Archive for December 2014

May the Holiday Force Be With You   Leave a comment

I’m not going to lie.  This has been an awful year for me.  Annus horribilus.  I’m not sorry to see 2014 go; in fact, I’ll be personally booting it out the door come 11:59:59 on 12/31/14.  I can’t wait.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to go all Bah Humbug during the holidays, however.  In fact, as a result of this terrible year, I’m determined to finish it on a positive note, or even a humorous one.

Sometimes when the self-spirit’s lacking, one has to dig deep to find the certain stuff to pull it up and out.  Get that old smile back on the face.  Muster up some cheer.  To that end, I started with lights.  Dug out the old LED outdoor string and got to work putting them on the gutters for all to see.  Have a few strands of solar lights and stuck them on the bushes on the front lawn, since there’s no outlets there.  Already, the house looked much better.

We did notice a couple of our older strings weren’t working, so Andrew and I went over to Lowe’s and bought replacements.  Hanging in the aisle was this:

Star Wars 6

It’s a Chewbacca stocking.  Andrew walks over to it and says, “I don’t care how much it costs” and throws it into our basket, along with our new color icicle lights.

The next day, I’m in Target, wandering the aisles for a few last-minute gifts and holiday supplies.  I’m looking for Archer Farms Caramel Chocolate Popcorn mix when I happen upon this:

Yoda Lights

I say to myself, “I don’t care how much it costs” and toss it into the basket.  It’s truly horrible, but I don’t care.

We’re the sort of family that gets its tree a few days before Christmas, so that the holiday actually has some kind of special anticipation (as opposed to those who put theirs up right after Thanksgiving, a month before).  I went to the local farmers market.  They always have great trees at good prices.  Of course, they also have all sorts of other things that go along with holiday decorating too, so I saw this:

Star Wars 5

Oh boy.  This was hard.  Oh, these would look soooooooooo fantastic on the lawn, now, wouldn’t they?  A storm trooper with a candy cane?  R2D2 with a Santa cap?  I already had a holiday Yoda, but he looked kinda cute, almost determined to celebrate Christmas with great force.  One look at the price, though, and I wasn’t about to shell out $59.95 when the tree cost half that.  Sensibly, I moved on.

So the other day, my son wanted to go Christmas shopping.  Again, we’re back at Target and he spots these:

Star Wars 2

Oh, heck, they were only $10.00.  On clearance.  Such a bargain!  What better way to drink egg nog?  Of course, the bottom of the glass had the expected caveat:

Star Wars 1

NOT A TOY.  Well, it’s not like we go tossing these things around.  Who’d even think a glass is?

So here we are, putting nice things on tree.  It’s all sparkle and light.

Star Wars 3

Yoda fits in so well with all the other sparkly bits and such.  He’s so serene, stuck in the branches:

Star Wars 7

It’s as if he’s the keeper of the holiday spirit, beckoning joy and light, and be of good cheer.

So I will.

So should you.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Festive Festivus, Sassy Saturnalia, Kickin’ Kwanza, Happy New Year and all of that, to all of you.

The Other Orion…   Leave a comment


Lately in the news there’s been a lot of buzz about the Orion rocket.

This post, however, is about the constellation and, unlike the rocket, is already in space and will be there pretty much forever, although with the passage of time, he’ll look a little different.  But that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another time.

Winter’s chilly skies offer an excellent opportunity to view this bright constellation.  When he rises in the east, he almost looks as if he’s climbing a hill, until he reaches the midheavens, and then he starts his journey back down into the west.  Right now’s the best time to see him, and he’ll be up right until spring.

