Friday, October 28, 2011

Happiness is...a cheerful incongruity.

This week has been full of incongrous moments, mostly revolving around the weather but they've made me smile nonetheless.  Here are just a few:

  • Rain falling from a blue sky
  • Butterflies flitting through the air amongst the falling leaves
  • Experiencing 3 out of 4 seasons in the same week (Earlier this week we were in the mid-70s. I took a lovely walk amongst blooming flowers and crunching leaves in short sleeves under a clear blue sky. It was marvelous!  Today it's clear and bright but definitely crisp and fall. I'm wearing two sweaters. Tomorrow the forecast has us getting snow!)
  • Eating Halloween candy while listening to Christmas music (I got a fun package in the mail the other day with tons of fun Halloween stuff from my mom (thanks, mom!) and bought myself the new Michael Buble Christmas CD--haven't heard the whole thing yet but so far so good!  I had to indulge in them the same time!)

On the writing front I've done a fairly decent job:
October 26-30 min
October 27-20 min
October 28-30 min
And I'm getting quite excited to start on the NaNoWriMo project! It shall as yet remain unnamed but I will tell you that it is an adaptation of a fairy tale. It's starting to really form itself in my mind so we'll see if that helps or hinders the process. (Thanks for indulging my attempts at accountability, it really helps!)
What has your week been like? Do you have any fun projects in the works? Are you ready for it to be November already!?!? (Where does the time go?) Happy Friday!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Happiness is...being creative.

I've been suffering from bouts of imagined domesticity again lately. It's manifest itself in some rather interesting ways.

First up was a trip to the pumpkin patch where I purchased an (extremely overpriced!) orange beauty who, after several interrupted hours, transformed from this...

to this!

He didn't turn out exactly as I'd pictured him in my brain, but I'm still pretty pleased.  Why are owls so darn cute?

I also gleaned a nice collection of seeds which I salted and roasted and have been snacking on all day. Mmmm! I love Halloween!

Then today for dinner I undertook to make a gourmet meal of sweet potato gnocchi (made from scratch with help from the bounteous supply of sweet potatoes we unearthed in our little garden last week) with brown butter sage sauce, a side of roasted asparagus, and grilled pears with pecans and feta topped with balsamic glaze for dessert. I had intended to document my progress but it was such a messy and ugly one that I decided filling my roommates' stomachs at a semi-reasonable hour was much more important than washing my hands (and cleaning the kitchen enough) to take some pictures. Besides, the gnocchi itself was rather ugly. The dough was very sticky and made lumpy poops rather than soft pillows. But looks can be deceiving. Oh how tasty! I'm not sure if it is worth all the work (we didn't eat until after 8) but if I ever find myself with some spare sweet potatoes and 3-4 hours on my hands, I just might consider making it again!

If you're interested, it was another Pinterest find.  Here's a link to the recipe! (Mine looked nothing like this, darnit!)

I realized I haven't been posting my writing updates. I have been doing writing (not quite as consistently as
I'd like but much more consistently than before! I'm getting kind of excited for the NaNoWriMo challenge next month. (I think my brain could use a little project shift as well.)

So, here are my latest updates:

October 15-0 minutes
October 16-0 minutes
October 17- 25 minutes
October 18-20 minutes
October 19-30 minutes
October 20-20 minutes
October 21-15 minutes
October 22-0 minutes
October 23-0 minutes
October 24-45 minutes
October 25-15 minutes

Weekends are definitely my weakness. It's much easier for me to find a few minutes when I'm at work and already in front of the computer. I still haven't gotten into the habit of doing writing consistently at home. That will need to change if I'm going to meet my goals next month. We'll see what we can do!

No, go forth! Create something, anything! And then come back and tell me all about it :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Happiness is...a random concert.

I have a friend who has an amazing ability to discover semi-unknown and quirky bands. She's introduced me to a whole host of tunes and styles and new faves.

K and I (along with S) met in DC tonight in the basement of a BBQ eatery where we enjoyed the standing room only sounds of Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three. They are quite the entertaining little group with a great old-timey sound. (I'm a teeny bit enamored of the harmonica player.) Check it out.

**Bonus**As there was no cover charge it was a great night's entertainment had all for just the price of my metro ride. I love this city!

