Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Traditions: Strange Music

It's no secret that I enjoy off-beat music, and when it comes to Christmas carols, I enjoy an array of songs. You might even say I have an eclectic taste in holiday music. Mixed into the 12 or so hours of Christmas music on my iPod, I have everything from Fall Out Boy to The King Singers, Brandi Carlile to 98 Degrees.

Here are a couple of my favorite Alternative Christmas songs:

"Winter Wonderland" by Phantom Planet
"Snowfall Music" by Carbon Leaf
"I Won't Be Home for Christmas" by Blink 182
"Oi to the World" by No Doubt
"Christmas Only Comes Once a Year" by MxPx
"All I Want for Christmas Is You" by My Chemical Romance
"Yule Shoot Your Eye Out" by Fall Out Boy
"Alone This Holiday" by The Used
"Let Me Sleep" by Pearl Jam
"Ex-Miss" by A New Found Glory

And my new favorite CD is Let It Snow Baby...Let It Reindeer by Relient K. Well, this CD has been out for a couple of years now, but I just discovered it last week and I can't stop listening to it.

What are some of your favorite holiday tunes?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It doesn't show signs of stopping

This is the sight I woke up to yesterday. I thought I was back in Idaho or Utah or Illinois. But no, this really is Virginia. You can kind of almost see my car parked across the street. I didn't get home until late last night after the snow had already set in, and because I live on a hill, I knew there was no way I would be able to park in my usual space in front of the house.

But don't you worry--it proceeded to snow for 14 more hours after this picture was taken.

I had gone out around 1 p.m. to dig my car out as I was supposed to go to a friend's house last night. I had to force the front door open and then stepped into a pile of snow that came up to my knee. It took me about five minutes just to get across the street to my car, and after two hours or scrapping and shoveling, my car was even more stuck than when I first started.

I ditched the car and decided to shovel the walk. They were all sold out of shovels, so my kind neighbors let me barrow theirs. I had to shovel my way from their front porch to mine, not an easy task in 20 inches of snow. But along the way I talked to sledders and skiers and snowboarders and even one mom on foot whose 9 month-old baby was so snug in her blanketed carrier she was sound asleep.

One of the craziest things about all this snow is that it's not really that cold out. Even being outside for two hours, I wasn't cold, just very, very wet. And though my car is once against buried from sight in all the snow that fell in the evening, everything is already melting. I can hear the icicles on my roof drip, drip dripping, and underneath all that powdery white is a good inch of nothing but slush.

I feel like I'm in the middle of a Christmas song. Pick one about snow, and there you have my front yard. Can I please be dreaming of a green Christmas?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Weeping in the Night

I've been trying so hard to keep my blog upbeat this past month. It is the holiday season, which means joy should fill the air. As snow blankets the country and family gathers near, I want to focus on good things--happy memories, hope for the future. But things aren't very happy this holiday season.

Ashley isn't doing well and wants to go to Heaven now. She's so tired. In so much pain. Ready to go home. You'd think I'd want her suffering to end so she could be at peace this holiday season, but I can't help but think about the pain her passing will bring. I wish that I was selfless enough to understand her desire to be done with all of this, but I'm not. And it gets even worse because I don't feel this way because I hate seeing what the thought of losing her is doing to her family--it's because I don't want to let her go, at least not yet.

I want to see her again, even though I know it wouldn't be like when I saw her this past summer. She wouldn't be laughing and having fun with her cousins. She wouldn't be able to tell me stories or help me make dinner or read me her favorite book. But I want to hold her in my arms one last time and tell her how much I love her, how grateful I am to know her, what a source of joy and love and learning she is in my life.

Yet a part of me knows I won't get that chance. I keep telling myself I was blessed to be able to do this last June when I saw her. I should be grateful for the time I've had with Ashley and the wonderful blessing her family has been in my life. But that just isn't enough. I don't know if anything will ever be enough.

And as hard as it is for me to relinquish any kind of control, this really is in God's hands. I have said my goodbyes and now I need to be at peace with that. Though my heart is braking, I need to trust that everything will be all right in the end. Things in life always seem to work out, and now I just need to have a little faith that even this will work out, too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Traditions: Christmas Adam

Because most of our family still lives in the Chicago area, there are a lot of extended family gatherings around the holidays. But when all of us kids started moving away from home, my mother began to insist on having at least one dinner--just the five of us--around Christmas.

Thus was born Christmas Adam, or the night before Christmas Eve.

It's really a no-frills holiday tradition filled with non-traditions. We eat some food, tell some jokes and make Mom wonder how all of us ended up with our dad's sense of humor. The dinner fare is always different, and sometimes we do it at my sister's house rather than my parents. Dad gets excited about the bubble lights on the tree, and Mom cries either because we're all together or because someone is missing.

Oh, yes, and we watch While You Were Sleeping. And the three of us kids spend the night together curled up on my sister's bed talking--even when we all lived together, it was always my sister's room.

P.S. I changed the title of my novel from a boring working title to a title I actually like. Thanks Melissa and Tom for the help!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Traditions: Stories

The other night I was talking to my sister about all the great Christmas movies we used to watch when we were kids, like One Magic Christmas starring Mary Steenburgen. And then my friends over at the PBS Booklights blog mentioned The Lump of Coal by Lemony Snicket, a short story I read and loved a few years ago. So that got me thinking about some of my favorite holiday stories from years gone by.

You really can't go wrong with a classic, and you can't be any more classic than the poem by Clement Clarke Moore "A Visit from St. Nicholas." It has been re-told everywhich way, from Tim Burton's ghoulish masterpiece to the Cajun version I was interoduced to while living in Louisiana years ago. But it is the version of the poem I had as a child that stands out in my mind more than any other.

When I was really little, we had this pop-up version of The Night before Christmas illustrated by Michael Hague. Because it was the only pop-up book we had, it would get read all year long. We read it so often I had it memorized from the time I was about four, and to this day I can still say the poem verbatim.

