Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Here's what happens when you procrastinate

1. You invite your family to your house for Thanksgiving dinner.

2. You plan a menu for a simple, elegant, home-cooked meal, one that will fit nicely alongside your write-a-novel-in-a-month schedule.

3. You keep adding dishes to the simple, elegant, home-cooked meal, until you have a menu that resembles a mash-up of Martha Stewart's place and the Golden Corral buffet.

(This menu includes: roasted turkey with made-from-scratch stuffing, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie, apple crumb pie, roasted carrots, spinach in browned butter sauce, cheesy potato casserole, broccoli-cheese casserole, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, banana bread, shrimp cocktail tray, cheeseball and crackers, and cranberry-champagne sparklers.)

4. In the meantime, you plan your grocery shopping and cooking schedule with the kind of organizational skills that are usually reserved for invading small countries.  The night before Thanksgiving, you begin to think that you may have gone a little overboard with your culinary aspirations... but you put your panicky emotions to the side, finish baking the banana bread, write a couple thousand NaNoWriMo words, and get to sleep.

5. You wake up fresh on Thanksgiving Day, start speed-thawing that darned turkey in the sink, and get going on the food, sticking to your schedule as if a shuttle launch will be taking place in your kitchen.

6. You realize that this experience would make a terrific blog post once completed, so you start documenting it all with your trusty camera: the night-before table, covered by dishes labeled with their future contents; the angsty confusion on your face when you realize you used a green post-it for the carrots and an orange post-it for the spinach; and the preparation of each piece of the cuisine, from the apple crumb pie to the broccoli-cheese casserole.  You resolve to type the blog post after you can sit down with satisfaction and a belly full of leftovers.

7. By the time your reinforcement/assistant chef friend shows up for happy pie-baking fun-times, you're actually feeling full of holiday cheer and not at all panicked.  The food comes together nicely, nothing bursts into flame, your family arrives more or less on time, and you get a few nice pictures of the bountiful table both before and after everybody sits down to eat.  ABBONDANZA!

8. Now about that blog post?  The very thought of writing about all the food you just cooked makes you a little queasy.  You decide you'll type it up after you finish NaNoWriMo.

9. Blog post?  No, silly, you have a grad school term paper due!

10. ...Blog post?  You tell yourself you'll get through a few more pre-yuletide obligations first, and then you'll sit down and draft something delectable.

(three and a half weeks later)

11. You FINALLY sit down to write your perfect pictorial Pilgrim-plumper spectacular!!!!!  And then you realize that all but three of your photos from your epic culinary victory got accidentally deleted three days earlier.  All you have left are pictures of you making dinner rolls while the dog looks amused.  And the rolls didn't even rise that well.

Learn from this, kids.  Don't procrastinate!  Or all you'll have is a picture of you barefoot in the kitchen and a dishwasher full of memories.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Must post about something other than NaNoWriMo...

So how about this?


I'm looking for an apartment/sublet on Craigslist for my brother, who's moving to Pittsburgh soon.  This morning I came across the ad below (and added the red circles):

Simple Rule of Advertising:

If you can't spell it, don't try to sell it.


In other news, I'm going to crack the NaNo halfway point today (25,000 words).  Any and all well-wishes are appreciated!

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNoWriMoSoFar: 10 days in...

So what I SAID was that I'd try my best to keep up blogging during National Novel Writing Month...

But what I MEANT was that I had no idea how much my fingers would feel like they were about to fall off if I continued typing and working on blog stuff after the hundreds of story words needed every day.

At a third of the way through the month - ten days - I'm about a day and a half behind at 14,000 words.  While being behind is a little discouraging, I keep reminding myself that I'm on page 53 after a week and a half.  That's the fastest I've ever drafted anything!  NaNo might be driving me a little nutso, but it is certainly keeping me going.

For anyone participating in NaNoWriMo (or considering drafting a novel in the foreseeable future), here are a couple of tools and tricks that have helped me keep moving:

WriteOrDie.com: This site is an online tool that tracks your writing progress over a set period of time; you select the number of minutes, the number of words you'd like to finish, and the strictness of the system.  Once you hit "go," you had better keep typing, because if you don't the site will GET YOU.  The typing screen starts to turn red in "gentle mode,"  and makes annoying sounds in "normal mode"... and in "kamikaze" mode, if you take too long to keep typing, it starts to DELETE what you've written!  So far, "gentle" has been enough of a motivator for me.  If I get brave enough to try "kamikaze," I'll let you know.

Spotify: This is a free music player that has a HUMONGOUS database of music, basically anything you can think of!  I made a bunch of playlists, but I made one specifically for The Real Friend - a mix of happy-sounding songs and Pixar movie scores.  I turn it on while I'm working, and it provides the perfect background inspiration.

