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Monday, November 29, 2010

Hunting the Mighty Chahooahooah

I yammered a bit about dreams last week. Do you ever notice the stuff that triggers your daydreams? Writers - all professional artists, really - are people who've figured out how to make a living from their dreams, which means they need a steady supply. Daydreaming can't be a passive process for them. When you're always looking for the next idea, you start to notice the world differently. Any odd, little thing could be the spark that sets your imagination abuzz: a TV show about graverobbers in 19th century Edinburgh, the way the tools are arranged on your grandpa's work bench, even a bizarre word you've never heard before. Fantasy author John D. Brown calls this zing.

I learned a new word this week: CHAHOOAHOOAH.

I know, right? Zing! Now that's a word. Say it out loud with me: cha-HOO-ah-HOO-ah. Imagine all the various possible meanings for such a word. Chahooahooah could be an undiscovered island, hidden off the coast of Hawaii by some vortex of time and space. Its inhabitants would be plane crash survivors who spend all their time writing the script for a TV show that no one understands. Or, chahooahooah could be the name of Taco Bell's newest dessert item. Or maybe Dwight Schrute's very own patented chicken breed. Then again, I like to think of the Mighty Chahooahooah as the chupacabra's kinder, fuzzier, black sheep cousin. Instead of sucking blood, it wanders the desert in search of its favorite food, the aloe vera plant. I could go on . . .

Now imagine my disappointment/profound embarrassment when I found out that chahooahooah is really just a super-groovy way to say chihuahua.







Ah, well. The point is that it got the creative gears turning. And now, I have a challenge for you: start noticing those things that inspire your dreams. Don't just notice, seek them out. Run and be free, my fellow Gnome Slayers. Go and hunt your own chahooahooahs. Zing happens. Follow your zing!





Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Digestion Day! a.k.a. The Day After Thanksgiving!

When I was a kid my mom had this tradition of killing us for Thanksgiving. With food, I mean. Tons of it. We always started the meal off with wicked-good clam chowder. And that usually filled me up good and tight. But then came the salads, which included cranberry jello and (brace yourself) avocado jello. I know. Seriously. But it was weirdly good, in a tasty green glop-ish kind of way.

Then you had your turkey, stuffing (with the chewy unrecognizable bits that I'm still sort of traumatized over to this day), mashed potatoes, gravy, and candied yams. All followed by pumpkin pie. I think. I can't remember pie, actually, but there probably was some.

Anyway, this one year in Maryland we were invited to some friends' house for Thanksgiving dinner. And I remember being SO excited. This had never happened before. And they weren't just inviting us; they were inviting lots of people, so there was bound to be a sugarboatload of food. New stuff. Things I'd never tried before. Things that weren't green and jiggly. Don't get me wrong, I did like my mom's T.G. Dinner. But New Stuff? How do you not get excited about that?

We went to the house and it was ca-rowded. I had to be pretty young because I just remember a lot of belt buckles and ladies 1970's-dress ties. I also remember barely being able to see over the top of all the food on the table. The place was elegant: dark colors on the walls and brocade table cloths fill my memory. I remember the adults milling around above, and me resting my chin on that sideboard of food passing out in anticipation of it.

Then it was time to eat. I slipped in and out of the adults like an Indy-500 qualifier PILING it on my plate; turkey, potatoes and gravy, about nineteen-hundred black olives, mustard pickles, carrots (I avoided yams which, at the time, I was sure had been invented by really old people with no teeth or taste buds), jello with sour cream on top, and rolls. Rolls and rolls and rolls. Then I found a chair and inhaled the whole lot. Heaven!

I lay there moaning for a bit, then started in again. And after all that, the desserts came out. Whoa! Every pie under the sun, including this really funky one that was sort of brown and had tons of little bits of things in it. Never seen that before. So I ate my fill of pumpkin and apple and something else that I can't remember. And I was pretty sure I was going to burst and it was almost time to go home, but I had to try the brown pie with lots of little bits in it. So I did.

And that, boys and girls, was my first ever taste of mincemeat.

Hmmm. Not sure about that one. It was good. Kind of. Maybe. Needed to take another bite to be sure. Mmm, I thought it was good. It was supposed to be. This was Thanksgiving At A Friend's House. Everything was good. So I kept eating. Eventually it would get good, right? Eventually. At the last crumb I still wasn't sure. But later on, my body made the decision for me.

