Thursday, December 30, 2010

2011 New Year's Resolutions

It is almost the end of the year 2010, I still remember how far in the future twenty-ten seemed when I was a kid. And now, here I am, living in the future. Things that were science fiction when I was 10 are now in common use in some form or another. This fact often amazes me and brings me joy. I live in the age of the internet and communicators (cell phones). Not to mention the many medical marvels that have developed, sometimes even by accident.

This is traditionally the time of year that people move from giving thanks for what they have to reflecting about the changes they would like to make in their lives. I fully support people looking to make positive changes in their lives and themselves. And though I understand the symbolic, and often psychological, importance of doing it with the beginning of the new year, it saddens me that people will wait so long when they desire change. I also realize how hard change can be, even when you want it. Humans are habitual creatures, we find comfort is rituals and habits, even when they are not good for us. Habits are easy, because they don't require us to focus on them, they are often automatic, at least to an extent. So when we try to change they, it often proves overwhelming and we simply return to our unwanted behaviors.

Despite these difficulties, I am going to try to improve some of my habits this year. I don't do New Year's Resolutions every year, I find it bad for my self-esteem as I so often fail to follow through on them. Maybe this year I will be successful, as it is the year of the Rabbit and I am a Rabbit. So here, I am going to post my New Year's Resolutions for 2011. I hope that making them public will add a little "peer" pressure to my desire to make these changes in my life.

1. Improve my health - I want to become more physically fit. I need to work on my cardio-vascular health, stamina, and muscle tone. I got a gym membership to this end at the end of October, but haven't been fully utilizing it. My promise to myself is to go to the gym at least two times a week. I then would like to add exercising at home, as well. I also need to make sure I take my vitamins daily (I'm terrible at remembering to take pills). Another thing I need to do is eat breakfast daily.

2. Finish novel/editing - I participated in Nanowrimo with my husband in November. I would like to round out the experience, which I wrote about here, by completing the story and the entire writing process. I think it will help me learn more about the writing process and myself.

3. Read 2 books a month - I haven't gotten to read nearly as much as I usually do in the last couple of years. Between teaching and my masters degree, I had virtually no time. I admit freely that when I did have time, I was burnt out on reading after all the studying and I frequently vegged out online. I'd actually like to read more than two books a month, but I know that with working full time that may not be possible.

4. Blog weekly - I have neglected my blogs lately, again mostly due to the time devoted to school and work. My goal this year is to post weekly, either here or on my technology blog, Tech for Teachers. I especially need to make sure I am posting to my professional blog at least every two weeks. If any teachers that peruse this blog have something they'd like me to look into, please let me know.

5. Actively help a cause - I want to help those in need. I signed up for the Walk for Diabetes this year, but sadly only got one donation and then couldn't walk because my daughter had a school commitment that same day. I participate in Causeworld through my iPhone, it's an app that lets you earn "karma" points and vote where funds donated by sponsors go. Through this app, I feel I'm helping in some small way. However, I want to be a good example for my child when it comes to being generous and help out people in need. I'd like to walk or volunteer for a couple of causes this year. The problem will be deciding which one or two I want to prioritize. Diabetes, AIDS, cancer, there are so many good causes. Is it selfish to consider raising money for something you have?

Well, those are my five goals for this year. Wish me luck, and good luck with your New Year's Resolutions as well.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Plague Zone by David Wellington

I have been a fan of David Wellington's for a while now, at least his zombie series. I was very excited when I learned he had another zombie story available. I became even more excited when I learned that it was free. Mr. Wellington has written most of his books as serials, and originally published them on his website. I was not aware of this until I got a hold of Plague Zone. You may purchase any of his works as e-books or printed editions, but the ones sculpted as serial novels, remain online for free. If you enjoy what you read online, please also purchase a copy, this encourages authors to continue offering material online, and to not remove content that is now available in other formats.

Plague Zone is about 222 pages, it does not take place in the same universe as Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet, at least as far as I could tell by the capabilities of the zombies. The story is set in the Northwestern United States, in the great state of Washington (the only state named after a President, just in case you didn't know.).

