Saturday, October 28, 2006
Why, the kitty is none other than romance author Cathie Linz's Whiskers. He's there to promote an article in the December 2006 issue of Romantic Times magazine about authors and their pets titled "Pet Muses: A look at writers who find inspiration from their furry friends."
Since the article is not available online, I guess I need to check out the hard copy. (I wonder if my muses will ever make it on the cover of a magazine?)
Coincidentally, Cathie, a fellow Windy City writer whom I greatly admire, has a book coming out Nov. 7. While Cathie has published more than 50 books, Bad Girls Don't is her second single-title release.
Cathie will be doing a signing of Bad Girls Don't and a short presentation at Anderson's Bookshop in downtown Naperville, Ill., at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18. She says it's the only bookstore signing she'll be doing for this book.
Admittedly, I read a lot of news sites. I especially love to scour the most-emailed or most-viewed lists that a lot of news sites offer now. There are a lot of fun and compelling and well-written stories out there. Following is a wrap-up of media stories that struck me as interesting (for whatever whimsical reasons) over this past week:
Look past the halo: Saints had sinful starts
Columnist: I bet most of you didn't know that there were whoremongers, boozehounds, swindlers, and card-carrying sociopaths among the heavenly hosts?
Crossing the colour divide
The Sydney Morning Herald
Barack Obama doesn't think his colour is a big issue, but it just might be the thing that gets him elected to the US presidency.
China history unravelled by mummies
In a find that could turn conventional history on its head, scientists using genetic testing have discovered that Caucasians lived in western China's Tarim Basin a thousand years before East Asians arrived.
Following faith and fashion
The abaya ... is the traditional form of hijab, or modest Islamic dress, for many countries of the Arabian peninsula. But for many women, the abaya is worn with style and purpose. It is another form of expression that offers advantages over Western outfits.
The Barbers, Identical Twins, Are Not as Alike as They Look
New York Times
The Giants and Buccaneers play on Sunday — the latest, and likely last, head-to-head meeting between Tiki and Ronde Barber. In a few months, they will become even more different, no longer linked by profession.
Punjab farmers seek Canada bonanza
It's a realisation that is dawning across a whole generation of Punjabi farmers. With real estate developers eyeing vast tracts of farmland across Punjab, many here are tempted to sell their land and move on. ... AND ... Many farms in Canada are being abandoned because their owners are too old and the next generation has switched careers or migrated to the cities.
Why Madonna is going on Oprah
Madonna is a big enough star to pick and choose where she appears. So why has she turned to the TV talk show platform to make her point?
Blogs - the new diplomacy?
The attack on the government of Sudan by the UN's envoy Jan Pronk has perhaps pointed the way to a new kind of direct diplomacy - the diplomat's blog.
UK gets face transplant go-ahead
A UK team has been given permission to carry out what would be the world's first full face transplant.
Unlucky roots of Friday the 13th
The day Friday and the number 13 have been associated with bad luck for thousands of years, but it is only in recent history that the two have been amalgamated.
Friday, October 27, 2006
A few years ago, my husband's 80-something-year-old great-aunt came to visit from Scotland. She's a fun lady with the motto that she doesn't go to bed on the same day she wakes up, and she kicked our butts at Balderdash, already knowing the correct definitions for some of the silliest words.
For whatever reason, we must have used the word "sucks" a lot -- as in "this sucks" -- during that visit because she went home and started using it. Imagine her surprise when someone pointed out that it wasn't exactly a polite expression. "Sucks" immediately fell out of her vocabulary.
The next time she came to visit, she told us the story. From then on we kept trying to get her pick up new words from us, but she'd have none of it. Not even an innocent Homer Simpson "D'0h!"
Since I just used "D'oh!" in the previous post, it made me think of the story. Aunt Chrissy is still going strong. Just wish we could get to Scotland soon and visit her.
I had this fabulous idea for a blog post, but then I got distracted and now I can't remember it.
So, while you're reading this little bit of nonsense, imagine it's the most entertaining thing you've ever read. Because it would have been. If I could only remember.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Several months ago (alright, April) I opened a My Space account, but I didn't get into it. I couldn't find much use for it myself, and I guess the random guys who wanted to be my "friend" bothered me. (See I Just Don't Get It.)
Just recently, though, I've re-signed up for My Space because I've discovered how romance authors are making the site work for them as a networking tool with other writers and readers.
