Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving Puzzle

I'm not sure when this Thanksgiving tradition began, but I dearly missed it during the years when I had two small children and it was merely impossible to keep an eye on them and keep them out of the pieces.  Now, I have a partner in crime, since Sean loves to do puzzles.  He helps during two phases: the first step of locating the end pieces and the final step when there are fewer pieces missing. Still, it is great fun and a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition. So, here is this year's puzzle:

It was easy in some ways, because there were plenty of different details to find and match. It was also hard in some ways, because the picture on the cover of the box only included the central portion of the puzzle. Many of the edge areas were a mystery.

Do you have a special tradition for Thanksgiving weekend?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Winner's Certificate

I completed my Nanowrimo novel this year on November 20th, but didn't sign in to validate it until today. So, I just downloaded my nifty little certificate which proves that I completed the goal. My boys always scoff at this motivation. The certificate is an honor I'll gladly accept. The Nano people informed me that out of more than 300,000 people who signed up for Nanowrimo this year, only 41,940 people were winners, and I'm one of them!

Normally, they offer a winner's badge by now, but I couldn't find one, so here's what my certificate looks like:

In the meantime, my silence hasn't been due to editing or revising (I usually let the novel sit for at least a few weeks to provide some space), but rather because I have been abandoning books left and right lately.  It is really quite remarkable. I've read about 50 to 100 pages in and then, just decided I didn't feel like reading it right now after all. Sob.

Here's a list of the ones I can remember setting aside:

Regine's Book: A Teen Girl's Last Words by Regine Stokke (this book is about a girl who faces, and eventually succumbs to, leukemia) - just too darn sad. Couldn't keep reading, although the photography in the book was stunning and the story probably worthwhile, if you can get beyond the sadness factor.

Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World by Rosalind Wiseman - while this would be a great book for a mother with boys to read, I just couldn't get into it this time (perhaps because I'm not having any great difficulties with my boys which require seeking assistance). Maybe I'll pick it up again some day.

Runaway Emotions: Why You Feel the Way You Do and What God Wants You to Do About It by Jeff Shreve - again, just didn't feel like this book at this time (ironic, no?).

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes - this book received stellar reviews, so I might pick it up again, but I hadn't gotten very far in before the hold list recalled the book and I couldn't renew it (sob).

At the moment, I am about 35 pages into two books, which again haven't totally hooked me yet:

It Happened at the Fair by Deeann Gist and After the Rain by Karen White.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: The View from Castle Rock

I blindly stumbled upon this one - literally. One day, I dashed into the library hoping to select a new audio book to listen to while I clean the kitchen every morning. Unfortunately, I realized that I had left my glasses out in the van and didn't have time to run back out to get them. Thus, as I wandered the aisle of audio selections, I could only really make out the author name and title. Someone in my book club recently mentioned Alice Munro and I had never read any of her books. Thus, I grabbed this one up without really knowing what it was about.

Once I began listening, however, I was intrigued because the introduction promised stories from her ancestors' trip to America and also the story of her relationship with a boy from The Salvation Army.  My ears perked up. I think it was my desire to get to the bottom of that story which led me to continue listening.

Part memoir, part fiction, Alice Munro has taken actual facts of her history and pieced together a fictionalized version of the story. It begins with a young boy, at Edinburgh Castle Rock, catching his father's dream of moving to America. The stories of life aboard the sailing vessel are interesting and engaging. Then, new life is established in America and eventually the stories lead to the author's growing up years in Canada.

It is during her early years in Canada that Munro begins to take an interest in someone her family would consider scandalous - someone from the rag-tag group of soldiers in The Salvation Army. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed with this bit of the story. The individual wasn't a good representative for the Army and the story of her relationship ended badly, sorry to say.

It kept my interest while listening and wasn't a wasted venture, but it won't go on my list of all-time favorites from the year's reading. Nor will I probably seek out another Munro book. However, in searching for information about the author, I discovered that she has recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2013. Perhaps that is why someone was mentioning her. Given that fact, I might reconsider attempting another of her offerings, but I'm not sure. Still, if you are interested in the history of emigrants from Scotland or the history of the Lake Huron area of Canada, you might find this selection to be just your cup of tea.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: The Story of Beautiful Girl

I had never heard of this book prior to our book club's planning session last January. I'm so glad it ended up being one of our choices. It was an easy read, during this distracting month, because the story was compelling and kept me turning pages.

