Auld Lang Syne

Well, it’s 2013 now, and the old year has passed away.  That means it’s the time of introspection, reflection, and thinking about goals, plans and dreams.  So I’ll be getting to those posts in the next couple weeks, as I find the time.

But first, it’s become something of a blogging tradition, for me, to talk about how my Christmas Holiday went, what I got and what I did.

As with last year, I didn’t get a lot this year that was writing-related, which is fine.  I didn’t get any new games this year (neither of the tabletop variety nor of the video or computer varieties).  Last year I got two new Zelda games, and I’m still working my way through the first of those two games.  (As I mentioned then, I learned pretty quickly to ration my video-gaming time in order to make time for writing.)  Given that basic fact, I wasn’t hoping for nor expecting any new games this year (and told Dear Wife as much before the holidays).  On the other hand, I was hoping for both books and music.  On the books front I got a paperback box set of the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull.  I’m already about a quarter of the way into the first book of the series.  It’s light reading, Middle-Grades or YA stuff, but it’s fun and entertaining so far.  (And it was the perfect palette-cleanser after the book I’d just finished, but I’ll talk about that next time when I do my 2012 Year-in-Reading Review.)

Music-wise I got a few new soundtracks: the Danny Elfman “Batman” soundtrack (which created what is, for me, the sound of Batman, the excellent Christopher Nolan movies notwithstanding), and the “Superman Returns” soundtrack (which wisely, in my opinion, is built around the main Superman theme originally written by John Williams), the “Gladiator” soundtrack (which is a great sound for writing to) and to my utter delight the new “Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” soundtrack.  (Last year I gushed all over the trailer for the Hobbit movie, which I have seen and greatly enjoyed… and ever since then I haven’t been able to get the Lament of the Dwarves out of my head.)

Little B.T. has been at least as big a fan of the soundtracks as I have, though his top two preferences are for the “Superman Returns” and “Batman” soundtracks.  He asks for them almost every day.  As for why?  Well… I’ll get to that, I will.

I also scored a digital photo frame for my desk at work.  That’ll be cool once it’s loaded up with some pictures of Dear Wife and B.T. (and eventually of V.R., which is to say the coming baby brother).

One member of the family has a real talent – I should say Talent with a Capital-T – for quilting, and both Dear Wife and I got hand-made, personalized quilts.  Mine is a lovely and wonderful motley of blues, greens, browns and golds.  It is a work of art, and I like it quite a lot.  Plus, it’s already come in handy as the temperature in the house has been sometimes colder than I’d prefer.

But the single most awesome and incredible Christmas present this year I actually opened on Christmas Eve, a day early because Dear Wife was afraid it would get overshadowed.  There’s a story behind this, of course.

You see, as part of our ongoing Home Project, one thing we’ve done is to set up a craft-room of sorts.  In theory this will also someday house the office, so that it is a joint Office-Craftroom, but for now only the craft-room part of it is set-up.  Therein is now enshrined Dear Wife’s hand-me-down (but still quite excellent) sewing machine, and she has taken up learning to sew as another of her slate of crafty and creative hobbies.  (Dear Wife is a creative person at heart, although she’s told me before that she’s not creative, but I take as evidence the numerous creative activities which she has shown an interest in and chosen to pursue.)

And predictably, Dear Wife decided to use her new creative outlet to create Christmas presents.  The story as I understood it was that she was making a door-frame puppet theatre for B.T. to go with some puppets we were getting him, as well as a few other sewing-based gifts for other relatives.  And this story wasn’t exactly untrue – she did create the puppet theatre, but that project took substantially less of her time than she had led me to believe.  Because somewhere in there, she was working on one of the most awesome and geeky and loving gifts that a geeky dad could want.

A pair of matching father-and-son Super-Capes.

Behold:

The super-capes come complete with super-cuffs and super-masks to protect our secret identities.  All three pieces are reversible, on one shide bright and shiny red with the Superman shield symbol emblazoned on the cape, the other black and green (for father and son, respectively) with custom-designed super-emblems reflective of their wearers.  (Mine is a D with a lightning bolt for Super-Daddy.) 

B.T. and I both love this gift.  And it ties in perfectly with those soundtracks I mentioned.  Because what happens when B.T. asks to put on the Batman or Superman soundtracks, which he does almost every day since Christmas?  This is coupled with a request that we each put on our super-capes and costumes and fly around the house being… well… Super.  (Fighting evil is a secondary aspect of our adventures.  Mostly, we just fly.)

As a fairly geeky dad, can I just say?  Flying around the house with a Super-cape?  Pure Awesome and Joy.

So that was my Christmas, and that’s at least part of an explanation for why I haven’t posted recently.

The Holidays, Family, Games, and Time Well-Spent

As pointed out last week, the Holidays are a terrible time for my productivity.  But they’re great for just about everything else that I value in my life.

