Monday, December 27, 2010

Snowbound

In an exciting turn of events, severe winter weather decided to hit our area, leaving us all stranded on the mountain! Fortunately, the Melton's house is well-stocked with food, internet, and DVDs, so we're all quite happy being stuck here. To pass the time, in addition to such wholesome activities as shooting each other (and Jasper) with Nerf guns, we've also been enjoying some hilarious videos on YouTube. One that we found is just too good not to share:



Note to my parents: Don't worry, we'll be able to make it down off the mountain by late tomorrow, so Rachel and I are still leaving for Michigan on the 28th.

Here's hoping everyone else is having equally fun holidays!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

For Christmas

No Christmas is complete without my favorite Christmas songs:















Merry Christmas, everyone! As Tiny Tim said, "God bless us, every one!"

A Memorable Advent


It has truly been the best Advent ever for me. I just can't believe that in one year I started out with no friends in the area, hoping desperately to find just one kindred spirit, and ended up part of a closely-knit family of kindred spirits. I just can't believe how richly God has blessed me in 2010. To suddenly be essential and wanted, when before I felt displaced and even ignored, is a blessing for which I cannot stop marveling.

I've started several Christmas traditions for myself this year, as I suspect that I still have many years ahead of being single, and refuse to allow that circumstance to rob me of holiday joy. The first new tradition was my real tree. In my whole life, I had never had a real Christmas tree, and thus had no idea what I was missing. I cannot say enough how much better my real tree has been. The scent, the appearance, the fun of selecting the perfect one (I named him Clarence) . . . it's definitely going to take place each year, from now on.

Additionally, I greatly enjoyed my cookie-invention tradition, although I went a bit above and beyond this year: I invented five new types of cookies. Handing them out to others was so rewarding that I've decided to continue that each year as well. I regret that I did not have the time to make homemade cards, as I did last year, but I will make a solid effort to reinstate that tradition next year. I also plan to add in advent candles and readings next year; I meant to do it this year, but all the problems with migraines and medications left me too exhausted to put forth the effort.

Last weekend, I went with friends to see part of Handel's Messiah performed in Appomattox; it was absolutely heavenly. The music from Messiah always gives me goosebumps! As I often say, the mark of truly great music is when it makes the hair on the back of one's neck stand up. After the music, my close friends Rachel and David and I went out to a local coffee shop for coffee and biscotti. We ended up staying for a few hours! A few other patrons pulled out instruments, and before we knew it, the entire coffee shop (about twenty people) were spontaneously singing Christmas carols together. It was magical, like something you would see in a Frank Capra film. As the complete strangers sang together and shared holiday memories, you could feel the true spirit of Christmas enveloping that little coffee shop. I almost expected Jimmy Stewart to burst through the door and wish us all a merry Christmas!

On Tuesday of this week, the dogs and I headed up in the mountains to spend the remainder of Advent with dear friends from Lantern Hollow Press. Cozily ensconced around their old-fashioned wood-burning stove, with a fire adding both warmth and ambiance, we've had a lovely time. We've spent many hours editing, working on audio versions of stories (Brian built an impressive sound booth), and writing some new material. In addition, there has been plenty of fun, like cooking, baking, and watching scary shows after seven-year-old Annora is tucked into bed.

I've been able to spend loads of quality time with my very precocious goddaughter, Annora. We went sledding together the other day, we've watched Christmas movies together, and we've had some very enjoyable conversations (I love hearing a seven-year-old's vast store of wisdom). Annora told me all about her hopes for Christmas, and informed me that "I have been a very good girl this year, at least recently." Yesterday, when I had a horrible migraine all day long, Annora sweetly rubbed my neck for me and prayed for me. When I gratefully told her that I could not possibly have picked a nicer goddaughter than her, Annora replied, "But Aunt Stephanie, you didn't pick me. Mama and Daddy picked you!"

Jasper and Éowyn have loved running about off-leash in the snow, antagonizing the cats (the Meltons have two), exploring the house, playing with Annora, and grabbing any food that drops during the Christmas cooking. Yesterday Annora and I made rice crispy snowmen, which gave the dogs plenty of opportunity for droppings. Of course, Annora and I would never create normal snowmen; ours were alien snowmen with googly eyes, horns on their heads, and in one case, a bit of blood (candy) pouring from a battle wound (Annora's idea).

The best part of the holiday (so far) came yesterday. Annora dearly loves her grandmother and has been a bit saddened at not having her here for the holiday. Little did she know, one of her presents was her grandmother! Although Brian, Kami, and I have all nearly blown the secret in the past week, we miraculously managed to keep Annora from figuring out what was going on. Last night, we went out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, a trip sullied only by the fact that we had to stop for me to vomit on the way (the migraine was in full power). Throwing up did a lot of good; the migraine was nearly gone by the time we reached the restaurant.

As we sat pretending to look at our menus, Kami got the video camera fixed on Annora, who happily hammed it up and babbled away for the camera. Suddenly, her eyes grew wide as she observed a familiar figure walking into the restaurant.

"That looks like, that can't be . . . that's Nanny! It's Nanny! How did Nanny get here? Nanny, how did you get here? How did you do that?" Little Annora was the most adorable mixture of surprise, joy, and childlike confusion. It was so precious to see a little girl getting what she wanted most of all for Christmas!

Annora said the blessing for the meal, which she loves to do. I was overwhelmed at the sweet and merciful spirit of this little girl when she prayed specifically for a family we have never met, whom I read about in a news article a few days ago. This Ohio family lost all three children in a fire on the weekend, then the grandparents died in a car accident on the way to the funeral. It's a tragically sad story, but I did not expect a young child to remember it so clearly and take it to heart, particularly when she only overheard me telling her parents about the story. She's been thinking a lot about that family; I wish more of us could be so caring about strangers. We could all learn a lot from children.

Tonight will be a truly special Christmas Eve. We'll be dining on a delicious venison roast this evening, then driving out to St. Timothy's for the Christmas Eve service. After the service, we're having an extended fellowship time, along with a Christmas toast. Then we'll all troop back up the mountain, joined by two more friends. We'll hang our stockings, watch Christmas movies, and eat yummy baked goods. Best of all, we'll all be surrounded by people we love. That's the best Christmas gift anyone could ask for.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Bit of Morning Excitement

The weather forecast called for a severe weather system for us, so I figured work would probably get cancelled. When I got up at 6:30, however, there was no word from anyone. I took the dogs out and observed that there was none of the forecasted snow, sighed (I have a bad cold, so a day off would have been nice), and went back inside. When I left at quarter til eight, however, it was a whole different story.

About two inches of snow had fallen, and it was of the wet variety. Black ice grabbed my tires as I braked at the end of the apartment complex. Immediately, my little car happily slid out into the road . . . and right into the path of the oncoming big truck. I knew it was going to hit me. Fortunately, God had other ideas, and the truck missed me by mere inches. Whew! I shook all the way to Liberty!

In the parking lot, I had more fun. Apparently, my steering doesn't work well in inclement weather. Happily, most people apparently assumed that everything was cancelled, so there was plenty of open space in which to regain control of the vehicle. The really severe weather should be hitting by eleven, so getting home is going to be "fun".

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Only Sayers Can Be Sayers

I ordered a few frivolous (i.e. non-academic) books as a reward for surviving this very stressful semester. Among those was one which particularly excited me, Thrones, Dominions. Thrones, Dominions is based off of a final, unpublished manuscript left behind by Dorothy Sayers, my favorite author and admitted role model. Years after her death, Jill Paten Walsh was asked to finish the manuscript. I had heard that she did so seamlessly, so although I despise on principle the practice of modern authors attempting to write as older authors, I decided to give the book a chance.