Beautiful Girl is a young girl named Lynnie who lives at the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded in 1968. One day she escapes the school, escorted by a deaf African American man named Homan, who is only known at the school as Number Forty-two. Drawn by a mailbox with a lighthouse bearing the head of a man, the two arrive on the doorstep of a widow named Martha. They are not alone, however. They come bearing a newly born baby. When representatives from the school arrive, the baby is hidden away in the attic. As they take Lynnie away and search for a fleeing Number Forty-two, Lynnie whispers a  request into Martha's ear - "Hide her."

Lynnie is returned to the school to a life of drudgery and bondage, always remembering her baby and Homan but, fearing their safety, never speaking up. Number Forty-two makes his way in the world always hoping to return to Lynnie and the baby. Martha flees her home and hides the baby away, always wondering whether she has done right by the little girl.

The reader is caught up by so many questions.  Will Martha be discovered and the baby returned? How did Lynnie come to be pregnant? Will Lynnie ever again escape the abusive, sterile environment of the institution? Will Homan finally be reunited with Lynnie? Will the baby ever be told the story of her birth and secret identity? Carried along by these questions, the story unfolds like a beautiful flower.

The author, Rachel Simon is an award-winning author, best known for her memoir, Riding the Bus with My Sister. I believe she did an excellent job of drawing well-developed characters and placing them in an enticing plot line. Her tender care in portraying these disabled characters was refreshing. Moreover, it had the feel of historical fiction as it told the tale of the early years of these horrid institutions and the exposure which finally forced more humane treatment for the disabled. This is a story well worth reading.

Monday, November 18, 2013

More Amazing Photo Manipulations

Swedish photographer Erik Johansson has created a whole array of photos which, gently manipulated, bend the mind's eye.  An array of his photos may be viewed at

Here are my favorite two:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Potential of First Drafts

Throughout the whole Nanowrimo process, I have a tendency to beat myself up for the perceived weaknesses of my new manuscript. The errors and flaws jump out at me. I worry that the piece is really worth nothing and a waste of time.  I think, "Will I have spent all of November, pouring out words for a manuscript that is too hokey, not engaging enough, riddled with too many characters and not enough suspense?"

I receive e-mails from the Gotham Writer's Workshop in New York.  They always provide good encouragement for writers and valid things to think about.  But, recently, Kelly Caldwell, their Dean of Faculty, wrote up a piece about first drafts.  These were words I needed to hear.  My rough draft might be rough and have tons of holes and weaknesses, but there are also things of great value there.  Even if it might not look like it on the surface, there are elements which, once mined and refined, will yield a good story.  She writes:

 "As everyone from Anne Lamott to William Zinnser, from Julia Cameron to Walter Mosley has told us, writing is a miraculous blend of the subconscious and the conscious. Our subconscious mind works away at our stories, and in our first (and second and third) drafts, we tap it, as miners tap veins within rock, to unlock its treasures. In revision, we bring our conscious minds to the effort, thinking about and experimenting with our structure, our themes, our words.

"Most gems do not emerge from the earth smooth and sparkly. Some natural gemstones must be hammered and cut to release their precious cargo; some are washed in cyanide, or bathed in pearl essence. Before any of that, miners must identify which lumps of rock will yield precious gems, and which are just rocks....

"Clich├ęs, repetitions, elliptical descriptions, themes that just won’t quit, characters who won’t go away – on the surface, in our rough drafts, they can look like just so much bad writing. But on second look, we need to evaluate them with some care, and dispassion. Sometimes they are, or they point to, natural gemstones, that with excavating, cutting, and polishing, become precious."

As I pray that my "bad writing" will turn into something of value with revision and digging, I offer up to you, fellow writer, this encouragement as well.  Don't chuck your first draft.  Don't belittle your efforts.  Remember, you cannot see what wealth is hidden beneath the surface.  There is a reason your story needs to see the light of day. Just keep plugging away until that story is presentable and the great potential has been fully tapped. Your future reader will thank you for not giving up too soon.


As of 11/15, I am 45,334 words into the Nanowrimo goal. Not bad progress at all!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Review: The Returned

This was a book I had to pick up because the premise was so intriguing. Plus, I really liked the cover art with the scene upside down and then reflected again, right side up, within the words of the title. Cover art can make or break a first impression.

