But I can’t seem to find the words

to get me through a line.

Do I have it in me,

to write a verse this time?

Empty words are dulling me.

Nothing now has meaning.

I don’t want to be a writer

with no substance, no feeling.

With my head in my hands,

I let out a monstrous moan.

Yet somehow I have done it.

I have written this poem.

 

Terri Klaes Harper

Copyright 2015

Getting into More Shuffles

lost_books

There is an over-saturation of self-published, or “indie authors.” I know this because I am one of them. Many are good and the changes in the publishing industry can be seen as a blessing for us getting our books out into the world. However, there is an unfortunate number of these authors who really aren’t any good, like the train wrecks we see audition for American Idol and wonder how they could possibly think they had a chance. There are also some who have great potential, but they lack polish and editing. These last two types are bringing us all down, and the good ones are getting lost in the shuffle. People are afraid to take a chance on an unknown because they may have been burned by one already.

It’s all about who you know, the supporters you have, and self-promoting savvy, apparently. I am sadly lacking in these areas, and I’m shy about my work when I am face to face with people. I imagine most writers are introverts, as I am. After all, that is the nature of writing. We tend to be great at expressing ourselves through the written word because we are more internal thinkers. If we were extroverts, we probably wouldn’t take the time to write it down, but would just blurt it all out verbally. Of course, I know there are exceptions, but you get my point, right? So I need to get more extroverts on my side.

When I published my first book, Memoirs of an Ordinary Girl: The Middle-ish Ages, on Kindle 2 1/2 years ago, using the free giveaway option was a great way to get a book noticed, get readers, get reviews, and get more sales. I tried this a few times more recently and didn’t notice any new traffic or increase in sales. I certainly got no new reviews from it. Why not? So many authors are just giving it away now in the same desperation I had in getting noticed, that even in that, we get lost in the shuffle.

I have been published exclusively through Amazon in order to take advantage of the KDP benefits such as the free giveaways and the countdown deals, but I have come to realize that if I’m going to get lost in the shuffle anyway, perhaps I just need to get into more shuffles.

Every 90 days, my books were set to auto-renew into KDP, but I was able to recently rescue book 2 from the exclusivity trap. Book 1 will linger there until mid-April. I have now made book 2 available through Smashwords and Nook as well as Amazon, and book 1 will join as soon as it can. It’s a bit awkward to only be able to offer the second book in a series through these two new formats, but I have hopes of more shuffles.

 

Guilt

Just a little something that was in my head. Write whenever you can, even if it’s just a little thing. It might become part of a big thing.
I was always the bad girl. My friends all took their cues from me, so I guess I decided to help them cover their biggest mistake out of guilt. Guilt, and the possibility that because of my past history, I would probably get accused for their crime anyway. The only problem was…I never killed anybody, and it’s a little harder to cover up a mess like that.

 

All rights reserved

Terri Klaes Harper 2015