Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hidden Romance at the Beach in 100 Words

Once a month, Nathan and I get together with some of our creatively minded friends and do writing exercises together for a couple of hours. It's fun and challenging - especially for me since I typically have to come up with all of the exercises!

This month our friend Audrey brought up the flash fiction contest and suggested we each try to write a story in 100 words. I had brought along some print-outs of art pieces to use as prompts and our exercise quickly fell into place. This was probably the most challenging thing our group has attempted thus far, and we doused each others stories and our own in colored  ink edits.

My painting was "The Singing Butler" by Jack Vettriano. I was trying to pick out paintings I'd never seen before, so it's really ironic that this is actually one of the most popular prints in the UK.

Everyone had two pictures to choose from. I ended up last and so had three, but made Nathan pick for me. Interestingly, this was the only picture with which I'd read any description when printing it out, and the brief sentence I'd read mentioned that the scene could be a wedding. I mention this in order to be clear that I cannot take all the credit for the ideas presented in the story below.

I wrote three drafts, the first running at 125 words, the second at 105, and the final at 100. Cutting those last five words was hard. It really made me think about using every word carefully and not wasting a single one with extraneous description.

Take a look at the final result, and then perhaps give this challenge a try of your own!


The valet and the maid were their witnesses. Who else would lose everything if the secret escaped? And they were already so experienced at holding umbrellas.

She wore scarlet (what better color for a clandestine bride?) and he, a dinner jacket. Unnoticed they sped to the beach to meet the priest.

Umbrellas were held against the rain as they exchanged rings. The groom stole a moment to dance with his bride across the sand.

Then the valet rowed his master to their submarine and the maid wiped the bride's eyes. None would guess she had just wed a German spy.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot

Just when I begin to despair of whether I have read all the good books, I find something new and delightful. It really is a joy to live in a world of so many imaginative and talented authors!

While browsing through a local science fiction and fantasy store, I came across this enchantingly titled volume. The text on the back intrigued me, and my adopted big brother who was with me insisted on purchasing it for me. I'm quite glad he did, because I have enjoyed every minute of reading this book and could hardly wait to finish so that I could recommend it to my blog readers!

There are many books that are presented as "Jane Austen with Magic" but I must say, "Sorcery and Cecelia" by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Steverner is the first one I've read that really feels like it could have been written in Austen's voice. Well, Cecelia and her cousin, Kate, are more mischievous than Elinor Dashwood, but I do think they'd be marvelous friends with Catherine Moreland.

"Sorcery and Cecelia" is an epistolary novel, consisting of a letter exchange between Cecelia in the country and Kate in the city. The girls stumble upon a magical conspiracy full of aggravating young men, mysterious charms, false betrothals, and a brother turned into a tree. Plus, of course, that enchanted chocolate pot...

(I quite want a proper chocolate pot now, thank you very much.)

The girls' voices are charming and witty, their escapades betraying true intelligence and a talent for magic, which they pursue under the wary eyes of a pair of stern maiden aunts - but are even aunts all that they appear?

With Regency and Victorian magical and steampunk alternative worlds being so popular these days, I had assumed that this book was penned recently. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it is actually older than me - perhaps why I enjoyed it so much, as it didn't fall prey to the modern tropes in the genre. Furthermore, it was actually born of a letter exchange between the two authors, each writing in one girl's voice. The plot was not developed ahead of time, and they did not intend it to be a book until they concluded the adventure and realized it really worked quite well and with a tad of editing could be presented to the masses. (The entire story is related in the back of the book - at least in the edition I had).

If you have the least inclination for humorous magical stories with intriguing adventures, mysteries and romances, I heartily urge you to track down a copy of this novel. I already have the other books in the series reserved at the library and can hardly wait to continue the adventures of Kate and Cecelia!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I hope this wasn't your first episode of Doctor Who! (8.1 reflections)

I turned to my husband halfway through "Deep Breath" and said "I feel bad if this is the first episode for anyone!"

He laughed and agreed, "yes, this is definitely not an introductory episode."