As mentioned above, I am a sucker for family Christmas movies. I cried like a baby the first time I saw The Family Stone on a plane trip from Salt Lake to New York, and nothing gets me laughing like While You Were Sleeping. But my very favorite Christmas movie isn't really a Christmas movie at all.

When I sit down to watch Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, I know it's Christmas. Because I have missed a few Christmases with my family, the song Esther sings to her little sister Tootie about Christmas being more about who you have loved than where you are has a special meaning to me.

One of my best memories from high school is the Christmas play I was in. It was a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol in which Scrooge was a self-centered rock star bent on driving himself to an early, lonely grave complete with the dreadlock-sporting ghost of Bob Marley and a tofu turkey for the hippy Cratchits. I really wish I could remember the name of the play, but it was too long ago and I can't find it in my old journals either. Oh well.

I didn't have a big part, but I did have this really dramatic fainting scene at the beginning when the kid who was supposed to catch me wasn't paying attention and I hit my head on the stage. I don't blame him, really. I tend to fall and hit my head a lot--I've even knocked myself out a couple of times. But getting back to the topic at hand...

I LOVE Christmas music. Seriously, I have about 12 hours worth of Christmas music on my iPod. Everything from the King Singers to Fall Out Boy. And all of that music tells a different story of Christmas, whether it's a depressing story of love lost and loneliness, or a song totally focused of the miracle of a baby born in a stable.

To me, one of the most beautiful hymns of the season is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. That song encompasses everything meaningful about the season. It speaks of tradition and peace, past and present, hope and fulfillment. The imagery is also so moving: "Still thru the cloven skies they come / With peaceful wings unfurled."

There is something so distinct about the stories written about Christmas. This is the time of year when everyone suspends their disbelief for just a moment and believes that magic and miracles and goodness really do exist in the world. We stretch our imagination and make ourselves a little vulnerable to feeling the spirit of Christmas, no matter if we believe in Christ or not.

And new stories of Christmas are still being created every year. Snowmen at Night by Mark and Caralyn Buehner is the perfect example of this.

What are some of your favorite Christmas stories? Are they books or songs or maybe even memories? Maybe it's a story a parent read to you or something you discovered one Christmas when you were far from home. But in this season of glad tides, I hope you are able to find joy and happiness in all your Christmas stories.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

And boy are my arms tired

No, I haven't done any flying. But along with colored lights and mistletoe, the holiday season also means music. Yesterday my Christmas bell choir had our first performance in Old Town Alexandria, and today we had a two-hour rehearsal for our big performances next week. I also lead the congregational music and the music for the women's meeting at church today. Between hefting those bass bells and waving my arms in the air all weekend, my shoulders and elbows and arms ache. I really need to work out more.

I'll try to post some pictures of the Bells at Mt. Vernon, but for now, enjoy this Christmas music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I was at the concert where this was recorded a few years ago, and while a YouTube recording can't compare to the live performance, it's still beautiful. Plus, my friend Carrie was one of the dancers, my old clarinet teacher played in the orchestra and I know a couple people in the choir. Not being there for the Christmas concert this year makes me kind of miss living out west.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another year older...

I love birthdays. They are a time to celebrate being alive and all of the things you have accomplished in the past year. And I'm lucky enough that my birthday falls in the middle of the holiday season when people are already thinking about new beginnings and good memories.

It's odd to think that at this time last year I was moving to a new city and starting a new job. I hadn't yet received my first rejection letter, but I hadn't gotten my SCBWI WIP letter. I was missing my old Salt Lake City writers' group, but I hadn't met me new Virginia writing friends. I was living closer to my family than I had in nine years, but I was father away from my best friend as well.

The problem with new beginnings is that it's also a time of endings. But the great thing about endings is they allow you to start fresh, set goals, do something completely different. So here is to endings that aren't really ending at all, but new beginnings in disguise.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Food Recipes

After days of writing about all the food prep, the dinner really came together. I thought I'd post some of the recipes I used for this Thanksgiving dinner. I tend not to use any one source to create my culinary masterpieces, which as many friends can tell you either turns out horribly wrong or somehow manages to come out wonderfully right.

My first foray into turkey making was a hit--and let me tell you, I have never felt more pressure to get something right than in preparing the main dish of a big holiday meal.
  • 8 lb turkey breast
  • 1 cup sea salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 carrot sticks
  • 3 stocks green onion
  • 1/4 cup pepper corns
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 3 tsp poultry seasoning
  1. Thaw turkey in fridge overnight. Remove any entrails and place in large oven bag in a deep roasting dish.
  2. Boil water, salt, brown sugar, onion, carrots, green onions, pepper in a large pot for half an hour. Let cool.
  3. Pour brine over turkey and chill in fridge for 24 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse turkey well and pat dry. Place turkey in a fresh, flour-coated oven bag.
  5. Mix oil, garlic and seasoning in a small bowl and coat turkey. Stuff with generous amounts of bread stuffing.
  6. Roast for 3 hours. Save juices for gravy. Cool, carve and serve.
Gravy has to be the easiest thing I made. And it was the only thing I had ever made before.
  • turkey juice
  • 2 cans chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • salt and pepper
  1. Strain turkey juice into a medium sauce pan. Add broth and bring to a boil.
  2. Mix flour and water in a small bowl until a smooth, pasty consistency. Slowly add to boiling stock. Reduce heat.
  3. Boil and stir continually until gravy begins to thicken.
  4. Salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for at least five minutes.
Honestly, for how much effort it took to make this alternative to green bean casserole, this wasn't really worth it. But it looked good.
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 3/4 cup white wine
  • 2 stocks green onion
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 lb fresh green beans
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toast almonds in large frying pan over medium heat. Remove and set aside.
  2. Melt butter and saute beans and onions for five minutes. Add wine and steam covered for 10 minutes. Remove beans and onions.
  3. Bring sauce to boil and reduce by half.
  4. Pour sauce over beans, salt and pepper to taste, and toss to coat.
  5. Add almonds right before serving.
There might have been leftover, but let me tell you, now that everyone is gone, that fridge is totally empty. I'll have to do some major shopping tomorrow if I want to eat this week.

