Monday Mornings are not the best. I don’t hate them as much as Garfield does, but I’m not too fond of them. I feel like I spend the first thirty minutes or so just trying to remember where I left off on Friday, and once I do that, I spend another ten or fifteen minutes chastising myself for leaving everything in such disarray.
Anyway, I hope you have a good week, everybody.
To help you out with that, here are some pictures of Oscar as a ninja:
For some people, this means the beginning of the holiday season: buying gifts, making travel arrangements, preparing to spend time with friends and loved ones.
Then, there are other people—the kind of people who look forward to November for an entirely different reason. For them, November means basically ignoring friends and family members, putting thoughts of holidays on the back burner, and locking themselves away for the month.
In case you didn’t know, November, for some people, means National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 days.
In case you didn’t know, I fit in with this second group of people.
When I mention National Novel Writing Month, the inevitable first question is, “What do you win?” And the answer, boiled down, is this: pretty much nothing.
You’re writing a novel to write a novel.
There are mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo—a lot of people think it’s stupid to shoot for a word count, if what you’re writing is garbage.
And to some extent, I agree. But I also think it’s a great time to force myself to sit and write, no matter what other things are going on in my life. If I wait for the right time to take on something as huge as writing a novel, it will never happen. This event allows me to put my writing first, it gives me a goal, and it gives me the motivation to complete that goal.
And while I think writing a good story is more important than just writing a lot of words, there’s something to be said for writing, even if it’s not great stuff. Maybe you have a bad day, and your story isn’t going well, and if you didn’t have that daily word count, you’d throw in the towel. NaNoWriMo keeps you writing, and it’s surprising how quickly the flow of garbage can turn into something nice.
I have participated in this event four years in a row. It started out as more of an answer to a question, rather than any real desire to write a novel.
Could I write a novel in a month?
I’m more of a short story type of guy—I like to get in there, drop the story, and get out. No reason I need to tell you why Brad and Janet were fighting; all you need to know is that they were, there was an accident, and now Brad’s on the run. I don’t have to tell you where he’s going to go, or how he’ll get money for food. It’s a short story, that’s how they work.
A novel is a different beast. All of the sudden, it’s your job to talk about Brad and Janet as children, how they met, how their relationship began to stagnate, why they fought, and then where Brad went, how he got money for food, and what eventually happened when the cops caught up with him.
It’s a pretty big deal, and I was curious to see if I could do it.
I was able to, but I wasn’t proud of what I ended up with.
There was a lot of word filler: unimportant descriptions, details that didn’t matter, story lines that didn’t go anywhere. A lot of stuff that contributed to the word count, but not the story. And although I reached the word count, I didn’t end up with a complete novel. Still, though, it was a win, and it was a cool experience.
I decided to do it again.
The next year, I focused more on character development and story than on word count, and I ended up with a pretty good piece—as well as a high word count—but still not what I’d call a complete novel.
Last year was my third attempt at National Novel Writing Month, and I was pretty pleased with the results. I ended up with a complete story, some pretty good writing, and 80,000 words. When I finally got back to reading over it, it felt rushed, and there were gaping plot holes, but I was still satisfied with what I had created.
So I will be giving it another try this year.
If you’re at all interested, you should look at the National Novel Writing Month website: nanowrimo.org/ .
There’s an entire community of writers who encourage each other and help each other through tough spots. There are forums that cover everything from help with naming characters to soundtracks for writing, as well as just offering support for other authors.
Full disclosure: I have never posted anything on the forums, and the only time I even look at them is when I get curious to see what other people are doing—usually once on day one, and then maybe again when I finish my novel. I don’t like community—if I did, I wouldn’t be a shut-in, would-be writer in the first place. I’d be out having fun with other people.
That said, I do have a small group of people I correspond with over the course of the month: on the website, they’re called “Writing Buddies.” Just a few people I know who also write; we send each other encouraging emails, or check to see why someone has stalled out on word count, or just whatever. I’m not always so great at being a “buddy,” because a lot of the time, I’m doing my best just to get my writing done, but if you’re interested in taking this challenge, and want to add me, feel free (Ray_W).