For a first novel, I think Jason Mott did an outstanding job with The Returned. He hit upon an interesting what-if and ran with it. I think the structure of the novel worked well, with individual stories of various "returned" individuals interspersed with a continuous tale of one family's experience. But, somehow, I just wanted more from it. I'm not even sure what that "more" would look like. I don't know how I would have written the story any differently, but at the end of the novel, I felt like there was so much more that could have been, should have been, said. Still, I think the author accomplished his goal of taking the reader into an alternate reality where they could hold their loved ones once more and seek some sort of reconciliation with the losses of the past. Everyone who picks up this book will place themselves into the heart of the story and consider how they would respond should one of their deceased loved ones return.

The story follows an elderly couple, Harold and Lucille, whose eight year old son drowned in 1966. When a government agent, working with the Bureau, shows up on their doorstep with their "returned" eight year old son, they don't quite know what to do with the situation or how to respond to their "son." Is he really their son or just a glorified imitation? Is he a devil or a miracle? Moreover, is the widespread occurrence of more and more returned individuals a blessing or a curse? What would a society do if those who were dead suddenly began showing up again in their pre-deceased forms? This intriguing question permeates the book.

When I mentioned the book's premise to my husband, he immediately responded with, "Sounds like Stephen King's Sometimes They Come Back." Thankfully, this author didn't turn it into a horror story. It was a realistic assessment of what would happen in the world if the dead returned to life again and expected to live alongside the living. How do you pick up with what could have been when you've spent your whole life adjusting to the tragedy that did happen? Moreover, how would the world handle the sudden multiplication of bodies to feed, clothe, and house? Intriguing premise, indeed!

It was also reminiscent of Mitch Albom's One More Day, although in that book the deceased individual comes back for only one more day, while the deceased individuals in Mott's book return for unspecified amounts of time, some lingering longer than others.  Still, they seem to depart again eventually and maybe this is what left me unsettled with the handling of the premise. I guess I wanted every returned individual to accomplish some purpose behind their return.  I wanted to feel there was some magnificent reason for the situation to occur.  The random nature to the selection of "the returned" was unsettling. While questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility were addressed, I still felt like I was left hanging without complete resolution.

In the end, the reader gets a bird's eye view of the son's chance to say good-bye to his mother, something he didn't have when his life was suddenly snuffed out. It is this bit of reconciliation between the dead and the living which provides this novel with value. I can see how the author would anticipate readers being able to insert themselves into this scenario and vicariously accomplish some sort of reconciliation with their dearly departed. So, while I wanted a bit more from the novel than it delivered, I still gleaned a bit of reconciliation and, therefore, feel like it wasn't time wasted.

If my own miscarried baby were to return to me, in this scenario, I would expect to achieve something I wasn't allowed in life ... the chance to know what my baby would have eventually been like (what personality, what looks, what mannerisms, etc.). But, like the characters in this novel, I would feel uncomfortable taking something that was not to be and forcing it into what is. Reconciling the two, what was not and what is, would be impossible. Thankfully, this premise is only that - an interesting premise to consider.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This One Made Me Chuckle

Saw a brief story about artist Kim Dong Kyu, who has been taking masterpieces and inserting modern inventions into the scenes.  This was my favorite:

                                                         (Photo by Kim Dong Kyu)

I could so relate, because of the time my youngest dropped our I-Pod touch, just two months after purchasing it, and cracked the screen.  Ah, the despair!

You can view more of his updated masterpieces here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nano Progress and Tidbits

I am cooking along on the novels.  I still am not thrilled with my efforts (worry that the story is a bit too smarmy, the stakes not high enough, and the story not interesting enough to hold a reader), but I keep reminding myself that it is a first draft.  All of these weaknesses can be addressed during the numerous editing stages the manuscript will go through after the Nanowrimo challenge is done.

The novel holding my primary focus is called "The Golden Bobby Pin" and is about a terribly shy, self-conscious teen who finds a golden bobby pin and decides to wear it in her hair.  She finds that when she wears the pin, good things happen and her self-confidence increases.  She becomes convinced that it bears some magic, despite her best friend's skepticism. Eventually, the pin will disappear and she will have to determine whether the confidence comes from within or from the pin.  As my niece puts it, it's a feel-good novel.  Not intense story-line, like some of my others.

The second novel I started is called "Dethroning the Queen of Sheba." This is one I began many years ago, so the story line has had a good long time to simmer.  However, somehow my enthusiasm for the tale is lagging, even though I think it holds more promise than the somewhat unbelievable bobby pin story. I suppose part of it is that I really liked the beginning I wrote before and cannot find it anywhere in my papers (although I know I never would have thrown it out - it is there somewhere).

