26 December 2011

Dystopia Utopia

Yeah, I know it's the holiday season and all that, but this is my week for Reading Monday and I've been wanting to do a dystopian list so here it is!

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Had to start with this one, of course. If you haven't heard of it, you've probably been in a media-proof hideout for the past 4 years or so. The main premise is that in a future USA, the country has collapsed and been rebuilt into a Capitol surrounded by twelve districts, each of which must provide two "tributes" each year to take part in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death that's sort of like Survivor meets Lord of the Flies. Katniss takes her younger sister's place in the Games in order to protect her... and that's when everything starts going pear-shaped.

Declaration - Gemma Malley

What if scientists actually figured out a way to live forever? Massive overpopulation, right? Well, not if people are forbidden to have children... This chilling British trilogy takes off from this starting point and focuses on Surplus Anna - a girl (just one of many) living in a Surplus home and told that because she was born illegally, she has no rights as a person and the best she can hope for is a post as a servant to a rich Legal. Enter Peter, who tells her, among other things, that she IS in fact legal, that her parents DO want her back, and oh yeah, he's descended from the man who discovered the immortality formula...

Birthmarked - Caragh O'Brien

16-year-old Gaia Stone trains with her mother to become a midwife, delivering the children of their small settlement outside the walls of the wealthy Enclave near the edge of what used to be Lake Superior (now called "Unlake" - it has clearly dried up). Every month, the first three babies delivered are "advanced" into the Enclave, to be adopted and raised by families within... but a lack of record-keeping has resulted in unintentional incest and a generation of children born with hereditary defects like hemophilia. There are currently two books available in this planned trilogy (Prized being the second one) - I'm very much looking forward to discovering where the author takes the story in the final volume.

Chemical Garden Trilogy - Lauren Destefano

In this trilogy-opener, which starts very much in media res and then fills in the details, faulty genetic experimentation has resulted in an entire generation of children in which all the men die at 25 and the women at 20. Polygamous marriages are common among rich families, scientists are desperately trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, and Rhine Ellery is kidnapped from her home in Manhattan and transported to Florida to be forcibly married off to a wealthy 21-year-old. Technology is at a high level, and as anyone watching the news lately could predict, the rich have only gotten richer, but the luxurious house and personal servants can't entirely disguise the fact that it's a prison for Rhine and her two sister wives. Second installment (Fever) is due in February - can't wait!

1984 - George Orwell

The classic, of course. I first read 1984 IN 1984... the week before I started kindergarten. Yeah. My grandfather thought it'd be funny if my teacher asked me what the last book I read by myself was and that was my answer. He had a strange sense of humour. Anyway, many if not most of the dystopic tropes find their origins here - totalitarian government, Big Brother (no, not the TV show...), and the intriguing use of language as a control tool (I remember being hopelessly confused by "doubleplusgood" as a munchkin - luckily it all made much more sense when I came back to it at the age of 20). Winston Smith is just one cog in the massive machine... but he's a cog we come to care about. It's one of those "required reading" books that really needs to stay on that list - because while 1984 has come and gone, the situations described in Orwell's future are, to a large extent, happening now...

Matched - Ally Condie

Arranged marriages, mysterious pills, lives which all end at 80... This one doesn't seem all that bad at first, but the further into this world Condie takes us, the more off-kilter it becomes. Cassia thinks life is pretty much perfect, in this world where everything is controlled and streamlined, from job selection to the 100 items in many categories which were deemed all that anyone would need. 100 poems, 100 songs... no more than that. (That bit terrifies me, frankly.) When she is matched with her best friend, it's just one more piece falling right into place - until, upon reviewing the data she was given, another boy's face flashes onto the screen... Also the first of a trilogy; Crossed is already out in hardcover.

Delirium - Lauren Oliver

If love were classified as a disease - and we're talking DSM-style here - would you want to be "cured" of it? Yeah, me neither. Most people in this odd future society DO want the cure, though - and it doesn't matter if they don't, because it's mandatory. 17-year-old Lena is counting the days until she turns 18 and is eligible to be cured herself - after all, her own mother committed suicide out of despair after the death of Lena's father. However, since it's a novel there must be a twist - and in this case, his name is Alex. Like Oliver's previous novel (Before I Fall - also highly recommended), the ending is not what you'd call happy, but it really couldn't end any other way. Fortunately for us, it seems this too is destined to be only the first third of the story.

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde

Ooookay, so up front let me just say that I adore Fforde. His off-the-wall style, oddball allusions, and utter disinclination to explain ANYTHING make me ever so happy - I've even met him twice, so all my copies of his books are signed and stamped and spiffy. This one is rather a departure from his usual BookWorld adventures, but it's a fantastic read. Eddie Russett is a young Red living in a strictly-controlled Colourtocracy which classifies (and stratifies) the entire population based on their ability to perceive colours. Most people can see only one, or at most two, of the primary colours, and some not even that much (they're the Greys). Everyone has a colour-based surname, there are some very strange societal rules (like the "no manufacturing of spoons" one), and no one is quite who they seem... Supposedly there will be two more here as well, though with Fforde also publishing books in two of his other series this year, I have a feeling it'll be a bit of a wait still for the others.

22 December 2011

Procrastibaking In Practise

There is no escaping it - Christmas is approaching. Okay, I'll admit, it's not even approaching anymore - it's here!!! In just a few short days, the superstar of the holidays, the diva, is upon us. With all its stress, commercialism, tacky decorations, stressed out housewives and sugar-high children.

I find, though, that it is important to remember that there is a reason Christmas is the diva. There are some redeeming factors. Family gatherings, great food, the joy of - not just receiving, but - giving. Christmas is all about traditions, and it's important to find your own; traditions you are happy with, traditions that don't just stress you out, but also ensure that you can enjoy this time of year.

One such tradition, to me, is baking. Unfortunately, this year I won't have the time to do much of that. Thus, instead I will share with you a great recipe I've come across, so that maybe you can enjoy it, even if I can't:

Fruitcake recipe


1 cup water 
1 cup sugar 
4 large eggs 
2 cup dried fruit 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 cup brown sugar 
lemon juice 
1 gallon whiskey 

Sample the whiskey to check for quality.

Take a large bowl. Check the whiskey again to be sure that it is of the highest quality.

Pour 1 level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer; beat 1 cup butter in a large fluffy bowl.

Add 1 teaspoon sugar and beat again. Make sure the whiskey is still okay. Cry another tup. Turn off the mixer. Break two legs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit.

Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the whiskey to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt. Or something. Who cares. Check the whiskey.

Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.

Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out of the window. Check the whiskey again.

Go to bed. Who the hell likes fruitcake anyway?

(Borrowed from http://homecooking.about.com/library/archive/bljoke1.htm)

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Whatever Greeting Makes You Feel The Least Offended!

21 December 2011

In Praise of the Writing Sprint

Before I get started, I FIRST want to throw out a HUGE happy birthday to Jan! Happy Winter Solstice, sister, and a very magical Birthiversary!!! (and welcome back to the light, eh)

And NOW for the blog... I have a new game I play. I discovered it during the most recent NaNoWriMo. It had always seemed a strange thing to do before, but I've come to love it.

What is it? A Writing Sprint is designating a starting and stopping time and writing with abandon... as fast as you possibly can... Often (usually, even) it is done with a couple friends. I have used Facebook (in fact I created a Facebook Group for it: Writing Sprints R Us), though during NaNo, Lynn Rush told me they ran them on Twitter, too. Somebody calls it and times it (anybody, really).

What does it DO for me? It gives me permission to put everything else off. This is huge. I have a family who can be demanding. I have chores I feel guilty not doing. I can get distracted with the best of them by facebook or my blog (or somebody else's blog)--heck, my religion is digression. But this start and end time says 'this is only for this time. You can get to the other stuff later'. And somehow, magically, I CAN. I can psychologically turn the other stuff off.

