What Christmas means to me

January 1, 2008

As I sit here on the evening of January the First, in the year of our Lord 2008, I am reflecting on the just passed holiday season and I think about what Christmas means to me. So here it is, in blog-entry form.

What Christmas means to me

but first, a disclaimer. I will not mention all of the various religious aspects of Christmas in this section because, if you believe in such things, you don’t need me to tell you about it. If you don’t, you also don’t need me to tell you about it, because there are other, louder, more holy people around to do that. Also, those people usually are not distracted from being loud and holy by trying to make people laugh.

now let’s get back to me.

Christmas means countless twist ties. They are hidden in every box and package. Every children’s toy, by law, must be held securely to a cheap piece of cardboard by 27 titanium coated, NASA approved, industrial strength twist ties, minimum. Everyone knows the best way to deal with twist ties is to cut them. I know the best way to deal with twist ties is to cut them, but on Christmas morning I still think it’s a pretty good idea to untwist them with my soon-to-be sore and throbbing fingers. I’m a pretty bright guy, as you know.

Christmas means malfunctioning outdoor holiday decorations. The beautiful, scenic light-up reindeer I bought and placed in my front yard falls over like it is drunk. Constantly. I got so tired of fighting with it that I finally attached a red light to its nose and hung it upside down from a tree with a sign that said, “Sorry, kids!”

Christmas means leftover eggnog. I love to buy eggnog near the holidays. I almost never drink any. I guess I’m just in love with the concept.

Christmas (or, more accurately, the day after Christmas) means further proof that I’m not the video game king that I used to be. When the kids get a new video game for Christmas I always think I’m going to kick their little butts playing it. Then, every single one of them beats me, including the 4 year old who then performs a seven minute long victory dance.

Christmas means the a new year is just around the corner. Now, a new year doesn’t actually mean that much unless you still write checks for things. The changing year means you’re going to mess up writing the date on at least a few of them.

Christmas means enjoying time with family and friends and being nice to people you normally wouldn’t be nice to because it’s usually hard to know who your Secret Santa is.

Christmas means lots of people complaining about the commercialization of Christmas, while shopping.

Christmas means at least one gift per year gets the “Uncle B” treatment, which is named after a family friend who is known to secretly disconnect the speaker mechanism in the most annoying new toy and then, when the affected child asks him why the new toy no longer works, plays dumb.

Christmas means that the kids get some time off from school. That’s nice, except that Christmas vacation from school means they have lots of time on their hands to roam the house looking for victims. But it also means that just after New Year’s Day, they have to go back to school and that really is the best thing for everyone involved.

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take a breath

November 13, 2007

We’re back from vacation, where I blatantly broke the cardinal rule for writers, which is, “take a notebook everywhere you go.” I had some ideas that I thought were funny, but can’t remember them now. I guess I’ll just wing it.

I worked up a good bit of anger and resentment just before we left for Disney when I found out that my short story, Sharpest Knife in the Block did not win the contest I had entered it in. I thought it was a lock! Of course, that’s how I feel about everything I produce. Maybe I’ll let you people read and critique it. It’s different than anything I’ve released to the public so far. A departure, if you will. Experimental. I had fun writing it during the Beach Torture Event, so it lives close to my heart. Also, that might explain why it has a little bit of a bitter edge to it.

There was a recall on Aqua Dots while we were gone. That makes me feel really good, as we gave out Aqua Dots as birthday gifts to a couple of kids recently. “Happy birthday, little girl! Here is a package of poison dots for you to play with.” They are only bad for you if you eat them, which isn’t really the main purpose of the Aqua Dots in the first place. I guess the people who developed these things have never been around little kids, because I’ve seen kids for whom putting non-edible things in their mouths was a complete obsession. If they don’t want kids to put toys in their mouths, then all toys should be made of Brussels sprouts and vitamins.

The end of November is quickly approaching, with a birthday party to throw, friends visiting, Thanksgiving to enjoy, etc. Should be a busy few weeks coming up. Haven’t I been saying that since July?