For example, check out on My Space: Nelson Literary Agency, Deidre Knight, Meg Cabot, Dyanne Davis and Stephanie Elliot.
So, if you want to visit my space at My Space, go to myspace.com/haley_hughes. Unfortunately, I let go of myspace.com/haleyhughes when I canceled my account all those months ago and now someone else has it.
Anyone else have a My Space account they want to point me toward?
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
A week ago, we invited the neighbors over to carve pumpkins. "Great!" their mom said, "We can make a mess at your house instead of ours."
So we pulled out a plastic tablecloth and an assortment of knives and corers, and the neighbors brought over a store-bought carving kit, and the five of us set to work.
What we discovered:
There's no way to carve a real pumpkin without sliming some pumpkin guts between your fingers. That's just the way it is.
Some people are more eager to get their hands inside the pumpkin. The fourth-grader dove in with enthusiasm. The first-grader wouldn't touch it and coerced others into doing most of her work.
Raw pumpkin doesn't taste gross. The dogs like it, but while the fourth- grader tought it was fun to sample, she didn't actually eat it.
Battery-operated lights seem safer and cleaner that candles.
Lights that change colors look cool inside pumpkins.
The knives and scoopers in the pumpkin carving kits work really well, but also break easily.
Here's how they turned out:
The girls both decided to use a spider pattern from the carving kit. They modified the spiders' expressions to personalize them. Mom did most of the carving.
Mom, rushed for time after helping the girls, opted for the quickest route -- a simple statement: BOO!
I went the ultimate free-form design route. Just stick a corer in and make holes and cuts without a specific plan. Maybe that's why the expression looks so frazzled.
Dave opted for the more carefully plotted course, drawing a pattern onto the pumpkin and carving from there. His has the big, bold squares for teeth.
We've stored our pumpkins on the front porch, where it's cool. They survived the past week. Just another to go until Halloween.
Saw this article on Yahoo today, and it really resonated with me.
Titled What It Takes to Be Great, the article uses examples of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and other great athletes, artists and business people to illustrate the idea that success takes practice. To excerpt:
As a writer, I guess everything I produce is practice (this is practice). Some of it is more challenging then the rest and some of it is more successful then the rest, but it's all practice for the next thing I write. I just need to sit myself in my chair, get over any fear of failure, and produce.
The first major conclusion is that nobody is great without work. It's nice to believe that if you find the field where you're naturally gifted, you'll be great from day one, but it doesn't happen. There's no evidence of high-level performance without experience or practice.
Reinforcing that no-free-lunch finding is vast evidence that even the most accomplished people need around ten years of hard work before becoming world-class, a pattern so well established researchers call it the ten-year rule.
The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call "deliberate practice." It's activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.
Perhaps I should practice practicing.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Ever tried to order a glass of wine in a shot-and-a-beer joint? Ever gotten that blank stare before the bartender opened the refrigerator and blew the dust off a big old jug of generic white wine?
I've often thought that life would be easier if I could just learn to like beer.
It has a rich history, it's an art to brew, and there are so many styles and brands out their waiting to be sampled. All good reasons to like it.
So, along comes my friends' Oktoberfest party last weekend. Hmmm, I thought, this might be my chance.
My husband and I popped over to the local Binny's and checked out the selection. In a totally girly move, I bought the fruity beer with the fairy on the label: the black currant Unibroue Ephemere. My husband, long ago a convert, opted for a selection of Weiss beers.
We were at least an hour into the party before I eased the cork out of the bottle (see, it has a cork - a good sign - sort of like a sparkling wine - sorta) and poured a few inches into a cup. I took a sip. Not too strong. (Is it hops or barley that gives beer its strong flavor?) I took another sip. And a few more. A half-hour later I poured another inch. Yeah, I was nursing this drink, but I was drinking it. Beer. Me.
Then I sampled someone else's Leinenkugel Berry Weiss. Again not awful. Poured an inch of that into my cup. At about this point, though, my girlfriend (who had pulled out her Halloween costume a few weeks early and was dressed as a beer girl/St. Pauli girl) started to laugh at me.
"You keep making that face."
"What face?" I took another sip and concentrated on keeping my expression even.
Around us, a group of guys were rating the different Weiss beers as they tried them. I took a sip from another friend's glass. Much stronger.
