Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tidbits: December Edition

Picture / Photo Find





Something I Did / Video I Watched Too Many Times

More like something I will do for the holidays. I love winter and am, like the next person, a big fan of cooing over plastic snowmen and candy cane floor mats. However, you won't find me sitting in front of the television, watching hours of Christmas movies. I'm just not that into them. I find them to be very corny and more predictable than most made-for-TV movies. Of course, there's always the classics - like Rudolph and Jack Frost, the lovely claymation creations that can make anyone smile. But I watch them in the summer months, or on a whim, and rarely during the time I should - this chilly month. 

However, there is one movie that I always watch, every year, ever since I was reunited with it during college. Haha, sounds epic, right. It's an animated film called The Nutcracker Prince (1990), a movie I saw when I was a child and fell in love with right away. Our VHS was lost to time and moving, just like some of my other favorite childhood things (most of which I've recovered thanks to Amazon, haha!). So now I own the DVD and thoroughly enjoy sitting down with my chin on my knees, big eyes shining. The animation style is gorgeous and fluid and the dreamlike quality to the setting just gets me every time.

Here's the description on the back of the DVD:


"The magic begins with a Christmas party at the house of aspiring ballerina Clara. Her godfather Drosselmeier brings one special gift: a nutcracker that is really his nephew, Hans, transformed into a doll by a curse of the evil Mousequeen. The nutcracker becomes a prince, who rules over the land of dolls, but will return to human form when the spell if broken. Join young Clara, whose new wooden nutcracker draws her into a glorious realm of adventure and enchantment."

Kiefer Sutherland (A very young one) plays the voice of the Nutcracker Prince - I would follow him anywhere, I think, if I ever heard his voice leak from a nutcracker's mouth, haha. The story is very mature for a cartoon; it takes the original, simple nutcracker story and takes it to the next level, bringing in an entire backstory and wondrous ending (makes me tear up and sigh). Clara, when dancing with the wooden nutcracker, even sings lyrics to the melody of Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers. That, my friends, is epic.

Now, the awesome part about all this is that someone uploaded the entire movie on Youtube. So please, if you want to enjoy an intricate, romantic, and whimsical rendition of the nutcracker story, then click away!





Quote from a Book I Love

Although I always have a huge pile of books to read, I wanted to spend a good portion of my break reading charming and adventurous stories led by very young, spunky protagonists. The more dated the story, the better. My model for finding such books is a favorite, The Little White Horse, so I tried to keep a look out for other novels that seemed to give off the same vibe. And so I came across The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell. 

The description on the front flap does a great job at setting the scene:

"Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has spent her whole life in the Glendoveer mansion, where her mother is a servant to the kind and elderly matron of the house. Clara has never known another home. In fact, she's confined to the grand estate due to a mysterious heart condition. But it's a comfortable life, and if it weren't for the creepy squawking birds in the aviary out back, a completely peaceful one too. 

But once old Mrs. Glendoveer passes away, Clara comes to learn many dark secrets about the family. The Glendoveers suffered a horrific tragedy: their children were kidnapped, then drowned. And their father George Glendoveer, a famous magician and illusionist, stood accused until his death. As Clara digs deeper and deeper into the terrifying events, the five birds in the aviary seem to be trying to tell her something. And Clara comes to wonder: what is their true identity? Clara sets out to solve a decades-old mystery - and in doing so, unlocks a secret in her own life, too."

I literally read through this book in day, staying up way too late to race to the ending. My eyes hurt so bad by the time I closed the book and drifted off to sleep. I didn't bother to check the time. I like how whimsical  and dusty this world is; there are secrets everywhere, and all of them kept me biting my nails. I won't give too much away, but I will say that there are ghosts. Plenty of them. And - I'd love to discuss this you've read it - I loved the ghosts so much that I wished the ending... ended a bit different. I kind of developed a crush on one of them and it was a shame to have to say goodbye and shut the book. Still, this really is a wonderful read. I'm so glad to have found it.

Here's a quote from the book:

"In spite of herself, Clara let out a scream, and then clamped her mouth shut. There, knocking on the pane with his sturdy black beak, was the white cockatoo, his sulfur-tinted head feathers raised high. 
Mustering her nerve, Clara unlatched the window and pulled it up, praying she would not frighten the bird away. But the cockatoo stood patiently until the sash was lifted, looked at Clara with his golden eyes, and pleaded in such a rich, melancholy voice that she was bound to him with all her sympathies: 
'Please? Please? Oh, please?"

A Writer Thing

Winter break usually is a strange time for writing. The semester ends with me staggering into my bed-nest of perfumed pillows, plushies, and thick quilts (I keep the ceiling fan on to pretend to simulate a cold winter night). My brain is constantly twitchy, poised for rest but not quite getting it. I called one of my friends the other day, making belated plans to spend the holidays together, and I could barely form sentences when I left a message on her machine. I listened to myself bumble and wondered if I'd ever recover fast enough to enjoy the short vacation until the next semester begins. I'm still seeing read from a lot of grading, haha.

