’Tis the Season to Go Shopping?

Yes, I know this is the second post in a row with a title that begins with the word ’Tis. Life is like that sometimes. Anyway, is it me or are some holidays feeling kind of tacked on? They just seem to exist for the sake of consumerism. Unlike other holidays, many of which are sacred celebrations. Halloween is always clearly marked by pumpkins, candy, costumes, grinning skulls that shriek at you from store aisles, and lots of orange lights. The Day of the Dead has its sugar skulls and remembrances of those who have passed away. But based on the massive amount of emailed ads I recently received, some holidays have kind of been lost in the crowd while others have taken center stage.

So, as far as fall holidays are concerned, we have

• Halloween and Dia de los Muertos

     

• Black Friday
• Cyber Monday (today)


• Hanukkah

Hanukkah
• Christmas


• Kwanzaa

Do I have that right? Nothing’s missing from that list, right? At least according to the ads that have flooded my email.

An emailed ad I recently received

While I hung out at my brother’s house on the day after Thanksgiving (you know, the holiday with turkey—or ribs if you prefer—that comes between Halloween/Day of the Dead and Hanukkah), I watched a Gravity Falls marathon with the fam. Wave after wave of toy commercials whizzed by. Just in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I guess. I don’t see how parents of young children can stand up to the holiday toy blitz and not crumple under the pressure. Oh the humanity! I don’t even have children, and I get toy catalogues sent to me in the mail without even asking for them.

Each year the marketing blitz seems to last longer and longer as holidays get added to claim the attention of our wallets. Did you know that Cyber Monday (or at least the term) started in 2005—only 12 years ago? Black Friday, however, has been around since the ’60s according to this website.

Did you participate in Black Friday (which technically started on Thanksgiving Day)? (I didn’t go anywhere near the stores on Black Friday.) Will you participate in Cyber Monday?

While you think about that, I’ll bring up the giveaway I discussed here. I’m giving away a $30 Amazon gift card. Just in time for Cyber Monday, if that’s your thing!

Thanks to the Random Number Generator, I am happy to announce that the winner of the $30 Amazon gift card is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

(I can cut and paste Is . . . all day.  😀 😃 😄)

Is . . .

Is . . . (Next to the last one.)

Is . . .

Charles Yallowitz!

Congrats, Charles! Please comment below to confirm! Thank you to all who commented.

Cyber Monday images from hdwallpapersys.com and from somewhere on Pinterest. Gift image from vizfact.com. Hanukkah menorah from tucker-tribune.blogspot.com. blogspot.com. Kwanzaa image from pbslearningmedia.org. Day of the Dead image from freepik.com. Pumpkin luminary photo by L. Marie.

Chillin’ Like a Villain

Lately, I’ve been reading a novel by Timothy Zahn about a Star Wars character—Grand Admiral Thrawn—and how he came to power.

    

Thrawn’s like Machiavelli and Sun Tzu—known for his ingenuity and military prowess. However, if you side with the rebel characters in season 3 of the animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, you’ll have only one word to describe this guy: villain.

I haven’t read many novels in which the antagonist is the main character. It’s interesting that a number of novels this year feature compelling villains or villains searching for redemption. Charles Yallowitz wrote one. A friend who had read other novels by Zahn encouraged me to read Zahn’s latest. And since I’ve written a novel in which one of the main characters is the primary antagonist, I wanted to see what made Thrawn tick.


Thrawn in Star Wars: Rebels

In an interview, which you can read here, Zahn, who created the character, discusses why he made Thrawn so compelling:

Readers like their villains to be a challenge to the heroes because that forces the heroes to bring their best game to the field. The more clever the opponent, and the more difficult the fight, the more satisfying the victory.

I’m down for that! An ingenious antagonist means the stakes will be high, especially when the hero is thwarted at just about every turn.

I’m enjoying the book so far. Thrawn is a fascinating character with a mind like that of a chess grand master. And how nice that this fan favorite is now canon in the Star Wars universe (hence this novel published by Del Rey/Random House).

What brilliant, but controversial characters have you read about (fictional or nonfictional) lately? While you think about that, I’ll move onto the giveaway, which I discuss here, if you missed that post. Thanks to the random number generator, the winner of the $25 Amazon gift card is

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(Okay. I’ll stop.)

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Thank you to all who commented. Have a happy and safe Halloween! Are you planning to dress up? What is your costume?

