Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My artistic daughter

My daughter drew this for a fan art contest, and I'm hosting it on my blog so she can enter it.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Making me happy, week of 2-22-15

1) OK, so I promise to stop with the babbling about Sleepy Hollow soon. If nothing else, the season finale airs tonight, at which point I won't have anything left to gush about until (hopefully!) the show is renewed and comes back in the fall.

But really, if you're a former fan who's been put off by the show's sophomore slump, you want to come back. They've got the pacing and the focus on the core characters back. The promo for the finale looks AMAZING:

And those lucky souls who've seen the early screeners are all raving from what I've seen.

Watch it! You want to watch it! Help me get my show renewed!

2) Pitchers and catchers have now reported. Baseball is back!

3) Jo Walton's The Just City isn't a perfect book, but it's one of the more fascinating ones I've read in a while.

4) Want a great comfort-food recipe for the lingering winter? Try this Chili-Cheese Mac from Cooking Light. I up all the spices just a smidge, use regular cheddar cheese instead of reduced-fat, and spicy Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with chiles instead of the mild kind.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 25-27

25. An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

The Year of the Memoir continues with a graphic memoir of a month Knisley spent in Europe in 2011. It's something of a coming-of-age travel diary, and one that I liked but didn't love. I got it to see if it might be a good read for my daughter as we're preparing for our month in Europe this summer and ended up concluding it wouldn't work for her. I'm fine with her reading above her age level--best and safest way to try on adulthood IMHO--but I don't think she'd connect with Knisley's writings the way she does with, say, Liz Prince.

26. Rita book #7

Not the best nor the worst of my slate this year. I only have one left, which I'm saving for next weekend--it's one that was already on my wish list by an author I've never read before but have heard nothing but good things about, so I'm hopeful.

27. The Just City by Jo Walton

Jo Walton writes thinky, idea-driven books, and this fantasy novel about a time-travel attempt to build Plato's ideal city of philosopher-kings (with the backing and participation of Athena and Apollo) is no exception. But unlike many idea-driven writers, she creates characters who are believable and human, not just mouthpieces for her Big Idea, and I enjoyed this very much, with two caveats:

1) It ends abruptly, though I've been told a sequel is in the works.

2) Much is made out of a robot spelling out the word "No"--whether it really happened, or was a prank by one of the teenaged "children" being raised according to Platonic ideals. There's talk of it being the English word, which none of the children should know, as they were brought from around the Mediterranean from no later than the Renaissance...only the kid everyone suspects most is Italian, and from late enough that he considers himself and his native language Italian rather than Roman/Latin. And the word for "no" in Italian? Is "no." Just like Spanish, another Mediterranean language. I'm stunned to think someone as well-educated as Walton wouldn't know that. Maybe there's some detail I'm missing, and she's right and I'm wrong. I'd be glad to hear it, if so.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 22-24

22. Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

A fun and occasionally laugh-out-loud hilarious imagining of assorted literary characters conversing via text. I think my favorites were Hermione frantically trying to keep Ron from disaster via hopeless cluelessness and gullibility WRT such Muggle matters as credit cards and Nigerian prince spam schemes and the idea that Prissy of Gone With the Wind was faking her stupidity all along in the interests of sabotage.

23. Rita book #6

I am not the target market for this book. Which made it a challenge to judge, because my not being its intended audience doesn't necessarily make it a bad book, you know? But I did my best to evaluate how well it succeeded at what it was trying to do, and to imagine how a reader who was looking for something different from a love story than I am might perceive it, so hopefully I was fair.

24. Getting Lucky by Beth Bolden

A fun, sweet read that I especially appreciated for having likable characters not prone to overreacting or misunderstanding each other just to drive the plot along. That said, I didn't like it as much as Bolden's previous book in the same series because it's not so much a baseball romance as a small town romance about a character who happens to be a baseball player, and contemporary American-set small-town romances are not my personal catnip.

Monday, February 16, 2015

On enthusiasm

Instead of a What's Making Me Happy post for this week, I decided to write something about the importance of allowing yourself to be happy--especially when that involves being a fan.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
                                                                                  --C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I’m by nature an enthusiastic person. Even an intense one. If I care about something at all, I throw my whole heart into it. If you’ve ever been on Twitter while I’m live-tweeting an Auburn football game or if you’ve seen my recent gushing about Sleepy Hollow, none of this will be a surprise to you. Given the right prompting, I can wax equally enthusiastic about the pizza at Serious Pie, my mother’s stuffing recipe, the military merits of the Duke of Wellington, or the beauty of the Episcopalian liturgy. In my world, if it’s worth liking, it’s worth loving.