Imagine yourself to be an average research librarian, there has been talk of the Russian Flu having arrived in Canada, but there have been no cases reported in the US as of yet. You are at a library conference, and have retired to the hotel bar after giving a talk that even you found dull. Imagine that you see a stunning woman at the bar, and go to speak with her. Then imagine your conversation is interrupted by news footage from your hometown of Seattle. All thoughts of what might have happened with this vision of loveliness vanish, though the two of you head to your room anyway. You stare at the footage for hours on end, something is so familiar about the man in it. Then the footage runs a bit longer, and you see your lovely wife trying to fend off this man you know, and then him taking her life.

The first cases of the Russian Flu have hit the United States, and not just a few, but enough cases to practically wipe out all of Seattle and have it declared a Plague Zone. Other outbreaks are occurring, making it more and more difficult for our protagonist to return home to avenge his wife's death, and his son's. The closest he can get by plane is San Francisco. From there he hoofs his way north.

As with the Monster series, Wellington's descriptions are gripping. His characters ring true, flaws and all. Even the antagonists prove to be sympathetic to the audience, I'm not counting the zombies as antagonists here. Though the number of pages are short, the passage of time is felt well. You can sense his weariness during his walk, his frustration at obstacles at reaching his goal, and his desperation to find this man. The action moves along well, there were no lulls in the story telling. It was a fast paced, and engaging story. I didn't want the story to end, but it did as all stories must. I really recommend this story, can't call it a book, as it's only available online at this point. And while you are at his website, check out his vampire and werewolf series, I'm going too.

And Happy Holidays to all my readers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Completed Kitten Stocking

Finished just in time! Now to deliver it.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I hope you realize what you mean to the world, I hope you represent the wonderful things you represent. You exemplify generosity and giving of yourself and to others. You encourage children to be good but do not expect perfection, and often overlook small transgressions in order to give children joy. Most importantly for me, you represent hope. The hope that the world can be a better place. The hope that all people can be charitable and giving, not just at Christmas time but year round.

I have thought long and hard, and there is nothing I want for myself this year. I have a very loving family and two silly pets. We have enough to meet our basic needs and a little more.

As with most people, I wish for general good for the earth. I wish for the end to all wars, clean forms of energy, the end of pollution, cancer, and AIDS. I am aware that these are problem you can not fix for us, and that we must see to ourselves.

Of all the holidays, this is the one that is most about family for me. I think this is true for most people. The greatest sadness people feel at Christmas time comes from people not being able to have their families near. Some are separated by death, others by distance, and yet others by hurt feelings. I believe the worst pain is the parents that are far from the children that they love. My Christmas wish is that all loving parents get to spend time with or hear from their children that are far away. I know parents that are unable to be with their kids, and it is the worst pain in this life. Christmas expands this hole in their heart from barely manageable to a ragged, gaping cavern that sucks their joy away with the intensity of a black hole. So my Christmas wish is to have parents and their children to be reunited.

Love always,


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

I have been eagerly awaiting this book since I finished the first book in the series, Leviathan. His cliffhanger ending was quite effective in getting me to want to know what would happen next. The adventure resumes almost immediately after the end of the first book.

The Leviathan makes it to Constantinople to complete it's secret mission. The ships that damaged it have already arrived, and have offered themselves in service to the Sultan. The Sultan has stayed neutral in the war so far, and they are hoping to sway him to enter on behalf of the Clanker forces. Dr. Barlow follows through on the arranged meeting with the Sultan to offer the apology gift to replace the ships that were ordered but not delivered due to the start of the war. Understandably, this breach of contract had angered the Sultan, as he had paid quite a bit of money for them. However, the meeting is sabotaged by some of the court when the egg that was to be the Sultan's gift was crushed. In order to ease the Sultan's anger and buy time to stay in the city, Dr. Barlow offers him the Leviathan itself. It also gives the Darwinists a chance to come up with another plan to reach the enemy ships.

In the mean time, Alek and his men know that they must leave the Leviathan before it departs from Constantinople or face being prisoners of war. Deryn assists them in this effort, though it is technically treason. Since Deryn is aware of Alek's secret, she is also aware that he could bring an end to the war. She has also fallen in love with him, so that is also a factor in her decision. After the escape Deryn is called before the Captain, she is terrified that her treachery has been discovered. Instead, she is surprise to be awarded a medal of honor and given a top secret mission.

