Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Review: Kindred Spirits by Sarah Strohmeyer

This week I finished this months book for book club.

To be honest, I'm tempted not to write a review at all under the advice of my mother that if I can't say something nice...

But in the spirit of honesty and this being my blog, I couldn't stand the book.  This really isn't a surprise, it's essentially a chick flick in book form.  I have the same problem with it that I have with chick flicks: Archetype characters, predictable plot, every thing is always perfect in the end and wrapped up with a bow.  I hate not finishing books, but after a particularly annoying scene involving a group of chemical engineers (who, apparently, are all socially retarded men who only cut loose in random hotels with women in their pajamas singing karaoke) I seriously considered ending it right there.

On the plus side, it did greatly increase my opinion of my own writing, which I hate to admit, is much more like Ms. Strohmeyer's than the literary geniuses I'd prefer to emulate.    

I can see why people would enjoy the book: a tale of friends sipping martinis and surviving hard times only to come upon greener pastures and find that friendship prevails after all.  It's just not meeting me where I am, I guess.  I already know I'm in a bit of a dark phase, maybe I'll read it again someday and love it.

I'll close my review with a quote directly from the book:

"It was the kind of crazy circumstances [found] only in books.  And not very good books, at that."  :)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update 6: Stoppage

The Referee has called a stoppage and scored this fight No Contest.

That's right, I'm done. It's not a win, it's not a loss, it's certainly not a TKO.

Things are just hectic right now and I'm not going to maintain my current rate.  Don't worry, expect a rematch next November!

The plot is frustratingly midstream, so I won't bother boring you with the story, I will; however, tell you the title and synoposis I posted at the start of November:

The Tracks

Frank took another long drag from his cigarette and glanced down at the train console for the 4th time in the last hour.  This isn’t how he’d thought it would be.  The empty landscape roared by, as it had continuously since he’d left the metropolis of Southern California, interrupted only briefly by an aged Joshua tree or lone crossing.  He glanced at the picture of the beautiful young woman pasted on his board and then at the barely healing slash on his left forearm.  “No”, Frank thought, “This isn’t how I thought it’d be at all”.  With less than 300 of 3200 miles completed, he wondered, what the hell had he gotten himself into.

I have a photo as well, maybe I'll post that someday soon.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update 5: Uh oh!

So since my last update, I've had some... issues.  Amazingly, SkyRim hasn't been the problem (or much of the problem).

So, the summary is I'm behind.  But it's not terrible.  As of the writing of this blog, my graph is a bit ugly

I'm not giving up and I have set aside some time to get caught up.  Of course with holidays quickly approaching, that may just be a dream, we'll see.

I've labeled this failures, but only because this update is a failure.  I could still pull through!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WeddingPlanning: A Seating Chart

Two of our friends are currently planning their wedding and I couldn't be happier for them.  Recently, the topic of wedding seating charts came up.

I am not a wedding planner, but I did have a neat wedding planner binder:  [therefore I'm an expert, right?]

I think seating charts are often a debated concept in wedding planning.  I can see the idea behind both wanting one and wanting to avoid one.  It's easy to see why you wouldn't want a seating chart: you don't have to worry about hurt feelings about where anyone is sitting, you don't have to figure out if Aunt Jude will get along with your college roommate or if Bill is going to make anti-religious jokes to your conservative religious grandparents.  Plus, I understand the concerns that they seem overly controlling, etc.

I started off in camp 'free for all!' seating.  Logistics made that impossible.  If you are going to free seat, you need extra seats (you are going to end up with tables that are less than fulling utilized and people trying to shuffle around to make room for larger parties).  We didn't have extra seats.

After the idea that we had to do it sunk it, I began to realize it really should be the responsibility of the hostess to make an event as easy for the guests as possible.   Without a seating chart, instead of you working out the details of who sits where with whom in the comfort of your living room weeks on advance, your guests scramble around trying to accomplish the same thing.  I think the control freak aspect is the same as with all wedding things.  Recognize the day of the wedding things aren't going to go exactly as you planned.  You will have unexpected guests, you will have people rearranging themselves, but for me, a plan was still the best way to go.

So we were doing a seating chart.

Supplies:  Post it notes and paper plates.

Any project that involves lots of post-its in lots of colors is a project I can at least appreciate. Hence, seating chart time was not nearly so bad as anticipated.

Gavin had the great idea of using post its for each party and paper plates for the tables.  We had three groups, each with a different color, which is essentially how our guest list was divided when we made it.

  • His family
  • My family
  • Friends

Everybody got stuck to the wall.  Each table was numbered and the people got stuck to the plate we wanted them at.  The advantage to the plates and post its is that is was easy to move people around, but everything stayed in place while we were working.

Overall, our first draft seating chart only took about an hour and half a bottle of pinot noir, including writing all the names and table numbers. Not too shabby.

