April 13, 2015

Getting Started With Scrapbooking

I sent a friend of mine a list of supplies today that I thought would help her get started on one of my favorite hobbies: scrapbooking!

She made the mistake of expressing an interest and saying she'd like to join our little group on our annual scrapping trips.  I almost feel sorry for her husband because he has no idea what's in store for him as she starts building her supplies....

The list I sent was text only because I was using FB messenger and didn't want to bombard her with a flurry of links to Amazon or JoAnn Fabrics.   Yet, the pictures are so very helpful when you're shopping for supplies you're unfamiliar with, so here we are.  On the blog.

I tried to keep the list as minimalist as possible.  These are the things I consider necessities when you're preparing to scrapbook your favorite family photos. 

  • A scrapbook to put the completed pages in.  I started with this because knowing your album size helps you determine the size of paper you're going to need to buy. 
12 by 12 scrapbook album that says live, laugh, love

  • Paper.  I love the big, pretty packs that you can buy at JoAnn Fabric's for 40-50% off if you can manage to shop there on the right day. (As I'm typing this both of these packs are 50% off.)
  • A cutter. There are lot of options, but this one packs up nicely when it's time to store it. 

  • Scissors.  Mine aren't this colorful, but now I wish they were.  How cute are those!?

  • Glue.  Lots and lots and lots of glue.  Variety doesn't hurt either. 

  • That's the starter list I gave her.  Did I miss anything?  

    April 6, 2015

    Reading Selections

    One of my favorite ways to spend a break at work is to look through the Amazon Kindle freebies.  I tend to gravitate toward the science fiction and fantasy categories, but occasionally I find myself looking through the literature, suspense, and romance lists.  This daily addiction has led to quite a collection of self-published and indie books in my Amazon Cloud Reader.

    Now, I know that some of those books will be terrible (not necessarily the ones pictured above!).  They may not have been edited. Typos could abound.  Plot holes.  Bad characterizations.  Cringe-worthy writing.  I know this because I've seen it.  I've opened more than one of those freebies and, after a few pages, I've realized I can't continue reading because, while the premise may have been promising, the author rushed to publication.  

    Yet, I also know that there will be gems waiting to be unearthed.  I've found them.  I've enjoyed them.  I've been impressed more than once.  More than one self-pubbed author has managed to get everything from sentence structure, voice, and tone to characters, plot, and theme working cohesively.  These things working together create a splendid reading experience.  

    This is why this year in addition to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge that I am participating in, I want to challenge myself to read at least ten self-pubbed Amazon Kindle Freebies.  But I want to take this challenge one step further.  I am going to try to give each of those as-of-now mystery books a post of their own here in order to help the author spread the word about the book they've created.  

    I'm hoping to have the first review up by the end of the month.  

    March 27, 2015

    So Many Pictures, So Few Videos

    I'm not embarrassed to admit I take a lot of pictures, maybe too many.  I use my iPhone from time to time, but I much prefer my Nikon DSLR.  I love the crispness of the photos, the ability to selectively focus, and adjust settings to work with the lighting available.  I love capturing motion without unsightly blur.  I love that even when the ISO is bumped up to insane numbers, the noise in the picture is still minimal when compared to the noise I get on my dratted phone. 

    Yet, there is one thing that phone does better than my expensive Nikon equipment: it takes decent videos.  If I use my Nikon, you can hear the autofocus mechanism in the audio track.  It whirs and clicks, clicks and whirs, as the sensor struggles to keep the subject in focus. The iPhone, on the other hand, does not distract the viewer in such a way.  It just records.

    The thing is, though, that I forget about the wonders of recording.  Pictures are great.  They are.  I love them and will always treasure those I've collected over the years.  Yet, I am a little upset with myself when it comes my video collection.  It is dreadfully small, shamefully so, because it was not treated with the same obsessiveness as my photo collection.   

    I used to record the boys a lot when they babies and I would save them to VHS because that was the technology available to me at the time.  I know the videos made it to the new house, but then they were lost.  It's heartbreaking to think I'll never hear how sweet their little baby voices were when they were toddling around.  I've looked for those VHS tapes a number of times without any luck.  I still hold out hope they will magically appear, but I know it's not going to happen. 

