A Sentient Holiday Survival Guide (and a little catch-up)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Hello friends, on this fine Thanksgiving eve.  I trust this finds you well, if a little stressed, perhaps a little apprehensive?  I know we're about to embark on that ambivalent and potentially trying time of year, The Holidays.  Here in America, we start with Thanksgiving and the fun (or misery, depending on your lot) doesn't stop until after the New Year.  If that prospect excites you, I share your joy and wish you all the magical beauty and warmth this time of year can offer.  If not, I feel you, too, because we all know that family time isn't always happy time.  But... I'll get back to that in a minute.  First, to catch up.

I saw Deathly Hallows Part 1 over the weekend, and I'm pleased to say it was fantastic.  Anyone else seen it yet?  I'd love to hear your impressions.  There were parts that took my breath away, and a few that choked me up entirely.  I need to see it again, to thoroughly digest it all (any idea on how long 'til the DVD release?), and now I'm counting the months to the release of Part 2 in July.  It's excruciating, sitting here in the middle like this.  

Yesterday, I laid my hands on a copy of Stephen King's latest collection of short stories, Full Dark, No Stars .  I haven't even cracked it open yet, except to peek at the dedication page, which is to Tabitha King, and which touched me as much as every other one that's been dedicated to her in the past.  Somehow, his dedications never get old, and never fail to make me smile.  

In other news, I need to let you know that my dear friend, Sarah Franz-Wichlacz, is selling her one-of-a-kind hand-made critters, in case you know of a certain someone (you, perhaps?) that needs a magical creature in their life.  She makes them on commission, they're going for $75 per critter, and they're bigger than you think!  You can see examples of some she's made so far on her blog here, or look over to the right at Other Worlds to See and click on wich-crafting - you'll be transported to her world.  If you are interested in commissioning one of these lovelies from the lovely Sarah, you can email her directly at sfranzwichlacz@gmail.com.  I highly recommend it.  You won't be disappointed.  (Those magical hands can conjure the most wondrous creations.)

And now to deal with those potential holiday woes.  I know many of the people of my when and where are dealing with all kinds of recent family upheavals, yours truly being no exception.  If you have no such issues, and you get along great with your family, then do give thanks and hug and kiss those wonderful relations of yours for being a positive, stable, loving influence in your life.  Don't ever take that for granted.  

For everyone else, it can be hard sometimes to muster up good will and holiday spirit when you dread the awkward conversation, the elephant in the room, the endless mortifying decisions like what gifts to give, what food to serve, dear gods, what to wear  around these people!  Fear not, dear friends.  This too shall pass.  And in the mean time, I've come up with some ways to deal with it until it does.  

First, please remember that your familial relations, be they blood-tied or in-lawed, are people, too.  This sounds cliche, I know.  But it's something we don't often stop to really consider when we're sitting there, judging each other with fake smiles on our faces.  

Each and every person you see, and your family is no exception, has nagging fears, horrible habits (like your own), and their own particular ways of protecting themselves (just like you) from anyone who seems to them to be attacking who they are or what they hold dear.  These bits of self defense may come across as a prejudice, rudeness, or a direct attack on you.  They are protecting themselves.  Remember this.  In every difficult, confusing moment, people are just trying to survive, whether they are conscious of it or not.  Think about that for a moment.  Consider the people you know and try it on for size.  Can you see how this applies?

Are you with me on this?  Do you see what I mean? 

Now that we've put that into perspective (hopefully), I want to suggest that, in order to really make it through The Holidays intact and, perhaps (dare we hope?), happy, it's important to start looking inward.  Just a moment will do.  Who are you?  At your core?  What is the very best of you?  And what do you have (don't roll your eyes) to be thankful for?  

I sometimes think the Fates set it up this way, that Thanksgiving should kick off the holiday season (at least in this country) for a reason, and, sue me, but I think I'm onto something here.  

You have something, even if it looks like the whole wide world has gone gray and black with awful loss or sadness or just plain awkward family stuff.  If you have family, count this as a blessing.  Many people have no one, and not everyone likes it that way.  If you have "no one," remember that you have yourself, that you are alive, and treat yourself to something you love, something you enjoy, something that reminds you that being alive isn't so bad.  There's still good music.  There's a sky to wonder at.  And great books to read.  Movies to watch.  New people you've never met... but could. 

What I'm trying to say, friends, is that we are all someone and so is everyone else.  Don't let an awkward moment (or an infuriating one) rattle your core.  Your Aunt Mable may always criticize your clothes or your cooking.  So what?  It makes her feel better about herself to make you feel bad.  Don't let her.  You are you and that's no better or worse than anyone else.  

You've lost someone, or your family has a great big schism running through it.  Smile at all of them, even the ones you disagree with.  The point is who is there, not who isn't.  The point is that you're all human and all going through your own experience.  Disagreements are bound to happen.  It doesn't have to make you miserable.  And if someone in your family feels the need to start a confrontation, by all means let them, as long as it's productive, as long as it's honest, as long as it means getting down to admitting there's a big fat elephant sitting in your living room.  Go ahead, hash it out.  

I used to believe that people should just "try to get along" for the holidays, but I think I've grown past that now.  I still believe people should try to appreciate each other for the holidays, but that's not the same thing.  Learning to be honest, learning to be real, even if you don't get the reactions your hoping for, is a hard thing.  But it's better.  It's worlds better.  I promise you that.  