"Stop it," my girlfriend laughed. "There's that face again."
I took another sip just to prove I was trying.
That sip was near the end of my beer-tasting adventure that night. Not horrible. But my thirst had fled.
I can't say that I left that party with an appreciation for beer, but I did leave with a hilarious pair of beer goggles in my possession. My husband won them in the beer trivia contest. And me, the non-beer drinker, I managed to place third. Of course, being the only person to come close to the correct answer on the bonus question helped.
What's your host's favorite type of beer?And the banoffee pie I mentioned last week? It went over well. Our host served it with a pumpkin ale. (Beer tasting note: Others seemed to like it, but it earned a big beer-grimace face from me.)
Correct answer: "The next one"
My answer: "Any"
As for my quest to appreciate beer, I think it will be like learning to like vegetables. Just keep trying. After all, if I could learn to like spinach in my 30s, beer should be easy.
"The figments of our imaginations, the creatures we push out of our minds into the real world are fully capable of pushing back with surprising consequences."I love the above quote from author Jeremy Salter in a Reuters story about his co-authored book The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived. I love this quote too, from Allan Lazar, another of the three book authors:
"The idea came to us that influential characters didn't have to exist, that fictional characters were just as important in our lives, even in maybe some cases more so than real people."Who's on this list of most influential people who never lived? According to the BBC, the Top 10 are:
1 The Marlboro ManThe reviews on Amazon for this book look good. I'll have to check it out. And I'll have to put some thought into what fictional characters I've found most influential.
2 Big Brother
3 King Arthur
4 Santa Claus
6 Dr Frankenstein's Monster
8 Sherlock Holmes
9 Romeo and Juliet
10 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Kyle? What about the Flu Fairy?
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Check out today's "Dear Abby" column: Bodice-ripping romance novels are now dressed for success. Her readers seem to have good advice on how to work with a teen-age daughter's reading interests.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
We were offered flu shots today at my day job, so I talked my husband into coming in to get one also.
Since it was Dave's first time getting a flu shot, he was told to hang around for 10 minutes to make sure he didn't have a reaction (extremely rare, but I guess it does happen).
Previously, I'd asked my co-worker Kyle if he was getting a shot, and he said he preferred to let his body build its immunities the old-fashioned way. Kyle can be weird that way.
Anyway, so while Dave waited his 10 minutes, Kyle came over to entertain him. (Kyle also happens to be a friend of ours.)
"So Kyle," Dave said, "Did you get a flu shot?"
"I don't believe in them," Kyle told him.
"What do you mean you don't believe in them?" Dave asked. When Kyle opened his mouth to explain, Dave cut him off. "They're not like the Easter Bunny." Dave then pointed to the woman administering the shots only 10 feet away. "The lady is sitting right there. The flu shots are right there. You can't NOT believe in them."
Kyle laughed good-naturedly and explained his reasoning, saying (my interpretation here) that he thought it was better to puke his guts out once every few years and let his body get stronger by fighting the flu on its own then get vaccinated.
"So what happens if the bird flu finally mutates and we have a pandemic? You wouldn't get a flu shot then?" I asked.
Kyle thought about it a few seconds. "Well, when they have a shot specifically for that, I'll get one," he said.
"You can't get one. You don't believe in them," Dave interjected. Then he relented a bit. "Well, I guess you could ask Santa for your flu shot."
I don't live in Texas and I know nothing about the issues in the State Comptrollers race, but I can tell you that if I could vote in that election, I wouldn't vote for Fred Head.
Just sample the mud he's slinging at opponent Susan Combs:
Susan Combs claims to be a person of high moral standards. Her record of writing, having published and selling a pornographic book clearly shows that Susan Combs is a two faced, hypocrite who was obviously more concerned with her literary career and seeing her name in print than the morals of the young People of Texas who are exposed to her 222 page book, A Perfect Match, which has her name at the top of every other page - - - a clear testament to Susan Combs’ insatiable ego and desire to see her name in print.What's this pornographic book that has Head so outraged? It's a straight-forward contemporary series romance novel titled A Perfect Match published by Kismet back in 1990.
It’s time for the People of Texas to send Susan Combs the message that hypocrite, pornographic book writers will not be tolerated any longer in Public Office in Texas.