Then when it came to name our tables (each table was named after a Disney couple) we got to decide who got to Mike and Sally and who got to be Lady and the Tramp.  I admit, it was my own way of resolving some wedding angst. :)  Speaking of tables, these were ours:

This was set on the guest card table and each table had a matching picture (just in case some guests weren't up to date on their Disney duos!)

In the end, I was happy with our process and our result

Of course it helped to have a super helpful staff.  I don't know of any seating issues, but I'm sure they would have resolved them before I could have ever found out about them.  I did hear a child shatter a champagne glass against the side of a table, and Disney had it whisked away before I could even figure out which direction it came from!  So another thank you to the fantastic staff at Disney for making me at least believe that my Seating Chart was magical. :)

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update 4: Just shy of half

So I've located that lull that prevents people from finishing novels.  The last few days, writing even 1500 words a day has been dragging a dead mammoth across a rapidly hardening tar pit in the pouring rain.  As you can see, my creativity isn't the problem.  For encouragement, I graphed my progress (NaNoWriMo.org has a progress graph too, but I like mine better.)

So, word-wise, I'm actually keeping up. (Ironically, the last few days I've stayed away from hyphenating any words because it only counts as one word... yep, it's been that bad!)

Plot-wise, things are getting a little hairy.  I'm far enough in that I feel like things should be starting to come together a bit more and they aren't.  Part of me isn't really worried about that, I was much more worried about finishing too early and having nothing left to write, but part of me recognizes that sometimes what I write is utter crap that I'd cut in a heart beat during a final edit.  I have to remind myself that this is an exercise, I'm learning.  Kind of like those first zillion pots I made in ceramics.  So I'm pushing on.

I actually read one of the email encouragements NaNoWriMo sent me and it happened to be about exactly this problem.  Apparently I'm not alone.  They suggested sending your characters to the circus.  I had to laugh, I sent one of mine on a random blind date (she got stood up.)

I'm half way done and I'm feeling about how I felt on mile 13 of the Avon walk, namely "I'm never going to make it to wellness camp!!"  Still, one word in front of the other, I trudge along.

I also have a major distraction that arrived in my hands 1:00 am Friday morning:

So while I had great visions of getting ahead so I'd be set for Thanksgiving, I think it's going to be more like "Okay, I wrote my 1667 words, can I go fight dragons now??"

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's for dinner? Raw Fish!

Yep, I finally I did it.  I finally worked up the nerve to prepare uncooked fish in my kitchen!  We don't do cooked fish because I don't eat cooked fish, so it's actually my first time using our 'fish' cutting board as well! (Okay, Okay, I've used it before when the others were dirty.)

Edamame Ahi Towers

There's a place we eat near our house that has an ahi nacho dish that's usually delicious and sometimes atrocious.  I decided to steal some elements from their dish and combine in with some of my own.  The hardest part was finding a meat market with sashimi grade fish.  I eventually found one, and the fish was fine, but I probably need to find a different place for next time.

The elements I chose for my tower were edamame, guacamole, salmon, chives.  I made the sauce out of wasabi, wasabi mayonnaise, dijon mustard, line juice, rice vinegar, fresh ginger, sweet onion, fresh basil, salt and pepper.   

I started with a layer of mashed avocado.  I don't know if that's standard, but the engineer in my couldn't build my tower on the non-cohesive foundation of edamame beans!

I was pretty impressed with the results.  I surprised Gavin with a tranquil date night mood dinner in the middle of the week (although this has kinda been my thing lately, so not sure it's actually a surprise anymore!)  

Monday, November 7, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update 3: 25 percent!

12570 / 50000 words. 25% done!

Day 7, 25 percent complete and still right on schedule!  Some observations from the writer's seat:

1.  I envy sci-fi/fantasy writers.  Not that their writing isn't without challenge, but the random fact finding is time consuming and I'm not doing nearly the leg work I would need to prior to actually publishing a book.  For example, do you know how much a freight train engine weighs off the top of your head?

2.  I don't envy sci-fi/fantasy writers.  As complicated as fact checking seems like it can be, consistency checks are even tougher!  Did I already determine what color Cameron's hair is?  How old is Sandra?  Wait, how can she be that old if she graduated in this year?  What year is this book even set in??  At least fact finding facts stay the same and are sometimes relatively easy to Google.  Trying to remember what I typed only a few days ago is beating me up including using ctrl-f.  How did writers do it on type writers without search features??

3.  Summary of the two preceding, MAN it must be tough to be a good editor!  

It's fun because sometimes it feels like my character are taking on a life of their own.  I type something out then immediately think, "She'd never say that like that!"  Again, good luck with that editors!