I ought never to have done so. The book is an abomination, a blight on the brilliant works of one of the most fascinating and inspiring female novelists (Sayers, not Walsh). Walsh may be a talented writer; not having read her work, I cannot judge whether or not she is capable in her own right. As Sayers, however, Walsh is incapable. The book is blundering, at times nearly crass, and wobbles unsteadily from chapter to chapter, each character a hollow imitation, even an unintentional burlesque, of the full-fledged characters Sayers carefully and skillfully created. I stopped reading midway through, unable to stand the horrid text any longer. Someday I'll sell it at a garage sale, and the offending document will trouble my bookcase no longer.

The dreadful collection of pages masquerading as a novel led me to ponder the sad state of modern fiction. I have been accused before of being elitist in my literary taste, a rebuke that is perhaps occasionally earned (although, let me remind one and all that most great writers of the classics, such as Dickens, wrote not for the elite alone, but for the common masses). I do often make the judgment that if a book is a bestseller today, it must therefore be awful, since mass appeal is seldom earned anymore by books of quality. From time to time, I have been proven wrong in this judgment. More frequently, however, I have been proven right. I do not know whether it is the readers or the writers who are ultimately most to blame, but a large portion of censure is certainly deserved by the writers.

Many modern authors really don't understand how to write! Character development is the greatest casualty; so many modern writers are incapable of creating unique, flesh-and-blood personalities that are distinguishable from one another (and from book to book). Plots are cliche-ridden and oftentimes paper-thin, routinely teetering dangerously on one coincidental decision by a character, or, worse, mere whim. Authors are now increasingly falling into the Hollywood trap of dumbing down for audiences (I give them the benefit of the doubt here and assume that they themselves are not the stupid ones): every part of the story must be explained repeatedly in this new literary style. One cannot simply let the characters take over the story, as the old masters did; no, they have to tell the poor, stupid readers exactly why Mary crinkles her nose or tell us every thought coming in John's head as he gazes upon the lovely woman (and the woman is always lovely). We must be reminded over and over why a certain action takes place, why the door is closed, why the heroine wore red. Occasionally, the author attempts to be clever and delivers a crucial, plot-altering decision devoid of reason! Gone is subtlety; art is dead.

Allusions to brilliant old works are seldom quoted anymore; Sayers positively delighted in obscure literary references, which gave a peculiarly wonderful and scholarly feel to even her detective fiction. Sayers' characters had multiple sides to them, depth, passions, dreams, and, most importantly, history. The past directed, haunted, pursued, and by some characters, could be overcome. Characters grew and developed from their pasts. An entire novel did not have one plot alone; Sayers had side-stories and peripheral events, just as real lives do. Her characters conversed intelligently; modern characters comment on surface details, like how attractive they find one another. Sayers's characters had lives; modern characters have episodes.

As I sadly learned last night, only Sayers can be Sayers. She was a gifted, scholarly, multi-faceted novelist with vigor and depth. She was a theologian, philosopher, educator, and historian as well as author. Many modern writers (I'll be fair and not say all, since I have come across a few rare and deeply appreciated exceptions) are apparently graduates of the People Magazine school of writing: all beauty lies on the surface, where the dense can see and appreciate it, all people are guided solely by their glands, and a woman's sole purpose is be a man's sex toy. Thought, depth, and scholarship are penniless orphans cast into the snow, left to freeze and starve.

Listen for the Bells

I've been increasingly reminded lately, even in the midst of the almost ceaseless migraines, of just how fortunate I am and how much I have been given. It seems like so many dreams that I had become practical and given up on have suddenly been laid out before me, wrapped in silver paper. If I were to try to write them out, I don't know that I would ever finish.

I wanted to give something back. So many people have entered and enriched my life this year; somehow, it wasn't enough just to thank God for them. I wanted to thank them, too. I wanted something more than that, even; I wanted to hear the bells.

There's an old story that I remember reading years ago, which made quite an impression. It was about an old chapel whose bells would only ring when someone gave a gift of true worth and love. Kings and other wealthy and important men traveled for many miles to reach the chapel, where they lay down gifts of jewels, gold, and beautiful garments on the alter. But the chimes remained silent. Week after week, the gifts continued to be given, and the chimes continued to stay still. People grew angry, believing that the bells were broken, or that their beautiful music was nothing but a lie concocted to gain wealth for the chapel. Many people took back their gifts and went on their way. Then, one particularly cold and windy night, a little boy came upon the chapel. He searched his pockets for something to give, but he had nothing. Finally, his face brightened into a smile and he took off his thin little coat and laid it on the alter. Instantly, the bells sprang to life, and the air was filled with the most beautiful chimes anyone had ever heard.

I think about those bells a lot. I didn't hear them last year, because I was too caught up in my own misery (largely self-imposed) to listen. But I did think about them then. I thought they had gone silent. So did one of my favorite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once. In 1862, he was having a miserable year. He had lost his dearly beloved wife, Frances, in a fire. His first-born son Charles had left abruptly earlier in the year to fight in the Civil War, and had been severely wounded at the Battle of New Hope Church. The war itself was ongoing, with no end in sight, and an entire country torn in half. On Christmas morning of 1862, a broken, heavy-hearted Longfellow put his pen to paper and the words poured out:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men."

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!


Yesterday morning, sick with a migraine, I had to stay home from church. I started to feel sorry for myself, something I've been prone to with all of the health woes this semester. Then I thought about my favorite professor, one of the dearest people in the world, and the much worse health problems he is battling. I thought of some of the hard-working people I know who get over-looked or under-appreciated, and of some of the people with power whom I know, who deal with stress that completely dwarfs my own. I thought about how kind they have all been to me, and about the daily encouragement I receive from them.

I started baking. For the entire day, I ignored the migraine and stayed on my feet, until the entire kitchen and dining room were covered with warm, fragrant cookies. Although the pain and nausea never left, I didn't seem to feel as much of them. I focused on the people I was baking for and felt very, very blessed. In the back of my mind, I thought I heard a faint chiming.

Today, loaded down with an enormous box full of bags of fresh cookies, I played elf, going from office to office. I delivered cookies to all of my coworkers and professors, as well as a few deserving people who work in stressful offices. Nothing is quite as much fun as surprising frequently-overlooked and under-appreciated people with yummy baked goods. I got some hugs, a few cheers, lots of surprised looks, and lots of smiles. That's really one of the best parts of the holiday season: when you give something to someone, thereby letting them know that they matter enough to be thought of. The bells are beautiful then, unlike any earthly music.

It's amazing just how many deserving people get taken for granted, even people with the big offices and their own secretaries. I guess everyone just assumes that they know their own worth. I know that I often do. Maybe people don't think about it at all. Maybe a mass-mailed e-card seems like enough. Somehow, though, nothing brings quite the twinkle and smile that cookies or handmade gifts do.

It takes time to make things, a lot more time than it takes to fill a shopping cart. Especially now that online shopping makes it so much faster. You can sit, and you're comfortable, and your feet don't hurt. You don't burn your fingers, and there's no mess to clean up afterwards. The bells don't seem to ring as loudly, though. Sometimes they don't ring at all. I guess most people would say the bells don't really matter; after all, only the giver can usually hear them. And you can't keep them, or wear them, or replay them over and over. They're old-fashioned, maybe even corny. Sappy and sentimental, surely. But they are so beautiful . . .

