Afthead Takes Pictures

More Afthead upgrades came with the new year!  Can you believe it?  I mentioned in my last post that I started list of books I’m reading because I “can’t handle another social media time sucker like Goodreads.”  Well, I snubbed Goodreads because I had already started another social media time sucker.  Yes, dear readers, Afthead is now on Twitter and Instagram!  (Instagram is the new one.)  So exciting!

Snow Chicken – Instagram Post

I picked Instagram because the past year I found myself taking pictures with the thought “I’m going to write a blog post about this.”  However, life and time move on and I don’t always write the post.  Instagram gives me a platform for writing microstories about little things that tickle my Afthead.

Threek – Instagram Post

So if you want to follow my Instagram feed you can either check it out on my blog – I added the Instagram widget – or you can click the Instagram button in my “Socially Inept” section or you can just look for “Aftheaded” on Instagram.  (This is all if you just didn’t click the links in the post already.)  Already there are sixteen pictures ranging from a snowchicken, bird poop, a threek, and inappropriate rocks: note only two of my pictures actually made it into blog posts, so my experiment is working.  (I mean, if you ignore this post…)  Join my 16 followers for a peek into the visual Afthead world.


Oh, and if anyone else has ever wanted to add the Instagram widget to their blog and ended up weeping in frustration, let me direct you to this support post.  I had to add the widget from the WordPress Admin, not from the page where you customize your theme.  Ah, the work I do to keep things fresh and interesting around here.  



Hiatus and Compromise

Oh my dear blogging friends, I have missed you.  The insanity of May flowed into the craziness of June and my poor blog suffered.  In hindsight I should have told you all I was going to be missing from this space, but alas, I just went and left no forwarding address.  Now refreshed and full of stories from a week’s vacation I return ready to blog again.

For starters, let me just say I have finally figured out this “vacationing with a child” thing.  Now, 8+ years of parenting has taught me that the second I utter such words that hubris will destroy me leaving me in the land of horrid vacations for years to come. I shall not be daunted!  I believe this knowledge will endure!  The key to successfully vacationing with a kid is… duh duh duuuuhhhhh…. compromise!  Let’s look at some pictorial evidence from my recent Tour de Soutwest Colorado, shall we?

In order for child(ren) to enjoy the seven mile hike to Lizard Lake, you must first incentivize them with a gnome home contest.  Then, when the whining and complaining part of the hike begins you may be lucky enough to notice a bonanza of snail shells (What?!?  In Colorado in the mountains???  It’s like Mother Nature was on the parent’s side) which will lead to the creation of a snail-shell-walkway which will result in a champion gnome home.  Everyone is happy, especially the gnomes.  Tune in, because I am certain this home will be featured on gnome HGTV for years to come.

Oh, not more hiking.  We adults love hiking, and somehow we think if there is a waterfall at the end the children will like hiking too.  That may work for you, especially if the hike is short and the waterfall is amazing like this one is, but maybe, just maybe, giant inflatable pool toys are more amazing?  Try coupling the success of passing a swim test with an hour of “Water Ninja Warrior” competition – where your child legitimately crushes you on 6 of 6 obstacle runs. (She’s over a foot smaller than me, how was I supposed to fit?  And don’t get me started on her strength to weight ratio….)  The whole way up to that waterfall there will be nothing but joy, especially if you couple the hike with really great rocks in the path.

Oh dear God. You are not done hiking yet?  You want to hike to a cave?  A dark creepy cave?  Well parents, just stick a horseback ride on the front of that cave hike and let Yuma the horse do the majority of the hiking for you. Sure, you won’t be able to walk for a couple days while you develop real understanding of the term “saddle-sore” but your kid will love every minute of the ride there, and then might even surprise you by being the only family member willing to follow the guide “just a little farther into the cave.”  Try not to hang your head in shame while you let your kid go spelunking into the depths of a cave with some guide you met less than an hour before.  She’ll probably be fine and besides, your butt hurts too much to crouch.

EVEN MORE HIKING?!?!  What are you insane?  Is this a death march or a vacation, I ask you?  Well, if you can hike in a creek and, I don’t know, pick up even more cool rocks then maybe you can squeeze one more hike in.   Note: we may have failed on the rock portion of “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints” goal of hiking, but that’s okay, because you are done hiking now, right.  RIGHT???

