Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category

AdventurEnding

The End

Well, dear readers, this is a somewhat bittersweet moment. After two years of maintaining this blog of my life, it’s time to bring it to an end. After all, why should I write a blog entitled “AlabamAdventures” if I’m no longer in Alabama? Of course, I’m sure many of you had already figured out that I wouldn’t be staying in Alabama forever. Once I was certain that I wasn’t sticking around, I didn’t come right out and say it, but I did certainly hint that the day of departure was to come sooner, rather than later.

Many months ago, I wrote a draft of this final post and let it sit for a while so that I could pull it out and use it for this momentous occasion. Unfortunately, most of the post is somewhat obsolete as I’ve updated this blog with the various activities that I’ve been involved in this year. Fortunately, this means that I can’t use the post, which had a very morose tone anyways.  And yet, it still had some things that I think still need to be said.

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been kind of a slow year in terms of adventures. I haven’t really had anything noteworthy enough to write about. This is actually somewhat of a good thing, since most of the things I write about are when things in life don’t go as planned (don’t even get me STARTED on airplanes). And yet, in order to keep this blog from getting too stale, I tried to write a post once every month. Not some of my best writing, but when you’re forcing yourself to write just to keep the readers coming back, the result can often be somewhat banal.

From the very beginning, Alabama was a culture shock for me. Having lived in Colorado for most of my life, the changes ended up conflicting with what I had come to regard as normal. Now granted, I am anything but normal, which you may read into in whichever way you would like. However, for the past two years, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant state of resistance against the local culture and climate. Let’s just say that I’m glad my apartment had air-conditioning. To keep this a more upbeat post, I’m not going to mention the variety of things that I resisted while in the south.

Now granted, I have made many friends down here, and I’ve been able to connect to a few of my interests, which has made the decision to leave somewhat difficult. When I left Colorado two years ago, pretty much my immediate family were the only ones that were a little sad to see me go. And yet, in two short years, I have been blessed so much with friends at work and church and Bible study that I eventually grew tired of them telling me that I could not leave.

Still, there were times that I felt a bit stifled, and I think the move will definitely help. When I finished my 7 month rotation in Maryland, I felt like I had come out of the wilderness with a greater understanding of how I tick. I was ready to take on the world. And yet, it wasn’t until the end of my two years in Alabama that I actually feel like I’m ready to emerge from the wilderness.

Part of me feels like I need a fresh start. A clean slate. A second chance. My first few years on my own definitely had many learning experiences. Many failures. Many poor decisions. Somehow, parts of Huntsville seem to embody those failures for me. But other parts of Huntsville also hold significance for my successes, so there is a balance. Still, perhaps getting away from the source of those early, formative years of my independent life will be the way I can finally emerge from my shell and let my life truly begin. After all, how often do we get second chances in life?

When it comes down to it, I am really excited for this new chapter in my life. Not only will I probably get to use some of my skills that I’ve spent years refining, be they skills for work or otherwise, but I feel that I will have access to far more opportunities here because this time I will be looking for them. Still, I will keep this blog up as a landmark and a milestone of where I’ve been. I won’t be updating this site anymore. In fact, I’m liable to stop blogging like this altogether. If there’s anything interesting in my life, I’ll probably write a facebook note about it. At the very least, I don’t like beating myself up over not writing anything in this blog just because it’s here. You can’t control your life for entertainment purposes. I appreciate those who have paid attention over the last two years, but I’ve seen the stats for this site, and I know it won’t really be missed. When it comes down to it, I did this blog for myself, and now I have lost interest (it’s more difficult to come up with titles than I had originally thought). The move from Alabama is only a convenient way to call it quits.

However, this doesn’t mean I’ll stop blogging entirely. I just won’t be blogging about my personal life. Work has already begun on a new blog about movies that will be similar to the articles that I used to write for my college newspaper. As such, I can prepare many posts ahead of time in order to provide a steady stream of posts for you, the valued reader.

So, with this new chapter in my life, I’d ask that you pray that I would have courage to step outside my comfort zone, to not be afraid to try, to accept failures gracefully and to appreciate the successes when they happen. There’s nothing much left to say but, “Once more, from the top. And this time, with feeling!”