The whole time you make a gift, you think of the one you're giving it to. A little bit of love goes into that stitch, or that paint-stroke, or that cookie batter. You're thinking about them, not yourself. That's a foreign concept today; I think some people would even laugh about it. What do you really get out of making things? Sore feet, sore back, burned fingers and palms, headache, a bit of sweat. It takes time; time is valuable. Time is ours; it ought to be spent on the things most important to us. Oughtn't it?

Last year I spent that time feeling sorry for myself, and I never heard a single bell. I missed those bells, but I was too busy with me to notice. A funny thing happened; the more I thought about my misery, the more miserable I felt. Misery loves fertile ground to grow and thrive in. Sometimes it generously invites its friends: regret, sorrow, bitterness, jealousy . . .

This year, I decided to spend the time better. I spent it remembering the hearty "good morning" that greets me every day, the offer of help when the copier gets stubborn, the concern when I don't feel well, the explanation of how to write the book review better next time. I spent time thinking about the helpful advice, the phone call that straightened out my student account, the joke that lightened a stressful day. People spent their time on me; yesterday I remembered. I gave back a little bit of time. The migraine made it cost more, but, for once, I spent it anyway.

And yesterday and today, I heard the bells.

And . . . It's Over (Almost. Really, Really Almost.)

The hardest semester of my academic life has at last drawn to a close. Can you hear the peasants' collective sigh of relief? Whew; I honestly thought at one point that I might not make it. All those migraines can make one think some crazy thoughts. I went off the preventative meds in order to be able to concentrate better last week (the side effects are really strong on the current mixture of pills), but I've gone back on this week, so I'm hoping to make it through today without a migraine.

All that's left of my semester is one presentation, which I'm giving tonight. I'm presenting my research on colonial diseases, which apparently impressed my professor much more than I thought it would (considering the duress under which I finished the paper). I was going to bake a cake shaped like cholera to give my presentation some pizzazz, but I was too tired last night. So, instead I created an interactive presentation with music, pictures, and a game for the class to play. I figured, it's the end of the semester and the end of my graduate classes, so why not have some fun?

Yup, you heard me right a second ago: this is my very last day of graduate classes. It's all over; nothing left now but thesis. That terrifying monster is supposed to be finished by March 31. Somebody hold me! Ah well, as my mother is fond of saying, I seem to thrive on stress.

I hope.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm a Godmother Now!

Despite all of the stress of this horrible paper which refuses to write itself, yesterday was a very special day, and I willingly gave up valuable writing time just to enjoy it. Yesterday I gained one of the world's most brilliant, witty, and adorable seven-year-olds as my goddaughter.

Annora's baptism was a beautiful, tearful event, not only because I was so honored to become one of her godmothers, but also because of her own behavior at the event. In our church, there are a series of questions asked when one is baptized, sort of like marriage vows. The person being baptized is demonstrating not only their willingness, but also their readiness. For babies and young children (since we believe Covenant theology, we do baptize infants), the parents and godparents answer the questions. In little Annora's case, however, that smart little sprite answered the questions herself. Seriously, and with full understanding of exactly what she was saying, she answered each one in a clear, confident voice. Pretty much every person in the church teared up. Few things are as beautiful as a devout child.

Afterwards, the monthly potluck was held in Annora's honor. Despite all the homework waiting at home, I stayed for the whole thing. I love these potlucks; they're more like family gatherings. And the food we wind up with is so remarkably different from most potluck fare that it always makes me laugh. No green bean casserole, no fried chicken, no baked beans . . . but we did have Indian food, Jewish food, apricot chicken, and butternut squash soup, among the many other offerings.

Well, back to this dreadful paper now. Let's hope I can get the wretched thing done in the next few hours.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oh, the Exhaustion!

December is a very, very, very hectic and overcrowded month this year. And to further muddle things, I'm now on three preventative daily drugs for migraines (all of which have "fun" side effects) and I have given up dairy products. No egg nog, no delicious holiday creamers, no ice cream, no cheese. It's a miserable experiment, but I have got to find out whether or not foods are influencing my migraines. So, December is "non-dairy month" and January will be (shudder) "wheatless month". In February, I'll try giving up caffeine and chocolate. Hopefully, by then I'll be able to discern if anything makes a difference. With a thesis looming in my future, I have to do whatever it takes to get the migraines under control.

On the bright side, I discovered that Silk makes their own version of egg nog without any dairy, so I've been consoling myself with that. I also found, after considerable searching, an ice cream that is made from coconut milk. It actually tastes better than most ice cream, but the price is enough to bring on a migraine! I've reserved it for a very special treat.

My final days of graduate classes are upon me; after the 13th of this month, all I'll have left is my thesis. The workload for these last ten days is staggering: two research papers, two required books to read (on top of what I read for research), two presentations, an arduous quiz, and two book reviews. And, of course, I still have my two jobs. And I have a puppy to housebreak. And I am on the church hospitality committee. And I'm sending out applications for further education upon graduation.

Pardon me for a moment while I go whimper.

Okay, that feels better. In happier news, Sidhe Eyes is still progressing at an acceptable rate, though I'm not quite certain how I've been managing it. I'm now on chapter 5 of Book Two, which means Book Two is about a fourth of the way done. I'm going to go back and add to Book One in order to balance things better, since I believe that Book Two will probably require twenty chapters, and Book One only has thirteen. I'm hoping to get a lot done over Christmas break.

I have narrowed down my list of programs to apply to. I'm going to apply to three PhD programs and two post-graduate certificate programs, all of which excite me. I'm also applying for adjunct positions at several universities and sending in applications to a few other possibilities. As I've said before, I am really keeping my options open. Overall, I'd prefer to stay here, but I'm open to alternatives.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey Week at Lantern Hollow Press

In honor of Thanksgiving, we at Lantern Hollow Press held a "turkey shoot" in which we sought out films that failed to live up to the hype or the books they were based on and shot the offending critters through the heart. It was highly cathartic for all of us. If you're interested, here are our "turkey shoot" posts:

Monday: Melissa went after Ella Enchanted with a deadly dagger.

Tuesday: Erik rolled up his sleeves and took on Avatar.

Wednesday: Brian boldly tackled both Prince Caspian and Lord of the Rings, and wrestled them into submission.

Thursday: Rachel dealt a mighty blow to the abominable Hollywood version of Pride and Prejudice.

Friday: Kyle eagerly pummeled Starship Troopers into the dusty ground.

Saturday: I hopped into a mental B-17 and strafed Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Feel free to comment on our "turkey shoot" posts with your own frustrations about these films. Believe me, it really feels great to get it out of your system!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today at "While We're Paused"

Today on the Lantern Hollow Press Writer's Blog, I shared a treasured memory that longtime readers of this blog may recall: the story of the demonic toy chick that refused to die after Jasper broke it. Click HERE to read the story.

And, in light of the new Harry Potter release, you get two posts for the price of one today! Click HERE to read my review of the film.

Also, be sure to check out our Facebook group. We've got a contest running for the next few weeks. Two lucky winners will receive a hilarious book that is sure to please (particularly if you love snarkiness). Official rules are explained on the group page.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Éowyn the Grooming Assistant

For as long as I have had Jasper, he has always greatly disliked getting brushed. In recent months, I've been forcing him to submit to it every few days, and he does submit, but very reluctantly, wearing an expression appropriate for the funeral of a close friend.

