"I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing." ~ Dame Agatha Christie

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sale-A-Bration Starts Today!

Stampin' Up! has a super-duper sale each year called Sale-A-Bration--an opportunity to be rewarded with free products.  Earn a free item for each $50 in purchases (including from our Occasions Mini and the Clearance Rack).  This sale only runs until March 31, 2012 so check it out soon for your Spring crafting needs!

And if you have been waiting to order the 2010-2012 In Color items, don't wait much longer...our catalog year is changing.  The current Idea Book & Catalog will be ending a month earlier than originally scheduled as we are lengthening the time frame for our Mini Catalogs later this year (and making them bigger as well!)

These are exciting changes, but it does mean early retirement for Blushing Bride, Concord Crush, Peach Parfait, Pear Pizzazz, and Poppy Parade :-0

On the other hand, the 2012-2014 In Colors will be available in June (and I can hardly wait to find out what they are)!

The Occasions Mini ends April 30, followed by the current Idea Book & Catalog on May 30 (rather than June 30).  The new Annual catalog will begin June 1, and will be valid thru May 31, 2013.  Our Holiday Mini will be released August 1, 2012 and run until January 2013 (concurrent with the Annual catalog).  Confused?  Please don't be--I'll post more details as they are available.  For now, enjoy earning free product with purchase during Sale-A-Bration!

Friday, January 20, 2012

One O'clock Jump by Lise McClendon - finished 1/17/2012. EB, HM. 3 stars

I really wanted to like this book.  I love the time frame (WWII), I love Kansas City, I love historical mystery, I love swing music, I love (most) cozy mysteries...but this book just cannot rate over 3 stars with me.

So, the question is--what did I not like?  Why only 3 stars (and that's generous)?  Maybe too many secondary characters that really contribute nothing to the plot but take up space.  Now, this is the first of a series, so who knows--could they take a bigger role in later books?  Perhaps, but why not introduce them at that time instead of having them walk in and out of scenes for no apparent reason?

I understand red herrings, and I think I "get" the reason to have characters interact enough to get a sense of the good guys versus the bad guys, but some scenes seemed unnecessary for the book--I don't want to post spoilers, but some of Dorie's "dates" felt like filler to me--like when we would write a lot of description (in big, loopy handwriting) in school to pad our word count or page count.

Don't get me wrong--this is not a bad book.  The main characters are somewhat interesting, although they each seem to suffer from a neurosis of one kind or another.  It seems all have something troubling in their past or something they wish to hide.  I was caught up enough in the mystery that I wanted to finish it to see "whodunit".  I may read the second Dorie Lennox, Sweet and Lowdown,  to see if the series improves, but I don't have the overwhelming desire to jump straight from one to the other like I do with other series.  And I'm quite glad it was a Kindle read because I certainly would not want it on my keeper shelf.

I did actually learn a lot from reading this book.  I learned my novel-in-progress has too many extraneous characters who take up space but don't help advance the plot...and that inserting either factual history or back story needs to be done very carefully to prevent the "big, loopy handwriting" syndrome.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big?

Okay...I've been an abject failure at the 100 Books Reading Challenge for two years in a row.  But I have read chunksters both years--actually, many of my favorite authors write books big enough to hurt you if you drop them on a bare toe (the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, anyone?)

So, in an effort to "FOCUS" my reading this year, I'm not signing up for multiple challenges.  Here's my only reading challenge for 2012:  The Chunkster Reading Challenge.  I'm going for the "Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big?" level, because I have several huge non-fiction tomes to read this year regarding the Civil War (as well as Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, The Scottish Prisoner by the aforementioned Ms. Gabaldon, and Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis, and several volumes of the Wheel of Time series started by the late Robert Jordan and being completed by Brandon Sanderson).

I'll keep everyone posted on my progress and my 2012 Reading page will always denote which books count for this challenge.  If you love to read "big" books, come on over and join us! One note:  E-reads and audiobooks are not allowed unless a disability requires the use of adaptive devices (the rules are posted over at Chunkster, along with a great list of "big" books).

Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? - this option is for the reader who can't resist bigger and bigger books and wants to commit to SIX Chunksters from the following categories: 2 books which are between 450 - 550 pages in length2 books which are 551 - 750 pages in length2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length (for ideas, please refer to the book suggestions page for some books which fit into these categories).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dr. Martin Luther King--What Would He Think of Politics Today?

(Warning--I'm getting political here, so if you want to skip this post, feel free.)

