Nesting

A while ago, I watched Dancing with the Birds, a documentary on Netflix about the courting habits of male birds. One of those birds, the Macgregor’s bowerbird, is well known for building an elaborate bower to attract a mate. I love that! This bird uses sticks, leaves, rocks, and colorful objects to create the perfect bower. According to an article on the San Diego Zoo’s website, “Bowers are not nests.” They are really courting areas. The female is responsible for building a nest for offspring.

      

The male weaver bird has the same goal as the male bowerbird. This bird, however, builds an actual nest using a weaving technique. But some species of weaver birds build nests in a group and have their own little neighborhoods. (See this article for more info on these amazing builders.)

When you think of nesting, what do you think of? This?

Or, perhaps you think of the efforts that people awaiting the arrival of their babies go through to prepare their “nests” for their little ones. I think of that too, but I also think in general of someone making a home warm and cozy, particularly in the winter when the weather is too cold to venture out. Warm, soft fabrics of differing textures, conversational seating, adequate reading materials, and other comforts, come to mind (like the Anthropologie pillows in the photo below). I also think of having the essentials on hand (besides the usual food staples): coffee, tea, chocolate, and cookies.

Speaking of soft fabrics, I saw this pattern on Yarnspirations.com and immediately thought of nesting. Wouldn’t you love to be wrapped in something like this blanket below while lounging on the couch? No? Just me then? Perhaps I’ll make it someday.

In these days of enforced nesting, with many of us anchored to home, I have been choosing craft projects to do. Before I knew about the latest crisis worldwide, I stocked up on yarn.

Speaking of which, I have an unusual giveaway just because it’s nice to get free stuff every once in a while, especially in challenging times. If you’ve heard about or seen the Disney Plus show, The Mandalorian, you know about this little guy:

I found a crochet pattern by Vivianne Russo online and have been making these. They are about five inches tall. I’m giving away two. Comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing to receive one. Winners to be announced sometime next week!

Henry is nesting with his new friends, the Yodas (for want of a species name, this is what everyone is calling them) and their guardian unicorn.

Macgregor’s bowerbird and nest from somewhere on Pinterest. Weaver bird from network23.org. Crocheted blanket image from yarnspirations.com. Pillow from Anthropologie’s website. Other photos by L. Marie.

Crayons—Promises of Proficiency

I’ve written about crayons before. Like here.

Crayons fascinate me, particularly the box of sixty-four. What an array of colors! When I was a kid, a big box of crayons made me fit for any task—whether I needed to color a page in a coloring book or make my own illustrations on a blank piece of paper. Each crayon in my hand was a promise that I could make things happen. Back then, I never doubted that I could.

 

These days, I don’t use crayons as much as I once did. And some days, doubts creep in that I’m fit for the task. The bane of adulthood. Ever been there? On days when I doubt my proficiency, I think I know what to do instead: open my box of crayons and remember the promise.

Andy of City Jackdaw, here’s a promise: you will see a copy of Charles Yallowitz’s book, War of Nytefall: Eradication on your Kindle device! Please comment below to confirm.

Book cover courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Photos by L. Marie.

Easter Eggs or Seven Years A-Bloggin’

Though I posted the above photo, this post is about what’s described in the quote below from Wikipedia. Check this out:

While the term Easter egg has been used to mean a hidden object for some time, in reference to an Easter egg hunt, it has come to be more commonly used to mean a message, image, or feature hidden in a video game, movie, or other, usually electronic, medium.

So I really mean images like the one below from Star Wars: The Force Awakens with Boba Fett from Return of the Jedi superimposed on it, which points out an Easter egg. You have to check out WatchMojo’s website or YouTube channel for the explanation. Easter Eggs are for fans who eagerly pour over scenes from movies, hoping to find characters, objects like spaceships or flags, dialogue, or even sound effects from other movies, TV shows, graphic novels, video games, etc. Finding a sly reference to another work can be as satisfying as finding Waldo in a crowded scene—something that’s very relaxing to people like me who are uptight and prone to road rage. (Ah, the life of an irate driver.)

Nowadays, it’s not enough that filmmakers or television producers provide an epic ending to a film or show. Many go the extra mile to entertain fans by hiding Easter eggs. Perhaps they feel they have to keep up with the Joneses by including Easter eggs, since so many other films and TV shows do so.

Easter eggs might seem like an odd topic for a blog post. But as someone who has participated in many an Easter egg hunt, hiding eggs in friends’ backyards over the years, I guess you can say I’ve earned the right to talk about them.