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CreativEndeavorSequel

Now that you all know what has been filling my Saturday mornings this year, I’d like to cover two other projects I’ve been working on. Both of these were on my list of resolutions for this year, and I have to admit that I’ve only been focusing on one of them at the moment. Still, the year is still young and I will have plenty of time to fulfill what I have set out to do this year. So, let’s start with where I’m lacking: YouTube videos.

YouTube

As many of you may already be aware, in 2007 I started a YouTube channel underneath my internet moniker of RonfarZ3. This was a very successful channel that had garnered over one million combined views, with the crowning achievement of the profile being my lip-sync to Tom Lehrer’s song “New Math”. This video alone garnered my channel over 500,000 views, at least half of the combined views of my 50+ videos.

While many of the videos on the original channel were Anime Music Videos (or AMVs for short), which are still available at AnimeMusicVideos.org, the remainder were lip-syncs to a variety of songs that I enjoy and want to share with the world. Finally, this channel exhibited some of my original works, including a short film entitled “drip”, a terrible assault on the English language entitled “Psychological PUNishment”, and the final project for my Film Studies course, “Action-OVERreaction”.

After two re-boots of the channel, first as TheRonfarZ3 and finally as lipsynchORswim, I was sad to have lost the legacy of views, but glad that I could still keep some of the videos around. While the current channel has been reduced to my lip-syncs and original videos (one of which was essentially a clip show of my first 50 AMVs), I had not made a new video since 2008. Part of the reason for this hiatus was that life kind of got in the way of making videos. Another reason was that as YouTube began to grow, I felt that I needed an equipment upgrade.

One perk of staying in Maryland for 7 months on a rotation for work was that I was able to use my hotel points to purchase a HD camcorder at no cost to myself. This key equipment upgrade was the main reason for my self-induced hiatus, and now that I finally had it, I could start making videos again. Since I did not add any new videos underneath the TheRonfarZ3 reboot, I felt like I needed an introduction. My first video of the year was just that: an announcement that I had come out of my hiatus and would be making videos again.

By February I had added another video to my channel, this time as my first lip-sync to a non-musical audio clip. Then the new videos kind of just stopped. Once again, life intervened and I no longer had the free time that I once had in college to create these videos. Another reason that I stopped was that I was trying to figure out what videos to do next. A 3-year hiatus had built up a bunch of things I wanted to do, but couldn’t figure out the gimmick to present them with. One thing that I wanted to do with my lip-syncs was to have some sort of visual gimmick on the screen so that it wasn’t just me on video singing along. These gimmicks have ranged from lyrics appearing on screen, to lighting, to kind of a “dueling banjos” arrangement.

Now that I have some gimmicks worked out for the next few videos, I just need the motivation to record and edit them. Right now that will have to wait because of a very exciting opportunity that has presented itself: being a published author.

First Name Basis [BUY HERE!]

Front Cover

Regular readers of this blog will remember that last November I participated in National Novel Writing Month and was able to crank out 54,000 words of a first draft for a novel. Once I took a few extra weeks to wrap up the plot, I arrived at a complete first draft of about 66,000 words, covering 113 pages. I then sent this completed draft to some of my friends to read through and critique. My plan was to edit the novel based on the comments I received from some unbiased sources (I thought it was great, but would others?)

Now, my plan was to edit the novel in March, but due to some delays on multiple fronts (the least of which was my procrastination), I didn’t really get started on editing until mid-April. I already knew that since I had hastily written the novel in November that there would be plenty that I needed to change. Granted, after 9 months of preparation, I knew that the plot didn’t need much restructuring, which made editing an easier endeavor. And yet, there was much to be done. Plenty of details to add to the skeleton of characters and settings. Plenty of continuity errors that I needed to fix. Plenty of adjustments to the awkward beginning and rushed ending.

One would wonder why I’d go through all the trouble to fix something that most people would probably never see. Well, one of the perks of being a NaNoWriMo winner is that you can receive a free proof copy of your novel from CreateSpace. I thought that this was a great way to get my literary debut in print, if for nothing more than a conversation piece on my bookshelf. Now, having written the first draft, and not being quite pleased with it, I wanted the finished product that I sent to the printers to be something I could truly be proud of.