Grand Admiral Thrawn image from starwars.com. Star Wars Rebels logo from denofgeek.us. Book jacket photos and eerie pumpkin luminary photo by L. Marie.

Fall into a Giveaway

Mwahahaha!
I am the creepy pumpkin luminary that presides over L. Marie’s armoire.

Now that it’s fall, I can’t help reminiscing about activities I loved in this season back in the day. When I was in elementary school, we used to bring leaves to decorate the classroom or to use as models for drawing time. Living in a climate where leaves change colors and drop to the ground made leaf gathering extremely easy. Finding a variety of leaves in a neighborhood where maple trees dominated—well, that was more challenging.

Happy fall, leaf. Dare I say, “How the mighty have fallen”?

We’d also make orange and black paper chains to hang on the walls above class drawings of trees with leaves cut out of paper, pumpkins, and other fall-ish things.

And of course, I enjoyed fall treats like Halloween candy (especially chocolate) and caramel apples.

I haven’t made a paper chain in a long while. Apple picking and apple donut eating have replaced the paper chain production. But I still love Halloween candy (especially chocolate) and caramel apples. Other fall food favorites include hearty teas and soups.

Recently, a good friend sent me a box of my favorite tea: maple apple cider. This friend knows who she is, so I won’t embarrass her by naming her here.

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But this friend’s generosity reminded me of another favorite, one that isn’t confined to a season or a reason: hosting a giveaway!

I’m giving away a $25 Amazon gift card (or its equivalent on Amazon UK).

All you have to do to be considered for this drawing is to comment below. Tell me a fall tradition you have or a food you love. The lovely random number generator will choose a winner, who will be announced on October 30.

Kirstea says, “Happy Fall!” Obviously, she’s not daunted by the luminary.

Caramel apple from galleryhip.com. Amazon gift card from Amazon.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Kirstea™ is a Shoppie doll made by Moose Toys.

Get Cozy!

img_4118When you live in an area where lately the temperature seems to hover between 9 degrees (Fahrenheit) and 2 below zero, you tend to crave anything that makes you feel warm and cozy.

Like my Sherpa blanket.

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Oh yeah! If I could wrap up with it while waiting for the train on frosty mornings, I would. When I throw it on, I instantly feel the weight and warmth of it. It’s like having a sheepdog wrapped around me.

I’ve mentioned the maple apple cider tea that makes me feel especially cozy. Nancy Hatch and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, expect to get some in the mail soon. (Yes, that is my way of announcing the winners of the giveaway announced in this post. I decided to go with two, since they both said they wanted the tea in the comments. Winners, please confirm below. If you would prefer to have a blend of flavors [click that link to preview] instead of only the maple apple cider, please mention that when you confirm.)

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Another way of getting cozy is to watch a cozy movie. I’ve mentioned in many posts that movies and miniseries adapted from Jane Austen’s books are my usual go-tos. However, Enchanted April is another favorite. This 1991 movie, directed by Mike Newell, concerns four women (Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, and Polly Walker) who rent a villa in the Italian Rivera. It’s based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. With a cast like that, I can’t help feeling cozy, especially with so many sun-splashed days and lovely walks in the Italian countryside.

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Still another way of getting cozy is to curl up with a cozy mystery. Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Ngaio Marsh, P. D. James, and Dorothy Sayers were my authors of choice for years on cold winter days. Agatha, Ngaio, and Dorothy wrote during the Golden Age of mysteries (the 1920s and 1930s). There are many cozy mystery series now. For a great review of a cozy mystery, check out FictionFan’s blog. She reviewed one of the Murder She Wrote novels starring the one and only Jessica Fletcher. (Click here for that review.) I used to read those ages ago. I think I’ll pick one up again.

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I feel warmer already!

What’s your favorite way to get cozy this winter?

Book cover from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie.

Bring Back the Joy

If you stopped by out of curiosity about who won the tea, I’ll get to the winner in a minute. (Click here if you’re not sure what that statement means.) But first, I have to mention something I read today. You might have heard about the Florida teacher whose resignation letter went viral. Click here for that story. Now that I’m in the middle of a curriculum assignment, I pay more attention to articles about teachers.

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On Facebook, the teacher expressed an increasing frustration over a joyless education system, which led to her resignation. Well, the fact that she recently had a baby who will one day be educated in that same environment also played a factor in her resignation.

