Hallelujah! I Won!!

Yes!  Despite a trip from Georgia to Florida for an entire week, I finished my novel for National Novel Writing Month last night.  More importantly, I am just a smidgen away from finishing the entire story for the first time through.  Then, it's goodbye "Crazy" and hello "Pizzeria on Mars", my next writing project.

Wordless Wednesday - Another Turtle in Our Backyard

I love the coloring on this one. 

Wordless Wednesday - Sea World Show

Shamu - The Great Orca Slave Whale?!??
A few weeks ago, PETA sued Sea World claimed that the killer whales were "slaves" under our Bill of Rights.  While I fully believe in the ethical treatment of animals, PETA is their own worst enemy when they do stunts like this.  

New Thanksgivings Tradition

A few years ago our school board wisely chose to give the kids a week off for Thanksgiving.  We visited my parents during the week long break, and discovered that November is the perfect time to go to Florida!  The weather is nicer, the beaches have room on them, and overall it was one of the most relaxing vacations ever.

After that wonderful vacation, my parents have extended us a standing invitation to visit them in Florida for the Thanksgiving break.  Over the years, we have added events to the schedule, such as an annual visit to the beach.  This year, though, we're starting a new Thanksgiving tradition:  cooking!!

Okay, okay, I know that most people cook on Thanksgiving.  But this year everyone will be contributing at least one dish to the dinner table.  My son will be making mashed potatoes.  My daughter signed up to make a pumpkin pie.  My husband is contributing a loaf of that wonderful zucchini bread for dinner and Hungarian coffee cake for breakfast.  My dad is even getting in on the act, making a corn casserole.  Mom and I will be getting the remaining dishes done.

I know that this might seem a little silly, but I like having Thanksgiving traditions that involve everyone.  This particular tradition encourages the kids to learn how to cook, how to plan meals, and how to cooperate when figuring out meal assignments.  This tradition also means that there won't be just one person in the kitchen slaving over the dinner.  Everyone participating means the workload is spread out.

I will let you know how well this tradition works out.

Recipe: Inez's Zucchini Bread

Inez Patterson is my husband's Mom.  She was a character, from all accounts, who worked hard at being both a good person and a great mother.  Inez cooked dinners at home virtually every day, and my dear husband introduces us to various dishes from his childhood from time to time.  Last Saturday, he went to the kitchen with our daughter and whipped up a favorite of his - zucchini bread.  I was at the writing conference, and I came home to a wonderfully smelling house with even more wonderfully tasting bread.  I loved it so much, I decided to share the recipe.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do.




 Inez's Zucchini Bread Recipe 

Ingredients:
  • 2 c. Flour
  • 2 tsp. Baking powder
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 3 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 3 Eggs
  • 1 c. Vegetable Oil
  • 2/3 c. Sugar
  • 2 c. Grated zucchini (from 2 medium-sized zucchinis)
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 c. Raisins
  • 1 c. Chopped Walnuts

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a 13"x9"x2" dish or a loaf pan.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture.
  5. Add everything else in and mix together.  Do not overmix.
  6. Pour mixture into the dish or loaf pan.
  7. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the center springs back.

"Home Security" by Steve Frenkel

Home Security, 2008

Steve Frenkel is a local artist here in Georgia.  I met him years ago, and I immediately fell in love with his art.  I love the colors that Steve uses, as well as the manner in which he presents ideas.  This particular painting is my all-time favorite one.  I love how a person is so overcome with fear that they install ludicrous defense mechanisms around their house, from a dinosaur to an airplane.  If you want to see more of Steve's work, go to his stream at Flickr.

Mystery Symphony from the Mystery Guitar Man


A while ago, I watched a video in which the Mystery Guitar Man (MGM) asked his fans to send in videos of them playing various instruments.  He asked that you play one note at a time, with a short break between notes. He said that he would create a video of a well known song, but MGM refused to let us know what song was in advance.  Over 1,400 people responded, and MGM created this - the Mystery Symphony!!

Enjoy!

Occupy Wall Street: How the Government Keeps Failing

Just when I thought that the government cannot make this situation any worse, I discover that I'm wrong.

