Happy New Year!

HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone on my friendslist and everyone who’s casually reading this!

Hope everyone parties heartily or sits quietly by the fire watching teevee–however you’ll enjoy the ushering-in of the new year. It’s still mind-boggling to me, a child of the sixties and teen of the seventies, that we’re in the two thousands, let alone starting their second decade. *boggle* May the New Year be everything you want and need it to be.

Happy banana smashing, to those who celebrate thusly!

See you in 2011!

Hindsight: looking at one’s butt in the mirror

I don’t know if the past year can be wrapped up, but it ought to be thrown with great force once it’s fixed so no one can cut herself on it. 2010 did not turn out to be much better than 2009.

Somebody had this list of questions . . . I dunno, why not?

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
Got carjacked. Had a lot of communication with the police for about three weeks there and learned a lot about how they go about a case (and how long they give it before the flurry dies down and they shrug and give up).

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
My mother always makes resolutions FOR me, and I never do them. I suppose our family doctor is right and that’s all passive-aggressive on my part. I am sure that if I did improve myself, everything would be wonderful and I would suddenly become rich and famous. Yet it appears that whatever I do goes wrong, so I’m sort of put off of trying yet again. Yoda is full of it–yes, there IS “try.” You can “do” all you like and still not accomplish whatever-it-was, and that is called trying one’s best. Sometimes one’s best is not good enough.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
They’re all too wizened and olde! Actually, my niece and a few of my second cousins are young enough to have children, but they’ve said they’re not interested. I think the cat next door had kittens sometime last summer, though.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
You all know that my aunt, Jean Cary, stepped into Heaven a few days before Christmas. Mama is never going to REALLY feel normal again. They used to talk a couple of times a day on their cell phones. They’d argue (“It is NOT!” “Yes, it is, and blah blah blah–” *slam*) and hang up on each other for a while, and then one of them would think of something and call the other back. “I just thought of a reason that I’m right and you’re wrong. Listen. . . .” They were a real hoot. Anyhow, we miss her and always will. There is another star in the Heavenly firmament. Her husband, boyfriends (!), and parents undoubtedly said to her, “What took you so long?”

5. What countries did you visit?
The countries of the imagination, in my books.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
A literary agent. A book contract. Ha!! A clean house!! That isn’t much more realistic, but at least I have some influence over whether progress is made on that endeavor. A few more friends to replace the ones who’ve moved far away, drifted apart (because of having children, marrying men who took them into different social worlds, and the like), or forsaken us.

7. What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
You know, there are so many. October 4th–carjacking. Mama went into the hospital for a blood transfusion in August. I was a finalist in the Dallas News Cookie Contest in November. Hubby got a layoff letter that will go into effect next year if they don’t get bridge funding where he works–that was just a couple of days ago. In July I was blessed by being permitted to attend that David Farland Writers’ Workshop right here in Dallas. The owl that Athena sent (or who came from the Owl Service) was in the house sometime in June, but I didn’t really get a clear message at the time. (Today I saw a HAWK perched on the neighbor’s back fence, and I didn’t let the dog out alone in the yard for the rest of the day.) On the other hand, I can’t remember anything much ELSE about the year.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Um . . . went to the cookie contest? Didn’t die when I fell and hurt my ribs? Kept everyone in the household clothed, fed, clean, and breathing easily?

9. What was your biggest failure?
The usual. Everything else: I’m still fat, the house is still not arranged the way we’d like it, I can’t sell a book, I never win the lottery. It’s hard to separate the failures from the “just didn’t happens.”

