Friday, December 31, 2010

And A Happy New Year to You

Wow, we have finally reached the last day of 2010.  I don't know what your year was like, but mine was one heck of a roller coaster.  I am sure that 2011 will be no different.

I think that for the most part it was a good year.  I am not looking back on it with any major regrets, and that is a good thing for sure.  That doesn't mean there aren't things about myself I would like to improve in the coming year.  While I don't really believe in New Year's Resolutions, I do believe in setting goals for oneself.  The start of a new year seems as good a time as any to do that, certainly.  So, to close out this blog for the year, I am going to share my goals for 2011 with you.

Read More Books
I have a pile of books in my room right now (I believe I have shown you a picture) that need to be read.   When I get a new DVD or book, I try not to just put it on the shelf without watching or reading it first.  DVDs are easy to work my way through, but books, which I used to blow through like nobody's business, are another matter altogether these days.  Pretty much the only dedicated reading time I have is during meals when my husband isn't home.  That time isn't completely dedicated either, because while the reading is a nice distraction from the huge mess my daughter is usually making of the meal in front of her, I do still keep an eye on her to make sure all is right in the world.  My book pile wouldn't be a problem if I didn't continually add to it, but, well, I am a bibliophile, married to a bibliophile, and I am sure you can guess how that goes.

Really, this goal boils down to better time management.  My daughter's nap-time is an excellent time for reading, but usually I witter that away on the computer or playing a video game.  Same thing with after she goes to bed.  So.  My first goal for 2011 is to find a way to update my routine to allow me to get in some regular quality reading time.

Finally Get Our CD Library Under Control
Oy.  This is one I have been trying to get done off and on for a while, since we moved into our house 3+ years ago.  Between the two (now three) of us we have well over a thousand CDs.  The thing is, we rarely listen to them anymore now that iTunes keeps all of our music in one convenient space-saving place.  We have done a good job on curbing our purchase of physical CDs, certainly.  But right now all of those CDs from before the paradigm shift are sitting in boxes in our garage.  Some of them have been imported into iTunes, a lot of them haven't.  Thankfully I had the foresight to type up the title/artist of each CD as I packed it when we moved.  I even thought to notate which box it was packed in (I numbered the boxes).  Earlier this year, I did go through our spreadsheet and compare it to my iTunes, but now I need to do the same for my husband's iTunes.  Then I need to pull out all of the CDs that need to be imported and do that.  Then I need to find something to do with the bulk of the CDs that we no longer need to hold on to, once they've been imported, as well as finding something to do with the physical CDs we do want to keep.  It's a big task, but I am determined to get it done this year.  Along with that, I would like to get a connector for my iPod to put in my car so I can stop burning CDs to play when I am driving around.

Knit, Knit, Knit
Sadly, this is a carryover goal from 2010.  I did start the process of teaching myself to knit earlier this year, but then got completely derailed by a glut of big blanket projects for various weddings and babies and my daughter and such.  Also, I find it really hard to get motivated to make practice pieces.  So for 2011 I am going to try a slightly different approach.  I have a few patterns for knitted projects and the yarn and needles for them as well.  I think I am just going to dive into the pattern, along with my trusty copy of The Knitting Answer Book, and just see what happens.  This could be a disaster, or it could be awesome.  Finding out should be a bit of an adventure.  I am also planning to alternate projects between knitting and crochet, (I really do have a problem making more than one project at once) and that way I won't be giving up my true crafting love completely.

This goal is divided into three parts.  The first is that I would like to revise, expand, and edit the novel I wrote in November.  Basically, I want to get a second draft banged out, and get one or two people to read it and give me some feedback.  Second, I have another story that I want to start the groundwork on.  I will need to do some actual research for this one, and start in on the world building, as well as getting some characters and a plot/outline worked up.  I don't know that I plan to actually start writing this book in 2011, but I want to seriously dig in to the prep work.  Third, I definitely want to participate in (and win) National Novel Writing Month again.    Maybe getting the first two parts of this accomplished is a bit ambitious of a goal, but I think I can do it. 

So, there you have it, four of my personal goals for 2010.  There are a few other things I would like to get done, of course, but these are the big ones weighing on my mind as we close out the year.  I don't have any huge plans for ringing in the new year tonight--my daughter and I are going to dinner with friends and then we'll hang out at our place for a bit (Hubby has a gig).  I have really come to enjoy these quiet New Year's Eves, though, so I am looking forward to it.

I hope that, whatever you have planned for tonight's celebrations, you have a wonderful (and safe) evening.  Happy happy New Year to you all!

I'll close out with my favorite song to listen to on December 31, A Long December by Counting Crows.  I started listening to this on New Year's Eve because I had a few (to my younger self) crappy years and this song always makes me pause and remember that there's always hope things can get better.  I have found that even if it wasn't a bad year, this song still strikes home with me.  It is a beautiful tune, and always worth a listen.

Also, tomorrow is the Rose Bowl, so GO FROGS!!!

One more also, don't forget to check out today's Gronk!  It's another guest strip, but still awesome.  In today's strip, Gronk tries to replicate Schrodinger's experiment.  It, um, doesn't work out well for Gronk.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Webcomics are Awesome: Drive (The Scifi Comic)

For my second entry in my Webcomics are Awesome feature, I submit to you another one by Dave Kellett.  Today I am going to tell you about the wonderful comic Drive (The Scifi Comic).  I love the fact that the subtitle of this comic is what it is.  That makes me terribly happy.  Drive is Kellett's departure from his long-running regular strip Sheldon, and his entry into the storytelling of not just geeks, but their actual subject matter of choice.  (Fans of Sheldon never fear, he still does that comic five days a week, this is just an extra project.)

Let's get a description of the comic from the creator himself:

"An operatic comic strip told in weekly, page-by-page installments, the science fiction tale in DRIVE takes place in the year 2401.  The strip tells the story of the second Spanish Empire -- a galactic empire -- and its war with a race called "The Continuum of Makers".

We follow the crew of the Machito, who have been press-ganged into a unique mission by an Emperor they despise. But their mission ripples out in ways neither they nor the Emperor could imagine, to impact the fate of both warring races." 

Though the story follows the adventures of the Machito, from time to time we get entries that are "lost" historical documents of the royal "Familia," the almost mafia-like bloodline that maintains exclusive access to and control over the secrets of the drive technology that the empire's foundation was built upon.  We also are treated to the odd entry from the Enciclopedia XenobiologĂ­a, or logs from the Machito's xenobiologist.  All of this serves to flesh out the world in which Drive takes place.

There are several characters that make up this tale, but the two that stand out most brightly to me are the first two that we meet (after the prologue wraps up).  Nosh, a Veetan, was serving as Science Advisor to the Imperial Navy when he was framed for killing the emperor (even though he was on a different planet at the time) and sent to a prison moon.  This is where he meets a small alien of unknown species who appears to have come down with a serious case of amnesia, knowing neither his name, his species, or the crime for which he was imprisoned.  But, before waking up with amnesia on a prison moon, he attempted to save Nosh from an attack by an erstwhile prison guard and so was befriended by the larger alien.  When Nosh's crew (aboard the Machito) show up to rescue him, he takes his new friend, soon christened Skitter (Skitter voted for Steve but was vetoed), along with them.

Before long, the crew of the Machito find out that Skitter has an uncanny ability to sense asteroids and other debris in space, allowing him to pilot the ship like nobody's business, and so he soon becomes an invaluable member of the crew.  So invaluable, in fact, that the new emperor (who knows perfectly well that Nosh didn't kill his uncle) tracks them down and tasks the Machito with finding 10,439 more of him to pilot the rest of the ships in the fleet.

Of course, the problem here is that no one, including Skitter, knows what species Skitter belongs to or where he comes from.  So the crew embarks on a journey to figure that the heck out--with a few stops along the way, including, as one would expect, the friendly intergalactic Denny's.

Drive is a comic that both kids and adults--heck, anyone that loves spaceships and funny things--can enjoy.  The back story is incredibly rich--for an "experimental" strip, Kellett did an impressive amount of world-building--and it shows.  He manages to keep it fresh each week while still moving the story forward.  The story itself is truly an intriguing one.  Kellett lets us know that some of the people are holding certain cards up their sleeves, but we don't necessarily know what those cards are.  It is very fun to watch everything unfold as the various plot points converge.  To put it simply, Drive is an absolutely delightful strip.  I think even just marginal science fiction fans could really get into this.  Drive is the kind of thing I could easily see being my favorite Saturday morning cartoon.