Susan Combs has shown no remorse and made no apology for writing her pornographic book. Fred Head hereby challenges Susan Combs to fully explain to the People of Texas why she wrote a pornographic book, apologize to the People and withdraw from the race for Comptroller of Public Accounts.
I know that the line where art ends and pornography starts is different for everyone. Otherwise, this country would have a blanket definition for what constitutes pronography and not the vague "community standards". Attempts to define the difference between what is pronographic and not pornographic usually have to do with the difference between material that is intenteded solely to arouse sexual interest and material that has artistic and historical value.
Romance novels are generally defined as stories where the primary plot involves the relationship between two people, culminating in a satisfying ending. As a genre, it's so broad that you can find stories that barely hint at what happens behind closed doors (sweet and inspirational romances) and stories that explicitly state exactly what is happening -- action-by-action, emotion-by-emotion, page-after-page -- during love scenes (erotica, romantica). Then, there are all the thousands and thousands of stories that run the spectrum in between, including Combs' A Perfect Match.
Traditional romance novels, especially those like Combs' wrote, may have a lot of sexual tension in them, but the actual sex is usually very limited and within the bounds of a monogomous relationship that ends happily in commitment or marriage. Romances are relationship stories, and sex is a normal part of normal relationships.
Head has excerpts of Combs' book posted on his website. Out of a 222-page book, he has posted three pages of love scenes ripped out of their literary context. Only three pages. That's about 1 percent of the book.
This is his pornography?
And has he not noticed over his lifetime that it's a fairly standard fiction-publishing practice to put the author's name in the page header?
Head's comments are insulting to the MILLIONS of people who read romance novels, not to mention those of us writing them. Does Head realize that the national headquarters of Romance Writers of America is in Houston?
I wish Combs' book were still in print, because this publicity would have her sales numbers through the roof. A quick look at Amazon shows that a used copy of her book is selling for almost $20.
I also wish that the guy making these statements wasn't a Democrat.
For more on this subject, try writer Shana Galen's take on the situation at the Jaunty Quills blog or this news story from the Houston Chronicle or Romance novel fuels passionate debate: Candidate outrages writers with what they see as an attack on popular genre.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
When Marc visited us a few years ago and made this "pudding" (aka dessert) for us, it seemed like a science experiment doomed to go wrong. I mean, who in their right mind cooks anything while it's still in a sealed "tin" (aka can)? Won't it explode?
It didn't. (But it could, so be careful if you ever try to make this dessert.)
After a few hours of cooking in a water bath, what came out of those cans of condensed milk was mana -- sweet, gooey toffee. Who knew? Certainly not me and my husband.
What was even better, was that Marc spooned this concoction onto a crust of crushed digestive crackers (kind of like crushed Graham crackers or vanilla cookies, but English) and topped it with sliced bananas.
Thus we were introduced to the wonders of Banoffee Pie.
Marc posted his recipe a few years ago, and I saved it in a file. When I was in Long Grove last weekend, I stopped into the English Store there and picked up some packages of digestive crackers, and Dave and I attempted the recipe last night.
We think it turned out. We haven't actually gotten to sample a full slice of it, although we did get to try the toffee after spooning it out of the can. We'll be bringing it to a friend's Oktoberfest party this weekend. Banoffee pie and beer? I let you know how it flies.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I don't know if you've ever noticed it, but I have a small little Irish/Scottish blessing listed in the sidebar of this page. It says:
May the blessings of light be upon you,
Light without and light within.
And in all your comings and goings,
May you ever have a kindly greeting
From them you meet along the road.
-an old blessing (some say it's Scottish,
some say it's Irish)
I've never explained why it's there. In my Beacon novels (Prairie Fire, Witch's Fire), I have a recurring character of Aunt Riona (aka Catriona Stewart). There's something magical about this woman, but I won't say what.
So, as I was browsing the Internet, looking for something that this character would say, I did a search that combined the elements of Celtic/Gaelic with fire/light and came up with this blessing. I've seen it in different forms, so I took liberties with the blessing, and rewrote it as I think Aunt Riona would say it:
May the blessing of light be upon you,
light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine upon you
and warm your heart till it glows,
like a great peat fire, so that the stranger may come
and warm himself at it, as well as the friend.
And may the light shine out of the eyes of you,
like a candle set in the windows of a house,
bidding the wanderer to come in out of the storm.
May the blessing of the rain be upon you
- the soft sweet rain.