This past week, government officials around the country began to "evict" Occupy protester from their protesting sites.  Now, if I assume that there is a valid reason for these eviction, then I would expect that the various government officials would evict these people by the light of day, allowing the press to record the proceedings.  I would expect the protesters would be given enough time and warning to remove their possessions in an orderly fashion.  And unless the protesters began to violently react, I would also expect close to no arrests.

Did any of this happen?

No!

The government officials crept through the night like bandits and thieves, like mafia enforcers who wish to avoid the eye of the public.  Police men showed up in riot gear, despite the fact that all of the violence so far was initialed by the police.  Tear gas and rubber bullets flew, creating war on our own streets.  Against our own citizens, who want nothing more than for the current government to listen to the people.  They want Congress to stop practicing taxation without representation, to stop representing the wealthy elite who consider themselves about "We the people" and to represent everyone.  They want the laws currently on the books to be enforced, for the wealthy who have been breaking the laws with impunity to be brought to justice.  Stop allowing a small group of business to be virtual monopolies, controlling the entire American economy yet having no responsibility to match their power.

The government failed the American people years ago, when they allowed the wealthy elite to dictate the votes of Congress.  They failed the American people when they bailed out the bank and car companies, citing that these organizations were "too big to fail" but not enforcing the monopoly laws on such companies.  They failed the American people by passing laws that allowed corporations to be a "person" in the eyes of the law, gaining all of the privileges and none of the responsibilities.  They failed the American people by allowing for-profit universities to take money for student loans and not give a decent education in return.  They failed the American people by using the debt ceiling to get personal legislation passed, putting party politics above the entire country.  They failed the American people by faking a "war on terror" and then doing nothing useful to stop terrorists.  Instead, they removed more and more of the rights of Americans until we have the situation of today.

American citizens getting arrested for practicing their right to protest.  A right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.  A right inherent to the American Dream.

Now, the government fails us again, arresting not only the protesters but the media.  Anyone who has a camera or a video recorder is at risk for being arrested, not for breaking any particular law but for reporting the truth.  For recording what the government is doing, and letting the world see how democracy and the American Way of Life is dying.

Wordless Wednesday - White Tiger

At the Memphis Zoo

Writing Advice From the Red Clay Conference

This past Saturday, I attended the Red Clay Writing Conference, sponsored by the Georgia Writers Association (GWA).  I admit that I only joined the GWA this year, but so far I have been impressed with their events.

The Red Clay Writing Conference provided once again that GWA is a great organization for Georgia writers.  I listened to the keynote speaker, Wendy Wax, author of "10 Beach Road", before attending three panel discussions.  I learned something in every setting, and I am here to share with you.


