July 2nd

Day 184 — Scorching hot day!  33 degrees.  So hot you just didn’t want to move.  But, I did.

Took the kids home around lunch time — came back to a too-quiet house.  A messy house, but too quiet.  Got things put back together somewhat then went outside to work in the yard.  Got the weeds sprayed (but after last night’s storm I’m probably going to have to do it again) and did a bit of weeding.

Managed to squeak in some Corona time with my book on the deck.

All in all — a damn fine summer day!

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Thursday, July 5th

It’s my Dad’s birthday today.  He’s in Manitoba with my sister at their cabin so I won’t be able to call and wish him a happy day, but I’m pretty sure he’ll have a good one.

Just a quick post about a couple of things:

1.  Fifty Shades of Grey — holy crap!  read it in one day.  Not fine literature by any stretch of the imagination, but a pretty good story.  And yes, there is lots of kinky, explicit sex (which I thought I was a little above reading, but turns out I’m not) but the sex isn’t really what drives the story or keeps you hooked.  It’s the INTENSITY of the relationship between Anastasia (who is a bit confusing between her simpering and her self-advocacy)  and Christian (who talks a bit like a stuffy old English lord most of the time, but even this didn’t turn me off)  that really hooks the reader.  Can’t wait to get my hands on the other two books.  These are fantastic summer reads.

2.  I am loving not having to get up and go to work!  Yay for the summer!  Spent a wonderful Canada Day weekend with my grandkids.  We had fun, fun, fun.  They each took home a bouquet of flowers from my garden — Gramma, can we pick one of these ones? — made me smile that they enjoyed the flowers.  I’ve got a list of things to do an arm’s length long, and I’m just going to pick away at things until they’re done.  Not pushing myself, just trying to savour the time.

3.  I just re-signed my contract with Enmax for electricity and gas.  In the five years I’ve been on contract the charge for electricity has only gone up 1 cent!  Amazing!  However, it’s the g-d delivery and distribution costs that really piss me off.  Generally, they are more than the cost of the electricity.  When is the government going to do something about that?  (Everyone asks that, but nothing ever gets done.)  So, I’m set for another 5 years — one more thing crossed off my to-do list.

Hope everyone is enjoying their day!

It’s late on a Saturday night. . .

Just a quick post to review a book and a movie.

First, the book:  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

This was an okay book.  I was more than a little disappointed in it, because I had heard such great things from others who’d read it.

It should have been a wonderful story, but, for whatever reason it lacked real emotion.  The truest parts in the story take place in the nursing home where the elder Jacob recounts his tale of life in the early 1900’s working for a travelling circus.

The story has all the elements of a great story — love, betrayal, hardship, cruelty, mental illness, circus life, depression-era trials and tribulations, animals — it truly has it all.  None of it, though, ever connected with me.

And, I think, after having a couple of discussions with other people who’ve read the book, the reason is that it was written with a screen option in mind.  It doesn’t say that on the dust jacket, but while I was reading it I would come across a scene and immediately I’d think:  Well, won’t that play out well on the screen.

Call me jaded, cynical, harsh, whatever you want, but I find this to be true with a lot of the books being written today.  Anything popular, that is.  It’s like the authors are giving us the outline of a story, they’re providing a bunch of scenes that are loosely connected, but they lack any real art.

I find it very difficult these days to find books that really grab me.  Even The Hunger Games (which I recently reviewed), good as I thought they were, were obviously written with a movie in mind.

Gruen’s writing is solid, though I found it seemed to plod where it should have sung.  For some reason I can’t fathom she chose to throw in various sordid sex scenes — usually portraying grotesque or deviant behaviour.  These were rather jarring and other than acting as a contrast to the ‘pure’ love Jacob feels for Marlena, I couldn’t discern any reason for including them.

For me, this book, which should have been so full of life and emotion, fell flat.  It began with an anti-climactic whimper; and ended on an absolutely improbable and ridiculous notion; it was, when all is said and done, about as second-rate as the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth was.

I’d rate this book:  2.5 stars

___________________________________________________

Now, for the movie:  War Horse by Stephen Spielberg.

This is a lovely movie.  I was afraid to see it because it deals with: war, and horses in war.