Happiness is...a road trip!

New York, New York, a wonderful town!

Once upon a time there was a young girl who fell in love with a singin' and hoofin' Christian Bale.  So much so that she watched his movie nearly 100 times (in the theater), joined the fan club, wrote to the Disney studios, followed the careers of his fellow troubadours, and has every song and many of the dance moves memorized to this day.

So, when said girl finds out that there is a stage production of her beloved Newsies, she does the only thing she can do...ropes a group of friends into taking a road trip with her to New Jersey (nope, it doesn't quite rate Broadway yet) to see it.

We spent Saturday in the city visiting the Tenement Museum (highly educational, enjoyable and worth every penny), devouring the heavenly chocolate at Max Brenner's, perusing the 18 miles of books at The Strand, indulging in tasty fries and sandwiches at Schnipper's and driving past The Highline before heading back to NJ and trying our luck at Carlos' Bakery (but the line was wayyyyy too long!)

Then it was off to Millburn and the Papermill Playhouse where we found out that we'd bought tickets for the wrong day! There was a bit of panic and disappointment and trying to appease the person who'd been in charge of ticket buying while cajoling the agent at the window to exchange our tickets...success! We now had tickets for the Sunday matinee but we were also in NJ, all dressed up with no place to go.

So we made the only logical choice; drove to a neighboring small town, found a tiny movie theater and watched the remake of Footloose. We all had very low expectations and thus were highly entertained. It went a long way to soothing the disappointments of missing our intended show.

Sunday we found a random church building in Jersey City where we crashed a sacrament meeting and then tried Carlos' Bakery again  (man, that guy is popular!) We voted to find some lunch instead of standing in line in the hopes of getting a baked good. So we found a charming little Italian restaurant, seated ourselves at a sidewalk table in the gorgeous fall sunshine and ate some mighty delicious food while listening to Frank Sinatra over the speakers. Sinatra, Italian, Hoboken, it was all very apropos and a lovely way to spend a morning.

As a wise person once said, it's Frank's world we just live in it.  Amen to that. (Long live the Chairman of the Board!)

Following our tasty lunch we ventured back to Millburn where we were finally treated to the musical amazingness of the story of the newsboys strike.  There were some adjustments and changes made from the movie but they stayed true to the spirit of the material and it was all just plain old fun. There are few pleasures in life greater than watching a bunch of guys sing and dance. The choreography leaned heavily on the athletic ballet that Gene Kelly made famous, looking masculine, graceful and effortless all at the same time.

Here's a little taste of the show complete with some dancing and the fabulous set/scenery.

Not too shabby, eh?

And for all you die-hard purists out there here's a snippet of the original. 

*sigh* I'm still hoping one of these days Christian Bale will convert and decide to marry me. My 15 year old self would be the happiest girl alive!

Do you have any childhood obsessions you'd care to confess? Anything that has stayed with you through to adulthood in some form or other? Any obsessions you've acquired since growing up? What is it that can make you smile or feel like a kid again no matter how many times you've seen it/done it/heard it? I'd love to know!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happiness is...being the first person to do something.

Or open something or see something or use something.

The first crack of the spine on a new book and the endless opportunities for love, mystery and adventure.
The blank slate of perfection as you tread carefully on a landscape of newly fallen snow.
The feel of crisp, clean sheets that have never before been slept in.
The knowledge that you've created something that no one else has ever envisioned.

This morning I had one of the most supreme experiences of all, opening a box of brand new crayons. It brings me instantly back to childhood, the joys I felt at a new box, all the pointed little tops perfectly arranged in neat rows like a parade of colorful elf caps (and just as magical). Oooh, the pictures that would be drawn, the coloring books that would be filled in, so many choices!

The satisfaction of wiggling that first crayon from its space, the colored paper crisp and clean and bearing its name like a badge of honor was priceless. Depending on how big your box was you could encounter monikers such as cerulean, dandelion, apricot, and timber wolf. (I used to always want a job naming colors; lipstick, paint chips, crayons, what a fantastic life!)

The next step down introduced you to blue-green, red-orange, blue-violet, clever spy disguises easily blend-able into either color family (this made arranging my crayons chromatically somewhat of a challenge, but I was up for it!)