May it fall upon your spirit so that
all the little flowers spring up,
shedding their sweetness on the air.
And may it wash your spirit fair and clean,
and leave there many a shining pool, and sometimes a star.
May the blessing of the earth be upon you
- the great round earth.
May it be soft under your feet as you walk along it,
soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day.
And in all your comings and goings,
may you ever have a kindly greeting
for them you meet along the road.
I couldn't find the exact websites I visited seeking inspiration, but if you're curious, here are links to a few that have versions of the blessing: Celtic Dejavu, Island Ireland, and Traditional Wedding Toasts.
Monday, October 09, 2006
I read somewhere that it takes at least 20 years for an oak tree to mature enough to produce acorns. Well, this tree produced plenty of them, just ask the neighborhood squirrels.
But despite this tree's maturity, there was something wrong with it. Its branches looked sparse and sickly with very little leaf cover, except for one branch that was thicker and bigger than the main stem of the tree, which looked dead. It was far from symmetrical, its healthy branches all congregating on one side.
We'd been nursing the tree for several years. We'd tried iron treatments, fertilizer, you name it. My gut says that when the previous owners of our house put in the current patio several years ago, it must have upset the tree's root structure, causing a slow decline in the tree.
It's just a tree, but it saddened me to make the decision to let it go. A pin oak is supposed to last 90-125 years. This one had logged no more than 27.
In my fiction writing, I have characters who view oak trees as sacred. A quick search of the Internet shows that oaks are considered sacred in both Celtic and Norse mythology.
From Altreligion.com: The most sacred tree of all was the Oak tree, which represented the axis mundi, the center of the world. The Celtic name for oak, daur, is the origin of the word door- the root of the oak was literally the doorway to the Otherworld, the realm of Fairy.Looking out at the backyard now, it seems so empty and barren. So big. I can't help but wonder if my dogs will consciously miss the tree. What obstacle will they chase around? What will Loki use as a pick to protect herself from Thor when he charges her? (No, the connection between Thor's Oak above and Thor our dog wasn't lost on me.)
From Wikipedia: Thor's Oak was an ancient tree sacred to the Germanic tribe of the Chatti and one of the most important sacred sites of the non-Christian Germans.
We'll be planting at least two new trees in the yard by spring. A part of me wants one to be an oak. But mostly, I'll be happy just to have a tree again. And do I really want a doorway to the Fairy Otherworld in my backyard? I'll have to think on that one.
It was the antithesis of football. A Sunday afternoon spent in the cozy shopping district of historic Long Grove, Illinois. Lingering for hot tea and lunch on the breezy front porch of an old farm house. Sampling wines and olive oils. Wandering through antique and craft stores. A scoop of ice cream while sitting on a park bench. Hot apple pie fresh out of the oven. Time spent with two long-time girlfriends, catching up on news and plans for the future.
Why do I even mention football? How does it relate? Because I have to confess that I gave up an opportunity to go see the Chicago Bears play in order to keep a long-anticipated date with friends. It was a no-brainer decision, but it didn't come without a little bit of pain -- my hometown team, the Chicago Bears, is having what could be their best season since that historic 1985-86 Super Bowl season.
I'd had these plans with Marriott and Ladyknyght long before the opportunity to go to the Bears game came up. We'd been fantasizing about a girls outing for ages. Ladyknyght had even rearranged her work schedule for this. So, friendship had to win.
And I didn't regret it for a moment on Sunday. Sure, as I sipped my pumpkin spice chai tea while at Suzi's Teas and Cafe, I wondered how much fun my husband Dave was having at the game. Sure, as I sampled olive oils at The Olive Tap, I wondered what the score might be. And sure, as I stood in line at the Apple Haus to buy that delicious Long Grove brown-bag apple pie to take home, I actually did check in on the final score.
But, truthfully, I think I had the best of both worlds. A day spent with friends AND the joy of knowing that my hometown Chicago Bears easily advanced to 5-0 for the season. There will be plenty of other fun football Sundays to come, even if I'm not at Soldier Field to watch.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Blogger, which hosts this site, is beta testing a new interface that gives me, the blogger, more options for my blog. Eventually, all Blogger blogs will move over to this new interface, but I couldn't wait. I really, really, really wanted the option to index by subject NOW.
