Still Beckoning the Lovely

My continuing quest to beckon the lovely took me to the gym of a church this past Saturday, where I helped organize the games for a five-year-old’s birthday party. (If you have no idea what beckoning the lovely means, click here for the post that provides more information.) Picture twenty-one shrieking kids eight years old and under (most around four years old or five years old), racing at top speed across a gym—sometimes colliding with each other—and you’ll know what my day was like.

    

   

Sorry. I’m just showing photos of decorations. No one gave me permission to show his or her kids on this blog.

I know what you’re thinking. You and I are close like that. You’re thinking, How is being in a room with twenty-one children lovely?

Well, I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I can’t have biological children. But I appreciate the miracle that is a child.

That doesn’t mean I have a Pollyanna view of children. I know kids can be cruel to each other. After all, I was not a nice child. I remember how a friend of mine and I made up a mean song about a girl named Jennifer, whom we didn’t like for some reason. We sang it with gusto in her presence. See? Not a nice kid.

Plus, I’ve been around kids all of my life in some capacity or another. I’m related to some, I’ve taught others, babysat them, scolded them, and planned parties for them. Their sense of wonder and their skill at getting on your last nerve are what inspire me to write books for and about them.

So, helping out at that party, as tiring as it was, is what I would describe as lovely. Seeing how much fun the kids had, as well as the dads who courageously allowed groups of small children not necessarily their own to dress them as jellyfish, reminds me of the creative ways adults can be present in the lives of children.

Speaking of present, that’s my cue to segue to the winner of Second Chance Romance, a novel written by your friend and mine, Jill Weatherholt. Jill is giving away a signed copy as a present to a commenter. (See what I did there with present? . . . Okay, I’ll stop.)

  

The winner is . . .

Is

Is

Is

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Laura, please comment below to confirm. I will then pass along your email address to Jill. Thank you to all who commented!

“More Tea, Please”

Yes, that is a teacup on Kirstea’s head. She is a tea-loving Shopkins™ Shoppie doll. And yes, her name is Kirstea.

I love hot beverages, even in the summer. Seventy percent of the time, I’ll go for coffee. The other 30 percent is divided between tea (20 percent) and hot chocolate.

The post title is a quote from one of my favorite animated characters of all time—Uncle Iroh from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. He’s known for his love of tea.

There are certain tea flavors I enjoy. Mostly I love a robust tea. But my tea tastes have changed over the years.

Do you have a favorite tea? If so, let me know through this poll or in a comment below:

When I was a kid, my mother always had a box of Lipton tea around. That was the only tea we had. Good old, reliable Lipton black tea. Back then, I was not a big fan of tea. I only drank it if I had a cold or some other illness. So, Lipton tea was the extent of my tea knowledge at the time.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered Earl Grey, and drank it like it was water. I can’t help thinking of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who loved that tea. But after my freshman year, I dropped tea, and began mainlining coffee until someone introduced me to Constant Comment—another black tea.

I went through a berry tea phase briefly (like Wild Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings), before moving to peppermint tea. After that, I fixated on Lemon Zinger by Celestial Seasonings for a time.

While in Shanghai earlier this century (sounds weird to write earlier this century), I discovered green tea. Drank a ton of it, especially at Starbucks, which served green tea lattes long before they debuted in the U.S. But in the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward chai, rooibos teas, and this one, which I’ve written about before.

I started this post thinking I would just talk about tea. But I can’t help equating tea with fantasy books. Many times, when I’ve mentioned that I’m writing or reading a fantasy book, I have received one of two responses:

“I hate fantasy books. Always full of names that are hard to pronounce.”

“Not my cup of tea. They’re too long and boring.”

You see why I equate fantasy books with tea? Now, if you’ve mentioned either of those statements to me, please don’t think I’m putting you down. Many people, even strangers, have told me the same thing. But for me, fantasy books are like tea, because there are so many different varieties—from historical epics to contemporary urban thrillers. Yes, there are books with names that are difficult to pronounce. But Harry Potter, a kid in a fantasy book, has a name that’s easy to pronounce. And Ursula Le Guin has at least two fantasy books under 200 pages in length.

These are older editions. Wizard ends on page 199.