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
We all have the flu right now. I’m on Tamiflu and really am not very bad, but hubby is on Tamiful and Levaquin and just lies around coughing and playing his videogames. He rallies and does stuff for an hour or so now and then, but it takes it out of him and he goes back to bed. Mama had a mild case of it, and she has an infected cut on her ankle that I’m watching, and she mostly shuffles around the house saying that she wishes things were different. I fell down and hurt my ribs earlier in the month, and my arm is JUST NOW getting really better from the acupuncture. That acupuncturist is good.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Oh . . . what did I buy? I love the new cookware we got sometime in the spring, and the pants I got in September. Our big household Christmas present was Hubby’s XBOX, ordered before we knew he would get that scary letter of job precariousness. I do not understand why a man who just turned *bleep* would want to play silly games, but he enjoys it greatly. I also let him get a $299 flat-screen TV for the family room, so he hooked all of that up in there and is enjoying it. I got an iCraig “tower” speaker to set up in the kitchen so I could listen to the iPod shuffle in there, but it can’t drown out all the TVs, so I don’t use it as much as I thought I would. I suppose we’re all too materialistic. I’m happy with what we have, though, and we enjoy all this crazy excess. Except when it comes time to dust it.

Next year will be the year of pinching pennies.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Probably not mine. I am such a yotz.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Aaaaah . . . I don’t remember. These things pass.

14. Where did most of your money go?
House payment, car payments, prescription medication co-payments, stuff that we needed to get repaired on the house, the aftermath of the carjacking (replacing certain items, paying for the car to be repaired the rest of the way, etc.) I didn’t waste ALL of it on books, music, socks, and funny hats.

Money talks, but all mine says is “Goodbye!”

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Eh. I always get all pumped when I’ve got any indication of interest from agents or editors, but I should know better. The Universe is trying to teach me something through all of this, and I must not be learning the right thing.

Oh, I did experience happiness when the dog’s medicine helped his cough, and when Hubby’s medical tests didn’t show anything dire, and when Mama came out of the hospital so much better, and when my fingers started working again after a couple of acupuncture treatments, and when I went to the cookie contest, and when we took those road trips. But . . . nothing was really that unusual.

Maybe I’m cynical and jaded??

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
“Make the World Go Away” . . . “If It Weren’t for Bad Luck, I’d Have No Luck At All” . . . “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me.” *Grin*

17. Compared to this time last year, are you…
happier or sadder?
Oh, we are sadder. No question about it. We’ll be OK, but right now we are sobered and thinking of eternity more often than usual.

thinner or fatter?
Shut up. Just shut up.

richer or poorer?
Heh. We finally paid off our bills for the most part–hubs borrowed from his IRA through a company loan program and we paid off the credit cards, and my car was paid off in April, and the second lien on the house was paid off in December (we had used it for the heater, water heater, pond, and landscaping), so we were thinking we’d be in good shape–and then he got the layoff letter. The terms are pretty good, though, and they could still get bridge financing. There are other jobs. But anyway, I ought to be freaked out about it, and I’m just not. Duh, football!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
I enjoyed the traveling we did. I’d like to travel a bit more. I also wish I had dieted more and fixed up the house more. And I wish we could have seen my aunt more earlier in the year. I always think I should write more (even though I do write quite often). I hate that I had to drop my piano lessons, but (1) they were so expensive, and (2) instead of improving, it sent me into a tailspin of anxiety and messing up. I was learning, but I also had to cope with Mama waiting out in the car (she was in a phase of “I can’t be left alone,” perhaps because of her medications) and with never living up to expectations. Right now, my hand is still not cooperating and it’s too weak to play properly (when I tell fingers four and five to hit the keys, they may or may not), but it’ll be well soon, and I can practice again. I play for myself, and it’s a good creative outlet.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worrying and suffering and fretting. It didn’t help.

20. How will you spend Christmas?
We stayed home and I took care of the others, who were all various degrees of sick/”not feeling good.” We didn’t see anyone or do anything. It wasn’t my idea of a holiday, but oh well.

22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
Already taken. Things going fine on that end.

23. How many one-night stands?
Do people actually DO that? I can’t imagine anything more . . . difficult.

24. What was your favorite TV program?
There’s this great new show on the COOKING channel called “Bitchin’ Kitchen” that’s like an Elvira of the kitchen. Still watching “Cash Cab,” even though there’s a scandal saying they were screening contestants and not really picking them up at random. Still watching the classics whenever I catch them.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Eh. You mean politicians and pundits? The names change, but the basic critters stay the same.