I love my family, and I love just relaxing and spending time with them, and playing around.  In the grand order of how important things are to me, family-time ranks above writing-time.  And there was a lot of it to be had these holidays past.  Already, I miss it dearly.

In the few days leading up to Christmas I spent a lot of time just hanging out with family (plus one day laid up due to the aforementioned food poisoning).  I did quite a bit of reading (including two fascinating articles, one on Göbekli Tepe and one on the fight against increasing desertification, and both of which were great fodder for story ideas) as well as the first third of David B. Coe‘s The Children of Amarid.  There was also a lot of playing with my son B.T.

B.T. has increasingly become the source of my greatest joy in life.  His verve and energy and enthusiasm for just about everything is infectious.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the things that excite him.  Right now that’s trains, planes, and automobiles (in that order) especially, as well as a goodly number of animals, and of course whatever Mommy and Daddy happen to be doing.  He loves books and being read to. And he’s become a non-stop talker.  (Interestingly, as his vocabulary has exploded, the ability of Mommy & Daddy to understand him has decreased; this is due to his toddler-speak pronunciation.  He pronounced relatively few of the words he knows accurately.  The ones he uses most frequently we’ve learned what he means, but the new ones he adds each day continue to elude us, and by “us” I mostly mean “me”.)

Then came Christmas, and more time with the family. Continue reading

Merry Christmas & A Holiday Haiatus

I just wanted to pop in here and wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannakuh, or a Joyous Holiday of Your Preference.  (We celebrate Christmas in the Casa Chez Watkins; so I mean no offense to those who celebrate elsewise in this season by leading off the blog post with wishes for the same.) 

I don’t expect in the next week or two to be posting often at all, as the Dear Wife and I and our family are currently busily-engaged in our annual festivities.  So if you don’t hear from me again before the advent of 2012, well, take this as a Happy New Year post as well.

Holiday Fun: The Gingerbread House Cometh

These are fun: a series of Gingerbread creations in the shape of icons from Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction.

My favorites (with added points for technical accomplishments): the Gingerbread Burrow and Gingerbread Hogwarts, but they’re all quite fabulous.

Have a Very Scary Halloween

Scary Crow (c) 2008 by ladybugbkt on flickr

Scary Crow (c) 2008 by ladybugbkt on flickr

 Because everyone needs a good scary Halloween

Take the day off.

You deserve it.

17 Days and Counting

I have a special treat for you all today, a guest post!  I’ve mentioned her here before, but the illustrious Dear Wife would like to address your attention today.  So, without further ado, I’ll turn you over to her:

It’s less than three weeks until Christmas, which means that I’m scrambling to write a Christmas letter and print cards for our friends and family.  This year, I plan to print our photo cards at www.shutterfly.com.  We used Shutterfly to print BT’s birth announcements earlier this year and they turned out wonderful!  We recently had some amazing family photos taken by a friend and I can’t wait to show off BTs cuteness and our growing little family in our Christmas cards from Shutterfly.
 
I love Shutterfly’s Christmas photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery/christmas-photo-cards) and other holiday photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery) designs for this year.  Also, now that I have oodles of cute baby pictures, I’m considering using Shutterfly to create a calendar (http://www.shutterfly.com/calendars) with some of my favorite photos.  I’m also eying some of the other photo gifts contemplating which I like most.
 
Back to our Christmas card – each year we’ve been married I’ve written a letter updating family and friends on the big happenings in our family during the year and mailed off the letter, a photo card, and brief personal notes to our friends and family.  It’s also a nice way to briefly document our year and I’ve been saving a letter and photocard each year and plan to put them in a scrapbook.  It will be nice to be able to flip through to see how our family has changed. 

Our Easter Dinner Tradition

Yesterday I alluded to our Easter Dinner, consisting of Spaetzle and chicken Schnitzel.  I imagine most of my readers will be somewhat unfamiliar with these dishes, and some of them might even be curious as to how they became our traditional Easter meal.

Most people I know do a ham for Easter.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with ham, per se.  But Dear Wife and I approached Easter dinner from this perspective: most people in the U.S. do a Turkey for Thanksgiving.  By Christmas, many are weary of Turkey so opt for a ham instead (some still do a Turkey, others do both).  So far, we’ve spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas together with family, so whether we do Turkey or Ham or both during those holidays has depended largely on how our respective families approach those holidays.  But Easter, since we’ve been together, has always been our Holiday.  We spend it together, but not with family.  So, we wanted our own tradition.  Dear Wife is not so avid a meat-eater as myself (neither is she a complete vegetarian, but ham is not on her self-approved list anyway).  However, Dear Wife does have a traceable German heritage, and grew up in a home in which certain German dishes were not unusual, among them Spaetzle and Schnitzel.