HOW do you do it? Well most importantly, you need to turn OFF your notifications. No phone, no email beep, no facebook open, no chat. Then you need to practice THIS phrase: “Not until my writing sprint is over!” Your spouse and children need to get used to this. The first time I said it my son said, “What's a writing sprint?” so I had to define it. “I write as fast as I can for a full hour with no interruptions.” his response? “And you think that's fun?”

Man, oh, MAN do I think it's fun!

Then you need to learn to IGNORE doorbells, phones, drier buzzers. Probably you shouldn't have LEFT anything with a cooking timer going... go get it out of the oven, but FAST. Don't put anything else in until you're done.

Does it WORK? Boy Howdy, does it?! This November, rather than the 51K-56K range of my past I managed 68K. And I managed with WITH Thanksgiving duty (hubby had to work—other years I have that off) and WITH a couple editing SNAFU obstacles. I think I had 6 days over 5K. In the past I might have 2 or 3...

And I've kept going in December—I am committed to finishing my 3rd (and as far as I know final) cozy mystery first draft before the year is out. I've been trying to do sprints about 3 weeknights and then at least 4 over the weekend and I have written 33K in 15 days. (I finished my NaNo on Dec. 5 at 80K)--holy heck YEAH, that means in 50 days I've written 113,000 words. Seriously. Oh wait... less the 2K from before November... so 111,000... STILL! So say YES to the writing sprint! And if you are looking for company, PLEASE join us on FB. (it's open, but it seems people still have to request--don't worry, I will approve you)

If you have trouble fitting writing in, you can do it for shorter spurts too... time twenty minutes. Half an hour. Put the time aside—such a SHORT time, really. Heck, you could lose that much answering a single email. And if you are in a different phase, the SAME thing works for editing—the permission to turn off everything else is pretty universally handy.

I challenge anybody to come up with ANYTHING that works quite this well for fitting words into a schedule.

20 December 2011

Topical Tuesday - Lotus Outreach

Today I'm nice and toasty in my home. My sixteen year old step-daughter is moody and surly and then happy and ecstatic - pretty normal in other words. She is safe too. But lots and lots of sixteen year old girls aren't safe. Lots and lots of younger than sixteen girls aren't safe. So today - in the midst of Christmas baking and little things making and dog-walking and writing with my pal Gwen - I gave money to Lotus Outreach. For many girls and women every day is full of one topic - how can I survive? Lotus Outreach works with girls and women in areas where there isn't a lot of anything and girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Here in there own words:

Originally established to support refugee education, Lotus Outreach now also helps rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking and keep at-risk students in school. We support this mission through effective grassroots projects, particularly among the rural poor. 

What We Do

Lotus Outreach supports the development of effective grassroots projects in vulnerable communities. We aim to build the capacity and sustainability of our local project partners and aspire to raise awareness in our home countries of the problems presented by poverty throughout Asia. Our mission is pursued on several fronts:
  • We promote and provide education for children previously denied this right due to extreme poverty or discrimination
  • We provide basic healthcare where it’s needed most
  • We provide trauma counseling, education and training to children and young women rescued from human trafficking and sexual slavery
  • We advocate for social change through informational grass-roots programs
  • We provide non-formal and alternative forms of education and basic job skills training
  • work to identify and prevent the causes of trafficking and sexual slavery through outreach work, public education campaigns and advocacy.

Today I wanted to post about this program and ask everyone who stops in here to think of young girls who are at risk - either here or abroad - how can you reach out to help them. There is a current belief and I think a well-founded one, that if the 12 year old girls of the world are educated - world poverty will be eradicated. What could be more topical than that?

19 December 2011

Reading Monday: My Christmas Wishlist and More!

This is my Christmas Reading list and I hope Santa (aka my husband) is reading:

    • Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. I have read all of the other books in the series and would love to see how this saga ends. The story of Eragon, and his dragon Saphira, has been a roller coaster of a ride. It's got a young man trying to save the world and all of its inhabitants from the evil, omniscient wizard, Galbatorix. I cannot wait to see what new adventures they encounter. Plus, dragons rule!
      • Fire by James Patterson. This is a great young adult book and again, I've read all of the other books in the series. What I find most interesting is about this tale is the tight bond between Wisty and Whit Allgood, brother and sister who try to defeat an all powerful wizard, The One who is The One, in a chaotic New World Order. Those in power don't have names. I suppose this is a spoof on Voldemort, He Who Must Not Be Named. I find the Shadowlands most intriguing. But I'm not telling the story. Go read it.

        • The last books of The Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle. I have books 1-4 and would love to read 5-7. Awesome series and keeps me sharp and guessing! Clare Cosi, the protagonist and coffee expert barista, plays detective when bodies start to drop. I like that I have correctly guessed who the killer is only once in the four books that I have read so far. Very good read.

          • The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. I have been watching Sci-Fi's TV series Haven and it is based on this book. I would like to know the back story to such a wonderful show. I love the mystery behind the sleepy little town and its two gossiping old men who report all the paranormal occurrences in their newspaper. Interesting to see if the characters currently on the TV show match up with the characters in the novel.

            • And because I have been on a Stephen King kick, I would like to have his short story "Mile 81." I've been in the mood for suspense and the paranormal. This book should take care of both of those cravings! Every time individuals stop at this milepost, they end up missing. Their belongings clearly indicate that something terrible has happened but we don't know what or by whom. *scary*

            What's your Christmas Wish list? Perhaps Santa (your loved one) is reading . . . :D

            15 December 2011

            Doot doo, doodoodoo...

            Mahna mahna!

            Okay, so I originally just stuck that in here as a placeholder so I wouldn't forget to write my post, but what the hell, it's Delusional Thursday and I want a mahna mahna!

            Whatever that is.

            It was a regular random insertion into conversations when I was a kid - boring car ride? Mahna mahna! Awkward silence? Mahna mahna! Sister getting on my nerves again? Mahna mahna!

            It has recently resurfaced with the new Muppets movie, and you know what? That makes me very happy. It is a piece of silliness from my childhood brought forward into a new millennium, it is my obsession du jour (de la semaine?), and it is so off-the-wall that it can be added to nearly anything.

            Then there's the fact that it's the holiday season and I work retail in addition to my more artistic pursuits, and sometimes nothing expresses my feelings about a particular customer or situation better than a heartfelt MAHNA MAHNA!

            And for those poor benighted souls who have somehow missed out on the whole phenomenon, here you go - the original Muppet Mahna Mahna!

            (I picked this one 'cause it's 2:26 long... and that's my birthday, so you know what, it's like, a sign, man! Right? Right!? Oh... mahna mahna! :-P )

            14 December 2011

            Keeping creativity alive

            “…. and then, you know what, the monster came and said, “I am going to eat up your sandwich”, and I said, “No, no, no. you cannot eat my sandwich. Please don’t eat my sandwich.”. But the monster, he did not listen, and he grabbed my sandwich, and I tried to pull it from him, and the sandwich fell down, and it fell on my leg. And you know what, thousands of germs went from my leg to the sandwich, and started eating it, and …..”
            I was struggling to keep the smile off my face as my nearly-six year old launched into a long story on how the sandwich that he should have consumed came to find itself on the floor. “… and Mamma, now the sandwich is full of germs. If I eat it, I will fall ill. So I cannot eat it”,he said, before concluding triumphantly, “and now that I have finished my snack, can I watch TV?”
            It was a difficult decision to make. On the one hand, I did not want to appear a pushover and allow my son to get away without finishing his snack yet again. But, didn’t his last-ditch creative effort deserve some credit?
            “Okay”, I said finally. “Today, you may watch TV. But the next time that monster troubles you, call me before he does so much damage, okay?”
            “I love you, Mamma”, he squealed rushing off to claim his reward. But he had the presence of mind to pop his head around the door, “but if it is another monster, I will not tell you, okay?”