I love history, so I watch politics closely.  I'm a native Texan in my fifties, so I remember the Civil Rights movement, although I was too young to join in and my parents, staunch supporters of Governor George Wallace, would have murdered me if they had known I did not agree with their white supremacy (it was bad enough when I insisted George McGovern would be a better President than the aforementioned Governor Wallace).

As a student of the Civil War (1862 is the time frame for my novel-in-progress), watching South Carolina and other states try to revise voter rights and listening to Governor Rick Perry and others advocate states' rights makes me sometimes wonder if I have not traveled back in time to either the 1950s or worse yet, the 1850s. 

Maya Angelou, the noted poet, playwright, and civil rights activist, once said, "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again." 

Karl Marx, the German philosopher, was once quoted regarding history:  "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." 

George Bernard Shaw, winner of the 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature, had this sage comment on history:  "If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience."

Something tells me we are walking a tightrope between "doing what is right and doing what is easy" (that's Albus Dumbledore talking to Harry Potter after Voldemort's return).

There's no problem in my mind with states' rights, as long as the state does not marginalize its citizens on the basis of race, age, sexual orientation or religion (I am talking legal citizens here, whether born in the USA or naturalized--I'll save my thoughts on immigration for a future post).  HOWEVER--If the premise for removing government from the federal level and returning it to the states is a ploy to revoke our individual rights as human beings, I fear a regression in our country back to the days of "separate but 'equal'"(?), "Irish (or whoever) need not apply", back-alley abortions, health care only for the rich--okay, I need to stop now--if you have read this far, you see my point (even if you don't agree).

So, on the legal holiday celebrating the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I suggest we all take a long hard look at where we as a nation have come from and which direction we wish to move towards.  For me, personally, I choose to move forward, not backwards.

(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., in 1963. Credit: National Archives and Records Administration)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Honored By One of My Mentors

Liebster, in German,means "darling" or "beloved" but I gather that in the blogging world, it is an award given from one small blogger to another in an effort to spread friendship, knowledge, and readership.  I couldn't find the exact start of the tradition, but receiving this award is an honor.  It evidently is designed to be passed to bloggers with less than 200 followers and since I currently have less than 20, I feel even more Blessed to have been chosen.

My crafting mentor over at GottHeartArt for some unknown reason decided today to honor my blog.  Beverly, I appreciate the thought very much.  Watching you develop your blog and enter challenges and become a member of various design teams has been a true inspiration to me.

By accepting this award, I am to link back to Beverly's blog and thank her for choosing me. Now, I need to choose five other bloggers I follow who each have under 200 followers and provide them with their own Liebster.  I follow about fifty blogs on different subjects (although I tend to lurk on virtually all of them), and some bloggers I follow choose not to accept or pass on these types of awards.  I've tried to choose bloggers who have not published that restriction on their blog, but if any of my awardees choose not to pass this on, please know I have chosen you for your inspiration and there are no strings attached.
  1. Sue at random.on purpose.  Inspiring crafting and more inspiring thought process.  She posts on many different topics and is truly a Renaissance soul.
  2. C. W. Gortner at Historical Boys: Historical Fiction for Men and Women.   This is a great blog for readers of historical fiction--lots of guest posts from authors of the genre.
  3. Kim at Jenkins Journal.  This is a super Stampin' Up! blog, and Kim barely makes it under the 200 followers wire (she's at 198 right now, LOL).
  4. Neet, Von and Zoe at Just for Fun.  A UK-based artsy challenge blog with tons of inspiration (all three ladies also have individual blogs that are cool to read too).
  5. Suzanne at The British are Coming, Y'all!  Not only does Suzanne write fantastic historical mysteries set during the American Revolution, but she also hosts other writers who discuss relevant history.
These five blogs are only some of my favorites and are listed in no particular order.  I'd love to honor more bloggers--writers, crafters,  historians, cooks, readers--check out the blogs listed on my sidebars if you want to see the many paths my mind travels (that is, if you enjoy eclectic LOL)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Making of A Royal Romance by Katie Nicholl - finished 1/10/2012. PB, NF. 4 stars

This is the updated edition of William and Harry: Behind the Palace Walls, revised to include the courtship of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, but still released before the wedding plans were even finalized.  It was a quick read; the author has followed the two Princes for many years and presented a pretty straightforward biography of both young men.

I'm an unabashed Royal watcher and was in the mood for something akin to comfort food.  For me, biographies often fit that bill better than mysteries because with a mystery, I'm having to think to follow the plot, whereas with a biography, I can simply sit back and learn.  This volume fit that need fabulously.