So that leads me to writing. I'm itching to put my fingers to the keyboard and just write, write, write until I'm left hazy and smiling with a pile of words. But a ghostly headache has been following me to the laptop and after a few paragraphs, I have to give up and try to turn up the volume on my inspiration. It's different from writer's block, I think. I know how to handle that. This is probably sheer exhaustion. But I wonder exactly what I need to do to get some real rest. I've been relaxing, drinking lots of tea, wearing sweaters, gawking at the food competitions on the Food Network, and eating too much peppermint bark. 

I've even taken the air with a few wandering shopping trips. So, hmmm, any remedies to suggest? I'm sure this is only a temporary thing - I have to remember that school ended only a few short days ago, that break has only just begun. Time is strange around this time of year. Very heavy and slow. I like my winter breaks long, as long as you can stretch ribbon candy on rack. And I'm sure my writing rhythm will start up again. I just need to figure it out... or take a nap, haha.

Song I Can't Stop Repeating

"Lost and Found" by Katie Herzig

I found a great singer named Katie Herzig and I've been wondering what particular song to showcase. I've been listening to her album, The Waking Sleep, way too much in these past few weeks, but I can't say I regret it. Her music has such spirit and rhythm to it. Makes me want to write (always a good thing). One of her more well-known songs is called "Lost and Found" - and after hearing it the first time, I got major chills. It's the perfect song to listen to while writing one of my writing projects (top secret! haha). The lyrics and melody are stunning:

I know you left me standing there

Out of the calm of the coldest air

I don't believe the words you said
But I can't find the words I want
Oh, I can't find the words I want

If you were gone in another life
I don't believe I would just survive
I could feel you next to me
An escape from the world I'm in
Oh, I'm afraid of the world I'm in


...

Somebody found me here

Somebody held my breath

Somebody saved me from the world you left
If you're gonna cry my tears
If you're gonna hold my breath
If you're gonna let me see the sun you set
Oh, I am lost and found
Oh, I am lost and found

Thursday, November 24, 2011

papetiers de l’ancien temps


Carl and Jeffrey are secret stationers, though anyone who saw them would think that they were just old men. They congregate with friends on the front steps of the general store, taking turns with the chess board. They wear matching sweaters in July and smoke wooden pipes. 

In his early years, Carl claims he had been a movie star. His blond hair came across horribly on the black and white screen, so makeup artists had to paint his eyebrows with thick, black ink. He almost rubbed his eyebrows right off, trying to wash away the comical arches. Carl used to play the villain, chewing on the hero's face in a bar fight and running away, usually with his pants falling down around his ankles. His face is shaped like a banana; you almost believe his story because, by now, he's lost his eyebrows for good. 

Jeffrey regales his friends with tales of his nautical adventures. He had been captain of a submarine that explored the seaweed green waters of the south. He used to wear a diving bell helmet and fish for sponges on his months off duty; he liked it when girls tried to kiss him through the glass. Jeffrey's stocky build, along with his bright blue eyes, reminds you of a faded hero. His smile is charming when he presses his lips against your hand and calls you his "little pigeon's egg." He never married. 

The two old men purchase bagels before heading home. They carry their separate bags, steaming from toasting, and pass under the streetlamps in silence. They sit opposite each other at the dinner table; the seasonal cranberry cream cheese leaks from their bagels. They lick their fingers. Wash the coffee stains off of their cups. 

Then, they sit on the screened in patio and create stationary. It's a delicate process, requiring suitcases full of pull-out trays. Carl puts on his spectacles in order to see his handiwork from the night before. His silhouette of the mayor, Mr. Hemshaw, is almost done except for the nose. He dips his pen in ink and carefully presses it to the paper.   

Jeffrey slowly stamps out a congratulatory message upon a blank, recycled paper card. The ink he chooses to press the letters in is a deep fuchsia, in honor of the head librarian's daughter. She just won an award for her science project. 

"We'll have to make more paper soon," Carl says. He creates a flourish around the the silhouette. "I'm running out of envelopes."

Jeffrey sighs. "The Sheep Festival is coming up soon, right? Maybe we can make some paper then. It's a miracle that so many people can be distracted by sheep shaving contests." 

Carl leans back in his chair and looks out at the converse behind their house. The lone light bulb above their heads make everything seem yellow. The trees are merely shadows. Animals cry out in the night. The old men continue their work and reminisce about the old days where they wore monocles with their tops hats and sang with the bards about poetry. Their jobs, for the longest time, have been secret. Create paper. Create stationary. Send words out into the world without your names. Let them fly. 



November is almost over already. How shocking, right? I had to make a break from my NaNo adventures to try out a small story - even though you can tell I don't need a break. My awesome little word count bar on the side of this blog shows that I'm very behind. I highly doubt I'll come close to reading the beloved goal of 50k, haha. 

Still, though, I'm going to try.There's nothing like a little competition to keep the words pouring! 

Photos from We Heart It. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shopping Oddities

November in Florida. I woke up to the steady fall of rain outside my window. The clouds were so thick that I stumbled around the kitchen in darkness, searching for the toaster. I curled up on the couch with my toast and listened to rain. I wondered if the whole day would be like this, a blanket of evening spilled over to block out the morning sun.

But, as with any rainstorm here, it magically cleared up before lunchtime. 