So, I did it the hard way. I went to beta.blogger.com and created a new blog, then I manually imported all my old posts over. I modified the template to be nearly the same as the old one. Then, in a moment filled with anxiety, I swapped the urls on the two blogs.
It appears to have worked. I now have my old address with the blogger beta options.
Why did I care so much about indexing by subject? Because the subjects of my posts are all over the place, from the personal, to the random, to writing focused. Hopefully, this will make it easier for you to browse the site.
A side effect of the way I switched over is that all old comments no longer appear with the posts. But, truthfully, few people have left comments in the past (hint, hint, nudge, nudge) and I heartily apologize to those who did.
I added a subscribe option in the sidebar to the right using a tool created by Feedblitz. I've never used Feedblitz before, so I'll be curious to see how this works.
Update 10/11/06: Here's an example of the email you would get if you subscribed to this blog via Feedblitz. The email would contain a few sentences from each new post, and you could choose to click through to my blog to read the rest of the blog entry. Looks pretty harmless to me.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
I joined Netflix a few weeks ago, and there's one movie listed on the site that is just taunting me. Why? Because although it's listed (and has been for MONTHS) it has no release date yet and can only sit in my "saved" queue.
Why do I care so much about this movie? Because it was written by a former coworker at the newspaper, Nick Pullia. I remember when he wrote it. I think that originally it was produced to be a series for television, maybe HBO. But, instead, they re-edited it into a movie called Death and Taxis. Here's the description from Netflix:
How's this for an interesting indie film plotline: an anthology of interconnected stories about how people deal with death -- as seen through the eyes of the angel of death! The stories take place in a taxi that's been driven on the streets of Chicago for 20 years. As the film opens, the taxi is being demolished in a junkyard. When the angel of death shows up and sits inside the cab, the stories begin to unfold through his visions.Also, I remember Nick saying that one of stories in the original series was inspired by something that happened to someone I know. I'm not sure if it made the final cut, but I'm curious to see.
Has anyone out there seen this movie or know when it will be released?
At the mailbox, when I saw the envelope that was obviously contest results, I felt a little clinch around my heart. I wasn't quite expecting to see those yet. They just announced the finalists a few days ago.
So, I prepared for the worst, like I always do. What could they possibly say? My writing was hackneyed and trite?
Open the envelope. Skip the cover letter and go right to my score sheets. A perfect score, an almost perfect score, and a not-nearly perfect score. Ugh.
Look at the entry ranking sheet. My entry code tells me that I finished in 4th place, one place out of finaling. Double-ugh.
So close! Just points away from getting in front of an editor!
How's this for judges' comments?
"Wow! A Time Travel with a heart and a brain. I love the hint of magic in both their lives -- made me think the time travel could come from magic in the Heroine/Hero or someone in either of their lives. The setting is alive and vivid. ... This is certainly something I would love to read more of."I love getting quotable comments like those.
"This is a strong voice; I'd know this one again. In fact, I'd be looking for it."
Now, you're probably wondering what contest and what, exactly, they were judging. Sorry. It was the Time Travel category of the FF&P On the Far Side Contest. Each judge got to the first chapter of Prairie Fire and a five-page synopsis.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
One of my nieces started kindergarten this fall, and I asked her father what she thinks of school.
"She likes the bus. She's fascinated by the bus," he said. "But she can't figure out why these kids still need to learn their ABCs and 123s. She had those mastered a long time ago. She says school is boring." Then a twinkle came to his eye. "And I believe she used the word arbitrary."
Organized chaos? Controlled madness? Fun and sweet and crazy all at the same time? I'm not sure which describes it best, but all I know is that my sister did a great job organizing entertainment for 18 first-graders on Sunday. Eighteen? Was she nuts?
When asked what kind of birthday party my nephew wanted this year, he chose not to go for bowling, laser tag or mini golf. That had been done before. Instead, he opted for the old-fashioned house party. Which is fine and great, but it requires planning. You can't just show up, write a check and expect a pre-planned party package to take care of the needs of the kids.
First, the guest list. A house party demands you invite children from the neighborhood. You also need school friends. And what about the kids on the football team? Needless to say, the list got large. But that's OK, there's plenty of space, plus grandmothers, aunts and uncles were recruited to help supervise.
A house party also requires a theme. My nephew's choice? A backwards theme. OK, so backwards it is. Then my sister hit the internet to look for ideas.