Tonight, to my delight, I learned that Éowyn has changed all this. After giving both dogs some cuddle time and play time after I returned from class, I grabbed the dog brushes from my dresser. Normally, Jasper slinks off to hide in another room or under the bed, waiting until I call him, then he slinks back as slowly as his desire to be obedient will allow. Not so tonight. He came right to me, slowly wagging his tail, then stood gazing at me with worship while I brushed his coat until that nice shine was restored. Then, when I went to brush Éowyn, Jasper actually came to me acting like he wanted more brushing. I gave him a bit more, plus a treat.

I'm pretty sure I know what's on that little boy's mind. He's accepted the new sister, but he misses having alone time with "Mummy" and recognizes the opportunity that brushing gives him. He just wants to still be the special boy, and I keep reassuring him that he is.

I also suspect that he was also taking the opportunity to once again prove that he's the "good one." I've noticed that Jasper has been even prompter to come when called, faster outdoors, and quicker at playing fetch . . . all since yesterday. Since Éowyn is still learning how to be a good dog, Jasper's making sure that everyone knows that HE is ALREADY trained.

A Few More Pictures of Éowyn

My camera battery, sadly, is dead at the moment, and the charger is MIA. Fortunately, my friend Melissa was kind enough to share some pictures she took last night:





Monday, November 15, 2010

The Nicest Weekend in Ages

Apparently, the minor concussion that I sustained the other day knocked the migraines out of me for a few days! At any rate, I did not have a migraine all the way from Thursday to last night. In the absence of migraines, I had the opportunity to enjoy life for a bit.

On Saturday, my friend Melissa baked enormous home-made cinnamon rolls and had a bunch of us over for breakfast. Afterwards, we all trooped down to the pet store to assist my friend Rachel in selecting another hamster (her previous one, Odysseus, turned up his little toes recently). The pet store happened to be having a puppy sale.

As I have mentioned before, I have been planning to get a second dog after graduation. When we were oohing and ahhing over the antics of dozens of beguiling puppies, however, I altered those plans. I happened to see the exact breed mix and color of puppy that I wanted, in the correct gender, and with the perfect personality. She was a charming little Shih Tzu, Maltese, yorkie mix with brindle coloring (brindle is a soft, subtly-mixed gray and brown that is quite attractive and prized in dogs).

This blend of breeds is an excellent one: Yorkies have the perfect size for an apartment and are easy to train; Malteses are also quick to learn commands and are very intelligent, devoted little dogs; and Shih Tzus, the clowns of the dog world, are playful, energetic, and full of fun. All three breeds are good for people with allergies (like me) and make excellent apartment dogs. When you blend them together, you get a fantastic little animal with the best features of all three. In this little girl's case, she got Yorkie ears with a Shih Tzu and Maltese body, and best of all, a Yorkie snout. As cute as Shih Tzus are, their snub noses make higher temperatures very unpleasant or even dangerous for them; Jasper was unable to take walks for part of the summer because of this. In short, the puppy was everything that I had carefully planned out to look for in a second dog.

Even though I knew it would only make not buying her harder, I had to hold the puppy. She took to me immediately, and I become besotted. In only an instant, she was MY dog. It's been that way with each dog I've owned as an adult; it only takes a moment to forge the instant first connection and to know beyond doubt that a particular dog is exactly the one for me. The puppy cried when I put her down, but I was still battling with myself, wondering if it were the right choice to get a dog right now. I knew my parents would say it was a mistake, but they've been dead wrong in that opinion twice now (with Mitzi and Jasper), so I ignored the Mom and Dad voice in my head. I chose to sleep on it.

After the pet store, I decided to check with my apartment building just to see if getting another dog would be cost prohibitive. It turned out, by the terms of the lease that I've signed (they've since changed things, but I'm under the old policy), I did not have to pay anything extra. Strike one in the puppy's favor. Next, I sat down and thought about the time commitment in house-breaking and training a puppy. I realized that after graduation, I will probably be getting a full-time job rather quickly (I already have three prospects, one of which is almost a guaranteed offer), which would not give me the time needed at home with a puppy. Right now, however, I am a week away from one break, then two weeks away from another. Next semester, I will be doing only theses, so there won't be any classes. In short, this is the ideal time for training a pup, since I am home enough. Strike two in puppy's favor. When my roommate got home, I asked her opinion, assured her that she would not play a role in house-breaking, and found her to be just fine with the idea. The decision was clear; the puppy would work out.

After working on homework (while visions of furriness danced through my head), I met friends for a delicious dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant. Mmmm, peanut chicken! We then drove up to Appomattox to the Appomattox Courthouse Theater, where we watched our good friend David and others perform in Sense and Sensibility. The play was very good, made even better by the fact that we ran into three more friends from church there and so had an even larger group enjoying it together. It was, in short, the nicest Saturday in months.

Sunday trumped Saturday. Rachel came over for our weekly tradition of Sunday Pajama Breakfast (we alternate houses), then we had a stimulating discussion about the emergence of Christianity in England in our Sunday morning class at church. In the service later that morning, Father Mike preached on one of my favorite sections of the New Testament. After the service, I was able to give my future goddaughter, Annora, her birthday present. She's into archaeology, so I got her an Egyptian archaeology kit/game that had her utterly delighted. I cannot believe my luck in getting to be godmother to such an awesome, adorable little girl!

Immediately following the fellowship time, Rachel and I headed over to the pet store, praying that the puppy was still there, unsold. Brian and Annora followed, eager to see "Aunt Stephanie's" new pet. With bated breath we walked in . . . and found the puppy still there. She had almost sold, but the other people had decided to sleep on the decision as well. I snatched up my girl, picked out some supplies for her (bed, blanket, dishes, etc. -- all of which, fortuitously, were on sale), and my life got a little bit more complete.

Little Éowyn (yes, she's named for my favorite character in the Lord of the Rings novels) had a surprisingly smooth first day. She had only one small accident; she went potty outdoors three times! She and Jasper had an awkward first hour (she adored him; he was terrified of her), but by the end of the night, they were prancing and playing together very nicely. Three friends came over to meet and play with her, so we turned it into a puppy and Disney movie night. Éowyn proved very affectionate and friendly to everyone. She shocked me by eating well also (usually puppies don't feel much like eating on their first day).

When it came time for bed, Éowyn, like most puppies, did a bit of crying when I put her to bed in her kennel (she has her little puppy bed in there, so it is not unpleasant). I solved the problem by letting her snuggle with me until she fell asleep, then putting her back into the kennel. I didn't hear a peep out of her for the rest of the night.

Jasper's New Baby Sister

Jasper got a new baby sister today. The little darling's name is Éowyn.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Wow!

I checked the total visits to the Lantern Hollow Press Writers' Blog for yesterday, and we made it to 1,160! Incredible! It was a great morale booster for all of us, as well as further evidence that people actually enjoy what we write and want to read more. There was considerable interest shown regarding Sidhe Eyes (my novel-in-progress), which is great. We're hoping to keep that interest building so that Sidhe Eyes gets a fair chance on the market once it gets published (July 2011).

My eye, as you can sort of see (forgive the lousy photo - I had to make do with a webcam shot because my camera battery is dead; hence the reason that it looks like my right eye instead of my left), is swelling and bruising beautifully. I may have given myself a minor concussion as well; yesterday, I started getting sharp pains in my hair around the area that got hit, and then had ringing in my ears and vomited a bit. Not the best way to enjoy an otherwise triumphant day. Today, aside from the obvious discomfort from my eye, I'm actually feeling all right. The swelling has gone down in my ankle, and I am able to put more weight on it, though I am still going to keep it wrapped and elevated for a few more days.