26. What was the best book you read?
It worries me that I no longer enjoy reading the way I used to. I can’t remember a book that really stayed with me this year.

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
“Radiohead” isn’t completely bad.

28. What did you want and get?
Two cardigans that cover my bottom in back.

29. What did you want and not get?
Tiresome to mention it again.

30. What did you do on your birthday?
We went out to eat and walked around old downtown McKinney. Big whoop. I always think I’m going to get to have a party, but something always prevents it. Probably just as well.

31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Y’all know this. Quit rephrasing the “what do you wish your fairy godmother would grant” questions.

Whatever!!

‘T’was the night before Christmas

I’d like to offer a gift to the readers of my blog. I’m going to make .PDFs out of a few of my books, and if anyone would like one (or two), just let me know. Yes, it’s like the gift of “let’s listen to my kid play the piano” (which my mother NEVER did–she used to tell me, “That’s enough,” all the time when I practiced, and still would, except that I can’t play right now because of the pulled muscle/carpal tunnel/whatever this power-stealer is); I’m grateful to be able to type again). But, like the little drummer boy. . . .

Hubby has the flu. We went to the doctor on the day after Solstice (which is also Hubs’ birthday–poor baby) and he got Tamiflu and Levaquin (for a suspected bacterial infection of his sinuses), along with instructions to rest and get that back molar fixed. The dog is still coughing with bronchitis, and my mother is in one of her full-blown depression/mad-fit phases (over my aunt and all the people she misses–and also because we aren’t having Open House and a bunch of visitors this year, mostly because it’s simply impossible.) I’m sad and contemplative as usual, but that’s nothing new. I hope to get some writing done on one of the newer books when things calm down. Right now I need to make a run to CVS for a last-minute gift or two. Does the breakneck pace never end? I’m happy that I only have a touch of the sniffles (I also got put on the Tamiflu.) And that we have rain instead of “a wintry mix”.

Today is a day for celebration and feasting and gatherings. I wish you all the best of festivals, whichever one you choose to celebrate (even if it’s only the “day off from work and stores are closed” day), and a safe and pleasant two days of travel or staying put. Hope Santa brings you everything you want!

The moon falls dark. . . .

Tonight there will be a lunar eclipse, reportedly the first total lunar eclipse to occur on the day of the Winter Solstice since 1638, and only the second in the Christian Era (Anno Domini, A. D.) Charge all magickal vessels and jewelry in the light! (If that’s your inclination. I don’t have anything . . . wait, actually, I do!)

I know I can get photos of it and video and such off the ‘net, so I’m not going to stand out there and try to figure out what I’m seeing. Lazy . . . also, exhausted. But some of you may get some great photos! Link us in the comments!

Reading and the reading experience has changed–yes?

I bought a YA novel for my older (13-ish) female angel tree recipient. The cover art and the blurb led me to believe that just maybe it was like the novels that have stayed with me all these years (The Egypt Game, Harriet The Spy, The Mozart Season, The Outsiders, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, all those Paul Zindel books that put the puns into my writing, etc.), but it’s NEWLY OUT, so I figured it wasn’t uncool. She listed her hobbies as reading, playing games, and flirting. *Snort* Now you see why I picked her off the tree.

Um, so, the book. I decided that I could browse it a bit without bending the pages (I can do that, really) before I gave it away. Ended up reading it through as research, trying to BOTH give it a chance AND figure out why it was “worthy” while most of my YAs are overlooked by the Powers. My conclusions will probably not surprise anyone, but I’m typing them anyway because I can (my hand is better! She said not to type much, so I’m being conservative, but I need to answer all the e-mail!)

First . . . I’ll put the title and author of the novel behind an LJ-cut later, so if you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.