Orion’s got plenty of company, too.  In his patch of the sky, some of winter’s brightest stars and constellations gather in his neck of the woods.  His shoulder (pictured in the upper left hand star in the above rectangle) is Betelgeuse, and his lower right hand foot is Rigel.  You can trace a hexagon going up to the right and a touch north to the “V” shape that is the head of Taurus, and the brightest star in the “V” is Aldebaran.  Next, cast your eyes up and over slightly left and you’ll come to Capella, the eye of the charioteer Auriga.  Going left in almost a straight line, you’ll come to the stick figure twins, whose heads are Castor and Pollux, which are actually the Gemini twin’s names.  Next, drop your gaze a little south and to the left and you’ll come to Procyon, the very bright star of Canis Minor, or, the Little Dog.  But his big brother, Canis Major, or Big Dog, hosts the brightest star in the sky, Sirius.  His basic shape is also a thinner rectangle, and you can easily find Sirius if you trace a southwest path using Orion’s belt as a pointer.

Winter Hexagon

Credit: Dave Snyder

Even if you have trouble finding each of these stars on the first try, you’ll notice that this section of the evening sky stands out more than others, and if you go to this site, you’ll find an explanation and some tips on locating these and other favorites.

But wait – there’s more!

A constellation as grand as Orion simply won’t stop at dominating the winter sky.  It’s what’s inside him that makes him even more fascinating.

Look at the picture above and you will see an “N” in the lower half of Orion’s depiction.  That’s the Orion Nebula, and although a bit faint, on a clear winter night you should be able to make out a tiny hazy patch. Even with typical field glasses the details of it come out clearer.  What makes that nebula so remarkable is what it contains.  A solar system nursery is there, wherein a collection of youthful stars and planets in the forming stage are present.  The New York Times has an excellent article and a wonderful video detailing the action swirling around in Orion’s belt.

So don’t just sit there! Put on a jacket, go outside and look up – you’ll be rewarded with heavenly treasure, free and yours for the taking.


Star Wars Pas de Deux   Leave a comment

Imagine this:  You wanted a big change in your life and, unwittingly, you set out on this epic adventure wherein you witness the death of your mentor, you pick up a woman with danish for hair, you make friends with a giant carpet and a bum on the run.  With no marketable skills, somehow you all manage to wreak major damage to a major investment of a major empire.  Oh yeah, and there’s this big hulking guy after you.  Through pluck and luck, everything works out in the end and you receive official recognition from a whole bunch of people in a very big hall.  For all its majesty, there’s something a bit awkward and uncomfortable about it.  Hmmm…

Then much, much later, after all those demons have been conquered and the next generation actually admits they might be able to learn a thing for two from you, there’s a bit of tarnish and patina on the legend.  Denial plays heavily into what you’re still able to accomplish, but then again, you have luck and pluck, and the once impossible becomes possible again:







A Very Sci-fi Christmas!   1 comment




Nativity Scene

Credit: PAZ

This picture showed up on my Facebook page.  It’s a riot.  I’d love to have that under my tree!  Or maybe even Christmas card?

So I got to thinking: what else is there out there?  I mean, to properly inspire me for the holidays? Here’s a few for you to pass around and enjoy.  I got them all of the web in many different locations, so I can’t rightly say where, exactly, these belong, except in your consciousness during this lovely holiday season.

Alien Santa

Santa passes by his alien counterpart


Robot and Tree

Robot Elf


Santa and Aliens

Even little aliens deserve a little treat from Santa, who seems a little off…


Astronaut & Christmas

The Christmas Star, reimagined

Happy Holidays!





It’s All In The Writing…   Leave a comment

Writer's Desk

The neater part of my desk…

It started about two years ago.

Life always has its challenges and never more so than when you and your husband decide to adopt two kids from foster care.  We wanted a family, wanted to give deserving kids another chance in life, and most of all out of love.  These kids needed an awful lot but perhaps the biggest challenge facing us was they were 9 and 12, to be exact.  And like most things, one has to be fully committed to making positive changes in these kids’ lives, and so Andrew and I did our absolute best working hard towards doing just that.

It isn’t easy, but parenthood rarely is, but we’re brave folk and did what we could.  Along the way, bits and pieces of ourselves kind of went by the wayside, as most parents find true.  Fortunately, we had something to help us along.  Andrew has his photography (and he’s magnificent at it) and I found fiction writing.