Last update from my buddies, they were all lagging behind a little bit.  But it's early!  You can do it!  In other exciting news, Gavin has decided to do some writing this month as well!  My tip tappity must be inspiring!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

15 Minute Project while you (Alyssa) wait!

I've been intending to make a frame style jewelry holder for quite a while now but have been unsuccessful finding a suitable frame.  Today I was on a mission, but still couldn't find a frame.  I did find a cute box at Michael's on clearance and I figured I had nothing to loose.

Not bad for a 15 minute project!

It is hanging inside my project and only houses earrings.

I apologize for the camera phone quality photos.  If you are considering asking what I am going to do with stud style earrings, I haven o answer for you.  Hence the boxes at the bottom.

So that's what I did with 1/4 of the time I gained from time change.  Still sorting out what to do with the other 45 minutes....

Friday, November 4, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update 2

It's only day 4, so it seems a little early for an update, but it's my novel I'll do what I want!

6974 / 50000 words. 14% done!

For the numerically interested after today we will be 13% done with the month.  Also, if all goes as planned tonight, I should be up to at least 7500.

In other words, I've kept up so far, which I recognize isn't a significant achievement, since again, it's only 4 days in.  But in the spirit of being me, I did recent do a completion schedule complete with days that I thought no work would get done (holidays, days I have other stuff going on etc) and balanced out the remainder of the days.  Maybe when I'm done I'll post it to see how I did.

So far, I'm really enjoying writing.  1600 words isn't nearly as daunting as it seemed when I first sat down to think about it and so far.  I've never tried to write a novel before, but I think understand why NaNoWriMo works for so many people.

I've never tried writing anything like this before.  Last book I wrote was in 7th grade.  Last creative writing I did, outside of this blog, was probably in high school for AP English.  But every time I sit down to start writing, I worry.  I don't really know the story I'm writing.  I don't know what is going to happen next, really.  I don't know if I have enough characters, or if I'm going to fast, or to slow.  I worry so much while I get to the computer, open the file.  But then, I just start writing.  I don't know if my story makes sense.  I don't know if it's good, but when I'm writing, I just write.  I'm sure that if and when I finish this project/book/story and go back and read it I'll be frustrated with the inconsistencies, annoyed with the time line mistakes bothered by the typos and repeated words.  But so far, most of the time, when I write, I just write.  Given, it's day 4.  Day 24, maybe it's a different story. But for now, I'm enjoying the process of just writing and I'm shocked when sometimes I read what I've written and actually see a story coming together.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

That was Halloween, That was Halloween.

My favorite holiday has come and gone.

As per the theme of this year, had big plans, but they didn't work out as I'd hoped.  Still, despite the attack of the giant cilantro,AND attack of the giant panic about hosting my first neighborhood get together, it was still a great Halloween.


Pumpkin Town!  I can't wait to watch it grow over the years!  Not a great photo...

Haunted House.  I <3 my house
BIG CANDY!  BIG hit with the kids.

Working on the exterior decorations this year as well

Monster in the Tower


Least happy participant of the year award.

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

It's like I'm in grade school all over again!

I've finished "Half a Life."  The purpose of a book club must be, at least in part, to get you to read books you would never look twice at otherwise.  I also think it's interesting to try to figure out why someone would choose a particular book and I look forward to finding out a little bit more about that when we meet next.  The book was a memoir of a man who hit and killed a classmate at his high school.  It's essentially the story of how he lived with, or through, or around, the event.  Books, and stories, are amazing because quite frequently they meet you where you are, no matter where that is.  I was drawn to his conclusion which, to paraphrase, is things don't go away and you can't escape the past.  And it's not strength that makes you more or less able to cope, it's human nature.  How true that is.  Despite our vastly different stories, I could relate to him.  Books are magic.

And then there's writing!  Yesterday officially started NaNoWriMo!  I (awkwardly) attended a 'write-in' kick off event in Mission Viejo where I successfully completed my first 1600 words!  Go me!  My story seems to be taking on a life of it's own.  I'm functioning under the working title of "The Tracks" and the assumption that it will awful when (if) it's done.  Still I have a goal: 50,000 words this month, a little over 1600 words a day.  One more or less completed novel in November.  Jen is participating as well, although I haven't heard her progress yet.  Mike also committed to some amount of involvement, pending my daily success, while we were in Vancouver although the details of which have yet to be clearly recalled by any of the witnesses.  

I really just threw in Arithmetic because I thought it made the title awesome, but in the way of basic math, I have been testing out Mint.com this month as a financial tracking cloud based software.  It's fine, but to be perfectly honest, I'm way happier with my personally created excel sheets (although import is a bit tedious and they became slightly more complicated each year).  Eventually, I recognize the necessity of a more streamlined process, but for now I'm holding out.  Maybe Mint will grow on me?

I know I'm late with my Halloween post and will do my best to get that posted ASAP.