Only in My Life . . .

As you may recall from my last post, I had a bit of excitement last night. Between the swollen, sprained ankle, the migraine, and the puffy bruised eye, I slept VERY poorly and woke up feeling rather depressed. It looked like a horrible, painful day in store for me. Well, as it has turned out so far, I was only half right. Today has indeed been painful, but has at the same time been highly amusing and even a bit thrilling. And I have two body parts to thank for it all: my left eye and my right foot (interestingly, not the one that got injured last night).

To begin with, the fun caused by the eye:
At work, one of the women in my office, who teaches theater classes, noticed and admired my eye. The bruising has been growing steadily more colorful. With excitement, she asked if she could use me for a lesson in her stage make-up class today. They are currently learning to do bruises. So, I got to be a living model for the students to study as part of their lesson. They were quite delighted with the array of colors. How nice to be able to contribute something to the American theater!

And then there was the fun with the foot:
In my post for the Lantern Hollow Press Writer's Blog today, I wrote about my use of footnotes in my fantasy novel. To illustrate my post, it seemed appropriate to write "I love footnotes" on my foot, photograph it, and put it in my post. I figured we'd have our usual daily readership of about 60 hits. Was I wrong! My post was selected as one of the "Freshly Pressed" posts (sort of like "post of the day"), which means it got promoted on the Wordpress homepage. Wow! My foot (and my article) have had over 250 views already, and the number is steadily going up. If you'd like to read the article, visit "While We're Paused". And please, feel free to comment.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

WARNING: Do Not Wear Snuggies while under the Influence of Migraine Medication

I really, really, really hate being me sometimes.

Today, my migraine came later in the day, so aside from a blunder involving 34 misprinted reports (which, technically, was not my fault, but the computers), it was a good day at work. I have a very nice boss, so generally migraines are the only thing that makes work unpleasant (the stress issue is another matter; just comes with the territory, I suppose). After work, I indulged myself with a trip to Big Lots (yes, grad students lead very sad lives), where I broke down and bought something that I have been mocking ever since I first saw it advertised: a snuggie (you know, those blankets with sleeves). Yes, I am a hypocrite. In my defense, it was only a few dollars, it's super soft, and it really is an enjoyable item to have when you're knocked down by a migraine, which is exactly what happened within a half hour of my purchase. The snuggie and I bonded very quickly.

Unfortunately, Snuggies are very dangerous. At least, to me they are. While highly medicated, I was walking in my snuggie through my bedroom when suddenly, I tripped. The manner in which I tripped twisted my left ankle. Yup, the bad ankle. It swelled quite rapidly and is now pretty colors. Oh, and when I fell, I hit my face on the post of my bed. So, now I have the beginnings of a gorgeous black eye on my left side (it matches the ankle quite nicely). Naturally, that didn't help the migraine any.

Every once in a while, I hate my life. I just hope that no one gets suspicious and starts accusing my roommate of abusing me.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Twelve Days of Migraines

On the first day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Incentive against a PhD!

On the second day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the third day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the fourth day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the fifth day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the sixth day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Six deadlines nearing,
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the seventh day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Seven primary sources,
Six deadlines nearing,
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the eighth day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Eight reviews for skimming,
Seven primary sources,
Six deadlines nearing,
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the ninth day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Nine marxist historians,
Eight reviews for skimming,
Seven primary sources,
Six deadlines nearing,
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the tenth day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Ten things to forget,
Nine marxist historians,
Eight reviews for skimming,
Seven primary sources,
Six deadlines nearing,
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the eleventh day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Eleven previous studies,
Ten things to forget,
Nine marxist historians,
Eight reviews for skimming,
Seven primary sources,
Six deadlines nearing,
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

On the twelfth day of migraines,
My professor gave to me
Twelve books for reading,
Eleven previous studies,
Ten things to forget,
Nine marxist historians,
Eight reviews for skimming,
Seven primary sources,
Six deadlines nearing,
Five thesis meetings,
Four cups of coffee,
Three large aspirin,
Two computer glitches,
And incentive against a PhD!

Latest Lantern Hollow Posts

Today was my day to post to the blogs for Lantern Hollow Press:

On "While We're Paused" - I describe a recent technique I've discovered for making the writing process even easier by using music.

On the Character Blog - The latest update on my trouble-making piskie Renard Breen, who escaped from his story yesterday. He's now wrecking havoc on the unsuspecting world. Let me know if you find him.

On the Dark Character Blog - Mal DaPone, infamous magical mob boss is furious at that rogue Renard Breen, and is offering a reward for his capture. Apparently, Renard has been a busy piskie since he escaped yesterday.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Website Is up!


The Lantern Hollow Press official website just went up! A group of us holed up at the Melton's for most of Sunday, working on final editing, and then Brian launched our beta version of the site (while we celebrated by watching a scary movie by candlelight). We're pretty proud of this early version, though someday we may look back and laugh (you know, after one of us manages to write a best-seller and we can afford to hire a professional webmaster).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Seven Days, Seven Migraines

Tweaking my medication for a few days in the hopes of reducing the side effects was an abysmal mistake. Although I went back to the prescribed dosage (I had tried taking less) rather quickly, it must have messed something up. In seven days, I have managed seven migraines. Today's was the worst. I had planned to do eight hours of schoolwork and about five or six hours of work on my novel. Instead, I did two hours of writing and then spent the entire rest of the day on the couch, wondering at what point a human brain finally gives up and just explodes. Even the new pain meds were not enough for this one. In fact, I'm still in a lot of pain at the moment, and still having trouble remaining upright.

It's hard not to get discouraged and frustrated. Here I am, effectively working three jobs, with multiple important responsibilities, and I'm practically turning into an invalid because of my migraines. It seems that I have two unhappy alternatives: I can either spend the entire day completely doped from the preventative meds, or I can spend the day in agony from the migraine (and also doped from the pain meds). I decided on Friday that this is no way to live a life; next week, I'm making an appointment to see a neurologist.

I admit, part of this outbreak of migraines is probably my own fault for taking on too much. Besides my 25 hour per week job at the university (which is enjoyable, but also stressful), I am also taking nine credits of grad classes, which amounts to about thirty to forty hours per week spent reading and writing. Additionally, I do about twenty hours per week on average for Lantern Hollow Press. And on top of it all, I have both a thesis and a novel to write.

I was reflecting the other day that very few people decide to write a novel at the same time as a thesis. In fact, it seems rather an insane idea, considering the stress and tremendous work required by both. To effectively work two jobs and have classes just makes the whole thing seem ridiculous . . . and yet, here it is more than half way through the semester and I've been managing to do it all, without affecting my grades. I may be crazy, but God has certainly been gracious. It's He alone that has been responsible for any success I've had. So, despite all the pain and sickness, I could certainly be worse off. Also, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Thanks for giving me a few minutes to whine. Now I think I'll try to get a little bit more writing done before collapsing into bed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dragons and Other Lantern Hollow News

Melissa Rogers, a good friend as well as quite possibly our best writer at Lantern Hollow Press has written a marvelous article about dragons (creatures dear to the hearts of both of us) on the official Lantern Hollow Writers' Blog, "While We're Paused." If you enjoy that article, be sure to read the earlier article she wrote on dragons, also on "While We're Paused".