I did not want to see animals suffering; I just can’t stand that.  And, I can’t stand movies about war — I can’t stand thinking of humans suffering.

So, usually, I do my best to avoid both those themes in movies, but, I had heard how good this movie was and had been assured that it wasn’t very graphically violent.

It isn’t.  The worst part involves the Germans’ treatment of the horses, how they used them til they died in the hauling of heavy artillery.  But, thankfully, that is a very small part of the movie.  The British are shown as being far more compassionate towards the horses, but I think there just might be a little historical bias involved.

The hero of the story, a horse named Joey, is a ‘miraculous’ horse.  He was raised and trained by a young English lad who treated him with kindness, intelligence and love.  Those traits were imprinted on Joey and when he goes into service as a war-horse he continually demonstrates a depth of character that astounds all those (save the evil German in charge of getting the big guns up a steep hill so that he can shell the peaceful French community below) he comes in contact with.

While I was watching this movie I couldn’t help thinking of stories like The Black Stallion, My Friend FlickaBlack Beauty and Beautiful Joe.  All great stories about the plight of much-loved animals who because of unfortunate circumstances suffer mightily before they finally find peace and protection with people who love them. It took me back to the days when I was a girl and couldn’t get enough of the Famous Dog or Famous Horse Stories compilations.  (I used to make my mother crazy because I’d either be blubbering about the horrible treatment the animals I was reading about endured, or, I was wandering about enraged and fraught with righteous indignation because of it.)

I know this movie was a play before it was a movie, and you can easily see how it would play out on a stage.  Whether or not a make-believe horse would have the same emotional wallop as a real one though is something I’d have to debate.

It’s a beautiful, heart-felt story, something big and lovely and innocent.  It made me cry and it made me smile.  What more can you ask from a good story?

I’d rate this movie:  4 stars

Friday, March 23, 2012 The Hunger Games Review

Okay, so I’m going to attempt this again.

Big drum roll, and. . .

. . . the CUPE convention is done.  I only have a half day of a parliamentary procedure class to get through tomorrow and then I’m on my way home.  Yay!

Now,for The Hunger Games.

I finished the trilogy about 3 weeks ago.  I enjoyed the series, though got through the first two books a lot faster than the third.  This was for two reasons:

1.  the first two books are better
2.  I didn’t have as much time for reading with the third book as I did for the first two

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these books.  Because they’re written for young adults I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Collins, though, writes quickly, clearly and with definite purpose.  And these books aren’t all about girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl finds boy again, girl lives happily ever after — Collins deviates from that formula just enough to make these books smart, intelligent and gritty.

I found myself really liking and caring about Katniss Everdeen, her friends, and family.  Collins creates a female protagonist who is very real; she’s got definite problems and they don’t just go away because a boy comes along.

The books are incredibly violent and deal with some pretty deep themes, which given the age they’re written for might seem surprising, but, if you stop to think about it, maybe not so much.

After all, Collins’ audience is one that watches movies like Saw, Hostel and the like, and that also plays some of the most violent and gruesome video games ever made.  These kids have been raised on this kind of material.  What Collins does do, though, is provide a backdrop of psychological terror and consequence that the characters in her stories must suffer as a result of the world they inhabit. It’s not just about who is stronger, and characters don’t get the living shit kicked out of them and then stand up victorious with barely a scratch to show.  And I think this is the real genius of her tale.

Katniss’ world is one of horror and hardship, but it’s a world she’s used to; she’s not looking for a knight in shining armour to come along and make it all better for her.  Despite her many problems, all she’s had to endure and all the horror that awaits her after winning the Hunger Games, Katniss survives because she thinks for herself.  Collins gives us a young female character who is fiercely independent, flawed and resourceful.  She is often wracked with self-doubt, as most girls that age are, but she never gives up on herself.

I hope that girls everywhere get that message.  The world is a messy place and you better be prepared to handle it on your own terms.  Bad things happen, but you can rise above them — and you don’t need anyone to hold your hand while you do.  No one makes it out of life without scars, it’s how you wear those scars that determines who you are.