Thanksgiving Day Fun

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun. We really did have a house full of good people and good food.

Because my parents were in Hawaii visiting my little brother for the holiday and my sister was with her boyfriend's family in Chicago, I was adopted by my roommate's family who came in from North Carolina and Michigan.

And of course after the food was devoured and the kitchen (almost) clean, we pulled out the books. Melinda's three-year-old niece loved Mo Willem's new pop-out book Big Frog Can't Fit In.

And the boys found plenty of books to occupy their time with as well.

The next few days were filled with more adventures, fun and movies, and yes, even some writing and chores.

So this holiday season opened up with a bang. Now I just need to get through my birthday, Christmas and the New Year. I've got a lot of fun stuff coming up and look forward to seeing my family again. I missed Christmas in Chicago last year, and I'm excited not to miss it again this year.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 12

Happy Thanksgiving! There are too many things I'm grateful for that I haven't been able to mention, so I'll list as many of them as I can.

I'm grateful for:
  • All the little things, like paperclips and pennies and four-leaf clovers.

  • The books I've read. From the classics I was "forced" to read in school to the books I'm given to review, reading is a joy I never want to be without.

  • My teachers. There are many teachers, both in school and out, who have taught me lessons I will never forget and encouraged me is ways they will never know.

  • Talents. So many people have been given so many gifts, and my life is better for all those who have shared their talents with me.

  • Time. Time to do more, be better, learn something new. Time to say "I'm sorry" or "I love you" or "Good luck today." Time to enjoy life and live it to the fullest.

  • The places I have lived. I am a cheese-head by birth, a city-girl by circumstance, a Cajun by adoption and a lover by location. I have been infected with wanderlust, and I've loved every place I have been blessed enough to live.

  • Chocolate and ice cream. I think sugar is a far overlooked food group. Dietitians everywhere are cringing, but chocolate and ice cream have gotten me through a lot of very trying times.

  • Friends who know how to listen. This is not a talent of mine--I talk way too much--but I have been the beneficiary of wise friends who know when to close their mouths and open their ears.

  • Sisters, both by birth and by choice. I have an older sister who is one of my dearest friends, even if I didn't know it until after high school. And I have three of the best sisters in the world thanks to The Scroll, a children's lit class and a little thing called love.

This list could honestly go on forever. How blessed my life is!

Speaking of blessings, the turkey is now in the oven.

We have people traveling from Michigan and North Carolina, so we're having an early dinner rather than a late lunch. We'll really have a full house with kids and friends and maybe a random stranger or two as well.

I love the holidays!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 11

I'm incredibly grateful for those people who work to keep our nation free.

This doesn't just include people like my little brother in the Navy. It encompasses those who fight to preserve our freedom of speech, sacrifice to improve our environment and dedicate their lives to ensuring our country is better tomorrow than it was today.

You know who you are, and you have my thanks.

Ahhh! Only one more day to finish cleaning the house and cooking. I've been trying to do it a little at a time so I don't wake up tomorrow morning and realize I have nothing done. So today I made sure my gas tank is full, the floors are swept and all the Christmas decorations are up. (I don't have any Thanksgiving decor, so Christmas comes a little early.)

On the food front, I prepped that old Southern Thanksgiving favorite: macaroni and cheese.

This isn't exactly a complicated dish (just noodles, milk, butter, an egg and a few different cheeses), but I didn't want to have to worry about doing it when there is a turkey waiting for me to season and bake in the morning.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 10

What would my life be like without the many students I have worked with?

From the kids at BSTA to the DC students I tutor to the kids I went to high school with who have never managed to grow up, I have discovered that you are never too old to learn something new from the most unexpected places.

May I meet many more of you and continue to be edified by your vast wisdom.

The food preparation has begun. Because my parents are visiting my little brother in Hawaii for Thanksgiving (it's a tough job, but they're selfless like that), I'm hosting Thanksgiving with my roommate. Two of her brothers, their families and a few friends are coming over, which means plenty of shopping and cooking.

Today I started on the turkey with a brine.

I also made that old Thanksgiving classic with a twist: cranberry sauce with a handful of blueberries and some orange zest.

This year I am making a bunch of traditional foods I have never made before, so we'll see how it all turns out.

This reminds me of one Thanksgiving up in Idaho when a couple of friends and I decided to get a fresh pumpkin and make a bunch of pumpkin-themed sides from scratch. Of course we did the traditional pumpkin pie, but we also made pumpkin bread, pumpkin butter, pumpkin cake, pumpkin roll and a couple other things. We had never made any of it before, but it was so much fun I think we convinced ourselves the food tasted better than it really did.

Good memories.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 9

I am grateful for a clear view.

I've had glasses since I was about eight years old, and I can honestly say not a day goes by when I'm not happy for the ability to see clearly. They might be annoying, but because of them, I can see more than two feet in front of me.

Just got these last week. What do you think?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 8

My life is better for all the roommates I've ever had.

I am a better person and have a much fuller life because of the many people I have lived with over the years. I've learned about different countries, eaten different foods, listen to different music, learned about different subjects and loved vastly different people because each one of you was unique and willing to put up with me.

So for all of the people who were, are or will be my housemates, I am grateful for each of you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 7

This shout-out goes to every music player I have ever owned.

Music has been an outlet for me since I can first remember. It has helped my express feelings I didn't understand enough to put into words myself, overcome bad times and remember the good. I have sung along, danced along and played along--all fairly poorly--but music has been there for every important event in my life.

So from my dad's old record play to the 8-track in the Ford to my first walkman, CD player and iPod, you have filled my life with music.

Can't Stop This Music

Struts & Frets Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I freaking loved this book. Any book that can make Jane's Addiction and Shakespeare come together to create a beautiful story has my full support. And it didn't hurt that the writing style has a rawness and openness about it that nearly broke my heart and kept me laughing all at once.