I’m committed to really decorating the house for Christmas. I’m only telling you that because that will make it harder for me to back out.

And now my sentences are getting shorter. That’s a sign that I have a bunch of things on my mind besides blogging, so I must stop for now.

one more thing: Brandi Carlile is so good.

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Now playing: Brandi Carlile – Throw It All Away
via FoxyTunes

blank page

August 16, 2007

It’s been so long since I’ve posted an update that this morning I just clicked on the “New Post” button without anything in mind to write about. Let’s see where this takes us, shall we? Good. Buckle up.

I love my local library and I’m really looking forward to the opening of a brand-new branch which will be about the same distance from my house but in the opposite direction of the one I’ve been going to. I’ll still go to the old one, but I’m hoping that the new branch will have a better selection of YA and Middle-grade stuff for me to read. They have these inter-library loans, so I can get anything I want by going to the same branch that I’ve been going to (I like the people, and they know me) and asking for them to grab what I want from the other locations. Evil plot, I know.

I’ve purchased a few books that are not available in my whole library system (mostly new releases) and now I’m torn between keeping them for my personal library and donating them and making them available to the whole county. I’m leaning toward donation, as I think it will help those authors expand their audience and I like the idea of being part of that, but you know that will result in me buying those books all over again so I have personal copies also. Maybe that would be a good use of my first royalty payment. See how I just assume there will be a first royalty payment? Positive thinking, yo.

Speaking of writing books (we were, weren’t we?), Scrivener has lived up to my expectations. I’ll be buying a license. It is so cool to have the whole thing right there and so organized. I just wish I knew how to pronounce “Scrivener”. Does it have a long I sound or a short I sound? The first E makes it seem like the I is long, but the guy who named it is British and sometimes they throw in extra vowels. I think there may be an abundance of vowels in the UK and they just want to get rid of them. I don’t know about you, but when I speak with someone and they tell me all about how great something is and then they pronounce the name of the thing WRONG, it makes me question everything they said about it. How can you love something so much and not know how to say its name? Are you a nut? Well, maybe I’m a nut, because I love Scrivener and I don’t know how to say its name. Heck, I haven’t even paid for it yet. I hope that after I pay for it, they will send out the top-secret email with a pronunciation guide, but rarely do these types of things actually happen.

I was cleaning out the pictures from my cell phone and found one of a hideously decorated life-sized donkey that was sitting in the back room of a pizza place we went to during the Beach Torture Event. The pic isn’t worth posting, but trust me when I say that the thing looked like it was designed by an angry, blind mental patient. I don’t know how they can expect people to eat and enjoy their pizza while sitting in the same room with that thing. Then again, this pizza restaurant is located right on the boardwalk and it’s likely that most everyone who eats there is already in shock, wondering where all their money went. Most likely, their money went toward the 75 games of Skeeball they had to play in order to win their kid a plastic whistle. Skeeball, by the way, was probably also designed by an angry, blind mental patient.

whew. I told you to buckle up, didn’t I?

I have a five-dollar coupon for Borders and so I’m planning on going there and using it soon. I hate for those things to go to waste and they know it. I’m looking for Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle, Rules by Cynthia Lord and maybe Queen of Cool, by Cecil Castellucci which has just been released in paperback, so why not? These are all titles that are not available in our library. Yet. Wait until I get finished reading them and/or receive my first royalty check.

My own middle grade novel, which is tentatively titled Middle Grade Novel in an obvious nod to Daniel Pinkwater’s Young Adult Novel and also my own lack of imagination in titling, is coming together. It is amazing how the more work I do on it, the more work there is to do. Even worse, the more work I do on this first book, the more ideas I have for a second. I really need to focus on the first one, however, since actually finishing a book is a goal so many “writers” don’t achieve. I will. Maybe it will be great, and maybe no one will ever see it. Either way, it will be complete.

and the second book will be sooo cool!