            I know I should be a stricter mother. I know I should enforce rules better. I am sure other mothers would have nipped it in the bud,and ensured their kids did not walk over them. But, in addition to being a mother, I am a reader and a writer, and I can’t help being impressed by the stories my son spins. If I cut his stories short, wouldn’t I also be killing creativity and stifling imagination. Discipline is necessary, but doesn’t the world need writers and other storytellers as much as it requires the people who keep the machinery of life running?
            My son may or may not grow up to become a writer, but at least his imagination will ensure that he is never lonely or sad.


            I swear, the title of this post is extremely accurate. It reflects *exactly* what is going on in my head at the moment. What went on in my head yesterday, when I was supposed to post this. Topical Tuesday. I even had a topic (St. Lucy's Day), or exams (very topical for me, since I am going through them at the moment, albeit in a very different way than I've ever done before because I'm not taking them this year, but rather grading them... I swear, I'd rather take them!), or even the weather (we're having spring, I'm sure - all our lovely snow seems to be melting! Drat!)

            But no. Before I had the chance to transfer my ideas to paper (or, more accurately, screen), they ended up in fhegiakfiutygihbhjgilwdjafgyg and *poof* I forgot the whole post. Until now. When I write it, it will still be up for an hour and a half before the next one (and much better one, I'm sure) ticks in. Not that it is a huge loss. I'm sure today's actual post will be much more thought-through and well-written than this one, not to mention the topic will not be lkhjefiudshfjkhfuiryifkdghfshdgfj.

            In the meantime, though, let me muse a little over cbnsdjkghdgcsdcuhjasdgj:

            Papers that need to be graded, need to be graded.

            Jobs that need to be done, need to be done.

            In English, you cannot write "they claims" and expect to get away with it. It are annoying!

            Sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes they suck.

            Friends are essential.

            Suck it up!

            Can you have your cake and eat it too? Won't we always try?

            What's in a smile? When a person lights up when seeing you, should you draw hasty conclusions?

            We want what we can't have, we hold on to what we don't need, and sometimes it's impossible to see the difference.

            It doesn't matter what you believe in. Believe.

            Yoga and boxing.


            11 December 2011

            very late on Friday...OK it is Sunday afternoon but I'm sure it is very late on Friday somewhere...

            OY! I flubbed again. I thought I'd written all my burrow blog dates in my datebook but alas alack - I did not. When I didn't see a post for Friday I went looking and sure enough - it was me - gone!

            And it is a Friday Free For Fall - so here goes.

            Ten Reasons Why I'm Not Ready for the Holiday Madness

            10. As a certified conquistador of chaos (that's CCofC to you) I can't find my embroidery thread. I can't find my scissors. I don't even know where to find a vanilla bean. I can't finish my many holiday-type projects cuz I can't find anything.
            9. Almost everyone I know has a birthday in the holiday period - my brother, three out of 6 Canadian Babes, several other buddies and myself. This means birthday breakfasts, birthday lunches, and birthday dinners.
            8. I'm not a Christian. I'm not a Jew. I'm not a Pagan. All of these have established celebrations at this time. We Buddhists have a sort of fake one but everyone knows it isn't real. So...what am I doing with a Christmas tree (Pagan with Christian covering), candles (Jewish, Pagan, Christian) and so on...well. I live here don't I?
            7. The revisions for my novel are at a tricky point.
            6. I am busier as a therapist than I have been for years - everyone else needs assistance this time of year dontcha know?
            5. It is sunny, dry and warm out. I don't believe in winter any more.
            4. I don't have my snow tires on, my teeth cleaned, my bills paid and all sorts of other adult responsibilities are undone too.
            3. My sweet patootie and I cannot miss even one night of watching endless West Wing episodes. Ones we've already seen mind you.
            2. Trying to have a simplified non-commercial holiday is VERY complicated.

            and the number one reason I haven't gotten ready for the holiday madness yet...


            08 December 2011

            Delusional Thursday: Delusions of Affluence

            If I won the lottery . . .

            My husband and I have discussed this in great detail.  It would help if I played or participated in any way shape or form in the lottery- but that's neither here nor there.  Here is how it would go down. . .
            1. Open up trust funds for my kids so they don't blow through it all.  They can't touch it until they are 26 (with the condition that they each graduate with a bachelor's and master's degree).  Yeah, I know- a bit harsh but I want them to understand the value of money and good credit.
            2. Take a leave of absence and go with hubby to Bora Bora.  I have always wanted to go to the Tahitian Islands.  An over-the-water bungalow preferably so I could snorkel and enjoy the sea life. 
            3. I would not resign from the Department of Education, but there would be some serious changes at my school.  I would buy the parking lot behind Chelsea High School and build a state of the art physical education facility.  I would also have an art studio installed with all types of machines (kilns, pottery stations, etc.).  There would also be a music studio and I would ask the principal to hire a music teacher.  As you can tell, the high school in which I teach does not have any of these luxuries.
            4. I would NOT work summer school and write to my heart's content.  I would be able to write in any setting in the world while sipping on cosmopolitan's.  This is a biggie for me since at the moment, I do not have enough time for my writing.  I'm too busy being mom, wife, teacher, daughter and everything else under the sun. I would probably be able to finish an entire book in a year.  *gets teary eyed just thinking about it*
            5. I would donate a large portion to the AIDS Foundation and the American Diabetes Association.  
            6. I don't know if it's possible but I would get my loved one a spleen transplant so that he would not have to take insulin anymore.  I suppose it may be possible since in this technologically and medically aged, doctors can transplant hearts lungs kidneys and livers.
            7. I would buy a house and make it eco-friendly.   I want everything from wind turbines for clean energy to water barrels filled with rain water (to be used for the lawn or toilet water).  

            What would you do if you won the lottery?  It's nice to dream a little dream from time to time.

            Don't forget to visit The Burrow for our December Advent Calendar!

            Image courtesy of Public Domain Images.

            07 December 2011

            Do's and Don't's When Writing A Wednesday Post

            DO try to get out of it if you are stumped.
            DON'T rely on getting out of it if you are stumped.

            DO think of a few subjects and strategies for helping you to compose a post.
            DON'T think that leaving it to the last minute will help in any way.

            DO remember that this is supposed to be a helpful blog to aspiring writers.
            DON'T forget that you are an aspiring writer too.

            DO try to think of something that is both useful and hasn't been covered before.
            DON'T resort to tried and tested means (or fall back on Taffing, even if youknowzitmakezsense like, innit?).

            DO try to write something in advance so that you have time to tweak and perfect at your leisure.
            DON'T  look at the time and think Crap! I have to get a post up in the next hour or I am doomed!

            DO try to relax and take a few calming breaths.
            DON'T freak out and start typing the first thing that comes to mind.

            DO remember that the post doesn't have to be earth-shattering, and your readers are generally nice people.
            DON'T get paranoid and start thinking that your readers are rolling their eyes at your stupidity.

            DO remember that as long as you get something - anything! - posted, you have done your job.
            DON'T think that the 'anything!' part of the above sentence means you can resort to a silly Do's and Don't's list.


            Image borrowed from here.

            06 December 2011

            How to be a Good Customer

            The holiday season is upon us - that time of year when, contrary to the general feelings supposed to be induced by the myriad holidays celebrated during it, everyone seems to get stressed out and is pulled tighter than the laces in a fat lady's corset trying to get everything done. It's natural to snap at some point and want to take it out on random people you encounter during your whirlwind of preparation, but on behalf of retail workers everywhere, I'm here to beg you pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease don't be nasty to the poor soul trying to help you out.