So, let Aunt Mable criticize the turkey for the 15th year in a row.  Let her tell you that purple really isn't your color.  And then look her in the eye and ask her, openly and honestly, why she feels the need to criticize you every year.  She may deny it, she may defend it, but whatever she says, it's better than swallowing your feelings... again. 

And then make sure you show each person in your world (even Aunt Mable) that you care, that you appreciate them in some way (even if it's hard to find, everyone can be appreciated for something).  It can be a small show of appreciation (like a compliment or a smile, so long as it's genuine), or a big show, like a direct "I love you" or a long conversation.  Whatever else you do at the closing of this year, do this.  You have no idea how good this feels, to put some good will into the world, and you have no idea how much good you might actually be doing, whether you can see the proof of it or not. Either way, it may very well save your holidays.  And it most surely will save your soul.  

For the Moon Never Beams

Monday, November 1, 2010

I promised to post my favorite poem by Edgar Allan Poe yesterday, but Halloween stood in my way and absolutely refused to let me near a computer.  (Please, no "late" jokes.)  Today, however, is All Saints' Day, and the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which means this poem is still appropriate.  So, in honor of my late Catholic grandmother (yeah, okay, I couldn't help it - luckily she had a good sense of humor) who, upon her divorce, renamed herself after her favorite Catholic saint, and who first shared this bit of Poe's soul with me, I now share it with all of you. 

Read this poem aloud, if possible.  If you read slowly and listen closely, you can almost feel the chill of sea spray and hear the sound of waves crashing in the distance.

by Edgar Allan Poe
It was many and many a year ago,
    In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
    By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
    Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
    In this kingdom by the sea:
But we loved with a love that was more than love —
    I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
    Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
    In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
    My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
    And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
    In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
    Went envying her and me —
Yes! — that was the reason (as all men know,
    In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
    Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
    Of those who were older than we —
    Of many far wiser than we —
And neither the angels in heaven above,
    Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
    Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
    Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
    Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
    In her sepulchre there by the sea,
    In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Tis the Season to Give Horror

Friday, October 29, 2010

Jack Skellington-O-Lantern
Happy Friday, friends!  Halloween is almost here.  Are you ready?  Have your costume picked out?  Candy bought for all those goblin beggars that will be banging down your door this Sunday eve?  And did you know, by the way, that there are places that have banned Halloween on Sundays?  Yes, it's true.  I don't make this stuff up.  Look here, at this Huffington Post link.

See?  I'm just very, very glad not to live in such a sacrilegious place.

In other news, have you heard about Neil Gaiman's All Hallows Read?  Mr. Gaiman, in all of his wisdom, decided that there aren't enough holidays for which we give books.  So, he proposed that we do so for Hallowe'en (his more proper spelling, I'll assume).  The idea is to give a scary book to someone, anyone, for this most spooky of holidays.  His idea, my friends, has caught on like wild fire.  People have been tweeting and facebooking.  Even the venerable Stephen King has endorsed the idea on his own site  .  (Sigh... I do love that man... but I digress.)  And now, out of this spark of an idea presented by Neil Gaiman on his blog six days ago, allhallowsread.com is born!  News of this just went out today.  Per Mr. Gaiman's current blog entry:

It's very skeletal right now. I suggested it, the webgoblin and the former webelf collaborated, I wrote some FAQs based on things people had asked on Twitter, Facebook or here, and we threw it up, figuring it was more important to get something up (two days before Hallowe'en) than to get it right.

So, in the spirit of All Hallows Read, go to your local used book store and pick up some dusty tomes.  Hand them out to people you love.  Even if you just give one, and even if it's a dog-eared, cover-torn paperback, the Spirit of Halloween will surely smile upon you... and probably cackle.  

Not sure what to get and/or give?  Haven't really been that into horror and ghost stories, but think you might pick up the habit, just, you know, to be a follower?  I happen to have a few suggestion.  (Bet you didn't see that coming.)

If you're looking for something for kids, or just don't want too much R rated material, try these:
Scary Stories Treasury; Three Books to Chill Your Bones: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark/ More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark/ Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz.  The image/link to the left is actually for the whole Scary Stories Treasury.  The title I mention here is simply the first of three books.  I read these when I was a kid, they're sold as "children's books," but they are, to this day, some of the creepiest books I've ever laid my hands or eyes on.  The illustrations alone (brilliant work done by Stephen Gammell) will imprint upon your brain, never to be forgotten for as long as you live.  At least, that's my belief, as I've been carrying their haunting visages around in my head since childhood.  The stories themselves are urban legends and bits of folklore adapted by Schwartz, which, I think, is what makes them have such staying power.  Some of these stories you may have actually heard before, over a campfire late at night, or from your best friend's big brother that one time you stayed over.  And here they are, illustrated with pictures out of your worst nightmares.  
As an aside, I read on Wiki that:  This series is listed as being the most challenged series of books from 1990–1999[2] and seventh most challenged from 2000-2009 [3] by the American Library Association for its religious viewpoint and violence as well as for being occultist, satanic, or inappropriate.


Moving right along, you could also get your hands on a copy of 
The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  I have a confession to make.  I haven't actually read this one yet.  But I hear it's fantastic, and that it's about a boy who's raised in a graveyard by ghosts.  Who's not intrigued now?  