New strips of Drive are published once a week, on Saturdays (reinforcing the feel of the Saturday morning cartoon).  Kellett is working on getting the strip up on its own site, but it is not quite ready just yet.  In the meantime, you can find it on the Sheldon website (just go to the archives and click on a Saturday) or you can check out the whole thing on its temporary site.  The first strip can be found here.    There aren't that many strips so far, since it is fairly new and only running one day a week, so you should be able to catch up pretty quickly.  There first major story arc is also available in a book in the Sheldon store.  This story is definitely even better when read in one large chunk.  In fact, I ended up reading my copy again last night after flipping through it in preparation to write this post...

Enjoy, my friends, enjoy!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ooh, Look What I Made

So, now that Christmas has passed, I can reveal to you a few of the projects I have made in the last little while, yay!

Let's just dive right in, shall we?

Winter Warmth by Cori 2010.

Pattern:  Angora Tam by Lion Brand
Yarn:  Red Heart Super Saver in Aran
Hook:  I

I made this set for my mother-in-law for Christmas.  Like the tam and scarf I made for Flick Filosopher, I used the pattern of the hat for the scarf, though I changed it up a little bit.  I was much much happier with how this one came out.  Also, it used less than a skein of yarn for the set, and I worked it up in just a couple of days.  This is an excellent little last-minute gift that I will definitely be keeping in mind in the future.

Nightcap by Cori 2010.

Yarn:  Lion Brand Wool-Ease in Grey Heather
Hook:  J

I totally improvised the pattern for this little cap, which I made for my husband's stocking.  He is rarely seen without a hand-made beanie on his head during the cold months (he has a few, made by myself and by my sister).  He even likes to sleep in them, since he is a freak of nature and is incapable of burrowing under the covers like a normal person (i.e., like me, the bedtime burrito).  Um, I digress.  I love my husband very much.  I was pondering whether to make him a new hat or socks for his stocking and he mentioned that as much as he loves his beanies, they never stay on at night, so I wanted to try to make him a hat that would actually stay on his head while he is sleeping.  So far, this one seems to have worked!  I modeled it after the old-fashioned sleeping caps you often see in movies.  I am pretty proud of how this one came out.  Also, the Wool-Ease is my favorite new hat and sweater yarn by the way.  It is super warm and soft without being crazy thick, and as a bonus, is completely machine washable and can even go in the dryer!  I call that a win.

Plus Five to Warmth by Cori 2010.

Yarn:  Red Heart Sport in Paddy Green
Hook:  G

I initially made these to go in my daughter's stocking, but ended up stashing them to go on the Christmas tree next year instead, because the fit is not all that great.  The wrists openings are too wide and the thumbs are too small.  I improvised this pattern because the smallest I could find for mittens was for 2 year olds, and my daughter at 16 months is still fitting comfortably in some of her 3-6 month pants (though they are a bit short).  She's healthy, but she is a tiny little thing (which she certainly doesn't get from me).  In addition, most of the patterns I found called for really bulky yarn (like Homespun), which I wasn't feeling for the project.  So I may just have to try again next year, I guess.  I still thought they were pretty cute though (which is why I've relegated them to ornament status), and they only took a day to whip up, so not a complete loss, all told.

Jewel Top by Cori 2010.

"Model" Shot.

Pattern:  Dinner at Eight Top by Lion Brand (size Medium/Large)
Yarn:  Lion Brand Vanna's Glamour in Ruby Red
Hook:  H

So this is the project I was putting off working on when I made my husband's hat and my daughter's mittens.  I'm not completely dissatisfied with how it turned out, but it is not exactly how it was supposed to be.  The top is supposed to be an overlapped V, sort of like how a wrap-around shirt looks.  Also, when I was putting the skirt and the top together and trying it on to see how that would look, what it looked like was a maternity top.  Since I have no plans to need a maternity top again, well, ever, that wasn't gonna fly.  So, I did several rows of single crochet at the top of the skirt to give it that waist panel before joining the top and bottom halves.  I think that if I were to make this top again (or if I could go back in time and give myself some tips), I would keep a better eye on my gauge (I had two skeins of yarn left over when I was done), and I would probably make the next size up, at least for the top half of the shirt.  But, it is cute how it is, and I like the sparkle in the yarn.  Vanna's Glamour is a little too thin for my tastes, and that strip of sparkly means it is a pain to wash, but with another yarn, this could come out really nicely, I think.

Thermal Scarf & Sweater Set (Sweater) by Cori 2010

Thermal Scarf & Sweater Set (Scarf) by Cori 2010.

Baby Girl Models the Sweater.

Baby Girl Models the Scarf.

Pattern:  Thermal Scarf by Lion Brand
Yarn:  Red Heart Super Saver in Dark Orchid
Hook:  I

Okay, so after I finished my Jewel Top, I finally came back to the sweater I was trying to make for my daughter.  I ended up going with a different pattern, because I wanted something more solid for the cold weather.  So I took the pattern for the Thermal Scarf and used it to wing a sweater.  For ease of putting it on and getting it off, the neck is a shade too wide and the sleeves are a shade too narrow, but it actually fits her really well and I am pretty happy with how it came out.  She seems to enjoy it as well.  The scarf I just made from the pattern, making it a bit narrower and shorter.  It took about three days for both of these items and only about a skein and a half of yarn (I love the Red Heart Super Saver skeins).

Right now I am working on a cowl for myself, and though it is not turning out how I expected (but, I will note, that is an error on my part, because I was expecting something different than what the pattern was intended to produce), I am really liking how it looks.  It should keep me nice and cozy this winter.  I'll have more on that once it's done, to be sure.

After that I have one more sweater to make and then I am gonna start lining up my yarn craft plans for the new year. 

For anyone interested in the patterns from Lion Brand, they are available for free on the company's website, though you do have to register (totally free) with the site to see them.  That's why I didn't link directly to the patterns, but their search tool is pretty user-friendly, so you should be able to find them no problem.  As for my "original" patterns, I really, really hate writing out patterns, so even when I start out trying to keep track, I usually forget to record my steps well before I get to the end of the project.  Wonder of wonders, I did record the pattern I used for the Winter Warmth scarf.  I put it in the project details on my Ravelry page.  My user name there is AtlantisDragonGrl, so feel free to check that out if you have an account.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Final Thoughts on Kingdom Hearts

I didn't get around to mentioning this in yesterday's post (went off on a little rant there, sorry folks), but I wrapped up Boxing Day by finishing Kingdom Hearts!  That was an excellent, excellent way to finish up the holiday weekend, let me tell you.  Today I am going to dive right into Kingdom Hearts II, but before I get that underway, I thought I would share a few of my final thoughts on the first KH with you guys.

Be warned, today's posts will contain spoilers for the story of the game.

First off, I know I griped about this game a lot while I was playing.  I am sure many of you wondered why I even kept it up.  Well, those of you that don't have first-hand experience of my stubborn nature, at any rate.  But I think the primary reason that this game was so frustrating for me was that at its basic core, the concept of this game is truly awesome.  The execution of that concept, however, was frequently flawed.  Running into those flaws so often managed to just take me right out of the joy of the game, and those were the moments I tended to focus on afterward when I was thinking and talking about KH.  The secondary reason was that I had played most of the game (poorly) before this attempt.  So I was running over old ground.  While my real-life game playing ability has leveled up considerably since my last stab at KH, that actually only presented a new crop of problems for me this time around.  Certainly, some of the things I had issues with previously were no longer an issue and I was able to deal with the in-game challenges much more easily.  But the flip-side of that coin is those flaws in execution that I was talking about earlier.  They stand out so much more obviously to me now that I actually have some idea of what I am doing, and have also played some really, truly, excellently designed and executed games (*cough* Bioware *cough*).  Once I hit new territory, however, and got to the points in the game that I had never played, I will admit that I started having a lot more fun playing.  My obsession was no longer a drive to conquer this challenge that has beaten me for so long, but simply excitement to play the game and find out what happens next.

