Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Is Coming!

As you can see by my new blog background, I'm quite excited for Christmas this year. Now that Thanksgiving is over, I can officially start decorating, listening to Christmas music, and start anticipating my favorite holiday!

Our tree last year
Since we're in a new house this year, I am uber excited to decorate it. We have a cute little brick Cape Cod with a small yard. I plan to put up lights and decorations galore! I admit, I will miss my fireplace that we had in our apartment. Nowhere to hang our stockings! But I'll figure something out.

Of course, our kitty, Slick, will probably make things interesting, but hopefully he'll learn to leave everything alone - especially the tree!

I also can't wait to pick out some yummy Christmas cookie recipes and make up some cookie plates for our neighbors. We've never lived in a close-knit neighborhood before, so I'm quite excited to hand them out. My daughter and I are ready to get baking!

We're staying home this Christmas. Usually, we head to western Nebraska, but my daughter requested we stay put this year. I don't blame her. The holiday is such a whirlwind of travel, going to different places, hauling our luggage around, and being just plain exhausted by the end of the trip that once in awhile, it's ok to stay home. I will miss our traditional Christmas Eve at my grandmother's house and the other time spent with family, but we plan to have a nice, quiet Christmas.

Are you looking forward to Christmas this year?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Update

What a wonderful Thanksgiving I've had this year. Even though I don't get home very often, the time I do spend with my family is incredibly special.

Thursday, my daughter, my brother, and I headed to my mom's house for a wonderful feast. She fixed an amazing meal and we all had quite the food coma. A walk along the river and two games of Clue later, we declared the day to be a success.

Yesterday, I ended up in Denver with my grandmother and my father and his girlfriend. We went to a traditional Italian restaurant, Bella Bistro, then went to see The 1940s Radio Hour play at the Arvada Center in Arvada, Colorado. What a show! It was so neat to have my grandmother sitting beside me, too, since it's hard for her to travel. But she enjoyed it so much.

Tonight, we're making our family's homemade Italian salami. This is a recipe from my great-grandparents and every few years, we get together and make it. It takes quite the crew to grind all the meat and put it in casings, etc., so we're also fixing bagna cauda (pronounced "bunya cow-da") to feed everyone. This is a traditional Italian dish and comes from northern Italy near Turin where our family is from. It literally means "hot bath" and consists of butter, garlic, and anchovies heated up in a skillet. You then dip raw vegetables, bread, meat, and anything else your heart desires (though I wouldn't dip chocolate in it!). With this, you either love it or you hate it! But if you do go to northern Italy, you'll find this hot dip in many restaurants.

My Grandpa Shorty with his nephew, 1940s
I love being part of a family that still celebrates its ethnic heritage, and I hope this next generation can keep it going. It is truly something special.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My New Buddy

If you've been reading my blog for awhile now, you'll know that I once had an incredible dog named Charlie Brown. I tragically lost him a few years ago and just thinking about him still brings tears to my eyes.

I am a Facebook fan of the HUA, Hearts United for Animals, a "national no-kill shelter, sanctuary, and animal welfare organization dedicated to the relief of suffering." They are located not far from me in eastern Nebraska. Today, they posted a picture of Banderas, a handsome black dog that instantly reminded me of my beloved Charlie Brown. Banderas needed a "buddy" - i.e., a financial supporter who could make monthly donations to take care of him until he is adopted into his forever home.

Well, it took me about two seconds to click on the link and become Banderas's buddy. If I could, I would bring him home, but our landlady has a firm policy: NO DOGS.

So I'll do my small part for Banderas, who has not had the happiest life. From his bio on the website:

This gorgeous, gigantic lug of fluff is the just about the sweetest thing in the world. Banderas was found abandoned on a farm, tied up with a heavy, rusted choke chain. When his rescuers got to him, the chain had become twisted and Banderas was slowly dying from strangulation. We can not fathom what agony he would have endured, what fear he was battling. Banderas is eternally grateful for the help given to him. He is a kind, gentle giant who asks for nothing. Well, OK, he's a bit of a sucker for belly rubs and does every now and then request some good scratching. We are more than happy to oblige. We think Banderas deserves a life time of them.

This tells me that Banderas is a fighter, just like my Charlie Brown was.

My Charlie Brown
This is for you, Charlie Brown! I will keep you forever in my heart. 

Take a minute, if you're so inclined, to visit the HUA. They are a truly remarkable organization. They even do long-distance adoptions!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Character Collages

I've recently been delving into the world of mixed media art. I've always loved to collage, so this is the perfect medium for me. I can combine lots of different objects to create a truly unique form of art.
A sample of a collage - I love this piece!
Over the weekend, I made a few items for pure enjoyment, but I also incorporated my next novel into my artistic endeavors by making character collages. This has been a fascinating way to get to know my characters.

What is a character collage? Simple. It's an art piece that represents, describes, or otherwise shows who and what your fictional character is all about.

For me, it's important to find a picture that most closely fits what my character looks like in my mind. Since my novels are set during the 1940s, browsing film stars from that era is a favorite way for me to find a look-alike for my characters. Once that is done, I print out a few photos, then start looking through magazines, newspapers, and using other materials to find things - whether they be objects, beliefs, sayings, etc. - that describe my character.

As I put together my collage, I discover lots of different aspects to my character I never knew before. These are often sparked by a picture or a phrase that jumps out at me as representative of my character.