Sammy Bojar is going to be the next big thing--or will be after the current next big thing gets out of his way. All he has to do is figure out how to keep his indie/punk/emo band together, turn his best friend into his girlfriend and watch his grandfather slip into dementia. Luckily band front-man Joe seems to be keeping it together, Jen5 knows just how to deal with a new emo-rocker boyfriend and Gramps still has plenty of musical lessons to teach. Sammy's candle might just have a chance to burn long and bright before it is put out.

And that's just scratching the surface. This book proves that fame and music and life isn't always pretty nor as satisfying and Hollywood would have you believe. It's messy and complicated and heartbreaking, yet it's also full of tomorrows and potential.

Skovron doesn't belittle adolescent feelings of love and fear and compassion, nor does he skirt over issues like sex or make a big deal out of things like homosexuality and drinking. The story focuses on the music and stays true to character development. The teens in this novel are down to earth and struggle with the same issues of insecurity and hope that all real-life teens deal with every day.

While the story arc is a little rough and the adult characters are a little cliche, this is an amazing debut novel. I am honored to have it stand next to my other YA music books like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Heavy Metal and You and Notes from the Midnight Driver. I look forward to seeing what other stories Skovron has in store for us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

I am grateful for my car.

This past year I bought my first new car. It's a 2009 Honda Fit: gets great gas milage, easy to park in DC's tiny parking spaces and manages to cram everyone and everything I need into one place I can call my own. I know it sometimes feels neglected when I take public transportation, but even the Metro can't take me places my little blue car can.

That's why I made sure it got re-registered, renewed parking stickers and an oil change today. I take care of my own.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 5

I'm grateful for modern life.

What did they do without the internet or even electricity? It has made travel more doable, medicine more reliable and information for accessible. And I could never have done any of it on my own.

I love living in the 21st Century.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 4

I'm grateful for laughter.

I tend to be a little too serious and negative, but laughter keeps me grounded. It makes my heart swell and clears my mind. The best part is, the more often I do it, the more I want it.

So to all the songs, books, movies, knock-knock jokes, silly kids and best of friends who make me LOL, thank you.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 3

I am thankful for my family.

They are my friends, my confidants, my teachers and my own personal cheerleaders. Never once have they said it couldn't be done, overcome or figured out. They encourage me to reach for the stars and set the example.

Both near and far, I love them bunches.

P.S. I hit the halfway point with my NaNoWriMo WIP. I can't believe I am actually doing this and keeping (almost) on track!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 2

This one goes out to toothpaste.

I have never had to have any dental work done, and I know that is no small miracle due to a combination of genetics, geography and good hygiene. I will continue to do my part and hope I die with all my own teeth still in my head.

So to my new dentist I saw for the first time today, toothpaste has served me well. Now I expect you to hold up your part of the bargain.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 1

I've never posted about Ashley before, but after reading her mother's new blog, I realized I was holding back sharing the blessings of her life with all of you.

Ashley is twelve years old and succumbing to heart failure. If you want the details of what that means, you'd have to ask a member of her immediate family. All I know is that it means she spent many nights with us after hospital visits, I've held her in my arms as she's cried from the pain, and that someday far too soon, she'll no longer be with us. And knowing that, my heart fails me a little as well.

I've never known a child with a terminal condition before. All of my friends who have died have done so suddenly--tragic, yes, but sudden. And my family members who have passed on have died at reasonable ages--too soon, yes, but after living full lives. I have never watched someone I love fight a battle over so many years and slowly begin to fade.

When I first met Ashley, she wasn't even ten years old. I was living in Salt Lake City, roommates with an old college friend who is Ashley's aunt. I had spent years hearing stories about Ashley and felt like I already knew her. She and her family would make the eight-hour drive down from Boise to have procedures done at Primary Children's Medical Center.

Because I am a picture book fanatic, I'd always send a few books with Tammy up to the hospital to keep Ashley's mind off the sometimes painful procedures. From Mo Willem's Leonardo the Terrible Monster to Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book by Brian Froud, laughter was a great medicine, until a mean old nurse had to ask them to put away the books because Ashley was laughing so hard she was having heart spasms.

Ashley would often come to stay with us so her parents could have some alone time. She'd sit at the kitchen table and tell me stories while I made dinner or entertain us by reading aloud from one of her favorite books. Or sometimes, she's be so tired we'd put in a movie and she'd fall asleep on my shoulder long before the closing credits began to roll.

When I moved back east, there were a lot of things I was sad to leave behind, but probably the hardest thing to leave was Ashley. I knew she was getting sicker, I knew Tammy needed someone to lean on, and I knew I might not have the chance to see Ashley again. But last June, I went to Idaho for a wedding and was able to spend an afternoon with Ashley and her family. And a few months ago I got a phone call from Ashley so she could read me the new book her aunt had bought her for her hospital stay. These little moments have meant the world to me and eased my heart.

Then over Labor Day weekend while driving back to DC from Chicago, I got a phone call. Ashley was not doing very well and there was nothing more the doctors could do for her. The PICC line would come out and Ashley would go home. All of a sudden, life had shifted from "if" to "when." I was grateful when I lost cell service in the Pennsylvania mountains so I could cry alone for a few minutes.

I have spent a lot of nights crying since then--after phone calls with Tammy, after reading messages from Ashley's mom, after a phone conversation with a friend who had just spent the weekend with Ashley. I cried from knowing Ashley was not going to get better. I cried from knowing I couldn't be there for my friend and her family. I cried from knowing there was nothing anyone could do. And I especially cried from knowing the next time I would go out west would not be as much fun as my trip in June.

But I've also cried from happy thoughts. Each day Ashley is with us is a blessing. It is another memory we can have for when she is gone. It has brought her family closer together and made them stronger. I often think of that scripture "For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalms 30:5).