We drove home and I was curled up in a ball in the back seat praying to die. I had been thoroughly turkeystuffinggravypie-ified, and was heading down the path of full-on bodily dysfunction. Really. Was. Going. To. Die.

Need I tell you that my Thanksgiving Dinner of Fabulousness returned on me that evening? Probably not. But it did. Very soon I was relieved of my incredibly rich and bountiful epicurean experience, in a way that I'm sure my pilgrim-forebears had not been.

Bleah. It was terrible. But *sigh*, what a relief.

So, my Thanksgiving message to you this year is this: Go gather with friends and family. Help cook. Sup on a bounteous offering of every good thing this earth has to offer--including today's leftovers. Enjoy the wonderful camaraderie and cheer of your blessings and of the season.

And this, above all:  Partake Not of the Mincemeat.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Turkey Day

The gnome slayers would like to take the time to thank every single person who has embraced this blog.

Your witty comments and support has meant the world while we took this scary leap of faith into the blogging world.

We are indeed touched and hope that you have a Happy and joyful Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How to rescue a stray cat

What an eventful pre-Thanksgiving weekend. I adore the snow but my body loathes it. I mean, seriously, how many times must I slip on ice?

The following pic is proof of a stupid weekend. Okay, so, ignore the paper pumpkin because its darling. My sister made it for lil ol' moi. The real culprit is the Fruit Loop necklace that I made with niece.

No joke, I left the sucker on the table and conked out for the night. Woke up from my menthol induced sleep and what do I see? My super-duper sized cat, BeBe munching on the Fruit Loops. And cats and Fruit Loops don't mix, if you catch my drift. Yuck.

Fast forward 12 hours and me and hunky handyman are in a dumpster of trash. All to save this lil Kittie who was meowing loudly. The poor lil stray had broken her leg.

I'm happy to report the stray cat is healing nicely. Me, well, I stink like garbage.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dreamweaving

Sara B. Larson got me thinking about dreams this week. Since I was little, I've lived very much inside my own head. A lot of my friends were visible only to me. I could list some of them, but that would just be embarrassing.

Now that I'm older, I'm still a shameless daydreamer. I think my mind is in the same place as the rest of me only about fifty percent of the time. All of my old imaginary friends have morphed into story characters. You may wonder, as my grandma did in all seriousness when I was telling her about the blog recently, if my two blog partners are imaginary as well. Not to worry. I have plenty of people living inside my head, but Janiel and Russo aren't among them.

Why do we spend so much time daydreaming? What makes it so important? The answer, I think, is in the most awesome opening line for a novel EVER:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality. Even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.*

How great is that? We need to dream. Dreaming is so essential to well-being that even birds and clicking, leaf-impersonating bugs do it. I mean, reality can be boring. And stressful. Overwhelming. Discouraging. Dangerous, even. But it's all good, because we can create our own reality. We are safe in our power to dream.

I'd like to know: what do y'all dream about, awake or otherwise?

*The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm Not The Boss Of You - Critical Reading/Critical Living



This past few months has been a season of enormously uncomfortable learning for me. Don't you love that? When you're such an obtuse person that you have to get bludgeoned with the Humility Stick over and over again before you get the point? 


Not to make this blog a confessional, but I learned something significant today from the venerable Shannon Hale (author of "The Princess Academy" and one who has enough apparent humility that she'd probably not want to be called "venerable." But her insight today qualifies her as "venerable" in my book.) It is something that applies to everyday life--and the things I am painstakingly learning--just as well as it applies to writing and reading.  Ms. Hale said the following on her blog:

"It's been interesting to hear over and over again what readers imagined the author failed to do. And I keep thinking, that's such a useless response. Unless you're getting a phd in literacy criticism and doing your thesis on that author, that's not helpful to you. Speculation about what the author was trying to do, or whether or not she was "tired" of writing, etc., is pointless. We don't know. Instead, it's so much more beneficial to focus on understanding our own internal reader, and therefore ourselves. Where did the story fail you? Where did it work for you? So, what does that say about you? What were you hoping for? What did you need from the story? If you're a writer, what does that tell you about what kind of a story you want to write? For me, this kind of responding is just about how I think about the book. Instead of thinking, "The author really dropped the ball on the ending," I try thinking, "What did I want out of the ending instead of what I got? Why did I want that?"