While Deryn is fulfilling her mission, Alek is making contact with a group of rebels that wish to overthrow the Sultan. Deryn's fellow soldiers are captured during the mission, so she heads into town to find Alek. Together with the rebels, Alek and Deryn hatch a plan to defeat the Sultan.

Once again, Westerfeld's descriptions of the unique machines and creatures that populate this world are stunning. The combatants are much closer to each other during battle in this book. The Orient Express even makes an appearance. The climax of the novel is built well, and stops at a very satisfying moment. It lets you know that there is more to come, while not dropping the audience as roughly as the end of Leviathan did. This series is entertaining for adults and kids alike. I look forward to reading the final chapter of the tale, Goliath when it comes out.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

4th Period Gets a Reward

My fourth period class chose a chocolate Cookie Monster cake for their reward. If any of my fellow teachers would like to stop by at the end of 4th period or the beginning if 5th for what's left, please feel free.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My First NaNoWriMo Experience

This November I decided to take part in a great experiment: Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. This event is online and creates a goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Nanowrimo encourages writers to kill their inner-editor and just get the words on the page. Writing is usually very lonely business, you toil away alone in a room, Nanowrimo lets authors morally support each other, be aware that others are writing with them, and even allows for a little friendly competition. If you are an aspiring writer, I really recommend that you participate in this event.

Nanowrimo is not the experiment, in and of itself. I refer to this November as an experiment because I am not a writer. Many of you may say, that can't be right as I write a blog. Many people write, but not all people that write are writers. At least, not in my book. To me a writer is someone that has a passion for story telling, someone that wishes to make their living writing. This writing can be fiction or non-fiction, they can be a poet, a novelist, a journalist, or a freelance writer, but is must be an identifying part of their personality and character. My husband is one such individual, as are several of my other friends, to call myself a writer would be an insult to them.

I joined Nanowrimo primarily to gain insight into my husband's writing world, to understand the pressures and challenges he faces when it looks as if he is doing nothing but staring blankly into space or mindlessly watching TV. I can tell you, after 30 days of writing, he is not doing nothing, neither is any other writer when they appear to be lazing about. I wanted to bond with my spouse over the writing experience and challenge myself mentally. I only vaguely had an idea of what I wished to write, this likely added to the challenge of putting 50,000 words on paper. I just had a few pieces of a story that repeatedly and randomly would pop into my head in dreams or as I lay trying to sleep. I am proud to say that despite having a long term anxiety about writing, I was able to expand on my kernels of story and complete the 50,000 word challenge. I even finished a day early, which turned out to be very fortunate as our internet crashed on the last day. I am sad to say that I wasn't able to wrap up the whole story in 50,000 words, but I completed the challenge.

Nanowrimo is well planned. 50,000 words divides up to be 1667 words a day. This is a manageable amount even for people that work full time (I should know, I work full time.). There were days when the words came easy, some days they came hard, and some days when they didn't come at all. They offer forums, fun stuff to do when you are stuck, and activities to help you overcome writers block. They also have weekly pep talks from successful authors. Neil Gaiman has written one, authors this year that offered up a pep talk included Lemony Snicket and Mercedes Lackey. Even if you are not a writer,  you might enjoy some of your favorite writers' outlooks on their craft. One of the things I like about Nanowrimo is that the donations they ask for support a Young Writer's Program that is offered to all for free. It's all about getting kids to write and interact with the written word whether on paper or the internet.

I doubt I will participate next year, I don't really have another story to tell. I did enjoy the experience this year, and learned quite a lot about myself and the art of writing. As for the story I wrote this year, I pretending it doesn't exist for a month. After that time, I will deign to reread it, then I will decide if I will work on it some more or erase it for eternity. I may post it here as a serial story, or I may not. It's fate remains in the ether.