I don't mean to turn this into a "preachy" blog post, and for many of you who don't know me, you might be surprised to find out I have a deep faith in God, but that faith is so personal to me I have never felt right about sharing it in a public blog. The thing is, as the past month has progressed and my emotions have been in turmoil, I can't help but draw on my faith to keep me going. Ashley is like a niece to me, her mother like a sister, her three energetic little brothers like nephews. She and her family are never far from my thoughts, and when they enter my thoughts, the love of God enters my heart.

So if you believe in God--or you even have a glimmer of hope that there is some kind of higher power out there--I ask that you offer up a pray for Ashley. Not that some miracle will happen and we'll get to keep her for a little more time, but offer up a pray of thanksgiving that Ashley has been able to touch so many lives, and maybe, just maybe, she'll be able to touch your life as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Okay, now I'm just stalling

Q: What do a vanilla bean frappe, Mafia Wars, the latest Dancing with the Stars results show, Jon Skovron's new book Struts & Frets and the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen soundtrack all have in common?

A: Not much. Other than I have used all of them to avoid writing today.

And now, here I am, using my blog for the same nefarious purposes. In my own defense, I have managed to sneak in a few hundred words. And it's not like I planned on pounding out a couple thousand words today or anything.

Oh, wait. That was the plan.

I don't normally discourage people from reading my blog, but maybe you should stop enabling me so I can get back to work.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Friday Five on Thursday

Since I work full time and can't say no to anyone, time management is a HUGE issue for me in relation to NaNoWriMo. So here are five practical things I'm doing to actually write:

1. Breaking it up during the day. I try to get about 400 words during my lunch break so I don't feel so overwhelmed when I get home.

2. Make bedtime sleep time. I make sure NaNoWriMo is not the last thing I do before going to bed. When my head hits the pillow, I don't want my mind to be racing with things I want to put on paper. So I watch a TV show, read a few pages or talk to a friend before hitting the sack.

3. Only enter in word count once a day. It's like the watched pot never boiling. When I'm worried about hitting my word count, it seems to take longer to get there.

4. Don't try to "make it up." If I fall behind in my word count, I can't spend the next day trying to make up for it. Some days the story comes a little easier for me and some days it doesn't. I just have to let it happen.

5. Turn off the internet! There is no greater time-suck than the World Wide Web. When I'm writing, I can't be checking e-mail, playing games on Facebook or mapping the fastest route to the nearest ice cream place.

So far so good. I'm still on track with my word count and having fun with it as well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finding a different kind of writing style

For so many years my writing has been about facts. Finding good sources, getting details just right, fitting all the pieces together. But when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, I knew I would have to take a very different approach.

Now it's all about writing and huge quantity very quickly. At an average of 1,667 words per day (while still working a full-time job and fulfilling all of my other commitments), I don't have time to double check my information and research the fine details of everything. It took me almost a year to finish my last manuscript, and the majority of that time I was in school or unemployed. Plus that manuscript is only 34,000 words, 16,000 fewer than what the NaNoWriMo rules tell you your manuscript has to be. That means I've had to totally change the way I write.

No rewriting or even rereading as I go. I have to use a setting I'm intimately familiar with, and characters need to come out fully developed. As soon as the plot point, character trait or line of dialogue pops into my head, it needs to get written down, even if I'm not sure it will go anywhere in the end.

None of this sounded easy or even very fun, but I needed to prove to myself that I can write a complete story in a defined period of time. I was worried that this writing experiment would turn into a numbers game with stock characters and a flat plot that would never be anything more than the Word document on my hard-drive.

Surprisingly, this could not be further from the truth. In the past four days, this group of characters has taken on a life of their own. I feel like the story is almost writing itself. I'm already in love with them and want to learn more about who they are and where they're going.

But check back in two weeks. By then I might be at a complete lose and hate this experiment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Words Combine

Last night I picked up Nick Hornby's new novel Juliet, Naked and was struck by how absolutely beautiful his writing is. How words become sentences and sentences become paragraphs and somehow those paragraphs become a story.

According to the Oxford Dicitonaries, there are 250,000 distinctive words in the English language (not including technical words and jargon). The Library of Congress, the oldest library in the nation and the largest in the world, houses 32 million books, only a fraction of the books ever printed. USA Today claims there are just under 175,000 books published every year, which averages out to be 479 books a day or almost 20 books an hour.

With all this writing and so few words, it amazes me that something new is being written all the time, every day, every minute. Even if you don't count retellings, translations and nonfiction, this is still a mind-boggling amount of storytelling. And out of all these stories--out of the hundred or so books I read every year--books continue to move me and teach me and change me.

Every day people write things. They use the same words to express the same emotions and even tell the same stories. Yet each work is distinct. Each writer has his own voice. Each word somehow manages to hold a different meaning and convey a different image to each reader. We are human after all, and no two people see the same image. For no two people can stand in the same spot at the same time, just like no two words can ever combine to mean the same thing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Dark Side of Writing

I love writing. Seriously love it. I've even loved the outlining, the research, the revisions. And I've been blessed with a lot of very supportive people who encourage me to keep going through writer's block and grant applications and waiting. But this has to be the worst part of the entire experience.

Finding an agent.

I've only sent one agent query and was lucky to have received a kind rejection, but I know that to have any chance of getting published I have to get serious about finding an agent. Thanks to Mr. Christopher Columbus, I had an entire day to do nothing but research agents and decide who I want to query. And after five hours of compiling mailing lists, scoping agency sites, seeing what authors had to say and reading submission guidelines, I finally know who I want to send my manuscript to.

So bring it on, agents. I'm ready for your rejection, but please let there be someone out there who has faith in my writing. I have a lot more to write, and I need someone who will be with my for the long-haul.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If you don't use it...

...you lose it.

I've been thinking a lot about all the things I used to be decent at. I used to be pretty good at math. I used to play the clarinet fairly proficiently and was a moderate vocalist as well. I also used to be able to do an arial cartwheel and the splits. Now I need a calculator to tell me pi beyond 3.14, I try not to torture people with my musical ineptness, and I'm lucky if I can do a summersault.