I love the artistic challenge of putting together my collage, of creating my own vision of who my character is. It's also a great way for me to tap into a different type of creativity apart from my writing.

So yes. My writing office is now strewn with bits of paper, magazines, paint, stickers, assorted odds and ends, glue, beads, and just about anything else you can think of. My cat is having a field day.

But I'm enjoying it, and have now found a new tool to enhance my writing process.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Says It All

When I saw this picture, I immediately posted it on Facebook. Our new cat, Slick, who is the most ornery, curious, downright infuriating cat I've ever known, will be introduced to the wonder of Christmas trees in a few weeks. His obsession with anything that moves, anything that's shiny, and anything he can play with (are you sensing a pattern here?) is going to be put to the test when we get out the Christmas tree.

I have a feeling we are in for a major battle. And this is why:
Does he really look like he cares what his humans do in trying to keep him from mischief?


Christmas is going to be interesting at our place this year...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

These are pictures of my husband, who served in the army during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. As you can tell, he has quite the sense of humor - and still does.
Today is Veterans Day. It's a day to remember those who served, and to thank them for that service. So to my husband, "thank you" and to all the other veterans, past, present, and future, thank you for your service. You will never be forgotten!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What's Your Escape?

Reality can be so inconvenient.

 But let's face it. We all have to live in reality in order to, well, live. But there are plenty of times I want and need to mentally escape from reality for a few minutes or a few hours. 

So what's my favorite way to escape?
I have a few:
  • Watch a classic movie from the 1940s or 1950s - State Fair and Laura are two of my favorites for leaving the modern world and all its problems behind.
  • Read a wonderful novel that completely sucks me into its world.
  • Listen to old-time radio shows. This is so much fun, and is often a lot better than anything on t.v.
  • Peruse through my magazine collection of the 1940s. There is nothing like immersing yourself in a different time period.

What about you? How do you escape from reality?

Monday, November 07, 2011

If You Have Your Health...

The old adage is true: if you have your health, you have everything.

Yesterday I took a drink of soda and nearly choked on it for some unknown reason, leading to a full-blown coughing fit. I'm fine, but incongruously, my chest muscles started hurting and it made my normally bearable chronic tension-headache pain even worse.

Suffice to say, I was in a lot of pain yesterday afternoon and had to abandon working on my next novel. I took a nap instead.

My husband shook his head at me last night after I woke up and he said, "All it took was one thing to throw your day completely off."


And that's just plain frustrating. I try to eat right and my goal to exercise three times a week at Curves remains a solid, do-able one that I reach most of the time. So it's not like I'm sitting on my bum, eating junk food and doing nothing but being a slug. I am trying to get healthy. I've even started going to a massage therapist to see he if he can help with the tension headaches. As you know, I've been to an acupuncturist for my "female" problems and I can't even begin to tell you how many doctors I've been to over the last ten years.
Maybe I could train my cat to type for me when I have an "unwell" day...

But it all boils down to this: I'm not a healthy person. Hardly one day goes by that I feel good - whether it's a bad headache, a sick tummy, aching muscles, menstrual problems, fatigue, etc. My poor daughter doesn't understand and has asked me why I am always sick. It's hard to tell her why because even I don't know why.

Accepting that I am not a healthy person is hard. My husband said yesterday that I really was a "frail" person and I had to agree with him. I am frail physically in a lot of ways. It doesn't take much to make me feel miserable and detour me from my intended goals for the day, whether that means reading a book or doing housework or spending time with my daughter or whatever. It plain stinks.

However, despite having a fragile body, I like to think my mind isn't fragile. In fact, after what I've been through in my life, I'd say I'm a strong person, but only because God made me strong by putting me through situations where I needed Him and His strength.

I'm becoming more and more aware that each day is unique. Some days I may feel great while others I may feel lousy. The key is not to chastise myself for the days I feel awful. Again, it goes back to self-love. Why should I get angry at myself if my stomach starts to hurt? Or if my headache becomes so unbearable I need to take a pain pill and go to sleep? That only exacerbates it all.

Acceptance is a beautiful thing, but it is incredibly hard to achieve sometimes, especially when there are so many things I want to do.

As a writer, probably one of the best things I can do is write about my experiences. I firmly believe that writers were meant to share their words with the world and in so doing, help others. That being said, I hope you don't mind if some of my blog posts center on how I deal with living with chronic illness and pain. Because really, I am a writer, and unfortunately, chronic illness/pain is part of my life.

And that means the other adage is true, too: Live life one day at a time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Blog Hopping

Sometimes, we can get stagnant in our blog following. We read the same blogs and don't bother to venture into new territory. While we continue to support our loyal blog readers (and this is a good thing!), we aren't opening ourselves up to new perspectives, i.e. new blogs!

So! In the spirit of giving that November brings, share a blog or two or four that you really enjoy that we might not have heard of before, and we can all reap the rewards!

Here's a few of mine:

Non-Fiction Chronicles of a Fiction-Filled Life - Anna Scott Graham is a writing machine! She's always got a wonderful post on the writing process or life in general.

Grandma's Letters from Africa - Along with her husband, Linda went to Africa as a missionary several years ago and this blog documents her journey. It is so eye-opening to see how the western culture differs from the African culture.

The Artist's Road - Patrick gave up his position as a CEO of a non-profit company to dedicate his life to the creative process. He's now in an MFA program and has wonderful posts on creativity and writing.

Your turn!

New Digs

I've got a new home on the web - stop by if you get a chance! www.melissamarsh.net