            We all know the economy sucks rocks right now, despite the noises politicians are making about "recovery". You're probably making less money than you did a few years ago, so of course you want to stretch what you do have as far as possible. Coupons? Go for it. Discount cards? Absolutely. Comparison shopping? Makes sense to me. You know what doesn't? When people yell at the person behind the counter for not accepting their expired coupons. Or their 3-year-old return (when the receipt clearly states a vastly shorter window). Or for not being able to find what you want, when YOU don't know what you want.

            Remember that retail workers are people, too - and due to the aforementioned sucky economy, they're more likely than ever before to be highly educated and underemployed. The person you're talking down to probably has a master's degree, but is still grateful to have a job at all. And even if they are some lazy high school dropout who only got hired 'cause their uncle knows a guy, they're still a person.

            If you legitimately need help with something, ask. Don't hover. It's creepy. Do read signs and stickers - they have the info you need on them a good 90% of the time. Don't act like it's a great moral failing on the part of the employee helping you when the store is sold out of what you want - somebody got there before you, and there's not a darn thing the employee can do about it. Do put things back where you found them if you decide not to purchase them, or at least give them to someone who knows where they belong. Don't holler at someone from halfway across the store, especially if they've got their hands full or are on the phone - they're clearly busy and are unlikely to hear you anyway. Do wait your turn as patiently as possible - stores definitely value your business, but also that of the three people in front of you who have been waiting longer.

            And while I've read countless articles about and personally witnessed many acts of incredibly bad behaviour and entitlement among the generation coming up the ranks (those tweens, teens and twenties everyone is so worried about), it's the older folks who come up with the most breathtaking rudeness, every single time. I don't care who you are, how old you are or how much money you have - treat people like people, not like something nasty you stepped in, and everyone will have a much happier holiday season!

            Pass the egg nog...

            05 December 2011

            Advent Calendar

            That time of the year, when that already scarce quantity becomes even more scarce. You know what I am talking about- TIME. The holidays just soak up so much of your time, you are forced to put everything except the absolute essentials in the backburner. When you don't have time to do anything, least of all put your feet up, and READ!

            But this being Reading Monday, we are honour bound to give you a bunch of reading recommendations. And we shall not disappoint. However busy you are, however very, very, very busy, surely you have one minute to spare? Yes, just one teeny weeny minute. Of course you do. If nothing else, you can make those 60 seconds between sips of your chai, coffee, latte, vodka.......

            Click across to The Burrow, and enjoy one drabble a day, everyday in the month of December, as we count down to the New Year. There are drabbles that will make you laugh, drabbles that will make you cry. Drabbles that would make you sneer, drabbles that would make you cheer. There are even drabbles that will stay with you all day, forcing you to think. But every single one of those drabbles will be exactly 100 words long, and none of them will take up more than 60 seconds of your reading time.

            So what are you waiting for? Click on ahead!!!

            02 December 2011


            You know the drill. You *have* to pick one (and only one). All in good Friday Fun!

            You've been out dancing all night. Before going to work, would you rather have a shower and wear the same clothes you wore; or not have a shower, but get to put on fresh clothes?

            Pick one: no more hugs, or no more kisses?

            Would you rather never be able to wear shoes, or never be able to take them off?

            If you had to choose - blind or deaf?

            You wake up one morning looking like Miss/Mr World. The only problem is you have to make a choice - either only you can see you as this while the rest of the world will see you as ugly; OR the rest of the world will see you as gorgeous, but you will see yourself in the mirror as ugly. Which one is it? (And yes, your "regular" looks are gone forever.)

            This should be a piece of cake for any Twihards, but still.... You can either only ever read the Twilight series over and over again for the rest of your life; OR never pick up any book ever again.

            Would you rather eat the food you absolutely don't like at least once every week for a year; or go without your favourite food at all for one year?

            Your house is burning, and you only have the time to rescue one thing. Will it be the laptop with the ONLY copy of your nearly-finished novel; or will it be the album with the ONLY copies of your family photos?

            Would you rather be stuck in a (literally) eternal line at customer services (but get actual help); OR be forced to always ask "Microsoft Help" on your computer whenever a problem arises?

            And a classic at the end: Your partner is a mermaid/merman - would you have the top or bottom half be the fish-part...?

            01 December 2011

            December Drabble Dance

            Welcome to December! December for the Burrow is a month we've managed to create a bit of a tradition. We have a website where we publish group projects, now and again. And each December, we do a sort of Advent Calendar. It isn't Advent in the religious sense of the word, as we don't stop at Christmas, but each day in December, we reveal a new Drabble related to images that have been chosen by the author. It's a fun little 'new surprise each day' venture and we'd like to share it with you. To get you in the mood, I've got a couple drabbles here. BUT... it's possible I'm insane. It IS delusional Thursday after all... so the drabbles on our Advent Calendar will assuredly be better and more thought out... (even mine).


            Delirious Dream Drabble*

            A girl is asleep, she's dreaming of pompons
            A boy is asleep, he's dreaming of longjohns
            It's all well and good, when a girl jumps and struts
            And nothing goes wrong when a boy warms his butt

            But when boys start pomponning and girls start longjohnning
            The rest of us sure better get long-gone-goning
            Because boys with their pompons, then act like sluts
            And girls who try longjohns can't cover their butts**

            Before you decide to ignore this as fluff
            And think I've come up with it off of the cuff
            I'm telling you now, I know about this stuff!

            *Inspired by Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book
            ** inspired by an episode of trying to wear my husband's longjohns under my running pants. Boys have more belly. Girls have more butt. Nuff said.

            Delusional Drabble

            Once upon a time, there were four score young blondes and brunettes, all between ages sixteen and nineteen and a half... strike that. The Burrow is a Bustling Band of Beautiful Babes who love books and erm... what's a writing word that starts with B? Damn. Tell them I have a PR background and they all want to put me to work. We write. We critique. We support. And now we're famous. Every last one of us has published alone, and as of December 1, 2015, we have officially published our Coffee Table book of images and accompanying drabbles. Erm.

            (did I mention drabbles are usually fiction? We DO though, talk about this from time to time...)

             So now don't you have a REALLY strong urge to go read a BETTER Drabble?  Come on. I'm sure you do...


            30 November 2011

            Writing Wednesday - writing through rejection and dejection

            I decided that I would be brutally honest today. Brutally. Honest. I am sure I'm not alone in having two sides, especially on the blog and off of it. Or in front of people who we aren't sure have our back. Or those that do and  have enough of their own misery not to need any more of it. Especially writerly misery, which is of a very certain, and some might say, self-indulgent sort.
            This year, with my writing, I've been a Charlie Brown. And the community I've looked to for support has been a Lucy. I've entered various challenges, contests, etc... and always with a cheerful optimistic outlook. But each time I've come up a chump. I've run forward, ready to kick that football, and lo and behold, each and every time it has been snatched away. Oh, don't worry, I'm not seriously deluded. I know that no one is doing this to me. The thing is I've been behind the magician's curtain in many of these instances. I know how the thing works. I've laboured to choose among many bad and several good entries, or sat on boards that decide who is going to get to breath financially for a bit and who will have to keep on keeping on. And I have found it profoundly hard this year to write through rejection. Perhaps it is because I've also been writing through dejection - my dad died, we had a sudden and horrible reversal of fortune, grandchildren woes and on and on.
            I'm not going to leave the story there - how mean would that be? But from time to time I realize that my bloggy persona is one cheery broad - a let's just whistle a tune as we walk through the graveyard sort. And I don't feel like trotting that ego-state out today. I will say what has worked for me and continues to - the support of writing pals. In particular, my writing pal Gwen lifts me up when I am down and I in turn do that for her. Not even my dearest guy can get the depth of writing hell but Gwen can. I also know my fellow Burrowers can do the same. We've shared some of the worst and the load has been the lighter for it.
            So, if you are writing through rejection and dejection find yourself a writing pal - as soon as ever you can - whether it is in the flesh or on the web - do it.
            Meanwhile (and it does seem a very mean while) I'm writing up a grant proposal. Like Charlie Brown I will go forward optimistically once again into the fray. Here is a photo of my eldest grandson, contemplating snatching victory from the jaws of defeat...