In other words, instead of looking with a critical eye at what another person has done, we can look with a learning eye at what we are feeling, why, and what that means about how we think and operate. What we hope for and desire. And this in turn can help us deal more peaceably with others, with our creations, and with our lives.


In the end, we can't change anyone but ourselves anyway. And what a wonderful way to learn how we operate and how to do things better, more kindly, more effectively, and in a way that is most true to ourselves and how we want to be.  


In Shakespeare's Hamelet, Polonius tells his son Laertes the following before the young man leaves for France:


"This above all, to thine own self be true;
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."


Scholars may debate, and Ms. Hale may or may not feel this quote relates to her statement, but to me, if we are true to ourselves by learning about ourselves, and have the integrity to act in accordance with that--making adjustments where needed instead of focusing a critical eye on others--then we, at least, will always be fair; in writing, in reading, in creating, and most important, in how we treat and regard others.



Monday, November 15, 2010

Of Dogs and Men

I have a weird relationship with Veteran's Day. It's not that I'm not appreciative. Believe me, I am. Say what you want about our current situation in the Middle East, we all need to tip our hats to the men and women who choose to walk into the thick of it every day. Both of my grandfathers served in WWII. I have a cousin serving in the Army right now (hoo-ah Austin! Or um, whatever you guys say to each other). But both of those are somewhat removed from me: WWII was over sixty years ago and Austin is off doing his own thing in another state.

My Veteran's Day weirdness comes from my dad, Leonard (Lon) Langer. He was a Green Beret in Vietnam. He came home with a Purple Heart, partial blindness and a limp due to exploding shrapnel. I don't know much beyond that because he never talked about it. Although I'm finally at an age where I'd like to ask, I can't, because he died of Lou Gehrig's Disease - an evil, vicious illness - in 2001. We weren't close. It's not that he was a bad person, but when you put two solitary, stubborn people in a room together, there's not a whole lot of communication going on.

So there is a bit of a disconnect in my brain when it comes to Veteran's Day. Sure, I'm proud. But it's not the kind of deep, heartfelt pride and gratitude I feel like I should have as the daughter of a veteran. I could never really relate to Lon, and so I can't relate to Veteran's Day on a personal level, either.

Then I found this:

Whoa. If I remember right, it was literally the week after my dad's funeral that the Divine Miss Q made her first appearance. And boy, was I ever in need of something to love right then. I would never equate what I went through with the suffering of those young vets. There's no comparison. But the healing power of animals is something I get. Listening to their stories, I could empathize a little. And in empathizing with them, I understood Lon Langer a little better today: a guy who must have dealt with the same crippling side effects as those young vets. A guy who wasn't perfect, but tried hard to do right by his kids. A guy who passed the writing gene (or mutation) on to me.

So here's to all our military people on this Veteran's Day: active and retired, serving abroad or at home. But most of all, here's to you, Dad.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Destructive Business Plan of Destruction. Compiled by Angus Darkspume, Fangxiety, and BadKarma, Esq. - Gnomes of Despair

Minutes from General Board Meeting of the Gnomes of Despair
Recorder: Willy Wussybottom, Gnomlet of General Uneasiness


  1. It has come to the attention of the Gnomes of Despair (hereinafter referred to as the Gns. of D.) that writers Maegan, Janiel, and Russo have slipped under the radar of said Gns. of D. and have managed to gather 52 followers to their "blog" of "writing". (Let it be noted that Gnome Darkspume disparaged any notion that what goes on on said "blog" could actually be confused with "writing.")
  2. The Gns. of D. suggest that the only reason the "Gnomeslayers," as they like to call themselves (let it be noted that Gnome BadKarma guffawed into his gnome-tea at this absurd self-stylization, spraying Gnome Fangxiety with the slimy stuff, necessitating Gnome Fangxiety's departure to shower and prevent any contamination to his person) . . where was I? Oh yes, the Gns. of D. suggest that the only reason the "Gnomeslayers" have managed to garner 52 followers is because they are cute, and not because of any actual talent.
  3. Gnome Darkspume protests the use of the word "cute." "Special Spirits" (hereinafter referred to as Spec. Spits.) is suggested as a replacement reference. Is voted on and accepted.
  4. Suggestions are accepted on how to stop the Spec. Spits. from garnering a larger fan base. The following Destructive Business Plan of Destruction is voted upon, a referendum passed, and the meeting adjourned in time for the Gnomes of Despair to conduct their weekly "Glee" viewing party:
  • Sabotage Gnomes blog with flashing clipart images of glittering paranormal creatures.
  • Hack into the URL and redirect visitors of the Gnomes blog to Parishilton.com.
  • Hack into Gnomes blog and delete all references to Viggo Mortenson.
  • Place subliminal messages of despair on blog in the form of sound files recorded at canine frequencies with messages such as: "Oh yeah? Well you STINK!" and "You're NOT CUTE!"
  • So let it be written, so let it be done.
Minutes brought to you by the Coalition of Despair Against Successful Writers And Purveyors of Creativity. Scribed by Willy Wussybottom. Copies available upon request.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dinner with Russo

