Life with Facebook

I both love and hate Facebook for what it brings into my life.

The Positives:
  • I've been able to reconnect with long-distance friends and family members.  There are the high school friends that I haven't seen since graduation.  Then there are the aunt and uncles, the cousins, that I might only see at sporadic family reunions, weddings, or funerals.   I really appreciate that I get to learn about their daily interests, their struggles and triumphs. It makes me feel connected to those I wish I did a better of job of interacting with on a daily (weekly?  monthly? yearly?) basis. 
  • I get to keep in daily contact with the people I do see on a regular basis. Apparently, I just can't get enough of them!  
  • Pictures.  Oh, how I love pictures! I get to see newborn babies, adorable pets, messy kids, sassy teenagers, sunsets, sunrises, beaches, mountains...oh, the list goes on and I am glad that it does. 
  • Silly memes.  Funny memes.  Goofy memes.  I'm all for it.  The memes my friends and family members share provide insight into their interests and personalities.  I know who the partiers are, the geeks, the nerds.  I always get a little thrill of pleasure when I realize a shared interest exists between me and someone else on my feed.   
  • The circulation of well-research and documented information.  I would not number myself among the most well-informed on any given subject.  There's always more to learn, whether its about space travel, advances in medicine or technology, or a new archaeological discovery.
  • Book recommendations.  Book reviews.  Book clubs.  It's all good and very much welcome in my feed.  I've added more than one title to my wishlist because of Facebook. Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, Goodreads and Amazon truly feed the addiction. 
  • Writers.  I am fairly confident I follow more writers than movie stars or television programs.  In fact, I'm not certain that I follow any movie stars directly.  Writers, though, I follow with a great deal of interest.  While I find posts about their upcoming releases of interest, I am thrilled whenever they post something about their writing life.  The struggles and triumphs of words on a page fascinate me, most likely because I fancy myself a writer, too.  
  • Videos.  I visit YouTube a great deal, but it's a vast cyber-place and I'm not sure I'd ever find some of the videos my friends and family members post.  While I may not be a big fan of practical jokes, give me a video of a kitten scaring a bear away from it's sliding glass door any day.  Oh, and parodies.  I love a good parody! 
This brings me to the negatives.  The stuff I wish I could somehow erase from my mind and heart.

The Negatives:
  • Hatred is rampant on Facebook.  There are times when I consider not logging on because after certain world events I can anticipate with almost 100% accuracy that my feed will be filled with ugliness.  There will be Obama-bashing that passes beyond thoughtful commentary on policy to outright personal attacks related to race and his (perceived) religious affiliations. Truth usually has little to do with these attacks.  It's pure vitriol. 
  • The circulation of opinion and not fact.  I think everyone should be required to take a class on propaganda because so many fall prey to the media machine.  They don't research or read. They don't know how to assess a source and determine it's value.  I follow links that lead no where.  The author is merely spouting their own version of the truth without any factual data to back it up.  This makes me a little crazy. 
  • Christians who don't act like Christians but want to preach at everyone following their posts.  Please.  Stop.   I keep you on my feed because I love and care about you, but you're killing me with your gloom and doom rhetoric.  Frankly, every generation thinks the book of Revelation is being enacted upon the world stage.  However, doesn't the good book say something along the lines of "you do not know the day or the hour"?  Therefore, I'd like to propose that you leave the timing of Judgement Day to God and instead live in Christ's example of love and forgiveness while stuck in the here and now.   It's just a thought.
I am writing down these Facebook pros and cons because I find my feed this week has been rather disheartening.  In the wake of the Paris bombings, I have seen a lot of hostility, fear, apathy, and outright hatred.  I've seen it in the media and I've seen it in friends and family members.  It hurts my heart a little.  Sometimes, I think without FB, I'd still be blindly ignorant of how fundamentally different our values are and I'd be happier for it.  My rose-colored glasses make me think everyone is capable of empathy, but my feed tells me otherwise.   

So, while I scroll past the worst of the posts, I will seek out the things in my friends and family members that remind me that, while we may not see eye-to-eye on the debates these latest terrorists attacks have brought into the public forum, we still have a lot in common.  I will work hard to respect opinions that are different from mine and not engage in pointless arguments that will likely end in anger if not properly defused.

Oh, screw it.

Someone, please post a picture of a cat or an entertaining music video parody featuring Hogwart students. 