Do you look for Easter eggs in movies? What are your favorites?

P.S. Because this is my seventh blogoversary (the actual date was February 19), throughout this post I have included seven Easter eggs from my first seven blog posts. Big hint: I used phrases from blog post titles, rather than pictures. You’ll have to go alllllllllll the way back to the 2013 posts to see which titles I mean. I was so tempted to do thirteen for 2013—the year I started. Seven will have to do. Happy hunting!

Kitty desperately wanted to talk over the Easter eggs she saw in a movie. She asked Henry, “Did you find the Easter eggs?” When Henry nodded to an empty bucket, before he could open his mouth to say anything, Kitty added, “No. Don’t speak.” Obviously, he didn’t have a clue what she meant.

Easter eggs from somewhere on Pinterest. Star Wars image from WatchMojo.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

Lemons

Have you ever bitten into a lemon? I did once, when I was a kid. Note the word once. I quickly realized that some fruit have a taste other than sweet.

Now, I realize that many people love to eat lemons. (My mother for instance.) And this article talks about the benefits of eating lemons: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefit-eating-whole-fresh-lemons-4390.html

Yet I prefer my lemons paired with other things: sugar and water in lemonade; sugar, water, and tea for iced tea; or sugar, eggs, flour, and other ingredients in lemon meringue pie or lemon bars. Even the lemon candy I like is of the sweet and sour variety.

    

It’s much the same with stories. I like a mixture of sweet and sour. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Sabriel by Garth Nix; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016 movie; the novelization was written by Alexander Freed). An author who writes this kind of story has to strike the right balance between hope and hopelessness.

   

Usually I love the point in the story where things are at their worst, and you don’t think good can come out of it—but then it does, sometimes at a high cost. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion is a great reward for that kind of tension.

I also think of lemons because the sourness of life sucks sometimes. I can’t help putting it that baldly. (Yes, baldly.) Jobs are lost. People you love face health issues or are in emotional pain. These moments are the “shut the book, Dad” moments Samwise Gamgee talked about in Lord of the Rings—the moments when you’re not sure everything will turn out right. I’m in that kind of moment right now. Maybe one day, I’ll provide the full details. But I wanted to write about it in the moment—when a happy ending isn’t a guarantee—because often you hear stories of triumph after the fact, after the darkness has passed and the “sun shines all the clearer”—another quote given to Samwise, this time in The Two Towers:

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.

These words gives me hope when life hands out lemons. May they enable you to keep pressing on in a sour/dark time of your own.

Now I’m thinking of some words Galadriel spoke in Fellowship of the Ring:

May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Lemon image from freepik. Lemon meringue pie image from Pillsbury. Lemonhead image from Target. Quote from Two Towers is from the script by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Fran Walsh © 2002. Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee image from Cinema Blend. Words of Galadriel and others are by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Hand Sewn/Sown

When I was a kid, my mother taught me to sew by hand. Though we didn’t own a sewing machine, she said I needed to learn the basics, like sewing on a button or sewing a hem on pants or a skirt. So I learned two basic stitches—the running stitch and the whip stitch. Later I bought this book, which lists other stitches. (This article lists some of the stitches I learned.)

Sewing anything by hand takes time and patience, especially if the goal for whatever you’re working on is that it be neat and durable. One day, however, I’d like to learn to use a sewing machine. (My sister-in-law has one.) That would certainly save time.

  

Stitches on felt

As I pen this post about hand sewing, I can’t help thinking of how I used to write everything—stories, poems, and even novel drafts—on legal pads or notebook paper. But when I acquired one computer after another, I stopped writing most things by hand, with the exception of some letters and some journal entries. (Yes, I still write letters. Not a ton, but a few in a month.)

The thing is, I type faster than I write by hand, which is why I turned to the keyboard many years ago. I reasoned, why not cut out the middle man by writing on the computer, rather than writing on paper and then having to type my handwritten text. But the words I’ve sown by hand on paper seem to have more depth. When I take time to physically write, I wind up writing more.

At first I thought that was just my perception. But an online article “Your First Book: Handwriting vs. Typing. How to Write It?” by Zoe Nixon states

Depending on the individual, some people confess that writing by hand allows their creative minds to work easier than when they type.