I wish I could say I was able to make 100 % completion of the game, but that would be a lie, and a laughable one at that.  I did find all 99 of the dalmatian puppies though, as well as complete the other two requirements to unlock the secret "ending" after the game credits.  I am fairly certain I will not be playing the game again though.  I have finished it, finally, and I am done.  I am glad I played it, but it is not the kind of game, for me, that drives me to seek out more.  Perhaps it once did, because that is definitely why I own KH II, but no more.  My own playing style and choices have certainly evolved.  I'm not saying I am better than KH, but it is no longer the kind of game that gets in my brain and stays there, begging for a replay or the next installment of the franchise.  It is not a true RPG to me, and I think that seems to be more what I lean toward these days. 

Despite this, I am kind of excited about jumping in to the sequel.  I was reading the game booklet yesterday a little bit on my way to visit our family and some of what I read gives me hope that a lot of the issues that drove me nuts in the first game were addressed in the second.  I'll have to get in and actually start playing to find out, but my fingers are crossed.

There are three final things about KH I want to address.

First, while the story driving the game was actually a pretty interesting one, I felt that the way it was wrapped up at the end of the game made no sense whatsoever.  I don't know if this was me being so tired I didn't pay close enough attention during the cut scenes and so missed some vital piece of information, or if it was a bad translation from the original concept script (the game was largely designed in Japan), or if it was just a poorly executed story finale.  Okay, this is the part that is about to get all spoilery.  Highlight the blocked text to read if you aren't concerned about spoilers, otherwise, you can just skip it.

Once the princesses and Kairi have been saved, the story kind of seemed to go off the rails.  At this point the keyholes to all of the worlds we have visited have been closed.  What did make sense:  Sora still wants/needs to find Riku, and hopefully save him from the darkness; Donald and Goofy still need to find King Mickey; now that we know from all of the assembled reports that Ansem is actually the bad guy, we should probably find him and stop him from destroying more worlds; stopping Ansem might actually restore all of the worlds that have already been destroyed.  Okay, good.  All of that seems like proper motivation to move forward, certainly.  So, we track down Ansem at "the end of the world," and beat him down, along with the weird crazy Heartless beast he rode in on.  Cool.  Then, there's one big final door, that seems to lead into...some weird darkness that has a whole bunch of Heartless spawning inside?   Okay, um, I guess that makes sense.  This is Ansem's handiwork after all.  But we're having a hard time shutting the door, and we aren't trying to use the keyblade.  I guess it doesn't work in this scenario?  Then, oh hey, it's Riku!  He's there behind the door, helping us!  And so is King Mickey!  WTF?  Where did he come from?  Where has he been all freaking game long to just suddenly pop up out of the middle of the Heartless, spouting about light, and it's okay to leave him and Riku behind the door.  It seems to me the only real reason to leave Riku and Mickey behind this door is to give us a plot for the sequel.  Because Riku, Sora, and Mickey have a big long conversation through the wide open door that at any point Riku and Mickey could have run through and then everyone could have shut it from the outside.  But whatever.  No, we're just gonna leave them in there to fight all of the Heartless, even though we have been looking for them both all game long.  Now there's a door to the light we're supposed to find.  Apparently, Ansem thought Kingdom Hearts were darkness, because all hearts start in the darkness or something, but Sora says he knows Kingdom Hearts are light.  Wait, what?  Sigh.  Oh, and there's Kairi, suddenly at the end of the world, even though we left her back in Traverse Town, without a Gummi Ship, so how did she get here?  And why, if she is here, does she get sent back to Destiny Islands when the worlds are restored and Sora doesn't?  I am so so so confused.  Sigh. 

I guess my point here is that I feel like either I totally missed some fundamental groundwork that explained all of those things that happened at the end, or nothing was actually set up throughout the game to explain why those things happened the way they did.  If that is the case, then that is a huge flaw in the game design.  That's all I am saying.  Hopefully, some of these questions get answered in KH II, but I am not actually holding my breath.

The second thing I want to address is the system of magic.  I was talking this over with my husband last night and I am actually glad I picked magic as my focus in the game, rather than strength, even though I still proceeded to hack and slash my way through most of the battles.  This is because it allowed me to use the iterations of "cure" to heal myself and my party.  I also really liked the gravity and fire spells, and those are the three I had equipped to my magic shortcuts.  But.  I feel like the system of magic for this game had so much potential that was just wasted.  For instance, the summons.  I chose magic as my focus this time around planning to use the summons a lot more, but I used them maybe twice in the whole game.  Why?  Because the process of summoning a character is so clunky it is almost counter-intuitive.  While in the middle of battle, you have to stop and stand still (while remaining completely vulnerable to your enemies) and scroll down to the "magic" menu listing, then scroll down that listing to "summon," and then scroll down yet another listing to choose the character you want to summon.  It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.  I mentioned that you get three shortcut buttons for magic, but you learn a whole lot of spells, some of which are pretty useful, or, in some cases, required in certain battles.  You can still use them even if they aren't set up for a shortcut, but you have to go through that scroll and choose thing every time you want to use that spell.  It just takes too long and is too many buttons to press for a game where the combat is in real-time.  You can change your shortcut items whenever you want, of course, except for when you are in the middle of a battle and have just figured out which particular spells you need for said battle, at which point you cannot access the menu at all.

I have some hopes that this is a little better in the next game, from the booklet it seems like it might be.  Fingers crossed.  I am just sad that such a potentially cool system got in the way of itself so easily and made itself too big a pain to actually use while playing.

The third and final thing I want to address is the items.  As I mentioned, you can't access your menu, and therefore your item inventory, when you are in the middle of a battle.  That means you've only got access to what is in your personal stock, which is, at most, six or seven items.  Those items can be accessed during battle, but only by stopping what you are doing, standing still (while remaining vulnerable) and scrolling the command list to items, then scrolling the items list to choose the one you want to use, and then usually scrolling a third list to choose which member of your party you want to use the item for.  It is just crazy.  Thankfully, as I mentioned before, I had enough magic points by the end of the game that I could just cure myself (or other party members) magically with a shortcut button, rather than have to scroll around trying to select a potion.  Also, while Donald and Goofy can hold more items than you can, they use them automatically and run out much more frequently, which means as soon as any battle is over, you need to be sure to restock them so they can help you out the next time you get into a tight jam.  You could have 30 Megalixirs (the instant complete-cure potion) in your stock, but if all of your party is out, then you are still gonna die.  Also, the really useful items like Tents and Cottages can only be used from the menu, and usually, where I would have wanted to (and been able to) use one, I had found a save point, which automatically restored my full health and magic points.  So those items, while awesome, were kind of redundant.  But once again, the tidbits I have gleamed from the KH II booklet give me hope that this has been improved in the next game.

So really, that's it, my thoughts on the first KH game.  I am glad I played it.  I am glad it's over.  I am glad I found all of the puppies.  I mean really, those poor puppies, crammed three into a chest and left strewn all over multiple worlds.  I am looking forward to the new game because it is just that, new.  To me at least.  I am hoping it will be a lot more fun.  We shall see though, we shall see.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Reports of the Death of Stargate Could Be Exaggerated

Well, maybe.  Possibly.  Joe Mallozzi says he won't say it's dead until he can for sure say that it is dead.  Brad Wright is fighting for the franchise as well from the reports that are making the rounds.  So rather than considering Syfy's cancellation of Stargate Universe (and the horrible, horrible way it was announced to the public--if ever I needed further reason to dislike Twitter, this was it) as an early and rather unthoughtful Christmas present, I am instead accepting the hope granted to us 'Gaters from Mallozzi and Wright.  It may be a slim hope, and it may be that nothing will pan out, but I'll take it nonetheless.

Already the internet is rife with gloating that such a supposedly awful show was finally canceled (just check the comment threads on any of Gateworld's stories regarding the matter).  What a lot of Stargate Atlantis fans (those who oh so vocally detested poor SGU) either fail to understand or just flatly refuse to believe is that if SGU is really and truly dead, so is Stargate in all of the forms that have come before.  That means SG-1.  And Atlantis.  Mallozzi has flat out said that all progress on the Atlantis movie (which was finally starting to gain a little bit of headway with MGM's recent resolution of its financial issues) has now been halted, specifically because of the cancellation of SGU.  If there is a third Stargate movie at this point, it will be for SGU, not Atlantis or SG-1.