Some Thanksgiving Humor

This post was inspired by a Book Riot post. Given my love of both wine and books, I thought I'd poke a little fun at myself.

The first glass of wine....

I'll probably go with something safe because I will still be sober.  I'll try to persuade my brother- and sister-in-law to read this science fiction book because its 80s pop culture references are not only fun, they're a bit nostalgic.  Also, there's a puzzle to be solved and who doesn't love puzzles!

Ready Player One

The second glass of wine....

I'll still be sober.

After finding out if they're watching the new Super Girl television program, I'll move on to other iconic female characters, which would remind me of a book I read recently that retold some of the most famous princess stories.

The SIL will humor me, while her hubby wonders if the wine has already gone to my head when I try to persuade him to read it, too.

The Stepsister Scheme (Princess, #1)

The third glass of wine...

I'm going to be feeling this one.  Wine is potent.

However, I won't have forgotten that suspense/thrillers/action/adventure stories are a big hit with at least a few of the readers in the room.

I'll mention my latest library book loan.  I'll ask if any of them have read any of the series and, when they tell me they haven't, I'll get overly enthusiastic about the reasons they should start this series. Perhaps obnoxiously so.

Then I'll start thinking that I should reread the series myself because, wow, fantastic.  I'll check my Goodreads account to see how many of the early titles I still own.

Motive (Alex Delaware, #30)

The fourth glass of wine...

Thanksgiving dinner will help counter the wine, but not fast enough.  I'll start thinking about the book I'm struggling to understand and then I'll start talking about it.  I'll completely ignore the fact that I am the only person at the table who would even consider picking this one up.

Someone should tell me to eat more and talk less.

The Satanic Verses

This book is a landmine.  Sober, I would not bring it up.

The fifth glass of wine....

Everyone is suggesting we play a game.  This is probably because of the last book I mentioned.

Read Harder Challenge

Over on Book Riot they have a 2015 Read Harder Challenge that I decided to join.  In the spirit of the thing, I also joined their Goodread's group where I am one voice among many recording my reading accomplishments.  Those posts get lost, though, so I thought I'd create a blog entry to highlight the challenges I completed.

Spoiler alert:  I completed all of the challenges!

Challenge:  Read a Collection of Short Stories
For this task I selected Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven.  I had picked up this Kindle version a few months prior and thought of it as soon as I read the challenge.  If double-counting a book were allowed, I could also use this to satisfy the "Read a Book by or About an Indigenous Person".  Instead, I've elected to count it toward my short story reading goal.

I've read Sherman Alexie's work before and quite enjoyed it.  This time was no different.  The stories were interesting and thought-provoking, granting me access to a culture I have understood only from the vantage point of stereotypes created on the silver screen and in romance novels.  I know Alexie has a bit to say about that latter category, but I can't seem to find a copy of the poem online.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Read my review here

Challenge: Read a Book Someone Else Has Recommended to You 
My mom has been recommending the Song of Albion trilogy to me for years.  When we were ready to travel home after Thanksgiving dinner, she managed to put her prized copies of the hardcover copies into my car.  As I was in the middle of reading something else at the time, I didn't pick them up until the New Year.  Once I did, I found they were quite as delightful as she had promised they would be.  I read them in quick succession and plan on returning the books the next time I see her, which should be in March 2015. 

The Paradise War The Silver Hand The Endless Knot (Song of Albion, #3)

Read my reviews here, here, and here.

Challenge:  Read a Book That Was Originally Published in Another Language
I had to do a little research to make sure that Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night a Traveler had indeed been translated.  My copy of the book confirms that I read the William Weaver English translation; it was originally written in Italian.

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

Read my review here.

Challenge:  Listen to an Audiobook
Okay, so I realized a month or so into 2015 that I had several Audible credits that I needed to spend and a subscription to cancel.  I picked up quite a few audiobooks.  This just happened to be the first one I listened to.

Bad Feminist: Essays
Read my review here.

Challenge:  Read a YA Novel
I don't remember if this challenge had been issued yet or not when a friend posted a link to a novel one of her friends had just published.  Although I have no idea if this is true, I suspect the author in question is one of the members of my former (and hopefully future) writing circle.  Wanting to offer whatever support I can to our little circle of dreamers, I immediately grabbed a copy.  I'm glad I did. It was entertaining.