A little known fact about moi- I can never resist a dare. So when Hunky Handyman triple-dog- dared-me to eat a mini octopus you better believe I tried. I used my fork to paw at the tentacles. I even cut the brain of the octopus in half to see the insides. (My grandfather was a Doctor so you better believe I have a dash of a scientist in me.)

Did I succeed? That would be a definite no. I bit off one chuck of the brains and nearly vomited.

So, instead, I gave the slimy wonder to my two cats, BeBe and Lux.


I loved this pic of the two-I dropped the camera mid-shot, so, they look like little ghosts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

If you like dead Scottish dudes . . .

And really, who doesn't? The only strike against them is that they are, in fact, dead, and therefore unable to regale us with their rugged brogues . . . I'm sorry, I get distracted whenever I think about rugged Scottish brogues. Anyway, there are three particular dead Scottish dudes I have in mind today.

I don't claim to be an expert on these guys. I've never read Robert Burns (although I know the tune, if not the words, to Auld Lang Syne), Sir Walter Scott (I own a nifty antique copy of Ivanhoe that I have yet to open), or Robert Louis Stevenson (does Muppet Treasure Island count?). But the city of Edinburgh has dedicated a whole museum to them. It's near Edinburgh Castle, just off the Royal Mile at the end of Lady Stair's Close. ("Close" is a fancy British-y word for "narrow passage that's ridiculously difficult to spot unless someone points it out." But trust me, it's there.)

I enjoyed wandering around the Writers' Museum because:
A) the warped windows produce eerie effects on the buildings outside
B) it's full of cool quotes and artifacts, like Sir Walter's childhood rocking horse
C) it features life-size mannequins of the authors and their friends
D) actually, the mannequins were a little creepy

So if you like dead Scottish dudes and you find yourself on the other side of the pond, drop in on the Writers' Museum. Now, what did I do with Ivanhoe . . .

Sunday, November 7, 2010

On Gratitude

Photo by Raja Ramchandra

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice.  ~Meister Eckhart


God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today.  Have you used one to say "thank you?"  ~William A. Ward


The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.  No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.  ~H.U. Westermayer


Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.  ~G.B. Stern


There is no such thing as gratitude unexpressed.  If it is unexpressed, it is plain, old-fashioned ingratitude.  ~Robert Brault, www.robertbrault.com


Gratitude is the memory of the heart.  ~Jean Baptiste Massieu, translated from French




Friday, November 5, 2010

Gratitude

November Challenge: Things We're Glad We Have

I could dedicate an entire blog--not just a post--to the things I'm thankful for.  It would list every person I know - whether I annoy the turquoise out of them or not - every experience I have had, and every thing I own as things I'm glad I have in my life. Good, Bad or Ugly, they've all taught me something. And whether or not they know it or are glad for it, I do and I am.


That said, here are some things I am especially grateful for (in no particular order):


1. Toilet paper. Seriously. I don't do leaves. And the way I roll, I'd probably always be the one who found the poison ivy.


2. Indoor plumbing. See above. Also, thank you for showers and warm water and no big tin tubs that I have to bathe in after everyone else is done so I can't tell if any of the dirt actually washed off and I have a permanent tan.


3. My partner, friend, and husband for life (and then some). Dude has put up with a lot. So have I. We're finding the gold underneath it all now. And we're too tired to switch it up anyway.  ;)


4. Kidlets who not only are very cool people who I would want for friends, but are endlessly hilarious and wise. Also, if I didn't have them who would clean my bathrooms?


5. Friends - young and old; old and new. Heavens people. If you knew how much I've learned from all of you, you'd dip yourselves in bronze and sell yourselves in an art gallery. Because you're that gorgeous. And I'm that famous.