            29 November 2011

            Topical Tuesday: Nighthawks and Winners

            Lisa reaches over the counter for her coffee.  She looks earnestly at Robert and asks,"Will we ever get out of this mess?"

            "I don't know.  It's been a long time since I've found work.  I'm too old to join the war."  Robert sighs heavily and looks into his cup for answers.

            "I can always take an extra shift at the factory or put in a good word with the boss for you.  Maybe he'll take you on," Lisa looks at Robert with hope.

            "Yeah, maybe," he replies dejectedly.

            Sixty odd years later, and our financial woes are still the same.

            Drabble- a story told in exactly 100 words.
            Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (1942).

            December Drabble Dare Results
            The following are the drabble authors included in the Burrow's December project, Advent Calendar:

            December 8th- Abigail Reed
            December 16- Anonymous (Don't be shy and tell us who you are!)
            December 24th- Tamika Perez
            December 30th- Marian Youngblood

            Congrats to all the drabble writers!  Be sure to visit us at The Burrow beginning on December 1st.  No peeking!  :D

            28 November 2011


            So it's Reading Monday, and I'm supposed to give you guys some kind of review on something that I have read recently. But this is me, and it is 'that' time of year, so I'm taking a slight detour. You see, I haven't actually read anything lately apart from emails and a few blogs. I managed to read something different last week though - my daughter's Christmas list. Every year we dig out the Argos book (Argos is the place to go if you want decent prices for anything from Barbie dolls to a new bed) and my kids go through and write down the things they would like to recieve on Christmas day. We have an understanding - they can write down pretty much anything, as long as they realise that they won't get everything they ask for. Mostly it's just a good way for mum and dad to get some ideas.

            Anyway, the son was pretty predictable and mainly stuck to video games and DVD's. The daughter was pretty predictable too, but Ellie has a way of doing things that is funny. Totally unintentional, but funny. Here's a virtual copy of her list - I'll try to copy word for word, but may change a few things so that it is legible. *snort*

            Ellie's Christmas List from the Argos catalog, and Play.com, and the internet.

            Zhu Zhu puppies, the purple and pink glittery one.
            Moxie Girlz lush pets.
            Design a friend doll. The one called Ellie like me.
            Rosy doll with the Hello Kitty top and sparkly jeans and nice bag.
            Big fluffy bunny that talks and eats carrots. That's too much money though.
            Shnooks. Any one, but not the green one.
            DS games. Grease and Wizards of Waverly Place. They're £25 if you buy two but they're not on Argos they're on play.com. and you can get them in Argos if you want but they're more money in there.
            Connect 4  like Andrea's one that we play when she comes up.
            Guess Who but the one that don't need batteries.
            And an ipod if you can find one that's not too much money but if you can't can I have an MP3 player instead so I can listen to Justin Bieber because Dale doesn't like it when I play Justin Bieber on Youtube.

            *coughs* Ah, nine-going-on-ten-year-olds. Aren't they fabulous?

            Ellie Christmas!

            25 November 2011

            My Kinda Funny

            Everybody has their own particular areas of expertise... and music is mine. All fields have their jokes that other people don't get, but I'm biased enough to think that the musical ones are some of the most creative. And since I'm bordering on comatose from my Thanksgiving feast, I thought I'd put up a few videos for you rather than ramble randomly ('cause hey, "show, don't tell", right?).

            Exhibit A: The evolution of a joke.

            Part 1 - Take a giant of the Romantic piano literature (in this case, the slow movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto).

            Part 2 - Spin it through the mind of a power ballad writer.

            Part 3 - Make fun of it.

            Exhibit B - PDQ Bach. Anything he's ever done. As I'm sure you can guess from his initials, he's, erm, not real. Or at least, not really a Bach. No, in fact he's composer Peter Schickele, who composes insanely hilarious spoofs of major classical pieces which are pastiches, take-offs, and just plain funny. The more references you catch, the harder you laugh. This is one of my favourites (I mean really, anybody who manages to morph the French national anthem into Pop Goes the Weasel has exactly the right screws loose if you ask me).

            Exhibit C - Mozart. Yeah, him. Genius, sure - but he still thought farts were funny. Leaving aside motets with such evocative titles as "Lech mich im Arsch" (you can Google it, I swear it exists), he wrote something actually known as A Musical Joke (Ein Musikalischer Spaß, I think), making fun of, among other things, show-off violinists and horn cacks. (Best part is the end, don't stop this one early!)

            Exhibit D - Haydn. He's got a few that still catch audiences to this day, including the Surprise Symphony and a quartet known as The Joke - that'd be this one (although alas, the audience didn't fall for it this time).

            So don't take yourself too seriously, people. Life's too short!

            24 November 2011

            Delusional. Delusional? Delusional!

            Delusional, delusional, delusional, I have been muttering to myself for the last several minutes, hoping that if I say the word often enough, I will indeed be able to think of something delusional to say. Maybe that's the wrong word. Maybe the word I should be muttering is "inspiration", because she seems far more elusive than anything else.
            But then, when life itself seems to be one long delusion, it is strange that delusional inspiration doesn't strike. 
            Where have the days, weeks, months been going? Seems like yesterday, we were welcoming in the new year, and we are already ready to let go of it. When you really look back, you realize that a lot has happened during the year. But weeks and weeks seem to have just flown by. Where, I know not!

            Ouch", I exclaimed a couple of hours back, slapping myself on the forehead. "I have a long run scheduled for tomorrow, and I haven't even been carbo-loading or hydrating for it." I immediately shoved a banana down my throat, but while reaching for the second, realized today was Thursday and not Friday. 

            Yipee!!!! I got an extra day! After weeks of losing days, it is wonderful to gain a day. And how much more delusional can it get?

            Leaving you with a picture I took a couple of days back. If you figure out what is going on, do let me know. Or better still, write a drabble to it :-)

            21 November 2011

            Reading Monday

            Hi dear readers! I'm not going to discuss what I'm reading today. I'm going to discuss reading period. There has been much in the news of late about the demise of reading. Do our children (or in my case - grandchildren) read enough or at all? Is the world of books collapsing? Is reading just too much when other things are so fresh and exciting? I'm not talking about the death of story telling - that will never happen. We are a story-making species and will continue to make stories until we are out of breath.
            But story telling happens in many ways - through plays, long poems, television series, movies, ballads, opera, dance and, as we now know, in games.
            Reading can be private or in community. I love nothing so much as when me and the sweet-patootie and the step-dot are all sitting companionably in the living room, reading our respective books, stopping from time to time to share exquisite details. That is my idea of heaven -especially if there is chocolate involved. When my kids were young, I would read to them every night, as my father did for me and my siblings. When my step-children were younger, their father (S-P) would read to them and I would make myself inconspicuous but present, so as to hear his lovely voice read from books that never grow old.
            For most of my life I have read before bed-time. Until the S-P actually - who I hooked up with when I was fifty. Sometimes I still read before bed - like last night when I was just at an exciting bit and absolutely couldn't put it down until I'd finished. But since he and I have cohabited, he brings me coffee in the morning and I do a good bulk of my reading then.  I also read in the tub - unlike my pal, the Tartlette, I cannot write in the tub, but I can read until the water is too cold to bear (bare?)
            I was talking about education with S-P the other day and telling him that I tried to quit school in Grade One. For I had already learned to read and I knew that they had little else to offer me. I still believe I was correct and if they'd just left me in a room with a whack of books I would've been as far ahead as I am now. But alas alack, I had to put up with the idiocy of school for another 12 years - then a certain falling out while I had a baby or two and then back at it - to get an honours degree in English Literature. University was so unlike public school that it took my breath away. I could sit in the university library for hours, days even, wandering through the stacks, letting my intuition take me from one lovely idea to another.
            Reading is so crucial to my well-being that when I read about those who don't read - either because of some failing in their upbringing, a problem with how they read, or a culture (like the ones I wrote about last time with Margaret Mead's books on Samoa etc...) I feel such a panicky feeling. What if I didn't read? What would I do? I think of all the time my dog has to lie around all day and feel such compassion for him, not being able to take the edge of with a good book - like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin. Or maybe he would be an avid reader of Joyce Carey, or Dickens!
            I haven't gotten an e-reader yet and don't know if I will. I thought I wanted one for awhile but every time I've tried one I get all messed up with losing my place. I might be too dull to read one of those things. Then a friend lends me a book or I go to the library and get a pile of them out or my birthday comes up and a stack appears just before Christmas break - ah...the luxury. I wouldn't give up reading for anything. In fact, and this is true I suddenly realize, as I write this, I would give up writing before reading. Yep.
            How about you?