But why?!?!  This is the collective cry going up wherever I look. But I have pieced together bits picked up here and there from Mallozzi, as well as from stories on Gateworld and other venues and think I have sussed out a reasonable answer to this question.  Ah, reason.  Something we fans seem to forget about completely when it comes to our franchise of choice.  I digress.  Right, answer.  So.  Here's the thing, or, things, I guess:

1.  SG-1 has already been given closure in the form of The Ark of Truth.  The story that the writers wanted to tell has been told.

2.  Atlantis's storyline may not have official closure, but Fandemonium just recently released the first book in their new Legacy series, which picks up where season five of the show left off.  It is a multi-novel arc intended to close out the story.  While true that it is not considered canon by the show writers, it is still one avenue of closure.  The first book, Homecoming, is available now.  Also, and canonically, in the yet-to-air back half of season two of SGU, we do get some explanation of what is going on with Atlantis beyond season five with the episode that will feature McKay and Woolsey.

3.  This is the most important one:  Stargate Universe is the most recently aired series in the franchise.  People are still grumbling that we didn't get closure to Atlantis, sure, but it has been a few years now.  More people are screaming that they want to find out how SGU wraps up.  Simple truth, whatever the internet would have you believe.  More significantly, the writers have written the story of closure for Atlantis already.  They haven't done so for SGU, so that's the story they are going to fight to get to tell.  People may be pissed about that, but, well, if there's any chance we get a movie, it will be because the people who are going to make it want to make it hard enough to fight for it.  So let's let them get on with that and keep our fingers crossed, shall we?

If we get an SGU movie (and Wright and Mallozzi seem to be first and foremost fighting to get a full third season before shooting for a movie), and if it does well, then we have a chance at the Atlantis movie, and possibly that SG-1 film as well.  But.  If we don't get that movie.  If whatever Wright is working on fails, and this truly is the end of SGU, then we are not going to get any more SG-1, Atlantis, or SGU.  MGM, while doing better, is just now starting to move forward.  If they are going to invest in a new straight-to-DVD movie, they are going to do it for the one that is freshest in the consumers' minds.  The more time that passes, the lower the chances get.  MGM is going to be taking very few risks in the coming years, you can count on that.  It sucks, but there it is.

Sigh.  I could get on a soap box and rant for hours about this, I really could.  I have already gone on at more length on the topic than I really intended to.  Here's what it comes down to:  If SGU is truly dead, then so is Stargate, at least in the terms that we know it today.  There is always the possibility that down the road somebody, whether it is Wright and Cooper or someone new entirely, will come up with a new spin on the franchise and we'll get a new series or a reboot.  But that will not be any time soon.  No one currently working on Stargate has been working on a fourth series, there isn't one in any state of development, because they were hoping and planning for at least a five season run for Universe, and wanted to get that story told before they moved on to a new idea.  Honestly, if Stargate does end here, I am okay with it.  I will be really surprised to see anyone currently involved in it become part of any future iterations--because let's face it, seventeen years on one franchise is a long, long time, especially in the world of television.

I truly honestly and fervently hope that this is not the end of Stargate as we know it, but I am okay if it is.  I have all of all three series on DVD to watch over and over at my leisure.  I have many, many books from Fandemonium to read whenever I want.  I probably won't ever have Stargate Worlds, but I've already come to terms with that.  If I need more than what I already have, I also have fan fiction.  There is a slew of it out there, beyond the ridiculously enormous amount I already have saved away for a rainy day.  The fans aren't going to stop writing it just because the shows aren't on the air any more.  So if this is the end, I will say a tearful goodbye and then move on with my life.  But, God, I hope this isn't the end.

A few quick words of advice (from people who actually know about these things, not me), if you do want to get involved with a save our show campaign.

1.  If you are going to write in to Syfy, be polite, be clear, make sure your spelling and grammar are exemplary.  Give logical, and fiscal, reasons to keep the show alive, not emotional pleas.

2.  Don't start your own campaign, join the biggest one you can find that already exists.  Lots of small campaigns have a much slimmer chance of being heard or noticed by the right people than one massively huge one.

3.  For Pete's sake, watch the rest of season two live when it airs!!  Figure out who the advertisers are and go buy their products, then write in to those advertisers and let them know how much you love the show and appreciate their support (and that you are giving them money).

So that's all I've got.  I will say that Stargate Wednesday will not be disappearing on this blog once SGU ends its run (be that this year or five years from now).  It may move to another day of the week, but once season two has ended, I am going to start a rewatch of Atlantis for you guys.  I'll probably then do a rewatch of SG-1 (starting with the movie).  After that, heck, I may move on to the books.  I am a Stargate fan.  I always will be.  So as long as I am blogging, I will be sharing that love with anyone who cares to read about it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sandra Boynton's Christmastime (Part Seven)

Coming Down From Christmas

"Wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose, wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose, wee fish ewe a mare egrets moose, panda hippo gnu deer!"  --Sandra Boynton

Boynton wraps up the ever delightful Christmastime by discussing the hard fact that once Christmas has come and gone, we are all left with a little bit of emptiness in our hearts.  The season is such an immersive one that we are all bound to feel a little bit bereft when it has ended.  But as always, Boynton has the solution to the problem she presents.  She suggests that with careful planning, and a bit of thinking ahead, you can easily make Christmas a season to be enjoyed for the duration and remembered fondly when gone, without that pang of regret.  Be careful when making your plans, however, because she feels that being overly prepared is as much the cause of post-Christmas letdown as not being prepared enough.  She advises that the three most common training errors leading up to Christmas are as follows:

Overtraining: Be careful not to wear yourself out when making your preparations and plans for Christmastime.  This is very easy to do and can lead to diminished enjoyment of the season overall, and not just an overwhelming sense of disappointment once Christmas is done.

Overreaching:  Likewise, keep your expectations simple and as realistic as possible, especially if you are the person in charge of Christmas in your household.  Quite often people are disappointed after Christmas because they have set themselves up to be so.  Remember to enjoy each moment as you are in it, and try not to be constantly looking ahead to what is yet to come, just in case it doesn't.

Peaking Too Soon:  The earlier you start "celebrating" Christmas, the longer you have to keep up your spirits, and the harder it becomes to sustain those happy Christmastime feelings.  Especially in the face of everyone else you may have to deal with day in and day out.  Wait as long as you can (without making yourself insane) to start the decorating and the shopping and the celebration, and you'll have a better chance of enjoying the season more than you would if you try to stretch it out.  Getting just the right amount of holiday cheer is the best way to feel relaxed and at peace once it passes you by.

She also cautions that no matter how much you enjoy the season, even the best of us are likely to watch Christmastime pass with at least a smidgen of relief.  And that's okay.  It is a crazy season, as fun as it can be, and it is probably a very good thing that it only comes once a year.  If you're still feeling blue when the tinsel is cleared and the presents are put away, just remind yourself, that it does, in fact, come once a year, which means next year you get to do it all over again!

And that finishes off Sandra Boynton's Christmastime.  I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts on my favorite holiday book with you.  If you stumble across a copy, or feel like venturing onto Amazon's Marketplace, I highly recommend picking it up.  It is a quick read and one sure to strike a note with each member of your family.  As I can attest, it is also an excellent book to grow up with, keeping the true spirit of the season alive while capturing all of the ups and down that inevitably accompany it.  My daughter will definitely be growing up with this book as a part of her holiday tradition, I can tell you that.

And with that, I bid you a very very Merry Christmas, my friends!  I hope you have a truly wonderful holiday.  See you back on Monday!