The grand launching of the beta version of our official website is coming up very soon: November 1! Originally we planned a later launch date, but owing to growing interest in our company, our webmaster-extraordinaire, Kami, has been working overtime to get the site up. Be sure to stop by and view the site on the first. The address is www.lanternhollowpress.com.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Most Recent Lantern Hollow Posts

Here are my most recent Lantern Hollow posts, for those who are interested:

As a self-appointed grammar sheriff, I take on that rogue Apostrophe on the Lantern Hollow Writers' Blog, "While We're Paused".

Flavia and Edric run into trouble with nixies on the Lantern Hollow Character Blog.

Flavia explains how she and Edric met Nobbley, also on the Lantern Hollow Character Blog.

Renard Breen plays with the stock market on the Lantern Hollow Dark Characters' Blog.

Alicia Fenn vents about humans, also on the Lantern Hollow Dark Characters' Blog.

Be sure to take the time to enjoy the other posts while on each of the blogs. Today, Kyle discusses the rationale behind reading dark fiction on "While We're Paused". It's a very enlightening article that just may challenge a few of your previously held opinions.

Why Autumn Is My Favorite Season

Crispy cornflake leaves crunching under my feet as I step,
Yes, I believe I will walk a little further
Just to
Crunch!
That bright golden leaf
Over there!
The breeze caresses my hair,
Warm still,
With just the hint of cold,
It envelopes me in
Bonfires, roasted marshmallows,
Memories of

Jumping!

Into giant piles of red, orange, yellow, brown
Leaves.
I stop and smell the air, linger just a little longer,
The mountains behind me are crimson and gold,
The sunset is bolder, accented by the trees.
The wind is stronger now, deliciously colder, too.
I pull my jacket a little tighter,
And wonder if I ought to have grabbed a scarf.
The wind paints my cheeks with a blush
To match the

Falling,

Spiraling,

Dancing,

Pirouetting

Leaves.

I pull my jacket tighter still,
And wander just a little further, glad to be alive.
Piles of plump pumpkins
Peek at me from their perches,
I pause to smile back at their toothless grins.
The wind blows again,
I throw back my head and laugh,
As it tickles me,
Chills me,
Rustles my hair.
My nose lightly numbed now,
I go inside,
And snuggle up under a soft, flannel blanket,
Sipping a hot pumpkin pie latte,
As I read that novel
That summer was just too busy for.
And outside my window,
The whistling wind

Whips about,

Whisking the last leaves

To and

Fro,
To and

Fro,

I take another sip,
And revel in the splendor

That is Autumn.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stephanie on Auto-Pilot (Yes, I Have that Feature Installed)

This week has quite literally been a blur to me. I've been running solely on autopilot, which is, I guess, a good thing. I missed my Monday classes because I was incapable of staying awake for more than a few minutes at a time, then managed to fight sleep successfully enough to make it to work and class on Tuesday. By Wednesday, the side effects had lessened enough that I wasn't fighting sleep quite as much. Instead, I had vertigo and queasiness to fight. How fun (note the sarcasm)! Yesterday and today have been about the same as Wednesday. To be safe, I have been getting rides from my roommate and one of my close friends rather than trying to drive. That's one of my hard and fast rules: I DO NOT drive when I am under heavy medicinal influence. Getting somewhere is NEVER worth accidentally injuring or killing someone else.

Despite the heavy influence of these awful side effects, I've still managed to accomplish a fair amount. I suppose years of forcing myself to keep going with migraines or injuries has made me resourceful and tough. I've gotten all of my coursework done on time, even Monday's work (which I sent to class with my roommate). Sidhe Eyes, my novel-in-progress, has now reached eleven completed chapters and is close to 150 pages long (even longer than my theses will be). I just finished doing a massive project as work, which "the powers that be" are very happy with. And, I also managed not to embarrass myself at my Confirmation (which took place last Sunday). Huzzah!

Now, if I can just manage to pull off another stellar week of work on auto-pilot. The side effects are still going strong, and I have two book reviews, two presentations, and a frightening quiz to prepare for. I also have my writing group (Inklings III) and a Lantern Hollow Press meeting (today and tomorrow, respectively). 'Tis going to be a very un-restful weekend!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stephanie Doesn't Live Here Anymore

I'm in quite a difficult bind at the moment. My new medication has kept me migraine free for six days now (a record - I haven't gone that long without one in ages). Unfortunately, the side effects are so miserable that they make the cure as bad as the ailment. I may not be in pain, but I possibly in something worse. Every day now is a seemingly endless battle for consciousness. I am dizzy, lethargic, queasy, at times incoherent . . . ug. It feels like I am swimming through endless curtains, inside a very long tunnel. I have to fight to create understandable sentences when I speak or write, and reading is a feat that takes ten times the effort. I read a sentence, forget what I just read, then have to read it again.

Yesterday I couldn't even make it to class. I kept falling asleep while trying to prepare, then finally gave up and sent my papers with my roommate. Today I accepted her offer of a ride to campus, realizing that I am in no condition to drive. Sheesh, I am not even in a fit condition to walk! Or sit! Or type (I keep making typos and then having to go back and fix them)!

I've opted to give myself three weeks to adjust to these new medications. If by then I still have these horrible side effects, I'm going to have to make a tough choice: multiple massive migraines every week or life inside a drugged stupor?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I, Zombie

It's been an "interesting" few months. Trying to squeeze more work into a day than the hours in a day would allow left me exhausted. The stress left me feeling raw, sort of like the way one might feel if the top layer of skin were yanked off one's entire body. Needless to say, my migraines continued in their "employee of the week" mindset, being certain to come at regular times and to complete derail me wherever possible. Migraines are very dedicated in their pursuit of torture and destruction. Having three to four migraines a week was just ridiculous, as it meant that I was never able to finish all of my reading. I found myself forced into a "winging it" method of graduate school survival. The migraines and I were embroiled in a war that they were winning. Clearly, something needed to change.

So, I went to the doctor. He put me on preventative pills. The migraines triumphed over me in glee, completely ignoring the medication that was supposed to prevent their arrival. Downtrodden and defeated, I returned to the doctor. He whipped out his magical prescription pad and supplied me with a fresh arsenal of preventative ammunition in the war against migraines. I started the new battle last night.

My new preventative medications (two different drugs, taken twice daily) are sort of like atomic warfare against my brain. The migraines are being soundly defeated, but nothing can grow in their territory now. The battlefield of my brain is seemingly barren, unable to formulate ideas or actions at the same speed previously attained. In short, I am currently a zombie.

Life as a zombie is relaxed and unstressful. In fact, I presently feel nothing. No emotion, good or bad, no need for rushing, no sense of time. I find coherency a difficult feat to attain, but it is still at least somewhat attainable. I'm hoping that these side effects wear off so that my brain can resume normal functions, but for the moment, I am strangely content with my floating feeling and my lack of emotion. It's sort of like hibernation after a long period of no rest at all.

Given the choice between zombie-hood and constant migraine warfare, I am honestly not sure which I would prefer to have permanently. With luck, my body and brain will adjust to these new medications and the migraines will bid a bitter adieu. If not, I suppose I'll pick zombie-hood for the time being. I may be functioning at a much lower capacity, but at least I am free of agonizing pain and nausea.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Two More Days Make All the Difference

My quality of life has improved dramatically. How so? By a simple matter of changing my work schedule.

You see, initially, in my very stupid mind, it made sense to spend Monday and Tuesday working long shifts followed by class. "More gas efficient," I explained to detractors, convinced that the few cents worth of gas that I saved each week were somehow worth the debilitating exhaustion, torturous stress, and ever-present feeling of impending doom. Obviously, I was somewhat mistaken. The realization of my mistake finally beat its way into my beleaguered mind after a particularly memorable Sunday on which I was so beset by stress that I collapsed in bed with a massive migraine and thus accomplished nothing.