Coming away from the book, what I couldn’t quit thinking about:

The ending. I cordially hated the ending. Yes, the author telegraphed from page one that the heroine did not want the journey offered to her, although most people would kill for the opportunity, and the author telegraphed that it would not be easy to cope with the jealousy and competitiveness inherent in the sort of oppportunity the heroine was given (other teens in the same pursuit trying to sabotage her, giving everything else up for the pursuit–think ballet and that sort of thing–and so on.) HOWEVER, it still was not believable to me that someone who was destined for the Olympic team and/or the competition circuit (where she would win all the time) and who had a totally supportive family and a best friend who came around to being supportive would “give it all up for a normal life.” Nope, I did not buy this bill of goods, as hard as the author tried to sell it.

Food. Never ONCE did this heroine or anyone around her eat a regular meal, at least not that I can remember. Okay, maybe my books are full of people having meals and arguing or discussing things over a hot dog, and maybe that reflects something neurotic about me. But still! I do not remember one scent memory or taste memory. Even when they ate frozen maple syrup, I did not “taste” it as a reader. Perhaps this is perfectly OK. The editor(s) obviously didn’t care. But if I thought at the end of the book, “She must be anosmic,” there’s SOMETHING missing for adults reading this book. (Which is prolly the entire prob, actually. I’m too old to enjoy it properly.)

Lots and lots of references to “that old group Queen” and “that old song ‘House of the Rising Sun'” and so forth . . . confession: I enjoyed that bit, but I can’t believe the editors let it slide, because usually in a YA you are supposed to have them listening to hippity-hoppity or whatever’s current and never the music of the author’s life. I get dinged by crit partners when I even mention “The Wind Cries Mary,” and they tell me I should talk about the rapper Jungle-Chantee instead. I hate rap and think that it sounds like one tribe calling for war on another tribe–remember my Choctaw blood and how the Choctaw and other Native tribes used to prepare for war with a war dance and all sorts of rhythmic chants? And I remember with fondness the days when rock/pop music was about peace/love and never told me to kill people–so I always end up getting dinged or saying “a current ballad.” My teens are not allowed to fixate on Peter Noone, no matter how hot he still is (take a look sometime–I am not making that up.)

[Justin Bieber is nothing but Donny Osmond recycled. He even has the same hair! Go look at your old Donny posters! Even Donny said so, on “Good Morning USA” that my mom watches. But whatever.]

SO ANYWAY . . . do gymnastics people use older songs for their routines because they can’t do the balance beam to rap? Possibly. This could be a parallel situation. [Ha! Wordplay with parallel bars!] Just couldn’t resist mentioning that the author got away with it and I NEVER DO.

I also didn’t come away with a feeling that I wanted to do the activity that the book focuses on. Again, probably my creaky advanced age. But when I used to read a ballet book or a book about a gymnast or violinist or whatever, as a teen, I would always end up wishing I could be talented at whatever-it-was. This pursuit (the one the heroine gets scouted for and gets a scholarship to do with the pros, out of the blue) didn’t appeal to me at all, as described. Should it have? Or was the author doing a sort of “don’t be jealous of these kids” thing? I mean . . . I don’t know, but at LEAST I should have felt that some of the people in it belonged there. With this, I didn’t.

Now y’all will all jeer at me, but . . . there was not ONE quotable sentence that I found. No clever turns of phrase. I never laughed out loud. No writing that made me say, “This is a writer.” Just plain, serviceable stuff that was flat (to me). I guess this is the all-around-desired No-Style Style. I couldn’t bear it, y’all.

Also, the villains (not really bad guys, but just the usual mean girls and mean, strict coach with a heart of gold) were very expected. Nothing made them other than a vague stereotype to me. No “save the cat” episodes and only one time where the coach said encouraging things. I want a crazy Boo Radley coach or some quirk to the bad guys . . . it’s just me, I’m sure. Know what I mean, Vern? If you have a bad guy, I don’t want you to make him like every other bad guy. I need him to have some charming, endearing quirk so that I don’t feel he’s just set up to be a villain . . . so that I feel he has a life outside being mean to his students or whatnot. I dunno. Even her best friend seemed like she was phoning it in. Coulda just been me.