Also, in case you don't already know, you can watch/listen to Neil Gaiman read The Graveyard Book in its entirety here:  http://www.mousecircus.com/videotour.aspx

But, if you're looking for something for more mature readers, I have to suggest some of my old favorites.
The Shining 
The Shining by Stephen King.  Of course.  This is one of King's most frightening tales, and here it is with its new pulp-fiction-styled cover.  This one never gets old.  It will scare the bejeezus out of you.  Best read late at night, in the house all alone.  Preferably with snow falling rapidly outside your window... but this is Halloween, so we can just skip that part.  But, if you're chicken, it's okay to read it in broad daylight, perhaps sitting outside a cafe with lots of people milling around you.  I'll leave that part up to you.

 If you'd like something a little more classic there's always:

Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan PoeYou cannot go wrong with Poe.  It's the law.  If you've never read any of his works... well... I'll first ask you what planet you've been living on your whole life or have you possibly been raised by wolves in the frozen tundra?  In that case, you're forgiven.  And I will also say that you just need to read one, maybe two of his stories in order to be hooked. (This, too, is The Law.)  What are my favorites, you ask?  I'm very attached to "The Tell-Tale Heart". And "The Masque of the Red Death" is honestly stunning.  Or "The Fall of the House of Usher" - a perfect tale for a dark and stormy night.  

Edgar Allan Poe Audio CollectionAlthough, I have heard that it's best to hear Poe read aloud, and I am not at all about to disagree.  There is this audio collection, read by Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone.  I wouldn't mind having this collection myself... look how beautiful!  If anyone wanted to send it to me... ;) 

(Also, I will tell you that I plan on posting my favorite Poe poem on Halloween day, if you want to check back to read it.)

Now, let's say you're tired of vampire romances, sick of your vampires sparkling (I'm sorry, but you know how I feel about the Twilight series, and if you don't, well... there it is.  Cat's out of the bag, I can't take it back now.), wishing there was something you could read (or give to overthrow an unhealthy vampire-romance addiction in another) that was a bit darker, a touch truer-to-legend, about our immortal blood-sucking brethren. Have you perchance read

Interview with the Vampire
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice?  No?  Get thee to a bookstore at once!  (Or, of course, you can order it through the Amazon link on the image to your left, but it's slutty of me to say so, so let's just pretend that didn't happen, okay?)  This is the first of a very, very good series where all the mortals are either prey or turned into vampires themselves.  As it should be.  Carry on.

 And now, I would be remiss if I didn't suggest some short story collections. (Apart from Mr. Poe's, that is, since he wrote primarily short stories and poetry, so that doesn't really count, does it?) 
Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark TalesEverything's Eventual is a more recent collection of short stories by Sai King, and it contains that most deeply disturbing encounter in room "1408".  Did you see the movie?  The short story is less elaborate than the movie, but somehow scarier for all of that.  This book also contains "Riding the Bullet", which was also turned into a movie that yours truly never even knew existed until my husband found it in the bargain bin at one of our local media stores.  This is now one of my favorite King movie adaptations.  You'll have to see it to understand why.  And, one last bit of enticement, for any of my readers that happen to be Dark Tower fans, I'll tell you a secret - there's a Tower story in here.  (Can you see the carrot dangling between my fingers?)

The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New HorrorAnd finally, if you just can't decide, and need some variety in your life, hot of the presses April this year is The Mammoth Book of the Best of Best New Horror, featuring "Two decades of dark fiction" at your fingertips.  Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, and a whole bunch more.... there's got to be something worth giving in here.

I could go on and on (no, really I could - don't tempt me), suggesting books out of my very most favorite genre (though fantasy would be a very close second), but I'll stop here for now.  

I hope you have a wonderfully spooky weekend and manage to give away at least one scary book for All Hallows Read.  I should see you 'round this way on Halloween, but if we miss each other, have a happy, happy haunting!

Fall Cleaning and A Little More Light in the World

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hello again, friends.  I've been bopping around Blogger lately, seeing new things, and doing some fall cleaning.  There have been a few interesting Blogs of Note in the past month or two, and I've made a few new acquaintances (and followers!  Hello, new followers!).  This notwithstanding, Blogger has been shifting and changing and, although probably improving, still annoying me with all its construction weirdness. 

There for awhile I couldn't post an image to save my life.  And then, yesterday, I logged on and found my Reading List empty with a message (sitting there, simple and wicked, like a ransom note) that read, "You are not currently following any blogs."


You wouldn't think this would cause so much mental anguish, but apparently I have become irrevocably dependent on you all.  I think an actual chill ran down my spine.  I panicked and started tracking down my favorite blogs, making sure I was showing up as a follower (something I swore back in high school I'd never be ;) on each one.  With a heavy sigh of relief, I found that I was still there, my little black and white tree icon waving back at me from the sea of followers that each of you have procured with your wit or brilliance or soul-touching insight and courage.  By the time I got back to my Dashboard, my Reading List was back in business with headlines from all your recent posts.  Whew! 

So, here I am, no longer seeing the past year-and-a-quarter of my blogging life flash before my eyes, no longer worried that I'll have to track you all down again and reassure everyone that yes, I am still here, and still following.