Even in the smallest standard boxes you still had a rainbows worth of possibilities. The stalwarts; red, green, black, white, brown, blue, yellow, orange standing straight and proud, ready for whatever duty you had imagined for them.

And don't even get me started on the smell!

My creative process this morning was almost as satisfying. Coloring is a great stress-reliever, and I was pleased with the final results (nothing original, just an extra-large picture or two --Dora the Explorer, Mother Goose, Halloween creatures, dinosaurs--to adorn my bulletin boards at work, maybe one day I'll post them) but it was nothing compared to those first few moments spent savoring the perfection and potential contained in that little green and yellow box.

I'm off to NYC this weekend to relive another part of my childhood (details when I return) but for now do yourself a favor. Go find a box of crayons, buy yourself a new one if you can (or colored pencils or markers or even fancy pens if you'd rather) and take a moment to open it slowly, savor the beauty of its possibilities and then use what's inside to create something, anything. I promise you won't regret it!

WFMAD update:
October 8-10 min
October 9-0 min (took a Sabbath break)
October 10-20 min
October 11-15 min
October 12-30 min
October 13-35 min
October 14-20 min

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Happiness is...a good book.

It's been a busy week, full of work and church commitments, dentist appointments and fillings, Mexican food and Real Steel (gotta love me some Hugh Jackman), writing (!) and books. I gave a short presentation in my women's church group all about the powers of reading and literacy and sharing some of my favorite reads and figured I'd better share a couple of my latest faves with you all. (All, I say that as if there are so many of you out there. Are we even up to 8 readers yet? I think my goal should be to make it to the double digits by the end of the year. That shouldn't be too hard, should it? Come on, recruit your friends!) Okay, back to the books.

First up is a clever little gem sure to please young and old alike. Notice the subtitle. It’s an alphabet story set in pre-historic times and uses just one word per letter to tell its story in halting caveman-esque speech. An unwitting caveman falls into a series of humorous (albeit life threatening) situations beginning with his quest for an acorn. He gets chased by a bear and a dinosaur, frees an unidentifiable animal from a block of ice, gets struck by lightning and eventually falls into a well-deserved sleep. Clever and full of slapstick humor, fans of Ice Age will eat it up.

Caveman: A B.C. Story
Author: Jane Trassler
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-7
Published: 2011
Genre: Picture book/concept book (alphabet)
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG (some comic violence/peril)

Next: Told completely in dialogue and with richly simple illustrations this story is subtly subversive and wickedly irreverent, perfect for older readers who are honing their complex thinking skills. Bear has lost his hat. He goes calmly about the forest asking all of the creatures he meets if they’ve seen his hat but all deny any knowledge of it. (Though attentive readers will notice the rabbit is wearing a hat as he adamantly does so.) When questioned, the deer begins to ask questions of his own (what does it look like, where was it last seen) that spark the bear’s memory and he returns to question the rabbit again. The final spread shows the bear wearing his hat again while taking his own turn at being questioned. “Rabbit? I would never eat a rabbit,” he declares! Younger readers may not catch the implication of his final statement and more sensitive readers may cringe, but those who like a bit of dark reality will most likely be amused.

I Want My Hat Back
Author: Jon Klassen
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-7
Published: 2011
Genre: Picture book
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG (allusions to violence)

And finally this is lovely little story. Ten year old Ha begins her new year in Saigon, her beloved homeland which is torn by vicious war. Her father has been missing in action for months and her older brothers and mother argue about whether it’s better to stay and remain true to their heritage and wait for their father or leave and try to make a new go at life. Eventually their uncle convinces them that life will be better in America and the family leaves nearly all of their posessions and makes the perilous journey out of Vietnam hidden in the hold of a ship and find safety with a sponsor family in Alabama. But here Ha finds cruelty and discrimination and a sea of unknowns where nothing at all is familiar. By the next new year she has come to understand herself, her family and the world around her just a little bit better and finds hope and friendship in unlikely places. Told in spare verse, the story focuses on Ha’s feelings and the emotions surrounding her circumstances more than the circumstances and events themselves, making it simple yet powerful and appropriate for a younger audience but still valid for older readers. And just a shout-out to the gorgeousness that is the cover, so beautiful! I would have picked this up based on that alone (and would not have been disappointed!)