Writing, like so many other things, needs cultivation. I need to be doing more of it on a regular basis. Last summer was such a great experience for me--I was able to do more writing more frequently than ever before. Now I don't have a writing class, as much free time or a story eating away at my brain. I've let work, responsibilities and too many other things get in the way of what's important to me.

I need to use my passion for writing more often before I lose my ability to complete another manuscript. This week's goal: send out another agent letter and write 10 pages in my current manuscript. I'd better get on that...today is hump day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Raining Books

It was more raining actual rain today, but books reigned the day. I have never been to the National Book Festival before, but I sure do plan on going again. I got a couple of books signed, spoke to a few authors and stood in line to stand in line. It was like the DMV only with a better pay-off in the end.

Seriously, this line had more switch-backs than the Appalachian Mountains (nine, to be precise), but I ended up with Mo Willems new pop-up book Big Frog Can't Fit In and Sue Monk Kidd's new memoir she cowrote with her daughter Traveling with Pomegranates.

And waiting in line has never been more fun when the time is spent talking about your favorite picture books with bird-brains like these three sisters who couldn't wait to meet the creator of Pigeon himself.

And braving the rain and the crowds to hear Sharon Creech read from her new book The Unfinished Angel was well worth the damp shoes the frizzy hair. And who said teens don't read? This tent full of short people proves that smart kids get way excited for books. Wow, I must be a smart kid, too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where did that muscle come from?

I spent the weekend at a camp in Maryland for a church retreat and had tons of fun not showering, smoking out the mosquitoes, getting sunburned on half my face while taking a nap. No really, all of those things actually were fun. Singing around the campfire, roughing it (as much as this city girl will anyway), playing games and spending time with some great people.

There is a baseball diamond at the camp, so I brought along my glove (I'm left-handed and play infield, so I always have to have my own glove). I was excited to find out a couple other people all totally into baseball and was looking forward to participating in a pick-up game or two. That is, until I found out who I would be playing with:

1. A guy in decent shape who played ball in high school
2. Another guy who coached his company team to a league championship this summer
3. An all-state fast-pitch catcher from Texas who throws like a pro
4. A guy who's being scouted by Denver because of his 93 mph fast-ball

Yeah, way out of my league. Not only am I totally out of shape, but I also (a) haven't played a full game for almost six years, (b) was in a roll-over car accident five years ago that messed up my rotator cuffs, (c) haven't played on a regular team for more than 10 years and (d) wasn't that great to begin with.

So we just tossed around the ball for a couple hours to get back into practice, but mostly I think they were just taking pity on me and didn't want me to embarrass myself by picking up a bat. And now both my arms hurt, my shoulders are stiff, my hand is bruised and I think I pulled a muscle in my thigh.

Conclusion: I make a much better bleacher bum than wannabe player.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gwen, Gwen, Gwen, Gwen

My sister Gwen was upset that I didn't include her name (Gwen) in my last post. So I figured I should let you all know that my sister's name is Gwen, and Gwen basically supported me while I was looking for a job last summer/fall. So thank you, Gwen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Better than ice cream

I can't believe it. Seriously, I can't. When I woke up this morning, I wasn't expecting to find something I love better than ice cream. I mean, what could be better than that cold, creamy goodness that is the most amazing substance on earth? Unless, of course, that cold, creamy goodness comes in a form that includes chocolate and ice cream. Mmmm...

But I digress.

When Sara sent me an email congratulating me, I had no idea what she was congratulating me for. But apparently, I am one of 13 recipients of an SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant Letter of Merit. I have never even entered a writing competition before, and now to have received a Letter of Merit from such an amazing organization...I honestly don't even care that I didn't get the grant.

This might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but to me, this is like being nominated for an Academy Award. While the nominees don't get to give an acceptance speech, I at least get to post some thank-you's here on my blog.

There were so many people who encouraged me to apply for this grant. Sara, Ann Dee, Tammy, Janessa and Chris read the error-riddled pages of the first draft of the first chapter and encouraged me to keep going with it, Sydney helped me revamp my first page to get it noticed, Laurie kicked my butt into gear to actually join SCBWI, my sister literally kept food in my mouth while I finished writing the entire novel and looked for a job after graduation, the Tammy, Sarah and Corrina did the first read-through and gave me an honest reaction, and Corrina helped me get the grant application together in the first place.

Who knew that so many people went into a Letter of Merit. Many of you probably have no idea how much you influence and encourage me. You all deserve your own Letter of Merit. Thank you!

Now I get to start working on my application for next year. After all, a Letter of Merit means I still have a chance at winning the grant itself. Oh yeah, and there's still that little issue of finding an agent and getting my novel published. I can't forget about that.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Friday Five for the first time in...well, I really can't recall

1. I've bee thinking a lot about time again. As many of you who regularly read my blog (or talk to me when I'm in an existential mood) know, this is a topic that intrigues me. I am not a true chronomaniac as I am not obsessed with schedules and time management, and I am kind of the opposite of a chronocentric as I believe that you have to judge people based on their own time and not the time in which you are most accustomed, and I am definitely not a chronomancer as I believe that your fate is created by the actions you take and not what time you take those actions. So my question is, what is it called when someone is obsessed with how time flows and how the past, present and future interact with each other? With how many sci-fi books on time travel there are out there and how many time theories there are in physics, I can't imagine there isn't a term for someone like me. And this all started thanks to a decades costume party I'm going to tomorrow night.

2. I can't seem to make myself sit down and read a book, write a review, work on a manuscript or do anything else at the moment. It is all I can do to make myself post on my blog. I think it's because I changed jobs at work and now spend more of my day reading newspapers, editing editorial submissions and writing media responses. I think I'm kind of burned out at the moment. Hopefully going to Chicago for Labor Day will help pull me out of my funk.

3. I have finally finished unpacking. After more than a month in my new place, I unpacked my last box this week. As this is just a temporary place, I'll have to pack and unpack everything again in January. I don't know if I'm looking forward to that or dreading it.