And now I want to tell you about something that was shown to me, which relates to my previous post.  There exists a woman (and I'm convinced she may actually be an angel, or some kind of demi-god, or at least a very, very old soul that could have gone on, but chose to still grace this existence, mostly for our benefit) named Amy Oscar who has a site on which she discusses the human experience and how to get the most out of what we've been given (namely time - even if it's just a little - and life).  She is amazing, and a million times more enlightened than yours truly, I don't mind admitting.  Here is a link to her post, We are all bullies.  I was humbled after reading this, hoping my own post on the subject wasn't too harsh, too unforgiving, and being forced to admit that I have so much to learn... so much further to go.  Please visit her world.  She's human, like us, for all of my awe - she curses and gets tired and gets scared and grows disillusioned at times (proof of this here, one of my favorite Amy Oscar posts)... but she speaks from her heart and from the greatest truth that she knows. Some things just make me happy to know they exist.  Amy Oscar is one of them. 

And last, as I mentioned, some fall cleaning.  You may have noticed that I've added some new Other Worlds to my wall - more places that I frequent and which I find particularly intriguing for one reason or another.  Please, go visit a few.  You might find something new there that you never realized you were missing. 

Then, of course, I've changed up the song list, which I know only plays a part of each song, and this irks me, too... but it's the only way I know of to have some appropriate tunes, and even if you never listen, it makes me feel satisfied and complete to know it's there.  I just can't operate properly without music.  Currently, these are Songs for the Transition, by which I mean they're songs that remind me of starting a new school year, of autumn, of changing.  This list will morph and change as time goes on, even if the title stays the same.  Check back from time to time... you'll see. 

The rest of the changes you may not notice at all.  Just a little sprucing up here and there.  It's good to dust off the cobwebs before shutting the house against the winter cold.

Lessons in Irreparable Damage

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I know I'm about a week behind on this, but I never promised breaking news on this blog. It took me a few days to process, to feel myself get all mixed up between angry and horribly sad, to calm down, and to get angry all over again.  I know this has been all over the news, the internet, everywhere... the suicide of Tyler Clementi.  If this is old hat to you or too boring or painful or meaningless to you to listen to right now,  that's okay.  You can go and need not read further.  But as long as you're here, I'll have my say, if it's all the same.  And even if it isn't.

If you're one of the few people who haven't heard about this, I'll give you a very brief summary.  Tyler Clementi, a 19 year old college student in his freshman year at Rutgers University, was made the brunt of a very cruel joke in which a couple of other students (his roommate and his roommate's friend)  managed to record him having sex with a man on two different occasions.   Tyler Clementi  wasn't yet "out".  These two students then posted these encounters on the internet, for the world to see.  Tyler, who obviously did not have the strongest sense of self at the time, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.  You can read all the news stories online... there are tons.  Here's a link to get you started, if you so desire.  

Now, as I said, obviously this kid didn't have a lot of self esteem and may have even been dealing with identity issues, since he hadn't come out to his friends and family yet.  I've read the arguments (and could've made them all myself in my sleep), and yes, I'm sure those two students didn't intend for Clementi to kill himself.  And yes, of course he would've had to have been nursing a pretty fragile mental state in order to take that final step.  But does that excuse the complete and total disregard for another person's sense of self worth and privacy that these two people exhibited?  Aren't we, as supposedly sentient creatures, responsible for our actions?  Responsible for thinking through the potential consequences before we act?  They didn't just tease him, friends.  This was no mild razzing, all in good fun.  Let me repeat... THEY POSTED VIDEO ON THE INTERNET OF HIM HAVING SEX WITH ANOTHER MAN .  

Excuse me, but what about that does not scream sick and cruel?  What the holy hell is wrong with people?  Just because we have the internet, does that mean we have to use it to humiliate each other mercilessly?  Of course, I shouldn't be shocked.  It's what humans do; some humans, anyway.  We use whatever means necessary to destroy each other.  

Which brings me to my point... that I'll try to get out succinctly, even though all I want to do right now is scream and cuss and throw things.  

We have a responsibility to each other and to the world around us.  I know not everyone is taught that, but here in America, at least, there is very little excuse.  They cover bullying in public school in, what, kindergarten?  First grade?  Then again in middle school?  And again in high school in some places (although by then they call it "hazing")?  So effing STOP IT already!  Get over yourselves!  Stop thinking the only way to have fun and feel good about yourself is to make someone else feel like crap!  So what if you "didn't know" he would commit suicide?  SO WHAT?  You have no idea what another person is going through when you're slinging around your evil words and well-planned modes of degradation.  You won't know how such a psychological attack is going to be received - how your target is going to deal with it, whether or not they're going to break.  But you know it's going to hurt.  Because, well, isn't that the point?

So, congratulations, bullies and jerks and ignorant, hateful people of the world!  You broke another one!  Are you proud?  Can't you just feel the power?  This one is broken beyond repair... indeed, beyond anyone's reach now.  And yes, even if you didn't "mean to" -- you. are. responsible.  Chew that up and swallow it and let this one final ultimate consequence teach you a lesson for once in your life.  Because, just as I'm sure that the ones who do break, the ones who snap under the pressure and fall apart for good (because we all know we can't take it back now!), are short on self esteem and all out of strength, I am also certain that the hecklers and instigators have been building up their senses of self at the expense of others for a very long time. It takes practice and ingenuity and a whole lot of spite to pull off this kind of grand humiliation.  This wasn't the first for these tormentors, I'm sure.  This was only the biggest. 

I can't talk about this much more.  I am literally sick over the whole thing, and over the depths of cruelty to which humans will stoop to make themselves feel big.  Here's the Ellen video.  It's on Youtube, but in case you haven't seen it yet...