Maybe one of them will get me an agent. And hopefully, that agent is not an angry, blind mental patient who is out to get me because of my blog.

new discoveries abound

August 6, 2007

Curse you, Cecil Castellucci! How dare you directly affect my writing life. AGAIN! Kidding, of course. Through Miss Cecil, I’ve discovered writers such as John Green, Maureen Johnson, Markus Zusak, Jo Knowles, etc. The list goes on and on. I’ve read a lot and I’ve learned a lot. Now, Cecil has a link in her blog to a program called Scrivener, which may be exactly what I’ve been looking for. It is like a workbench for book building. It looks completely cool. Later today, I’ll be diving in for a trial run. I’ll let you all know how it goes.

The Beach Torture Event went well enough. The family had a mostly good time and it wasn’t too bad for me. I didn’t have to spend much time on the beach, although I know that the eleven other people I was there with were getting a bit aggravated with me because I had no interest in what everyone else was doing (sitting on the beach for hours). I guess they just couldn’t understand how someone could dislike doing that. I can’t figure out how doing that doesn’t drive them crazy with boredom. Despite the fact that I didn’t spend much time at the beach, I still felt pretty busy all week. I did visit a very cool children’s book shop called the Children’s Book Garden, where I picked up a copy of When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt, which I’m not finished reading yet. I also paid a visit to my favorite Ocean City, MD attraction, the Wheels of Yesterday museum and giftshop. I just love that place.

So, all in all it was a decent vacation, but I’m glad to be home. School starts in three weeks and the kids’ sports practices start this afternoon, so the busy time is upon us.

cafe writing

July 31, 2007

Here I am, writing in a cafe. I’ve never done this before, since I thought there would be way too many distractions for me to try to write in public, but it’s working out pretty well. My short story Sharpest Knife in the Block is finished and submitted. I think it turned out pretty well. It’s a little dark in mood, but I like it. Today was the deadline, so it had to get done, although I’m sure I’ll still be changing parts of it weeks from now. The cafe I’m sitting in isn’t the type of cafe you are probably picturing in your mind. There is an indoor ice skating rink here. There is a pizza stand. There is the restaurant where I had breakfast and there is a coffee stand which will provide me with all of the Starbucks Caramel Lattes I can drink. There is not a lot of activity in here, even with all of those attractions, since the main attraction around here is located just through the doors at the end of the room. There is a beach out there. And the ocean. That’s where all of the people are.

I am not a big fan of the beach and the ocean, so I am sitting in this “cafe” banging on my iBook, drinking overpriced beverages and thinking about stories. Ahhh. This is the life.

gum, socks, etc.

June 9, 2007

Did you know that a pack of gum can set off the metal detector at airport security stations? I didn’t, until last weekend. The glasses I was wearing didn’t set it off and neither did my belt. It was the gum and the security guy even demonstrated it for me.

If you ever need to buy socks, take note of those with “moisture-wicking” properties. I always thought (and still do, actually) that any absorbent fabric would wick moisture away from your skin, but sock companies want you to think that only those labeled as such can do the job. Frankly, I’m not sure what the big deal is, since my socks are usually locked up inside my shoes, so it’s not like they can take any moisture away and dispose of it anyway.

I’m not sure why, but the previous paragraph has been on my mind for a week. Now I can let it go.

Yesterday, the temperature here reached between 95 and 100 degrees (that’s 35 – 37.778 for you Celsius people). That’s not good news for a guy like me who likes any temperature up to about 80 (26.667 C). I suppose if I lived in a Celsius using country, I could just go ahead and round it up to 27, which would be 80.6 F, but NO HIGHER.

Trip report

June 4, 2007

A few things about Chicago.

-If you’re hungry in Chicago, try Carmine’s on Rush street. If you do try Carmine’s, sit outside. Great service, atmosphere and food. Also, great people watching.

-Wrigleyville ROCKS on game day.

-The Chicago-style hot dogs they sell inside Wrigley are nothing special, however. I should have tried the foot long chili/cheese dogs across the aisle.

-I’m not sure why there is a giant reflective bean in Millennium Park, but boy, people sure do seem amazed by it.

-I have personally verified the Navy Pier’s suitability as a tourist destination by identifying and sampling the offerings of the Dippin’ Dots cart.