Indeed, it shares in many ways more parallels with Tennant's debut in "The Christmas Invasion" than Smith's in "The Eleventh Hour." Which makes a good deal of sense, as Clara, like Rose, is a seasoned companion suddenly adjusting to the most unexpected change of all. We audiences are expected to be seasoned watchers of Doctor Who adjusting to a new Doctor. Which makes a good deal of sense - Matt Smith was the Doctor who captured the now humongous American audience... and kept their hearts and imagination for three years. Capaldi has the burden of keeping them, a harder role than Smith had as he was being introduced to the British audience which understood the long tradition of regeneration. Much of the younger American audience is going through their first change and it's a big one.


This is, of course, why the last fifteen minutes of the episode are so brilliant. To have the old Doctor literally phone up Clara (and thus, us) and beg her to give the new Doctor a chance - to help him - it is a needed and smart scene to do and provides the most heart-wrenching moments of the episode. No surprise, perhaps, that it is then that Capaldi steps out of the crazed reorientation phrase and shows a softer side, the side that really wins us over to him.

It is a good thing that the episode ended on that note, because otherwise I was not tremendously enthralled by it. The post-regeneration episodes are always difficult. A new actor finding their way into a very iconic role, going a bit too crazy and perhaps not in quite the way they later discover that really works for them. They're adjusting to a new body, we're adjusting to a new face and personality, and the companion is thrown for a loop (whether a regeneration loop or a timey-wimey loop). "The Eleventh Hour" remains the strongest introduction episode for a new actor and indeed for a new viewer (which is probably why it works).

"Deep Breath" is definitely paying homage to penny dreadfuls and other Victorian Horror. Strax remained beautiful comic relief but Jenny was a bit too whiny this time around (although she has good points! why IS she the maid at home?). Madame Vastra is not at her most engaging, but always remains entertaining as comic relief.

It is always a special treat for the fans when the history of the show is alluded to. I, for one, had really thought that we were not going to see an allusion to "The Girl in the Fireplace" again. What a fun surprise to have it as a running joke here! (Nice to reuse another Moffat monster besides the Weeping Angels).

We are left with a lot of questions, as can be expected. Did the Doctor kill the robot, or did the robot jump? Who is the mysterious woman in the mysterious garden and why does she call the Doctor her boyfriend? Is she the woman in the shop who wants the Doctor and Clara to stick together?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Confessions of a Fiber Addict

Spinning is addicting.

I made this 3-ply yarn...

...from these 3 mini-balls of wool.

This is a double ply (I knew it wouldn't be long enough to complete a project if I did a three ply.)

Here's a picture that includes my spinning wheel! Here I'm spinning the single ply that will eventually turn into...

...this hat! 3-ply, spun from mill end fibers. (It was basically a mixed grab bag. I must have gotten lucky because it was really luxurious to spin!)

I've also been hit with the knitting bug. Here are my first completed pair of socks!

Knit on a size 2 needle, the pattern is from the book "The Intentional Spinner". I loved the pattern because you basically size it to fit YOUR feet and the method works really well.

I'm actually adapting the pattern slightly to create socks for my husband with a single large cable down the center front. Using size 1 needles for this.

The perfect way to occupy my hands while Nathan and I rewatch LOST together...

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Happy Homemaker?

I'm going to confess that a month ago I was guilty of being discontent. I was tired of being cooped up in our apartment, I wanted to move forwards, move on, and move out. We dove headfirst into house hunting only to realize...

... it wasn't time for us to move out yet. There just wasn't a house in our budget in a good location that had a non-creepy/moldy basement. We needed to stay put. 

As hard as that decision was to make, as soon as it was made Nathan and I were both filled with a sense of peace. Looking at all those houses had made us realized how blessed we were to have our apartment in our location at the price we have. With the help of my mom and sister, I started brainstorming some ways I could better maximize our living space and make it a prettier, more restful place to live. Somewhere along the way, I rediscovered my love of homemaking and found new energy to pour love into this apartment.

Due to being sick for so long, I amassed quite the entertainment library. The problem is... where do you keep all those DVDs? My mother suggested putting up some shelves over the TV area, and after rolling the idea around in my head, I asked Nathan to make us some narrow shelves. With a few cheap boards and brackets, and some paint we already had, we put up these shelves for about $12. I feel like our collection looks so much classier now, and it frees up the floor space for books and displays, like that ship Nathan found at a thrift store once upon a time!