I decided to abandon my castle of papers and step out into the humid, hot day. I had a flyer from Jo-Ann's with an array of ridiculously cute holiday paraphernalia. Staring at the big-eyed gingerbread men and grinning snowflakes, I knew I had to leave my work nest to see these things for myself. I'm not a big holiday knick-nacker, but these were worth it. I left my red pen at home, haha.  

This is the first time, in this blog's history, that I'm reporting on a shopping trip. So if it's awkward, please let me know, haha. 


Holiday Owl Doll
I've been looking for a folksy owl doll for over a year now. A college friend had a very cool owl doll she left in her dorm room; sometimes I'd sit it in my lap while we worked on our literature homework together. This owl doll is pretty cool because it's design isn't dependent on winter. Sure, it has the floppy hat and a snowflake stitched to its butt, but overall, this owl could strut down the street in any season.  


Gingerbread Man Spatula 
This is it. This is specifically what I saw in the flyer that I knew I had to have, haha. I mean, since when do spatulas look like this? It makes me want to cook. I'm the queen of the microwave, in most cases, though I love a good cut-and-bake treat once in a while. I'm hoping that this lovely, smiling cookie might convince me to crack open a recipe book. 


Powerpuff Girl 10th Birthday Perfume
In an entirely different store, I found this Powerpuff Girl perfume... which caused me to geek out. 

I'm a big cartoon fan (as most of my readers know), and I remember this show being just one of the cartoons I watched with baited breath until its end. I think Bubbles is still my favorite, but I've discovered I'm more like Blossom, haha. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing. 

The perfume smells great. It's refreshing and has a lemony undertone. I can't find much information about this perfume, so I don't know what the "10th Birthday" part means. Is it the ten years that the show ran or is it... representative of a ten-year-old's birthday party? I hope it's the first one. 

Have you been shopping lately? Find anything strange, lovely, or surprising? 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tidbits: November Edition

Picture / Photo Find




Something I Did

About a week ago, I participated in a school reading called 6x6 that showcased six graduate students and six undergraduates. Writing a small piece to read for that has been both exciting and challenging; I ended up drawing inspiration from Sleeping Beauty and added quite a twist to it in the spirit of Halloween. 

Most everyone dressed up for the event and that made it more exciting. My favorite costume of the night was a couple who dressed up as bacon and eggs - they ended up winning the costume contest. The night was magical in the sense that we were at risk. A storm was brewing all day, all week, really, and we were lucky enough to have a pocket of relief where the rain decided to back away until our last speaker finished her words. The air was muggy, thick with mosquitoes. We sat outside and listened to the readers as they approached a torch-lit stage. The place was a treasure of a coffee shop called Felicitous - newly opened and already bursting with charm and excellent mango tea.

Although rain clouds lingered, just waiting for the perfect moment to pelt us, I still kept my black pea coat buttoned tight. Who cares about sweating in late October, right? I loved my costume. I was a reveur for The Night Circus. I have to admit that no one recognized me, but I'm sure, if this book makes it to film, everyone will be going to the movie theater wearing nothing but black and white clothing - with a spot of red. 


Quote from a Book I Love

To go with what I mentioned just above, I think I've become a reveur after finishing The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The book is stunning with its whimsical imagery that surprises you with its vivid nature - a few times while reading, I couldn't help but gasp at such lovely lines. It's so easy to get sucked into this world of black and white, caramel popcorn, and dueling magicians in love. Reveur in French means "dreamer," an appropriate name for the fans of the circus in the book. They wander the enchanted tents wearing their spots of red. I'd love to be one of them. I have got to see that ice garden. When it came down to it, I had a hard time choosing an excerpt, so here's literally the beginning of this shiver-inducing novel:

"The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The towering tents are striped black and white, no golds or crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet." 

Fun fact: there's a free online game that anyone can play - you get to wander around the circus, stumble upon mysteries, and sometimes interact with the characters from the book. I'm kind of addicted, haha. 


A Writer Thing

Sooo... NaNoWriMo. Who's participating this year? I totally am. I can't help it. I tend to fall for challenges, especially when it comes to writing. I get a rush and ideas flood into my head like falling stars. So National Novel Writing Month, in which one must write 50k words, is the king of challenges. And I can't refuse. 

What's really remarkable is that you discover how much time you do actually have during the day. On busier weeks, I find myself tapping away at the keyboard late into the night, but when a brief reprieve hits, I surprise myself by writing a paragraph or two between grading or answering emails. After NaNoWriMo, I'm usually more productive because I get into a time-groove. I know when I can write, what precise music I must listen to and what font is the kind I won't cringe at when I stare at a page. 

My first time NaNo-ing was last year and I failed miserably. It was almost a precursor to Birdcage Girl in that I tried the same kind of bite-sized, fragmented chapters. But I had too many characters at once and wrote out of order (so not good for me), so that I ended up with a tiny mess at the end of the month. I'll be lucky if I'm able to salvage anything from that project. But this year feels different. 