And yet until very recently I was trying to suppress that side of my personality. That suppression grew out of a laudable desire to maintain a professional and self-disciplined persona, especially while wearing my writer hat, and especially but not exclusively online. While I don’t have any truly embarrassing internet incidents in my past, in my younger days I had a bad habit, albeit one hardly unique to me, of treating the internet as a sort of diary that talks back. I overshared. I spoke without thinking first.

Once I realized what I was doing, I over-corrected. It’s good that I’ve learned that the internet is public and forever, and that I should therefore step away from it when I’m feeling ranty or needy. It’s even better that I didn’t become published until I was mature enough to force myself to stay offline at all costs upon receiving bad reviews, at least until the urge to rage and cry has passed.

But somehow as a side effect of all that praiseworthy self-control, I started holding in my passions and enthusiasms too. Part of that is my habit of defensive pessimism that I use to protect myself from heartbreak by expecting the worst--like how if the Mariners are ever up by 10 runs with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the World Series, I’m STILL going to be cautioning everyone not to jinx things by celebrating before the final out, and honey you better put that champagne right back in the fridge because remember Super Bowl 49? Of course you do.

Yet it wasn’t just a coping mechanism. Somehow I’d got it into my head--though I never quite spelled it out to myself--that I should’ve outgrown my enthusiasm by now. I’m over 40, after all. Shouldn’t have I outgrown the urge to scream for joy over a football game, or being so caught up in a TV show that I race downstairs to catch it the instant it airs, DVR notwithstanding? Is it really seemly to get a physical rush from singing Handel? And isn’t everyone kind of tired of foodies now? So I tried to deny that part of myself, or at least to keep it under a tight rein.

Only I recently realized that holding back my fangirl enthusiasm was hurting my passion for my own life and creativity. If I didn’t let myself care too deeply about the season-long real-life saga of a beloved sports team or get caught up in shipping characters on a favorite TV show, I struggled to awaken that passion when I was the one inventing the saga and the romance. And my love of cooking and trying new things in the kitchen is at least in part fueled by my passion for eating, of being That Person Who Tweets Her Restaurant Meals in the most cliched of foodie fashions.

Which is where that CS Lewis quote at the top of the post comes into play. Sure, fan-love isn’t on the same level as love for family, friends, God, or the greater good of humanity...but it still matters. It’s part of what gives joy to all those deeper loves. And there’s vulnerability in being a committed fan. Maybe some people are shaking their heads and thinking, “Aren’t you too old for this?” And, you know, FOX might cancel your favorite show, or your baseball team might miss the playoffs by one game, or your football team might pass on 2nd and goal at the one when they could’ve just handed the ball to Marshawn Lynch. None of that would hurt if you didn’t let yourself care. But I don’t want to live like that--it’s as flat as room-temperature soda that’s been sitting out in a half-drunk open can for days. So I’ll keep caring even if sometimes it makes me look like a fool or drives me to rage and weep. Life is better that way.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 19-21 (plus why you should watch Monday's Sleepy Hollow!)

19. Rita book #5

A tough one to rate. There were things I loved about it and things I hated. If this had been the kind of contest where you offer critique as opposed to just a numerical score, I would've filled the scoresheet with my rants and raves. As it was, I ended up assigning it a middling score, though unlike most of my midrange scores, I never thought "meh" at any point.

20. Sleepy Hollow #1-4 by Marguerite Bennett

I'm choosing to count these four comics as a single graphic novel, since they have a linked story arc and they're about the length/number of issues I usually see bound into book format.

OMG these are SO much fun. Far better than average for a TV tie-in, and filled with everything I loved about Season 1 of the show that's been too often lacking in the current season--focus on Ichabod and Abbie working together with wit, intelligence and loyalty, Katrina used minimally but effectively, plenty of Jenny and Irving. As with most tie-ins, not what you'd want as an introduction to the story and characters, but if you enjoy the show, you MUST read these.