Reflection Pond

Read my very brief review here.

Challenge: Read a Comic Book/Collection of Comic Books/Graphic Novel
Another easy to fulfill challenge.  I had borrowed this compendium from a co-worker and wanted to get it back to her in a timely fashion.  Admittedly, I also wanted to get it back to her before any harm could befall it's gloriously glossy pages.  I have a dog that loves to chew on toilet paper and two less than careful teenagers.

The Walking Dead, Compendium 2
Read my review here.

Challenge: Read a Romance
This was an easy and quick challenge for me to complete.  I had picked up a Johanna Lindsey novel over Christmas.  When I realized I was ready for a paperback or hard cover bathtub read, I decided to read Lindsey's fiftieth romance novel.  It was quick, fun, and completely predictable, which was perfect for this HEA junkie.

One Heart to Win
Read my review here.

Challenge:  Read Something Written by Someone of a Different Gender
I debated on whether or not to count this particular book under this category or under the scifi heading.  Since the very next book I picked up to read was The Martian, which fits the scifi challenge so much better, I decided to file Aldous Huxley's Brave New World under this title.  After all, I'm a woman and Huxley was a man.  Mission accomplished!

Brave New World
You can read my review here.

Challenge: Read a Sci-fi Novel
I had heard good things about Andy Weir's The Martian from various online sources.  When it happened to be on sale a few months later, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  I'm so glad I bought the book.  This hard scifi book had great pacing, suspense, tension, good characterization, high stakes, and just enough techno-babble to sell the premise.  The science - no idea how probable any of it was - was explained in layman terms and, in most instances, with a dose of humor.

I'd recommend this title to anyone looking for an alternative to space opera.

The Martian
My review.

Challenge:  Read a Book Published Before 1850
Finding a book to read for this one was easy enough.  One of the first things I did when I got my Kindle was to go find some Classic books in the freebies section.  When the time came to tackle this particular challenge, I went with the first one I came across in my Kindle Cloud.  According to Wikipedia, this title was published in 1796.

The Monk
Read my rather long review here.

Challenge:  Read a Microhistory
According to a microhistory is "a study or account of the history of a very specific subject; also, a study of a very small cultural change".  Given this, I think it's safe to assume The Secret History of Wonder Woman could be safely categorized as a microhistory.  Jill Lepore's research into what led William Moulton Marsten to create Wonder Woman is viewed through the lens created by Marsten's academic, professional, and personal history.  Yet, it's further complicated by early feminist movements and Wonder Woman's reflection of those emerging values.

I must admit there were so many factors influencing Wonder Woman's development that I don't think I could do justice to Lepore's work.  This book will require another listen.  Luckily, it is a permanent title on my Audible shelves, so a second or even third listen is not only possible, it's likely.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman
My sad little review can be found here.

Challenge:  A Collection of Poetry
Okay, not a fan of this challenge.  I don't really care for poetry and my selection for this task did not change my lifelong aversion to the art form.  Sorry, poet friends!  It's not personal!  I just prefer prose.

I thought the first poem in "Selected Poems by Oscar Wilde" was actually very good.  It was easy to follow and read like a short story.  Unfortunately, this was the exception and not the rule.  Most of the poems were densely packed with references to Greek and Roman Mythology, few of which I understood.  This made reading them more of a chore than a pleasure.  I had to Google too many names, which took me out of the poetical painting that was being crafted for my reading (dis)pleasure.

I guess the lesson here is that I need to make more of an effort to read and retain the Greek and Roman myths.

Selected Poems
My review.

Challenge: A Guilty Pleasure
Here's the thing about this challenge:  I don't feel guilt or shame or embarrassment when I consider my reading selections.  My love of books is big enough to include all genres.  I'll gladly share that I'm reading a historical "bodice ripper" as easily as I'll admit to reading an epic fantasy or a contemporary mainstream novel.

With this in mind, selecting a book for this category was difficult because of the very lack of guilt (or shame) that I feel.  In the end, I decided that I could pick any book that wasn't going to be counted elsewhere in this challenge and plug it in.

Because I just finished this library loan, I figured it would work just as well as any other book I've read this year.

Station Eleven
Review here.

Challenge:  Read a Book Published This Year
Oh, this one is a contender for best book I've read this year.