Let me tell you, at some point you have to put your butt down.  Sure the top of the sand dunes are very tempting, but that sand is hard to walk on and after awhile there is so much of it in your ears you can’t hear the pleading, “Can’t we just go a little farther?”  Fine, go a little farther, but me and your backpacks of water and snacks are staying here, far away from the sand ledge of death – which somehow didn’t claim my family (or any other lives) during our trip.  You go on to the top.  I’ll wait for you, even without any rocks to gather.


Spring Break -Afthead style

A few pictures of this weekend’s Afthead spring break in St. Paul, Minnesota.  (Because, you know, nothing says “Spring Break” like Minnesota in March.)

Saturday afternoon the Afthead family enjoyed watching their favorite hockey team, the DU Pioneers, beat Boston University.  Our seats were amazing and my kiddo was brave enough to reach her hand out and high five all the big college kids as they went on and off the ice.  Her growing bravery makes this momma’s heart proud.


 Sunday morning the little Afthead enjoyed a small hotel room Easter egg hunt, followed by a bonus egg hunt at our brunch restaurant.  Since she was the only kid in the entire restaurant she rocked that extra egg hunt!

 Next, the wee Afthead made friends with Linus and Sally, who had much larger aftheads than she.

 Off to the Science museum, which is a must visit if you are in St. Paul.  Here the kiddo Afthead controls a T-Rex forehead.  Chomp!

Then another forehead adventure as each of us had our faces displayed on the face mask of a three story tall astronaut. That’s one small step for Aftheads, and one giant leap for museum attendees!
 Finally another hockey game and another win for DU!  They are off to the NCAA Frozen Four.  Hopefully they’ll do okay in the next round without Afthead high fives.

Monday we enjoyed a trip to see Lake Harriet and the memorial bench my husband’s family bought for his aunt when she passed away six years ago.  She was one of my best friends, so the visit was sad, but I was glad for the opportunity to remember her with my daughter.

Happy Spring Break to those of you who get to enjoy such weeks!

It’s beginning to look a lot like springtime!

Here in Aftheadville we’ve had a few weekends of 70 degree weather and just enough moisture to convince our spring bulbs that it’s time to pop out of the ground and look pretty.  Thank goodness for these random spring days in February, or I might not make it to May when spring finally decides to settle in and stay.  Here’s hoping you are getting a break from winter wherever you are!

Dream or Prophesy?

On September 13th I had a dream.  (Yes, I know, I hate hearing about other people’s dreams too.  There’s a point.  I’ll be quick.)  I’m holding in my hands a book, well, not quite a book.  It’s papers with book-like organization and book like shape and it has my story in it and pictures of me.  Not quite my story, there are differences, but my story and weird pictures I don’t ever remember being taken, but they are of me.  I flip through the unbound pages to the cover.  Glimmer Train.  “Oh,” a woman’s voice says, “You aren’t supposed to see that yet.”  The story is The Fisherman, which I submit to Glimmer Train for their Short Story Award for New Writers award the end of August.  In my dream I saw my story in the magazine.

I have read countless articles and books on writing.  Get it out there, they all say.  Just keep submitting, they all say.  Then they always say, “I didn’t even remember I had such-and-such story out there, when I found out I got published.”  Okay, I know I’m a newbie, and I know this is my first submission but WHAT?!?!  I’m going crazy here.  I have a full time job, I’m a mom, I’m fostering two kittens from the animal shelter, I’m coaching my daughter’s soccer team and I still check my e-mail several times a day to see if I’ve heard from Glimmer Train yet.  Are these other writers beings with hearts and souls of stone, or am I just nuts?

It’s kind of fun.  The site says, “Winners will be contacted directly the week before the public announcement in our bulletins” and the bulletin is due out November 1st so the longer I don’t hear something the more giddy and butterfly-stomachy I feel.  Sixteen days….but if I don’t hear in nine days is that good news by default?  *flutter flutter*  Then I tell myself, “They just moved to a new computer system.  You know how that goes.  It’s what you do for a living.  They are probably just doing a batch update in the old system and that’s why you don’t know yet.”  *flutter flutter*

I’m trying to keep my rose colored glasses on.  I know the odds are slim.  I know they get tons of submissions.  I know no one gets published on their first submission.  Why did I have to be the one who submit a story when they got a new computer system?  But I haven’t heard anything yet so the excitement builds.

They probably just lost it.  It’s stuck in some bit or byte and they don’t even know it’s there.  November 1st will come and go and I won’t hear anything, and I’ll miss my chance to submit to the Writer’s Digest competition I’m eyeing.  I’ll be that awkward whiny person who e-mails them, “Uh, did you ever read my story?”