Congratulations to all those that won Nanowrimo, especially Don and John. And to those that didn't quite make it, if writing is your passion, don't give up.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kitten Stocking, Part 5

Almost done, need to hurry though, time is running out.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Kitten Stocking, Part 4

Haven't been able to get as much done as I'd like. There has been grading and a Halloween costume to make. In November, I'll be participating in Nanowrimo which means I'll be writing a lot. I'll have to figure out how to balance the two. This week I have to put the costume first since it's under a week until the day it will be needed.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

A Surprising Author Visit

Awesome store, go there!
I was lucky enough to find out about one of my favorite YA authors coming to town through what many would consider a surprising place. It wasn't publicized on any of the author tour lists, not on the publisher's website, or any other well known site. This author, like many, maintain their own website, but trying to keep up with all the authors' sites can be overwhelming, if not impossible (depending on your range of tastes and number of favorites). I only found out about this tour because Scott Westerfeld (@ScottWesterfeld)  is on Twitter and was discussing his upcoming tour for Behemoth. Twitter's purpose isn't the same as other social networks like Facebook. Facebook is excellent for staying in contact with friends and family, while Twitter is more aimed toward accessing large amounts of information in small doses and growing your professional network.

Signing away
During the course of his tour, Mr. Westerfeld isn't visiting large book store or chains, but small local bookstores. I had never heard of the Blue Willow Bookshop before, but fell in love with it while I was there. The staff is very friendly, very knowledgeable about books, and obvious bibliophiles. They had two school groups there for this author signing, and have all the visiting authors sign their wall. The students were the first to get their books signed. Mr. Westerfeld's book signing was only one of several author visits scheduled last week. Rick Riordan was scheduled for the following day. I wish I lived closer, or had a similar store on my side of town. They do special orders, and even offered to ship me a copy of Behemoth since they had run out before I arrived.

Sadly, we missed Mr. Westerfeld talking about his book and what inspired him to become a writer. Between a doctor's appointment that was delayed a couple of times and Houston traffic, we arrived late. He was very gracious while signing his books. He was also very friendly, and patient with the kids (even the ones that hadn't read any of his books yet, like mine). I am starting Behemoth later today, the girl started reading the Uglies that evening. She is loving the book, can't stop reading it even in class (wags finger at daughter in motherly disapproval). My daughter and I have now met two authors, not counting my husband that is, I plan to meet more. It is very interesting to meet the person that penned the words of a book you have read. They often do not look like you imagined them, or even like their publicity photos. You also see a different side to their personality than you see in their writing.

Enjoy whatever book has your attention currently, if you aren't, grab a new one. There are a shocking number of them available.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kitten Stocking, Part 3

Making steady progress, but wish it was going a little quicker. Still have to detail my other stocking, back them both, and deliver them.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

First Class Reward of the Year

My 1st period rocks. They already earned a cake. They voted on German Chocolate for the flavor. The fact that the class is mostly boys is shown by the fact that the winning theme was a battlefield. I topped the cake with buttercream icing, letting the top layer of the cake mix with the icing to create more of a dirt look. For the combatants, I used plastic army men.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I really enjoyed the first three books of the Uglies series by Mr. Westerfeld, so I was very excited to read another of his works. Though I really enjoyed the other books, I was a bit unsure about this one. Steampunk has a very different pace than other forms of science fiction and I wasn't sure if his writing style would translate well into the new genre. I have to admit, I picked this book up partly because he wrote it and partly because the book is so beautifully designed. I've converted to mostly reading e-books (I love the convenience and the savings.), but if publishers would create more bound books of this quality, I'd buy both versions instead of just one. The dust jacket, the map on the end covers, and the illustrations are brilliantly executed.

The story starts off with the assassination of Arch-Duke Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, who is survived by his 15 year old son Alek.This diverges from the history that we all know. Austria and it's allies are the Central Powers, Clankers, people that rely on mechanical technology. In fact, Alek is awoke in the middle of the night by his father's loyal retainers. He thinks they are going on a night training exercise since his mother is out of town and does not approve, when in reality his parents are already dead. Alek is on the run from his own countrymen as well as his country's enemies.

Deryn Sharp is a young girl pretending to be a boy, Dylan, in order to enter the British Air Service. Britain is a part of the Entente Powers, aka the Darwinists. The Darwinists genetically engineer creatures to serve as messengers, weapons, and transportation.

The Clankers and Darwinists are strongly at odds politically, and scientifically. The Clankers consider the genetically mutation animals to be abominations against nature and God. While the Darwinists consider the Clanker's machines clumsy and wasteful.