Here is yet another article on the subject: https://www.simonandschuster.com/getliterary/benefits-writing-longhand-versus-computer/

And another: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/nov/03/creative-writing-better-pen-longhand

While I doubt that I’ll return to writing a whole novel by hand, I know the value of writing tricky scenes by hand. As one of the above articles suggested, I often doodle as I write. If I have multiple characters to maneuver in a scene, drawing their positions on paper (standing or sitting? punching first or dodging?) helps me write about them more effectively. This tactic also helps me discern if a scene is too overcrowded and in need of adjustment.

What about you? Do you first write by hand or do you enter your text on a computer first? Let me know in the comments!

Though her chicken is excited at having written her first novel, Pinkie Pie thinks it needs a revision. All of the dialogue consists of only one word, “Cluck.”

Computer from somewhere on the internet. Other photos by L. Marie.Pinkie Pie, computer, and chicken are from the My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set by My Little Pony.

Why Textures Matter

You don’t have to be a fabric designer or a naturally tactile person to have an affinity for certain textures. You know when you like the feel of something and when you don’t. Which is why you probably wouldn’t choose to wear a sweater made out of burlap but would choose a cotton or cashmere one. (Or you might not, according to this article or this one.)

As a crafter, I work with a lot of yarn. Since many projects take hours and sometimes days to complete, I would rather work with softer yarns. Easier on the hands. I love alpaca yarn [photo at the right], because it is very soft. But it is expensive, so polyester is often the go-to.

     

Take a look at the photos below. You can just about tell, even without touching the yarn, which one(s) might be the softest. What is your guess?

1.


2.


3.


4.


5.

In case you’re wondering, the softest ones are 1, 3, and 5. Yarns like this are used to make blankets and clothes for babies, because they are suitably soft for their delicate skin. Think about a blanket you had as a child and how it felt.

Last week, I had a conversation in Target with a husband and wife who shopped for pillows. I couldn’t help asking them what made them choose a pillow with the jaw-dropping price of $85. (The last pillow I’d purchased was $3.99.)

The wife said the pillow’s memory foam was what sold them. They loved its smooth as well as soft/firm combination.

The husband said, “Go on and touch it! You know you want to!”

So I did. It felt incredible. “Sweet dreams are made of this,” as Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics sang.

He pointed down the aisle. “The mattress is great too.” It was almost $600!

“Get back, foul tempter!” I wanted to scream, knowing I could not afford either. Rather than touch it and set myself to longing after it, I bid a hasty retreat.

Textures! They have a huge impact on clothing and home interiors and our moods. Think about the fabrics or textures throughout your home—why they were chosen, and how they make you feel. According to this article,

[W]e turn to certain types of fabrics when we have different emotional requirements.
People turn to smooth and soft textures when they are in need of some emotional reassurance.

There’s probably a link to childhood and the way some textures made us feel. Whenever I was sick as a child, I wanted a soft blanket to curl up in and fuzzy slippers on my feet. I still do. But when I’m driving a car, I want a firm, no-nonsense fabric on my steering wheel, because it gives me a sense of stability. (My mother, however, prefers a soft covering for her steering wheel.) I’m not quite sure of the childhood tie-in to the steering wheel however. The closest I can think of is a rubber duck I used to have when I was a toddler. No matter what I did to that thing, I couldn’t tear a hole in it. It made me feel I would have that duck forever. Though I don’t know where it is at present, surely that duck is still around somewhere.

Any thoughts on fabric textures and how they make you feel? Feel free to comment below.

Alpaca yarn from contoocookalpaca.com. Classic rubber duck from Amazon. Other photos by L. Marie.

End of an Era—2019 and the Decade

By the time you read this, 2020 will be here. But today being New Year’s Eve, I asked Henry what he was looking forward to in 2020. You know, the kind of question everyone asks on the eve of a new year.

“Grapes,” he said. Not quite what I’d expected to hear, but to each his own.

Um, those are not grapes, Henry.

Though they weren’t asked, Lazy Buns and the Squeezamal chimed in with, “Catching some Zzzs” and “Tacos” respectively.

And Malik added, “Continuing to be awesome.” Perhaps having low expectations is the way some cope with the changing year.

Henry’s new BFF, the Bunny Cupcake (who sadly will be moving away soon), had very little to say other than bidding Henry a tearful good-bye.

And so, we bid good-bye to 2019 and the decade. I’m hardly tearful however. I’m glad to see you go, 2019! Thanks to the polar vortex, various family illnesses, manuscript rejections, pet deaths, and job losses, you will not be missed.