Silver Lies by Ann Parker - finished 1/7/2012. EB, HM. 4.5 stars

#1 in series--SilverRush Mysteries
It's 1879 and Colorado, especially Leadville, is booming with miners and the necessary commerce surrounding a silver rush.  Inez Stannert and her partner Abe Jackson are still running the Silver Queen saloon despite her husband having deserted both his marriage and the business.

As the town's businessmen try to civilize the region enough to bring in the railroad (and also consolidate their own power), the seedier side of human nature flourishes where it is least expected. Ann Parker writes very well developed characters.  Their pasts are parceled out only as necessary and the female characters (especially Inez) may be strong-willed and independent, but don't come across as 21st century women in petticoats.  I look forward to revisiting Leadville's residents because their actions are indeed true to the time frame.

Likewise, the portrayal of Leadville and the silver rush was well researched and Ms. Parker manages to educate without taking the reader out of the story.  I appreciate the sources she lists at the end so that I can read more about Leadville.

New Orleans Ghosts by Victor C. Klein - finished 1/6/2012. PB, NF. 4 stars

A slim volume but lots of info on the ghostly happenings in the New Orleans area; good bibliography and written with enough skepticism on the paranormal to present a balanced viewpoint.  Got this thru Paperback Swap and I believe there are updated editions available if you search.  I'm using it for background color for my novel (and will credit it accordingly).

2012 Reading Page--Revisiting The Idea

Talk about getting ungainly and out-of-control quite quickly--I've only read three books this year and the posting of those reviews onto a separate blog page has already become unwieldy and unattractive.

Somehow, I was hoping that each separate "page" on this blog could have individual posts just like the home page.  After studying the (sometimes honestly confusing) Blogger Help pages, it seems that each blog page is designed for static information.  Therefore, adding book reviews as each book is read rather defeats the purpose because if I don't want to scroll downward constantly, how could I expect my visitors/followers to do something I'm unwilling to do?  LOL

So let's revisit the idea.  Using my word of the year--FOCUS--I will re-focus that page into a simple listing of the books I read this year.  Before it gets any crazier on that page, I will move the actual reviews onto my home page as separate posts (which will also allow for each to get labelled appropriately--another way to FOCUS information).  I can also add cover photos at times with direct links (and no, this blog is still not monetized--whenever possible, the links will go directly to the author's website and you can choose purchase options from there).

I hope this makes more sense for you dear readers, because it certainly will be easier and more sensible for me.  As always, feedback is welcome.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Year and New Reading Goals

Since my reading the past few years has not met the massive challenges I have joined for 100+ books, I've decided to not publicly humiliate myself by setting my 2012 reading goals that high again. 

I read a lot--especially while researching the Civil War for my novel-in-progress.  I also read a lot on the art/craft of writing.  Much of this reading is piecemeal--magazine articles or certain chapters from various texts.  As an example--I currently have seven partially read Civil War books and five writing guides all in various levels of completion and I work back/forth and between them as I need the particular chunk of information.  So, these are not yet added to my "Books I've Read" pile on Paperback Swap because they aren't yet finished...yeah, I know, I'm an obsessive-compulsive nerdy geek LOL (and let's not talk about the software manuals I am currently wading thru since upgrading to Office 2010 and Windows 7).

So, I'm doing something new with my TBR mountain and reading list/book reviews this year.  Let's see how this works (and I'd love feedback either now or later on as the year progresses).  I'm adding a new page to my blog for my 2012 Reading.  As I start a book, I'll add it to the list.  As I finish it, I'll add a review (or at least a star rating).  If I post a review on Goodreads, Paperback Swap, Amazon, or anywhere else--and if that review is not a copy/paste of what I post here--then I'll add a link to the review.

Although I think the definitions I use are pretty standard among readers/writers, here's a quick glossary of my (personal favorite) acronyms:
  • DNF - Did Not Finish: this seldom happens for me and I always give a book 100+ pages before giving up on it, but if I rate something DNF, I'd rather have surgery without anesthetic than finish this book--YMMV so I will always give specific reasons why I could not read to the end
  • YMMV - Your Mileage May Vary: most people's opinions and tastes are quite different from mine, so please remember that I am only expressing my opinion and I'd love civilized discourse if you have a different experience with an author/title/genre
  • CTT - Crime Thru Time: not only is this a great website devoted to historical mystery as a genre, but there is a very active Yahoo Group associated with the site.  Members are both readers and writers and my membership there is one reason I have a TBR mountain rather than a TBR pile LOL.  If you love historical mystery, come join us!
  • TBR - To Be Read: these are books I currently own, either as an e-book (and I'm trying hard to purchase more of these, especially for pleasure reading) or as a physical tome.  My master lists of these are on Paperback Swap and my Kindle account and I try to keep the lists current to keep from buying duplicates unawares (some books I have in both formats for a reason, and some I also have on Audible so I can listen while doing other things).
  • HM - Historical Mystery; HF - Historical Fiction: I read a lot of both, but since some readers enjoy one but not the other, I will always try to note which genre a title fits into best (IMHO)
  • IMHO - In My Humble Opinion: an alternate for YMMV
Since this post has become a novella in itself, I'll post my system for assigning stars soon.  And once I learn how, I'll try to link this post to my 2012 Reading page as a reference (guess I'm pulling out the "Google Blogger for Dummies" guide again LOL).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Occasions Mini Catalog is Now Available!