  • Keynote Speaker:  Wendy Wax presented the keynote address this year, as she discussed how she went from a retired journalist and stay at home mom to a successfully published author with nine books out there.  Personally, I like Wendy Wax because she is just plain nice.  She came out to the conference while facing a publishing deadline to pass on hope.  From Wendy, I learned:
    • Even published authors have days when everything that comes out is "suckalicious".  
    • It is possible to write a novel between children leaving in the morning and the afternoon school bus, so long as you keep at it.
    • Having a critique partner and a set of readers is key.
  • The Craft of Fiction:  Wendy Wax jumped from her keynote speech to this panel.  Jeffrey Stepakoff moderated this panel.  If the man's speaking reflects how he writers, I know that Jeffrey turns out concise fiction.  Personally, I like concise fiction. Sheri Joseph is crazy, but in a serious, writerly way.  The woman wrote 400 pages of back story to explain what  happened to her characters before the start of one of her novel.  When I heard this, I thought, Honey, that's not back story.  That's called a prequel. Amanda Gable appears to be a regular person, someone you might pass walking down the street  or working in her flower garden.  But she loves knowledge, and probably wins "Person You Most Want as a Trivial Pursuit Partner".  From these four people I learned:
    • There is no writing process - in a way that's quite similar to "there is no spoon".  
    • For all the books out there, every writer needs to discover how he or she writes, and follow that process.  
    • On the other hand, there is a common writing problem.  My writing partner calls it the BIC problem - Butt In Chair.  Most writers need to just sit down and write.  
    • For prose, all the panelists agreed that if you have writer's block, write anyway.  Personally, I find that writing about why I can't write solves most writer's blocks.
    • You can find inspiration in any and everything, but the best stuff comes from living.
  • Crafting the Poem:  These three women exemplify why poetry is still alive in the twenty-first century.  On top of being a poet, Cheryl Stiles bucks the grumpy publisher stereotype to run a friendly chapbook publishing company.  Katie Fesuk writes marvelous poetry (I read some of it during the panel), and I like how she views the world from a point of view slight skewed off center.  My views on Jenny Sadre-Orafai run from a successful magazine editor to the woman most likely to wear black in college.  (This is a compliment; you should see how much black clothing I still own.)  Jenny balances optimism with a healthy dose of reality, something we all could learn.  From these women, I learned:
    • First off, poetry is fiction.  The panel hammered this home as all of the poetry advice, from creation to revision to publication, works for both poetry and prose.  Poetry tends to be a bit more structured and shorter than other genres of  fiction (excluding flash fiction), but poetry is still a part of fiction.
    • After the first draft, you need to let your work rest and then revise it.  Revise, revise, revise, and when you think it's done, revise it one more time.
    • A poem is never done.  You might get to a point where you think it can be published, but you never give up the right for more revision.
    • Inspiration comes from living life, so get out from behind the keyboard occasionally and interact with the world.
    • Unlike prose, don't just keep writing if you stumble into writer's block.  Instead, switch what you're doing.  Write a short story, take a walk, do the macarena - do anything but attempt to write poetry.  
  • Writing Funny: Okay, this was my favorite panel of the day.  Don't get me wrong - I had an excellent time the entire day.  But watching these three men sit and discuss their work was like watching Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall, and Ron White at the end of a Blue Collar concert, when they all sit around swapping stories.  The entire audience laughed, laughed, and then laughed some more. Ray Atkins sounds like someone's crazy uncle, visiting the house for an afternoon of tall tales and beer.  John Schulz proved Foxworthy right in his definition of a redneck as someone with a glorious lack of sophistication.  John looked a bit uncomfortable at the beginning of the panel, but as soon as the jokes starting flying and the men read excerpts, John brought out his Southern smile and joined in the fun.  Man Martin needs to read his own book for the audio version of it.  Man took a passage that he memorized, and performed the character so perfectly that even the other men on the panel needed a few minutes to recover from the laughter.  These men taught me:
    • Life is funny, if you look at it the right way.
    • Humor helps to relieve tension in a book.
    • I will never be as funny as Ray Atkins, John Schulz, or Man Martin.

Excerpt From "Crazy", my NaNoWriMo Novel

I am not exactly known for my happy and cheerful stories.  This year is no different.  My novel begins with a harried divorcee, Donna Carroll, sitting in a diner.  She's back in her small home town, trying to recover from a public, humiliating divorce.  Suddenly, a man stabs a waitress for bringing him too much ice.  In the aftermath, Donna learns that this is not a one-of-a-kind incident - people have slowly been acting just bonkers.  Donna learns about a woman, Matilda, who burned her house down with her husband in it.  The following excerpt is from the site of the burned down house.  Donna just showed up to investigate:

Donna got out of her car and walked around the yard.  She saw tire tracks
from the fire trucks, next to an old, beat up station wagon.  She peered into
the car, but only saw trash from too many trips to McDonald’s drive thru, 
a dirty picnic blanket, and a water bottle filled with dirty water.  A noxious 
smell emanated from the car and Donna backed away, glad the car windows 
were closed.

Treading carefully, she walked over the blackened ground.  Coals crunched 
under her shoes as little puffs of black dust arose with each foot step.  She 
smelled smoke, only the smell slightly changed as she walked.  I wonder if
the smells correlate with different burned objects.  I wonder if one of the 
smells is burned Milo.