Invitations were mailed. Names were rendered in reverse. I was "Auntie Yelah". The party details were printed backward (you had to hold it up to a mirror to read it -- great idea, but word of warning, some people had a hard time with it).
When "Uncle Evad" and I arrived at my sister's house a half-hour before the party, the garage was decorated. (We used the garage because it was gorgeous outside and it gave us access the big front lawn and driveway basketball hoop.) Balloons had been turned inside out so that Happy Birthday read backward. Table cloths were laid with the reverse side up. Everyone turned their clothes backward or inside out. Guests were greeted with "Goodbye".
As the children arrived, it was apparent that some of the kids totally embraced the theme -- one even wore his boxers on the outside of his pants -- but one boy refused to do anything backward, unwilling to even turn his T-shirt around. That was OK, too. Each child is different.
We started by serving the cake and ice cream first. We sang Happy Birthday to You with the lyrics reversed, and served a scoop of cake in a cone and a slice of ice cream on a plate. We booed when we would have applauded. Then we moved on to presents. Some of the parents had reversed the paper, others had used wrap for other holidays.
When it was time for games, we shot hoops backward, did backward balloon races, and played silent musical chairs, where the children sat down when the music started. Now there was a sight: 17 chairs lined up so that 18 children could play at once. When the first person lost, we declared her the winner. That led to problems the next time, though, as four different kids refused to sit down, all wanting to be the next person eliminated and therefore a winner, too. OK, they were all out and a rule clarification was issued: the next winner will be the traditional winner, which is last person with a chair.
Then it was time for pizza, served in a bowl, of course. Then we looked at the time: only 75 minutes into this party and 45 more to go. What next? A reprise of the games. And a silly string fight on the front lawn (not backward, I know, but fun none-the-less).
When the parents returned to pick up their children, each child was given party favors in the form of a wrapped gift to take home. All the adults collapsed into chairs, the yard a mess of folding chairs and silly string, and we marveled that 18 kids could wear out seven adults in the span of two hours.
Yeah, I know. It was a ratio of fewer than three kids per adult. School teachers do it everyday...
I had three vastly different concert experiences in September all featuring favorite vintage rock bands.
Roger Waters Sept. 29
Learned a lesson on Friday night: Lawn tickets to an outdoor concert in late September in the Chicago area can be risky. We got rained on a little bit pre-show, then had to endure 50-some degree cold during the show. Fortunately, we were prepared with a dropcloth, umbrellas, warm clothes and blankets.
Also had a tutorial in venue rules that made me feel way out of date. Who knew that water bottles could only be sold with the caps off because otherwise the full bottle could be used as a projectile weapon? Or that some key rings can't be brought onto the grounds because they could be used as brass knuckles? (hmmm... What about all those pointy parts on the umbrellas?)
Let me set the scene. The First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre (what a catchy name!) in Tinley Park. Formerly the World Music Theater. An outdoor venue with both pavilion and lawn seats. Roger Waters (the "creative genius of Pink Floyd") is performing his Dark Side of the Moon Tour. The crowd spans the generations, reflective of the band's long history. There are 20-somethings in front of us and 50-somethings behind us. Occasional funny odors waft through the air, and staggering people walk by.
The show opens with some pieces from The Wall, then moves on to some vintage psychedelic material,and continues with other Pink Floyd favorites. After a short break, Waters returns and performs most of The Dark Side of the Moon, which was Pink Floyd's record-setting album way back in the 70s that spent YEARS on the charts.
You might wonder: Why do Dark Side of the Moon now? According to a Chicago Sun-Times article, quoting a Roger Waters interview in Billboard magazine:
"It was a request from Formula I in France: They wanted a big event to go on July 14, which is the day before the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours," Waters recently told Billboard magazine. "Somebody in the organization rather fancifully suggested Pink Floyd playing 'Dark Side of the Moon,' and somebody else rather fancifully approached various people who said, 'Are you [expletive] insane? It's not going to happen.' And they then said, 'What about Roger Waters, would he do it?' "Regardless, we had a great time (wrapped in a blanket, wearing my winter coat and gloves). The show was excellent, even if the volume wasn't quite as ear-splitting as we'd have liked. My guess is that was due to the time of night and the outdoor venue, not the artist.
Didn't notice any overt political statements from where I was standing, except in "Bring the Boys Back Home" from The Wall, there were images of Iraq played.