Taking most of the comments I received into account, along with my perspective after having not read the draft in four months, I crafted the novel through at least three revisions before I got on CreateSpace to set up my proof copy. Little did I know that I now had a few more hurdles to jump over before I could get my free copy. Luckily, the whole editing process had a deadline of the end of June, which was when my free proof deal would expire, so I was motivated to work on the final minutiae. Fortunately, these final steps proved to be the most fun.

When you read a novel, all you ever really think about is the words on the page, but there’s more that goes into it than that. Formatting was a huge part of my task ahead, and I was fortunate that CreateSpace had some handy templates that I could use. After all, you rarely see a book printed that’s 8.5” X 11”, so some adjustments obviously need to be made. Secondly, I had to create a cover for my work. Again, I was fortunate that CreateSpace has a cover creator section on their website. I used this application to make a cover that I felt conveyed the feel and ideas of the novel as a whole. However, these tasks weren’t the most exciting part that I was discovering.

Since CreateSpace is used to somewhat independently produce and distribute original material, once I received the proof copy of my novel, I could make it available for purchase. This means I’d get royalties for my work. I’d be a professional novelist. Granted, the rates that I’d get for each copy sold are not driving me to quit my day job, but a little bit extra spending cash never hurt anyone either. When I got my proof copy, I read through it and made some much needed final edits, mainly in formatting and some tragic grammatical errors that slipped through in the previous edits.

So what does this mean to you, dear reader? This means that after 17 months from the inception of the idea for First Name Basis, you can finally buy my very first novel. I won’t say much more on this, since this advertisement video explains why you should buy this book a lot better than I can in this blog.

But this isn’t even the best part. Since I spent 9 months planning out the first novel, I have plenty of material left over, not to mention a huge back-story that I can explore. With the world and its set of rules already in place, I’m well on my way toward planning the sequel, Second to None, which I will write this November for National Novel Writing Month. I know that I was initially leery of writing a novel this year, but the ideas and the structure are flowing so quickly that I need to write it this year, lest I forget all of this inspiration. As a result, I should hope to have my second novel published by this time next year.

I feel that self-publishing is definitely the way to go for me right now, since I know that I really like my story, but I’m unsure if major publishers would like it as much as I do. Besides, if the book is truly one of universal appeal, it will spread virally: friends telling their friends and so on. Right now the book is only available through this site, but when I’ve made enough in royalties to cover some of the costs, I will make the book available as an eBook as well.

So yeah, with directing Human Videos, making YouTube videos, publishing a novel, continuing to teach myself how to play the piano and continuing my culinary exploits, my creative life is certainly diverse and exciting. After all, all work and no play . . .

CreativEndeavors

I’d like to expound briefly on a few creative projects that I’ve been working on this year that some of you may be unaware of. Since we’re about half-way through the year, a few words on these projects might not be amiss. After all, a few of these projects were on my list of resolutions for this year, and an update wouldn’t hurt. So without further ado, let’s start with the one project that wasn’t on the resolution list: X-PRODUCT.

Pronounced “Cross Product”, this is the Junior Human Video team that I have been directing since February. For those who are unfamiliar with Human Video, it is essentially an interpretive dance that conveys the lyrics and message of a song to the audience. Don’t worry; I didn’t know what it was either until December of last year. In fact, let’s start at the beginning of this story.

Once word had gotten around my church that I had been in various theatre productions in college, I suddenly became the expert on these matters. Now, granted, I only ever performed on the stage for these productions, and had little to do with the behind-the-scenes work. And yet, I realize that most people don’t really distinguish between the two. At any rate, the music director at my church approached me about starting a human video group for some of the kids of the church to get them exposed to the world of human video. Having done various acting roles since I was in 4th grade, I thought this was an excellent idea and agreed to help. Of course, I thought I would be helping someone who actually knew what they were doing. Who actually knew what human video was. Who had actually done human video. Ha ha ha, silly ol’ me.