The thought drove Donna to hold her breath as she rushed out to get to 
grass.  There, she wiped her hands over her clothes and stomped her feet 
to remove all the imagined pieced of Milo Gives that clung to her. Just then, 
she heard a car driving up.  Ye gods, who would want to come here?

Accidental Autumnal Chicken Sald



One of my family's favorite foods is homemade chicken salad.  When I don't have the time, I'll just use canned chicken.  But most of the time, I get pieces of chicken - preferable boneless, skinless thighs - and bake them in the oven.  After the chicken cools off, I cut it into chunks, add carrot, grapes or raisins, sometimes I'll cut up an apple, and then walnuts or pecans.  Toss with mayonnaise and vióla!  Homemade chicken salad!

Well, last week I decided I'd grate fresh carrots instead of cutting baby carrots up into chunks.  This was all fine and dandy, right until I added the mayonnaise.  Suddenly, the mayonnaise turned orange!  It took me a minute to figure out what was happening, but then I realized the grated carrot, which stained my hands orange, was now turning the entire chicken salad orange!

Without meaning to, I created autumnal chicken salad!

Picture: A Turtle From Our Yard

Put Me Down!  I Will Pee On You, Insolent Man!

How Congress Created Occupy Wall Street


I know lots of people who ask, “How can so many people participate in Occupy Wall Street (or Occupy Portland or Occupy Atlanta...)?  Don’t these people have lives?” The short answer is no, they do not have lives.  And that’s the point.  

The Occupy Wall Street protesters don’t have lives.  They don’t have jobs, money, security, or a way in the foreseeable future to obtain any of these intangibles.  Some even have families that depend on them, but with no income, how can they raise the next generation to be productive members of society?  

What most people fail to see is that these protesters don’t have much to lose, and that’s why they are protesting.  On top of wanting the American Dream, they really don’t have anything substantial to lose, but everything to gain if change occurs.

The American government, by allowing the “elite few” to run business and corporations without oversight, created these protesters.  By having multi-millionaires run Congress (and therefore give tax breaks to everyone in their own tax bracket), the government passes laws favorable to multi-millionaires, virtually disenfranchising 99% of the population.  After all, when the two candidates for any position in Congress represent the same 1% of the population, does it really matter who you vote for?

Protesters are created when regular, ordinary people have nothing to lose by protesting.  And that, my friends, is where far too many citizens of our country are right now.

Wordless Wednesday - How Did the Rock Get in There?


The Lost Art of Gift Giving


As we approach the holiday season, I wonder how many people will be doing true gift giving.  I’m not talking about buying the latest toy or the coolest electronic gadget available.  What I am talking about is something more along the like of the story “The Gift of the Magi”.

What are you willing to sacrifice in order to obtain the perfect gift for someone else?

Our family has a tradition of events and activities as gifts, instead of merely physical possessions.  We have taken our children to see three different Cirque du Soleil shows, the Blue Man Group locally and in Nashvile, TN, and three different  Jonathan Coulton shows (two of them with Paul and Storm!).  Over the years, we have gone on the Christmas train on the Blue Ridge Railroad and given the kids monthly pony rides for a year.  One year, my husband spent umpteen evenings recording an audio book for the children to listen to as we take trips. He sacrificed his free time in the evenings for that gift.

Our philosophy is that the kids will treasure the time together that we spend as a family more than another toy.

So far, this philosophy seems to work.  Both of the children not only loved the concerts, but they appreciate the family time.  We have photographs and memories to talk about all year long.  They listened to “Rabbit Hill” (the book recorded by my dear husband) several times, and they still own the programs from the Cirque du Soleil shows.  

I want to stress that we don’t just give gifts during the month of December, or at birthdays.  If a good concert comes up in the middle of the year, we buy tickets to it for the family.  The latest Jonathan Coulton show occurred the Friday night of Dragon Con.  We got tickets for the family because we all enjoy his concerts.

By the way, both of the kids are audiophiles.  Music is quite important to them, which is why the concert tickets mean so much to them.