P.S.  Don't forget to check out the new installment of Gronk here! It is the first of a run of a few weeks of guest strips, actually, because the artist/writer Katie Cook just made a new human this past week (huzzah to her!), but it is still pretty cute.  Enjoy.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sandra Boynton's Christmastime (Part Six)

Chapter Five
Good Things to Eat

"Imagine, for example, an apparently civilized country where the natives keep Christmas by eating the heads of wild boars, by drinking from ceremonial vessels a warm ale-and-egg brew, and by setting fire to sweetened mounds of beef loin fat and flour!  And yet, for all that, the British are probably people just like us."  --Sandra Boynton

Well, this chapter certainly seems inevitable.   What kind of book about the traditions of Christmas doesn't mention food?  Not a good one, that's for sure.  As always, Boynton approaches her chapter on the edible goodies of the seasons with just the right balance of wry humor and useful and/or interesting information.  Eating and drinking are wrapped up inextricably in almost every other Christmas tradition practiced around the world.  Think to your own favorite memories of Christmas.  How many of them involve sitting around a dinner table with your family, or a gathered group chatting together with some sort of holiday drinks in hand?  Breakfast is a big part too, of course, and usually comes into play somehow with the ritual of opening presents.  Then, of course, there are all of the goodies that suddenly appear everywhere you go this time of year.  Schools and offices are flooded with yummy baked goods.  Food is just part of this season.

Boynton embraces this wholeheartedly. She provides several recipes (three different kinds of cookies, Wassail Punch, plum pudding, and a very special post-holidays recipe).  For each she gives a little bit of background on the dish and its role in the season, along with some amusing little anecdotes.  I was even inspired to give one of the recipes a try for the first time ever this year.  I opted for the Rolled Lemon Cookies (page 95).  I even went out and bought a rolling pin and pastry mat especially for the occasion (okay, well I've been meaning to get those for ages anyway, but this was as good an excuse as any to finally do it). 

Note the traditional Christmas Squirrel, Mom.

I think they came out pretty well, actually.  They were very light and fluffy, and like a basic sugar cookie with just a hint of lemon.  Before I decided to ice them I didn't think they were quite sweet enough, but with the icing they are perfect (I used a basic powdered sugar/butter/vanilla extract icing).  Hubby and Baby Girl both seem to like them as well.  I halved the recipe, and it yielded just about three dozen cookies.  I got around two dozen cut out with cookie cutters and then divided the rest up into little balls, which I am calling "Lemon Drops."  I think the full recipe, primarily using cookie cutters would give you about five dozen cookies.  So kudos to Boynton on an awesome recipe.  Maybe next year I'll get brave and try the Pfeffernusse.  Then again, maybe not.

"Traditionally, families leave out homemade cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve.  Some people leave him a whole fruitcake (see page 77), and his appreciation is such that he in turn leaves an identical cake under their tree."  --Sandra Boynton

I have to say, Boynton is definitely on to something here.  Even before I really started to get into doing a lot more baking again (I actually did bake quite a bit as a kid and teenager, but college killed the mojo until recently), around Christmastime I could always be counted on for at least a batch of cookies or a pineapple chess pie.  Yesterday, in addition to the lemon cookies, I made a few other goodies as well.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Fruity Rice Krispie Treats

The oatmeal cookies were the store-bought pre-cut "break apart and cook" dough kind, but, hey, I like those, and I figured now is as good a time as any to get them out of my freezer and in somebody's tummy.  The Rice Krispie treats have 2 parts Fruity Pebbles to 3 parts Rice Krispies.  It gives them a lot more flavor and a nice festive dash of color to boot.

Of course, as soon as Hubby got home, I gave him half of these goodies, all bagged up and ready to go to the office with him in the morning.  Just because I felt like making them doesn't mean I want to eat all of them.  Hmm.  We may need to try that special post-holidays recipe after all.  It's a pretty simple recipe, here, I'll share it with you:

Sandra Boynton's Karottenstickendietettisch

1.  Wash and peel:  24 carrots
2.  Slice lengthwise, and arrange appetizingly on a platter.

Bon appetit my friends!

Tomorrow:  Coming Down From Christmas

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sandra Boynton's Christmastime (Part Five)

Chapter Four
Christmas Traditions

 "A Christmas tradition is anything that happens every Christmastime, without fail."  --Sandra Boynton
Do you know that the true function of a fruitcake is?  (Hint:  It's not for eating.)  More on that in a bit.

In Chapter Four of Christmastime Boynton delves into a a few of the more widespread traditions of the season.  In her mind the most universal of these traditions is, of course, the gathering of family to celebrate together.  Christmastime certainly is a season that has sprung up and developed around being with loved ones.  There are few other times every year when people across the globe reach out to those members of their family that they don't get to see regularly, often even making the trek to visit and celebrate together in person.  Even in this day and age when travel has become such a huge pain in the rear (from expense to invasion of privacy to the risks involved just getting from point A to point B), this is still the time of year when most people are either going somewhere to see their family or entertaining visiting family in their own homes.

I will take a moment to point out that while I agree with Boynton wholeheartedly that Christmastime is a time for family, my husband and I actually aren't going anywhere this year for Christmas, nor are we entertaining any guests of our own.  It is Baby Girl's second Christmas, but the first when she might actually grasp what is going on, so we are looking forward to spending a quiet day at home with her, relaxing and being lazy and watching (or helping) her play with her new toys.  Also, new Doctor Who.  But this is not the norm for us.  We usually at the very least make a day trip into Mineral Wells to see the my husband's family, and sometimes we manage to work things out to visit my mom or dad.  As much as I look forward to having Christmas morning with just our small family unit, I will be missing my larger family quite a bit, I promise you that.  I am sure that in addition to all of that relaxing and playing, time will be made to call and chat with those we can't be with.  We will be making a day trip into Mineral Wells, of course, just a few days late this year.

Boynton next takes a few pages to discuss Santa Claus.  She gives a little of his back-story and describes the generally accepted version of the myth.  She points out that Orwell has got nothing on the lyrics to "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," but yet somehow we all still view Saint Nick as a benevolent presence nonetheless.  She also acknowledges that there are plenty of people out there who do not believe (nor do they indulge in the belief of others) in the story of Santa Claus.  She further advises avoiding these people at all costs, because really, who wants that kind of unimaginative influence in their life?  (It is slightly possible that I just might concur on this point.)

Helpful Hints

To keep candycanes from becoming stuck to easy-chair cushions or embedded in your carpeting, either:

To enhance the beauty and extend the indoor life of your Christmas tree:  ADD 1/4 CUP SUGAR TO THE WATER IN THE TREE STAND  (Note:  Do not add saccharin, as this will cause your tree to turn to plastic.)

--Sandra Boynton

Boynton also turns her attention to a few other common Christmas traditions, such as stockings, Christmas music, and nativity sets.   She strikes a nice balance between the history behind the evolution of these traditions as well as their roles in modern Christmas celebrations.  This chapter is wonderfully entertaining as well as being just a little bit informative.  It reads a bit like a "history" lesson from your dad.  You know what I'm talking about, right?  You ask your dad why something is the way it is and he tells you what he knows (or thinks he knows) and then keeps on going until you stop him, just making it up off the top of his head.  I mean this in the best possible way.

Then, finally, we get to the fruitcakes.  Remember when I was introducing this series and I talked about my family's tradition of story time on Christmas Eve?  I said that whenever it was my turn to choose a story, I would read my favorite excerpt from Christmastime.  That excerpt comes from this chapter of the book, and is a brief little section titled "A Traditional Holiday Sport."  That sport is a fun little game Boynton describes called "Pass the Fruitcake."  In PtF, once a family has received a fruitcake, it is considered "in play," and the goal is to get rid of it as quickly as possible without eating it, throwing it away, or being discovered by the people who gave it to you in the first place.  I don't think there's any way I could do this section justice with a description, and there are many reasons why I can't just post the whole entry here, but if you ever stumble across a copy of this book, do yourself a favor and pick it up and flip to this section at the very least.  I dare you not to chuckle, or even laugh out loud.

I have to admit, I have never actually had fruitcake.  We were never invited to play the game, I guess.  But given the bad rap this treat gets in books and movies and on television, I kind of don't think I ever want to try it.  But at the same time, I am morbidly curious.  Is it something like green-bean casserole (which I love)?  Does it get a bad rap because it looks funny and has things in it that a lot people are just naturally averse to, despite them being awesome?  Is it something that is just really hard to make correctly, and thusly something that is really easy to make taste bad?  I dunno.  But every year I wonder, largely in part due to Sandra Boynton.