Outlining on the Bus: This is the first time I've drafted straight to computer rather than writing in longhand first. I knew going into NaNo that it wouldn't be feasible for me to write everything out AND get it all typed.  It's actually been an easier transition than I expected, and I'm feeling more confident in the flow of my writing since I can do such longer pieces at a time.  However, I have to stick to my handwriting roots enough to keep some kind of journal for this project, so I have a slim notebook that I can keep with me on the bus to jot down any thoughts or ideas pertaining to the story.  I've used it especially for brainstorming imaginary friends and minor characters, which is really helpful when I'm drafting quickly and need to put a developed character right into the middle of a scene.

Also, coffee.  Lots and LOTS of coffee. =)

Do YOU have any writing tips/tricks/tools that keep you going?  If so, please feel free to share below!

Anyway, I'm headed into a weekend at home in Columbus with the family, so I'm not sure how well I'm going to keep up for the next few days.  Overall, though, NaNo has been great so far.  I highly recommend it.

And I'll blog about something else soon... both for your entertainment and for my sanity.

In the meantime, here's another excerpt, from Chapter 4 of the (rough) draft!


Things began to change when it stopped snowing and the trees started to turn green again.  Daddy was working all the time, it seemed, and more often than not it would be Mommy, Ricky, and me at the dinner table.  Sometimes Daddy would come home and work more in his office, and we could hear the clicking of the typewriter keys from upstairs in Ricky’s room, until we fell asleep.
One particular day Daddy came home right on time and didn’t go into his office.  He came and sat on the couch with Mommy, and they called Ricky over to them.  Mommy’s eyes were a little bit red, but she smiled as she scooped Ricky into her lap.
“Daddy and I have some exciting news,” she said.  “A big adventure.”
My ears perked up, and Ricky craned his neck to look between Mommy and Daddy.
“Daddy’s been doing such a good job at work that he got a promotion,” Mommy said.
“That means I’ll get to do more important work, and the boss will pay me more money,” Daddy explained.  “It also means that the company wants to move me to a bigger office.”
“Okay,” Ricky said.  “Will you still have to miss dinner?”
I saw Mommy and Daddy exchange looks.  “No,” Daddy answered, “I’ll be home earlier every day, sport.  Isn’t that great?”
“And the new office is in a different city,” Mommy said, “so we’re going to be moving this summer.”
Ricky grabbed my hand.  “Wait, when will we come back?”
Mommy hugged him closer, and her eyes looked redder all of a sudden.  “Baby, we’re moving for good.  We’ll get a new house and move all of our things and all of your toys into it, and we’ll be very happy there.”
Ricky gripped my hand tighter, and his lips started to tremble.  “But what about our house?” he asked.  “What about Samby?”
“We’ll sell it to another family,” Mommy explained gently, “and they’ll get to live here from then on.  We’ll have a new home, Ricky, and of course it will be Samby’s home, too.”
Tears started to roll down Ricky’s cheeks.  “I don’t want to move!” he cried.  “I like school here, and me and Samby’s friends are all here, and the pool, and the beach…”
Daddy laid his hands on Ricky’s shoulders.  “Listen, sport, you’re going to start kindergarten next year, so you’ll have a new school no matter where we are.  Everybody will be new, and you’ll make new friends.  And we can always take a vacation to the beach, or find a new pool for swimming.”
“I don’t want any new stuff,” Ricky said stubbornly.  “I just want our stuff.”
“But it will be our new stuff,” Mommy pointed out, “and we’ll all be together.”
Ricky sniffed as more tears splashed onto his chest.  “I don’t want to talk anymore,” he said, letting go of my hand.  He climbed down from Mommy’s lap and ran to his room.  I followed him, leaving Mommy and Daddy on the couch.
Ricky lay curled up on his bed, and I could see his shoulders shuddering as he wept.
“It will be all right,” I said, flopping over next to him.  “You’ll see.  Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t do it if it weren’t.  We have adventures wherever we go, Ricky.  As long as we’re together, we’ll be just fine.”
He looked at me, and I hoped he couldn’t see the way I felt.  Ricky was the dearest friend in the entire world, but I had also grown quite fond of Ada, Francis, and Carolina North, not to mention Maggie and Drew and the rest of our class, and the thought of leaving them all behind made me want to cry, too.
But Ricky could read my mind, like always.  “What about our friends, though?” he said.  “We’ll never see them again.”
“Maybe we will,” I said feebly.  I sat up and squared my shoulders.  “But you’re my best friend,” I added, “and I go where you go.”
Ricky smiled and wiped his face on the pillowcase.  “I know,” he said.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My First NaNoWriMo: Day One... 2,000 Done!

Two thousand words!

I wrote two thousand words today!


Image credit: Hyperbole and a Half

(I seem to be using this particular image more often lately.  What does that say about me, I wonder?)

Anyway, today is November 1st, also known as... my father-in-law's birthday!

Also known as.... my uncle's birthday!

Seriously, they have the same birthday.

And their DAUGHTERS have the same birthday!  WEIRD, right?!



TODAY is November 1st, also known as...

The Start of NaNoWriMo 2011!!!