The last final question - the one we always ask in the end... our plea to all that is good and holy... why?  Why.

There are a million answers, and none of them satisfy.

Having Been Away

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hello, friends!  I’m here, I’m here!  So sorry about the wind blustering in behind me… I have been in such a rush!  I’m back, however, here to assure you that I haven’t died or joined the circus or taken a vow of internet silence with the local monastery.  But I have been away, in so many ways, and there is a fair bit of catching up to do.

During the first week of August, I was out of town, visiting my Northern sister, who, incidentally, is also my oldest friend.  She’s one of my September girls, if you remember my mention of them in a previous post, and we’d been planning this trip for over a year.  This is our 20th year of friendship in this life, you see, and by the gods, we were going to celebrate!

Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, I was the new girl in a small town in North Dakota.  I met a girl there in my literature class, a quiet figure with a porcelain face and a baby doll dress, who sat at a desk ahead of me in the next row, and who, for no reason that I can recall, turned around one day to smile at me.  I smiled back.

There are some people that, when you meet, the moment remains etched in your mind.  You may forget some minor details.  You may forget what day of the week it was, for example, or what you were wearing, but the moment, friends… that spark of a moment remains, as accessible as if it were something that happened just minutes ago, and if you could only take a single step back, you could be there again.  That was my meeting with Sarah.  Perhaps she felt it, too, because the way she turned to me, a stranger to her then, was as if I was someone, as if we already were a we.  And, I suppose, from that point on, we were.  Yes... sometimes things happen like this in real life.  At least, they have in mine.

As you can see, we haven’t lost touch in all of this time, even though I’ve traveled far and wide, she relocated to a Much Bigger Town, and I ended up living several states removed from where we met.  This, in itself, is a testament to the strength of our bond, and something to mark as sacred.

We had a fantastic time in August, she showing me around her world, taking me to where all of her favorite things reside, and dutifully watching copious amounts of Doctor Who (Sarah had promised Gingergirl that she’d have me hooked by the time she sent me home...  Mission accomplished, by the way).

Ever since then, I’ve been back in my where, with my people and pets, and have been reveling in the work that makes a house a home.  It’s fall now, you know, and the crisp air always makes me want to start nesting.  I’ve also been writing like a woman possessed and reading or listening (on audio book) to Potters 5 & 6 between the cracks.  We’re about to start on 7, come October 1st - Deathly Hallows… and then the movie in November.  I can hardly breathe for waiting.

We  have also just passed the birthday of my Libra sister, my other September girl.  I’ll tell her story on another day.  Maybe tomorrow.  We shall see.  

One More Thing...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I have another "not mine" thing to share with you.  I know it's been awhile and I'm well overdue for a full report, but I came across this in my work-a-day life, and it does just take a quick second to post... and it really is so perfect, it has to be shared... so...  One more thing that I've found... just this one... then, I promise, next time you hear from me it will be a REAL post.

This is an excerpt from a Pep Talk from Neil Gaiman...

You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Now read the whole thing.  And, as my writer friend GingerGirl instructed me, "Print this out.  Put it in your writing spot.  Print another copy.  Put it in your writing bag.  Print another copy.  Put it on the fridge..."
The link (if you didn't catch it up there)  http://www.nanowrimo.org/node/1065561

...minds alive on the shelves

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.  From each of them goes out its own voice… and just as the touch of a button on our set will fill the room with music, so by taking down one of these volumes and opening it, one can call into range the voice of a man far distant in time and space, and hear him speaking to us, mind to mind, heart to heart. 
~Gilbert Highet

 I found this quote posted today on:

And it was perfect.

Summer Reading List 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reading by Bulinna
So, here you are, smack dab in the middle of summer, and it's hot - insufferably hot.  And you're bored and wiped out and feeling like all you'd rather do right now is sprawl out on the sofa, the currents of your air conditioner swirling around you, or sit under your favorite shade tree, with a good book.  If that is your plight and if that is your deepest desire (because, really, how deep can you get with a heat index of 112?), then you've come to the right place.  It just so happens that I've got a few suggestions for you, right here in my back pocket.  What I have here is a list of books that are sure to keep you entranced, as you while away these hot summer days.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling: I know, it's odd to suggest the 5th book in a series, when I haven't even "suggested" the others yet.  And I must stress that this suggestion is only for those who have read the series already (or at least the first four).  However, for those of you who have seen Harry through his first four years at Hogwarts, I invite you to join me (and a few of my friends) as we begin Harry's fifth year.  If you've been following my posts thus far, you know that a few of us have started re-reading the series, one book a month, in honor of the upcoming first installment of the last Harry Potter movie. The goal is to have finished reading the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by the end of October.  I myself plan to begin reading Order of the Phoenix on July 31st (which also happens to be Harry's birthday).  It is a thrilling tale, as Albus Dumbledore would undoubtedly have said, and it would be so much fun if you came along with us.  

This volume is particularly fitting for August as it begins with a London heat wave.  I won't lie - this is my favorite of the HP7, though from this point on, everything starts to rush together, all of the stakes are higher, and there's just no point in trying to stop after 5.  You'll pick up 6.  You'll have to.  It will feel as though you've been placed under the Imperius Curse and are helpless to disobey.  And when you finish with The Half-Blood Prince, you will rush to grab the Deathly Hallows from your shelf (or go buy it, if you're one of the unfortunate few who haven't yet read the conclusion to the Harry Potter series) and will feverishly open that first page and dive in again.  The only challenge here is, can you pace yourself?  Can you save it for October, so that by the movie's release date, the book is still fresh in your mind?  Can you resist?