Spaetzle

Spaetzle with Ham in a Casserole - minus the ham similar to what we ate for Easter

I don’t recall whether it was just happenstance that our first Easter together she made Spaetzle and chicken Schnitzel for me.  But whether it was intentional or accidental, we’ve made that our tradition every year since.

Now Spaetzle (or Spätzle with an umlaut, if you prefer) is a type of German pasta.  I can’t link the exact recipe we use, as it’s a family recipe passed down through Dear Wife’s family.  But that google link ought to give you the idea.  It’s basically a pasta dough that’s dropped into boiling water to cook.  We then prepare the cooked spaetzel in a casserole with cheese and sautéed onions.

Schnitzel

A Schnitzel that looks a lot like what we had for Easter dinner. Notice the lemon: it's not just for garnish!

Schnitzel is basically a breaded and fried meat dish.  It’s pan-fried rather than deep-fried.  We use a bit of olive oil in the pan for ours.  Traditionally, Schnitzel is made with veal, but we use chicken both because it’s easier to obtain and because veal isn’t something Dear Wife would be overly fond of.  The meat has to be pounded flat, or thin-sliced.  Once cooked, the schnitzel is finished off by squeezing juice from a lemon over the top of the meat.  We usually do this using fresh lemon slices at the dinner table.

On the side we may have a salad or some fruit, but it’s the Schnitzel and Spaetzle that make it our Easter dinner.

Then we top it off with something we call our Easter Cake.  This uses chocolate cookie wafers – which we usually find near the ice cream aisle in our grocery store, among all the ice cream toppings – which are arranged with whipped cream between the cookie slices to make a white-on-the-outside, chocolatey-on-the-inside “log cake”.  The recipe for this particular treat is probably on the box for the chocolate cookie wafers.

So, I thought I’d share those few details about our Easter dinner, since it’s something a little unusual from what I suspect is the experience of most of my readers.

UPDATE: Dear Wife told me I should include pictures.  So I reposted this morning with pictures!  If you stopped by while that was “under construction” and saw it look a mess, my apologies!

Holiday Post Shortage

I offer my apologies to readers.  My posts have been relatively content-lite these past several days, I’ve missed a day, and the posting has become somewhat irregular as a result of the holidays.  I’ve been celebrating the season with my family, and have had limited time and access to a computer to write.  Rest assured, I intend to exceed my minimum word-count committment for the week this week, but toward the end of the week the posting schedule may become a little erratic again, as the last of the year’s holidays arrives to see out the old year and usher in the new.

In that vein, I wish you and yours an excellent New Year, in all that you do.  Happy Writing.

Happy Holidays

Today is Christmas Day, and so to those who keep this day, I wish you a Merry Christmas.  To those who do not, I hope your Holiday Season has been a joyful one thus far, and that throughout this festive and holiday-filled season you will have found or will yet find time to give thanks for your families and the loved-ones in  your life, and to enjoy their company.  For those who are separated from their families by whatever circumstances may be, my heart goes out to you.

To all: Happy Holidays, and Happy Writing.

Happy Writing on Christmas Eve

The last few days, if you read my posts in a sour mood, might have been a little bit of a downer.  I certainly have no intention of being depressing, but I did find it useful, to me, to put the task ahead of me in a little bit of perspective.  Ultimately, whether I succeed or fail to get published is but a pale reflection of what my capabilities and potential as a writer really are.  I stand by my assertion that I am a good writer, but though I aspire not to goodness but to greatness, I am realistic that few ever achieve true greatness.  It is why I chose to pursue a career in the field I am in, instead of writing, in spite of the difference in passion I have for the two fields.  In business, mere goodness, not greatness, is sufficient to make a decent living and faithfully support a family.  And, for that matter, it has been relatively easy to prove greatness, within the context of the business world, in quantitative ways, in the language of business.  For writing, I’m not sure it is necessarily so, and most writers who seem make a decent living at it are pretty great, and those who become fabulously wealthy from their pursuits are greater still.

At the end of the day, however, writing brings me joy in a way few other pursuits can.  That, more than the allure of fabulous writerly success, is why I write.

I keep that in mind as I work on the short story I’m trying to get ready to submit to a publishing magazine.  Whether I sell the story or not, my true satisfaction will be to get the story in such shape that I can honestly say I can write it no better than what I have written.

Well, tonight is Christmas Eve, so I’ll keep it short.  I, personally, am of the Christian persuasion, so today and tomorrow are days I intend to spend more fully with my family.  To those of you of like persuasion, I wish a Merry Christmas Eve.  To those who are not, I wish to you what I wish to all who visit my little corner of the blogosphere: Happy Writing.

P.S. To my wife: if you’re reading this: No, I’m not going to reveal here what I got you for Christmas!