I thoroughly enjoyed my First to Read experience of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine.  Maybe it was because it was a book about the power of books.  Maybe it was because in this alternate universe the great Library of Alexandria survived and even thrived.  Maybe it was because I really enjoyed the characters and the plot.  Whatever the reason, I loved this book and will be adding a paperback copy to my shelves when the paperback is released.

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)
The Goodreads review where I gush and swoon.

Challenge:  Read a Book That Has Won a National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, or a Pulitzer
I think Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson qualifies as it won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.  I was a bit surprised by the Young People's Literature categorization, though, as I really don't feel as if this book was YA.  Maybe there is a difference between YA and Young People's Literature?  There must be because YA in my experience has a lot more teenage angst and love triangles, which are delightfully absent from this book.

Notice that I haven't called it a novel?  Maybe you didn't.  But I haven't and here's why..this book is a collection of chronological poems told as autobiography.

Now, I have never been shy about acknowledging my aversion to poetry.  It's not my thing, and that's okay.  I don't apologize for it.  I don't feel guilty about it.


This book might have changed my mind.  Maybe I've been reading the wrong kind of poetry.  Maybe my soul is drawn to free-verse that reads like prose because this was a stunningly beautiful book.  It was evocative.  It was engaging.  It had tension, high stakes, and character development. Of course, it had these things as a cohesive whole.  As stand alone poems in any other order I'm not so sure it would have engaged my heart and mind in such a manner.  At least, I don't think so.

Brown Girl Dreaming
Read my review here.

Challenge: Read a Book Written By Someone Before the Age of 25
Finding a book for this challenge was more difficult than I had anticipated.  I finally decided to use the link provided by the Goodreads Challenge, which was rather limiting as it only highlighted twenty-five authors.  Also, because I am cheap, I was trying to find the book for free.  I eventually found S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders using the Overdrive app.  Gotta love library loans!

The Outsiders
And my review.

Challenge:  Read a Book Written by Someone Over the Age of 65
For this one, I was delighted to find an Alice Munro title listed. I first read Munro's work when I was in graduate school and found her to be a very skilled storyteller.  Her collection of short stories, Dear Life: Stories, was published in 2012 when Munro was 81-years-old.

Dear Life: Stories
I thought I wrote a review, but it appears not.

Challenge: A Book That is by or About Someone From an Indigenous Culture 
I used the link from the Book Riot challenge for this one.  It took me to an Indigenous Peoples listopia on Goodreads. This one happened to be on the list and already marked as "want to read", which indicated to me that I already owned this title on my Kindle. Sweet!  No need to buy something or borrow.  Considering it's not my normal type of read, I felt this was a very good thing as it might require some extra time and effort.  A library loan may have been too restrictive.

Of all the books I may have ended up with, I'm glad this is the one I selected.  It was well-written, seemed well-researched, and came complete with photos of the survivors and the indigenous people they ended up interacting with during their misadventure.

Lost in Shangri-la: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II
My review.

Challenge: The Retelling of a Classic Story (Fairytale, Shakespearian Play, Classic Novel, Etc.)

No one said this one had to be a serious retelling.  Also, this got another book off my TBR pile.  Win, Win!

I was originally going to read Sense, Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but thought this might be a better choice as I have actually read Pride and Prejudice. It was a good choice as I don't think I would have been nearly as amused had I not read the original.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, #1)
My Goodread's review.

Challenge:  A Book That Takes Place in Asia
I've had this book on my TBR shelf for years.  I remember trying it once before but losing interest rather quickly.  Had it not been for this challenge, I'm not sure I would have finished it because I struggled to stay engaged.  Sure, there were some interesting bits, but the whole thing just felt rather disjointed to me.

The Joy Luck Club
My less than warm review.

Challenge: A Book by an Author from Africa
If you haven't figured it out yet, I much prefer fiction to anything else.  Yet, when it came time to read a book by an author from Africa, I thought I'd try my hand at an autobiography.  I don't regret that decision, but I do have to admit that as I read Leymah Gbowee's words I really wanted a sense of immediacy.  What do I mean by that?  How can I explain?

Leymah's recitation of events was just that, a recitation.  It was not a narrative.  The story lacked heart when it should have been weeping all over the page.  I eventually began to feel like the real point of this book was not about Leymah's experiences but more about the various organizations and their roles in the peace process.

I would have preferred more insight into the heart of the women and children, and less a focus on the administration of the various organizations Leymah worked in or with.

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War
Read my review.

Challenge: A Book by or About Someone Who Identifies as LBGTQ
I will admit this was perhaps one of the more intimidating challenges for me.  While I'm an ally and celebrated the recent Supreme Court Ruling on Gay Marriage, I did my best to select a book that left what happens in the bedroom between two same-sex partners off the pages I would be reading.   I felt stories of the heart, mind, and soul would be of more interest to me.  For that reason, I selected a short story collection by the Eclective.

The Eclective: The Pride Collection
My review

Challenge:  A Book Published by an Indie Press
I will admit, even though we've yet to meet face-to-face, I've been friends with this author for several years.  Maybe more years than I'd like to admit because...well, birthdays!

That being said, my review of this book is fair.  If I wouldn't have enjoyed the book, I wouldn't have given it a full five stars.  I also would not have read it in a short amount of time and ignored my family around the campfire over the holiday weekend.  I was like an addict.  I had to finish! Conversations with real human beings could wait.

Unfortunately, because I was camping and using my iPad mini to create my review, it was not as thorough and well done as I would have liked.  Also, remember the real human beings sitting in lawn chairs just a few feet away.  Not the ideal review setting.

Oh, and as you may have guessed by it's inclusion here, this title was published by an independent, small press: Samhain Publishing.  The book can be purchased directly from them or through Amazon, which is what I did because I wanted it on my Kindle and the iPad's Kindle reading app.

My Goodread's reveiw.

My Week of Walden

Okay, I'll admit I've never read Thoreau's Walden.  That doesn't prevent me from thinking I know what it's about, though.  It's about a guy who goes off to live in the woods near a pond and does some crazy, in-depth self-reflection, right?  Or are his thoughts more of a contemplation on humanity, society, and culture? Maybe he just needed some time alone to write?

Maybe I should read the book or change the title of this post because it's obvious my knowledge of the book is limited to a guy alone in the woods on the edge of a pond. 

Nope.  I'm sticking with the title. Reasons why:

  Reason #1: I vacationed by myself for a week.
  Reason #2: There was a pond and a forest.
  Reason #3: I was writing!

My week alone in the woods was spent in a lovely, modern campground with full hook-up, which means I had electricity, water, and sewage.  Temperature control.  A microwave.  Television. My fan. My computer.  Phone.  And chargers for all!

The only modern conveniences I had to do without were laundry, internet, and cell phone service.  Of course, all three of those could be had by simply jumping into my car and driving to the laundry room, the camp office with it's free wifi, or this place a few minutes down the road where I managed to find one to two bars of AT&T service.

Okay, and maybe I wasn't exactly alone.  I had company in the form of a four-legged fur baby.  He went most everywhere with me and was my movie buddy each night.  He sat through reruns of Guardians of the Galaxy, The Da Vinci Code, and the entire season of Firefly.  He snuggled with me while I read and relaxed next to me on the picnic table bench while I wrote.  Every now and again, he'd get restless and we'd go for a walk through the woods, along the lake's edge, or around the campground.

When I first mentioned to people that I was going to spend a week alone in our camper a few hours from home, I was met with surprise and even concern.  I was often asked if I was nervous or scared. Frankly, my biggest concern was having a bear show up near my garbage can.  I've been camping enough that I knew that I wouldn't really be alone.  With it being prime camping season in Michigan, I knew there would be other campers nearby.  I was also confident in the park staff and rangers being helpful if the need arose.

The only time I had the rangers at my camper was when they showed up with a message to call home. Remember, no cell phone service at the camper!

Other than that, I spent several days doing exactly what I had hoped to do during those quiet days.  I worked on my novel.   In the end, I wrote sixty-six pages on my space opera.  I developed a rhythm, writing from around 11:00 - 1:00 and again from 3:00 - 6:00.  In those hours of writing, I tended to produce between 15-20 pages.

I was thrilled.  Am thrilled.  I set out to do exactly what I wanted to do:  prove to myself that if I had the time and opportunity to dedicate to my writing, I would write.  I would produce.  I would be motivated to keep writing.

I'd love to leave the story there, to end on a triumphant note, but I only wrote for three and a half days because on Thursday, my fourth dedicated writing day, my grandma went home on hospice and I felt my place was there with her and my dad.  Spending hours on the road driving between the campground and my cousin's house, where hospice had been set up for grandma, cut into my writing. So did the worry and the heartache.  So, in reality, I only spent three and a half days writing.

But I wrote. And I'm pleased with how well I did in that short time. 

StoryCorps - Grandma Sherman - Take 1

I stopped by Grandma's little trailer to do more than check in on her. I had high hopes of getting her to agree to let me record her answers to a few questions. To my delight, she was willing!

We used my cell phone to record these StoryCorps audio files.

An Indie Review: Izared, Queen of the Elephant Riders

I'm a compulsive buyer when it comes to Amazon's  Best 100 free e-books.  I check weekly daily to see if anything appeals. Given my rather eclectic reading habits, something usually catches my eye and ends up in my shopping cart.  For this reason, I have added more freebies to my account than I will ever be able to read.  However, that doesn't mean I won't read any of them.  

This year I'm going to make more of an effort, though, to read some of these self-published freebies. As an indie author myself, I want to support my fellow writers who are putting their art out there for consumption without the aid of agents, editors, or a well-established publishing house with marketing funds.  

This is my first Indie review of 2015.  It will not be the last. 

Book Info:

Title:  Izared, Queen of the Elephant Riders
Author: L. Leander
Author's Website:
Author's Facebook Account:

My Review (copied and pasted from Goodreads)

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I had vowed to read more self-published or indie published books this year and Inzared, Queen of the Elephant Riders caught my eye when I went browsing through my rather out-of-control e-book collection. I made a quick visit to the author's website to confirm my suspicion that this was self-published through Amazon and came away satisfied that this was the case.

Setting aside some of the traditionally published books in my TBR, I started reading Inzared's story. I must admit the first-person narration was initially very charming. Inzared is not well schooled and she tells her story in a rather rough dialect. There were many incomplete sentences, but they were understandable in their consistency. For example, instead of saying "I saw a horse", Inzared would simply say "Saw a horse." This speech habit was, as I said, rather charming in its novelty. Unfortunately, as the chapters passed, I began to notice inconsistencies that would throw me out of the story. Inzared's grammar would get suddenly better and then worse.

I really did try to ignore my inner grammar police. Truly. I ignored misplaced commas with rather impressive diligence, if I say so myself.

Instead of getting out the proverbial red pen, I tried to focus on the story. I wanted to connect with Inzared and Paytre, and for the most part I did. I found their relationship believable. They met, they fell in love, and things happened because of it. Outside of their relationship, Inzared made friends with humans and animals alike. She became a part of the circus in more ways than one. Of course, without conflict, there is no story, so Inzared's adventures included disgruntled and sinister people who were determined to take what was hers.

Overall, I liked the story, but I did not love it and, for that reason, I probably will not be reading about Inzared again. (I think I remember that there is at least one more book about Inzared.) 

My Rating:
Two stars, meaning it just just okay.

Artist Date - Week 1

This post is late.  I should have written it up sometime during the week of April 13th.  That didn't happen, though, so here we are.

I don't know why I struggle with this task, but I do.  I'm not even sure my "date" was really a date.  I needed some costume pieces for the 80s Fest in Frankenmuth that I plan on attending on April 24th. Each year I attempt to do something just a little bit different from the year before.  This year I really wanted to go as Toni Basil from her Mickey video. 

I looked online for a cheerleading costume in the right colors.  The problem is the sweater.  I could find a skirt, but the top was impossible.  This has led me to the conclusion that if I plan on wearing this next year I will need to learn how to sew.  Or beg my mom to make it for me.  Frankly, though, I think learning to sew costumes would be a good thing because I also enjoy dressing up for RenFest and Comic Con

Yes, I really should learn how to sew. 

In the meantime, though, I was still in need of a costume for this year's 80s Fest, so I decided to spend an hour or so at Party City looking at their collection of 80s apparel and accessories.  I could have gone overboard.  Easily.  Somehow I managed to pick up just a few fun pieces and leave the rest of the store intact.  

I really wanted to buy Ken some MC Hammer pants, but somehow stopped myself. 

I don't know if this techically counts as an "artists date" or not, but I figured the most important instruction was obeyed:  I went shopping by myself. I spent time alone doing something I don't normally do. 

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?  

    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.  

    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.  

    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.