I have been so excited (like, totally psyched out of my mind about it, Miles Finch-style) to get this imaginary friend idea off the ground.  I've been planning, writing notes, making lots of new (imaginary) friends, and basically being a high-functioning schizophrenic for the month of October.  But today, I booted a few of those voices out of my head for the first time, and onto the computer screen!

And it felt GREAT!!!

Anyway -- quick review for you lazy-bones who followed neither the link above nor the links I've posted recently -- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an online initiative to encourage writers old and new to crank out their first drafts of 50,000 words or more during the thirty days of November.  It's really more like 27 days when you allow for the post-turkey-catatonia wearing off over Thanksgiving weekend.  Writing just south of 1,700 words a day will get you there.

But today, I got 2,000 in!  I'm chugging along now, net-friends, and this story-train's not going to stop until it gets over that 50,000-word mountain!

Over the next month, I DO intend to post about things other than NaNo, but I'll also do my best to keep you informed of my progress.  And if you're participating too, that's AWESOME and you should definitely keep ME updated via blog comments, Twitter, or Facebook (or all three, if you're saucy)!

Here's a taste of the (ROUGH) draft... I invite your critiquing, and it will seriously help me out as I keep going this month.  Also, if you have any old imaginary friends you're not using anymore, a la THIS POST, it's not too late to send them to me and get them included in the book!


The Real Friend

            The day I was illuminated was a cold, rainy day, and Ricky was sick in bed.  I later learned that he was three years old at the time, but when he imagined me I had no thoughts other than the shape of his pink face and his big wondrous eyes staring at me.  Ricky imagined me with mossy green hair and fuzzy blue skin, wrapped up in a fiery red tunic, and there I was.  I had twice as many toes as him and half as many teeth.
            The moment Ricky illuminated me, he spoke my name: “Samby.”  I think now that he was trying to say “Sammy,” but he had a cold and a stuffy nose.  I pointed at myself, and he nodded.
Ricky wiggled his hand at me. I raised my own hand and wiggled it back. He clapped his hands gleefully. I clapped mine. He waved for me to come closer. I took my first few steps, but my feet weren't used to the slick wooden floor. I slipped and knocked into a cup of juice on the night table.
The plastic cup clattered to the floor as purple juice splattered everywhere. Ricky's eyes got big, and I heard footsteps for the first time.
"Ricky," a pretty woman scolded as she hurried into the room, "didn't Mommy say to be careful with your juice?" She scowled and pulled a towel off the dresser.
"Sorry, Mommy," Ricky said. "It wasn't me... it was Samby."
"Samby?" Mommy repeated. She looked around.
I thought she might like me better if I helped to clean up, so I dropped to my knees and tried to lap up the juice. It didn't work, though -- my tongue slid through the juice like it was nothing more than mist on the floor.
Ricky giggled again, and Mommy stared hard for a minute.
"Is Samby a new friend?" she asked.
Ricky nodded, bouncing in his bed.
Mommy's face changed into a smile, and she set down the towel. "I'm glad you made a new friend, Ricky," she said. "Samby can stay as long as she likes."
"He, Mommy. Samby's a he."
"Of course," Mommy said quickly. "As long as he likes. And as long as he doesn't spill any more juice, okay?"
Ricky and I nodded together, and Mommy finished cleaning up the mess. I haven't spilled a drop of juice since that day.
I often think about that very first day. I wonder what life was like before it -- pretty much the same, I expect -- and I occasionally ask myself what would have happened if Ricky hadn't caught that particular cold. I'm glad he did, though. Whatever happened afterwards, I am very glad he did. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween with the Grammar Assassin Ninja

(Pictures and caption re-posted from Halloween 2010, because I think it was my absolute peak of Halloween costuming)

Well, I've been running around like a crazy person this past week, trying to get the house ready for our murder mystery weekend (detailed blog confessional on THAT forthcoming).  That's my roundabout way of apologizing for not utterly blowing your minds before now.

In other words, here are some photos of my Halloween costume.

The Grammar Assassin Ninja shows no mercy.

The Grammar Assassin Ninja considered telling you to "Wax on, wax off"; however, doing so would invoke both dangling prepositions and a run-on sentence.  She will instead implore you with the imperative, "Exercise your muscles in a repetitive fashion, in order to ready yourself for the Cobra Kai fighters."

The Grammar Assassin Ninja says, "Bring it."  She is aware that "it" is ambiguous. 

The Grammar Assassin Ninja knows what you're thinking.  Yes, she can levitate objects with her mind.  "Elements of Style" indeed.

I also wanted to let you know that, like a genuine ninja, I will be periodically disappearing into the night this month, as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) kicks off in about an hour!  I will attempt to write an entire first draft of at least 50,000 words by midnight on November 30.

Though I'll be writing for hours on end, I'll brave the perils of carpal tunnel syndrome and sedentary obesity to keep you posted on the project throughout the month (it's the one with imaginary friends).  For now, though, net-friends, I just want to say thanks in advance for your support.  The Grammar Assassin Ninja is grateful.