Inside Out and Back Again
Author: Thanhha Lai
Pages: 262
Age Range: 10-12
Published: 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction/novels in verse
Cover Score: *****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG (violence and intense situations)

Give them all a try. They are definitely worth your time. (And then don't forget to tell me what you think!)

Now for a quick update on my WFMAD progress. Here are my contributions so far:
October 3: 15 min
October 4: 30 min
October 5: nothing
October 6: 25 min
October 7: 15 min
October 8: 45 min

Not too shabby if I do say so myself. I've gotten into the spirit of things and it's definitely easier to focus for a specified time period than to try and reach a goal of a specific word or page number. Which brings me to my moment of panic for next month. I decided to do the math and see how my efforts were comparing and preparing me for what was to order to write 50,000 words in the month I'll need to get down an average of 1666 words/day, which comes down to about 2 1/2 pages of writing (Times New Roman 12, single spaced.) Today's efforts produced about 1/3 of that. Which means I'm looking at about 3 hours of writing a day! Yikes! So, trying not to psych myself out too much just yet I need to remember that there's not supposed to be a lot of pre-planning, editing or polishing going on. The goal is to get it on the paper. It also helps that my current WIP (work in progress) requires some background knowledge and historical research and that's where most of my snags come in...not having done the research yet. The idea I have mulling for next month is pure fantasy and will require very little of that sort of writing so hopefully I'll be able to just get the story out and worry about the technical details later. We'll see!

Anyone decide to join me for either challenge? I'd love to hear how your work is progressing this month. I'd also love to have a buddy to check in with every now and then next month. Let me know! Until then, keep reading, writing and finding happiness in all you do!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happiness is...a goal to work towards.

Those of you who are familiar with the culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) will likely be familiar with the twice yearly tradition of General Conference.  In April and then again in October, the members of the church gather in Salt Lake City and in church buildings and in front of TVs and internet connections around the world to listen to our prophet and apostles share uplifting messages, guidance and information for how to live better lives, persevere in the face of adversity and prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

It's one of my favorite times of year.  I love being spiritually fed and reminded of the Lord's love for me and the blessings in my life I often take for granted or overlook.  I also really appreciate the opportunities to be reminded of things I should be doing.  Usually it's something I already know but have become lax in my follow through or let slide due to time constraints and the busy-ness of every day life. But sometimes you get a little nudging to try something new or stretch yourself in ways you hadn't thought to do before.

For anyone who is interested, you can find the full transcripts and audio streams at the church's website here, but here's a brief list of some of the things I noted that we were encouraged to try or improve upon or were reminded of.

  • Increase your efforts for a more diligent scripture study-memorize scripture verses
  • Obedience to the commandments brings protection and guidance from the Spirit
  • No one is too young to do family history work, step up to the sacred duty and do your part
  • Use your time wisely
  • It's always better to look up! :)
  • Remember the covenants we made at baptism and strive to more fully live them
  • Wait on the Lord-hope, anticipate, trust and have faith
  • Fathers have a sacred responsibility to teach, love and support their daughters
  • Pray more often and more sincerely and be open to the revelation you will receive
  • Do your beliefs affect your actions? Are they consistent with each other?
  • Walk after the manner of the Spirit
  • Choices=consequences, choose wisely
  • All of our promised blessings and righteous heartfelt desires will be fulfilled eventually if we remain faithful

That's a pretty amazing list of guidance and teachings and it's hardly even the tip of the iceberg. What an incredibly fulfilling weekend!

I was really struck by the mention of family history work.  I have a bit of a guilty conscience that I don't do more in that regard. I justify it a bit by telling myself I'm working on my own personal history in the form of scrapbooks and journal entries and even this blog, but I know I need to be doing more for my ancestors.

My current writing project is a historical fiction combining some of the loose ends and random facts we know about my great-great grandfather into a possible scenario of his existence. He lived in London in the mid-1800s and I've done a bit of research but have a long way to go. I've been working on the actual writing part of it for over a year, though not very consistently, and it sort of gnaws at me but I've gotten pretty good at ignoring it and finding a million other things that of course, are far more important. But I think this was the kick in the pants I needed to make me re-focus and put forth a more consistent effort.