Photo by Dream Bean. So inspiring!
I'm posting my NaNo novel on Figment for this run; it's called Olivia. Basically, it's a strange kind of retelling of the fairy tale called "Diamonds and Toads." Please read it if you're not familiar with it - it's a quick tale. And I say strange because, in edition to the elements found in the original, I'm including silent film, dime museums, real estate, and pratfalls. It's been so much fun already - I love discovering my characters' secrets along the way. Here is a teaser of my project, just for fun:

And so, the fairy said: “You are kind and pretty, so I will give you a gift, Olivia. Whenever you speak, flowers and jewels shall fall from your mouth.”
Olivia bowed her head and twisted her hands. “Thank you,” she said. A diamond slipped from her lips and clattered on the sidewalk. 
To anyone attacking NaNo this year, remember to stick with it, no matter how hard it gets. I don't think it's call about winning, but more so doing. It's hard to write. Truth. So producing something, while working alongside other writers and sharing the journey is just priceless and a feel-good event. I'm cheering you on.


Song I Can't Stop Repeating

"Elements" by A Fine Frenzy.

I've got nothing to say except that this song sends me sprawling across an ocean in a rickety, but loyal boat. I love A Fine Frenzy, but only recently purchased the newest album. I'm so glad I did. Each song really is a gem.

"If the sea should swallow up my house
I will turn the rooftop inside out and the wind will be wailing
But I will be sailing faster

Oh the elements I do not fear but I fall apart when you appear
'Cause you are the greatest
The greatest disaster"



Video I Watched Too Many Times



Okay. Seriously. You need to go buy The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore on iTunes right now. Do it, haha. My intense love for all things Buster Keaton had led me to discovering this. The main character, Morris, is inspired very much my the late Buster Keaton. It is remarkable to see his expressions match and the way he moves his body during sequences (and the slight nod to One Week with the trashed house). I do have an inevitable Buster Keaton post to make, where I will likely talk about this short film again, bur I still couldn't dream of putting another video in this section for this month. The animation is amazing and, if you love books, this film will make you smile and cry. I was tearing up at the end. It's superb.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Disney's Food & Wine Festival

The time has come when my brain caves in, when red pens make scars on my fingers and I can't seem to figure out what day it is. It is the end of October. The next month is so close that I can almost taste its smokey scent. I'm not ready to slam down the gas and go speeding into the end of this school year, but it's gaining on us. So what is there to do to calm the nerves? Well, if any of you have been following my long enough, you know that I'm a huge Disney fan. Especially of the parks. Considering that I live a short distance from Disney World, it seemed only appropriate that I drown my stress in good food, plastic utensils, and large crowds. So me and the 'rents embarked on our official romp at Epcot to enjoy the Food & Wine Festival. 

The festival is a bundle of fun, drawing in food enthusiasts, chef celebrities, and excited Disney regulars to enjoy some great food that, until this moment, seemed only visible on the other side of the television set (aka Food Network). I've been going to the parks for years and have traversed the many country-themed booths. However, this year was the year we'd really focus on the festival itself. 

Some new stuff this year included little things. On the picture on the left, of the Ireland booth, you'll notice a stand under the armpit of the plaid-shirt guy. That's a brand-new utensil dispenser! Instead of awkwardly snuffling around the booth, knocking over the fork holders, all you have to do is find the utensil of your choice and press the red button. Like one of those put in a quarter and turn the dial dispensers, the utensil of your choice comes clattering out. It was pretty fun and I totally wasted a lot of plastic by doing that at every booth we stopped at. Luckily, Disney has not, as of yet, thought of charging a quarter for said utensils. That's good. Let's keep it that way, haha. 

There was also a new exhibition called Discover the Cranberry:

Can you believe it? Right in front of the big fountain (on your way to  the World Showcase) Disney placed a cranberry bog. Just like on those cranberry commercials where the two guys stand in the bog. There's totally one here. It was pretty sweet to see. And the sign is funny too - warning you not to climb into the bog or eat from it, haha.
Here's a photo I took from Germany's miniature train village. One of my first posts on this blog was about the village and how it changes, even in subtle ways, throughout the years. Check it out here. For the Food & Wine Festival, a few booths were put up, including some people enjoying food on those tables and a musician playing under that vined canopy. 


To top it all off,  checked the weekly schedule (only handed out one week at a time, so you never know who's coming) and found a delightful surprise. I'm a big Food Network fan, even though I confess I don't cook much myself. But I'm more than familiar with all the shows and so my heart almost popped out of my throat when I saw Robert Irvine listed in that day's event listing. Woah. I've seen his shows for a while now, but his new one, Restaurant Impossible, has be gasping in awe. He was scheduled to give a culinary demonstration (of which you must pay for in order to eat said food he makes) and then a book signing after. That's it. I knew I'd be visiting the festival center to see him (I'll talk about that later in the post). 


Foods I Ate:

We skipped lunch completely and just wandered about, trying anything that seemed or smelled remotely delicious. And here's what we tried (and, 10 times of 10, loved). 

Grilled Lamp Chop with Potato-Goat Cheese Salad and Shiraz Reduction
Australia  Booth
Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup
Canada Booth
Lobster & Scallop Fisherman's Pie
Ireland Booth
*My Favorite*
Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Baileys Ganache
Ireland Booth
Calamari Salad with Fennel, Smoked Paprika and Olive Oil
Portugal Booth
Lamb Slider with Tomato Chutney (Half eaten by the time I fished my camera out, haha)
New Zealand Booth 
Seared Scallop with Kumara-Red Curry Puree and Apple Radish Salad
New Zealand Booth
*Second Favorite!*
Shrimp Cake on a Sugarcane Skewer with Singapore Noodles
Singapore Booth

The Robert Irvine Experience

Or not. When we arrived at the festival center, a long line was already zig-zagging around. I suppose I should have expected that, but, ah well. Still, I could hear his British accent floating through the air - he wasn't yet done with his demonstration. I wriggled through the line and went to see Robert Irvine as he stood on a small stage with two hosts, talking about what he had cooked up. The people who paid to have wine and food were sitting at tables near the stage, while the rest of us (and I wasn't the only one) stood outside the little stage area and gawked. 