But as I consider those challenges, I can’t help seeing what they shaped in me, my family, and friends. Resilience is formed not in ease but in hard times. So 2019, your peaks and valleys left a residue of resilience that we can all carry into 2020—a year of endless possibilities.

I’m not one for making resolutions. And if you follow this blog at all, you know that I hardly ever post goals. (Some might say I never post goals.) But I’m writing three books that I’m looking forward to finishing in 2020.

What are you looking forward to in 2020? Comment below!

Happy New Year!

Photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Lazy Buns is a Pop Hair Pet, a product of MGA Entertainment.

Finish Well

One of the things I find fascinating about The Great British Baking Show (as it is known here in the States because of Pillsbury; it is The Great British Bake Off where it originated) is the fact that you can win the accolade of Star Baker—the best baker—in one week of the competition and be sent home crying in another. It’s what you do each week of the competition that counts—particularly the final week. (Don’t worry. I won’t give any spoilers.) You can see this scenario played out in any of the series on Netflix (or wherever you watch the show). So, winning Star Baker is not an iron-clad guarantee that you will win the whole competition.

A good motto for the show is, “What have you done for me lately?” On this show, you can’t coast on your laurels. You have to prove yourself every week to the very end.

This is the concept of finishing well. Haven’t you’ve seen Olympic runners tragically stumble before crossing the finish line, or a gymnast execute a perfect tumbling run only to stumble out of bounds—or worse—fall and injure himself or herself? And how many of us have mourned when our favorite sports team choked in the last minutes or the last game of the championship?

And who can forget the hoopla surrounding the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones—a show highly favored until the last season?

I’ve read book trilogies and viewed movie trilogies with endings that disappointed me to the point where I wished I’d never started the journey in the first place. Have you? Some of the trilogies I’ve regretted reading had endings that felt rushed or tacked on. In all fairness, the downside of some publishing efforts is that some authors spend years on the first book but are only given a matter of months to finish the second and the third.

And I know: art is subjective. The same trilogies I’ve disliked were liked by many people. You can’t please everybody! But there are some series with endings so satisfying, they have become regular destinations for me. One of those is The Lord of the Rings. Another is Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series, not the movie). (I realize that fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea. 😀)

I’m impressed by the fact that the Avatar series creators, Michael Dante DiMartino (right) and Bryan Konietzko, knew the ending of their series well before that season ever aired. In Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Art of the Animated Series (Dark Horse Books, 2010), DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko explain what happened during a meeting they attended to discuss the show:

We pitched for over two hours, describing the four nations, the entire story arc—all three seasons’ worth (12).

So, before the show was ever greenlit, they knew what was going to happen. And the show ended pretty much on par with that pitch meeting. Many fans and critics agree that this series is one of the best animated series ever made. Ending the series took four episodes! But it was one of the most satisfying endings to a series I have ever seen.

 

Finishing well is definitely not an easy undertaking. If you’ve ever run a race, you know that your strength begins to flag before you reach the end. When my brother ran the Chicago marathon, he said that around mile 20, he was ready to quit. But he tapped into a well of determination to cross that finish line. (We enjoyed some great snacks when he did. 😄)

The road to finishing well begins with finishing what you started. But that’s just the beginning, especially in writing! For many who have written a story, an article, or any book, you know that finishing a draft leads you to the beginning of another journey—that of revision. But revising helps you finish well.

What do you do to ensure that you finish a story or some other project well? What series have you read that finished well?

Finish line image from the intentionallife.com. Mile 20 image from Wikimedia. Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko image from Toonzone. Avatar book photos by L. Marie.

Color My World

When you think of a product that epitomizes your childhood, what do you think of? To me, nothing says childhood like Crayola Crayons. I loved getting new crayons at the beginning of the school year. Crayons and new notebook paper opened up new imaginative possibilities.

I couldn’t find the small box of crayons I have, so this box of chalk will have to do as a stand-in for childhood wonder.

Thanks to the recent rainstorms, the ground is too wet right now to effectively draw on the sidewalk, but here is a photo I’ve used on the blog before. Some of the kids in my apartment building did the handiwork. I love how the color brightens a bland sidewalk. It was a day brightener for me as well.

Did you know that non-toxic crayons have existed since 1903? I didn’t. I found out when I looked up the history of Crayola and watched a video on it. Click here for that video.

The 1903 crayons

In 1958, the box of 64 crayons was born.

I never lost my love of crayons, mainly because I love an array of colors. Whether I crochet or knit, I love to use colorful yarn. If a pattern calls for neutral colors, I usually switch the colors to those I prefer. I actually feel better when I’m working with colors and when I’m surrounded by colorful things.