I also happened to be trawling author blogs the other day and came across Laurie Halse Anderson's through a series of links and references on other blogs. During the month of August she did a daily writing challenge she creatively named WFMAD (write fifteen minutes a day.) Each entry has a short message of encouragement or a writing tip followed by a writing prompt.  Her stance is that life will always throw 'more important' things at us.  If you wait for enough time to start writing you'll never start so you've got to make time. Rather than setting some horrendously discouraging goal of so many words or pages a day she decided to stick with a very manageable fifteen minutes. Keep a notebook with you in the car and you could total that up sitting in stoplights during your commute! I can easily tackle that at work or even right before bed. Doing it consistently will help make it a habit and hopefully some days I'll get the ideas flowing and the fifteen minutes will multiply and I'll make some serious progress on my book.

Since I enjoyed the book review a day challenge so much this summer I figured I could easily use this blog to help me keep some measure of accountability for a writing challenge as well.  I won't subject you all to my scribblings but I will try to check in a couple of times a week and post a short progress report at the end. Anderson has 31 entries which will take me through the month of October. Then I'm hoping to have enough material down to be able to take a bit of a break and let things simmer while I participate in NaNoWriMo in November.

NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) is this great challenge to encourage writers to crank out an entire novel in one month. There are contests and serious stuff but I'll just sort of follow along on my own. The idea is to not use it to work on a current project but to start fresh and do the whole thing from start to finish (rough draft of course) in one fell swoop.  I have the idea for another project fermenting in my brain right now that I'd love to spend a little bit of time with and I figure this is the perfect way to get at it. When it's done I can let it settle while I go back to my original piece and when that rough draft is finished I can look at my NaNoWriMo piece with fresh eyes and give it some TLC and editing and all. Not having done any really serious writing like this I may be setting myself up for failure and discouragement but it will be a lesson learned if nothing else and hopefully I'll make some headway on at least one of the pieces.

So, I have a nice set of goals to work on and a bit of enthusiasm for them all at the moment. But we'll see what happens tomorrow morning when the alarm goes off and reality sets in!  Wish me luck!

WFMAD update: October 1, 25 min
October 2, 15 min

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Happiness is...the onset of fall!

Today it became fall. This past week we've had some lovely balmy 70+ degree days and glorious hints of sunshine in the midst of our seemingly perpetual rain.  But overnight fall settled in. There's a definite chill in the air that precludes rolled-down windows and necessitates layering.

I love fall. (I really love spring too, but we're not going to go there today.)

I love slipping back into socks and sweaters.  I love boots and tights and scarves and not having to shave my legs every day.  I love curling up under my down comforter again and indulging in a mug of hot cocoa or herbal tea before bed. I love the crisp, cool air and kaleidoscope colors of changing leaves.  And I love crunching through those leaves when they give up their hold on the branches and collect on the sidewalks and in gutters.

I love pretty much every single thing that is and can be pumpkin flavored. (Steamed milk, ice cream, cookies, cheesecake, soup, bread, waffles, cupcakes, pies, smoothies, you name it!) I love Halloween with all its trimmings and trappings; pumpkin patches and jack-o-lanterns, witches' cauldrons filled with dry ice and those giant fuzzy lawn spiders. And everything resembling ghosts (I have a soft spot for ghost motifs.) I love the yearly ritual of watching the animated Disney version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And of course, the candy.  And I love following it all up with Thanksgiving which ushers us right into the next best time of year; the Holidays!

While hunkering down in the basement and doing a bit of scrapbooking after my early morning hike in the drizzle and damp I was going through some of my photos and, feeling a bit of melancholia, decided I must do a farewell to summer post.

So, in no particular order, or rhyme or reason really, here are some things I will miss about summer. (*Note-this will in no way diminish my enjoyment of fall!)

Green leaves and the noonday sun

Garden fresh fruit
Going barefoot
Flowers in the yard

Outdoor events and gatherings
How about you? What are things you look forward to with the changing of the seasons? What are the things you'll miss most? Which season is your favorite? As always, I'd love to hear from you! (I heart comments almost as much as I heart banjos and fiddles!!!)