Happy Halloween, everyone!

Monday, October 24, 2011


Hi Net-Friends!

I feel validated today!  Isn't that a wonderful feeling, when you can take a deep breath, let it out, and say to yourself, "Yeah, I just DID something"?

I've had several sources of validation in the past 24 hours or so, and it's just such a bubbling-over pot of everyday goodness that I have to type it up and post it, so that next week or the week after when I'm crying and feeling blue and shaking my fists at the sky, I'll have this to look back at and say, "But at least I had that good day then!"

The first source is actually kind of zero-sum, because my feeling validated sprang from Husband feeling crushed beneath a mountain of academia.  He's working on a PhD now, and he has to read around 76,000ish pages a week in order to fill his brain with knowledge.  Because Husband was struggling to keep his reading spectacles above water (read: feeling blue and shaking fists at sky), I got to be his Supporter Numero Uno, and last night I helped him plan out a studying and writing schedule to move his mountain of academia -- a schedule that he's now implementing and feeling much better about!  And since I have a lighter schedule in the evenings this week, I got a ton of laundry folded, dishes washed, and lunches packed, to help keep our household moving while he and I frantically chase brilliance with our keyboards in the next few weeks.

Husband is generally awesome, as spouses go, and he says many kind things to me that I don't record for blogger posterity.  But today he's said several times, "I couldn't do this without you," or "I feel so much better because of you."  That's when I know I'm being the kind of wife I want to be.

It's incredibly validating and fulfilling to support somebody else.  Too often, I think we get caught up in our own pursuits and successes, who's supporting US and building US up... which, granted, is important and necessary to achieving what we want out of life.  (I mean, if I spent every day doing laundry and making schedules, I'd never get any writing done.)  But I think that sometimes we get so wrapped up in that single-minded pursuit that we miss out on something equally rewarding.

Knowing that somebody else is counting on you to make their dreams a reality makes their goals your goals: when they succeed, you do as well, and it makes sharing your goals with them more satisfying, too.


This afternoon, I found out two wonderful pieces of news: first, my two-sentence pitch for Ugly Stick at YAtopia was singled out by a real live literary agent as one of her favorites!  Let me tell you, it is TOUGH to condense a 50,000 word work that you've poured your heart and creative energies into down to two sentences!  But I did it:

Seventeen-year-old April Somerfield is a shy, self-loathing misfit who would blend in with the wallpaper, if only the wallpaper were a little less attractive. When she discovers the family curse that made her who she is, April must decide if becoming beautiful on the outside is worth giving up the truly beautiful person she would otherwise become.

And she liked it!  She wanted to read more! *smiles all around!*

Second, I checked on another blog contest that I had entered, at one of my favorite writing websites, Mother.Write.  Twenty writers had submitted their query letters and first-page excerpts for the public critique of peers and an outstanding agent.  The top four were invited to submit work to the agent for consideration.

And one of the top four was Ugly Stick! *does non-literal backflips*

So I'm going to be sending out some more pages, and that's super-exciting.  I even did my desk-chair-happy-dance when I saw the results page.  But what made me the happiest about it was being able to sit back, take a deep breath, and say to myself, "Yeah, I DID that!"  It was just the right boost for a rainy Monday.

So here's a boost for you, net-friends!  This short film, Validation, is one of my absolute favorites when I feel blue or need to shake my fists at the sky.  Take a few spare minutes to watch it.  You'll be glad you did!

Good luck with the rest of the week!  Try to validate the people around you.  It's amazing what making someone's day can do for your own.

And remember...

You are GREAT!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pawlenty, Palin, and Pepper Jack

CAUTION: The following contains brief, comical thoughts relating to politics.  It is not meant to endorse OR affront any particular political leaning.  This is basically an idea I had on the morning commute that amused me, and I hope it does the same for you.

"What do you think's going to happen in next year's election?" Husband asked me this morning, while we were driving to work. 

(We were on the subject of John McCain because Husband had had an action-movie-style dream about him last night (this is normal for us).)

I shrugged.  "It's not going to be pretty," I answered.  Elections generally aren't.  Seriously.  I once witnessed an election where the losing presidential candidate briefly threatened suicide. 

Granted, that was a high school drama club election - true story! - but elections are not known for their warm fuzziness.

"Who do you think will be the Republican nominee?" Husband asked.

I shrugged again.  In my caffeine-withdrawn brain (for I was once again rationing my coffee until I got to work), a muddly idea spun slowly and took shape.  "The candidates... are like -- cheeses," I said.

"What?" Husband looked at me like he does sometimes, mildly concerned that this is it, and I've finally gone mad.

"The Republican candidates are like cheeses," I repeated.  It made more sense when I said it the second time, and I started talking faster.

"Because, I mean, think about it!  Whenever a new potential candidate appears on the horizon, he's lauded as a 'rising star' of the party.  He's fresh, flavorful, distinctive... but then everybody -- Fox News, CNN, MSNBC -- has to have a taste, so he never gets covered up or preserved at all.  The overexposure leads to some kind of funky mold that he can't scrape off (googling Santorum, anyone?), and then nobody wants him anymore."