And remember earlier when I said you don’t really win anything? Not entirely true. Over the years, the NaNoWriMo team has gathered a pretty impressive list of sponsors, so if you complete the challenge, you can get a free print of your novel, or discounts on writing software, or all kinds of other good stuff (for a complete list, check the sponsor offer page). It’s nothing too crazy, but it is a bit of material possession that will make your hard work feel a little more justified at the end of the month.
So anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing this month. If you’re even marginally inclined to write a novel, or if you’re just curious to see if you can do it, I strongly suggest you give it a try.
I mentioned before that my mother likes projects. I don’t think it really matters what kind, as long as she can be creative, and as long as she gets to use at least a couple of power tools.
After she moved out to Lipscomb, she decided there should be a lending library there. So she spearheaded the project, collecting books from pretty much everyone in the world, decorating it with various pieces of artwork and furniture, and working constantly until it was finished.
This year, she decided to take the library to a more sinister place, and fixed it up as a “Haunted Library.” I think it started out as a fun little side project, but with my mother’s projects, things tend to get pretty intense pretty quick. Also, there’s generally a fair amount of emotional scarring, but maybe that’s just if you’re her kid (if you think I’m being harsh, you’ve never heard the doll story).
I’ve got a few pictures, but they don’t really do the place justice. The haunted library is open to the public this weekend, so if you have a bit of spare time while soaking up all the Fall Foliage activities, I strongly suggest you run out and take a look. They’ll have lunch and baked goods for sale, as well.
If baked goods aren’t really your thing, don’t fret: The Crow is having a chili festival in Lipscomb this weekend. This sounds exactly like my kind of thing, too: you show up on Saturday or Sunday, between 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., you give them 20 bucks, and they will give you a pottery bowl (which you get to keep), and ALL YOU CAN EAT CHILI!
I realize that I get way too excited about food, but you also get that pottery bowl, so it’s basically art, and it’s good to get excited about art, right?
ALSO ALL YOU CAN EAT HOMEMADE CHILI!
Have a safe and exciting Fall Foliage Weekend, everybody.
It’s October now, but that’s not gonna stop me from writing about soup. As long as you know that from the beginning, we’ll get along just fine. Unless you’re tired of reading about soup, but you’re too polite to say anything, so you just build up a quiet resentment towards me, but I still think we’re friends and I want to hang out all the time. And then one day, you just snap, and you tell me about how stupid soup is, and how you hate me for writing about it, and then you grab the closest thing handy—which happens to be a package of bacon that’s sitting on the counter—and you hit me with it, right in the face. At that point, we won’t be getting along just fine, and I think we both know it.
But I digress.
Don’t worry—I won’t be posting about soup all this month. Frankly, I tend to lose interest in things pretty quick, and I think we all realize soup just isn’t that exciting. Bowl, food, eat, done. Not much to it.
Maybe if you went all Michael Bay on it: added some explosions, some slow motion, some spin shots; that could liven it up. But that’s a lot of trouble to go through for soup, and if you’re doing all that, you might as well just forget about the soup entirely and make either an action movie or maybe a pizza.
I made a lot of soup this month. I made things like chicken fajita, mushroom beef, and olive basil with celery.
I made honey mustard chicken with rice noodles. I made egg drop soup (which I don’t like at all, but my girlfriend does, and it’s easy, so I do it anyway because I’m a champ like that).
I even got fancy with my potato soup and put it in a bread bowl.
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Since I don’t want that bacon-slapping resentment building up, I’m only going to tell you about one more soup.
Chicken tortilla soup.
This soup is incredibly tasty, but it feels kind of like cheating to make it during Souptember, both because I use a recipe for it, and because it’s mostly just a bunch of canned soups mixed together. Quite awhile back, my sister sent me the recipe from this website, and I figured I’d give it a try. It’s really easy, and like I said—very delicious.
At this point, maybe you’re thinking that if it’s an easy soup that’s mostly from other soups, why am I wasting my last soup post writing about it. And here’s your answer—it doesn’t matter how easy a thing is, I can find a way to mess it up.