It is about a teen who is forced to spend the summer with her prissy younger sister at her grandmother's house.  She decides to bring her sister down a peg by sending her fake anonymous love letters.  She is unsettled when someone else begins sending real letters.  Who is sending the real letters and will the older sister end up being the one who is brought down a peg instead? It just isn't coming as smoothly as the other tale, for now.  I still write about a thousand words on it, every other day.

So, on November 8th, I achieved the mid-way point of the Nanowrimo goal - achieving 25,000 words. I tend to average about 3600 words on days when the boys are not home and 1500 words when they are home.  This is still not enough to make 100,000 words by the end of the month, but I'm hoping I will at least complete the bobby pin novel entirely.

In other news, my son's football team lost their sectional game on Friday.  It was not unexpected, but still a bit of a disappointment (equally disappointing because we didn't get to see it as planned - we drove all the way out to the venue, only to find that there were no parking spaces left - the game was mobbed and Bryce said even if we had parked in a store parking lot across the street, we would have even struggled to find standing room). I did manage to snag a photo of him in his game jersey prior to leaving for school on Friday morning:

Plus, I realized that I failed to post a photo of my younger sons dressed in their Halloween attire this year.  So here is a photo of my skateboarding zombie and my Scream character:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Another Amazing, Creative Photographer

This time I stumbled upon a 14 year old boy's photographs of himself.  This kid is amazing.  Like the artist, last week, he is able to create photos that evoke a fairy-tale feel to them.  I loved looking at these and you will, too.

My favorite was of the boy drawing his own legs on a piece of paper.  Which photograph was your favorite?

The boy's own website is at and you can find more information about how he comes up with and crafts these ideas.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pardon my Silence While I'm Busy Writing a Novel

Every November since November of 2009, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo).  Every year, I've completed the necessary 50,000 words to receive my prize - something my boys scoff at - the coveted certificate.  It really isn't just a certificate I've won.  I've won more confidence in my writing.

And, I suppose I am either a lot more confident this year or just determined to make things more interesting and difficult, because when it came time to start the novel, I couldn't decide between two warring ideas swirling in my head.  So, I decided it wouldn't hurt to start them both and let time determine which one I felt like working more diligently on.  I figure I can combine the word count, since they are both going to be tangible novels in the end (I would hope).  Thus, I started Day One with 2281 words on one manuscript and 1264 words on the other.  So far, one novel is outpacing the other one.  I now have 10,503 words on the more preferred story line and 2952 on the other one.  I still haven't decided if I will ditch the second one or up the ante and try to accomplish 50,000 words on both of them, arriving at a total word count of 100,000.  That sounds intimidating, but I'm eager to give it a shot.  What do I have to lose?  Any words I write are more than I would have had if I had neglected to attempt Nanowrimo again.

Regardless of what happens, I am happy to say that I am 1/5 of the way through the challenge.  I will probably not be on to blog as frequently, since I set my goal rather high.  Thank you for your patience and be sure to check in from time to time just in case I snag a moment or manage to read a book (after all, I still have my November book club book to read). If you are doing Nanowrimo, leave a comment.  I'd love to feel a sense of solidarity with another writer.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review: Pie

I don't always post reviews of the books I read aloud to the boys, but in this case, I felt compelled.  This was a wonderfully fun book!  The boys both loved it (even though it features a cat instead of a dog).  It was well-written and engaging.  Plus, each chapter began with a different pie recipe (yum).

Alice Anderson's Aunt Polly is a master pie baker.  She is so good at it that she has won 13 of the coveted Blueberry Awards.  But, she's also a generous-hearted woman who can't bear to sell her pies, insisting on giving them away.  The whole town is thrown into a tizzy when Aunt Polly suddenly dies, leaving her secret pie-crust recipe to her cat Lardo, whom she leaves to Alice.  Everyone wants a shot at winning the Blueberry now that Polly is gone.  Plus, someone seems intent upon finding the missing recipe (stealing the cat and the key to the pie shop, then ransacking the shop).  Alice and her good friend, Charlie, are determined to solve the mystery and keep Aunt Polly's memory alive.

I loved that this book highlighted the propensity of each individual to certain gifts and the need to use those gifts to shine wherever you are.  Even though there were sad moments (yes, I cried during the read-aloud and the boys definitely noticed me tearing up), it was a joyful story full of lessons on the importance of friendship, family, and faithfulness to one's gifts.  The book was an absolute delight and I may just have to try one or two of those pie recipes (like the Chocolate Cream Pie and the Peanut Butter Raspberry Cream Pie).  Thankfully, baking is one of my gifts.