William Goldings Lord of the Flies  Lord of the Flies by William Golding:  This is one that I consider an essential summer read.  Many consider this a classic, but I fear that some people believe that classic = boring.  Not this book, my friends.  I would never do that to you.  This novel tells the story of a flock of private school boys who find themselves stranded on a deserted island, all alone, without a grownup in sight.  Like Neverland gone wrong, this tale is gritty and sometimes chilling as you see the darker side of humanity rear it's piggish head.  

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 25th Anniversary Edition  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:  Alright, let's lighten up a bit, shall we?  If you haven't read it, I'm sure you've at least heard of it, and believe me, all the hype is WELL deserved.  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s and guaranteed to have you guffawing right out loud (something you might keep in mind if you plan on reading in public).  This is the first in the series, and you'll want to read them all, so buckle your seatbelts for a wild intergalactic ride.  Whatever you do, DON'T PANIC, and don't forget your towel.

Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball! by Paul Zindel:  Ok, so Amazon didn't have a single image for this one.  I'm very disappointed.  But... nothing doing, we move on.  Some books are just personal.  This one was for me.  I read this book in my early teens and it has stayed with me ever since.  This is a book written for the YA market.  This is not a public service announcement or a sexy vampire thriller.  This story is more uncomfortable and more "real" than any of those things.  I could write an entire blog entry reviewing this book, but I'll try to make this brief.  This story follows two characters, a boy and a girl, misfits in their own worlds.  It is not a romance, per se, but a story of connection and alienation.  I don't know quite what to compare it with for you... maybe Harold and Maude?  But, the vibe, not the storyline.  Perhaps a touch of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?  But here, the story and (again) the vibe, not the heady philosophy.  I suppose I'll just have to ask you to trust me on this one.  If you've ever felt that, no matter who is with you, you're still on this journey alone, then this strange and beautiful book is for you.  

ItIt by Stephen King:  And now we come to our obligatory Stephen King.  Dispensing with the lengthy book titles I seem to have gravitated toward for this Summer Reading List, here is Sai King's shortest title, and one that may well be in the running for Shortest Book Title In History.  However It is NOT the shortest book at 1,104 pages, and so has lots to show you on these long summer days.  Many moons ago I mentioned that It is my favorite King novel.  Of course, this was also my first King novel, and it's hard to hold a candle to your first love.  But, I digress.  

It is the tale of the children of Derry, Maine, children who bond together as they fight for their lives against the most unspeakable terror... and then they grow up, and the nightmare begins again.  Page-turning suspense, intense friendship, strength of human character and more than a little connection to Sai King's "other worlds", this book is worth every last page. 

Life: The Adventure Continues

Friday, July 9, 2010

(This artfully done photo of summer corn can be found on Flicker here.)

Here we are.  It’s July.  And what do I have to say about it?  So far in my recent adventures in seasonal, local eating, I have found that there is no more broccoli (it “bolts” in the summer heat) and very little lettuce (went the same way as the broccoli).  I am assured that they will be back in autumn.  For now we have tons and tons of zucchini, other summer squashes (keep meaning to try those cute little pattypan squashes) and tomatoes.  I can find onions and potatoes and those precious jewels, blackberries, in abundance.  Raspberries are present, but still maddeningly expensive.  I think they must be considered a delicacy, whether they’re in season or not.  Maybe the plants aren’t quite as productive as blackberry bushes… or maybe just not many people grow them here.  Hmm… another on the list of “Things to Find Out”.  Then there are deliciously dripping, juicy peaches, and corn!  Fresh corn on the cob, grilled right in their husks (do remember to soak them, first!), is one of my favorite things about summer.  And that I can get it grown locally, and it hasn’t been scientifically spliced and modified and turned into some kind of herbicide-pest-resistant uber-corn?  The thought makes me positively giddy!  All in all, not a bad way to try to save the world.

In other news, the weather has been balmy, switching from blazing sun to earth-shaking thunderstorms with alarming swiftness.  There is all the energy and hard work that one would expect from a summertime spent focusing on the earth’s bounty, and trying to preserve as much as one can for winter.  But in my heart, I’m all fall.  I’m already yearning for crisp days and the changing of leaves.  I’ve got characters chattering away in my head and am feeling the pull of my manuscript, beckoning me to come and sit awhile, with a hot cup of coffee and a little good music.  I can feel myself drawing inward, wishing to block out the world and dive into my own.  I catch glimpses, more and more frequently, of worlds I’ve created, whispers of woods I need to revisit and fictional friends I need to catch up with.  But there is so much to do, and, as always, so very little time.

Bash on Twilight Day

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ok, for a little interim fun, I've decided today must be Bash on Twilight Day, because that's all I've been reading (one thing leads to another, and there you go).  But I figure that anything that fills me with this much glee HAS to be shared.  Note:  if you are a die-hard Twilight fan, don't bother to read any further... unless you're just looking for a reason to get pissed at me, in which case, be my guest.  For the rest of you, let the dissection begin!

 First we have Twilight on Cracked.com.  This is a breakdown of each of the books in the series, and it is laugh-out-loud, crying, spewing your coffee (or water or tea or pop or whatever) through your nose funny.  I cried, I seriously cried, I was laughing so hard.