But we don’t just give the children expensive concert tickets.  Earlier this week, my husband sat abandoned while I wrote my daily word quota for NaNoWriMo.  So he looked online and found out how to make heart shaped origami bookmarks.  Then my wonderful husband made two bookmarks for me and one for our daughter (our son would not be interested in a heart shaped bookmark).  He did this on a random weeknight, with no event to celebrate and nothing in particular going on.  But those bookmarks are valuable to both me and our daughter.

We try to give time gifts as much as purchased gifts.  Because in the end, the thought behind the gift means so much more than the price tag.

Does anyone else have gift giving traditions to share?

Recipe: One Skillet Pasta

Have you ever come into your kitchen, dreading not the actual cooking of dinner, but instead the cleaning up afterwards? Have you ever moaned about how many pots and pans get dirtied just trying to make a simple pasta dish?

I have.  So when I found a recipe that dirtied one and only one skillet, but gets me a fabulous pasta dinner, I copied it into my homemade cook book faster than Speedy Gonzalez.  I use this as a meal anytime I want a break from doing a huge load of dishes.  I also began to teach my son how to make this, because it's that easy.

One Skillet Pasta

Ingredients:
1 lb. of ground beef
2 c. of hot water
26 oz. of spaghetti sauce
3 c. of  some other small pasta, uncooked
1 c. of ricotta cheese
1 c. of mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet.  Drain out any excess fat.
  2. Add the water and spaghetti sauce to the beef, mix together, and heat until boiling.
  3. Add the pasta, turn the heat down to a simmer, and cover.  
  4. Cook for 15 - 20 minutes, until the pasta is tender.
  5. Add the ricotta cheese, stirring to incorporate.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  6. Stir half the mozzarella into the mixture.  Spread the rest of the cheese over the top. Cover the skillet one more time, and wait until the cheese melts before serving.

New Writing: "The Monsters Bedtime Book"

This weekend, when I sat down to create another idea for a picture book, what came out was the entire picture book.  Or at least the words for an entire picture book.  Now, of course, I need to create the pictures for it.  But I love the words so much, I decided to share them.

So without further ado, here is "The Monsters Bedtime Book".

The sun is up.  It’s getting late. So please, little monsters, don’t hesitate. It’s time to go to bed.
Brush out your fur. Wipe down your scales. Sharpen your talons.  Cover your tails. It’s time to go to bed.
Do one big stretch.  Do one stretch more. Then scurry behind the closet door. It’s time to go to bed.
Mommies and Daddies everywhere Will give you a kiss and your teddy bear. It’s time to go to bed.
The sun is up.  It’s getting late. Please, please, little monsters, don’t hesitate. It’s time to go to bed.

Recipe: Basic Cheese Sauce

I don't know about anyone else, but  I really like macaroni and cheese.  Yes, the blue box used to be a staple around here, especially when the kids were younger.  But the more I cook, the more I want to learn how to make things I love.  So after the success with the noodles, I yearned for homemade cheese sauce.

In my quest, I researched homemade cheese sauce.  And by "research" I mean I read several recipes on the Internet, watched videos of people making cheese sauce, and I even read through a few cookbooks.  In the end, I discovered that making a good cheese sauce it amazingly easy.

First, you make a roux (pronounced "roo") in a skillet on the stove.  When I heard about a roux, I felt very ignorant.  It took a few minutes before I learned that a roux is a mixed of equal parts melted butter and flour.  That's it.  You melt butter in a skillet, then add the same amount of flour and stir.

Seriously, why couldn't they come up with a name that sounds more ordinary?

Then, you add a milk product to the roux to form a base.  The milk product can be cream, half-n-half, or whole milk.  I do not recommend using skim milk, because you need the milk fat.

At this point, you have now made a bechamel or white sauce.  You can add salt or other flavorings to this sauce, and simply serve it as is.  Or, you can add cheese.

I recommend adding shredded cheese to the white sauce, since it will melt faster if shredded.  Some recipes recommend removing the skillet from the heat before adding the cheese, but I tend to just turn the heat to low.  Adding the cheese removes a bunch of heat from the sauce suddenly, so I keep the pan on low heat to ensure that the mixture stays hot enough.