"So who wins the nomination, then?  Who lasts?" Husband challenged.

I thought to myself, and then I grinned.  "The American cheese!" I declared.  "The one that's processed and produced for mass consumption.  Nobody's crazy about it, but everybody will eat it if they have to."

Well, Husband and I had a good laugh about it, and then I decided to write it all down for you, net-friends. 

I even made you a reference list of 2012 primary candidates!

(Again, please note that this list doesn't bear on my political leanings per se -- I'd have a list for Democrats if they were in a primary race this election cycle.  And it would have "limburger" on it.  John Edwards, I'm looking at you.)

In alphabetical order:

Michele Bachmann: Emmentaler.  It's pretty firm, piquant (which can mean hot or pungent, depending on your personal opinion of her), and produces random holes.  BONUS for this analogy?  The holes are also known as "eyes!"  That perfectly fits Newsweek's pathetically-bad-judgment nickname for Ms. "Crazy-Eyes" Bachmann.

Herman Cain: Mozzarella.  Could I really go with anything else for the former Godfather's Pizza CEO?  Not to mention that Cain, like Mozzarella, is currently the most popular of these candidates across the country.

Newt Gingrich: Pecorino Romano.  Good in small doses.  It's a grating cheese (PUN!), very firm, and aged for months or years (or, in Gingrich's case, decades).

Sarah Palin: Pepper Jack.  It's tart, spicy, and fiercely American.  It has kind of a niche market, though -- quesadillas and burgers -- and it doesn't mix well with those "elite" cheeses.

(I know she recently announced that she's not planning on seeking the Republican nomination... but Palin's nothing if not unconventional, and SarahPAC is still out there gathering funds.  I'm just saying.)

Ron Paul: Blue/Bleu.  The very fact that this pungent cheese can be spelled two ways is controversial!  But when you consider the "Blue Republican" movement that Paul has inspired, it also fits on its own.  Not to mention that people generally love or hate blue cheese, and Ron Paul is nothing if not polarizing.

Tim Pawlenty: Gouda.  Generally inoffensive, not particularly memorable.

Rick Perry: Roquefort.  It has a protected designation of origin (PDO), much like the Texas governor's ideal America, and it's white and tangy!  Wikipedia also tells me that roquefort's taste "fades to a salty finish," which is what I think most people are expecting from Perry at this point.

Mitt Romney: Velveeta!!!  Romney's versatile, slickly produced, and reasonably "pasteurized" by his previous campaign.  He's also got a longevity that none of the other candidates have been able to match.  Is he genuine cheese?  Well... not really.  But he's marketing himself for the masses, and that's why, as the American cheese, he's the expected front-runner. 


Do you have any cheeses/candidates to add?  What about Democrats/Independents/President Obama?  What kind of cheese is our Commander-in-Chief?

Also, have a great weekend!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Hi Everybody,

Happy Tuesday!  I've already received some excellent imaginary friends from some of you via email and post, and I thank you again for sending them my way!  I promise to take impeccable care of them.  I'm still accepting more, as many as you'd like to send me, so please don't hesitate!

(If you don't know what in the world I'm talking about, please refer to THIS POST from last week.)

In the hopes of gathering more input from you lovely folks for this blog, I've added a "Thoughts on Words" page.  It's currently quite short and houses a few quotes about books and writing that I appreciate. 

Since I know many of you are writers, and ALL of you are readers, I thought you might have some suggestions for thoughts and quotes (your own or others') to add to the page.  If you do, please send them my way!  Make me think!  What do YOU have to say about words, writing, and books?  You can quote Mark Twain, recite a swatch of poetry, or send me your own thoughts in a concise word-byte.  Anything goes.  I'll even take haikus and comics.  Just post it in the comments section on the page or email it to joy.eilene (at) gmail.com.

If it's sufficiently pensive, I'll add it to the "Thoughts on Words" page with a credit to you (maybe even a link to your own blog/site, if I'm feeling frisky).

Thanks in advance for sharing your creativity and inspiration with my little slice of the blogosphere.  Now, let's all sit on the classroom rug, eat some graham crackers, and get SHARING!


Thursday, October 6, 2011

New Game!

Hey everybody!  Would you like to help me write a novel?

You would?  GREAT!

Here's the thing: Husband and I were chilling in a cafe in Paris, like we do on occasion, and we got on the subject of imaginary friends.  Not just imaginary friends, but one in particular.  I got really super-excited and almost spilled my glass of chinon.

Because I got an idea.

It was that great, tingly, prickly, bounce-in-your-chair-feeling kind of idea.  The kind of idea that, given enough pens, paper, and patience, turns into a book.  It's going to be all about imaginary friends, and I don't want to say much more about it yet because it's still pretty embryonic.  But I'm planning it now, and I'm going to attempt to draft it during National Novel Writing Month in November.