It quickly became apparent that I would be running the entirety of the group. This was a little daunting to me on a few levels. First of all, my one weakness in the theatre is choreography. Every time I did a musical in college, it would take me forever to finally get the choreography for a song down, and even then I was never quite perfect. Now I was to coach a group of 9 to 12 year olds on choreography? God has got a sick sense of humor. Secondly, since I was under the impression that I would be assisting someone else, I wasn’t really comfortable running things. Like I said, I hadn’t even heard of human video until the music director approached me. Finally, I’ve had a little bit of experience in dealing with children through my work as an adult leader in the Boy Scouts, but I was more of a resource and chaperone instead of someone who actually ran anything. So, as you can see, things quickly got out of hand.

Still, I decided that since I had said that I would do it, I would stick through and finish. Our first production needed to be done on Easter Sunday, so I gave myself plenty of time to get the crew into shape, considering that I was new to human video and they were new to human video as well. Of course, you can’t start a group without a good name, so I began to think of what we would call ourselves. Most of the names I had seen for groups were clever and reminded me of the naming convention of Homer’s Barbershop Quartet from The Simpsons: It should be witty initially, but should become less funny each time you hear it. That’s when the name “Cross Product” came to me. I thought it was clever on a few levels (we’re all a product of the cross, we’re doing this production for the cross, etc. etc. etc.) and it gave me an opportunity to be an absolute nerd. With name in hand, we started rehearsals.

To be honest, by the first rehearsal, I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew that they would be performing the song “End of the Beginning”; but past that, I really had no idea what I was doing (as previously hinted to). I managed to work my way through the first rehearsal, getting a gauge of the talent of the ten children I’d be working with and introducing them to the idea of human videos. I ran this first rehearsal absolutely alone, which I wasn’t really comfortable with on a variety of levels, the least of which was trying to control ten 9 to 12 year olds who are not my direct offspring. Needless to say, I was frazzled and readily welcomed the assistance of one of the parents for the remainder of the rehearsals. As a director, I can’t keep the kids in check and teach them choreography at the same time, so the addition of a disciplinarian definitely helped.

With the introductions out of the way, I had to think of a plan if I wanted this to be a success. I had seen a few different versions on YouTube of the song we were doing, but none of them really possessed all that I wanted to show. It was at this point that I decided to make an entirely original arrangement. Now, trying to teach one kid choreography is one thing, but ten kids simultaneously and in concert with each other is something completely different. So, as I usually do, I fell back on my engineering background. Taking the lyrics a line at a time, I created a spreadsheet that detailed the entirety of the motions of each participant. All said and done, this spreadsheet took up six 8.5” X 11” sheets of paper. Intimidating when you look at it, but it definitely helped me to visualize where everyone was at every part of the song, like little chess pieces that I could move around and control at my will. Part of the reason I made what was dubbed “The Epic Spreadsheet” was so that I could coordinate all the moving pieces, but the more important reason was so that the children would have a script of what they would be doing.

If I learned anything from doing theatre in college, it’s that rehearsals are only productive when everyone is present and everyone knows what to say and do. Juggling the schedules of ten different kids is challenge enough without also having to make sure that my rehearsals didn’t conflict with something else at the church. As such, I figured that if some of the kids missed a rehearsal or two, then they could use the spreadsheet to practice at home. Ideally, this is how it should work even when they do come to rehearsals. As we neared the end of the eight weeks that I had given myself to teach these kids this particular human video, I was nervous because some of the kids had been missing for the majority of the rehearsals. A clock can only work if all its pieces are present and know what to do, if you know what I mean.

The Saturday before Easter Sunday was our dress rehearsal and at that point each of the ten kids had been to at least two rehearsals. I was justifiably nervous. Now, another aspect that I haven’t made clear here was that I would not be out in the audience directing the kids with hand motions. I would be in the choir singing the song that they would be performing. As such, I needed to make sure that the kids could do the choreography without me coaching from the shadows. My perfectionist nature definitely pushed them to execute flawlessly, which I had not seen up to that point. I kept telling myself that it was “passable, but not perfect.”