If I'm making an Italian cheese sauce, sometimes I add chicken broth to the roux before I add the milk product.  The broth adds flavor, which the sauce needs since several of the Italian cheese don't have a strong enough flavor by themselves.

If your cheese sauce seems too thick, you can add water.  Or add pasta directly from the pan, and include some of the pasta water.  If your cheese sauce seems too thin, add more cheese.

Bon Appetít!

Basic Cheese Sauce

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. Butter
3 Tbsp. Flour
1 1/2 c.  Cream
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 c. Shredded Cheese

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a skillet.
  2. Add flour to the butter and stir until the flour is completely mixed in.
  3. Add cream and  salt.  
  4. Stir constantly for about five minutes.
  5. Add shredded cheese, stirring until melted in.
Serve with noodles or rice.



On Writing Book Reviews

I read.  I'm not the most prolific reader I know (and yes, I'm looking at you, Julie), but I do read quite a bit.  Partly because as writer, reading is part of the gig.  But I learned to love reading as a small child, and I work hard to maintain the habit.

When I started this blog, I wanted to share some of the book I read with everyone. I wanted people to learn about good books, bad books, funny books, and books that make me cry.  So I started writing book reviews, and I learned something very important.

Writing useful book reviews is hard.

How do I get across that an author included some fantastic plot twist, made even better because it was subtly foreshadowed, without ruining the plot twist for the rest of the world?  Even mentioning that there is a plot twist can alter how someone reads a book.  All the wonderful action, characters, surprises,...  I want to share it all, but I know that saying too much will spoil the book.

So I end up treating books as if I am still in a college English class. I look at the grammar and vocabulary choices, the characterizations, descriptive languages, and I critique them.  I end up talking about whether or not the protagonist is believable or if the antagonist seems like a Hollywood villain.  I cringe inside when I do this, because reviews never turn out to be what I really want to say.

Anyway, I just wanted to explain why in real life I babble on about books for hours, but online I write rather short reviews.  The more that I write, hopefully the more I'll find to say that doesn't spoil a book, but still makes you want to read (or avoid) the book.


Announcement: Blue Butterfly's Reviews

Hello!  This is just a quick announcement.  My 9-year-old daughter just started her own blog yesterday, where she reviews books, movies, and video games.  She also will post her opinion on current events and such.

If you are interested, you can find the blog at http://bluebutterfly.wegrok.net.

Thank you.

The Fall of the American Empire


I have a secret.

I see patterns.

Okay, so  it’s really not as cool as seeing dead people.  But it’s my one super power (so to speak).  In elementary school, I saw patterns in numbers, and used the knowledge to ace every multiplication test on the planet.  (Did you know that there are at least 4 patterns to figuring out the 9s table?)  Later on, I used patterns to remember events in history, find results in science labs, and even write music for a humanities class.  

Outside of school, patterns are not quite as useful.  I still use patterns when writing music, and I see patterns in the plots of books.  Today, though, I want to talk about a pattern that I see in history, and how I think it relates to the current situation in the American economy.

Throughout recorded human history, civilizations have grown from small villages to huge empires, only to topple and be replaced by other empires. From Europe to China, empires rise and fall with regularity in history.  If you look closely, you realize that the vast majority of empires did not fall outright to an external force, such as another empire.  Rather, internal corruption weakened each empire, corruption that started at the top and worked its way through the political organization.  

When I examine history, I see a pattern in this corruption.  It begins when the people at the top of the power chain begin to think that their needs and wants trump the needs and wants of society as a whole.  When people act elite, their decisions become self-centered.  Unfortunately, these same people tend to have the power in society, so the more elite they act, the worse off the rest of society becomes until there is a change.  That change is revolution, whether a bloody affair, such as the Russian revolution at the beginning of the 20th century, or a peaceful affair,  such as Occupy Wall Street.

When our Founding Fathers set up the United States, they incorporated the concept of “We the people” into the documents and philosophy of the new country.  In the beginning, “We the people” only meant white men, but as time went by the concept grew to incorporate women as well as people of other ethnicities.    Now, “We the people” means everyone in this country, from the homeless person living in a cardboard box under a bridge to the wealthy inheritor who has so much money it could never get spent.