If you don’t like fantasy books, I know I won’t convince you to come to my side of the fence. I’m not here to do that. After all, I don’t like licorice, and wouldn’t want anyone to try to sway me to like it. Instead, I’ll continue to enjoy the rich flavors of the fantasy books that come my way.

A good article on the most popular tea flavors is here.

Uncle Iroh from medievalotakuwordpress.com. Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard from startrek.com. Bigelow Constant Comment tea from Wikipedia. Lemon Zinger from the Celestial Seasonings website. Lipton tea from chromedelivery.com. Kirstea Shopkins™ Shoppie doll and book covers photos by L. Marie.

More of the Perfect Bathroom Reading

Awhile back (2013 actually), I wrote a post on the pastime described in the title. Yes, I decided to go there again. (Get it? Go there? Okay, I really should let that go. Ha ha! Aren’t you glad I stuck around four years as a blogger?)

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Anyhow, the subject came up again recently, and since I have a blog, I decided to discuss it here. No subject is too inane for me to write about. Perhaps you wish some were. Well, it was either this subject or a discussion of what I had for lunch (grilled ham and cheese—see, not much to talk about).

So, what makes for good bathroom reading? Need it be waterproof? What are the criteria? Have they changed in the last four years? Good questions. Well, I’m still very particular about my bathroom reading. As I mentioned in a previous post, novels (non-graphic novels) don’t really work for me, unless the novel is something for which putting it down is next to impossible. But if it’s that impossible to put down, I would remain in the bathroom for hours, reading. (Not a bad thing, really, if you live alone. With a family sharing a bathroom, however, this would be a bad thing.)

I prefer something I can flip through, and perhaps quickly read a section. That’s why, at least for me, magazines (the extent of my nonfiction bathroom reading), alumni newsletters, fun catalogs, and graphic novels still make the perfect bathroom reading. (Nothing much has changed in the last four years.) I love the blend of images and text, which makes finding an interesting place to land very easy. And for the most part, I don’t “cheat” by taking my reading material out of the bathroom to finish reading later. Like I said, this is bathroom reading. It remains on the shelf in my bathroom.

This is what I currently have in my bathroom. Yes, that issue of Entertainment Weekly is as old as dirt. But it’s still fun to look at. And that’s definitely not the latest issue of Game Informer. I usually pass those on to some friends as soon as I finish them. Somehow I managed to hold on to this one.

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I also have this series, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi (books 3 and 7):

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For more about this fantasy series, go here (the author/illustrator’s website):

Maybe a month ago, I read a great article on the work of Sir Fraser Stoddart, a professor at Northwestern University (see photo below left) who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Now, an article of that depth took several sessions to read. Took over a week to read Game Informer’s article on the three doctors who founded BioWare, the videogame developer. (That was a long article.) An article on George R. R. Martin (bottom right) took a few days to finish.

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But I guess the point I’m making is that I love my bathroom reading. It’s just as special to me as my bedtime reading, though the time I spend doing it is a bit shorter. 🙂

Do you keep reading material in your bathroom? If so, what?

Bathroom image from somewhere on pinterest.com. George R. R. Martin photo from christianpost.com. Sir Fraser Stoddart photo from chemistry.northwestern.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

“You Put Your Left Hand In . . .”

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What song/dance did you think of immediately when you read the title of the post? It’s considered a novelty/fad dance because of its popularity for a time at wedding receptions and large gatherings of kids. (If you still aren’t sure what that song is, I’ll whisper it to you in the comments if you ask.) I didn’t notice anyone suggesting it at any wedding reception I’ve attended in the last few years. The “Chicken Dance” is still hanging in there as a wedding reception staple.

img_4151Connie Willis’s 1996 science fiction novel, Bellwether, is all about fads and trends. Dr. Sandra Foster, the main character, is a sociologist who studies them. Like this one:

dance marathon (1923—33) Endurance fad in which the object was to dance the longest to earn money. Couples pinched and kicked each other to stay awake, and when that failed, took turns sleeping on their partner’s shoulder for as long as 150 days. (Willis 105)

And yes, Barbie herself (pictured above) has endured past her early fad-dom. (If that’s even a word, which I suspect it isn’t.)