The next day it was out of my hands. I had done all that I could to teach these kids this human video. From tips about stage presence, the fourth wall of the audience, keeping in character and the “quarter rule” to the actual motions themselves, I had spent the equivalent of two full working days with these kids preparing them for this one-time performance. And, of course, as is the case with every performance, they pulled it off flawlessly. I really wish I had been able to see it like that before they got up there and did it for the whole congregation, but that is the nature of the beast that we call theatre.

Now, during the eight weeks, I learned that there were some in the congregation who had actually had training in human video. Reasonably, I am still questioning why they were not used to direct this group, instead of the choice of a complete neophyte. And yet, after bonding with these kids for eight weeks, I wasn’t going to let this group fade away. We put in too much work to just end it. Now the initial learning curve was out of the way and we could quickly pull together another human video. After a few weeks of a well deserved break, we got back to work on our next production. This time I have an assistant director, a choice that should become apparent to a lot of people in the near future.

Even though the project wasn’t quite what I had anticipated, I stuck to it and have definitely reaped some immediate rewards, along with those that will be waiting in heaven. Sure, there are some things that I would like to change (more parental involvement/commitment would be nice as a start), but I’ll just keep plugging along doing what I can.

Well, this post got kind of long, so I’ll save the next two creative endeavors for next time. See you then!

PowerlesSituation

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience”

–          God’s last message to His creation

Let’s just say: be careful what you wish for. Those familiar with this blog know that it’s been kind of boring around here. Not many adventures. Not much drive to create adventures. In order to keep my modicum of at least 1 post a month, I was going to write about something else, which I will probably do later. As it stands, I have missed a month. Here’s why.

Wednesday is as good a day as any to start. Woke up to tornado sirens, like I have done occasionally for the past few months. I never really give them much sway, since I generally never encounter anything “tornado worthy” when they go off. They had kind of become the “boy who cried wolf” to me. Of course, Wednesday would be different. Wednesday they just wouldn’t shut up. Wednesday proved that they were correct.

I had training on Wednesday, so I merely went along with the normal day’s activities. Still no obvious weather anomalies. Not until lunch did I see what the sirens were talking about. It got very dark outside. Very windy. Very rainy. It was around this time that I took a trip to the bathroom, where the lights were starting to flicker from power fluctuations. Mind you, I didn’t go there to seek shelter, I just went to use the bathroom. I guess what’s interesting about this phenomenon was that the first thing that I thought of was those slasher/horror/zombie movies where the lights are flickering in the bathroom. We did actually lose power for one second before going back to class. After class, we all went home.

The sirens were still pretty much non-stop out there, but I managed to keep comfortable in my apartment. I made a facebook status update which was the following: “Make sure to stay away from PCs in this severe weather. Mac users should be fine, but you don’t want to be near Windows during a tornado.” The irony of which was that while I was in front of my PC, the power went completely out. Amidst the whirring down of the various appliances and electronics, intermixed with the sound of sirens outside, I could hear something that I hadn’t heard in a while: silence.

Last time I lost power in my apartment, it came back up about mid-way through the night. Last time my building was eventually the only one without power, so it was a bit of an anomaly. This time it didn’t come back on. As was the case last time, I found my headlamp flashlight and used it for the rest of the evening. Similarly, I set my cell phone and iPod alarms to go off in case power didn’t come back on before I went to work the next day. Which brings us to . . .

Thursday. My cell phone alarm woke me up, so I got up and got ready. I figured I would go in to work a little early and see if I could utilize the power there, since I still thought that only my area had been affected. As I drove, I realized that this was bigger than I had thought. All the traffic lights were off, the electronic billboards were black, buildings were dark inside. I began to realize that even though I didn’t see any immediate damage, those sirens on Wednesday might have been on to something. When I pulled into the parking lot at work and found that no one was there, I ejected the CD from the CD player and began searching the radio stations for any news. The first words out of my radio informed me that work was closed for the day. The next day I listened to the radio, but didn’t hear anything about work being closed until I got off the interstate. Then it was merely a turn-around and I was back home again for an unexpected 4+ day weekend.