It occurred to me that three to four migraines a week, very little sleep, and frequent chest pains were probably not healthy and were most likely going to eventually start affecting my GPA. So, I finally did what I should have done all along and changed my work hours. Now, instead of only have five days of the week in which I can get homework done, I have time on all seven days in which I can work. What freedom, what calmness I feel now!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Few Words from Sayers

I had to share a fantastic quote from my favorite writer (and role model), the legendary Dorothy Sayers:

“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Recent Lantern Hollow Blog Posts

Yesterday was my day to post on the Lantern Hollow Press blogs again. If you're interested, click on any of the links below to read what happens when Stephanie writes under duress at an insanely late hour (following a day of too much reading and a migraine):

While We're Paused -- Jasper's fans will be happy to note that I wrote my entire post for the official Lantern Hollow blog on him this time around. It's not easy writing with Jasper lurking about; click the link to read about some of his recent disruptive hijinks.

The Characters of Lantern Hollow -- Flavia and Edric are still on the run (they will be for quite some time) and are once again not getting along. I'd say the blame is about 50/50 this time.

Dark Characters of Lantern Hollow -- Renard Breen, my enterprising, magical, and mischievous sort-of-villain, has posted again, this time detailing the fun he had with a new adhesive he created. Renard comes from an urban fantasy (set during the Depression) that I've been working on.

Well, lunch break is over, so it's time to get back to my charts and proofreading (I love my job). Cheerio!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Best Weekend

Last weekend was a model example of the perfect weekend. No kidding. And considering the tremendous stress of late and my recent emotional state, I needed it.

On Saturday morning, a group of five us girls met up at the church (only three of us attend that particular one, but it's an easy place to meet at) and headed off to gorgeous Bedford. Out by the Peaks of Otter is an adorable apple orchard and working farm where we intended to pick apples. The public picking had ended the week before, sadly, but we were still able to get loads of delicious apples from the barrels. I bought an entire peck of apples, and I have a great many happy schemes for them. We were invited to tour the farm, so we took our time strolling out in the fantastic September weather (sunny and warm), admiring the mountains in the background, petting cute animals, and generally being rather silly. One particularly friendly baby goat charged down a hill bleating at us as we went to leave, then insisted on being petted and exclaimed over by all before he would part company with us. He reminded me a bit of Jasper.

After the orchard, we drove into the town of Bedford to an adorable restaurant, The Station, where, oddly enough, I had my graduation luncheon back in 2006. The food is still as wonderful as ever, I am happy to report. We followed lunch with some shopping and sightseeing, then went back to my place for an evening of old movies. Yes, I have successfully converted not one, but ALL of my friends! Thanks to me, they are all freshly minted Myrna Loy, William Powell, Jean Arthur, Doris Day, Jack Benny, and Lionel Barrymore fans (oh, and they are steadily being introduced to a healthy diet of other legendary talents as well). I feel very proud.

On Sunday, my dear friend Rachel and I went to the new Sunday School class at our church for the first time. It was excellent, more like a group discussion than a class. I cannot wait for the next one! The service, as always, was meaningful and pertinent. Afterwards, I spoke to our priest about my desire to join the church as a member, and was heartily welcomed. I'm hoping to be able to be confirmed when the bishop visits in October. (I'll post about my switch in churches later, as longtime readers may be curious by the obvious departure from my previous church experience.)

After church, Rachel and I prepared a wonderful high tea and spent the rest of the day delighting in Jane Austen (we watched Persuasion) and reading for class, while sipping properly prepared tea, dainty sandwiches, and delicious hot scones with clotted cream and lemon curd. I have seldom had a weekend that so thoroughly distracted me during a time of difficulty. It was almost medicinal for me, and I found myself greeting the new week with much greater strength than I had hoped for.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chaucer and Sondheim on a Friday Morning

"We little know the things for which we pray." ~ Chaucer

Maybe I'm odd (maybe?), but I've always liked Chaucer. I read The Canterbury Tales in high school, and found them enchanting. So I love it when a Chaucer quote pops up on my homepage; it's sort of like getting a morning greeting from an old chum. Today, perhaps owing to my pensive mood, Chaucer made me start thinking. The soundtrack from “Into the Woods” made me start thinking even more.

Anyone who has seen "Into the Woods" can probably remember the rather haunting song from the second act, “Children Will Listen.” The part of the song that has always stood out to me is where the witch sings

“Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell”

My thoughts led me in the direction of unanswered prayers, and what would have happened had they been answered the way I wanted originally. I don’t care to go into particulars here, but in every instance, I would have come out so much the worse. The consequences for getting what I wanted would never have been worth the pleasure of getting what I wanted. Who’d have thought? – I really don’t know what’s best for me. God does.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Podcast, Blogs, and Articles, Oh My!

Let me be the first to say, starting a publishing press is a lot of work. But, the work is it's own reward. I'm writing now at a rate I've never before accomplished, my writing is undergoing a great deal of polishing that seems to be trickling down even into my book reviews, and I have never before felt so much like a pioneer! Lantern Hollow Press is now up to three blogs, which we update DAILY. We have our Writers' Blog, where we post articles that in some way pertain to reading or writing, our Character Blog, where the heroes and comic characters from our stories roam free and interact, and our Dark Character Blog, where our evil characters have set up their own forum.

Since it was my day for posting today, I wrote as my heroine, Flavia Shanahan (click HERE to read the post) and as one of my villains, Alicia Fenn (click HERE to read the post). In addition, I also wrote a lengthy article on the importance of Giving Characters a History (click HERE to read the post). And, I also managed to get podcasts recorded for Alicia's blog post and the article.

If you want to imagine something hilarious, imagine me trying to do a podcast as my exceedingly evil character. Brian suggested that I should make her sound sultry; I pointed out to him that I am a Liberty grad (sultriness isn't part of ANY of the programs). On my own last night, I practiced every voice imaginable trying to get her to sound right. I went from sounding like a chain smoker to sounding like someone with indigestion, to sounding like a wino. Finally, I hit upon a voice that seemed right. It thoroughly creeped me out to listen to the podcast afterward though, as Alicia sounds so completely unlike me (in fact, I'm a bit disturbed at just how evil I've made her).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Odd Side Effects

I saw a doctor a few weeks ago about the possibility of trying out something other than Vicodin to handle my migraines. He put me on a nightly pill to attempt to ward the wretched things off (which, sadly, has yet to make a difference) and a new medication that is ingested through a nasal pump. It took Walmart two weeks to finally get the drug in, so I was not able to pick it up until today.

It's probably just as well. I've had five migraines in the past two weeks, so I definitely would have used this drug if I had had it then. And that could have been disastrous for my academic career. Among the many potential side effects (dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, etc.) is listed one side effect that made me do a double-take: pregnancy.

Anyone else think the pharmacy made a little typo?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Grad Student's Prayer

Now I sit me down to write;
Looks like I'll be up all night.
I've got to read this giant book
(Or fake it so that's how it looks),
And then write a book review,
Pointing out which points are true.
And so dear Savior, Lord of me,
Help these watering eyes to see
The thesis of this monograph --
Oh, intercede on my behalf!
Make my analysis astute,
Bless me with undeserved repute.
Help me analyze each source --
Oh, God, just let me pass this course!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Talk about Hitting the Ground Running!