Tomorrow:  Good Things to Eat

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sandra Boynton's Christmastime (Part Four)

Chapter Three
Gift Giving

Yet Another Consumer Tip:  Before you place your gift order with any mail-order catalog company, make sure they have a policy of NO UNAUTHORIZED SUBSTITUTIONS. --Sandra Boynton

Boynton starts off her chapter on Christmas presents by declaring that the giving of those presents is truly one of the greatest joys of the season.  Of course, coming up with an idea for, and then procuring, each gift is another matter entirely.  As is actually affording those great gifts you stumble across.  In the current economy I think it is definitely fair to say that the truth still rings clearly in that idea.

I have said before that I am amazed at how relevant this book has managed to stay over the past twenty-three years, while still containing a few glaringly dated snapshots of the general mindset in the eighties.  This chapter is an excellent example of both concepts, to be sure.

Much like in Chapter Two, where Boynton discusses sending cards out of obligation as opposed to genuine friendship or affection, she also delves into gift-giving for the same reason.  She acknowledges that these gifts of obligation are not even remotely in the running to be joys of the season, and does submit that you could decide to forgo these gifts in order to save money, time, and effort, as well as to bolster your conscience.  She comes back from that suggestion, however, with a snarky comment about your pride in making the right choice sustaining you "through the loss of your job, wrath of your relatives, and the substantial deterioration of mail delivery, trash collection, and car servicing throughout the coming year."

Okay, I'm not gonna touch the thing about relatives with a ten-foot pole, the expectations and practices in every family are different, and even I can admit there might be some obligatory gift-giving there, depending on just who you might be related to.  As far as the "loss of job" thing, I am going to hazard a guess that the obligatory gift to one's boss was an eighties thing.  Mostly because every time I read this part of Christmastime I get a picture in my head of Chevy Chase hopefully holding out a present to his boss in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and being directed to place it on table with the twenty or thirty other clearly identical gifts (and I still really want to know what that gift was, because it was shaped so oddly, mostly for humor, I am sure, but still). 

Look, I worked in an office environment for almost eight years, and I had several bosses come and go in that time.  I gave (most of) my bosses a card each year, and every once in a while someone might take up a collection to get a group gift for a boss, but only once did I ever personally give a gift to one of my managers, and that was because she was the best boss I have ever had and I really wanted her to know I actually appreciated her.  The suggestion that someone might actually get fired for failing to kiss up properly in the form of a Christmas present really rankles me.  I am sure Boynton meant it for humor, but for some reason it just rubs me the wrong way.  It also leaves me desperately hoping that the reference truly is a dated one.

As far as the thing about giving gifts to mail carriers, trash collectors, and mechanics, well, do people actually do that?  This is something outside of my realm of experience.  Is this just an old tradition that has lapsed?  Is this something that occurs among the wealthier set?  I really don't know.  As far as mail carriers and trash collectors, I am not even sure we have the same people do this job day in and day out for our street, it seems to change frequently, and I do not have personal contact with these people, why would I give them a gift?  I do have a pretty much steady mechanic, but he is paid quite well for his services, and honestly, the better he does his job, the less I see him, so again, why a present?

So I don't know if those particular trials of gift-giving are irrelevant to today or just to me personally, but either way, that is pretty much the biggest point in the book where I fail to identify with Boynton's narrative.  I'm not gonna pretend I still don't get a giggle out of the illustrations on that page though.  So, moving on.

For people who don't feel up to passing on the obligatory gift-giving, or people who just aren't quite able to financially fulfill their gift-giving dreams, Boynton suggests that this is as good a time as any to start picking fights with your friends.  You can always apologize next year.  Or you could re-gift items that you've received and never used.  She cautions to be careful to keep track of who gave you the item you are re-gifting, so as to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness (another wonderful little illustration).  But in the end, she reminds you that the greatest gift you can give to those people who really matter to you is of yourself.

Avoiding the Two Most Common Christmas-Gift Pitfalls:  From September onward, do not allow your children to watch any television whatsoever.  Keep some undesignated gifts in reserve, for anyone who might have been inadvertently overlooked.  --Sandra Boynton

Next up, Boynton tackles the subject of actually shopping for gifts.  She posits that back then, as is still the case now, the idea of venturing to the mall for a spot of Christmas shopping is really something to be dreaded.  There are just so many reasons why this is a BAD IDEA, for the shopper's sanity and peace of mind, as well as holiday spirit and pocketbook.  Remember that this book predates the institutionalization of Black Friday.  I would be curious to see an updated version containing Boynton's thoughts on that, to be sure.  However, she also posits that if you approach Christmas shopping expecting it to be a horrible experience, it will be.  If you approach it as a challenge to be met, then you are likely to come out of it with a feeling of accomplishment, and while the process may not have necessarily have been enjoyable, at least you won't be holding a grudge against your loved ones for making you venture out into that mess in the first place.  She also notes that there are a few rare creatures who simply enjoy the whole process of Christmas shopping, from start to finish, though she is as baffled by those folks as the rest of us.

Funnily enough, she doesn't mention those people who start their Christmas shopping in January and are already done by the time November and December roll around.  Perhaps she was holding to the old saying, "if you don't have anything nice to say..."

As always, Boynton suggests a few alternatives to braving the malls and other bricks and mortar stores.  The first is making gifts by hand.  She doesn't have much to say about this particular route (other than a snarky mock-magazine cover claiming to hold patterns for crocheted sports car covers and patterns for all of the clothes being worn by the royal family this holiday).  She simply acknowledges that it is an alternative, though one not everybody necessarily has the ability to take.  As a crocheter, I will admit I do tend to make at least a few of my gifts each year, so I will add my own two cents on the subject.  Don't make presents unless you really a) want to, b) know what you are getting yourself into, and c) truly love the person you are making something for.  Making a gift by hand doesn't necessarily save you any money (you have to buy the supplies, and yarn and fabric aren't exactly cheap).  Nor does it save you time or effort, which, in fact, it actually requires more of.  I don't want to discourage those who wish to make the gifts they give out, I just want to make sure that they understand what they are signing on for when they start down that road.

The other alternative Boynton gives is to mail-order presents.  She has a whole spiel about how, as long as the items you order are in stock, and as long as you order them in plenty of time to allow for shipping, this is the "carefree" way to go.  Though she has her doubts about either of those things happening successfully, not for any lack of preparation on the buyer's part, but due to the mail-order companies themselves.  The example of a "typical" packing slip she provides is certainly entertaining, suggesting that many companies will just send you whatever they have laying around the warehouse when they find they are out of the item you ordered, or not send you anything at all but still charge you for it.

Now, this is another one of those points where Christmastime lives in the past, as entertaining as it might be.  Certainly people still order things rather than go out and buy them in person, but these days we get them from the internet.  Even if we are ordering from a catalog we received in the mail, most of us do the actual ordering online.  Most online stores do not charge you until they have shipped your item, allow you to track your packages online once they have shipped, and won't let you order an item that is out of stock.  In the event that an order goes through and the item ends up being back-ordered, you are notified immediately so you can cancel that order and get something else.  Companies like Amazon have made a lot of us much more confident in ordering our gifts with a simple point and a click rather than going out into the crowds to try to hunt them down.  I won't lie to you my friends, more than half of the presents I bought this year came from Amazon.  So while Boynton views mail-ordering as a huge pain in the rear (which, I am sure it was, because I do remember those days, believe it or not), it has been replaced by a bigger and better system that for this girl, who does most of her shopping online anyway, makes the holidays much easier to get ready for.

She wraps up the chapter with a few bits of advice on wrapping presents.  Mainly, she warns that, tradition or no, waiting to wrap all of the presents until Christmas Eve is a BAD IDEA.  This part is actually one of my favorite blurbs from the book.  She advises having all of your gifts wrapped in the store (which I would counter with suggesting just wrap them as soon as you get them in the house once you've got the kid distracted doing something else).  She then goes on to comment about how relaxed and peaceful you'll feel on Christmas Eve knowing that all of the presents are beautifully wrapped and waiting to be put under the tree...until you realize that none of them have been labeled and you have forgotten what is in them.  The illustration that accompanies this is one of the best in the book, showing the family on Christmas morning each quite surprised at their gifts:  The mom (trying to hide her amusement at the situation) with a hand puppet, the dad absolutely delighted with his toy firetruck, and the absolute bemusement on the faces of their children (an astronaut helmet for the teenage daughter, a hat and tie for the young son, and a "Little Miss Lovely" doll for the teenage son).  It is a priceless beautiful moment.  Also, you should probably remember to label your Christmas gifts as soon as you get them wrapped, whenever that might be.