Turns out I’m not the only one. According to this article, brighter wardrobe colors make you feel better. Room colors also affect your mood, according to this article and this one. But according to this post at Smithsonian.com, color preferences are not always universal. Past associations with a color and also cultural influences can affect how a color is perceived.

Do you have a favorite color? How do these colors make you feel?

 

 

 

 

Undoubtedly, you’ve seen color used in a movie or in a book to heighten a certain mood. But sometimes color is used against type for an unsettling effect (like a bright, sun-washed blue sky in a horror film).

Speaking of color in nature, with autumn underway, I look forward to the changing colors of the leaves. Until that happens, I can enjoy colorful clouds in the sky at sunrise or sunset. These photos were taken at sunrise. The clouds in the photo at the right look like a mythical firebird with bright plumage.

 

How has something colorful brightened your life this week?

The Squeezamal [creature at the right] has found a colorful new friend, Lazy Buns, who doesn’t get a move on without a cup of coffee.

Crayola stamp from somewhere on Pinterest. 1958 Crayons from PopScreen. Other photos by L. Marie. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company. Pop Hair Pets are a product of MGA Entertainment.

What Might Have Been

Growing up, my brothers were not into cartoons or shows about Barbie or Polly Pocket (whose Alpine set is shown below). They certainly would not have cared about My Little Pony, had those ponies existed back then.

So, since there was only one small TV and I was outnumbered, I got used to watching wrestling matches and any other televised sport, including Roller Derby (remember the Thunderbirds? . . . No?)—and Godzilla and martial arts movies.

Bull Curry. . . . Don’t remember him? . . . Yeah, I’m old.

Terri Lynch of the Thunderbirds

And I read DC and Marvel comic books. Oh and Archie too, but I don’t have any of those from childhood.

 

So lately, I’ve wondered what my life would have been like had I grown up with a sister—a fervent wish when I was a kid. My best friend, who lived next door, was like a sister. I just wanted someone (a non-parent) to talk to who understood what it was like to be a girl. She was an only child. So neither of us knew what it was really like to have a sister. When we hung out, we rode our bikes and watched horror films hosted by Svengoolie (a show also known as Screaming Yellow Theater and Son of Svengoolie) and crashed into each other ala the Roller Derby.

  

Svengoolie (Jerry G. Bishop) and Son of Svengoolie (Rich Koz)

I can’t say those activities are what I imagined growing up as the kind of activities sisters participated in. I always thought sisters did each other’s hair and makeup and wore each other’s clothes, none of which I could do with a brother.

Those of you who grew up with sisters are probably thinking I sound extremely naive about sisters. You’re right. And I know the grass is greener and all that. But now that I think about it, I can’t help pondering over why I thought the activities I mentioned above were the kind of activities sisters did.

I am a product of the times in which I grew up. When I was a kid, the women’s rights movement was just beginning. Certain stereotypes about “the woman’s place” had yet to be challenged. Case in point: back when I was a kid, females in sports were frowned upon. Running and playing baseball in the alley—two things I loved to do—were not seen as “ladylike.” Sadly, I allowed the opinions of others to sway me away from them.

Yet no one could dissuade me from expressing my imagination through writing—though many tried. And as I think about what might have been had I grown up under different circumstances, I realize that those circumstances helped shape the writer I became.

So I have no regrets about the past. (Well, one regret—that I didn’t date that guy who expressed interest on the last day of my senior year in high school.) Though I might have watched a lot more wrestling than I cared to watch, I learned a lot growing up with guys. I learned to always look first before sitting on the toilet seat in the middle of the night while half awake (the lid might be up), to take risks (some of them stupid—I’ve mentioned before about jumping out of windows), how to fight (useful during my middle school years), that insects didn’t have to be feared, that a towel makes a good cape. But mostly, I learned that my brothers always had my back. (Well, most of the time.) I wouldn’t trade them for any mythical sister in the world.

Tia Tigerlily is grateful for her Girls Day outings with Marsha Mellow, despite the fact that Henry always tries to tag along.

Polly Pocket Alpine scene from ebay.com. Godzilla poster from mymightymega.com. Wrestling image from mentalfloss.com. Terri Lynch photo from Pinterest. Svengoolie image from the miniaturespage.com. Son of Svengoolie from Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily and Marsha Mellow Shoppie dolls are products of Moose Toys.