And that's where you come in!

(image credit: Hyperbole and a Half)

Did/do you have an imaginary friend?  More than one?  Do you enjoy making things up?  Do you want to be credited in a novel?  SHARE WITH ME!

Email me at joy.eilene (at) gmail.com, or post your imaginary friend ideas in the comments.  Names, physical traits, back stories, personalities, occupations... it's all fair game.  If I can use it in the book, I will -- and I'll credit you when it's eventually published!

So get imagining, net-friends!  There's nothing too silly, too weird, or too adorable for inclusion.  Thanks in advance for your creativity and support.  I can't wait to share more of this developing idea with you!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Adventures in London and Paris, Days 8-10: Our Whirlwind Spins to an End

When you last saw your hero and heroine, they were celebrating the close of an exceptional day in London.

The next day, I woke up with a slightly worse cold, and we didn't have anywhere to be, so we bummed around the hotel until lunch/checkout time - Husband LITERALLY made me a spot of tea to help my sinuses! - and then trotted over to St. Pancras station to catch the Eurostar back to Paris.  It was an uneventful trip, except for the sad fact that Husband and I had not gotten seats together and were forced to ride back in separate cars.

But we reunited in Paris!  And then we got to our hotel.

I have to confess something here.  I referred to our previous hotel room in Paris as the World's Smallest Hotel Room.  I know now that was not accurate.  #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement

I know this because our final hotel room had it beat by a few cubic yards:

Oh!  Also, here's something - there's no bathroom in there.  Part of the benefit of our no-frills, extremely affordable, and well-located hotel was the very European experience of a shared "water closet" down the hall, (and a coin-operated shower that we didn't even bother trying to find).

But the view was worth it:

Here's something else - at sunset, the Eiffel Tower GLITTERS!!!!!!!

We trotted out to a neighborhood cafe for some dinner -- which for me has now come to be defined as chocolate mousse, red wine, and some other stuff -- and settled in for a good night's sleep before our last day in Paris.

The next morning dawned sunny and warm, perfect for sightseeing.  After a simple breakfast of baguettes, confits (jams), and cafes served to our room, we meandered in the direction of the Paris Opera House, the only biggie on our still-to-see list.  It was scheduled to be open until 4:30pm, so we figured we had plenty of time.  Husband and I did some light shopping, particularly in a game and puzzle store, and made it to the opera just before noon.

Isn't it beautiful from the outside?!  Wouldn't it be great to go inside and see all the marvelous sights in there?!



I know what you're thinking.  You're expecting another of those semi-tragic photos of the Husband next to a "closed" sign, right?


We waited patiently in a long, slow line, and at one point an official-looking fellow passed us.  I didn't really notice, but Husband looked over my shoulder a couple minutes later.

The rest of the line behind us was gone.

When we made it to the front of the line, a sign informed us that the last admission for the day had been bumped up to 12:30, because of afternoon rehearsals!  WHEW!  By the skin of our teeth, we had made it in!  I consider it karma for all of the closed sites we encountered earlier on the trip.

But seriously?  WORTH IT.

This place took us completely by surprise.  It's GORGEOUS!  The sheer opulence makes your eyes feel like they're not big enough to see it all.  And yes, if that chandelier with the round bulbs looks familiar... it is the original, the inspiration for the one designed for Phantom of the Opera, after Gaston Leroux's famous novel.  I kept an eye out for the Opera Ghost while we were there, but no such luck (who knows, maybe he was vacationing in Pittsburgh).

With the last big to-do crossed happily off our list, we wandered back to our hotel's neck of the woods.  On the way, we got another glimpse of that beautiful basilica.

Husband and I found the church of St. Eustache (over a week later I STILL want to call it St. Mustache), a very very old church right next to the Forum des Halles, Paris' ancient marketplace, now a large and mostly subterranean shopping mall.

Ready for a couple more shots inside a really old European church?  Here we go!

The biggest claim to fame of St. Eustache's church is probably that it is where Louis XIV received his first communion.  The Louis who built Versailles.  That Louis.

Outside the church were some beautiful gardens...

And a street band!

And also an adorable boy who wanted to dance to the music.  He even got some friends to boogie down with him!

It was a great cap on the afternoon, a little uniting reminder that kids are pretty much the same in every country, and that people can come together and enjoy a bit of good music, no matter where you are.

Husband also reminded me that people in every country are probably irked by strangers photographing their kids, so I put the camera away and stopped documenting the rugrat dance troupe like a Yankee Doodle creeper.  They were pretty darn good, though!

After one more tasty French dinner and some strategic baggage-packing, Husband and I bid the Eiffel Tower a good night.  The next morning, we got up bright and early to make our way to the airport.

Here's where it got a little funky.

We left our hotel a little before 8am, planning to get to the airport about 9am.  Plenty of time for a flight leaving after 11, right?


Husband and I stopped first at the Gare du Nord train station to retrieve the heavy bag of things-we-didn't-need-to-drag-to-London that we had left in a locker. Travel count: 1 train.