Now for the nitty-gritty about the books themselves.  The first two were an incredibly fast read.  Book three, not so much.  It felt, as it does with most trilogies, not including The Lord of the Rings, that by the third book Collins was beginning to run out of steam.  It seemed rushed, like she just wanted the story to be over.  She does a credible job of ending it all, without the usual trite, happily ever after baloney, but I found it left me feeling a little flat.

Because these books were written specifically for a younger audience I often found myself frustrated by the lack of depth regarding secondary characters.  I found this especially troubling when it came to President Snow.  I wanted more — more history, more detail, more reaction.  It often felt like Collins took an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ approach to her characters.  Still, in all, the books captured my imagination, and not once did I ever think ‘oh, get on with it, will you!’

Was I sad when they were finished?  No.  Did I wish they hadn’t ended?  No.  Did I find myself entertaining thoughts of a fourth book?  No.

If I were to use a star rating here’s what it would look like:

Book One, The Hunger Games — 5 stars
Book Two, Catching Fire — 4 stars
Book Three, Mockingjay — 3.5 stars

Monday Afternoon, Family Day in Alberta

Well, it is a gorgeous sunny afternoon here in Bon Accord.  A bit on the cold side, but, really, for February, not so bad.

I had a very nice visit with my sister Jennifer and her family this weekend.  Tried to work my son and his family into the mix, but, alas, it was not possible.  They are a very busy bunch!

As it is right now, I am enjoying the afternoon to myself.  Jenn, Dave and the kids went home this morning, and Tim went out for a ride with his friend Dave.

I finally finished Black House.  What an abysmal disappointment!  The Talisman was such a fantastic book, but this sequel was nothing but a sad mish-mash of nothing.  It took forever to get to the actual story, and then it was treated so tritely it was almost an insult.  Characters were never fully developed, and those I thought crucial to the story were just dropped off the edge of the story as if in to an abyss.  I have never felt so cheated as I have by this book and these two authors, who I count as favorites.  Surely, they didn’t write this book only for the money?  Neither of them needs it, so I can’t imagine why they bothered to waste their time and the reader’s.

As soon as I kicked Black House to the curb, I picked up The Hunger Games.  I have heard much about this book, and now the movie is coming out shortly.  Therefore, I must read it.  And so far, I’ve read four chapters.  It’s a quick read, well-written and engaging.  It’s a familiar theme found  in many futuristic stories, but there is an interesting little twist to it.  I have all three books in the series and think I should be able to get through them all in the next month.

I had set a goal of reading a book a month at the beginning of 2012.  It’s taken a month and half to get through Black House.  If I can read all three of The Hunger Games books, I’ll be ahead of the game!

Something to complain about:  Bruce Springsteen has not released any Canadian dates for his new WORLD tour.  What’s with that.  Are we not part of the world?  I really want to see him in concert again before he decides to retire.  And, as he is 62 years old, I can’t imagine that retirement is too far off.

I just bought two new Bruce albums (new to me)  The Seeger Sessions (absolutely amazing — what I wouldn’t have given to see him perform the concert version of that album in Ireland!)  and Lucky Town.  Lucky Town is an album of works from earlier in his career (a little before the mid-point, I’d say) and has some wonderful, haunting tunes on it.  If you’re a Bruce fan, I recommend checking out both of these albums.  The Seeger Sessions, though, is my immediate favorite — Old Dan Tucker gets me in a great mood on the ride to work these days.

I hope everyone had a terrific Family Day (those of us lucky enough to enjoy such a holiday) — and if you weren’t, well I hope you have a fantastic and stress-free week ahead.

Cheers!

Sunday evening, January 15th

. . . and I’ve just wasted the last hour playing solitaire on-line.

But, it was fun.  So, I guess I’m okay with it.

I love to play cards.  But I rarely have anyone to play with.  Tim is not a game player, unless it’s the video, let’s-shoot-some-zombies kind.  I bought him a Playstation 3 for Christmas — pretty much shot myself in the foot on that one.  I love when we have company over because I’ll always manage to convince our company that a game of cards would be fun, and then Tim has to go along with us.

But, when there’s no company. . . solitaire it must be.

I had a great weekend.  Busy, but good.  My grandkids came for a sleepover yesterday.  We played Chutes and Ladders, and Skip-Bo, they helped make pizza for supper tonight — even 2-year-old Ethan.  He plastered mushrooms on and gobbled up handfuls of shredded cheese.  It was too much fun.  We stayed up and watched movies and had popcorn last night and then everyone slept in a little this morning.  A lovely Sunday.