6. Paper. How inviting is paper? It sits there just waiting for you to write something on it - a letter, a note, a song, a recipe, an equation, a goofy drawing, a touching drawing, an anonymous word of encouragement, a bit of admiration, a book. Oh yeahhhhh. A book. A story. A new world. I love paper.


7. Belief in something bigger than myself. Thank heavens someone knows what is going on. Now if WE could all just figure it out  . . .


8. Recipes. And all the Chefs who went before. Love that amazing chemical-reaction-magic of foods going from chunky, gloppy, slippery, and raw to plumped, fluffy, tender, and infused. Also, what in the world is better than the smell of homemade bread? Hmmm? That's right. Nothing.


9. The guys who bring me to the music, and bring the music to me. You know who you are. I'd be dead inside without you.


10. Hmm. I cannot possibly limit it to ten. But, rather than Nyquil-ize you, let me just say that I'm also grateful for: my fellow gnome-slayers (more than they know), my writing friends (who, after the Smash-Thing last month may be sick of me), living everywhere I've lived (loved it. want more. please send airline tickets.), music, new people, happy people, art, teenagers, children, funny people, Milka Alpenmilch Chocolate bars. From Germany. Not the Americanized stuff. Toast. Clouds.


And YOU.


The End.



Thursday, November 4, 2010

A little treat for you

Sara B. Larson, writer extraordinaire, is having a major giveaway on her blog. All to celebrate her achievement of 200 followers. (The gnome slayers say: Congrats!)

You can pick the prize: book, gift card to Barnes and Noble or Amazon and chocolate or a 10 page critique of your manuscript.

If you haven't checked out her blog, do so now. http://http://sarablarson.blogspot.com

Sara has style, class and has also acquired a writing agent. The girl has mad-skill!

Check out her blog.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Gratitude

November Challenge: Things we are glad that we have

Care for a lil dinner in a pumpkin? This pic below is my Halloween creation. Yummy.

For some odd reason, when the Holiday season comes around I morph into a 1940's house wife. And no, you may not see a pic of me in my frilly apron. I have my dignity.

On to my list of what I am grateful for-

*Even though I sliced off a huge chuck of my skin with a paring knife, I am grateful that I did not reach an artery.

*I am lucky that my Piece Of Crap car still runs, even though hunky handyman nearly ran over my toe when doing an oil change.

*Being sick is a blessing because hey, at least I can crack people up with my Fran Drescher sounding voice.

*Sure, God gave me some wacked-out hair but at least I don't have lice. Trust me, been there, done that twice.

Last but not least, I may not be where I imagined when I was twelve but I am alive and mostly-happy. And that's what matters most.








Monday, November 1, 2010

Gratitude

November Challenge: The Stuff We're Glad to Have

With this being the traditional month for counting blessings and all, the Gnome Slayers decided to do some Deep Thinking (maybe not too deep) and come up with a list of things we're grateful for. So here's mine, in no particular order:

1. Emma, my 2002 Toyota Echo, who got me through college and all the way across the country and back. She's a great little car, even if she smells like a barn and required a new battery and spark plugs this past week. Sigh.


Being a good sport in Vermont after the Great Valentine's Day Blizzard of '07. Isn't she cute?

2. A great job where I get to play with horses every single day and never have to bother with make-up. It also funds said battery and spark plugs, along with all of my other expensive habits: writing classes, conferences, travel to far and exotic places, the upkeep of various and sundry pets, and books, books, books.

3. A family who puts up with me, mostly because they have to.

4. Good friends: my Writing Peeps and my Welsh Peeps and my Animal Peeps, who all share my same kind of crazy. Seriously, it could be so lonely being a nerd.

5. Capable mentors, including a Literary Godlike Instructor who's not afraid to kick my butt. Repeatedly. For years. (I know, I will finish the novel. Someday. I promise.) And in whose class I met my fellow Gnome Slayers and Story Smashers.

6. My own little personal Gnome, Fangxiety, who makes every difficult or scary thing I do that much more meaningful because I always have to beat him with a large kitchen spoon first (that's right, I'm on to you, buddy).

7. McVities Dark Chocolate Digestives, gelatto in general, and red Swedish Fish in particular.

8. A menagerie of animals who provide therapy and stress relief by requiring constant care and feeding.

9. All the people out there who actually take time to read the stuff I write. (No really, I'm astounded that anyone is interested in my quirky little musings.)

10. Last but not least, I'm just grateful to be here. Life can change at any time, but I don't have much to complain about at the moment.