From the Gare du Nord, we hopped onto the Paris regional train to get to Charles de Gaulle airport. Travel count: 2 trains.

At the airport, we got off the train, went up an escalator, and got on an intra-airport train to get us to the check-in.  A couple more escalators and moving sidewalks got us to check-in.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks.

At the Delta check-in, we tried two different kiosks that wouldn't allow us to check in for our particular flight, so we finally got in a line that looked like it would take about fifteen minutes.

AN HOUR AND TEN MINUTES LATER, we got to the front of the line, frantic that we were going to miss our flight that left in just over thirty-five minutes - we still had to get through the long lines of border control and security.  I cannot explain how slowly this line was moving.  It was like Delta's computers were operated by doped-up, unionized snails.  Every five minutes one of the three people working the counters would take a break, and in between that they would triage to the next departing flight.
"Anyone flying to Salt Lake City?"
All the panicky Salt Lakers would get out of line and get checked in, while the rest of us checked our watches and raised our blood pressures.  Finally, though, it was our turn.  We checked our bags, snagged our boarding passes, and sprinted to border control.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 1 ridiculous line.

Border control and security were relatively quick and painless, owing to another triage line for all the passengers who had aged significantly during check-in.  Still, though, I was having waking nightmares that we were going to make a mad dash to our gate and be told that the plane taking off in the distance was ours.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 3 ridiculous lines.

Following said mad dash to the gate, we discovered that the flight was slightly delayed.  *shakes head.*  After about twenty minutes, at which time the plane was supposed to be boarded and departing, we got into the line to board.  And then another security check line.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 5 ridiculous lines.

Only it WASN'T the line to board the plane!  It was the line to board one of two cramped shuttle buses to drive us across a mile of tarmac TO the plane!  We packed ourselves in like sardines and rattled to the plane, where we had to wait for the pilot to be born, raised, and trained as a pilot before we could get off the bus and into the actual boarding line for the plane.  Travel count: 3 trains, 3 escalators, 2 moving sidewalks, 6 ridiculous lines, 1 sardine bus, 1 airplane.

After that, though, the plane ride was a cake walk.  Husband watched Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, I watched Water for Elephants and played "Bookworm," and before we knew it, we were back on American soil!  Mission accomplished!

As epic and fun as this whole trip was, I have to say that my heart was as full upon our return to our house as it was when I saw Charles Dickens' house.  The salons of Versailles just couldn't compare to curling up in our own family room.  And all the amusing birds in the world could not hold a candle to this furry friend of ours.

Riley was such a good boy while we were away!  I missed those big blue eyes every single day, and coming home to our faithful sentry was the best welcome back we could have asked for.

There's a poem that I read after my first month-long trip to France nine years ago, and I had it in my head again as we flew home on Sunday.

America for Me, by Henry Van Dyke

'Tis fine to see the Old World and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues and kings
But now I think I've had enough of antiquated things.

So it's home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom, beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars.

Oh, London is a man's town, there's power in the air;
And Paris is a woman's town, with flowers in her hair;
And it's sweet to dream in Venice, and it's great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.

I like the German fir-woods in green battalions drilled;
I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing fountains filled;
But, oh, to take your hand, my dear, and ramble for a day
In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her sway!

I know that Europe's wonderful, yet something seems to lack!
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free--
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.

Oh, it's home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that's westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the blessed Land of Room Enough, beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars. 

"When it comes to living, there is no place like home."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Hi everybody,

Well, Husband and I are FINALLY settling back into our daily lives after returning from the Epic Trip of Epicity (and I've recovered enough from the waking nightmare that was Charles de Gaulle airport to blog about it - coming soon).  I've been getting my writing stuff in order as well, and I came across a couple of writing-related endeavors which may interest the word-inclined among you.

First is a pitch contest with literary agent Mandy Hubbard, hosted by YATopia: hook this excellent agent with your two-sentence pitch, and she will read your manuscript!  Further details are available on the website.  I know I'm entering!


Next is the infamous NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month (also known as November).  All around the world, writers of all ages and skill levels pledge to pound out a rough draft of a novel (50,000 words or more) in just 30 days.  I've been getting more efficient as a writer, and I have several ideas that I really want to get on paper in case I get swallowed by a dragon or something, so this sounded like a great opportunity to me. 

I'm going to do it!  And I hereby invite you all to suffer take this grand literary journey with me!  I'll do a fair amount of blogging about it next month, since my brain will probably be so over capacity that adverbs will start leaking out my ears.  But think about it!  Haven't you always wanted to write a novel?


That's all for now - more later.  Happy Tuesday!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Adventures in London - Day 7 - A Day of Excellence!

Hello from London!  Land of Buses, Beatles, and Brollies!

(still not sure what a brolly is, but apparently they're here.)

Husband had planned a full Day of Excellence for us, and despite my cold I sprang from bed, ready to take on the day and soak up as much English culture as possible.