You see, I’ve always written.  I’ve composed brochures, ad copy, web content, teacher’s guides, children’s activity books, radio scripts, flyers – you name it – and I’ve got a mountain of evidence to prove it.  All of it’s either informational or cold, hard facts.  No fantasy, no imaginative story lines, no arc or explosive ending.  Just…information.

Two years ago, my sister Gwen and I went out to lunch.  My kids were at the beach and Andrew was enjoying some precious alone time.  Gwen says, “You look awful.  What happened to you?”

“Parenthood, that’s what.  These kids – they’re work!” (I’m leaving out a MULTITUDE of details…use your imagination)

“C’mon,” says Gwen, “You’re not the only parent out there.  What’s up?  You used to be so creative.  You were a musician.  You produced shows.  You lived in New York City for 20 years!  You owned an apartment in Manhattan!  You ordered food over the phone and stayed out until dawn.  Where did that Gretchen go?”

Truth was, I hadn’t a clue.

Gwen knows what a sci-fi fanatic and astronomy freak I am.  Sat on the board of an astronomy club affiliated with the Museum of Natural History in NYC, and yes, that certain famous astrophysicist was also on the board and he’s really one of the nicest, down-to-earth people I’ve ever met.  Never missed an opportunity to look up to see what’s there.  Received “Sky & Telescope.”  All that and more.  “So this is what you do,” said Gwen.  “Tap into that and come up with a story.  I’ll help you.”

A few months later, Andrew went off to England to visit his family, the kids were in bed and I sat in front of the computer and stared.  I tentatively placed my fingers on the keyboard and let them glide over the letters.  They hit letters that turned into words.  Those words turned into the roughest of outlines.  Andrew came home, we went out for coffee and I told him about it.  After listening to my story, he joined in.  Here we were, in a java joint, flushing out finer details and possible motives.  Before you know it, he became hooked, too.

Andrew’s a fanboy, so his input’s invaluable, especially when it came to world building.  We both weighed in on my plot devices, creations, characters, what they were up to and the messes they found themselves in.  When I got to the end, he came up with such an amazing twist, I never even considered it, but once he said it, it made perfect sense.  And believe me, it’s a doozy.

Once I hashed out these ideas in prose, Gwen helped me make nice with it.  She’s the MFA in creative writing, a college professor and is published by Harper Collins (see above paperback in picture, one of her collection in print).  She played devil’s advocate, told me what was stupid, or good, or on its way to being good but most of all she convinced me I really did have talent and could do this.

I joined a fine writer’s group where nearly all the members are published, and at least half are bestsellers.  I participate in their writer’s conference that attracts over 300 people each spring, using it to hone my craft and make connections.  I’ve kept up on trends and buried myself in my office spending hours writing, or trying to.  Andrew constantly sends me links on things he believes will help and Gwen keeps checking my work.  Best of all, I have a circle of writer friends who keep me keeping on, encouraging me when I think I no longer have it in me.  I even got a cousin of mine involved – he’s a MAJOR fanboy and he’s reading the book to see what he thinks, and my librarian friend, who read a VERY rough draft last February, is reading it once more.

Yes, folks, I’ve gotten through four rewrites, but I’ve gotten extremely favorable feedback and possibilities for it (the printout of the manuscript is also in the picture).  I have to admit I’m really proud to have shaped this story, but ever grateful that I had a cheering section helping me get through it all.  Along the way, I’ve learned to let my nonfiction self go (and BOY, was that hard!) and embrace sentences in quotes that weren’t grammatically correct (clue from Gwen: read your quotes out loud.  Do you talk like that?  No?  Then don’t write it that way!) and let my brain accept the unacceptable (tip from Andrew: why not?  It’s your world, after all).

I guess my last thought is this: you can’t do it alone.  So don’t.  And sure, you can write.  Everyone has a story to tell.

Even me.

Even you.

Now get going and write it!

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