-Soldier Field looks even more like a spaceship when you see it in person.

more later. maybe.

Well, I’ve already used the titles of “Bits and Pieces” and “Flotsam and Jetsam” so there’s no way I will use either of them for this post, even though that’s pretty much what this one will be.

Trip report

We just spent a long weekend in Washington D.C. and it was, overall, a really nice time. The hotel was nice, but the rooms were mediocre. We had connecting rooms with the other family that was traveling with us and it’s a good thing, since the toilet in one room only worked intermittently. Also, the hotel charged $25/day to park. That’s hard enough to swallow, but our vehicle is too large to fit into an indoor garage (which is where most hotel guests with cars park and is nice and secure) so we had to park in “oversized” parking which turned out to be an alley behind the hotel. I paid $50 to park in an alley! I think next time, we’ll stay outside the city. Maybe Arlingon. Anyway, we walked the kids’ legs off the first day, but we did see a lot. We adopted a much more relaxed pace for the rest of the weekend and had a really good trip.

What is with these geneology sites?

I’ve been kind of casually researching my family tree and the amount of information available on the internet is astounding. Even more astounding is the amount of money you have to pay to access it. You can get a sampling of info from Ancestry.com for a reasonable fee, but to really research you need full access, which costs almost the same as the Gross National Product of a country like Belgium. So imagine my glee when I discovered that my local library will give me access to all of the census data for free. They use a site called HeritageQuest and it comes with a decent search function. It seems, though, that the search function isn’t quite as decent as I’d hoped, since I have been unable to locate information that I know should be there based on my Ancestry.com research. Maybe I just need to tweak my search a bit. I’ll investigate that more in the coming days.

Overpriced Beverage Report

I had a really good Chai Latte at Starbucks while in D.C. A well made Chai is a true thing of beauty.

Where the #!*& did he get that?

My 4 year old son knows he’s not supposed to pick his nose, so last weekend he asked his grandmother if it would be ok for him to pick his eye. I don’t know, maybe he just HAD to pick SOMETHING.

It’s just time

Time, that is, to redesign my website. JPChambers.com has had the same layout since its inception and I think it’s time for a new look. Maybe something cleaner and easier to read. I definitely need to make more room for the writing and less room for the other design elements. I’m also probably going to finalize my conversion to an all Mac workflow. Until now, I’ve been using Frontpage (in Windows) for my website design and maintenance and the iBook for all of the writing and research. There are at least a couple of good options for me to investigate, so that’s what I’ll be doing.

That’s all for now.

Foul

January 14, 2007

Watch it. I’m in a foul mood today.

My beloved Philadelphia Eagles lost a game they absolutely were able to win yesterday in their divisional round loss to the New Orleans Saints. Great. Now the media can continue their “Hurricane Katrina devastated the city a year and a half ago and now the Saints have reinvented football” diatribe. Unbelievable. According to CNN, it seems the people in New Orleans are way more concerned about finding ways to kill each other than they are about football.

did I tell you I was in a foul mood?

One more football point. To paraphrase my old pal (and greatest football writer in America) Peter King, televised football (especially on the Fox network) is one long commercial with brief football breaks. There was one sequence yesterday during an Eagles’ 4 play drive, which was 3 actual plays and 1 punt, where Fox had a commercial prior to first down, in between second and third downs and after the punt. Yes, I know that American Idol starts this week, Fox, you’ve told me 47 times since kickoff. Yes, I know that Jay-Z has a new and highly annoying record out and that he thinks Bud is a super great beverage. I know about the new season of 24. I’ve seen more than 24 hours worth of commercials for that show.

Also yesterday, our planned 4 day, 3 night trip to the beach this summer turned into an 8 day, 7 night (and almost 3 times the cost) beach torture event. I’m not a big fan of going to the beach. I like it for about 4 hours on the first day and then I’m ready to do something/anything else. Hopefully, I’ll be able to find a nice coffee shop or cafe with internet access and I’ll be able to get some writing done. Of course, I don’t need the internet access in order to write, but it does help with my love of procrastination.