I suppose that despite everything, there are some fortunate factors to this whole situation. First of all, the weather was nice, if not a bit cool, so that even without power, it was comfortable. I would not have wanted to have no power during the snowstorms earlier this year. That is certainly true. The second fortunate factor (at least to my situation) was that I had plenty to do that didn’t involve electricity. Granted, this wasn’t quite how I wanted to catch up on my reading goal for this year, but I certainly took advantage of it. In the 100 hours of no power, I ended up reading 10 books at a grand total of approximately 2100 pages. I figured, “what else is there to do?” At the very least, I didn’t want to get in the way out there, so staying home reading was the best solution.

Of course, I didn’t realize that it would end up being 100 hours. With no electricity, and limited information resources, I had no idea how long it would be until power returned. I figured a day at most. In fact, I was a little surprised that I managed to get two hot showers out of my water before I had to man up and do it cold. However, when the hours kept ticking on by, I started to worry about a few things. The foremost of which was food. I knew that since I was relatively sedentary I wouldn’t need much in terms of nourishment, and yet I didn’t want to be uncomfortably hungry. I pulled out what dried and non-refrigerated goods I had and snacked on them for meals. I know it may sound a little bit sacrilegious (especially when you say it quickly), but Cheeze-its was my savior. I just didn’t know how much longer I could make it last.

Food wasn’t my main problem anyways. The main issue I had was with communication. As Murphy clearly points out, “If it might go wrong, it will.” A few things stacked up that prevented me from contacting anyone until about the 90th hour of being without power. First was my cell phone battery. When I realized that I might be in this for the long haul, I turned my cell phone off, because it was very low on battery power. This was probably due to the fact that it was searching for a signal that wasn’t being sent out by the cell towers. No power to those, so it figures. I occasionally turned the cell phone back on to see if I could get any reception. When I finally did, I was informed that I had no more minutes. Great.

It comes to light that you don’t realize how unprepared you are for an emergency until it actually happens. There are a few things that I know I might want to get (or at least have at home) for if this happens again. First of all would be a battery powered radio. I have a Sansa mp3 player that has a radio capability, but that was not at home. Secondly, a land-line. I know it’s a little weird, since cell phones are usually what’s used in emergencies, but it seemed like the land-lines were working, and that way I could have told my parents (and work) that I was OK. Even though the flashlight and the decorative LED ice cube (see picture) were good for lighting at night, some candles (or at least more LED lights) would definitely be useful. I should have figured that one out the first time I lost power, but whatever. And, of course, a car charger for my cell phone would probably not be amiss.

Now that’s not to say that I wasn’t resourceful. After about two days of eating nothing but snack food (which I hadn’t done since a few years back when I was climbing 14ers), I was really craving some proteins. Fortunately, I was able to rescue some leftovers from my refrigerator, so I knew I had some pre-made meals to eat for a few days. The question was how to cook them. That’s when I realized that my car made a perfect solar oven. Around noon, I’d go down to the parking lot, toss in a Tupperware container of leftovers and wait 5 hours for it to warm. In fact, my car probably did a better job than my microwave would have done.

And yet, I found that with no power I noticed a few things that are sometimes drowned out by the hum of every-day life. First was the darkness. When the sun set, it got DARK. Now, I had known this fact from years of camping, but experiencing it in my apartment was something a little different. I’d stare up at the ceiling and I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or not. I was definitely glad that my watch had glow-in-the-dark hands. Of course, I did take advantage of the darkness on two of the evenings. I hadn’t spent any time looking at the stars in a long while, so I figured that now was as good a time as any. With most of the light pollution gone, including most of the moon, I saw more stars than I ever had while down in Alabama. Granted, due to the increased atmosphere it wasn’t nearly as many stars as I would see at say, Cameron Pass, but it was still an awe-inspiring vista. One of the evenings I went out and lay on the hood of my car to keep my neck from getting sore while I stared up at the heavens. I don’t know why people would ever do this. It’s uncomfortable and probably not good for the car.

Secondly, there is the silence. Or the lack there of. At night it was quiet, with the exception of all the crickets and tree frogs. During the day, it’s the constant stream of cars playing rap music way too vulgar and loud and people walking by speaking way too vulgar and loud. I have come to the conclusion that these two things are probably highly interconnected. At the very least, in the respites of noise, I did manage to focus a lot on my reading, as I have mentioned before.