This isn’t the first post I’ve seen where someone expressed frustration or disgust over the current education expectations. But the fact that an excellent teacher was left disheartened made me sad. Since the letter went viral, others must share her frustration.

I don’t plan to argue for or against Common Core. In fact I can’t help thinking about another article I read, which explained why the answer to a math problem was marked wrong despite the fact that the answer was indeed right. (You can read that article here.) While I understand the author’s explanation, I can see a child’s or a parent’s confusion with it, especially if the goal for learning this way seemed convoluted or wasn’t explained at all.

I’ve heard experts say that “we have to be competitive” due to advances in technology. But if kids, parents, and great teachers are frustrated enough to want to quit, I have to wonder if we’re going in a good direction.

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When I was a kid, I loved school. I had joy in learning new skills. Because of that, I try to instill the joy of learning in the activities I write for kids. But as this frustrated Florida teacher mentioned, for some the joy seems to be gone.

I’ve seen this kind of disillusionment in other fields where assessment rubrics have increased exponentially and employees are bogged down in paper work.

Is it any wonder that the video game industry has proliferated? A video game provides a means of escape—a way to wind down. Books can provide that too. Yet lately, I’ve read but did not finish several books geared toward kids that seemed as joyless as the education system seems to that teacher. Where has the joy gone?

In the past few months I’ve heard more kids say, “I want to be a video game designer” than I’ve heard say, “I want to be a teacher.”

Food for thought.

Speaking of food, let’s get to the winner of Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Tea and the crocheted leaves.

Without further ado, that person is . . .

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Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of Lifeonthecutoff Blog

Penny, please comment below to confirm. Then please email your address.

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Education clip art from vector-clip-art.com and real-i-d.net.

Suits Me to a Tea

I’m a coffee drinker for the most part. But I love a good, hearty tea when the autumn weather turns nippy. How about you? A new favorite is Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend.

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Recently, a friend and I conducted an informal taste test of herbal teas. Among the cinnamon tea blends, we concluded that Trader’s Joe Harvest Blend was the best tasting. This is our opinion, of course. Yet others who tried the tea quickly headed to the store to buy it. They then gave tea bags to other people who then bought their own box of the tea. Yes, my friend and I are tea pushers. The first bag is free. 🙂

Isn’t it interesting that something steeped in hot water can produce such a rich, memorable flavor? Sounds like life, doesn’t it? (Work with me here. It sounds like life, doesn’t it? Just nod your head.) When we’re in hot water—troublesome circumstances—the flavor of our character is revealed. Are we bitter, as some tea is when steeped too long? Or do the “hot” circumstances bring out the best in us?

The subject came up as I recently pondered my reaction to disappointing expectations and problems. As others announced the joyous news of book deals, I contemplated the lack of positive news in my mailbox (including a no for the YA book I queried earlier this year). I soon realized that a thread of bitterness had crept in and wound itself around me, leaving me complaining and paralyzed. Kind of like a mummy in a sarcophagus. Only . . . mummies don’t really complain, do they? And if they’re of the undead variety, they’re not really paralyzed either. Instead, a mummy might break out of his or her sarcophagus and lurch about, terrorizing villages. So that metaphor is a bit labored. But you get what I mean.

A couple of quotes struck me recently:

Tom Ed quote 1-07-Harriet-1024x703

I guess it’s time for me to stop whining and do what I know to do: write and keep going. To celebrate the power of persistence, I’m giving away a box of this Harvest Blend Herbal Tea and some crocheted leaves. (If you want to know more about these leaves, click on crocheted leaves to get the pattern, which was designed by Michelle at The Painted Hinge blog.) I’ll choose a commenter at random. Feel free to comment on a tea you love or some aspect of autumn you love. Or talk about which quote above speaks to you. Perhaps you have another favorite quote about persistence. Winner to be announced Friday, November 6.

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Thomas Edison quote from pinterest. Harriet Beecher Stowe quote from viacharacterblog.org.

Films with Rounded Edges

I’ll get to the birthday giveaway in just a minute. But first, this. . . .

In my quest to cut back on violent imagery (which I discussed in this post), I watched three movies with a softer touch. Two—The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014) were directed by Irish filmmaker/illustrator Tomm Moore.

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Tomm Moore

Both were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

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Here’s the trailer for Song of the Sea.

The third was Lego Batman: The Movie—DC Super Heroes Unite (2013), directed by Jon Burton. This movie is based on a videogame. You can watch the trailer here.