Though, I do have to admit I’m pretty worn out right now.  The thought of getting a blanket and curling up on the couch is sounding pretty good.  Might go see if a new episode of Hell on Wheels taped and watch that before I turn in for the night.  If you haven’t heard of Hell on Wheels, it’s a great show — a Western about the building of a railroad and a conflicted Confederate soldier on the hunt for the Yankees who raped and murdered his wife while he was off fighting in the war.  There’s some pretty complex themes involved (this is an AMC show, after all) and the acting and photography are excellent.

Am reading Black House at the moment.  A book by Stephen King and Peter Straub.  Some twenty years ago I read The Talisman, written by the pair of them.  BH is the sequel.  And it’s turning out to be every bit as disturbing and suspenseful and horrifying as the first book.  It’s all brain candy and exactly what I need.  Gruesome brain candy, I admit.

Well, week one of the return to work is behind me and it actually wasn’t all that bad.  It was busy, and we had the usual problems after coming back from a long break, but for the most part, the kids settled back into routine by the end of the week.  I really enjoy our kids.  For the most part, they’re a great bunch to work with and I truly enjoy helping them learn every day.  When I’m not feeling stressed about a million and one other things I can admit to myself that I actually love my job.  It’s rewarding, it’s meaningful, and it has purpose.  There may be much wrong with the education system in Alberta/Canada, but there’s a lot that’s good about it, too.

I am endeavouring to get around to everyone’s blogs, and this week I even managed to find a couple of new ones to follow.  THERE REALLY, TRULY IS SO MUCH GOOD WRITING AND SO MANY GREAT BLOGS OUT THERE!  It’s like going into a bookstore and trying to decide which books to buy even though you know you probably won’t have time to read any of them.  I’ve managed to peek in on just about everyone this past week — even though I haven’t always left a comment.  I might have only had 5 minutes and so just passed in and out, quiet as a mouse.

My decision to only blog once or twice a week, has, for this one week, anyway, been a good one.  I found myself starting to think yesterday about trying to find the time to sit down and pound out a few words.  Then, tonight, once I made my way in to the computer room I knew that is why I was coming in, but I allowed myself to be seduced by Facebook (just had to see what others had been up to) and then that led to checking my Scrabble games, and then Solitaire.  But, all the while, I was thinking about blogging.

It’s not that I have anything particularly relevant to say, no wisdom to impart, nothing to smart or informative to impart.  It’s simply that need to connect, through words.

I can feel myself moving towards beginning the second draft of my novel.  There’s some other stuff churning around in the old noggin, and I’m pretty certain (once I get my other desk completely cleaned off — I got most of it done last week) I’ll find myself scribbling away in a notebook, soon.

So, it’s a New Year. . .

. . .  and, as always comes the resolutions.  This year, like last, I’ve resolved to not make any.

There, that’s done.

Now, onward.

As it is a new year, however, I can’t help falling into the trap of looking back and wondering what I can do to improve myself, or make better use of the life I have.  Therefore, I have come up with the following ‘to-do’ list, or perhaps ‘want-to-do’ list, might be a better way of putting it:

1.  Each day, do one thing that makes me happy — this could be to write a poem, take a picture, read a book, help someone in need, write a letter (a dying art, and one that I’ve tried numerous times to revive), post a blog, watch a silly sit-com (How I Met Your Mother; New Girl), visit the art gallery, take a walk in the sunshine, play a game with my grandkids, there are many, many things that make me smile, make me happy — I need only do one a day to keep my balance.

2.  Stay true to my goals — this means WORK on my novel.  I did not spend an entire month of my life writing like a fiend to just let those 50,000 words grow mold.  It also means focus less on work and more on life — at 53 (damn near 54 years of age)  I have come to the realization that work, though necessary, is not the keystone of life.  Life is.

3.  Read a book a month.  I love to read.  Really love it, almost as much as writing.  But, for the past 5 – 10 years I have not been reading as much as I once did.  I have let work, and work-related obligations, my unrealistic expectations of myself and what it means to be ‘successful’ take control of my life and my time and have, sadly, let reading slip away.  I have a small library of books that I’ve been given and that I’ve purchased just sitting collecting dust.  No more!  I will make friends with reading again.