I've been trying to pay attention to little details as well. My friend Vicki gave us these cute measuring spoons as a wedding gift, and they really brightened up a corner of the china hutch when I put up some hanging nails for them.

I've also been encouraged to practice hospitality again, and created this tea caddy so we always have an easy way to present a good selection of tea for our guests.

One of the most annoying things about our apartment was the sliding double closet doors. The way they were made, it was impossible to have access to more than half of the closet at a time. This made it really hard to maximize space and view things easily. Finally we talked to the management and they agreed to take the doors out. I am currently making some simple muslin curtains to hide the closets away. It is so much easier to access everything, and the light muslin is so pretty and peaceful! I got the fabric for about $1.19 a yard on sale at JoAnn's, and we found the best prices on tension rods at Menards.

With the doors removed, we took the two bottom shelves out of one closet and put the laundry hamper in the space, which freed up some much needed walkway in the bedroom!

My sister came over and helped by forcing me to finally sort through some boxes of my stuff that had been laying around since I moved in. We also just plain tidied up. Moving the Lego display cabinet to a new location added more character and definition to the living room. I love it!

This shelf had basically been the home of anything we didn't have a place for until my sister sat down and sorted it out. I brought her everything I wanted to display and she stacked and organized it beautifully. Now this bookshelf is something that brings me happiness and a sense of beauty every time I look at it.

This was the bookshelf my DVDs were on. We decided to move the shelves around, add some hooks, paint it and turn it into...

 ...an entry hutch! We already had the brown baskets which fit perfectly on the top, and I made some simple canvas mats for the shoe shelves.

 The little mirror was something we picked up at a church sale for $.50!

With our former entry way on the other side of the door now cleared out, we moved my desk out of the sewing room (freeing up a TON of space) and put it in the opening. My sister painted a formerly gold lamp silver, and I painted the shade teal and added some beads and it immediately tied into the living room decor. Then we finally hung up the last of our wedding pictures and clock.

Here's another wedding gift I hung up in the hallway. I absolutely adore Willow Creek figurines. They're so peaceful and rustic and romantic!

I'm still working on organizing and cleaning the craft room, but my goal is to make every space in our apartment cute and tidy, right down to the little shelf by the craft room door.

And I may not be able to fulfill my dream of a garden completely, but I've renewed my efforts to cultivate my window garden and my basil, cilantro, oregano and green onions are growing very nicely! (Alas, I had to give up on the tomato plant and handed it over to my mother to plant in her outdoor garden).

I feel so much happier and settled and I really regret the discontent I allowed to grow last month. God has given us a really good place here, I just was too tired and impatient to see it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams - Looking to the Past and the Future

I was three years old when Aladdin came out, which makes seeing it in the theaters one of my very earliest memories. We were visiting my grandparents in Florida at the time, and I remember arriving at the little white island theater... and I remember the Genii. 

I'm guessing for most of my generation, the Genii was our first introduction to Robin Williams, although we wouldn't realize this until later. I never saw Mrs. Doubtfire which was his other popular movie from that era, although Jumanji scarred me for life. 

Ironically, it was probably the movie "Flubber" in which I first saw Robin William's face in a role that didn't scare me. For some reason I think we saw this one in theaters as well, which in hindsight seems odd. I guess it was the only family appropriate film playing at the time?

Then there was "Hook" which I saw as a child but did not appreciate until I reached my teenaged years and realized it may ironically be the most faithful adaptation of Peter Pan on our screens to this day. 

I loved him in "Dead Poet's Society" of course. Saw "The Fisher King" in college and while not sure what to make of it over all, appreciated the zest and enthusiasm Williams brought to the role. On the other end of the spectrum but still in New York was his turn as a sort of modern Fagin in "August Rush." 

But I think in some ways the live-action role in which I truly loved him the most was as Teddy Roosevelt in "Night at the Museum." It's ironic that in such a comedic movie, Williams does not play a joke of a character, but a beautiful tribute to one of America's most adventurous presidents. (And we get to see him one last time in "Night of the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" which is currently in post-production.)

As I read over his IMDB credits, I realize how much of his work I haven't seen. Which is perhaps the only thing that makes dealing with the news of his death bearable - that I can still see him in 'new' roles. Though only 63 at his passing, he left a truly impressive number of memorable parts behind him. 