(To avoid overcrowding this post with trailers, the Secret of Kells trailer can be found if you click here. But only if you want to.)

Lego Batman has fight scenes so innocuous a five-year-old can view them without twitching. That’s not a criticism. I loved it and Tomm Moore’s gorgeously animated films.

The Secret of Kells is based on a real book—the Book of Kells, a medieval illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels on display at Trinity College Library in Dublin. It features Brendan, a boy living the monastic life in a walled village, where his uncle, the abbot, fears an impending attack by the Vikings. A visit from a famed manuscript illuminator sets Brendan on a life-changing journey. In Song of the Sea, Ben—one of the main characters—grieves the disappearance of his mother while avoiding his six-year-old sister Saiorse, who has yet to speak a word. Being sent away to live with a stern grandmother sets Ben on a journey of discovery about his sister and why their mother left.

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Book of Kells Chi Rho page, which the film mentions

What I love about both films, besides the utter beauty of the art, is the exploration of Celtic mythology. Fairy stories are generally a way to gain my rapt attention. Brendan meets a fairy—one of the Tuatha De Danann. Ben thrives on stories of fairies and selkies.

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Brendan with Aisling, the fairy Brendan meets in the forest

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Ben (bottom right) with Saiorse (the little girl in the center surrounded by fairies)

In an interview at the GhibliWorld.com, Moore cited Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo; Spirited Away), Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack; Hotel Transylvania), and Michel Ocelot (The Princes’ Quest; Tales of the Night) as influencers. (If you know Miyazaki’s work, you know that Studio Ghibli was founded by Miyazaki and another filmmaker—Isao Takahata.) If you’ve seen the work of these filmmakers, you know the beauty and scope of their projects. I have certainly appreciated their work over the years.

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Hayao Miyazaki

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Genndy Tartakovsky

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Michel Ocelot

I know what you’re thinking. An attack by Vikings? Evil villains teaming up to destroy a city? (If you saw the Lego Batman trailer, you’ll know who the villains are.) Aren’t those violent acts? Yep. There are scenes of peril in all three movies. But the peril is definitely palatable for a young audience. The deliberately softened edges in some scenes help.

And that’s what I appreciated overall—the rounded edges. In his behind-the-scenes presentation, Tomm Moore talked about the deliberate choice to match the style of the Book of Kells by featuring circular imagery in many of the scenes. In his commentary, Moore described these images as “a little bit more friendly.” If you look back at the imagery on his films’ DVD cases and the other pictures above, you’ll see the rounded edges of the heroic characters. The antagonists, however, have sharp angles.

Moore is not the only one who has this opinion about rounded edges. I found this article on web design: “5 Colors, Shapes, and Techniques That Make Your Company Friendlier.” The writer, James George, states

[A]dding circular elements to your website can help to break the mold and make your website look friendly and more inviting.

Another article that talks about the inviting quality of rounded edges is this one.

I can’t say I know for sure what the thought process was behind Lego Batman. But Lego minifigs usually look inviting. In the film, many of the characters smiled a lot, which made them look, well, adorable.

LEGO-Batman-The-Movie--DC-Super-Heroes

I never explored the idea of rounded edges being friendlier until I began writing this post and heard Moore’s discussion. Perhaps that’s why I love the rounded tops of some Tudor-style doors. I don’t know about you, but I want to walk through these doors.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. I’m feeling much more relaxed—relaxed enough to announce the winner of the birthday giveaway. (If you’re not sure what I mean, go here.)

The winner, without further ado, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Penny of the Life in the Cutoff blog!!!

Penny, please confirm below, and provide an email address where you can be reached. Also, let me know your choice: coffee or tea.

Thanks to all who commented. Have a happy Avengers 2: Age of Ultron weekend!

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Song of the Sea DVD cover from dvdsreleasedates.com. Secret of Kells DVD cover from mysfreviews.com. Tomm Moore from purepeople.com. Lego Batman from flicks.co.nz. Ben and Aisling image from twitchfilm.com. Song of the Sea still from cinemarcado.com.br. Brendan from cinematheque.fr. DC heroes from watchcartoononline.com. Doors from homecurbappeal.com. Genndy Tartakovsky from cn-cartoonnetwork.wikia.com. Hayao Miyazaki from cinekatz.com. Michel Ocelot from lejdd.fr. Avengers 2 logo from comicvine.com. Book of Kells Chi Rho page from-ireland.net