Gasp.  Maybe they like it.  Maybe I’ll get published.  Maybe it really is good.  I think it’s good….sometimes.

It’s like a writer’s Christmas Eve, but this time Santa really might not come, or he might bring me coal.  Do you hear the reindeer’s hooves?

I just checked.  Still no e-mail.  Still no update on my submission status.  I’m still In Process – Your work has been received and is in the review process. Check guidelines for response times.  Of course the guidelines are gone, because of the new system.  This is like every user I’ve ever programmed for paying me back for moving stuff they want to find on a website.  When will I move to Complete or *flutter flutter* Accepted for Publication?

Nine more days, or sixteen….

*flutter flutter*

Johanna Levene, aka Afthead in San Francisco

No More Clark Kent – The Afthead Revealed

Did any of you notice the slip up on my last post?  It was right at the top of the Glimmer Train image.  It was my name, and guess what?  It was no slip up.  Yes, dear readers, the bureaucracy is over and I have a signed piece of paper that says, “Heck yeah, you can have a blog, and write a book, and tie it to your name.  We, the big bosses you work with, don’t care.”  Okay, it doesn’t exactly say that, but that’s the gist of the three pages.  So I finally get to turn the Afthead around and introduce you to the forehead.

I wish I had glasses to whip off and a suit to pull open revealing the AFTHEAD superhero costume underneath.  Alas, I do not.  My superhero powers are limited.

My human name is Johanna Levene, but you can still call me Afthead in the blogsphere.  Watch as the two identities meld. If you type in my name as a URL ( you’ll get redirected to this blog.  In the near future I’ll set up something more slick so that typing in the johannalevene domain will take you to an about page explaining how you ended up on Afthead when you typed my name, but for now I am Afthead and Afthead is me.

Why the change, you ask?  If I still want to be Afthead why would I do something like this?  A couple of reasons:

  1. The Writer’s Market book told me to start a blog and to name it to make it as easy as possible for agents, readers and publishers to find me.  I do not want to mess with making things easy for those people.
  2. Right now If you search Johanna Levene using something like, oh say Google, you don’t find my writing stuff.  You find me the person at my job, me on LinkedIn, or me the Pinterst person.  I need the writer me to start rising to the top of my search results which means I need to start using my name on my blog.  Johanna Levene, Johanna Levene, Johanna Levene.  (I can’t wait to see if that changes search results tomorrow.)

It is so freeing combining two of my personalities into one.  I am Johanna Levene.  I’m a writer who just finished her first novel and submit her first short story to a contest.  It’s really nice to meet you.  I hope you enjoy your time on my blog Afthead.

I am Afthead.  (Remember, read that last line with a Batman voice.)

“The End” Part 1 – Novel Statistics

In a past blog post I told you about how my BFF Neil Gaiman told me (and several hundred other people) that as a writer I needed to finish something and get it out there.  He also told me that I had to call myself a writer.  Well as of this last Sunday this writer finished the first draft of her first novel.  Yes, dear readers, my first book is done!  I literally typed “The End” at the end because, holy crap, THE END!

So, because I am who I am, I can now start analyzing the books stats!  Are you excited?  I am!  See, I keep a spreadsheet documenting how much I write each day.  (Totally normal.  Everyone does this, I’m sure.)  Ready to discover book stats with me?

Book start date: July 15, 2013

Book end date: August 2, 2015

Book duration:  748 days

Book length (pages): 171

Book length (words): 98,942 words

The novel took me 2 years and 18 days to finish.  On average I wrote 132 words per day.  Let’s marvel over that tiny number.  132 words per day can get you a long novel in just over 2 years.  Of course that number is misleading.

Actual writing days: 88

Max words in a day: 6630

Min words in a day: 23

Average words per writing day: 1124

I only wrote 11% of the days I had available, or about 1.5 days out of every two weeks.  That seems like a paltry pace, even for a fulltime working mom.  Digging deeper I find that from October 21, 2013 to January 7, 2015 (443 days, or 1 year 78 days) I only managed to write on 7 days producing 8,018 words.  Yep, those were the Afthead family depression days when my emotional and mental energy was needed for something more personal than my novel.  Interesting though that I still averaged 1145 words per writing day during that stretch; I am consistent.  If I take out those 443 days as an anomaly I find that my book took 305 days (let’s say 10 months) and on average I wrote 29% of the days, or 4 days every two weeks.  That seems about right with my sense of how the composition went and also seems pretty reasonable.  If I start now and keep up my average writing pace, I could have book number two done in under a year.  That’s cool!  I know, I’m ignoring the second draft of book one in this number and assuming good fortune in the Afthead world.  Still, I feel proud of what I accomplished and, with caveats, confident about what I could accomplish going forward at this reasonable writing rate.