The trouble came to our country when the very wealthy acted as if their wants were more important than anyone else’s needs.  When the wealthy act as if they are above “We the people”, you get banks who give out mortgages that cannot be paid back, because it gives the bank a short term profit.  When the wealthy act as if they are an “elite few”, you get corporations who pay less tax than any individual American, but still ask for more tax breaks.  

When the wealthy and powerful act above “We the people”, you get the United States as it stands today.

If history serves as an indicator of what happens next, then the American Empire already began to fall several years ago when the banks and corporations started to care more about short-term profit and money over the welfare of the country.  The only question left is what kind of revolution we will have.  

The Queen of Aspirational Clutter

Earlier this year, a very dear friend of mine bought me a copy of "The Happiness Project", with admonitions to read the book.  Since I'm not one to waste a good book, I began reading it right away, and feel in love with both the book and the author.  I related to her need for gold stars, her need to be in control, but mostly to her need to find more happiness in her life.

I loved the book so much I took it on a trip, packing it away carefully in a seldom used pocket of my luggage.  To my credit, the book survived just fine.  Unfortunately, because I seldom use the pocket, I never retrieved the book from my luggage.  I searched the house frantically all summer, then finally found it again after a trip to New York this August.

*Happy Dance!*

Since I had not finished the book this spring, I decided to start over.  So I turned to page 1 and began "The Happiness Project" all over again.  For those who haven't read the book, the author, Gretchen Rubin, sets out goals for her Happiness Project each month.  In January, she wanted to get more energy out of life.  Part of getting energy required she get rid of the clutter in her home and life.  Freebie clutter, nostalgic clutter, bargain clutter, and buyer's remorse clutter - Rubin discusses these types of clutter.  I recognized these, and I do  have some of each type.  But when she mentioned aspirational clutter,  I felt like a herd of hippopotamuses in tutus pirouetted me into the floor.   Because this time, the section on clutter hit home.

Why?

Because I feel like the Queen of Aspirational Clutter!!!

I have an entire art cabinet filled with so many different objects I've save "because I could make something with it" that the contents of the art cabinet have spilled out, into a second, smaller art cabinet, and all over the surrounding floor.  I have at least six types of paper, a carousel of scissors that each cut a different pattern in paper, three packages of quality markers, two easels, three types of paint in about 36 colors, four kinds of paint brushes, buttons, beans, glitter, glitter glue, white glue, Alene's glue, fabric, golf balls,...  You get the picture.  And don't even ask about yarn.  While I do crochet, at the moment I have so much yarn that I inevitably end up buying even more yarn for a project because I can't find what I want in the pile.

Quite frankly, it's ridiculous.

After reading that chapter, I realized two things.


  1. It's high time I sorted through all of it, disposing of the vast majority.
  2. I want to start my own Happiness Project.  
So this weekend, I set aside a block of time on Saturday morning.  I will clean out the art cabinet and my stash of yarn.  Wish me luck, because as a clutter queen, I'll need it.

Wordless Wednesday - Giant Japanese Spider Crab

Picture Taken at the Tennessee Aquarium

Online Resources for Students


Whether you have a kindergartner or a senior, at some point you or your child will need to go online, either to research a school project or to get extra help in a specific subject.  The question then becomes, where do you head?

The very first place I (and my kids) go is to the associated teacher’s blog.   I currently have children in Murdock Elementary School and Dodgen Middle School, and I completely love the teachers at both school!!!  On top of being knowledgeable and friendly, these teachers maintain wonderful lists on their blogs of website pertinent to either the grade or the class.  From math facts to typing to social studies and science, I find interesting links to everything.

If I need to look further, I admit that I use my Google fu to search the Internet.  I spent and continue to spend time with my children online, teaching them how to search Google for information.  By the way, the basic secret for searching on Google is to type in your question exactly like you would ask a librarian.  Google automatically throws out simple words, such as “the”, and generally performs the search you want.