I’m not gonna tell you the title of the book after all. It will sell on its own merits, or not. But I did see what they are buying, and I saw that I can’t write like that. I suppose someone could edit my stuff so that it WAS flat like that, but then I wouldn’t be proud to put my name on it. As one of my profs in grad school (in a creative writing “The Novel as Narrative Dream” class) said, “I could write one of those, but I wouldn’t be proud of it, so that defeats the purpose of putting all that passion and craft into my work.” Maybe that’s a snotty thing to say . . . but some of us get to be snotty sometimes, don’t we? Bueller? Bueller?

ANYway, so my Angel Tree 13-ish female size 14 jeans got a newly published (just out on Dec. 7 or thereabouts) novel with immaculate dust cover that doesn’t even have fingerprints from my reading it, in addition to a pea coat, jeans, T-shirts, a hoodie from the Happy Bunny line that has the bunny saying “Not Listening,” a set of Scrabble Flash tiles, some jacks (yes! Plastic jacks and superball that glows in the dark), the four-pack of fruit-flavored LipSmackers (for flirting–I don’t want to contribute to the COMPLETE delinquency of a minor with SmashBox lip gloss or something), packs of those stretchy bracelets that are shaped rubber bands (what IS the appeal of those things?), mittens, a couple of little stuffed animals, and a couple of packs of Snoopy playing cards. If she doesn’t want the novel . . . maybe she can trade it in somewhere.

I was disappointed, but I could be wrong. I liked the cover art and hoped that it would be one of “those” books. Who knows? Maybe, for her, it will be!
~ ~ ~
Oh, and hubby got his layoff notice Friday. They’ll work through the end of January, and then if there isn’t bridge funding (which everyone is frantically trying to get), the project will end and they’ll be laid off. This has led to complete depression and dejection on his part, and panic and freakouts on Mama’s part, but I feel nothing but “oh well.” I sincerely feel that this job (and the ones before it that were just like it) has made him dull and bored and not very happy, and perhaps this is the only way to get him out of the rut. Whatever he finds next will definitely not pay as well, but I told him he’s not a paycheck to me. He is not defined by this job, and he is capable of many different things that perhaps would serve to fulfill his destiny better. If they get funding, cool, but if not, he gets out of the rut.

I said so. This did not console him in the least. Why do companies pull this 3@!!#$% right before Christmas? They are definitely wicked. May their stockings be stuffed with lumps of coal!

Gift ideas!

If I were not a Bear of Little Brain (and Great Anti-Flim-Flam Instincts), I would make these links the kind that pay me if you click them. But I didn’t! Consider that a giftie. *grin*

Frustrated finding the right (cheapish) gift for the person who has everything–possibly because if he wants something, he goes out and buys it immediately (husbands!)? Well, these are REALLY GOOD gifts that I have found myself playing with (ahem) for days on end.

First, let me press on you the SCRABBLE FLASH CUBES (actually TILES, but we’ll let that go).

This is “Boggle,” not Scrabble. But oh, what they’ve done to make it gadgety and whiz-bang.

The game consists of a set of five tiles that communicate electronically to figure out whether you have formed a word that is in their dictionary (which is Scrabblish and may or may not be realistic) and keep score for you as you play a timed game. You get five letters, one on each tile, and you form as many 3-, 4-, and 5-letter words as you can within a minute. If you form a word they don’t know, they don’t light up. If you accidentally put them together to form a word that can’t exist but that IS in their dictionary, they light up and beep–and you get points! More time if you spell five-letter words. No credit for 2-letter words, unless you have an “S” you can add and it recognizes a legit plural. (“ADS” works, but not “BES.”) It will beep once to tell you that you’ve already gotten credit for a word (I tend to “see” the same words again near the end of the 60 seconds.) Because the tiles keep score and serve as a timer, you can’t cheat. (Some may count that as a downside.) When your time expires, the tiles display your score and the maximum possible score for the round. And then you play again!

I have only played the “solitaire” version, as people can’t get these tiles away from me.