And now, the hilarity continues with this blog from Stoney321 on Live Journal.  She also goes through each book, pointing out many of the same points as Cracked (the creepiness of Bella & Edward's relationship, Bella's inherent weakness both as a character and a woman, the shoddy writing, etc.), but also lines out the parallels between the Twilight series and Mormonism... which is, admittedly, very interesting in a very bizarro sort of way.  You have to read it to see what I mean.  Each book has it's own blog entry, and there's a link to the next one at the bottom of each page, before the comments.  And, again, tears, friends... tears.


Alright, that's all I got for today.  I'm going to go home and recover now, catch my breath, see if I can control these giggles.  Oh, the pain! 

The Burden (and Liberation) of Knowledge

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Hello, my friends.  Long time no post!  I know, I know… I really shouldn’t neglect you like this, and I am terribly sorry.  It’s just that I was going about my business, trying to put things in order, getting distracted by this thing and that, when I turned the corner and ran smack into summer!  I can’t believe it’s here, officially, really here.  The Summer Solstice was just this past Monday and the days have been hovering in the mid-90s, with heat indexes soaring high above that.  Welcome, Ra.  Your time has come.

What has been my distraction, you might ask?  What is my excuse for being so absent?  I blame two things – education and Harry Potter.  Because I’m quirky like that (and because it’s the shorter of the two), I’ll start by explaining the latter.   You know, I’m sure, that the first part of the last Harry Potter movie (which you probably also know has been broken up into two movies) comes out this November.  In honor of this bittersweet event, my friends and I have started a little reading group, intent on re-reading the entire series, one book per month, before the movie hits the theaters.  We have just started Goblet of Fire.  But I’m sure that, because of Distraction No. 1, I am behind everyone else.  This seems to be my lot in life right now, consistently behind.

And now, onto Distraction No. 1.  Education.  See my last post and you’ll get an idea of where I’m headed here.  Due to my recent studies, I now know too much about the industrial food industry.  I can hardly stand buying food in grocery stores anymore, because I so vehemently disagree with our society’s food system.  What I knew before as abstract, bigger than me, concepts has now become too personal to ignore.  In a nutshell, this is what I’ve found.

Produce is grown on huge industrial farms, full of pesticides, the soil stripped of nutrients so drastically that these fields are only viable with the addition of massive amounts of chemical fertilizers.  Then the produce is shipped thousands of miles to the “consumer”… i.e., the people who eat it.  Meat, on the other hand, the stuff you get in the supermarket, is raised primarily on feed lots where the animals (mostly cows, pigs and chickens) are confined to pens, standing without being able to turn around or lay down, knee and belly deep in their own feces, eating diets that they were never intended to eat, causing not only a horribly sad diseased existence for these animals, but also causing their meat to be unnaturally unhealthy for us, leading to outbreaks of e. coli, mad cow disease, high cholesterol, etc.  Yes, I’m ranting.  This is only the very vaguest tip of this iceberg. 

On top of that scary picture, farmers, regular farmers, are losing and have lost their livelihoods.  Industrial farming has all but obliterated them.  Small farming is making a comeback, thanks to the local food movement and the slow food movement, but most of these farmers would go out of business if it weren’t for the farmer’s markets.  Am I freaking out?  Yeah, a bit.  Because all of this education has led me to look at myself, to look at all my talk and wonder what it amounts to if I’m still buying genetically modified corn and a hamburger that was once a cow who very likely was so sick at the end of its short life cycle that it could barely walk to the slaughterhouse. 

If we are what we eat, and we’re eating this, than what, as a nation, as a people, as a society, are we?  Are we sick and used and imprisoned?  Are we stripped of our soul like the nutrients of the soil in which our industrially farmed vegetables are grown?  Are we thieves, like the corporate food giants that have stolen a way of life from not only our nation’s farmers, but from farmers in countries (usually the poorest ) all over the world?  Do we have no sense of honor?  Do we have no standards?  This touches on every level of every issue this world currently has.  This is about human rights, animal rights, the economy and the environment.  This is about public health and war and national security.  This is about people dying of starvation in third world countries.  This is about people dying of malnutrition and obesity in the United States of America.  This is bigger and more important than I ever let myself see before.  And this is something that we can change.

I know no one wants to hear about it, and I know I’m supposed to shut up and just buy my groceries at Wal-Mart like everyone else, because who really cares?  It’s food, and buying stuff that’s produced in another way, a more NORMAL way, circa pre-World War II, is more expensive and a hell of a lot less convenient.  But I do care, and I can’t just ignore that fact anymore.  I can’t keep eating the crap they’ve been feeding us, justifying it with “it’s easier” and “it’s cheaper”.  If I was Jewish, and I had to eat kosher, you would understand.  Instead, I’m just another human, trying to recognize where I came from and what that means, with no other reason for my choices than to say that I am trying to take some responsibility, to live up to my own standards.  They say ignorance is bliss, and maybe they’re right.  But once you know a thing, you can’t un-know it.  At least I can’t. 

So now I am working through my current biggest conundrum – how to feed my family without supporting the industrial food industry, without going hungry this winter, and without going broke.  I’m hitting the farmers markets, buying up seasonal produce and anything else I can find and afford.  I’m freezing however much I can, socking away food like a squirrel, preparing for winter.  I’m meeting local farmers and trying to keep track of what’s in season when, so I can plan our next meal.  Food has taken over my life.  And, I have to tell you, it’s one of the happiest “sacrifices” I’ve ever made.