            19 November 2011

            December Drabble Dare Contest

             This is a reminder of our December Drabble Dare. 

            That's right people.  It's that time of year!

            December means so many different things to people around the world. It could mean Winter Solstice, Christmas, Winter Wonderland, New Years' and everything else we can think of.  To most, it is "The Holidays."

            In December, The Burrow will be hosting our annual Advent Calendar.

            All you have to do is to write a drabble in exactly 100 words based on any/all of these photographs, and email it to 'theburrow360@gmail.com' by November 26, 2011. The winning entries for each of the images will be featured in the December feature.

            So here are the images to choose from:


            Peace Tower at Christmas

            Winter Wonderland

            Advent Wreath

            And just for fun- Snowhenge

            Good luck and happy writing!

            All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

            17 November 2011

            Wild Week

            Original image.

            It seems like only yesterday that I last wrote a Delusional Thursday post, when in fact it was several weeks ago. The days are flying by so fast at the moment, that I'm pretty sure that if I blinked I would miss a few. I'm always saying that I'm a bit of a fruitcake, but seriously, with the rate that time goes by, and the amount of things I have to fit into those blink-and-you'll-miss-them days, it's no wonder my head doesn't always know where it's at.

            Take the last week, for example. We are currently in high virus season, with bug after nasty bug making their rounds and causing most people to sniff, sneeze and cough on a regular basis. We are also in pre-Christmas season, so public transport is nuts, kids are starting to get hyper, and parents everywhere (including moi) are working any extra hours that they can get their hands on in order to fill their children's stockings to the brim.

            On top of this, my household are part-way through a hospital/doctor/dentist visit marathon, or so it seems. Now usually I only work three days a week, so I normally try to schedule any medical appointments to fall on my days off if at all possible. That's not always the case though, as certain appointments are assigned to you and you end up back on a (usually long) waiting list if you try to re-schedule. This being the case, my timetable for last week went something like this:

            Wednesday 9th November:  No work today, but dreaded dentist visit looms. Six injections in my lower mouth and one in the top to be endured before a twenty-minute scale and polish session. I'm mortally afraid of dentists, by the way, so while this wouldn't be anyone's favourite way to spend their morning, it's one of my worst nightmares. I'm still cringing now, over a week later. *shudders*

            Thursday 10th November: Normal working day, with a 12pm till 6pm shift. So far so good.

            Friday 11th November: Normal working day, with a little bitty 2pm till 6pm shift. Son was supposed to have an orthodontist appointment today which had to be rescheduled due to him having to sit a G.C.S.E. exam. Son is really poorly with flu-like symptoms, but has to attend the exam or I will be fined. Meanwhile, hubby is being a good friend and accompanying his mate to the dental hospital for some emergency treatment. Son is sent home from school as he is ill. I am at work and hubby is still being a good friend, so son is told to go to nanny's. Unfortunately, he goes to wrong nanny's (unbeknown to his parents), so we have mild panic attacks about his whereabouts and start wondering if he has collapsed somewhere on the streets. Or, at least, I do anyway. It's not good to be stuck at work when you are worrying about your kids.

            Saturday 12th November: Crazily said 'yes' to overtime and have to work the 2pm till 10pm shift. The shift went like clockwork until 9.30pm, then everything went tits up (as we say here in Cardiff). I won't go into detail, but needless to say, I won't be working this shift again any time soon.

            Sunday 13th November: Another overtime shift of 2pm till 10pm. OK, so I said I wouldn't do another one again, but I'd already agreed to do this one so I had no choice. The shift was fine in itself, but not being used to working these extra hours, I'm pretty tired. Especially as Sundays are nuts at the best of times for parents, what with school preparations and what-not, which usually take up Sunday evenings but had to be squeezed into a crazy hour in the morning before I left for work.

            Monday 14th November: Normal working day, with a 12pm till 6pm shift. Also, appointment at doctor's for myself fitted in before going to work.

            Tuesday 15th November: Day off! Yay! Only, Tuesday is shopping day, when I do my weekly thing of hunting for bargains and trying to buy a week's worth of groceries on a limited budget. Also, hospital appointment for myself to have my wrist x-rayed as I've been having a lot of trouble with it for the last five months or so.

            Wednesday 16th November: Day off! No work, no hospitals, dentists, or any other appointments. Maybe I can actually clean my house and relax for a couple of hours. Only, son is home from school again, his cough having kept him up all night and causing some sickness. Hubby is also full of the stupid virus and sneezing and coughing like mad. Daughter is also home for a while as I am waiting for the doctor to phone back with some advice for her. Eventually I take her to school an hour late and then make my way to the doctor's to pick up a prescription for her.  So much for my doctor-free day.

            Today my son had another orthodontist appointment, which had to be cancelled due to his virus. Hubby has dentist again tomorrow (he went yesterday too, did I forget to mention that?), and I am working overtime again both Saturday and Sunday. Not the dreaded 2pm till 10pm shifts, but early morning ones instead. Then my son has a hospital appointment with his A.D.H.D. specialist on Monday.

            Phew! OK, this might not sound too much to most of you, but trying to remember all of these appointments when a) not all of them sent written notice of them, and b) I am a nightmare when it comes to writing things down, can be tricky. Re-scheduling things to fit in with my regular hours can also be tiresome. Add the overtime at work, and the annoyance of public transport not arriving when it should at this time of year, then this last week has been manic.

            I admit, things are not always like this, but if it's not medical madness, or overtime madness, it's general family madness. It's no wonder I'm a fruitcake!

            16 November 2011

            Writing Wednesday (or not)

            I have to say, the thought of pounding out a "Writing Wednesday" post right now feels like the epitome of hypocrisy. I've hardly written a thing in months. This is, in part, because I haven't had a day off in months, but there are plenty of writers out there who seem to manage to juggle endless numbers of part-time jobs, children, pets, sick parents or complicated relationships and STILL turn out page after page.

            I'm just not one of them.

            I'm sitting here at 10 PM, halfway to the flu and trying desperately not to go the rest of the way (I'm probably doomed though, seems like half my coworkers are out), typing awkwardly over a large black lump (aka my cat, Rullie), chugging chai and gazing longingly at the packet of HobNobs I've told myself I can open as a reward for getting this post written.