Queensryche Sept. 14
I'll use the subject of political messages to segway to another concert we went to mid-month. At Queensryche at House of Blues I had to laugh out loud, when, during Revolution Calling, singer Geoff Tate held up a sign that said "Will somebody please give Bush a bl*wj*b so that we can impeach him".
That concert was also an experience. I guess I've always seen rock concerts either in the pavilion section of an amphitheatre or in indoor arena. This was my first rock concert in a small venue like House of Blues with a lot of standing room. About 30 feet from the stage, we found railing perches near the stairs leading up to the main floor. As drunk/stoned people moved around us, the writer/history buff in me had a sense that this was what it might have been like to be a groundling at an Elizabethan theater way back when. Twice, as people staggered through the crowd toward the stairs, I had to put my hand on someone's shoulder to stop them from walking through me, wave a hand in front of their face to get them to focus on me, then point to the stairs right behind them.
This isn't a review of the show we attended, but it's representative.
Queensryche's current tour finds the band revisiting its breakthrough 1988 album "Operation Mindcrime" and finishing the story of junkie-turned killer Nikki, the evil Dr. X and his mind-controlling drugs and dead-hooker-turned-nun Mary. The band played both "Mindcrime" albums in their entirety back-to-back and made it heavy metal Broadway by adding actors and video to help tell the story.About the only thing I found disconcerting about the experience was the gun prop that got waved around quite a bit. But hey, that's just me, and I read too much news online and have a fertile imagination.
Nevertheless, it was the music that was going to make or break the show, and Queensryche delivered.
Cheap Trick Sept. 3
Now contrast those two experiences with our Cheap Trick concert at Ravinia Festival over Labor Day weekend. We rented folding chairs and staked out an area of the Ravinia lawn. We purchased candles on location so that we could see our playing cards as we lolled on our picnic blanket and drank a few bottles of wine using actual wine glasses.
I never stood up and walked to the pavilion to actually *see* the band perform, although I did thoroughly enjoy the music as it was amplified through speakers across the vast lawn.
There aren't any further concerts planned, although the Australian Pink Floyd Show is playing the Allstate Arena next month. We saw them at the Rosemont Theater last winter. Excellent show, and surprising that a *tribute band* can fill these types of venues. I think the Barenaked Ladies are rolling into town soon, also.
A lot of good intentions, but not a lot getting done. Here's a synopsis of each project, where I am on the project and my goals for this month:
(A single-title, time-travel romance)
When a prairie fire magically creates a doorway that sends Natasha Stewart though time and into the arms of James Waverly, the sparks threaten to ignite more than dry grass. As Natasha searches for a way home and Waverly tries to protect this lady who refuses to be protected, they discover their lives are more connected than either could have believed, and Natasha's future hinges on this frontiersman with an unexpected link to her past.Just saw today that Prairie Fire failed to final in the On the Far Side Contest. I'll be interested to see the feedback.
Contemplating a name change. I've always had concerns about the tone that the word "Prairie" sets: too sweet and too Western -- and Westerns just don't seem to sell. Thinking perhaps "Spark of Fire". Than I could maybe go with "Flash of Fire" for the next one. Both based on the MacFarlane translations for the twins' Gaelic names Sradag and Lasair. I'm open to other suggestions.
Goal: Submit queries/partials to at least three agents this month. Make this project work for me.
The Hunting Lodge
(A co-written erotica project)
Three couples converge at an invitation-only lodge deep in the Scottish Highlands, where their hosts, a mysterious -- seemingly fey -- couple, entice from them erotic stories of love and passion.Goal: Finish Clio's Story. Scene should be about 20 pages when complete.
(A single-title, time-travel continuing the universe created in Prairie Fire)
The ability to time-travel is closely guarded knowledge within Tatiana Stewart's family. When a fire sends Tatiana back to 17th century England, she's confronted by a sexy Scottish warrior who uncovers her secret and forces her to unravel a deeper mystery in her past.Goal: Move beyond the conceptual. Listen to Teaching Company class on Shakespeare, specifically for references to Titania, fearies and love in "A Midsummer Night's Dream".
Monday, October 02, 2006
I've been playing in my blog's template, trying to personalize the look a little bit. I added some art, changed some of colors. What do you think? Does anything display weirdly to you? Or come across as obnoxious or unreadable? Feedback is welcome.
Before and after image: