Merry Happy

I have been a bit remiss in my blogging, but I would guess you noticed that.  We had a bit of a crazy few weeks, filled with last minute shopping, doctors visits, a field trip, a christmas party, school, work, illness, and much more driving than I would care to repeat.

Living far away, we very rarely have the opportunity to be with family around a holiday.  When we get the chance, we have to take it.  It might not be international law, but it is close enough in our house.  A few months ago, my husbands cousin moved out to Germany to be with his fiancé, (now his wife), and his mother and grandmother were coming out to visit for Christmas.  The chance to see cousins, aunt, and grandmother was very appealing, so plans were made to go out and visit.  We tried hard to get everything done before leaving, not really successfully, packed up, and drove the three and a half hours to Mannheim Germany.

Then the plague hit the house.

There was a bit of a discussion as to who started it, but I’m not sure we’ll ever know.   All I know for certain is I felt close to death a few times.  Head cold, chest cold, fever, chills.

In spite of the sickness, we had a great time.  I planned to get a little blogging done while there, but it didn’t happen.  I’d say I’m sorry, but well, family and illness took my time.  One should have, and the other doesn’t give you a choice.  Hopefully I can catch up some of my before Christmas stories before New Years.  If not, well, it happens.

For today, I am working to nurse the last of my own illness, take care of the last to fall ill (the littlest one lasted the longest), put my house back together, and relax after a mad dash home last night.  When the weather reported heavy snowfall and storm in Mannheim, we hightailed it home a night early in order to beat the storm.  The storm didn’t hit there as expected, but we had a nice snowfall overnight here.  Unfortunately we are all too sick to enjoy building a snowman.  Perhaps we’ll come close later and let the little sick one watch Frozen instead.

Well, for now, to cover all I missed and all that is to come, Merry Happy everything!

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50 Books- A Christmas Carol

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Merry Christmas everyone!  What better book to discuss on Christmas than A Christmas Carol?

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Where did I get this book and how many pages?

This book is available on a free book app, and clocks in at 113 pages.

Have I read this book before?

No.  Our family did more Christmas movies than calm readings on Christmas Eve.  There were too many kids jumping around waiting for Santa to expect to get through any readings in our house.  The closest we came was watching the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas cartoon.

What do I already know?

I think I know a lot.  Ebenezer, Tiny Tim, three ghosts, redemption.  I’ve seen the play a time or two.  The story is fairly famous, and there are many, many, many movie versions out there.  I have a particular fondness for the muppet version; I know Charles Dickens did not look like Gonzo the Great, but wouldn’t it be fun if he did?  Besides, I can’t help but cry every time I hear the song, ‘The Love is Gone.’

What do I think now?

It is amazing how many lines from The Muppet Christmas Carol were actually accurate to the book.  Considering the story involves a frog Bob Cratchit, you would think it would not be as close to the real story as it was.  There were no real surprises, but I still don’t understand how Scrooge changing his ways effected the health of Tiny Tim.

Should you read this book before you die?

This is one of the few times when I am not certain someone needs to read the book.  It is good, whether you celebrate Christmas or not.  Sure, everything happens around Christmas, and discusses keeping the holiday season within a certain spirit, however the idea transcends the season.  It is about being a good person, and accepting that karma will come around; if you are a jerk, no one will want to come to your funeral.  However, this story is so huge, and generally accurate, I’m not sure how much more a person will gain by actually reading the book.  I thought I would learn a lot of new facts and details, or see where things were changed, but it would appear that this book has the respect of the literary and entertainment community. People don’t want to change it, so there is not much new to be gathered by reading the book.  Of course, on the other hand, it is only 113 pages, so it’s not like it will be taking you far out of your way.  Go for it.

Up next in the new year, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame followed by The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.  Merry Christmas everyone, and if I don’t see you next week, Happy New Year.

50 Books- The Color Purple

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

This book was available on Oyster, a subscription book reading service.  It didn’t show how many pages were in the book very well, but the internet says 305 pages.

Have I read this book before?

No.  I have heard it mentioned many times, but never had a copy and the inclination to read at the same time.

What do I already know?

Very little, which may have had something to do with the lack of inclination.  Most of the time when I have heard it mentioned it was considered a great American novel for people of color.  It was advertised to me as a story about race, something that isn’t normally high on my list for book subjects.  I’m pretty sure Oprah was in the movie.  (She was.)

What do I think now?

This was a great book.  I can definitely see the race issue that many people would identify with, however I didn’t see it as the largest part of the book.  Maybe this is due to my personal history, but I think looking at this as a book about race is undervaluing it.

For many years I knew about this book, but it was always a book for other people.  No one really recommended I read it, because I was not considered to be part of the target audience.  However, when I read it anyway I loved it.  This isn’t a book that is strictly about poor colored people, or the decedents of slaves; this is the journey of a scared and abused girl to a strong and independent woman.  It is a story about finding love, and loving yourself.  This is probably the most feminist piece of literature I have ever read.

Outside of that message, whatever it was to whomever is reading, the writing was very compelling.  Every time I would begin reading, I would not want to stop.  Celie is not always a strong willed character, but she has a strong voice.  She pulls you into her story and makes you desperate to read more.  You want to know what happens to her because you want something good for her, for once something good for her.

Should you read this book before you die?

Yes.  Read this book to see what you get out of it.  I know what I took was completely different from what many people have seen in the past.  What you will take may be completely different.  But what you take may also be exactly what you need.

Continuing on, next week we will be hearing about A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, followed by The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahams.

The Most Wonderful Time

I haven’t been a Christmas person for a long time.  I remember liking Christmas well enough as a child, but it was only a second a Halloween.  I mean, yeah, Christmas has presents, and Santa Claus, but Halloween had costumes and running around Trick or Treating.  They were both good, but having my birthday near Halloween just tipped the scales completely.  There was no longer a contest.

Being an adult made some of the Christmas magic go away.  There are no longer piles of mystery presents with my name on them, and I know exactly what is going to go in my stocking.  Minor problems, yes, but they still make a difference in how I feel coming up to the holiday.  I am no longer shaking with excitement or wondering if I can find the hiding place for the gifts; I know where they are, and I know they are most likely filled with sweaters and scarves.  A really lucky time is my getting an Amazon gift card so I can buy my own books for Christmas.

I can’t even rely on making Christmas special for my kids.  We don’t need tons of stupid toys they don’t care about for more than an hour.  Homemade gifts are a lot of work, and hit or miss with children who are surrounded by kids who only receive store bought gifts.  Trust me, when you are almost a teenager it doesn’t matter that Mom put a lot of thought and work into your sweater if it doesn’t look as good as the store bought ones everyone else wears.

On top of that, we very rarely see family around Christmas, so it’s just us year after year.  We try to keep up festive activities, but they require time and planning.   We don’t always have time to watch a Christmas movie, let alone perfectly decorate Christmas cookies for everyone in the neighborhood and make perfect gingerbread houses.  Life just takes so much time.  (Yeah, don’t even consider suggesting Elf on the Shelf.  My kids told me about their friends ‘creepy’ elves, saving me from the consideration.)

I know.  I am kind of a Scrooge.  I don’t completely dislike the season.  I have learned of one thing out here to absolutely love about Christmas.  Europe loves it’s Christmas Markets, and I love them too.

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There are Christmas markets everywhere out here.  Even the smallest town seems to arrange to have a market, even if it is only for the weekend.  We are slightly biased, enjoying the markets in Germany more than the Belgian markets.  They seem to be larger, and more festive; it’s not just market booths like I could find any other weekday, they are special booths with garland and lights.  We are particularly partial to the markets in Cologne, as there are seven to choose from.  We usually start with the gnome market, decorated, as expected, with gnomes everywhere.  I mean, seriously, they are adorable and on mugs, rooftops, swings, and ski lifts.

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Check out the Gnome, watching a bear blow bubbles.  Cute, right?

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I have no idea what this tree is all about, but I am a bit in love.

This year we didn’t hit all of the markets.  It was just too crowded.  Last year we only missed two, the “Gay and Lesbian” market, which we were told was more of an “adult” market and decided not to take our kids there, just to be on the safe side.  It’s not like they have never been in a chocolate shop and discovered chocolate genitals on the shelf, but when we have warning we try to keep it age appropriate.  It was kind of sad to me though; the market was covered in pink and purple tinsel and garland and looked completely fabulous.

The other market we skipped was supposed to be next to the cathedral, and somehow we just missed it. I can’t figure out how.  The church is easy to see.

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Hard to miss, right?  It’s even prettier unclose, in spite of the restoration scaffolding on certain parts.

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Gorgeous.  Unfortunately the market underneath it was so crowded I could hardly move, let alone take a picture.  The best part though was the Santa Claus on the outside giving out candy with Jack O’Lanterns.  It was the best combination of Halloween and Christmas possible.

Our first year out here I didn’t know what to expect, but I found a few things I liked.  It seems to be a lot of things you can find at markets anywhere, like waffle stands, but with the addition of other delicious additions like candied nuts, chocolate covered fruits, and Gluhwein.

Ah.  Gluhwien is amazing.  It is probably the closest I have come to considering alcoholism as a profession.  It is warm, it is tasty, and it will make the crowds and stress of the holiday melt way.  Plus, at some of the markets it comes in cute little mugs you can collect.  I like cute little mugs.

This year I learned of a different version of Gluhwein, Feuerzangentasse.  Do not ask me to say it, I’m pretty sure it will sound like a seizure coming from me and offend everyone.  Sadly, I ordered by pointing to what someone else was drinking and saying I wanted that.

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This drink came in that round mug in the front, which has a little metal thing inside.  First, they pour you a mug of hot gluhwein, then they place a small cone of sugar (it looked like brown sugar, but it could have been raw or natural sugar) on the metal thing, pour a shot of rum on top and set it on fire.  The rum burns off, you dump the toasted sugar into your wine, and when it cools enough to not melt your skin from your lips, you enjoy a sweet and yummy beverage.  Not only does it look cool, but it tastes great.  I would have much rather shared a photo of my flaming mug with you, but as the counter was incredibly crowded, I decided not to join the groups who were taking a picture of their drinks and instead walk through the crowd with my still slightly flaming mug.  It was clearly the better decision.

Cologne will not be my last market this year.  We are spending next week in Germany with some family, so I hope to be able to go to few more new markets that are a little farther away than I would normally go.  Hopefully I will be able to share more and better pictures next time!

Cold Days

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I hate winter.  It is no real secret, I tell everyone.

And it’s nothing personal.  Winter is very pretty, and if it were not so cold I would be a fan.  The one advantage of winter in my eyes is the logical need to stay inside, drink lots of tea, and enjoy a nice warm fire as I read a book.  Or write a book.

Unfortunately if you are me, it also means tea puddles as I am incapable of not spilling beverages.  I didn’t grow up in a house that was obsessive with coasters, but as I have gotten older I have begun to realize how nice it is to have something to keep the hot liquid from hitting my furniture, my electronics, and my appendages.  Coasters are never enough, so I was happy to adopt the idea of the mug rug; slightly bigger than a coaster, and smaller than a placemat, it is big enough to work with my ability to spill.

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In addition to the function of the mug rug, they are fun to make.  It is a tiny quilt, capable of being completed in one sitting.  It is all the joy of quilting without the long term commitment, and is the perfect way to use fabric scraps or try new patterns.

It just gets better and better.  I might survive winter after all.

50 Books- Moby Dick

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Moby Dick By Herman Melville

Where did I get the book and how many pages?

I bought the book from Amazon for this challenge, and it clocks in at 589 pages.

Have I read this book before?

No.  This is one of those books I have kept in the back of my mind to read eventually. but had not gotten around to it.  It isn’t exactly a short book, so I have put it off until now.

What do I already know?

Moby Dick is the name of a great white whale, who is being chased down by a very obsessive Captain Ahab.  The opening line is one of the most iconic, in spite of it’s simplicity.  It does not have a happy ending, unless you are viewing it from the perspective of the whale.  Additionally, this book is considered to be filled with homosexual metaphors and symbology and is part of the evidence presented to indicate that Melville was bisexual.

What do I think now?

This book has some amazing writing.  The homosexual undertones are generally subtle in my opinion; I didn’t see the instant penis metaphor in the great white whale.  Maybe there is still some innocence left in me after all.

The biggest thing that struck me was the difference in publishing from when Moby Dick came out to now.  While the writing was good throughout, and there are interesting and compelling characters, if this book was published now, much of it would be cut.  There was no technical need for the book to have many chapters on the anatomy of a whale, or the random tangents that are not really related to the action of the story.  Realistically, I would imagine at least two hundred pages of this would have been cut before it would be published now.  Wouldn’t that have been a shame to lose?

The industry has changed and there is little that highlights that so much as reading books that were published a long time ago.

Should you read this book before you die?

I didn’t think I would care too much for a book about whaling.  I’m not much for fishing, or boats.  I was slightly afraid that even reading the book would make me seasick.  However, I fell in love with this book at the end of Chapter 13 when Queequeg, the lovable cannibal, says, “We cannibals must help these Christians.”  It was a sign that this book was much more than a simple book about a whale.  There would be greater stories, and symbolism involved.  Events would have greater meaning than the simple words and the stories.  Homosexual symbolism and penis metaphors or not, it would be something better than expected.  If that wasn’t clear, I would answer, yes read this book before you die.

Moving on to the next book, I will be reading The Color Purple by Alice Walker followed by The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Happy Reading!

After NaNoWriMo

Just over a week after NaNoWriMo ended, and I am sure there are many people who wish I would stop talking about it.  However, as my final checkin for the year, I have to acknowledge the aftermath.

Writing heavily for one month was great.  It helped me to see what I was capable of, and let me really push myself.  Now however, I cannot seem to write anything.  I tried to keep the momentum going, but it is not really moving yet.  After all of the work I put in, getting started all over again is not easy to do.

Perhaps I am stuck on the opening.  There is so much pressure put on the opening of a novel.  The opening line needs to be perfect, and if the first ten pages are not perfect, you will never hook the reader. At least that is what agents say.  Trying to sell your book, they only want a few paragraphs, so your opening has to be perfect.

Can you see where the pressure comes from?

Moving on, and moving past NaNoWriMo, is difficult.  When I had to get a lot of writing in a short time period, I didn’t have time to stress out.  Now, with a different time period, I can’t stop stressing.  More than that, during NaNoWriMo, I knew millions of other writers around the world were in exactly the same position.  Technically I know that there are many other people out there writing with me, but it is not the same.  I can’t seem to connect to them in the same way I did before.  Instead of being part of a larger team of writers, I am individual writer.  Writing is normally such a solitary activity, I didn’t realize how much  having the support and camaraderie of other writers made a difference.

This doesn’t mean I am out of the writing business, it just means I am needing to reevaluate my writing habits.

Okay.  NaNoWriMo is officially done here for this year.

50 Books- The Bell Jar

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Note to self- when things are crazy and life looks down, Sylvia Plath should not be the source of your comfort.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Where did I get this book and how many pages?

I ordered this shiny 50th anniversary book with 244 pages from amazon.  There were an additional 20 pages detailing the life of the author and some of her other works, which I read about half of.

Have I read this before?

No.  Sylvia Plath is not someone I have encountered before.

What do I already know?

Not a lot.  I had heard the phrase ‘living in a bell jar’ a few times.  It seemed to indicate a suffocating situation; something where you were almost on display, and losing oxygen.  It wasn’t necessarily spelled out, but it made sense.  When you think of catching bugs in a jar and not poking holes for oxygen, that is what you have.  the bug is being watched, but it is also slowly dying.

Bell jar was also a Bangles song which I enjoyed when I was younger.  (I’m not sure why the video is like this.  It was where I found the song.)

What do I think now?

Wow.  I read a little of the front flap, telling me the main character would go a little crazy, but I still didn’t really see it coming.  She isn’t necessarily the good girl that others think she is from the beginning.  You can see signs of her being a little sensitive.

The sad truth is, many of the signs of her insanity were completely relatable. She was frightened about what she was going to become, frightened that she would lose the successfulness of her school days. She didn’t want to be the boring housewife, successful only because she chose a good husband.  She wanted something of her own.  And who doesn’t?  When she sees that going away, she gives up.  She doesn’t want to continue to do the repetitive task of showering and getting dressed.  Sleeping and eating become impossible.  The book is about her becoming insane, but I see a person who is depressed.  A person who is not as far from me as I would like.  Of course, I am not a doctor.  I am not reading looking for the symptoms of a diagnosable condition.  I am reading her thoughts and wondering if I should worry that we have shared some of the same feelings.

Should you read this book before you die?

Yes, but do not read this book if you are on the edge of insanity or depression.  The portrait of emotional distress is so beautiful.  For those who have never felt anywhere close to this, they might understand others a little better.  For those who feel like this more often than they would like to admit, this might help them feel slightly less alone.  However, when you are on the edge, you should not chose a piece of work that is just as likely to push you over as pull you up.

I’d like to say I am moving onto lighter fare, but alas no.  There does not seem to be much chosen for it’s comedic timing.  It’s time to work through another large piece of work, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, followed by The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

I’m already regretting a little of the order I have selected.  I am having a serious Jane Austen craving; I’m wishing I could turn back and read Pride and Prejudice again.  Sigh.  Oh well.  Time to keep finding new favorites.

Geared Up

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This morning I geared up to run in freezing temperatures, something I have never really gotten used to.  Part of my gearing up was putting on my amazing hat.  It’s not quite Jayne Cobb level of coolness, but I am still quite proud of it.

 I am quite aware that this is a cheap, promotional hat.  However I received it at a Christmas Market archery booth after popping one balloon.  I know it was a pity prize, as I was supposed to hit four balloons, but I am still proud to run wearing a hat I won in a sport-like competition.

Stay warm everyone!

NaNoWriMo Conclusions

Well, December 1st brings the official end to my first year of NaNoWriMo.  I wrote, I learned, I grew.  I was an experience.  As a newbie, I feel the need to sum it up before I move on.

First off, I’m probably counted among the many people who do not finish in the official records because I only completed 40, 774 words instead of the official 50,000 word goal.  I consider myself to have completed my novel inspire of the shortness because, I finished the story.  In the last few days I was trying to flush out the story a little, adding scenes I realized were missing and fixing problems I noticed during the first write.  I did not finish the first edit before the end of November, so I know the novel will get a little longer, but I’m not sure it will ever hit 50,000 words.  It will make it a little short for a young adult novel, but not excessively so.

I learned a lot about my own writing style as well.  In the past I have struggled with too much exposition.  In my attempt to un-exposition my writing, I created something that was very dialogue heavy.  I’m not sure if it is too dialogue heavy yet, I guess we’ll see how it reads.  I definitely have more to do to work on the balance of my writing.

Even more important than learning about my writing, I learned about my ability to write.  I have never written 40,000 words in a month before.  I have never written 3,000 words in a day.  I have never written a book in a month.  Until now.  I’m still not as focused as I would like to be when I write.  Beyond my wandering mind (which is currently wondering if a tea cozy serves an actual purpose or if it is just decorative), I have a weird tendency to get up and walk around in the middle of writing.  I make tea, I check the laundry, I take the dog outside, I make a snack, I check the fire; I am up and down every ten to fifteen minutes.  In spite of my concentration flaws, I can still be productive.  That is kind of amazing to me.

All in all, I am very happy I took part in NaNoWriMo, and I plan to do it again next year.  For now, I am preparing to start my next novel, trying to push out one more short one this year.