Lastly: old habits die hard. I don’t know how many times I would go into a room and flip a switch, only to have nothing happen. This kind of goes with the realization when there’s no power; you tend to notice how many power lines there are. None of them were down, but they do become a lot more conspicuous when you realize what they’re there for.

Now even though I was not harmed, and my property was not damaged, and I had a very calm attitude about everything (after all, “Don’t Panic” is excellent advice), I do not want it to seem like I am glib to this whole situation. Merely ignorant. This was a very serious natural disaster and I was lucky to be unscathed in more ways than one. My heart goes out to those that lost everything, and I know that the countless volunteers that are donating their time and effort will have their reward in heaven.

As I lay on my bed trying to get to sleep on Sunday night, I reflected on all that’s happened in my life up until now and how I have truly been blessed. But that’s a post for another time. Around 11:30, the power came on, and I went to check and see if everything was working. After turning off my closet light, which I had inadvertently turned on while the power was off, I logged on, plugged in and resumed my consumption. Having had 100 hours of a forced unplugging, I know to appreciate the little things in life, to pull away from the pace of the world once in a while and truly relax. Maybe that’s all it takes sometimes. Go back to the closet. Find the breaker box. Flip the switch.

Click.

ResolutionarYeaRedux

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

– Jeremiah 29:11

A new year full of golden opportunities

Once again, the new year is upon us and it’s time to assess how we did on our resolutions for 2010 and to develop our goals for 2011. Let’s see how I did last year:

–          Staying in one place: Partial – I spent a lot of time in Maryland, and I ended up moving out of my apartment into another one. At least it was an apartment in the same complex.
–          Bad habits: Failed – only lasted about a month.
–          Dentist and Doctor: Failed – still pending on actually visiting the dentist, and haven’t really looked for a doctor either.
–          Working out & constant weight: Accomplished – only had a 1% gain, but considering the circumstances, that’s pretty good. Plus, it’s probably muscle weight anyways . . . from working out.
–          Cooking: Success – plus many other social benefits.
–          Reading: Accomplished – a book a week is pretty good, but there’s still some left to read.
–          Movies: Accomplished – still have a few more to watch from my collection, but I did manage to finish watching all the Best Pictures.
–          NaNoWriMo: Success – not only did I complete the challenge, I took a little extra effort to complete the novel.
–          Prayer: Accomplished – although not as much in my personal life as I would have liked, I have found myself in more opportunities in which to participate in prayer than in years past.

So, on average, a successful year. Despite some emotional turmoil at the beginning of last year, I managed to work through it and pull myself up to a new high. 2010 was really about finding myself. It was trying to figure out who I was, what I believed, and what I could do. The time up in Maryland was kind of like going into the wilderness for a vision quest (or some similar activity). I spent a lot of time alone, thinking and diving deep into my inner self.

But that was last year. Last year was laying a foundation for this year. Now that I’ve figured out what I’m about, it’s time to take this year and really reinforce the new life. It’s time to develop roots, but also to still take time to grow. I think that one of the best results of the resolutions I had last year was that they gave me goals to strive for. I’m a very goal-oriented person, so once I set my mind to something, I’ll usually finish what I start. The resolutions for 2010 were a good balance of tasks to develop many aspects of my life; to remain well rounded. Also, the resolutions were attainable and realistic. It always feels better when you can accomplish a goal, but also know that there was a challenge to it.