...And if you're a Sleepy Hollow viewer who's stepped away over the way the show occasionally dragged this season with way too much Crane Family Drama and focus on extraneous characters like Nick Hawley to the exclusion of established favorite supporting characters like Jenny and Frank, I encourage you to come back for the two-part finale that starts Monday night. For that matter, I'd encourage you to tune in if you'd never seen the show before and want to know what I'm constantly babbling about of late. IMHO the writers have righted the ship and the show is moving in the right direction again. Plus we get Evil!Katrina. FINALLY.

Look, I've got excerpts from Monday! You want to watch this! You want to know what happens! I know it all sounds crazy, but that's what makes it so awesome!

21. Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu

Arguably yet another entry in my Year of the Memoir, but I decided to count it as a religion book, since I felt like I learned more about the churches Chu visited and the people he met than I did about his personal journey--though that was in there, too. The balance felt like 60-40, or maybe 70-30.

Homosexuality is arguably the most contentious issue in modern American Christianity. My native state of Alabama is currently making something of an exhibition of itself over it, and as someone who's evolved into a theologically liberal Christian, I feel a certain satisfaction that my chosen home state of Washington didn't have to wait for a court order, we voted for same-sex marriage. But as a straight woman, I'll always have an outsider's perspective on the issue. Chu provides an insider's view as a gay Christian from an evangelical background as he explores everything from the most extreme of extremists (he actually meets the Westboro Baptist Church people) to the most open and accepting congregations. A readable, gracious, and generous book.

Monday, February 9, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 16-18

16. Rita book #4

Excellent, unique, and moving. I hope the other judges agree with me and it earns a place in the finals.

17. Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim

For whatever reason I find North Korea endlessly and horrifically fascinating--something about how it's endured and tightened its hold on its people's lives and minds as other totalitarian states have collapsed or at least become more open, especially with South Korea and Japan and China right there surrounding it, with all their prosperity, vibrance, and, you know, plentiful food. This memoir by a journalist who teaches for two semesters in a school for the sons of Pyongyang's elite is a bit of a different view insofar as these boys aren't dealing with hunger and physical privation...but in a way it makes their intellectual, political, and spiritual deprivation stand out all the more.

18. Tomboy by Liz Prince

This is turning into quite the year for memoir reading for me so far. This one is a graphic memoir/nonfiction comic borrowed from my 10-year-old daughter, who's read it multiple times. Miss Fraser has never been a girly girl--I vividly remember the day when she was just learning to talk and I offered her a choice of a plain denim jumper or pink floral print overalls and she pushed away the latter, saying "No flowflers! No pink!" A vow she's pretty much stuck to ever since. She found this book tremendously helpful as Prince relates her childhood and adolescence and how she eventually found her own "tribe" and identity in her late teens. And I'm glad she has books like this, and the confidence to be herself even when that means looking and acting different from the norm.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Making Me Happy, Week of 2/8

So, at the risk of oversharing, the thing that's making me happiest at the moment I type this is I think I'm FINALLY over this stomach bug I first came down with Thursday night. It's been almost two hours since dinner now, a normal-sized dinner of normal richness and spiciness (a pork and vegetable stew over polenta), and my stomach feels...totally calm. This is AWESOME.

With that out of the way, here are a few things making me happy that have nothing to do with the state of my intestines:

1) Pitchers and catchers report next week, y'all! Baseball is back, the days are getting longer, and life is good. My Mariners missed the playoffs by just one game last year, and they're considered a contender for this season. Mind you, I've been burned so many times by this team that I'll believe it when it happens and not before--meaning if they're up by 10 runs with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 of the World Series, I'll still be holding my breath and not jinxing it by prematurely popping the cork and pouring champagne for my watch party or making plans for where I'll watch the parade or anything.

2) We're making serious plans for our big trip to Europe this summer. We've booked an apartment for our five nights in Paris and a cottage for our week in the Dordogne, and we should have hotels for London and Brussels within the next day or two. I'm starting to believe this is really going to happen.

3) At the risk of being a broken record of a Sleepy Hollow fangirl, if you're a fan of the show, you totally need to check out this four-issue comic series. It's set during the middle of Season 1, with tons of Abbie and Ichabod at their most awesome, and a good dose of Jenny and Frank, my favorite secondary characters, and ones we've seen far too little of in Season 2.