Both Deryn and Alek are dealing with the loss of a parent, or both parents. They are adjusting to their new place in the world, and learning new skills. The action is fast paced from the very beginning, I don't think I ran into a single slow spot in the whole story. Westerfeld's descriptions of the creatures and machines are vivid. There is good character development, especially considering that it is the first volume of a trilogy. My only frustration was the sudden ending. I was not expecting the story to end so abruptly, the cliffhanger ending was deliberate. I really wanted the tale to continue, luckily the second volume is due out next month.

If you enjoy steampunk, or if you enjoyed the Uglies series, I'm sure you would enjoy this book.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft

I still can't believe that it took me this long to read Lovecraft. I've seen many movies, and read many books, that utilize the Lovecraftian method of revealing the monster or evil. For the uninitiated, he would hint at the grotesqueness, or show small pieces, and let the reader's imagination do the rest.

Lovecraft's writing style took a little time to get use to. His cadence is that of the early 1900s, which is when it was written. This book is also set up as a memoir of the narrator, Robert Olmstead. He is writing this memoir, long after the initial experience so it has the natural randomness of someone remembering. Once I got use to those two things, the story grabbed me.

Mr. Olmstead is a young college man on summer break, he is taking the opportunity to explore his genealogy and his interest in architecture and history. He reaches the town of Newburyport, and hears intriguing tales about the formerly prosperous town of Innsmouth. He is warned against going, but his curiosity gets the better of him.

The bus to Innsmouth and its driver, give him pause, but he persists in going to Innsmouth. The driver shows the tell-tale deformities that citizens of this seaport town are known for. The closer they get to Innsmouth the more dilapidated the buildings become, the less signs of life there are, and the stronger the smell of old fish. Once in the town, his sense of unease grows. He interviews a boy working in the grocery store, who cautions him to avoid being nosy, and get out of town quickly. Again his curiosity overwhelms his reason and instincts to leave. Mr. Olmstead goes exploring, and searching for the town drunk to question about the local history. His plans to leave before dark are thwarted by the bus breaking down (though I get the feeling that it wasn't really broken).

Lovecraft gradually increases the oddness of the situation and people, building suspense and curiosity for the narrator and the reader alike. The story is just over 100 pages long, but it contains an intensity that surprised me for such a short work. He even provides a twist ending, it was at least surprising to me. I look forward to reading more Lovecraft.

But first, some YA steampunk.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kitten Stocking, Part 2

Been a week, I thought I'd post my progress. Haven't gotten as far as I'd have liked. Stupid work . ;P Hoping that this three day weekend allows me to get farther and get some reading done too. I have to catch up with K. M.! I swore I would.

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Autumn by David Moody

This is not like any other zombie novel that I have read. Most have been written by Americans, whom have a completely different rhythm to their story telling than the British. This story is also different from other zombie tales because of  the time and manner in which the zombies become an issue.

The story begins with the majority of the population on earth dying suddenly, within the space of twenty four hours. The scattered survivors are brought together by one man blaring music from a community center near a major thoroughfare. Most of the survivors want to stay at the center, while a few decide it would be better to head into the country. The survivors that wish to leave do not feel safe surrounded by all the dead bodies because of the chance of disease and the inability to procure supplies easily. After a few days at the community center, some of the corpses begin to get up and move about aimlessly. This is when the three survivors that are planning on leaving are galvanized into action. Our main characters that head for the country are Emma (a medical student), Michael, and Carl. They then search for a home base, they find a farmhouse far from the city and begin to lay in supplies. A few days after that the walking dead begin to seem more aware and show signs of aggression. The survivors then begin to build a defensive wall.

The survivors have very different personalities, and are dealing with these continuing crises in their own unique ways. The character development was slim, but the book is an introduction to a trilogy, I expect much of the character development will come in the later volumes. The characters are taxed by many major changes in their situation, rather than one life altering event.

I look forward to reading further in the series, but first I'm going to explore H.P. Lovecraft. Good reading, all.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kitten Stocking the Beginning

This stocking was requested by a friend. I've already made one for her beautiful daughter and her husband. She is a fan of cats, so I went with a cat, though I wanted a different one with the cat surrounded by Poinsettias. I guess that will teach me not to get a pattern when I see it. You can actually begin to see the cat in the design now.

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