4. I also organized my bookshelves this week. When I realized I had far to many books to fit, I took about 25 books to the library donation books. While I always deal with a bit of separation anxiety when I give away books, I know the books will go to a good cause--supporting my local library. I also feel a bit liberated by the fact I gave away a bunch of books I have owned for years and will probably never read. Those books haunt my bookshelf. There are so many good books out there and not enough time to read them all, so I need to be a little more selective in my reading choice. Okay, if I was really reading at the moment I would need to be more selective in my reading choice. Right now I just need to chose something--anything--to read.

5. I've been feeling nostalgic for 80's sci-fi movies this week like The Boy Who Could Fly, Flight of the Navigator and Space Camp. I often get in the mood to watch these movies, so I'm thinking I need to start buying some of these classics. I also just realized all of these movies were released in 1986--I wonder if there is any significance there.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where is Wonderland?

I loved this movie. Mostly because it made me think and hope and feel. It also made me wonder why I'm not working on a masters degree.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Stalking Judy Blume

I have big plans for Sept. 26. I will be spending the day stalking Judy Blume. Do you have any idea how Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret changed my life? I mean, my childhood was defined by The Pain and the Great One, and to this day I wish I have freckles thanks to Freckle Juice. As an adolescent I wanted to be every one of Judy Blume's characters, and now I just want to be Judy Blume.

Here's my chance (and yours) to meet the Great One herself at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC.
Oh, yeah. And you can stop and say hi to Mo Willems, Shannon Hale, Nicholas Sparks and John Grisham if you must. But, come on! Judy Blume will be there!

Life can sometimes be really unfair

I was a good kid, really. I never got in serious trouble. I got decent grades. I did my chores without too much complaint. I was in band, scholastic bowl, French club and Mathletes. My brother, on the other hand, was a troublemaker--in fact, I think that Weezer song was written about him.

So why he's living here
while I'm living here
I'll never know.

I used to think the view of my city's skyline was pretty cool
until I saw what he gets to see everyday
and life just doesn't seem fair anymore.

So here's to the kid who I used to joke would be the unemployed bum who would have to crash on my couch. I'll be the bum on your couch just as soon as I can afford the plane ticket.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Our Public Works System

I have to admit, I've never really thought much about public works unless I land on one of them while playing Monopoly. But this summer I've gotten to spend some time with my cousin as he and his crew have work on the piping system throughout Alexandria.

Whenever Drew (or "Freddy" as the guys all call him) comes into town for a job, he'll give me a call. Sometimes we meet up for dinner or go to a movie or just hang out at my place. But every once in awhile he'll be working a night or evening shift down the street from my house so I'll bring him dinner or keep him company while he waits for a job to start. I'm not really versed in the intricacies of his job, but I know that his company cures water pipes using a rosin system rather than digging up roads and replacing old concrete pipes. Drew assures me this method creates about an eighth of the carbon footprint and nearly triples the lifetime of the water system.

Last night I stuck around for a little and watched Drew at work, and I have to admit, I was kind of impressed with all of the work that goes into what they do. I don't think I'll ever look at tap water the same way again. (It was about 10:30 p.m. when I took these pictures, so I had to lighten them considerably so you can kind of see what's going on.)

I've always wondered why so many people just "stand around" on a construction sight, but after watching how much attention is required to maintain, operate and monitor all the machinery and equipment, I understand why so many people are needed. And watching my cousin be lowered into a deep, dark hole in the middle of the road made me grateful there were so many trained guys there to watch over him.

I don't envy Drew having to go into that hole. I guess after so many years as a Marine, he's kind of used to damp, dark and dirty, but I'd get claustrophobic real quick.

Our jobs might be vastly different, and we might look like polar opposites, but we're still family and have a lot of fun together. We like to trade books (we both have a weakness for urban fantasy and the paranormal), and we're going to Crue Fest 2 together next weekend. He was also with me the first time I saw the Nats actually win a game.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

For sale: one state, slightly used

While I know the state of the economy isn't really a laughing matter, I was looking through some old pictures of mine and found this. With all the talk of California selling off contracts and land to keep afloat, I found Utah has a slightly more direct approach...

In case you can't read the sign in front, here it is zoomed in a bit...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Putting fingers to keys

I love doing freelance work. It's like no-pressure writing for me--especially because I don't have to do it for a living and it's not about getting a manuscript published. It's like a bonus opportunity to learn about a new subject, do research and put pencil to paper...er...fingers to keys. There's just something about writing for the sake of writing that is calming and comforting and oh so me.

I don't know when nonfiction writing became fun, but somewhere between writing about my summer vacation and a critical response to Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine nonfiction writing became something more than just a school assignment. Talking to experts, reading reports, watching testimonies.

Half of you are probably gagging at this point. I live to serve.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ice cream shakes, the Star Spangled Banner and turn of the century German schools

This weekend we had a roommate field trip to Georgetown to enjoy this great summer weather we've been blessed with. It was a great day for window shopping and ice cream shakes from Haagen-Dazs.

We also sat in Francis Scott Key Park for awhile before making the hike across Key Bridge to hop on the Metro home.

Is it just me, or does Mr. Key look a little frightened by the tall red-head about to give him a smooch? Maybe he's just worried his wife will find out.

But this little outing started off with my roommate and me getting tickets to see a random play the last time we were at the Kennedy Center. We had gone to see Ragtime, which I saw in Chicago about ten years ago and LOVED, when they announced that they had discount tickets to a play that had received eight Tony Awards in 2007, including Best Musical. Not ones to ask twice when a good offer is presented, we bought the tickets knowing nothing about Spring Awakening.

I swear, this play was made for me. It is the ultimate YA novel put on stage (not that I'm recommending you take your 13-year-old to see it). Sexy and moving and powerful, it reminds you what it is like to be young and confused and totally at odds with yourself and everyone else around you. There is a subtle theme about the flow of time with the past meeting the present that I am obsessed with.