            But I'm not exulting in my NaNoWriMo word count, 'cause I'm not doing it. I'm not editing my last one, 'cause I failed at it. The one before that? It's in the living room, but I can't even bring myself to dig it out and try to polish it. My muse, if I ever had one, has left the building. I know, I know, "if you show up every day, eventually the muse will too." Showing up every day? Oh right, yeah, that'd be work. And writing? That's a job too, albeit one I don't usually get paid for, and I can't seem to make myself add any more commitments to this pile.

            So for those of you who ARE NaNo-ing, I salute your perseverance, your word count (whatever it is), your put-the-butt-in-the-chair-ness. For those painstakingly editing their most recent manuscript until it fair cries out to be printed and shelved in bookstores everywhere, well done! English teachers, journalists, college students, congratulations!

            I just can't seem to do it right now. Unless you count this. Yay?

            14 November 2011

            It's not just about reading; it's also about how you read

            It's Reading Monday, and I got stuck in the old "but I haven't read any books this week"-dilemma, a frequent problem between me and this blog, I'm afraid. I have been reading, though. Just not what I'd normally want to write about in a Reading Monday post. But I guess it's time to make an exception.

            Stuff about student rebellions.

            It's for my job, you see. For the time being I'm a research assistant at my alma mater (I like that term. The University of Oslo really feels like family to me by now, even if "nourishing mother" may be stretching it too far...). I am - amazingly enough - doing the exact work I'm educated for. I'm pracising historianism. (Yes, it's a word. "Historianism" is what historians are doing when they contrary to what is common get a job relevant for their education. True story.) This is amazing because most of us end up doing work we're not educated for, but by default are qualified for anyway, because you also gain certains skills and mindsets through higher education, that makes you eligible for tasks a political scientist or sociologist or any number of other -ists could also do.

            It's interesting, though, because even if I'm educated for this, I still feel a little lost.

            It's like this. My field of expertise within "my field", is quite limited. If you ask me about "US peace initiatives in the Arab-Israeli conflict between 1956 and 1967" I'm on my home turf, and I will be able to give you a fairly detailed account. If you ask me questions about "the Middle East" or "American foreign policy", I'm still in my hometown, but I don't know my way around in every single street. If you ask me questions about "history in general", I'm not necessarily all that more knowledgable than the average person. We may still be located in my part of the world, but I'm still pretty much a tourist.

            Since the topic of my current work isn't at all closely related to my own research topic, then, it feels a lot like I'm a tourist, trying to find my way in a whole new city. The only reason I don't get completely lost is that by now I have a certain idea how to explore new parts of the world. (Yes, I'm still in the same analogy...)

            Through my education I've been taught to read with a critical eye. I've been trained to look for bias, to check references, and yes - I do read the footnotes. In addition there is a little "something" extra - a fingerspitzengefühl for history I've developed along the way. It takes a little longer because the topic is new to me. If I read a book about the Middle East I usually know a lot about it just from looking at the title, the author, or the bibliography. With this new topic I'm working on, I usually need to also read the introduction, look at a few chapters, and google the author. It takes longer. But I'm getting there.

            I used to think that my field (or if you will, "my part of the world") - history "in general" - was fairly straight forward, and that anyone could do it if they set their mind to it. Anyone - or at least most people - can do it, but you do need those skills to do it properly.

            I guess I've developed a new respect for my own profession through this job. For what it has done to the way I read.

            09 November 2011

            Writing Wednesday: December Drabble Contest

            That's right, people.  It is that time of year again!

            December means so many different things to people around the world. It could mean Winter Solstice, Christmas, Winter Wonderland, New Years' and everything else we can think of.  To most, it is "The Holidays."

            In December, The Burrow will be hosting our annual Advent Calendar.

            All you have to do is to write a drabble in exactly 100 words based on any/all of these photographs, and email it to 'theburrow360@gmail.com' by November 26, 2011. The winning entries for each of the images will be featured in the December feature.

            So here are the images to choose from:


            Peace Tower at Christmas

            Winter Wonderland

            Advent Wreath

            And just for fun- Snowhenge

            Good luck and happy writing!

            All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

            08 November 2011

            Furry Friends

            Dipsy, my first feline baby.

            While today's subject may not be strictly 'topical' as such, it's something that is close to my heart (and several other Burrowers too *winks at Leanne*). I'm a huge cat lover, and always have been. For as long as I can remember, there has been a cat as a family pet.

            There were several as I was growing up, all of whom are in feline heaven now. There was Fluffy, who lived to the grand old age of seventeen and eventually died from cancer; Topsy, who, if I remember correctly, sadly disappeared one day. More recently, there was Gizmo, who was run over by a car and died from his injuries, and Simba, another adventurer who wandered away and never came back.

            All of these were strictly my parents' cats, but they were still part of my family. I've only had three furry friends over the years, and two of them are still with me. My first baby, Dipsy (my son named her and was a Tellytubby fan at the time), was also one of those unfortunate cats who fall prey to speeding cars. She was a beauty, with thick tortoiseshell fur. She was also a bit grumpy (to say the least). She was most likely to hiss at you if you went too close, unless you were 'Mama'.

            So why am I talking about felines? Well, we seem to be having a surge of pet problems around my neck of the woods. Two of my work colleagues have had pet deaths this week (one kitty and one hamster), and my parents ' latest furry friend - a massive fluffy tom going by the name of Thomas - has to have a biopsy this week to see whether a growth is cancerous or not.

            Thomas is a rescue cat. My parents picked him a couple of years ago from a cat protection facility, and he was in a sorry state mentally when they first had him. We think his previous owner was elderly and couldn't get around a lot, and Thomas was probably the only companion that they had. My mother had to really baby him for a long time before he got used to his new home. He was nervous, didn't like to go outside (unless he was on a leash), and would cry in the night if he wanted to eat or see to his 'business'.  I hope his biopsy shows something that is treatable, he's such a character.

            We invest so much time and love in our pets, and it's devastating when they leave us. I'm sending positive thoughts and cuddles to all those animals out there that are sick, or who just need a little love. They may not be human, but to many of us they are true friends, and as much a part of our families as our children.

            On a happier note, here are some pictures of my two current babies, who are thankfully full of life and mischief!

            Angel looking curious, while Belle looks on.

            Couldn't work out if this was a cuddle or a scuffle.

            This is definitely a 'cwtch'!

            07 November 2011

            Stuff I Like (in triplicate)

            I'm not sure what it is about trilogies - why there are so many, why they work so well (usually), why we have to wait a whole year* between installments... But indeed, there are many, and so I thought today I'd list off a bunch of them, most of them recently completed, for your perusal.

            Maze Runner et al. - James Dashner

            Dashner had already published two series when The Maze Runner came out in 2009, but this was the one that hit the jackpot. In a future society that has devolved into chaos, a small group of people known as WICKED is trying to figure out how to save the world - or are they? Thomas awakens with no real memories in a glade full of other boys, who have been arriving at the rate of one a month for two years. The next day, a girl shows up - and then things really go haywire. The totalitarian aspect is downplayed in this dystopia, but the adventure factor is set high and there are definite aspects of zombie apocalypse as you work your way through the series. The other two volumes, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure, continue the story to a satisfying (if slightly open-ended) conclusion.

            Beka Cooper - Tamora Pierce

            Pierce has long been a fixture of YA fantasy - her earliest series were already hits in the 80s - but this, her latest to be set in her invented realm of Tortall, may well be the finest of the lot. In part (at least for me) that's due to their increased length - Pierce herself admits, in a note at the end of Lady Knight, that after publishers realized that kids really would read books with higher page counts, thanks to J. K. Rowling, she was able to expand her own as well. (In fact, the original quartet of novels about Alanna was written as a single book!) Anyway, Beka. She lived hundreds of years before Alanna, Daine, and Kel (protagonists of other Tortall series) and was in fact an ancestor of Alanna's husband, George Cooper (and therefore also Alianne, heroine of the 4th Tortall set). As a kind of policewoman (known as Dogs or, when they're in training, Puppies), Beka gets into all kinds of scrapes - and just to make things really interesting, she can talk to dust spinners and the dead souls that ride on pigeons (yep, you read that right). Consisting of Terrier, Bloodhound, and Mastiff, these have earned a spot on my favourites shelf - or would if it weren't already overfull with her previous titles!