Buying Christmas Wrap
*Two consumer tips for the price of one!*
Read the Square Footage on the Label:  Price and roll diameter are unreliable indicators of paper quantity.
Beware of Excessive Square Footage Claims:  The weight of the paper is also a factor in true value. --Sandra Boynton

Tomorrow:  Christmas Traditions

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sandra Boynton's Christmastime (Part Three)

Chapter Two
Christmas Greetings

"Christmas is the ideal time to contact those individuals that you haven't gotten along with in the past--just to let them know that you're still thriving."  --Sandra Boynton

Now this chapter is one that definitely has Boynton's unique voice all over it, given her long history of designing greeting cards.  Her take on the Christmas tradition of greeting cards and newsletters is still just as relevant today as it ever was.  In the age of email and electronic greeting cards, Christmas is truly the one season where I can go to my mailbox pretty much every day to find something that isn't an advertisement or bill waiting inside.

Boynton suggests that Christmas greetings are an ideal way to reconnect with friends and loved ones you might have lost touch with over the years.  In today's Facebook age, I am not sure how true that remains, but it is certainly an interesting thought.  For me, personally, Christmas cards are a way to touch base with my very large family, which is spread out all over the country.  I also do like to acknowledge those friends that I don't get to see regularly throughout the year or those I won't be seeing in person at Christmas.  For me, the cards are a way to let these people all know that I am thinking of them this time of year and that I miss them if I haven't seen them in a while.

I can acknowledge, however, that there do seem to be many situations in which one is obligated to send or give cards to people rather than choosing to do so of one's own free will.  I don't know if this is a practice that I am simply out of touch with because I no longer work in an office environment (Hubby did give out cards to all of the people he manages or works with in his company, though I don't think he felt obligated to do so, but rather wanted to acknowledge their accomplishments over this past year), or if this just isn't as heavily in practice as it was in the late eighties, which were, I think, the time for a different kind of big business than is practiced today.  Of course, I have always been one of those people who doesn't really enjoy giving (or getting) false platitudes, so I long ago decided to only keep in touch with the people I actually want to keep in touch with.  This may be why parts of this chapter don't strike me as close to home as other sections of the book.

Either way, I think we can all agree with Boynton that writing out Christmas cards every year, even if it is a labor of love, is still a labor, and often a huge hassle.  It is easily procrastinated and probably a large source of holiday related stress.  So she does offer suggestions for a few alternatives to sending out Christmas cards:  calling your friends to convey season's greetings, conveying the greetings in person, or even having someone else do your dirty work for you.  Of course, as Boynton admits, none of these alternatives are without their own hassles or potential drawbacks, so she then points out that the best way to approach the sending of Christmas cards is to just do it, perhaps by finding a methodical and efficient manner in the process.  Or you could just put it off until next Christmas.

"Christmas cards make a wonderful decorative garland.  But don't forget to respond to the cards before you hang them up."  --Sandra Boynton

Once you have decided to go with Christmas cards for your method of season's greetings, you must then of course actually pick out the cards you would like to send.  Unlike greeting cards for other occasions (such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, etc.), Christmas cards are often available in boxed sets.  Boynton's tidbit that these boxes usually come "20 to a box, with 17 or so envelopes" has always amused me, long before I started doing my own Christmas cards.   And this is another point on which Boynton remains right on the ball even today.  While most of the time, when I buy a box of Christmas cards, I do find the correct number of envelopes, I have on more than one occasion come up short.  Thanks to Christmastime I am usually able to meet this challenge with a chuckle and a shake of my head, remembering the adorable little drawing of a pig forlornly holding up an empty card box searching for more envelopes.

Styles of Christmas cards vary widely, of course, and can say much about the sender.  She illustrates this point by drawing several sample cards with the "message" they send printed next to the card.  I particularly enjoy the "message" next to the Boynton card, which is "witty, stylish, and intelligent."  Then there are the handmade cards created lovingly by the sender personally.  Boynton has this to say about those:

"If you decide to make your own cards instead of buying them, you will project Creativity, Individuality, Resourcefulness, and a Reverence for well as an Appalling Lack of Consideration for Professional Greeting Card Artists, Who Have to Make Our Living Somehow, You Know."

If the thought of writing a personal message inside every card you will be sending is as daunting to you as it is to me, Boynton has you covered as well.  She has three solutions for this particular problem:

Christmas Postcards
Pros:  These are relatively inexpensive compared to cards (and cheaper to mail) and have much less room for a handwritten message. 
Cons:  As long as you've got nothing private to say.

Individualized Holiday Photocards
Pros:  Again, these are fairly affordable (depending on where you get them they can be cheaper than cards or run about the same cost), most processing centers include envelopes, they contain a pre-printed holiday message, and they leave absolutely no room for writing a personalized message whatsoever.
Cons:  You just have to provide a picture of your family that you don't mind having everyone on your mailing list stick up on their fridge for the next year or so.

The Holiday Newsletter
Pros:  This can be typed up once and then printed up as many times as necessary to be slipped inside of each card you send out, thus avoiding the necessity to write anything to the people receiving the card, this can be a tremendous time-saver, and it allows you to share with all of your far-flung loved ones everything that has happened to you in the past year.
Cons:  This can (according to Boynton) lead you to having fewer friends to send cards to next year (though maybe that's a Pro here).

Tomorrow:  Gift-Giving

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sandra Boynton's Christmastime (Part Two)

Chapter One
Decking the Halls

A Consumer Tip:  A tree looks much smaller outdoors than indoors.  Be sure to measure both your ceiling height and your prospective tree before you buy it.  --Sandra Boynton

Chapter One of Christmastime is all about, you guessed it, decorating for the holidays.   It is divided into two sections:  "Getting the House Ready," and "Selecting a Tree."  Boynton is of the opinion that Christmastime in the home begins when a family decorates their house.  She posits that the three most common start dates for this activity are:

The day after Thanksgiving:  Boynton cites this as the most common starting point for putting up Christmas decorations.  As far as my memory holds, Boynton's book predates the rise of Black Friday, which seems to have cemented the institution of starting the Christmas season right after Thanksgiving is over.  She definitely was on the right track with this one.  We may not have gotten our decorations up the day after Thanksgiving (heck, we still don't have lights up), but we certainly did get the boxes down out of the attic that day.

December 1:  This is credited as the choice of families who are governed by logic rather than emotion, or at least parents who are more governed by logic.  Boynton freely admits that the ceremonial hanging of the Advent calendar, and the opening of door number one will more often than not be followed by a sneak preview of the next twenty-four doors.  I have to say, having once had  Lego Advent calendar, I was hard-pressed not to jump ahead of myself and assemble all of the kits at one time once I had started!

Christmas Eve:  Here Boynton suggests that this is the avenue for "staunch traditionalists," and that these folks have a better shot at truly grasping the spirit of Christmas.  Even if the children in these households are not so appreciative of the "tradition."

I wish I could share with you all of the wonderful illustrations accompanying these observations, Boynton truly is an artist.  She manages to convey the joy of the season as well as the daily frustrations that are often a side effect of such preparations.

She goes on to say that regardless of the when of the start to the season, once entered, each individual or family has their own unique way of displaying that spirit.  From elegant minimalism to outright gaudy, Christmastime is what we make of it.  Whether it is a task one goes about joyfully or begrudgingly, getting the home ready for Christmas is something that the whole family can get involved in together--and that alone is the best way to kick off the season that I can think of.

In the "Selecting a Tree" section of the chapter, Boynton notes the trend toward seeking out alternatives to real trees and suggests some of the most common choices:  careful lighting and decoration, plastic trees, the inflatable tree (not suggested for houses with cats), the living Christmas tree, or even just decorating a tree that is still planted firmly in the ground.