He looks just like he does on TV... a point that, no matter how many times I do see someone from television, is still is surprising. 
Here's a bit of video I took when Mr. Irvine was speaking about his experience with Restaurant Impossible. I apologize in advance for the low volume and shakiness - I was standing a good distance away, haha. But it should come up clear enough, I think. 



I had feeling this would be true, considering the time, but I couldn't stay to wait in line. The middle of the afternoon had bloomed with hot weather cranky babies in strollers. With a bright and early school day awaiting me, and much work to do beforehand, it was time for me to go home. Yet still, I had a great time at the Food & Wine Festival. If you happened to be around before it ends, you shouldn't definitely go. You won't regret it :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dear You



Dear You,


I remember how rough my jumper felt during the summer, how the grey plaid stuck to my skin under the hot lights of the cloudless sky; the asphalt shivered like the sandy hills of a desert. Recess ended with the flick of a wrist, setting off the big gold bell to call across the parking lot and tug at our ears.

But then I'd walk through the hallways, blinking furiously to adjust to the dark, cave-like atmosphere. Your room was a haven, filled with pillows smelling of attic and shelves of children's books just waiting to be read. You sat us in a circle at a little faux wood table. We'd open our textbooks and begin.

I could imagine the lessons going on upstairs, in the classroom I should have been sitting in had I not shown a lack of improvement in my reading skills. But I was happy to be with you - to gently decipher a story with both laughter and furrowed brows. Even then, your face was a translucent map of green-veined highways. Sometimes a curl of your hair would peek out of the veil. The cross that hung from you neck tapped the table whenever you bent over table to sound out a word.

You used to shake your tin of Jolly Ranchers after every lesson, before letting us back upstairs for a grueling mathematics lesson or afternoon prayers. When I stuck my hand into the tin, the wrappers made a sssh sssh sssh sound like moths' wings. You always kept enough cherry and watermelon stocked so that we'd leave the room happy, the hard candy turning our tongues red and creating an orchestra of teeth-clanking all the way up the staircase.

I wanted to let you know how much those lessons meant to me - how, ironically, to everyone but you, I ended up pursuing a life of reading and writing. To see you smile, to hear your voice and feel a shaky hand on my shoulder... but perhaps you're doing that now. I believe that somehow, you do know. And, just maybe, you're smiling at me now.

All the Best,

Me

So this is a post I've been meaning to make for a long time, but it's something I struggled over when trying to come up with who I wanted to write to. The answer came to me in a text message, believe it or not. That message contained information about someone who was very dear to me in my childhood and, once remembered, I put my fingers to the keyboard and began to write.

This idea orginated from Heather, but my blogging pal Melee suggested it - and I'm so glad I've finally written one. I don't have anyone in particular to pass it on too, but please, if you're reading this post, feel free to give it a shot. You must write a letter to someone, but use only pronouns - and it must start with "Dear You."


Picture from here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tidbits: October Edition

Picture / Photo Find






Something I Did

Haha, that's a good one. For the past few days, I've been either chained to a couch or desk, slowly engulfed by papers of dubious origins. I know that, these days, paper anything is considered to be delicate and pretty. Paper planes, paper hearts, paper toilet bowls. You name it. And I'm usually of that mindset. Bring on the paper! But when it comes in the form of stories to revise and / or papers to grade, suddenly I find myself checking my fingers for paper cuts (which are, by anyone's standards, not cute).

My prediction is that by the end of the week, I'll create a patch of time where the paper doesn't haunt me with its pointy corners and angry ink. I suppose this will be Sunday night, in particular, since TCM is playing Buster Keaton movies all month and I'm determined to watch him without multitasking. I'll let you know how it goes.

Aww, he's blushing! So am I.

Quote from a Book I Love

I just finished this book called The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu and it really has stuck with me. I breezed through it, eating up the slim volume as quickly as possible to discover what the ending held in store. And even after finishing it, I still pondered over what I read; the story and its characters continued to echo long after I shelved it. Since the novel is directly translated from French, some of the phrasing tends to come off as strange or childish. However, the story is worth any sentence-bumps along the way.

The novel is told from the perspective of a boy named Jack who was born on the coldest day on Earth and could have died because of it - but Dr. Madeleine saves him by placing a cuckoo-clock in his chest. The clock keeps him alive, but it's a delicate thing; if Jack were to ever fall in love, his clock - and heart - would surely break. Of course, Jack does fall in love - but will he survive it?

"Each beat of your heart is a small miracle, you know, so don't get carried away. It's a fragile, makeshift repair. Things should get better as you grow up, but you'll have to be patient."

"How many times will the big hand have to go round?"

"A few... a few. I want your heart to become a bit more robust before I let you out into nature."