    As the boys grew I continued to record them.  As technology changed, I saved them to computer hard drives, DVDs, and external drives.  Few of them have made it onto the web.  This needs to change.  I need to get better about editing and uploading what few videos I take.  I need to do this because I know I will regret it if I don't.  DVDs get scratched or broken.  Computers crash and hard drives aren't always recoverable.  The same can be said of external drives.  The cloud, though, seems a bit more reliable.  I should be uploading them there for safekeeping.  

    I should start doing that today.  

    March 25, 2015

    I'm Still Trying to Figure It Out

    You may recall that I graduated with a Masters degree in English language and literature a couple of years ago.  I spent a few months luxuriating in the freedom that comes with the knowledge that the last paper has been turned in and no one will be placing an eight-page syllabus in your hand anytime soon.  I celebrated by reading whatever I wanted.  Strangely, I sometimes wanted books on theory or even the occasional classic.  Mostly, though, I read the type of books I had read before I started my program.  I read science fiction and fantasy, romances, suspense, and horror.

    I also tried to find my writing voice, the one that wasn't concerned with sounding smart but with good storytelling.  It was a struggle.  Years of academic writing seemed to have obliterated my creativity.  Everything I wrote seemed stilted and dry.  Boring.  Pointless.  I began to fear I had traded my creative voice for an education, and that the trade-off might not have been worth the price. 

    So I turned my attention to teaching. I had this fancy degree (not as fancy as a Ph.D., mind you, but certainly something more substantial than a bachelors) that said I knew a little something about English.  I had studied composition and rhetoric and felt ready to tackle comp/rhet courses at a local community college or university.  I sent out CVs (an academic resume) and cover letters stating as much.  Eventually, I got an interview at a not-at-all-local community college and was offered a first year composition course.  

    I taught that class last fall and it was a great learning experience for me.  I found there were things I enjoyed and things I did not.  Classroom discussions were great but only when the students had actually managed to complete their assigned readings.  On those days when it seemed no one had even attempted the short stories or essays we were meant to cover during our three hour class meeting, I was irritated and uncertain of how to proceed.  I learned, though, what to do when my students didn't come to class prepared.  We spent more time on grammar.  I created groups and assigned each a different essay and tasked them with creating talking points. We would move to the computer lab and write. 

    It was an adventure and one I'm glad I had.  However, there were drawbacks that seemed to outweigh the benefits.  I enjoy teaching and I want to do more of it, but I don't want to miss important events in my kids' lives because of it.  If teaching were my only job, I could accept positions during the hours when the boys are in school and do my prep and grading in the hours between my classes and the kids' arrival home.  That's not my life, though.  Teaching is something I do "on the side" because I have a good paying day job with benefits.  Leaving it for the classroom would be a ridiculous move financially, and, Heaven knows, I've always done the practical thing when it comes to helping support the family.  

    Teaching as an adjunct (part-time) instructor is still appealing as long as the course fits into my schedule and doesn't conflict with my kids' needs.  I won't miss an entire season of games ever again.  The boys will eventually graduate high school and their sports schedules will disappear with the arrival of that diploma.  It's then that I foresee more flexibility in my schedule. 

    There is some risk in taking time off from teaching.  It's a gap in the resume that may scare off a prospective employer.  I may never even make it to the interview because of it.  I'm fully aware of this and trust that whatever happens was meant to be.  

    I'm hoping, though, that my latest gambit will help bridge the gap.  A friend of mine mentioned that the community education program in her area was looking for instructors and suggested that I reach out to the community education program near me.  I did, and I'm glad I took the risk.  It seems I might be able to teach a couple of creative writing courses in the near future, perhaps even as early as July.  I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am by this.  I've dreamed of teaching a creative writing course.  I've often wanted to work with young adults or even children interested in writing.  The community education program may very well give me an opportunity to do both.  

    The first course I proposed is a novel writing course intended for adults who have always wanted to write but haven't yet.  I intend to give them some tools to help them create characters and plan their plots. I hope to leave them with a beginning already written and a middle and end that they can envision. 

    The second course, which I'm still working on, is intended for children ages 8 - 13.  This one is trickier, but I've been tossing around the idea of having them work on short stories in a shared universe of their picking.  I'd like to give them a published product, which means I need to do some more investigative work with local printers.  At first, I considered using Smashwords and generating an e-book.  The more I thought about it, though, the more complicated it became.  Parental permissions, internet accessibility, e-readers...the list goes on.  As I said, it's still a work-in-progress, but I'm hoping to have a reasonable plan of attack by the week's end. 

    As I said, I'm still trying to figure it all out.