You see, my girlfriend needed a photo prop. She spoke to my mother about it one Wednesday evening, asking if she’d like to help her build it some weekend. The thing about my mother is that she loves projects.
She loves projects the way attack dogs love to attack: with a fierce intensity that will not be quenched or delayed.
By Thursday evening, the prop was built, and my mom wanted to bring it over. We were heading out of town, and agreed to have her over the next day, and I’d cook supper.
I decided to go with the chicken tortilla because I could quickly make it after work, and it’s always a big hit.
The thing about recipes is, they’re pretty direct. You follow the directions, you end up making exactly what you’re supposed to. But the key is, you have to follow the directions.
I made my chicken, dumped everything in a pot, and served everyone. As I was bringing the bowls out, my girlfriend mentioned that the soup seemed more spicy than usual.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told my mom and her husband, “She’s a sissy about spices.”
I continued to dish everyone up, and even though it was unanimous that the soup was too hot, it didn’t stop me from dumping a gigantic spoonful into my mouth for my first bite. Because I had tasted this soup before, you see. And I knew exactly how spicy it was because that’s how recipes work.
The soup immediately set my mouth on fire. My lips melted away, my cheeks burst into flame, and I died.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but only a little. When that soup hit the back of my throat, my nose began running, my eyes began watering, and my breathing became restricted. In case you’re wondering: no, this is not the desired effect of soup.
I ran inside to see what had happened, wondering how my soup could have betrayed me so aggressively.
My answer was in one of the little pouches of spice I keep above my stove. Instead of using regular chili powder, I had accidentally used habanero (the pouch had a warning on the side: “Careful—120,000 heat units). This is the stuff I will use sparingly when I want to bring the hot to a recipe.
By sparingly, I mean like a sprinkle in a blender full of salsa, or an eighth of a teaspoon in a vat of soup. I do not use a tablespoon in a medium pot, because if you do something like that, you will turn your insides to red-hot coals, smoke will come out of your ears, and your heart will explode.
We mellowed it down with some cream and sugar, but even after that, it was almost impossible to eat an entire bowl, despite the fact that it still tasted really good. My mom and her husband left quickly afterwards, promising to return at a later date so I could make it up to them.
They later cancelled that lunch date, and I don’t blame them a bit. I spent the rest of the evening on the couch, listening to my guts rumble, and wondering if my belly button was going to erupt like some crazy sort of soup volcano.
Moral of the story? Follow directions or pay the price. The other moral of the story? Even if I love you, I will hurt you in ways you’ll never expect, so just run. Get away while you still can.
Last night, we went to get something to eat. We wanted something a little different, so we hopped in the car and set out for Shattuck, Oklahoma.
In case you don’t know (but you probably do), Shattuck is a small town (population 1,324, according to Google). We like to go there because it’s a change of scenery.
There’s a sprawling cemetery just on the edge of town, a windmill museum (right next to the cemetery), and there’s Gusto’s—an Italian restaurant with delicious food and great service. I will be writing more about Gusto’s in the future, because it’s an outstanding place in the world. But this is a post about the circus, and to have a combo circus/Gusto’s post would be too much awesome at one time, so you’ll just have to wait.
We ate our food and were about to make the 45-minute drive back home when I heard the lady at the cash register tell someone to have fun at the circus.
“I think there’s a circus in town,” I told my girlfriend. “If there is, I need to find it.”
“We could ask someone where it is,” she said.
Or, I told her, we could search the town: investigate, just like Scooby Doo and the gang.
Sure enough, there were posters for the circus on almost every window of the businesses in town—my plan had worked perfectly.
So we went on a new search—this time for the mysterious “City Park,” where the circus was set up.
“We could just ask someone,” my girlfriend said again.
“It’s Shattuck,” I told her. “How are we going to miss a circus?”
“I don’t know, I’ve seen some pretty small circuses.”
“If it’s so small that we can’t find it in a town this size, we don’t need to be going. That’s not a circus, it’s some guy dressed as a clown in a camping tent, drugging us and stealing our organs.”