That, I think, is both the tragedy and glory of film. You bring joy to others through your work not just during your life, but as long as movies are played. And when you die, the whole world mourns. I have never seen a death so prominently grieved on Facebook. 

My hope and prayer is that his death brings a new awareness of the seriousness of depression and that we open new dialogues about dealing with it. It is viewed so much as an illness of shame and weakness, leaving its victims to suffer in silence, and causes many bright lights to choose to leave the world early - how many we cannot know because so few of them are as known as Robin Williams. Not only have I personally struggled with depression, but I could say at least half of the people I have close friends with have, at some point, struggled with serious depression. It is a silent, secret disease, but far too prevalent in our society.

So let us pray for his family, rewatch our favorites of his films, and voice our support to our loved ones who are suffering with depression.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Keyboard vs. The Pen

I usually write on the computer.

I'm a pretty fast typist (almost fast enough to keep up with my thoughts!) and I like being able to quickly copy/paste and check translations and facts online. Plus handwriting for too long hurts. And it has to be typed eventually anyhow.

Every now and then, however, there is a good reason for me to get out the pen and paper. Most of the time this is when I'm at writer's group and we're doing group writing activities. In the past it's also how I've written screenplays (yes I handwrote and then typed almost the entire SOTB script). Sometimes I'm just plain stranded with a good idea but no computer and therefore no choice but to write out the words by hand.

Today a combination of needing sunlight and feeling really blocked about a scene I needed to rewrite drove me out of doors with a pen and notebook. Strangely enough, the scene started to flow faster and faster. I was reluctant to come indoors, but my hand was aching. Worth it, however, for the results.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lipreading and Dirty Dishes

My mom raised me to have really good manners. So if there's ever a time when I'm not helping clean up in the kitchen after a big family meal or something, please don't blame her. It could be that I'm not feeling well (this happens a lot) or it could be that there's someone that I don't get much time with that I really want to talk to or that there is a big conversation that everyone is participating in and if I'm working in the kitchen, I can't lipread.

Now if it's my kitchen and it's just two people, it's so small and quiet that I can wash dishes or dry and put away or whatever and carry on a conversation just fine. But if it's my mother or grandmother's larger kitchens and dinning areas, it's just way too crazy. I can't carry on a conversation - I can't even listen to what other people are saying. So either I'm lonely/left out or distracted.

Sometimes it can't be helped. If I'm entertaining, it's my job to run the kitchen and I like doing that and, as I said, only two people can really work in there and it's small enough that you can talk even if you're moving and I can usually hear you.

Now if you set me to work peeling potatoes, I can do that and carry on a conversation. Wait, forget I said that... guess who is getting on mashed potato duty at Thanksgiving now...

Monday, August 4, 2014

It was a Geek's Dream Come True

I'm going to be honest, I've never bought into the reality TV show craze. My family watched some, so I've seen, y'know, episodes of Extreme Home Makeover and such, but it's not something I pursue on my own time. However, when my dad said "Elizabeth and Nathan, have you guys heard about the new reality TV show that's in a fantasy Lord of the Rings-like setting?" I knew I'd have to check this one out.

The premise of ABC's "The Quest" is 12 contestants setting out to save Everrealm from a Big Bad. There are trails and feats of talent and three Fates to guide it all. All of the guides/extras/supporting characters are costumed actors staying in character the entire time. In episode one we got the helpful steward, the arrogant lord dude with an awesome costume, and the tough drill sergeant. There was also an attack by some sort of very real looking troll creature.

Guys. If you're a geek, if you've ever wanted to experience the adventures we read/watch/play, then you are so going to identify with the contestants on this show. They could be you or your best friend. Nathan remarked as we started watching it with goofy grins on our faces, "I don't think this is healthy for me!"

My biggest concern going into the show was that the competition would overcome the defining arc of the epic fantasy - a group of misfits working together to save the world. Reality shows are so often the opposite of that. However, in the first episode at least, we saw a lot of working together and how they would need to work well and depend on each other to succeed. One contestant remarked something along the lines of "When I started, I thought it would be about eliminating the strongest players so I could get to be the One True Hero, but now I want to keep them in to help me or help someone else become the Hero."

Which was tremendously awesome. If that mindset prevails over the next few episodes, this will be a truly special show.