Christmas in Wisconsin: One expat reminiscing

Don’t mind me. I’m not going home for Christmas this year and was just struck with a spontaneous, crippling bout of homesickness as the holidays approach :P. Occupational hazard of living the expat life over here in Singapore. Please. If you can. Ship me some snow.

Anyway, enjoy my glorious photos form last year’s Christmas back home in Wisconsin.

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And then there’s the whole polar vortex thing? Like 40 below zero Fahrenheit for several days. You may remember that being when a bunch of people burned themselves throwing boiling water in the air to watch it freeze instantly–which it does. Maybe I’ll post my video later :P. In case you don’t live in a place that gets RIDICULOUSLY cold…if you leave your car sitting outside, your gasoline can freeze and then starting your car can be a bit tricky. Which is why you need……. HEET!

1464686_10100409446268925_1580921105_n“Sorry we have no Heet.” In the entire city of Madison. CRISIS! Pssshhh I don’t need to unthaw my frozen gas anyway

Seriously though, I’ll be fine :P, just had to reminisce a bit.

(Not so) epic pilgramage for my WIP, part 2

And here it is, part two of my epic pilgrimage to one of the places I’m “from.” When you live outside your country, far from home and surrounded by people different from you, not only does it change who you are, it also make you appreciate and reflect on your roots. Writing a novel set where you’re “from” enhances that feeling, haha.So I was pretty excited when I found myself unexpectedly back in the US, and I had a car and the time to drive up to my high school “hometown,” Sparta, Wisconsin, town of less than 10,000 just east of the Mississippi river, surrounded by dairy farms and next to Fort McCoy Army base. I stayed for just a night.

When I finally moved away from Sparta for the “big cities” of Milwaukee and then Madison, I felt like I was escaping a trap of tiny small-minded dreamlessness. I’d hated living there. But traveling quite a number of places around the world, then moving to Singapore, has changed me a lot (obviously) and made me really reflect on who I am I guess and the whole concept of where I’m “from” and what that means.

So going from Singapore….

photo-3 (10)back to Sparta…..

photo 1(1)So the interesting thing about this epic pilgrimage is that, for the first time really, I was returning to Sparta as a tourist. I don’t really have close friends there anymore and my parents moved away like five years ago, so here I am a tourist in a town I lived in to some degree for like 11 years. My back country road drive, complete with Amish buggies and lots of barns and corn fields and hills, helped me psychologically prepare for the return.

So Sparta…as a tourist….who lived there for a third of her life. I didn’t tell the farm B&B where I stayed or anyone else I encountered that I know Sparta like the back of my hand. So I had a targeted plan for my 24 hours in Sparta…scout out and photograph various settings I knew would be in Rafa & Rose. I visited Wal-Mart, and saw a few people who still worked there from my three years working there maybe 11 years ago. I drove by my high school. I wanted to go inside and look around, seeing as that’s one of the story settings, but I thought that might be creepy lol. I went to Memorial Park (football field, many baseball diamonds, home of 4th of July fireworks and Butterfest), the restaurant we always used to go to at all hours of the night, Evans-Bossard. Drove down the street I walked home from school on every day. Went on some familiar drives in and around town. I went to the town’s only cafe, Ginny’s Cupboard for some writing time. Thank God it’s still open. I always worried about that one. The only thing that seemed to survive in downtown Sparta when I lived there was the shoe store that had been there since forever, the many bars, and second-hand shops. I visited a few other parks and other memorable places. I did not brave the bar scene, even though I wanted to lol. Maybe next time. I spotted a few other people I recognized from my class, but I don’t think they put together who I was.

Without further ado, samples of my photographic journey to my high school hometown….

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So reflecting on my epic pilgrimage to my roots….. The whole thing was kind of weird. But interesting.I think I stood out; I didn’t look like a local. It’s hard to quantify what that means, but when I lived in Sparta, I would have been able to tell. Good reminder for Rose, who grew up in Sparta. Wow, people were so nice and helpful. Like everyone says hi and smiles. I went for a stroll in a park and people started conversations with me. Also a good note for my MS. Sitting in the local cafe and at that restaurant, listening to people’s conversations, helped bring me back, too. I also helped refresh my brain on dialect and general mentality. And waitstaff are so polite and, again, helpful. Not so much in Singapore lol. It’s really small and kind of dingy, there’s A LOT of pick-up trucks everywhere, Chevy pissing on Ford bumper stickers, and you see a fair amount of camo hats and shirts, but there’s a history, a beauty to it that I hope I captured in my pictures. Sparta (and towns like it all over America) has a simplicity and safety that I  miss living in Singapore (and even back home in Madison).

Even though I changed a lot since I lived there, my experiences and the culture helped shaped me to who I am today, Every place I’ve lived has played a role in that, obviously, but as I start reflecting on what impact this place had on me, and I think it’s not only an appreciation for how big and wonderful the world is, but also the value of a smaller, closer knit community, a love for getting out of the city and soaking in rolling corn fields, the meditative drive through the ridges on back country roads, running into people you know everywhere you go that reminds you that you’re important and you exist. The stars overhead, the occasional glimpse of the Milky Way, the smell of pine trees, all can create a sense of peace and connectedness that is lost in big cities.

Now to incorporate the essence of this setting and culture into Rafa & Rose.

(Not so) epic pilgramage for my WIP, part 1

So I was recently back home in the good ol’ US of A, which was very exciting because I hadn’t left the Asian continent in 8 months. I went back for a sad reason, a funeral in Maryland (and that road trip was a whole different pilgrimage) but while I was there I made the most of it!

So I’m co-authoring a book set in one of my hometowns; I say “one of” because I moved around growing up and as an adult, so I guess I don’t have like a hometown. This particular hometown is what I call my “high school” hometown. We moved to Sparta, Wisconsin when I was in 8th grade. I graduated high school Sparta High. My parents lived there until a few years ago. So Sparta has a population under 10,000; it’s just west of the Mississippi River, surrounded by coulees and ridges and corn fields and barns and cows. Self-proclaimed bicycling capitol of America.

So I had a free couple days while friends and family where at work, and access to a car, so I decided to go on a photographic journey. In my novels, I like to have a strong sense of place. I also wanted to get re-acquainted with the culture. I say “culture” because living abroad has definitely convinced me that A) the US has a culture B) Wisconsin has a culture C) rural v. urban Wisconsin have different cultures.

So in the title of this post, I said “not so epic” pilgrimage, but I guess really it was kind of epic because, to get back to Wisconsin, I did have to travel 21 hours on three planes. Don’t get me started about the way back to Singapore! To make the trip back to Sparta MORE epic, I decided to take back roads to get there. It helped me transition my brain back into a more rural place, plus it’s just a pretty drive. So here’s the photographic part one of my epic pilgrimage for Rafa & Rose, the drive back to Sparta. There are lots of barns and it’s also corn harvesting season (the corn used for animal feed, I believe). Not going to lie, I actually have a thing for barns. I enjoy photographing them, even though I never lived on a farm. A lot of the farm equipment photos are taken just outside Sparta.

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And just for fun, an Amish farm and Amish buggies hanging outside Aldi’s. I passed a few buggies as I was driving, too!

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Stay tuned for (Not so) epic pilgramage for my WIP, part 2. Probably to be released tomorrow.

Writer friends, what do you do to get a sense of place in your own mind for your novels? How do you capture it on the page?