Find the Mini as a PDF here
I placed a preview order on Sunday and am anxiously awaiting a few of the goodies from the Occasions Mini catalog, especially the You're My Type stamp set and the Labels Collection Framelits Dies.  I have some new notebooks just waiting for that typewriter to be stamped on the front LOL.  The Framelits will really have me giving my Big Shot a workout, and you can look forward to seeing many of these products in the next few months (if I intend to send Valentines to my office mates, I need to get started on the design...I'm considering using the Candy Conversations stamp as a starter; what do you think?)

And although the Clearance Blitz is over, there are still some great deals to be had on the Clearance Rack including a lot of the retired whale-style punches (while supplies last).  My online Stampin' Up! store is available here for shopping 24/7.

Readers and Book Lovers Unite!

Just saw this on my January Goodreads newsletter:  World Book Night 2012

On April 23, 2012, readers in the US can hand out free books to encourage others to read!  Thanks to the generosity of publishers, authors, bookstores, libraries and others, thirty different titles of various genres and reading levels will be provided to volunteers free of charge to distribute.

I know my metropolitan area has homeless shelters, orphanages, nursing homes, bus and train stations, and many other places where people may get lots of attention during holidays but not so much at any other time of year.  Stopping by after work for a few minutes on a Monday night to hand out a few books to people who might need the escapism that reading offers seems like a slam dunk way to pay it forward for those of us who love the written word.

Some of the titles are:
  • young adult fiction (The Hunger Games--soon to be a major motion picture)
  • non-fiction (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
  • memoir (Just Kids--winner of the 2011 National Book Award)
  • mystery (Q is for Quarry)
  • science fiction (Ender's Game--won both the Hugo and Nebula)
I'm grateful I was encouraged to read--it has enriched my life for over fifty years.  Who taught you your love of books?  I challenge you to join in World Book Night 2012 to honor that person or persons in your life who helped you become the reader you are...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Word of the Year = FOCUS

Main Entry: focus  
Function: intransitive verb
: to concentrate attention or effort -- "she was already focusing on her next role"
"focus." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged
Merriam-Webster, 2002. 
http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (1 Jan. 2012)

The last 56 years have taught me that I am not a person who needs to make a lot of New Year's resolutions (see yesterday's post to understand some of the reasons why).  I do need to set yearly goals or guidelines so that I'm not floundering around willy-nilly for the next 365 days.  When I recently read somewhere of the idea that a single word could help me concentrate my efforts, I decided my word for 2012 would be "FOCUS".

In 2012, I want to focus on:
  • My Blessings more and my disappointments less
  • Creating items, not collecting supplies--even though the new Stampin' Up! Occasions Mini that starts January 4th is the best Mini ever, and 2012 Sale-A-Bration begins on January 24th, LOL
  • Shrinking my TBR mountain, not increasing it--and as I complete a book, I want to post reviews in appropriate places
  • Writing more and researching less--the first TGAN draft needs to be completed by July
  • Blogging more consistently--this blog will continue its multiple purposes (crafting, writing, and my life in general)
  • Networking more with other writers
  • Eating healthy foods in smaller portions
  • Increasing my retirement savings as I decrease my debt
And now a caveat for my readers:  2012 is an election year in the United States, and my friends know I'm a political junkie.  So far, I have kept politics off this blog primarily because I feel the election cycle has become way too drawn out.  Although I will try to maintain a balance here, part of learning the art of focus means also that I must be even more true to my inner self than I have been in the past.  Hopefully, any discussion occurring here as a result of a post will be respectful and calm.  I do reserve the right to edit or delete comments containing any form of hate speech or excessive expletives.  I don't expect all my readers to agree--I do expect them to be respectful of others' opinions.

I may or may not post specific goals as the year progresses, but I will keep track of my need to focus on the subjects listed above.  Do you have a focus for 2012?