This is not a review of Bellwether, by the way, though I loved the book. (Which I guess is kind of a mini-review.) I’m more interested in the central concept of the book: the bellwether. (Maybe now you’re thinking of the Bellwether character in Zootopia.)

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Assistant Mayor Bellwether

According to Merriam-Webster.com, a bellwether is

one that takes the lead or initiative : leader; also : an indicator of trends

States can be bellwethers too. You can check out Wikipedia (click here) for more information on the bellwether’s antecedents. Willis’s book addresses the notion of the bellwether in a very creative way.

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I’ll be bahhh-ck. (A sheep’s impression of Ah-nold Schwarzenegger)

We can’t always predict what will become a fad, thanks to the fickle nature of humans. Even if we’re contemptuous of the fads others follow (especially if they seem dangerous or dumb), if we’re being honest, we’ll probably admit to having followed a few fads at some point in our lives.

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Blue hair on a dude is not uncommon nowadays.
Is this a passing trend? Who knows?

Bellwethers set the trends, sometimes inadvertently. Think of the artists who are simply being true to themselves, but who wind up starting fads, thanks to the adoration of fans.

Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as trendsetting bellwethers. But sometimes, for good or ill, we are bellwethers in the lives of someone impressionable. I can’t help thinking of some children I’ve babysat, who use some of the same exclamations I’ve used. “Oh good grief!” a three-year-old said in frustration, using the same inflection I used. This taught me to keep a careful watch on what I say around him.

What fads or trends have you noticed lately that you like or wish would go away? Do you know who started them? Have you ever started a fad? What was the result?

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Willis, Connie. Bellwether. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

Assistant Mayor Bellwether image from thefandomnet.tumblr. Bellwether sheep found at Goodreads.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Barbie and Kris dolls by Mattel for the movie Barbie Video Game Hero.

A Night at the Opera

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked in your closet and picked out several things to wear, all the while thinking of each, Nah this won’t do? That’s how I’ve been the last several days with blog posts. I started one on writing tips from Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon (yes, really; it’s almost finished) and one on the great outdoors (less finished). But this post you’re reading is neither of those (Perhaps you’re thinking, Whew, I dodged that bullet), nor any of the other ideas I had swirling around in my head.

Last week, a friend of mine and I attended a student production of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute (which also is playing at the Civic Opera House in Chicago). Though I have attended several operas over the years, and enjoyed them, I can’t say I’m an opera aficionado. But I have friends who love the opera, and one friend who is an opera soprano (and a faculty member at the University of Illinois). So, that’s how I found myself at the opera several times.

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I didn’t know the storyline of The Magic Flute beforehand (click storyline in the first part of the sentence for the synopsis), though I’d heard one of its most well-known arias elsewhere. That aria, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”) is sung by the Queen of the Night, a character who does what is needful to regain her kidnapped daughter, Pamina. You can listen to that aria here if you like.

You probably already know this (if you do, you know way more than I did last week), but I’ll tell you anyway. The Magic Flute is a fairy tale that follows the hero’s journey model. We meet the hero, a prince named Tamino, whose call to action from the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night is to rescue Pamina from Sarastro—her kidnapper. Along the way, he gains a sidekick—Papageno, who is forced to accompany him on this mission. In Act I of the opera, you start off with one idea about who is good and who is evil, then find that notion overturned in Act II.

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At left in black is Abi Beerwart, who played Pamina; in yellow, is Bethany Crosby, one of the ladies of the court of the Queen of the Night

I love the hero’s journey story model and fairy tales. Having grown up on a steady diet of fairy tales and musicals, thanks to parents who took my brothers and me to musical performances, this opera was right up my alley. I love that my assumptions were overturned, but not in a frustrating, this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way.

Several small children in the audience were very vocal in their commentary. Some burst into tears, wanting to leave halfway through the production. Others, knowing cast members, cheered when their favorites appeared. Still others just wondered what was going on. Early in the performance, I had the same question. But at least the children were there, soaking in the rich tapestry that was The Magic Flute.

I’m reminded of a recent post at Jennie’s blog, A Teacher’s Reflections.

