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)

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), 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!