There's no denying that my clock causes me a worry or two. It's the most sensitive part of my body. I can't bear to let anyone touch it, apart from Madeleine. She winds me up every morning using a small key. When I catch a cold, the coughing hurts my gears. It feels as if they're about to poke out through my skin. And I hate the sound of broken crockery they make.


A Writer Thing

Okay. It's official: as if September 30th, 2011, I finished writing my first draft of my novel Birdcage Girl. Woah. It's a strange kind of feeling that comes with finishing something that has been a part of my life for almost a year now. I'll no longer wake up in the middle of the night to jot down a better scene. I won't sneak away to my laptop between classes to write a chapter or two. I suspect my peaked interest in all things birds and cages will greatly decrease... at least until I start writing the next book, haha. My good writing friend Anande Sjoden interviewed me on her blog where I talk a little bit more about how it felt to finally write the last word... and about cardigans, sprained knees, and Apollo busts.

But finishing a novel manuscript isn't the end - at least, when you're me and can hardly wait to start revision. Every writer is different, but I'm not of the school of writers who like to put their MS's away for months or even years before revising; I'm impatient, for one, and I don't feel like being that distanced from my writing will help improve it. I like to put on the surgical gloves right away and make repairs to flabby sentences! So these past few days have been filled with scrolling through the endless pages of my MS, trolling for obvious errors (both grammatical and syntax). After tonight, though, I'll have to sit on my hands for a few weeks while I wait for some trusted friends to read it. Of course, Birdcage Girl still on Figment as it is; I'll be applying revisions to it as soon as I get my final wave of feedback.

This stage of the writing process is, well, less glamorous. There's sweat - all the time - and make up is running and light bulbs are breaking and the coffee in the break room is cold. But it's still an adventure. That's probably the best part.


Video I Watched Too Many Times / Song I Can't Stop Repeating


Mathias Malzieu is not only the author of The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, but also the lead singer of a French band called Dionysos. The book itself is based off of an album he composed titled La Mécanique du Cœur (The Mechanics of the Heart). I listened to the album after reading the book, and I must say that it is an excellent collection of songs. Each song seems to reflect a certain mood or even plot point in the mood and, overall, complements the novel well.

The song I chose to feature (and perhaps the one I've listened to the most) is called "Tais-toi mon coeur." Malzieu's voice is engaging and the range of musical instruments used in the song creates such an interesting melody. A music video had been made to go with it, so here it is! I'm so happy to share it with you - I must have unhealthily refreshed the video page too many times, haha.


Photos from tumblr / TCM

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Featherbrained

I've never been an avid lover of birds. This particular fact strikes me as odd considering how immersed I've been in the winged world since starting Birdcage Girl over nine months ago.

When I was little, my parents brought us a pet parakeet. We named her Ariel (after my favorite Disney princess) and she had a lovely combination of yellow and green feathers. Unfortunately, she decided she didn't feel at home with us. Ariel cried whenever we turned on the television and, when we let her out of her cage for some exercise, she'd perch on top of the refrigerator and bite our fingers. When my mother got sick from Ariel's presence in the house, we had to return her to the pet shop.

From them on, I admired birds from afar. When I still lived in New York, I watched blue jays and cardinals flutter from tree to tree in the backyard, looking very much like flying paint. My favorite birds were, and still are, sparrows. I liked sneaking snacks and tossing them for the tiny army of sparrows to gobble up. I daydreamed about owning one and teaching it to do tricks.

There are many different kinds of birds in Florida, some of them as tall as your torso. Every lake is covered in white birds airing their wings; some saunter across roads, expecting cars to stop for them. I still see sparrows here, even though they don't appear as often as I like. It seems as if they are children of the fall season - a season that Florida doesn't acknowledge anywhere but on a calendar. Theme parks are full of birds - whether they are the exotic ones kept in towering aviaries or friendly ducks; if I could be born as something else, I'd probably want to live out my whole life as a Disney duck. Seriously. They have it made.

In my senior year of college, I went impromptu bird-watching with my friend and the guy she liked (the guy who would soon be her husband). For two days straight, we met him in the park and followed him around while he showed us the local birds. We sat on sidewalks and passed around his heavy binoculars. Found baby birds in their nests. I watched in awe as he and my friend examined the bird guide together, their heads together, laughing softly.

But even so, I couldn't call myself a lover of birds. Not any more than the average person.

There's something magnetic about the idea of birds, isn't there? That's why you'll find birds painted on walls, printed on shirts, the icon of many different design schemes. We all want to fly - watching birds do it continues to be inspirational.


For a long time, I kept my head down and just typed out the story of Birdcage Girl without giving much thought to the birds right outside my window. However, in recent weeks, I've paid more attention. And it's been interesting. My friend over at HelloEnaam surprised me with a birdcage; she gave it to me over the summer and I proudly walked to the parking lot with it swinging in my grip. It has a little door that actually opens and closes. Whenever I feel stuck, I like to look at it for inspiration. Remember your roots, right? My main character, Ashlyn, has come so far that sometimes it feels like her days in the birdcage have been but a dream. I'm sure she feels that way too. Being close to finishing puts me in a nostalgic mood, haha.