Major pieces of art? Masterpieces? Introducing this to preschoolers? It is not easy to explain to people how and why art can make a difference with young children.

You have to read the post (click recent post above to do so) to understand why I thought of it as I wrote this post. Jennie ends the post with, “Art makes a difference.” Perhaps watching The Magic Flute will be life changing for the children who attended it as well.

What kinds of art (musical performance, movies, books, animation, dance, painting or other forms of visual art) were you exposed to as a young child? What difference did it make in your life?

P.S. Extra bonus points if you can guess where I got the title, “A Night at the Opera,” from. Though I had one specific source in mind, there is another possible answer.

Photos by L. Marie.

The Year in Review—2016

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For some years, there are no words.

Perhaps you can relate. Twenty-sixteen definitely has had its ups and downs with project losses and gains, illness in the family, graduations, etc. And at the end of the year, I find myself striving to write anything. This wordless state is a bit scary for me. I’d love to be in a fulsome state of writing right now. But some things can’t be forced, I guess.

One Christmas gift that inspires me is this (click on Christmas gift to find out more about this book):

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And this tea is insanely good!

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Early in the new year, I’ll do a giveaway of Christmas gift inspirations like the ones above. In the meantime, I hope 2017 is good to you. What are your hopes for the coming year?

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My new Jane Austen quote journal. We will spend lots of time together in the new year.

Barbie Made to Move™ photos and other photos by L. Marie.

The View in the Darkness

img_3709I haven’t wanted to write this post, so rather than talk myself out of it, here goes.

I’ve had the kind of season people describe with idioms like “the bottom dropping out” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop—whoops, there it goes.” In the last few months, my electricity was switched off due to nonpayment. Internet also. The landlord sent polite notices asking for the rent. I often wondered where my next meal was coming from. When you lack money or a job that pays regularly, you can expect this sort of thing to happen.

You can also expect to field a lot of advice from well-meaning people, who assume you’ve lost control of your life and need them to step in to fix it. “You should apply for this job,” I’ve been told so often, that if I had a dollar for every time I heard it, I could buy real estate.

Oh, I have applied for many jobs. Case in point, I applied for an office manager job at a nearby college a couple of months ago. I had to take four tests for that. I think I broke a record for how low I scored on the Windows Excel test. (The last version of Excel I had was the 2003 version.) Needless to say, I did not get that job.

Anyway, not long after that, a friend and I were headed into a grocery store (a store known for their gelato section, where you can buy a small cup for $1.25) for our bimonthly chat when we spotted a guy who is a friend to both of us.

“What’ve you been up to?” I asked.

“I just got a new job,” he said.

“Oh, where?” I asked.

And then he named the college and the department. Yep. The job I did not get. But I was happy for him. He needed work too.

So yes, I have applied for jobs while using the library’s wifi. (And yes, I applied for a job at that library three times. Didn’t get those jobs.) I networked. I auditioned for writing projects (mentioned in this post here), only to have to wait and wait and wait.

When your lights are off, candles become very precious. Now, I’m not into candles like some of my friends who love the mood they create. So I’ve tended to shove into cabinets the ones I’ve been given. Well, they came in handy this time.

I thought about how the pioneers in the days before electricity were able to do so much without it. I also thought about scenes I’d written in novels where the people had only firelight and a few precious candles to use for light. I totally had the lighting all wrong in my twenty-first century-used-to-electricity mindset.

One thing about being in the dark—you can’t help noticing the shapes of things in shadow. You also tend to appreciate any sliver of light you can find.

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I couldn’t read for long in the dark, even with candles, so I had to turn to my imagination. I told myself stories—something I used to do every night. When had I gotten out of the habit? I’m not sure. This was a nice habit to reclaim.

Anyway, my time in the dark didn’t last long. I received a check for something I can’t really discuss in public, but could tell you a little about in private. The check enabled me to have the lights turned on. And just last week, one of the projects for which I auditioned was finally approved with me as the sole author. And it pays well. 🙂 My landlord will be happy. I have a tight deadline on that one though. But I’m grateful for the work. Want to know something funny? It involves writing stories—a lot of them in fact. One hundred to be precise for kids ages 4-7.

It seems my time in the dark was helpful after all.