            Heir - Cinda Williams Chima

            So, I wanted to write about her other, more recent, series, but after reading the third book I'm not at all convinced that it's a completed trilogy, 'cause there were a lot of unresolved plot lines at the end (that would be the Seven Realms series, a high fantasy, with The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, and The Gray Wolf Throne). Still, her books are kinda awesome, so let's hit upon the Heir trilogy instead. Consisting of The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir, these are set in the "real" world (y'know, like England and Ohio) and concern themselves with the hidden society of magic tucked away beneath the notice of ordinary mortals. In this society, those destined to be magic users of one sort or another (there are 5 types) are born with a stone in their chests which designates their calling - except for Jack. His was missing. Unbeknownst to him, the medication he takes every day isn't for a heart defect after all... You'll also run across Ellen, a warrior, Seph, a wizard, and a multitude of well-written characters (both teenagers and adults) as the two warring factions of the Weirlind vie for supremacy.

            Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

            Steampunk! Woohoo! *ahem* This trilogy comes on the heels of Westerfeld's other super-popular series (Uglies, Pretties, and Specials, plus Extras), and reimagines the world in 1914 with the factions involved in WWI divided mainly by their allegiance to steam machinery (the Clankers - that'd be Austro-Hungary, etc.) or genetic engineering à la guided evolution (the Darwinists - that'd be the United Kingdom et al.). I don't choose those nations at random; they're the homes of our two protagonists, Deryn Sharp (a Scottish airman {okay, she's a girl, but don't tell!} serving on the Leviathan {a massive living airship}) and Alek (who doesn't really have a last name, since he's, y'know, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire who fled home after his parents were assassinated). Their adventures take them to far-flung lands, including Turkey, Siberia (Tunguska, actually - yes, that means what you think it does), Japan, and eventually the United States, in the company of various critters (I SOOOO want a perspicacious loris!), good guys, bad guys, and wacko geniuses (like, say, Tesla - yeah, him). Not saying any more. Go read (oh, the second and third are titled Behemoth and Goliath).

            Healing Wars - Janice Hardy

            This one wins for being one of the most original ideas I've seen in the past few years. Nya and her younger sister, Tali, eke out a living in the oppressed city of Geveg after their parents and grandmother are killed. Both have inherited the ability to heal others by taking on their pain, but only Tali can then deposit it into the mineral called pynvium to get it out of her body - Nya can only shift it into someone else, where it can do untold damage to the recipient. The series follows Nya as she discovers how to use her ability, even as the entire population rises up against the usurping Duke of Baseer - hidden and previously unknown relatives appear, friends are made and sometimes betrayed, and pain itself becomes a ghastly weapon to be used and reused on the guilty and innocent alike. Though Nya is 15 years old, this series lands in the Young Readers section (not Teen), I think due in part to the mostly happy ending - people die, but, well, let's just say it doesn't end like Mockingjay, okay? Highly recommended (titles are The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall).

            Books of Umber - P. C. Catanese

            This is an interesting one, set in an alternate world but with a character or two pulled out of ours. Getting ahead of myself. A boy wakes up with no memory of who or where he is (I know, I already did one of these, but stay with me here) and is soon discovered by a small party of adventurers. They take him along (dubbing him Happenstance, or Hap for short), and on their journey he displays some very odd characteristics, including the ability to jump like a flea and never need to sleep. Over the course of the series more and more is revealed about his origins, alongside more episodic storylines like sea voyages, feuding princes, stolen dragon eggs, and much, much more. The Umber of the series title is the leader of this rag-tag band, having crossed into this other dimension some years before and spreading many ideas from our own world (even while, being bipolar, he suffers from lack of proper medication). A great twist right at the end of the third volume serves to tie things up nicely indeed. Oh, and the three titles are Happenstance Found, Dragon Games, and The End of Time.

            The New Policeman et al. - Kate Thompson

            All J. J. Liddy wanted was to find his mum some extra time for her birthday - he didn't expect to discover that time was actually leaking out of the world... I was drawn to this one originally by the musical tie-in (Liddy is the latest in a long line of musicians; in fact, there's a page of sheet music in every chapter!), but as the later entries in the series arrived, we diverged from that and went farther along the road to ecofantasy and even dystopia. Throw in the old Irish deities, Tir na n'Og, changelings, global warming, and - well, you get the idea. Somehow this combination actually works, producing three linked works which span nearly a century (well, and then things get really wacko at the end, but whatever) and at least 5 generations. Like the setting, the author is Irish (and a fiddler herself); the three titles are The New Policeman, The Last of the High Kings, and The White Horse Trick.

            Kronos Chronicles - Marie Rutkoski

            I don't know why 16th-century Bohemia isn't used as a setting more often, at least if this series is any indication of how fascinating it was. (Still kicking myself for sleeping through this author signing last April...) Petra's father, Mikal Kronos, is a genius with metal; in fact, her pet spider, Astrophil, is a small sentient tin being her father made for her. When the prince commissions him to make an astrological clock, and then (ew ew ew) removes Mikal's eyes so he can't repeat the feat, a pissed-off Petra heads for Prague to get them back. Aided by a Gypsy lad with talents of his own, as well as some useful trinkets from her childhood friend Tomik, she makes her way into the palace - and then things get REALLY weird. Look for appearances by actual historical personages (notably John Dee, who, for those who have also read Michael Scott's Nicholas Flamel series, comes off in a very different light in this context). Titles here are The Cabinet of Wonders, The Celestial Globe, and The Jewel of the Kalderash.

            Fallen Moon - K. J. Taylor

            Right, confession time - I haven't made it through this whole trilogy yet, but felt that I needed to include it 'cause it's COOL. You've probably noticed that I'm a giant dragon fiend, but when I saw these griffin titles start showing up I took notice - after all, still giant flying mythical creatures, right? And then I found out that the author is Australian, and we all know what a kick I get out of the awesome fantasy coming out of Australia these days, so bonus points for that! Anyway, Arren Cardockson, though a northerner and therefore seen as a slave by the southern nobility, has been chosen as a companion by a griffin. He has risen through society despite his origins, but a wrong step sends his fate spiraling out of control. It's pretty dark (at least so far) and I have to admit I'm looking forward to finishing it - if I remember, I'll even update this post when I do. :-) Titles are The Dark Griffin, The Griffin's Flight, and The Griffin's War.

            Dark Heavens - Kylie Chan

            More Aussie goodness! More that I, erm, haven't quite finished yet, but I have a good excuse this time, I only got my hands on them a few days ago (they were published in Australia starting in 2006 but have only made it over here in the past couple of months). Anyway, Emma Donahoe, an Australian living in Hong Kong, has quit her job at a kindergarten to be a full-time nanny for 4-year-old Simone, the daughter of powerful businessman John Chen. Or, is he a businessman? They don't usually carry swords with them everywhere, do they? A heady mix of Chinese mythology, martial arts, and, y'know, creatures and stuff. I'll have to update this one too, I guess... The writing isn't always as smooth as I'd like and it takes a little while to get going, but when it does, boy does it ever! Titles here are White Tiger, Red Phoenix and Blue Dragon.

            *The exception seems to be fantasy trilogies by debut/foreign authors - when those come out as mass market originals, they seem to arrive one a MONTH instead, which is awesome 'cause you only have the jitters for a little while before the next one appears. :-)