I've also been on the lookout for birdcages too - and I found a shirt with the print. It's been a pretty exciting hunt. However, there are always some bird-inspired items that make me laugh. One of them I saw today - it's called Snap-On Feathers. It's apparently the "latest fashion craze" to stick feathers in your hair - the commercial for it is... uh... pretty interesting. I'll have to look around and see if people are really doing this. Still, the idea makes me smile.

Image from We Heart It

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Award News: Figment, Tote Bags, and Princesses

Summer isn't quite so boring when there's competition in the air - it's a heady scent, but it brightens up the monotony of constant rainstorms and humidity. Hosted by the masterminds of Figment.com, there were a great many memorable contests over the course of summer vacation. But I had tried to convince myself not to enter anymore. I figured that winning one was enough - my serial novel piece, Flour House - so I decided that I would sit the new contests out.

Yep. Didn't last.

The contest that did me in was called the Let Them Eat Figs contest. Basically, all entrants had to write a 1500 word story about princes and/or princesses. It could be set in any world and have original or preexisting royalty in it (literary or otherwise). I haven't completely grown up, in a way, so I'm still often charmed by stories of princes and princesses. I don't think that will ever change. I felt like this contest was calling me to the challenge - so I sucked in a deep breath and opened up a new Word document. And then the pieces of my story started to come together...

The Story:

The Princess & Her Shadow is the title of my entry, a little fairy tale about a princess who is determined to find out if her favorite story is really steeped in reality - or is it just a myth? She comes from an underground world where everyone is born with a talking shadow; her shadow, Prunella, is a bit of a troublemaker in crinoline. You can read the whole story here, but here's an excerpt:

Jane heard the story of the heartless prince countless times. Her nursemaids used to tell it to her while they rubbed tuberose lotion into her little pink toes and frail shoulders. She bathed in the lake, swimming in the licorice waters like a primordial fish, sending fallen stars and lost message-bottles bobbing on the surface in her wake.

“His older brothers were jealous,” she’d say, flipping onto her back. Her chest heaved and a pink star tickled her ear. The night sky hung above her, a cluster of tree roots and black soil. “They snuck into the prince’s room and cut out his heart with a sewing scissor. And then they hid the prince in a tiny room under a foxglove tree so the king and queen would never know.”

Jane paddled back to shore and gratefully took the silky-warm towel from her nursemaids. They combed her sable hair with delicate combs and plucked the lake-droplets off her eyelids. “How silly of those brothers,” Jane would say. “They didn’t get rid of the prince – they merely bottled him up and put him in a pantry.”

“Why do you say that?” the nursemaids asked, with smiles.

Everyone knows that you need a heart to die. So the poor, dear prince is still alive. Just asleep under that tree.”


The Prize

I think I forgot to mention that this contest had been inspired by Shannon Hale whose new book, Book of a Thousand Days, was featured on the site. I love Hale's writing and how she makes fairy tales her own, creating new twists and turns but still following the path we love so much in each particular story. I first read Goose Girl - having loved the original tale - and wasn't disappointed. So since then, I've been plopping her books onto my pile every time I've found her in the library - but with this contest, I finally own two of her book now!

So, on a perfectly average day, the mysterious box arrived:


The coolest part about the box is that it's a Random House one. Which, when it comes down to it, simply means that the cardboard box is decorated with little houses. I'm easy to please, I think, because I had to keep turning the box over for last least five minutes before actually opening it. Call it house-hunting, if you will.

Once I jabbed at the seals with my handy scissor, I discovered a plethora of prizes. I started to read a little of Book of a Thousand Days (alas, between grading and writing) and I think I'm going to enjoy it. It's written in a diary format, and I like the main character - Dashti - already. There's also the Princess Academy which is, by far, my favorite of all Hale's books. So excited to finally have a copy.

I know this is side-tracking a bit, but I love the fact that I got paperback copies. Paperbacks are the best, haha. I used to hate them as a kid because the covers usually got torn off or irrevocably bent and that wasn't fun. But now the covers are made of nice material. They allow me more space on my bursting bookshelf and are awfully cuddly. Yes, I cuddle books. Sometimes. They don't jab me like hardcovers. And the best part is that, because paperbacks are lightweight, I never have to say no to bringing a book along with me when I venture out of my hermit cave (or school office).

Super digression! Haha! Anywho, I grinned so hard my cheeks hurt when I saw the tote bag. I mean, it' pretty epic. I can't wait to start using it and see what happens.

If those gifts were awesome enough, I found another surprise from the Figment team. They drew this wonderful picture, inspired by a scene in The Princess & Her Shadow. There's the foxglove tree with its mysterious hole - only revealed when Jane can prove that she's worthy of entering. I love this drawing so much; I've hung it up over my little desk where, when I'm not tempted by a couch, I sit and work on my writing. It's a wonderful reminder to keep going - even if you're scared to see what's at the bottom of a dark hole, even if you fear your favorite story's unraveling.


So, as I promised, I went out to run some errands and took my Figment tote with me. Surrounded by crackly old hardbacks in the local library, I couldn't help but feel at home with the tote on my shoulder. It made the pile of books I gathered much easier to get back to the car, in any event, haha.