Okay, I am officially scheduling my first nervous breakdown for September 15. I was planning to hold out until October, but when I got a better look at my workload today, I decided to move it up. I think I'll have two in October. I'm planning at least ten for April.

I have carefully scheduled my semester down to the half-hour, and with good reason. Today was the first day of classes, as well as the day that I met with my boss to work out my hours for my job at the university. Courtesy of my new schedule (classes plus job), I will now be at the university for FOURTEEN HOURS STRAIGHT every Monday. Yipe! Tuesdays are a little better: only eleven straight hours. Wednesday, I opted to have as a day off (hence the rather full Monday and Tuesday). Thursday and Friday, I have six and five hours, respectively. Did I mention that I am also working TWO positions for the publishing press that I'm helping to launch? And continuing to write a novel? And writing my thesis? Needless to say, I decided to give up on the idea of resuming piano lessons.

Between work and class, 34 hours of my week are claimed. The press will claim a minimum of another 13 hours. The workload for the classes (reading around 1,000+ pages worth of material and writing a minimum of three papers - per week) will claim a minimum of another 25 hours. The thesis research will probably average about 2 hours per week at the moment. I am hoping to squeeze in about 3 hours per week for my novel. All total, I'm looking at a minimum of a 77 hour work week each week. Realistically speaking, it will probably average out at around 90 hours per week. See, history grad programs are not for the faint of heart!

This week's workload is definitely thrusting me back into student mode (did I ever leave?): five books to read, two papers, one presentation, and a quiz to study for. Whew!

I might not be posting very often on my blog this semester!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Check It Out!

The publishing press that my friends and I are launching, Lantern Hollow Press, is starting two blogs on September 1. One blog will be a writers' blog, covering the full scope of the writing process and also offering advice and aids for other writers. Our other blog will be a character blog, in which our many characters will be posting and conversing today. Be sure to look for Flavia, Edric, and Nobbley, my three talkative characters who have joined the blogging world. You can also stay up to date on our new press through our Twitter page.

Click on the links to see what we've been up to:

"While We're Paused . . ." (Lantern Hollow Press Writers' Blog)

"The Characters of Lantern Hollow Press" (Lantern Hollow Press Characters' Blog)

Lantern Hollow Press on Twitter


You know, I think those rogue characters of ours may have jumped the gun, and have already gotten started posting on the character blog. Why don't you go have a look?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Even without Classes, I Still Stay Busy

I know, I have been horrible about blogging in July. Bad Stephanie! But, if it makes my poor, neglected readers feel any better, let me assure you that it is not because I am lolling about at a beach or swimming pool. Actually, I haven't been swimming since March, and frankly, I'm not much of a beach person. They get dull, in my opinion. No, lately I have been swamping myself with some big projects. Here's the lowdown:

1. I resumed piano lessons after a fourteen-year break. After the obsessive teacher I had as a child, I stayed away from the piano for quite some time, recovering. After a few years, I started tinkering around with it again. Since moving back to Virginia, I have started playing daily, but desperately wanted lessons to refine and direct myself a bit more. So, even though I have a busy year ahead and am a pauper, I decided that lessons were one extravagance the pocketbook could handle. It's an excellent stress release, and when I play hymns, it's almost as if I'm praying through music, thus opening a whole new door for personal devotional time.

2. I started some mega research. A paper that I wrote for a summer class came out a bit odder than expected, and got a result that I never expected: my teacher loved it and thinks I should refine it into a publishable article and even consider it as a thesis topic. So, I decided that he was right about the article idea, and am now working to see if it can be cleaned up for that very purpose. As far as the thesis possibility goes, I am also considering that idea. Last week, I journeyed up to College Park, MD to go to the National Archives II (many people don't know this, but there are actually two national archives). I spent a day researching two separate possible tracks to take with my thesis and wound up with two other possible ideas as a result. Grr! I'm going to have to go up again, probably on Friday of this week, in order to refine the research a bit more. Believe it or not, it was an amazing and thrilling time pouring through about ten boxes worth of cables and interoffice memos from the OSS, so I can't wait to do it again.

3. I have made tremendous strides on my fantasy novel. I scrapped a few chapters and wrote some new ones. My novel is now on chapter eight and isn't even halfway done, although I have sailed past the 75th page. I normally never make it this far without getting overly critical and deleting my entire work, so I'm quite proud of how this novel is coming. Earlier today, I solved the major plot hole that has been plaguing me, so now it should be pretty smooth sailing for a while. Amazingly, I still like my main characters!

4. My writing group (Inklings III) and I are taking our first brave steps into the world of publishing. We're looking into self-publish options now and are beginning plans to start our own press. We're also considering starting an E-zine, and we are working on the plans for a website. We figure that with group promotion, we can finally get somewhere. After all, if absolute crap like Twilight can get published, than surely our work ought to stand a chance.

5. The work and research continues on my doctoral plans. I have made the highly ambitious decision to apply to two international schools as two of my top five. I know the chances of getting in and getting funding are slim, but the programs and possibilities are too magnificent for me not to take the chance. And what have I to lose? So, as it presently stands, my first choice is still University of North Texas, second is University of Glasgow, third is University of Wales Swansea, and I am not sure yet on four and five. Schools in the running for those slots include University of Kansas, Temple University, George Washington University, and Texas A&M. Gradually, I'm getting things narrowed down.

6. Believe it or not, I actually have a social life. Yes, the history gypsy does get out -- weekly, in fact. I've been spending time helping my roommate with some of her wedding planning, having game nights and movie nights with Inkling friends, ice skating, and even enjoying the odd dinner party. Tomorrow, Brandi (the roommate) and I are off on an adventure to Appomattox for the day. We're planning to hit a few historical sites, go hiking, enjoy a picnic lunch, and look at a few bridal shops (for her) on the way back. It should be a great day, assuming that the weather cooperates (we do have a chance of thunder storms). In the evening tomorrow, Brandi and I are planning homemade pizza and a Jimmy Stewart double-feature (tonight we enjoyed a Hitchcock film followed by The Quiet Man).

7. I am also busy buying all of the books for next semester. Colonial History is all set, but I still need to track down and order my books for my Reading Seminar in American History and my Historiography class. Fortunately, I do not have quite as many books being required for the fall as there were for the spring (I think there are only two less, but yes, it does make a difference).

8. Oh yes, and one more thing. For some odd reason, I also got it into my head to start writing a second novel. Drat these impetuous ideas! For the sake of my sanity, I am not allowing this second novel to go beyond the planning and character sketch stages until the fantasy novel is completely written. I'm afraid my head will implode, otherwise.

I'm quite amazed (and even perhaps a bit shell-shocked) by all that I've gotten done so far this summer, as well as by what I have left to do. Next week, I'll be journeying back up to Michigan for almost two weeks, then when I get back down here, I'll be visiting some more archives. Classes and work start up again on the 23rd of August, and it is definitely going to be another high-stress, high-interest semester. "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jasper's New Haircut

Since the weather keeps hitting over 100 degrees each day, poor Jasper has found going outdoors to be a miserable experience. As a little snub-nosed dog, it's harder for him to cool himself down than it is for other breeds, so he can't take the high temperatures quite so well. I've been feeling pretty sorry for him, so the other day I sent him to the groomer to get a really short cut. Unlike the last time that he cut cut super short (in Korea), this time he does not look like he belongs in Fagan's hideout (read Oliver Twist if you don't know what I'm referring to). He seems quite happy with his new cut, and I'm happy that he still resembles a (healthy) dog.


"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"