4.  I will waste time looking through home renovation and decorating magazines.  And I will watch HGTV from time to time.  I love reading about ways to make your home beautiful.  Though I may not do any of things I read or watch I can gain excitement and grow enthusiasm from them, and who knows?  Maybe, just maybe I’ll find something that sparks my creativity.  I used to be quite creative  — stencilling tables, walls, furniture, painting old chairs, sewing dolls, making things out of wood — I would love to find that in me again.

5.  Start crocheting again.  Once upon a time I used to crochet all the time.  Over the past 15 years all I’ve done is buy wool and patterns.  Those materials that I haven’t donated or sold at garage sales are sitting in baskets and in cupboards.  The basket of wool makes a nice, ‘homey’ decoration in my living room, but, really, that wool would make a lovely shawl or scarf.  For me.  Ha, ha!

6.  Paint the bedroom my grandkids stay in.  It is such a hideous space right now.  Plain white, ugly grey accordion closet doors, makeshift shelves Tim put up shortly after we moved in.  I envision lovely sky-blue walls with billowy clouds on the ceiling.  I would replace the plastic mini-blinds with a venetian shade and light, cottony curtains.  I would remake the closet into a toy closet and add a small bookshelf for the books I’ve started collecting for them.  It would be a space as delightful as they are.

7.  Become a better, more accomplished cook.  It’s funny.  I’ve always liked cooking, but as I’ve matured I have come to love it.  I’ve always collected cookbooks and recipes — just ask my husband who is constantly telling me there is a better way to organize them than in the one cupboard and two drawers where I have them stashed and stuffed — and I like nothing more than to sit on the floor with recipe books and cut-outs spread all around me reading through them for inspiration.  I invested in a Kitchen-Aid food processor this Christmas — fantastic sale at London Drugs on Boxing Day!  Can’t wait to put it to the test.

8.  Develop a system for keeping my office neat and tidy and actually follow it for more than a week.  ‘Nuff said.

9.  Dream more.  Plan trips I might never get to take.  Fantasize about money I’ll most likely never have (the current Lotto Max commercial?  That’s me and Tim.)  Imagine a bright future for my son and his family in which money, stress and worry is non-existent.  See Tim and I living ‘down east’ temporarily like we’ve talked about ever since our motorcycle trip to visit my brother and his family in Dartmouth, NS.  Actually getting to meet Stephen King and blubber on to him about how great I think he is and how his writing and his life have inspired me.  Be short-listed for a writing prize or award.

10.  Organize my photos!  My lord I’ve got gazillions of them.  Digital cameras are wonderful, but the hundreds of pictures I’ve downloaded that never get erased, shared or printed is ridiculous.  So, I have decided to become ruthless.  And actually take the external hard-drive I bought for storing my pictures on out of its package and use the damn thing!

11.  Exercise regularly.  I walk a lot, but not nearly enough.  Once upon a time I used to walk for at least an hour every day, now it’s a half hour 3 – 4 days a week.  I have a treadmill and free-weights that I barely use.  I will endeavour to use them at least 3 times a week.  Yoga starts again on the 16th.  I bought myself a good mat and am determined to start doing a few exercises each morning before work.  This sounds exhausting.  Don’t know how successful this ‘to-do’ item will be.  Perhaps I’m just getting lazy.

12.  Blog at least once a week, but not more than twice a week.  Trying to blog everyday had become a major source of stress for me.  I was comparing myself to many other bloggers, some of whom post two to three times a day.  In my job I don’t have the time to blog (I’m rarely sitting at a desk) and, even if I did, my employer would not take kindly to me using my work time for personal pursuits.  I’ve tried blogging during my breaks, but that never works because I take my break in the classroom and there are always others in the room and you know what that is like.  No concentration, constant interruptions, etc.   Mornings are too rushed and in the evening, well, if I’m going to work on my novel I need the time for that.  So, once a twice a week it will be.