We began with the quintessential British residence: Buckingham Palace!

I wanted to take a tour, but the queues were quite long, and Husband assured me that our time would be well-spent elsewhere today.

(I'm so glad I agreed!)

We trotted through Green Park, passing the Canada Gate and Canada Memorial (I thought Canada was still around, eh?), and then we found the Royal Band passing by Kensington Park!

They sounded so BRITISH!  And they set a song in my fluttering heart, so I hummed "Tuppence A Bag" to myself as we meandered through the next stop on our tour: walking through Kensington Park, which is full of BIRDS!

(a white swan AND a black swan!) 

As we crossed the park, we drew nearer to this World War I memorial and the War Cabinet.


We walked through the plaza and under that central archway.  Little did I know where we were headed next!

Though I stopped on the way to take another Gratuitous Tourist Photo:

Yes, I needed to be That Tourist for at least 30 seconds of our trip.  But LOOK what was across the street!

Yes, we got there at 12 noon on the dot!  Is Husband a good planner, or what?  

(I kind of think he lucked out on this one.)

A couple of people warned me beforehand that Big Ben was not quite as big in person, compared to the portrayals in films and postcards.  However, I didn't think Big Ben was misnamed at all - especially when it started striking twelve.  Those chimes are DEEP.

Right around Big Ben were several famous places: Parliament, the Jewel Tower, and Westminster Abbey.  


We didn't enter Parliament, but we did tour the Jewel Tower (right), which was built in the 1300s to house the crown jewels of England.  Now THAT's a sturdy building!

Then Husband and I toured Westminster Abbey, where thousands of distinguished people are buried and memorialized.  Everyone from King Henry VIII and Charles Darwin to the plumber of the church way back in the day (I'm serious).  It is a solemn place, though; full of remembrances to those departed, and full of peace.  Westminster Abbey is an oddly restful place, and we left feeling very... reflective.  

We were not permitted to take pictures inside, but here's the beautiful exterior.

By this time, Husband and I were ready for lunch - but we didn't know where to go!  We stopped off the Underground to see the London Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666:

and while we were wandering, we found this excellent English pub, themed around Lewis Carroll!

It was charming, quirky, and full of locals taking late lunch breaks.  Husband and I got sandwiches and chips (fries, AGAIN with Heinz Ketchup!), and we shared a bit of delicious organic cider.

Our next stop was one of the biggest highlights of the entire trip for me.  If you ever go to London, DO NOT MISS St. Paul's Cathedral.

Again, we could unfortunately not take pictures inside.  But maybe that's for the best.  The interior of St. Paul's is like what everyone says the Grand Canyon is like; you just have to see it in person and take it all in.  St. Paul's is, in a word, sacred.  The arched ceilings and the central dome are covered in mosaics of tiny tiles and gilded.  Words from one of my favorite psalms, Psalm 150, adorn the curved corners around the altar.  The most incredible, inimitable part of St. Paul's, though, is just the feeling you get from standing in this beautiful, majestic, holy place.  I could have stayed there for hours, if not days.  Honestly, I could have moved in.

However, there was still more to see.

The Tower of London!

This complex contains some of the most pivotal artifacts and sites of British history in existence.  The Crown Jewels are kept here.  Royal traitors were imprisoned, even beheaded here.  It's a place steeped in history.  And they even let us take pictures inside!

These statues are actually constructed of chain mail! 

"The Traitors' Gate," a portcullis that could be raised to allow a small barge through, carrying the condemned prisoner.  Anne Boleyn arrived for her execution through this very portal.  

The White Tower is now a museum of British artifacts, like royal arms and suits of armor. 

This is one of the famous ravens of the Tower of London.  According to legend, if the ravens all leave, the tower will fall.  Well, you can't really tell from this picture, but I think the plan is to keep the ravens so fattened up that they can't leave!

This is St. John's Chapel inside the White Tower.  Simple, elegant, and calm.

The Crown Jewels were breathtaking (we saw diamonds the size of chicken eggs, and a golden soup tureen the size of a bathtub), but we couldn't photograph inside for security reasons.  Add this spot to your London bucket list, though!

Right by the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge (which many people mistakenly refer to as the London Bridge):

Then Husband led me past the bridge to a surprise location for dinner.  Can you guess?

The Dickens Inn!  This huge restaurant was originally an inn, owned by Charles Dickens' grandson.  O, History!

But, alas.

Seriously, London?!

But fortunately, I realized before we left in defeat that the grill was not actually CLOSED -- it just had closed between lunch and dinner.  So Husband and I happily waited outside by the docks, looking over my book about the Crown Jewels, until the Dickens Inn grill officially opened for the evening.

The food was delicious -- you might even call it "Food, Glorious Food" -- and we had the best view from the window!

After we had finished dinner, we walked along the river past the bridge and the Tower once more, before hopping on the metro.

London, you certainly were a whirlwind, but what a wonderful whirlwind you were!  I can't wait to go back!