Thanks for the lovely gifts, Figment!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tidbits: September Edition

Picture / Photo Find





Something I Did

Perhaps this month should be about something I didn't do, haha. As you've already gathered, I've been back in school for a few weeks now (we start early in Florida). My to-be-graded folder is fattening every day and I think that most of my new files open on my laptop consist of splendid power points and worksheets. The rain is unrelenting, so much so that I haven't had the opportunity to trek on over across campus to pick up some sushi and pomegranate iced tea. One of my office mates is determined to refashion her cubicle with a new theme - something very pink and French - but even she's been busy enough to have her cubicle unfinished and thirsting for a new face.

I did, in fact, go to Disney this past weekend. Epcot again. I love that park - it's so relaxing, and yet there's always and adventure waiting around the corner. As I waited in line for Soarin', I listened to an unhappy family complain about dinner reservations and the long plane ride back home. A little boy and his mother sat near me in the first row and eventually got off the ride before it started. The boy was apparently scared to go up in the air... it went like this:

Boy: How are we going to fly?
Mother: By magic!
Boy: O_O

Note to self: if your child is scared of a harmless ride, do not ever feed the fire by throwing magic into the mix. They'll miss out on, in this case, a glorious sky-tour of California.


A Quote from a Book I Love

I raided the public library down the street for the first time in months; the books in my arms piled all the way up to my chin. What I sight I must have been - most people come to the library to use the computers, haha. I picked up, among other delights, two books by Shannon Hale. I love her writing and how she creates some great stories centered around myths and fairy tales. The Goose Girl fairy tale itself has been one of my favorites and it was so exciting to hear that someone - Hale - had ventured into retelling it. I had already read The Goose Girl, but I wanted to reread it since it had been a long time. And it was still very, very good:

"Ani pulled loose her headscarf and let it fall to the floor. 'I will not hide anymore,' she said to her reflection. Two feet, one in the mirror and one in the world, kicked the scarf aside. Her hair, braided up, had loosened, and its weight pulled it out of its plait and off her head. She picked up one of Selia's - one of her - brushes, silver plated, the face of a horse a rigid knob on its handle, and broke her snarls loose. The sun was dipping low in the west and sent a lustrous orange glow from the horizon to her hair. She moved, and it flashed gold in the light. She held up the dress against her now, the ray of the setting sun brightening her eyes, painting her face a yellow rose, regal like her mother (308)."


Song I Can't Stop Repeating

"Bells" by Laura Jansen.

I've been in the mood lately for songs that have an added atmosphere to them, along with soft melodies and and lovely lyrics. Strange, it seems to be a trend with me, haha. In this particular song, I feel very breathy when I listen to it. I imagine a room full of bells - silver, gold, brass - hanging from cords while sunlight rides in like a wave. Maybe it's a symbol for a heart full of soft joy:

I can feel the sky cracking in my heart
It's falling to the pavement
Don't know where to start
So, let's go to the tower
one more time
and Climb high, love, climb high

Oh bells
Nothing here but bells ringing in my heart
in my heart...
in my heart...
in my heart
la la la la


A Writer Thing

I've been dancing the fine line between short story writing and novel writing this summer, and it seems to be bleeding into fall. A proper thing for a budding writer to do is send out short stories to literary magazines in the hopes that they will get accepted and published. I remember the pure joy (and some disbelief) when I received my first acceptance from Pure Francis. It was fantastic. I can't put it to words. But most of the time rejections will fly their way to your inbox on swift wings - it's just the way of things.

Lately though, I've been immersed in creating longer stories. I've been jotting down ideas for novel-length stories way too often, haha. So, as a important side project, I'm going to dig into my folder of old or unfinished short stories and try to shine them up. I like looking around that folder and finding some strange stories - and remembering how I planned to end them. It's probably a good project to embark on. I should really get excited about it *heroic face*


Video I Watched Too Many Times



So, I've been on a huge silent movie kick. Huge. It all started when my mother bought a classic horror movie collection; all of the movies were in black and white and some were even silent. My favorite movies turned out to the be silent ones (Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). Like a hungry vampire... or somnambulist, I searched the interwebs for other silent films that would be excellent finds - and I started, of course, with looking for fairy tales.

I found a 1914 silent film called Cinderella, and for a while, the whole movie was on youtube. Sadly, when I did have time to watch it, it was taken down. So there's only a few clips left. I can't even it buy it online. So frustrating. I did discover that the actress is called Mary Pickford - and she's totally amazing! I just finished watching Poor Little Rich Girl starring Mary and it was fantastic. By watching her in other films, I think I feel less deprived from my Cinderella story, haha.

Does anyone have any silent film recommendations for me? I'd like to watch some romantic ones, actually. Still haven't stumbled upon one of those yet.


Shout Out!

It's a bit too repetitive to say that I'm been drowning in work and, thusly, have not been able to keep up with blogging and responding to my readers as quickly as I'd like. So I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge one of my awesome readers, elfarmy17, who suggested I check out a song someone made, the lyrics taken from a poem that appears in a book called Welcome to Bordertown (which sounds awesome, indeed! I recognize Bordertown by Charles De Lint's contribution to it - he's so cool. It's been added to my book list, haha).

The poem-turned-song is called "Stairs in Her Hair" - have a listen! It's very folksy, taking you back to a time with dangerous goblin markets and other such tricky fey.

Thank you very much for the recommendation, elfarmy17!