One last set of numbers for those of you still with me.

Max week = 12262 words

Days writing in max week = 3

Average words per writing day in max week = 4,087

This of course was the last week of the novel.  The end was coming and I could feel it.  At this pace, we’ll call it the QMJ (Quit My Job) pace, I could write a second book in 24 weeks.  Whoa!  That gives me some perspective about how real writers manage to produce a book a year.

That’s Part 1 of the book finishing adventure.  Next we’ll move onto part 2, the emotional part.

The End.  (Those two words.  Bliss I tell you!)

The Trash and Dish Fairy is out of Town

A year ago Mr. Afthead was just coming through the second major depressive episode of our marriage. Two years ago he was a shell of his normal self, both physically and mentally, and our family was in a pit of trying to survive. Today he is in England on a work trip he found out about on Thursday when he was on another work trip in San Diego. I wish I had some kind of time telephone so I could call two-years-ago me.  I’d tell her that not only would my husband get better, but that he didn’t have to quit his job, that they actually ended up being great to him through his depression and recovery, and today they had enough faith in him to send him on a huge business development trip to another country. Two years ago me would have liked to hear that news. It would have helped.

I’m so grateful we weathered that storm. All that said, right now me is aggravated because my husband is the person in our family who does the dishes and takes out the trash, and he’s been gone for a week and just left for another week. I have been patiently stacking dishes in the sink and responsibly sorting trash into recycling, compost, and trash. (We Aftheads are very trash savvy.) Imagine my annoyance when I went to go balance one more empty box in the recycle bin. I’d already left a trail of cereal boxes to the recycling bin so the trash fairy could easily find the problem and resolve it for me.

Then, you go around the corner and the dish fairy is also completely shirking his responsibility. Gross dirty dishes fill the sink. The dishwasher is full of clean dishes that the dish fairy has not yet put away. I ask you, what’s a person to do? Let me tell you, this person may or may not have thrown all her dishes away in college because they got too gross in the sink. To be fair, that may or may not have happened twice.

Then it hits me. The trash and dish fairy was out of town. He was home for less than 48 hours, and he left again. While home he took out the compost, thank you very much Mr. Afthead, but that was all.  If I didn’t take personable responsibility for the recycle mountain, trash mountain and dish mountain they were going to grow to epic proportions. And if trash mountain kept growing and dish mountain got gross enough I would have no nuclear option.

“Oh no honey, I have no idea where the plates and silverware went. Guess we’ll just have to buy new ones.” Little shrug and grin as the trash bag jingles and clanks on it’s way to the curb.

So this morning I took action and took out the mountain of recycling.  Of course the recycling bin outside was almost full so I had to touch a bunch of gross trashy stuff to get it all to fit.  (The trash fairy never complains about all the trashy bits sticking to him and sometimes doesn’t even wash his hands after.)  Then I unloaded the dishwasher, bleached the straw that had a dead earwig on it – GROSS – and loaded the dishwasher, for the first of many loads.  Little Afthead and I will unload the washer together tonight and then I’ll load it back up.  I’d have her help me do the dishes, but you never know what kind of creatures are lurking in a sink of dishes left for a week (LIKE SAY AN EARWIGS).  I’ll get it all taken care of this weekend, so the mountain can start growing.  That way when the gloriously sane Mr. Afthead returns from England on Friday he’ll have something to do.  I mean, other than being jet-lagged.  He’ll probably be missing those trash bits anyway.

In gratitude, Afthead style.

Thanks to Kathy for pointing out my forehead faux pas in my gratitude post.  Let’s try gratitude again, afthead style.

Thank you for bravery.

Thank you for this lake.

Thank you for these friends.

Thank you for adventures.

Thank you for this family.

Thank you for this life.

Only one forehead in the bunch of afthead memories from our vacation at my happy place this year.

Thank you for readers and for this blog. My heart is full.

A Sample of Historical Aftheads

The idea of afthead was one that wouldn’t let go of me.  It started goofing off at work, when someone wondered, “What’s that called, that back part of your head where men never go bald?”  An afthead of course!  We started looking and couldn’t find a reference to an afthead, other than an occasional discussion of putting toilets in the back of boats.  We searched domains and found that was available for a pittance.  The domain searcher said to me, “You’ve come up with an actual original idea!”