For those who want to set up bookmarks on your home computer to quality educational sites, I have a few suggestions for you:

  • My Homework Hotline:  Sponsored by Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s E-learning Cyber Center and the Atlanta Public Schools, My Homework Hotline offers students real people answering phone calls and online help requests.  Georgia Tech even provides the math tutors.  
    • Phone Number:  678-553-3029
    • Online Request Form
    • Available Monday through Thursday on normal school days
    • Grades K-5 can get help from 3:00pm - 5:00pm
    • Grades 6-12  can get help  from 5:00pm - 9:00pm
  • Khan Academy:  From developmental math (e.g. what is a whole number) to calculus, the Khan Academy covers every math subject from kindergarten to twelfth grade.   If your child doesn’t quite understand a math lesson, pull up this website and watch the video.   Khan Academy also offers video lessons on science, history, and computer science.   No registration is required to watch the videos, but you will need to register if you want to use their online math practice.
  • e-Learning for Kids:   This particular website contains information and lessons for kindergarten through sixth grade inclusively, in the following subject areas:
    • Math
    • Language Arts
    • Science
    • Computer
    • Environmental Skills
    • Life Skills
    • Health
    • English as a second language

Picture Book Idea Month

I don't really know why I signed up for this.

November is a crazy month for most of us.  On top of elections, there's Thanksgiving, getting ready for Christmas, several birthdays in the family, and NaNoWriMo.  I mean, I already sign up to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

But this year I heard about Picture Book Idea Month, or PiBoIdMo, from Debbie Ohi.  The concept is quite simple - think up one idea for a picture book once a day for 30 days.  I don't have to create the actual picture book each day, just think of a viable idea for one.  Simple, right?

Here's what my internal dialogue sounded like last week:

     Sane Me:  Picture Book Idea Month?  That sounds too easy.
     Crazy Me:  No, it really is that easy.
     Sane Me:  But I already have too much going on in November to participate.
     Crazy Me:  What are you talking about?  I used to tell the kids stories practically in my sleep.
     Sane Me:  When they were toddlers, *years* ago,...
     Crazy Me:  It's not that long ago.
     Sane Me:  Yes, it is.
     Crazy Me:  No, it's not.
     Sane Me:  Besides, where would I keep the ideas?  When would I get around to even attempting one?
     Crazy Me:  After you finish your NaNoWriMo novel, you need to let it rest before you edit it.  
     Sane Me:  Are you crazy?
     Crazy Me: Yes, yes I am.

In the end, Crazy Me won and I signed up.  I figure I have a 50/50 chance of finishing, but I'll never know until I try.  

My Halloween Mission: Success!!!

Mission accomplished!!!

Okay, let me back up a bit.  This weekend, I discussed my Halloween mission with my dear husband, who pointed out that homemade cookies would turn into homemade cookie dust in a trick-or-treat bag.  So, I decided to give away homemade cookies to kids who wanted to eat one immediately, and give away candy for their goody bag.

This afternoon, I whipped out my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and a bag of Toll House chocolate chips.  Following the recipe on the bag, I made a double batch of cookie dough.  After the first batch of cookies expanded too much, I changed the baking method to create cookie bars.

Then, I waited.  Usually, we have a small horde of preschoolers show up between 4:00pm and 5:00pm, dressed up as ladybugs and firefighters and accompanied by their moms.  Today, no one showed.  Not one single kid knocked on our door between 4:00pm and 6:00pm.  If fact, it was almost 7:00pm before we got the very first trick-or-treaters for the night.

However, once we had trick-or-treaters, everything went smoothly.  We gave out homemade chocolate chip cookies to the trick-or-treaters to eat now (with permission from the parents for the wee ones), as well as giving out candy to take home for later.  Not only did we run out of cookies, but a friend of my son who was not going trick-or-treating called us, asking if we still had cookies left.  He was going out to trick-or-treat at our house, just to get a cookie!

No one called the cops.  No one accused us of attempting to poison their children.  And all the children enjoyed the cookies.  In fact, given the feedback we've gotten so far, I think we may make this a new Halloween tradition.