As I mentioned before, Shattuck is a town of 13 hundred people—we found the circus in under a minute.
I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical, at first. Horror movies have taught me to respectfully fear both small towns and circuses, and the combination of the two would be enough to break the constitution of a lesser man. But I am not a lesser man, so I continued on.
And here’s the thing: apparently, I love the circus.
I never realized it before, because I don’t often go. I mean, I always knew I should run off and join the circus—my friends and loved ones have been telling me that since I was a child. But I always assumed it was because they wanted to be rid of me and my entertaining antics.
This was not a large circus: a couple of inflatable bouncy toys out front, pony rides, and face-painting. Inside, they had their one ring, and a couple of clowns (Judy and Punchy) running around doing clown things. Juggling and doing magic and stuff, not dragging children down into the sewers—these were apparently the good kind of clowns (although it was a little creepy when Punchy said, “At the circus, you’re never alone—even if you want to be.” I think he meant it in a good way, though, so that’s okay).
I’m not going to give you a play-by-play, because as thrilled as I was with the entire evening, I don’t think you would share my enthusiasm. I will give you some highlights, though:
The first act was a lion and two tigers, and I wasn’t terribly impressed. Sure, they climbed up on a table and crossed a wooden plank, but I can do that, and if I was getting treats every time I did something like they did, I’d be a much more enthusiastic performer.
But there was so much more. For example, a family of unicyclists!
At one point, the gentleman pictured above got on a unicycle that was so high, he had to use a crazy ladder to get on top. As I watched him climb, I thought, “Just climbing that rickety ladder would be enough to qualify him as an act, the gigantic unicycle is just frosting.”
One of the unicycle girls was also a trapeze artist.
What she’s doing in that picture right there? She is holding herself up with her head, using her neck muscles. Seriously, I can barely look to the left without pulling a muscle in my neck—I can’t imagine holding myself up with it.
There were some more animals, and although they were a bit more commonplace than tigers, they were still highly entertaining.
For example, I laughed for a solid five minutes as this pony ran around with the Clydesdale:
See, because one is so big, and one is so small. Plus, that pony’s legs were ridiculous as he ran to keep up with the giant horse. It looked like a cartoon.
And then the dogs:
I’ll be honest: because of the lax enforcement of dog leash/fence laws in Canadian, I’m pretty burned out with dogs, especially little bitty ones. I mean, I can barely walk a block in this town without a tiny dog bursting out from behind something and nipping at my ankles.
But these fellas were pretty cool, doing all their tricks, pushing each other around in wagons, climbing ladders. You can’t really tell, but in the picture above, that’s a little dog who climbed up a ladder and is in the process of diving down into a little sack. Most dogs I know won’t even go down stairs, much less jump from a platform into a sack.
And then there was the lady who got lifted up by her hair. Frankly, she kind of freaked me out, because although I know it’s just my imagination, I started thinking it was pulling her face back, like something out of Beetlejuice. Like I said, I know I was just imagining it, but it still kept me on edge.
That said, she came out later and did something called “feet juggling,” which I didn’t even know was a thing. But it is a thing. It is a thing where you get on your back and then spin and toss various objects using your feet.
And this, kids, this is why I saved this picture for last. At one point, a guy brought out this flaming contraption and handed it to her. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, she will juggle the firecopter!”
All I could think about for the duration of her act was what if she just flew away? Like, what if she twirled that thing so fast she just took off, and then zoomed around the big top?
Obviously, I was slightly disappointed: she didn’t fly away by means of firecopter.
But for a brief moment, there was a chance, even if it was just in my mind.
And I think that’s what I really dig about the circus: for just a little bit, you can see things you didn’t expect, things you hadn’t imagined existed. For a minute, you forget about bills and jobs and liver disease, and it’s just exciting to see what comes next.
The Culpepper & Merriweather Circus will be in Wheeler tonight (Tuesday, September 24, 2013), with shows at 5:30 and 7:30 pm. If you’d like more information, you can visit their Facebook page.