For a few months, heck probably years, that statement and the afthead idea drifted around in my head.  I looked up the domain.  Eventually I bought it, and did nothing with it.  It was interesting though.  I started noticing that I had a long standing penchant for aftheads.  There is something natural, unposed, and real about snapping a shot behind someone’s back.   It draws your attention to the scenery, to where the photograph-ee is looking, and it lets their personality shine through.

First there were a series of pictures from Italy featuring my husband’s aunt Bonnie.  She passed away almost five years ago, and she was my favorite traveling companion.  I love these pictures because they are are so her.  She loved to walk, and we walked everywhere together.  In the first image she’s climbing down to a city in Cinque Terra.  I love her wide-legged stance.  She was so strong and so curious about things.  She’s reading something, and she has her horribly embarrassing fanny pack on: so practical yet so ridiculous to her then 27 year old traveling partner.  If I’d captured her from the forehead side I would have seen a different Bonnie.  A posed Bonnie who didn’t really love having her picture taken; I love this image because it is really her.


This second picture is amazing too.  We were touring around Rome looking for the Forum and the Colosseum.  We were walking and walking with our maps and guidebooks.  Every ruin, every old looking building we’d say “Oh!  Here’s the Forum” but it wasn’t.  It was drizzling, and all the panhandlers who had tried to steal the fanny pack the day before were now selling umbrellas, and Bonnie bought one.  We marveled at the multi-talented homeless people of Rome and wondered if they sold umbrellas they had stolen the day before.  Finally we turned a corner and both said, “Oh!  This is the Forum”.  It was obvious.  Bonnie then became the methodical tourist.  She visited every ruin, would read about it, and study it.  I stood back and just took the whole thing in.  I didn’t need the same attention to detail; she’d tell me any of the really interesting parts.  This left me free to take sneaky pictures of her.  In this one she’s reading something, again.  I love the umbrella discarded for the reading material, and I love the emptiness of the Forum.  It was a mystery to us how anyone could be in Rome and not go out just because of a little rain.


Similarly, I found two sets of afthead images that featured my husband.  One set is from our wedding in Scotland, and the other is from our ten year anniversary trip last year.

This one is the day we were supposed to drive to Loch Ness, but we both woke up tired and not excited about spending another day driving.  Our bed and breakfast hosts suggested we visit the white sand beaches outside of Mallaig instead.  A genius idea.  Who knew Scotland had white sand beaches?  It was the perfect honeymoon location.  Rather than fight tourists and look for Nessie we took off our shoes and relaxed.  I also love this picture because we did a lot of hiking that trip, and I spent a lot of that time behind my new husband, unable to keep up with him and angry because he wouldn’t wait for me and angry at myself for wanting him to wait.  Ah the joys of new love.


This one brings back different memories.  I was crazy into triathlon when my husband and I got married, and I remember taking this so someday I could go back to this lake and start Ironman Scotland.  I marveled at the beautiful clear water and the perfect roads for cycling.  Now I look at this and marvel at how much hair my new husband had on his afthead.


Fast forward ten years and we are in Acadia, Maine for our anniversary.  Similar look and feel to our beloved Scotland isn’t it?  But with a six year old at home starting a new school we didn’t want to go so far away.  This first picture is from one of the hikes we did that we couldn’t have done with our daughter.  It was so fun to be grownups for eight whole days.  I’m happy to report that we didn’t have one fight this trip about who was walking in front, who was carrying the backpack or which one of us should wait for the other.   Ten years of progress.


This one is another “give up the plans for a more leisurely adventure.”  The plan was to go rent bikes and ride the carriage roads all over Acadia.  Instead we showered, went for a walk on the carriage path, drove up to watch the sunset from a mountain top, splurged on a dinner in Bar Harbor, and watched the stars from a trail-head.  That part of our relationship hasn’t changed.  We pack our vacations full of plans and dreams, knowing we’ll kick some ideas to the curb and actually have more impromptu fun than our plans would have yielded.


The rest is history.  Eventually I tied a blog to my domain and started writing in public.  Since then I’ve compiled tons of other afthead pictures, but that’s enough for tonight.  Oh, except that first one of Valentina, our resident cat in Lucca, Italy.  Oh how I love that brown, warm fuzzy afthead.