Here are some links, if you want to learn more on this yourself.   

And if you're prone to dig deeper, you might read these books:

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming The Locavore's Handbook: The Busy Person's Guide to Eating Local on a Budget The Real Food Revival
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Please note, I have read all of these books but the last.  I am including it here, however, because The Omnivore's Dilemma comes highly recommended by others who share in my quest for a better relationship with food and I do plan to read it very soon.)

A Little Motivation Goes A Long Way

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hello friends.  I know it's been awhile.  Life has been it's usual encroaching, attention-demanding self, keeping me working, organizing, cooking, house-cleaning, tending to family (and extended family) crises, one right after another, and generally going in mad crazy circles.  But today the world stopped.  They called off school for thunderstorm debris (this was a new one on me).  I couldn't find an alternate place to take my son on such short notice and was left with no choice but to park my butt at home with him.  Call it an enforced slack day.  

Of course, the house still demands my attention at every turn, as our accumulated possessions are starting to take over our life and are screaming to be sorted, culled, and the remainders put to better use than their current positions of gathering dust and creating a nuisance.  There's still (always) so much to do.  But I've had this blog brewing in my head for a few days now, so I thought I'd take advantage of this little bit of down time I've managed to steal.  

I noticed something about myself the other day.  It had to do with motivation.  I had reached the end of my little give-a-damn rope and had slunk into a dangerous kind of apathy that was approaching depression.  Nothing seemed worth the effort all of a sudden.  All of the energy I'd been spewing forth seemed to be getting me nowhere and I was tired.  So tired.  And then something amazing happened.  I sat down at my usual thinking place in the kitchen and picked up this book I'd been reading a few days before about saving the environment and making an effort on an individual level.  This is not new information to me, not really.  The environment is a real issue with me and I've read on the problem extensively.  But this particular book is unique in that the author isn't telling the reader what to do... instead he has documented what he has done, how he changed his life and his perspective to lower his own impact on the planet.  It's inspiring.  And within ten minutes of reading through the Appendix to the book (I'd already finished reading the rest of it a couple days prior), I was back on my feet, ready to take on my day again, ready to do anything.  Because, hey, there's work to be done.  There's a planet to save, and how can I save the planet if I can't save my own home? 

Which leads me to the interesting problem of motivation.  I don't believe I'm alone when I get overwhelmed with all there is to do and it all seems hopeless.  I think this is a common problem, at least in our society.  We sit and we give up because there just seems no point.  But as soon as we are inspired by something we truly care about, suddenly the energy floods us and we can't wait to get up and get started.  Suddenly, everything is in perspective again, working is rewarding and every act has a purpose. 

I'm coming to believe that of all the problems there are in the world, the biggest may be lack of motivation, or that at least a renewed spark of motivation could go a long way toward solving the world's problems.  I think this may be one of the most important issues to ponder as an American, with so much work to be done here at home.  People stop caring.  We become apathetic.  We start blaming each other and the government and other countries and "society" and on and on for our problems.  For why our economy's been tanking, for why more and more of our kids are being diagnosed with asthma and ADHD, for our lack of healthcare, for our obesity, for why our families are failing to stay together, for our lack of community, for why we're not happy.  Since we have convinced ourselves that it's, as Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy so aptly put it, Somebody Else's Problem, we have painted ourselves into a corner of helplessness, and there's nothing more depressing than being a victim.  

The sad truth here is that we are victimizing ourselves.  We are our own victims, because we have convinced ourselves that it is so.  Every one of us has the opportunity to wake up in the morning, or in a moment, and stop and think consciously about what we are doing and what we are going to do next.  We can start to realize that "society" is us!  And we can remember what it is to be a good example again, and how people learn from each other.  We got where we are now, here in our apathy and our nothing-I-can-do-ness because of what we saw other people doing.  If it became the social norm to be responsible for ourselves and our world, then we as a society would shift our focus.  We would spend our time grappling with the problems we face as a society instead of spending our time watching reality TV and shopping for hours on end for stuff we really don't need just to give ourselves some sense of control.  We would each know that we, individually, are responsible for what we, as a society, are doing.  You are society.  I am society.  You are, I am, our next door neighbors are, and family members and coworkers and friends.  WE are society.  If we each realized that, then we'd see that there's work to do, and we'd want to do it.  We would have a sense of purpose. 

One thing that de-victimizing yourself does is to free you up to move, to act.  You don't have to become and activist, necessarily, to help change this apathetic tide.  You just have to care.  And you have to make an effort every day to live a life that is more in keeping with what you truly care about.  Nothing will improve until we believe that it can improved and that we can do something about it.  

If you're wondering what book it was that so inspired me, it was No Impact Man by Colin Beavan.  He and his family tried to live making no adverse impact on the planet for one year.  They live in New York and the challenges were great.  I admire what they've done and the philosophy of inspiring by doing that Colin Beavan developed through this project.  

Motivation is easy when you're inspired by someone else's actions.  I am now convinced that leading by example may be our only real hope.  

On that note, I'm going to get back to de-stuffing my home, and I'm going to make sure that anything we get rid of goes to charity, gets recycled or gets put to some good use.  I don't think it will be as hard as I feared.  It's not for nothing.  It's for a greater purpose, and I'm just doing my part.