It is really addictive. The coolest part is they come in a little black plastic box that they store in vertically, and you can carry it around because they’re light. You can play on any flat surface. It’s fun to slide them around and see the words that you can form. You turn them on and off individually, because they’re mini-processors. Can any nerd NOT WANT THESE? Portable, too!

Frustration factor: I spell as many words as you could POSSIBLY spell with this rotten set [for example] ZXPLQ, and it says I got 5 out of 18 possible words. THERE CANNOT BE 18 WORDS out of these five.

Cool factor: I got 17 out of 20! Not too bad this time. Even if it inadvertently counted a couple of words that could not possibly exist.

The game costs around $20 at Target. I recommend it highly. I got it as an “early” gift because when I was shopping for the Angel Tree, we saw it and Hubs thought it would lift my spirits to sneak an extra one into the pile and give it to me. It has helped. A little. But remember, I have reason to be Blue. If you aren’t blue, this will be a BLAST for you.

Highly recommended! (But it isn’t Scrabble at all! It’s a form of Boggle, dangit!)

ANOTHER game we have really enjoyed here at Casa el Dumpo is the
TRIVIAL PURSUIT “STEAL” CARD GAME.
We got this for around $7 at Big Lots, one of the remainder/odd-lots discount retailers, but you could probably find it many places. We plucked it off the rack on a lark, but it has turned out to provide many hours of “Ha! Gotcha” excitement.

It’s a card game that is played by answering trivia questions and collecting the “colors” for each category, like the standard game, but it adds fun in the form of “STEAL” and “DOUBLE STEAL” cards which allow a player to steal one or two of YOUR wedge cards instead of playing a question during his or her turn. And it has a card that allows anyone to answer the question you were asked before you get the answer out. These two factors really add a dimension to the game. Consider this: I am the Queen of all trivia games (if you omit the sports questions, which are NOT IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW ANYWAY, and some of the stuff about recent entertainers), but Hubs has beaten me at the last moment many a time by keeping in reserve his many “DOUBLE STEAL” cards. I never get “DOUBLE STEAL” cards.

A game runs around 20 minutes. We have never had more than three players because my mother is a REALLY SORE LOSER, but it says you can play with up to six.

Really fun if you like trivia games and IF you don’t get too enraged when JUST before you WIN somebody double steals your toughest categories. Highly recommended.

It occurs to me that both of these are Hasbro products. I swear Hasbro has not paid me for these testimonials. (Although, HINT OF THE CENTURY to HASBRO, I am open to offers!) I have always thought I should work at Hasbro or Mattel. Or as a question-writer for Jeopardy! or other trivia games. I know every useless little thing. As one of my heroes, author Raphael Carter, once said, “My brain is like a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards flying in formation.” Or as my daddy used to lament when his students would blink cluelessly as he handed out exam papers, “I feel like an encyclopedia no one opens.”

That edification stuff ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Th’ dumber y’are, the happier. But anyway, I never set much store by happiness. Obviously! *GRIN*

And there’s always YAHTZEE and MASTERMIND. There aren’t any new flashy editions of those two, but I thought I’d mention them as two games that we still play. At least we play YAHTZEE. I play MASTERMIND with the computer. When I play with people, they tend to make mistakes when they place their clues (they mess up and say I got two in the right position when I really got three, for example, which ruins my next guesses), and violence ensues.

We also enjoy Mancala, which you can get at import stores. Hubby claims I make up the rules as we go along like in “Calvinball,” but there are rules for this game that comes out of Africa somewhere. We tried to play Go, but (again) too many rules foiled us and something shiny caught our attention so that we never finished a game. . . .

On the PC gaming side, Hubby enjoys playing the inexpensive game package “Bicycle Totally Cool Card Games,” published by Expert Software, Inc. There are several games in the package, and he gets to play against three electronic competitors. It seems to keep him happy for a couple of hours at a time when he can’t start one of those online role-playing sessions. Check it out.

Anything “Hello Kitty”-themed, orange in color, or encrusted with diamonds and opals is always welcome, if you need a general gift guideline. No need to thank me.

Happy shopping!