13.  Visit other bloggers on the days I’m not blogging.  There are so many fine bloggers out there, many whom I’ve subscribed to and yet I can’t seem to keep up with visits.  Currently, my email has over 400 notifications in it, none of which I’ve checked up on.  Two-thirds of these notifications are from bloggers I subscribe to.  I feel terrible that I never get around to reading half of what enters my in-box.  There is a ton of great writing there, I just know it, but I simply don’t have the time.  So, I will read what I can, when I can and comment accordingly.  The blogging world is made up of some of the most amazing, understanding people in the world and I know that this will be fine with them.  And really, it’s only just me.

14.  Worry less.  I used to joke:  If I don’t have something to worry about, then something must be wrong.

15.  Say “I love you” more often.  Such a simple thing, and yet, so often forgotten.  I want the people I care about to know it.  Saying those three little words is all that is needed.

16.  Thumb my nose at 2012 Doomsday predictions.  I read “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy a couple of years ago.  It affected me more than I thought.  I have carried a seed of dread in the core of my being ever since finishing it.  I have allowed it to grow and it has spread a noxious weed that has tangled itself throughout my being.  It’s time to yank it out and burn it.  Better to believe in present day examples of the good of humankind when disaster strikes rather than some imagined apocalyptic  horror.

Well, that’s it.  My list of things to do this year and beyond.  I’m printing it off and placing it near my writing station.  On a wall, where it won’t get lost beneath a mountain of paper.  Now wait a minute, what number does that come under?

 

50,252 words, or. . .

. . . if I use NaNo’s validator, 50,298 words.

Phew!  I’m done.  It’s 11:46 p.m.

I’m bone tired.  But happy.

Tomorrow, or maybe the day after, this will have sunk in.

For now, I just want to say thanks to everyone who encouraged me through this crazy adventure.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Hello?

It’s been an incredibly busy last week of NaNoWriMO.  But the end is in sight.

I posted 46,690 words tonight.  Tomorrow I will be finished.  I’m thinking I’m going to surpass the 50,000 word mark by just a little bit.

The ending of my book has been harder to write than I thought.  The beginning and middle were easy by comparison.  But, I like the way it’s turning out.

What I’m also liking is that my normal life is just there on the horizon, and after midnight tomorrow night it will be within my grasp.

There is much decorating to be done, and the possible painting of a bedroom.  As well as baking, as in Christmas baking.

Then, too, there is Christmas shopping to ponder.  Usually, I am all done, but for a few small things by this time.  This year, with all the upheaval and uncertainty that has been part of my existence for the last few months, I didn’t do any shopping.   So, over the next few weeks I’ll have to dig deep and get out there and brave the — dunh-dunh-dunh — malls.  I hate the malls during busy holiday times.

Enough whining!  I must go to bed.  My eyeballs feel like little balls of sand.

Here’s to 5oK!  and freedom!

9:46 Monday November 21st

Well, there are only 9 days left in which to complete my novel.  I am at 32,317 words.  I’m hoping I’m going to make it.

If I sit down each night and pump out at least 2000 words I’ll do it.  But, I’m wondering if I’ll be able to tie it all together in a mere 18,000 words.

And, I can’t believe I’m saying that.

Twenty-one days ago I didn’t think I had it in me to write this much, to keep a story going for this long.  But, miracle of miracles, I have.

I won’t pretend that it’s all good — because I’m sure as hell it isn’t.  But, I’ve managed to allow my characters to develop lives of their own, and I’m still not quite sure how they want those lives to finish.  (They’re not going to die, they just need to tie up all the loose ends and let me get back to my regular life.)

And here’s the funny thing.  Having done this challenge and proven to myself (oops, I’m being a little presumptuous, here)  that I can write a novel, I don’t think I can go back to my ‘regular’ life.  At least, I hope not.

I find that though I am looking forward to the end of NaNoWriMo — it is hard to sustain this pace, and I haven’t always been able to drag myself to the keyboard (I missed 2 days)  — I am looking forward to ‘what comes next’.

If I can do this, I tell myself constantly, then I can find time every day to work on the many projects I’ve got tucked in drawers and file folders.  I can pull out my notebooks and pluck one of the many ideas from off the pages and turn them into something.

And who knows?  Maybe I’ll even see some of it published.

That’s what this challenge has done for me.  I’m so glad I decided to take the plunge.

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