The set is amazing with a band (drum set, piano, keyboard, guitar, string bass, cello) at the back and audience members sitting right in the choir. The cast sings into handheld microphones and all of the set changes are done in full view. And the music...the music is just amazing. I would see it again in a heartbeat.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Life seems to always get away from me

I was planning on posting about so many fun things that I did and amazing people I spent time with while I was out West, like...
Stopping by the new Wasatch Music Coaching Academy studio to visit an old friend. (Michael Jackson passed away while I was there, which was sad as his music had touched a lot of people involved in the school, myself included.)
Seeing "Hello, Dolly" performed at the Hale Center Theatre. I had never seen a musical performed on a circular stage before, so that was kind of cool. For a relatively small metropolitan area, Salt Lake City is chalked full talent.
Catching up with old friends with growing families. I've seen Angie in so many stages in her life--college student, engaged, newly married, pregnant, first time mom, pregnant again--and it's been kind of hard to be away from her for so long. Emma is growing up so fast, but I was happy to see she has inherited her mommy's passion for reading.
Reuniting the Sisterhood. While I did a lot in my time out West, I had really made the trip to see Sarah get married. It was a small wedding (less than 20 people in attendance), but I wouldn't have missed it for all the world. Sarah was beautiful and her new husband is almost as wonderful as she is, but let's face it, no one is good enough for my Sisters. I don't think I have ever met or will probably ever meet such a fabulous group of women who mean so much to me. Besides my blood-sister and mom, there are no women I love more in all the world.
Making a surprise visit to see Tammy's family. While I was living so far from my own family, Tammy's family became my segregate family. We were lucky enough that all five of her siblings and every single one of her nieces and nephews were in town when we dropped by. I love them like they're my own.

Okay, enough sappiness and pictures for one night. I still want to post about the 4th of July in the Nation's Capitol, including a guest appearance by my very own mom, but that will have to wait until tomorrow or the next day. Plus there are more roommate adventures in DC to share and a real, live writing update. Yes, that's right, I'm actually going to talk about writing on my writing blog. Don't die of a heart attack, y'all.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Wet Desert

For the first time it what seems like forever, I crossed the country in--get this--an airplane. I think in the past year I have been doing more traveling by car than in the past ten years combine, so it was nice to be able to sit back and not be responsible to arriving to my destination on time.

I don't think I had ever been to Dallas before, but I didn't see much of it other than out the window and at the airport. Maybe next time I'll be able to meet the Ewings or a rich oil sheik.

And of course it was in the 80's with clear skies when I left Virginia at 8 a.m. only to arrive in Utah during a massive downpour and 60 degree weather. All I packed was short sleeves and flip-flops. Good thing I have a wonderful friend who brought me a jacket when she picked me up from the airport.

This trip is really for my friend's wedding, but I'm also trying to see as many people as possible while I'm out here, and I've been lucky enough to see a lot of friends, including my book buddy, Jaleh. I've been staying with her family for a couple of days, and it's been like one big slumber party. She also has two little kids, so it's been fun to play with them and see how much they've grown in the past year. And of course, we managed to sneak in a book signing.

Syndey Salter has been a great source of encouragement and support for me, so I was excited to be able to show her a little support as well. Her book My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters is a fun read for any teenage girl. I haven't read Linda Gerber's Death by Denim books yet, but she was kind and funny, and I can't wait to see what they're all about. And Jaleh was excited to meet NYT bestselling author Aprilynne Pike and get her copy of Wings signed.

You ladies may not be local authors for me any more, but a huge part of me still resides in Utah. Thanks for letting us hang out with you for awhile!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hooray for failures!

I received my first rejection letter today, and it was actually a good experience. I'm not just saying that because you're supposed to keep your chin up when you're down and all that. It really was a good experience.

I got a very nice email (it was an electronic submission), not a form letter, telling me that she liked my writing, loved elements of the story, went "around and around" with her discussion, but ultimately turned down the manuscript. I emailed her back thanking her for her kind words and asking if she would be willing to receive queries from me on future projects, and within seconds she had emailed me back saying she would be happy to look at other things from me.

Overall, I think I had stilled myself for feeling totally dejected and receiving a form letter telling me thanks but no thanks. I know that selling a historical fiction manuscript will not be easy, and this is probably the first of many "no"s I will receive in the coming years. But if this is what it is like to be rejected, I think I am ready to have it happen some more.

Ask me about it again in five years when I have a pile of 100 rejection letters for three different novels and I will probably feel differently.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Wright Start to the Summer

My roommates and I kicked off our summer adventures with a day-trip out to Pennsylvania with a friend to see a couple of Frank Lloyd Wright houses, but we ended up doing a lot more than just walking through old houses.

Not only was the drive spectacular, but we also listened to some tunes that took me back to the day before Gwen Stefani was a solo artist and no one knew what a wonderwall was but everybody had one. (Yes, I am going to re-live middle/high school by going to the No Doubt concert next month.)

Our first stop was at the Kentuck Knob house, the largest of Wright's Usonian homes. Of course the architecture was flawless and the grounds were beautiful--I would expect nothing less from a FLLW home.

After touring the house and walking through the sculpture meadow, we had a picnic lunch. We couldn't have asked for more spectacular weather for a holiday weekend as it was sunny with a sprinkling of clouds yet only in the hight seventies with a decent breeze, which made me especially glad that Corinna and I brought out ball gloves so we could play catch. Holy cow am I out of practice!
We then drove the ten miles to see Fallingwater, a.k.a. the Bear Run House. What FLLW fan doesn't want the opportunity to see that modern marvel? I have wanted to see that house since I was about ten years old, so I was a little giddy by the time we got there. I took almost 100 pictures, but I will spare you all my pathetic attempts at artistic photography and just post a picture of some fine looking chicks instead.

Of course I was ready to bite someone's head off on the drive home, getting up at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday, driving 450 miles in one day and spending so much time in the sun will do that to you. But the trip was well worth putting up with the east-coast drivers. Plus, driving those back roads in Pennsylvania can be a lot of fun.

Who knows where our next summer adventure will take us, but you can bet I'll have more travelogs to come.