As long as we're on the subject of Sleepy Hollow, if you're a fanfic person at all, please give Shoqed by AmbrosiaJones a read. It was inspired by a Tumblr discussion of how the show has told us next to nothing about Abbie and Jenny's father, and wouldn't it be nice if he turned out to be an awesome demon fighter and not, you know, the stereotypical deadbeat absent black father? And it is now part of my "head canon" until the show tells me otherwise, and maybe even then, if what the show gives us is that stereotype.

To give you a feel for how good the voice is, here's a bit of Jeremiah Mills, forced to watch his beloved daughters from afar for their own safety:

Watching Gracie- no, Abbie. It’s Abbie now. Watching her had been harder. He remembered the first time he heard her ask to be called Abbie. “I hate my first name. I hate it. Grace was my dad’s idea. He called me ‘Gracie.’ He’s an asshole that I haven’t seen since I was like seven, so I use my middle name instead. Simple as that.” He didn’t leave his bed for a week after that.

She had been so sad. So closed off. So angry. So lonely. Even though Jenny had her troubles, she’d carved out a weird little family among the mercenaries and rogue archaeologists and treasure hunters she’d hooked up with. But not Gracie. Dammit. Abbie. Not Abbie. She wanted to go it alone.

Until that gangly white boy showed up in his graveyard time machine.

Then every glimpse of her was peppered with “Leftenant, why this?” and “Leftenant, why that?” He didn’t feel an awful lot of sympathy for this Ichabod Crane, though he knew he should. It probably had something to do with the way he looked at his daughter when he thought she wouldn’t notice. Plus the limey bastard was married to that magical fraud and if you really thought about it, could meet some of the qualifications of a zombie.

So. Now that I've revealed to you all the depths of my fangirling, I wish you an awesome week filled with whatever makes you the happiest.

Monday, February 2, 2015

2015 Reading, Books 13-15

Here's a little more detail on the two nonfiction books I mentioned in my latest Making Me Happy post.

13. Rita book #3

Much better than #2. I don't hope or expect it to be among the finalists, since the writing quality didn't wow me and some of the characters and situations were on the cliched side, but it was a tightly plotted, well-paced, and enjoyable read.

14. Over Here by Edward Humes

A highly readable account of the G.I. Bill and its lasting impact on American society told through extended anecdotes of veterans' lives and accomplishments used to illustrate the larger principles and trends. The several decades between WWII and my being alive and aware enough to pay attention to world and national events are something of a gap in my historical knowledge--I think in part because my teachers and parents didn't think of them as history that needed to be taught any more than I do the 80's and the 90's. This book helped fill that gap, showing how we went from the struggles of the Great Depression to the prosperity and burgeoning middle class of the 50's and 60's...and how we began to lose that starting in the 70's as income inequality ticked up when we began to pull back from public investment in our future like that of the G.I. Bill.

Good book. Strongly recommended.

15. Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

A hybrid between a memoir (the author is the daughter of a self-help author) and critical analysis of self-help culture, but heavier on the memoir elements. As someone who's managed to, um, help herself through carefully selected self-help books, but who rolls her eyes forever at the likes of The Secret or The Rules, I found this an enjoyable and often laugh-out-loud funny read.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Making Me Happy, 2/1/15

So, I've fallen down on posting about things that make me happy over the past couple weeks...time to catch up a bit.

1) The Seahawks are back in the Super Bowl after an epic comeback win in the NFC championship game, one that's easily in the top 5 best endings of any football game I've ever watched in my life--and I grew up in Alabama. I've watched a LOT of football down through the years.

2) I've read two really good nonfiction books in the last week, Over Here by Edward Humes on the GI Bill and Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, a memoir/journey through the self-help industry.

3) This isn't something I'd usually include in this type of post, since I try to focus on things that you the reader could also watch/read/cook/listen to/etc. But I just had an idea for a new book, possibly a series, that has me excited about writing in a way I haven't been in a long time. Since I'd been battling burnout and self-doubt for several months, this makes me even happier than the new idea rush usually does. What's the idea, you ask? I don't want to go into too much detail at this stage, but suffice it to say I asked myself why I wasn't writing the kind of thing I most enjoy to read or watch these days. So think something in the vein of Sleepy Hollow, The Librarians, and Doctor Who. Sort of. You'll see, assuming the idea pans out.