She then goes on to list the qualities one should look for in a real tree if that does end up being the route you choose.  Then she points out that, of course, this perfect tree doesn't actually exist.

I have to admit, while I am still as tickled as ever by her descriptions (and illustrations) of alternatives to real trees, I don't have much experience in this area and so couldn't tell you how relevant this part of the chapter remains today.  Hubby and I haven't had a Christmas tree in the whole eight years we've been together.  There was a feeble attempt the first year, but our cat (Wally) knocked the thing over repeatedly every day for a week before we gave up and packed it away (it was a fake tree).  Since then it just hasn't been worth the bother.  Of course, now, with Baby Girl in the picture, things are going to have to change.  We discussed this recently, actually, and have decided that next year is the year that we will venture into the wide world of Christmas-tree buying.  We are definitely going to get a real tree, and I have a corner picked out for it, so hopefully that will minimize Wally and Tony (and Baby Girl's) chances of knocking it over.  We shall see though, we shall see.  Either way, I am sure it will give this chapter a whole new perspective for me!

Monday:  Christmas Greetings
Update:  I almost forgot, new Gronk today!  Check it out!  Also, yes, I know SGU got canceled yesterday.  I am waiting to talk (and think, really) about that until after Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sandra Boynton's Christmastime (Part One)

Do you know who Sandra Boynton is?  If yes, then you understand how incredibly awesome she is.  If not, then you should go to her website right now right this very second and check it out because Oh My God Your Life is Missing a Vast Array of Awesome! 

Okay, do we have that all rectified now?  Good.  Moving on.  While Sandra Boynton got her start designing greeting cards, and will probably end up being best known for her incredibly wonderful books for children, for me, the definitive thing that is Sandra Boynton will forever and always be her 1987 book Christmastime.  There are many Boynton products I remember from my childhood (my mom's hippo-covered address book stands out in memory), but one year, she got this book, and I don't know if it was the same year or later that I picked it up, but once I did, it was all over.  To me this is the definitive holiday book.  Nothing says Christmas to me like Boynton's always fun, often silly, sometimes surprisingly practical, and forever entertaining offering.

A tradition my mom, sister, and I had when I was growing up was to gather around before bedtime on Christmas Eve with cocoa (or coffee) and read a selected Christmas story before each opening one present and then heading off to dreamland.  Sometimes we would each pick a story, sometimes we would take turns from year to year.  When it was my turn to pick, I always, without fail, would pick my favorite excerpt from Christmastime.  While not technically an actual story, it never fails to put me in the holiday spirit, or to put a smile on my face.

This book has long been out of print, sadly, but I have periodically waded through the interwebs to try to find an affordable copy in good condition (I have never even considered asking my mom to relinquish her copy).  This year, I finally hit the jackpot.  (Have I mentioned how much I love Amazon Marketplace?)  Of course, the getting of this book couldn't be easy.  I ordered it over three weeks ago and the seller promptly shipped it the next day, only to have it returned two weeks later with recipient's address label torn off.  She promptly sent me a message and repackaged and reshipped it, and this week it finally arrived.  I barely had time to pet it lovingly before my husband whisked it off into the bedroom for some nighttime reading (he came from a pro-Boynton family as well, this is one of the many reasons why we were made for each other).

So this holiday season, I want to share with you some of the awesomeness of this book.  Including today, there are seven blog-posting days left before Christmas (wow!), and including the introduction, there are seven chapters in Christmastime.  So from now until Christmas, I am going to be sharing the awesomeness of this book with you, a chapter a day.  I hope you enjoy this series.  I am super excited about it.  So, without further ado, here we go!

Getting Ready For The Holidays

"Christmas comes only one day a year, on December 25.  But Christmastime is much longer, starting when the stores put up their Christmas displays and ending on January 1st, when everyone joyfully welcomes in the new year, and then regrets it."  --Sandra Boynton

In the introduction to Christmastime, Boynton sets out to give her readers an idea of what this book is about--that period of time when people begin to embrace the spirit of the season, diving headfirst into the holidays or putting it off until the very last second.  The pages are full of her iconic illustrations, humorously showing hippos and pigs and cats and other animals going about the getting ready to welcome Christmas into their homes.

She acknowledges that the Christmas season has become something so drawn out (even way back in 1987--it amazes me how relevant this book has remained between then and now) that it is easy to go in the opposite direction of the expected reaction, becoming dispirited instead of embracing the holiday season, or even becoming completely overwhelmed.  She knows that even when our loved ones try to make us feel better about the frustration that the season can bring, sometimes they only make it worse.  Of course, then there are also those people who go out of their way to make other people feel bad about themselves.

She advises her readers to let go of unrealistic expectations and to just go with the flow.  She suggests getting back to basics, finding the simple joys in the holiday season and just focusing on one or two of them, such as decorating a tree, caroling with friends, being content to be surrounded by loved ones, or even embracing their inner Scrooge.

She closes out the introduction by reminding us that a cheerful attitude is the key to enjoying the season, and that if we can hold on to that, then getting ready for Christmas becomes its own joy in and of itself.

Tomorrow:  Decking the Halls

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bragging on My Kid

So, I may or may not have mentioned this, but ever since this summer, we've been taking my daughter to a weekly music class.  It's a mixed ages (0 to 4 years) class using the Music Together curriculum and it is being offered at the college my husband and I both attended.  We absolutely love this class, as does Baby Girl.  Each semester the songs chosen focus around a particular instrument.  For the summer it was the tambourine and this past semester it has been the flutes.  The basic idea is to get your kid exposed to a variety of songs and to get them to sing and dance along and learn some of the underlying principles of music without sitting them through a lecture or anything.  Also, it gives them a chance to socialize with other kids in a decently sized group (our summer class had three kids total, this semester has ranged from six to twelve).

Last Friday was the last regular class of the semester, but last night was Family Music Night.  Held in the TCU ballroom, it was a whole big event--all of the kids from every class, along with their parents (and other family) were invited.  All of the teachers were there, and they even hired a band to play a lot of the songs from class, as well as a few holiday tunes (and Twist and Shout).  It was a wonderful kind of organized chaos.  Usually in class, Baby Girl hangs out in the middle of the circle dancing the whole time, periodically playing with the other kids or the teachers.  Last night I think she was a bit overwhelmed, but she did still seem to have fun.  Mostly she just wandered around holding a pair of rhythm sticks or her shaker.  Though she did swoop in and pick up a few shaker eggs that less attentive kids had dropped.  (Something tells me she is going to enjoy a few of the items in her Christmas stocking!)

Here are a few quick videos of the event (I don't think I am singing on either of these, but if I am, I totally apologize to your ears):

(This kid knows an iPhone when she sees one.)

Here are a few still photos as well:

She's still not quite awake here (woke up early from nap time).

I have no idea why they are both making faces, but I love it.

It's always go go go with this one.

Hubby, Baby Girl, and me.

After the music class, we went out to dinner.  We got my daughter the kid's cheeseburger meal (with a mini-cheeseburger) and since I was getting fries with my dinner, I figured I could share them with her and ordered her broccoli for her side.  I mentioned the other day that we got lucky with this kid.  Here is a prime example of why.  She totally ignored her cheeseburger until after I had removed all the bread (she really is not digging bread) and just gave her some bits of hamburger.  Instead, she dived right into the broccoli and ate it with gusto.

I have photographic evidence of this, if you don't believe me.


Yum, yum.

I'll take that, please, Daddy.

She is getting pretty good at using a fork.  You might notice in those pictures that she has a tortilla chip in her hand (Hubby and I got spinach artichoke dip for an appetizer).  She won't eat bread but she loves her some tortilla chips.  She also recently noticed that when we eat them, we tend to dip them in stuff and wanted to try it out on her own.  So last night when we gave her a chip, she looked around for the salsa, and when we produced it, she went straight for it.


Seriously, there is no way her father or I could ever say she's not our kid.  It's a good thing we've decided to keep her, I guess.

Anyhoo, that's it for today.  I just wanted to share the awesomeness that is my child.  Also, I want to get it on the record that she likes veggies now, in case (when) she changes her mind later.

Starting tomorrow I have a special holiday countdown series I am going to be doing for you guys.  I am really super excited about it and hope you will enjoy it!  Until then, I hope you have a fantastic today!