Now, on to 2011. I turn 26 this year, and I think that 26 is a good number to use for many of the following goals. It’s a week in, but here are the 11 resolutions I’ve come up with to work on for this year:

1.       Bad habits – same deal as last year. They’ll continue to make the list until I stop. A lot of them are ingrained on my subconscious, so it’ll be a challenge to break them. However, I have heard that it usually takes about 28 days to break (or gain) habits, so February may be the month I really sit down and work at breaking them.
2.       Health – Now that I’m not travelling so much, I will probably take some time to finally visit a dentist and to find a doctor. As usual, I will continue to work out at least twice a week, in the hopes that I might be able to lose the 1% of my weight that I gained last year. I think that my 2010 baseline was a good spot to be (even if it is a little heavy), so I’m going to aim for that baseline.
3.       Softball – Once again, my lack of extended travel means that I can get involved in activities like recreational softball. I really enjoyed playing in the one game that I had the chance to participate in last summer, so I hope that the team starts up again this year so that I can join its ranks and really get in shape.
4.       ‘Splorin’ – There’s a few places in Alabama that I just haven’t gotten around to visiting yet, and this year I’d like to do so. One of the places I’d like to visit is Cathedral Caverns state park. I passed by the sign for this so many times that my interest has been piqued. I’d also like to visit the high-point of Alabama (such as it is) so that I can claim another state’s highest altitude. I might even make it down to the Gulf of Mexico if I can put forth enough planning.
5.       Cooking – Now that I am well versed in the culinary world, it’s time to expand the repertoire. I’m not going to go quite as crazy as I did last year and demand 52 different recipes, but I am still going to hold myself to something. I figure that I can cook 26 new recipes this year. Now these will be recipes that I have not had before, so that’s where the challenge will come in. I already know that I can cook what I’m familiar with, so it’s time to branch out. Also, I’ll probably still have the dinner parties from time to time, as they were excellent ways to socialize on my turf.
6.       Reading – Once again, I don’t think I’m going to read 52 books this year, but 26 is still a good place to start. Now that I’ve stopped buying new books, this goal will definitely get me close to having read every book I own.
7.       Movies – I definitely know I can finish watching the DVDs (and Blu-Rays) from my collection that I have not seen yet, so that will be my goal. Right now, that’s about 26 movies. Depending on what wins Best Picture this year, I may or may not have to watch that film as well. However, I do not have any particular list that I am looking to complete this year.
8.       Videos – I no longer have an excuse. Now that I own a HD camcorder, and now that I have an upgraded computer, it’s time to get back into making videos. I’ve been on about a two to three year hiatus, and I’m really looking forward to getting back into this. Expect new videos to start appearing by the end of January.
9.       Writing – As it stands right now, I will not participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. However, the novel that I wrote last year will go through the editing and revising process starting in March. I’ve already got some of my friends working on notes for the first draft, and I have many areas that I know need work. At the very least, I want it passable by the middle of the summer, so that I can get my free proof copy published through CreateSpace (an Amazon subsidiary).
10.   Music – I started teaching myself how to play the piano last year, and so far it’s gone pretty well. I now can read sheet music, albeit somewhat slow. By the end of the year, I would like to know how to play 26 more songs on top of the 20 or so that I already know. I still enjoy the learning process, so I hope that trend continues. Also, having participated in the choir at my church for a full year now, I feel that it is time to step up into a role of more responsibility and leadership. Starting this year, I will be singing on the front line, and I look forward to developing my ministry.
11.   Relationships – Partly due to my constant travel last year, I did not actively pursue the search for a girlfriend. I was somewhat passively looking, but I didn’t go out of my way to try and find new venues for opportunities to meet single women. Also, from the soul searching of last year, I now have a better understanding of myself, and what I am looking for in a potential wife. This year I will provide myself with these opportunities. One of the best words of advice that I was given last year was, “Draw nearer to God, so that when she’s looking for you, she’ll have to look to Him first in order to find you.” I know this resolution is a little vague, but the point here is that now I’ll actually put some effort forth. And yet, such as it is,  I am definitely open to any local suggestions.

All said and done, a lot of the same resolutions, but also some new ones to start branching out my skill set. I hope to do a better job of updating this blog this year, and hopefully these resolutions and adventures will help me to post something more than just once a month.

Lastly, for the Christmas musical last year, Jeremiah 29:11 was the only solo line that I had. I don’t know if the director purposely gave me that verse, or if it was merely by chance, but it’s definitely a word that has gotten me through 2010. Now that 2011 has started, I’m going to declare the LORD’s plan over my life. I know that He wants me to prosper and I know that He knows my future, so I’m just going to have to put my trust in Him to make it happen.

CooKing

Week 39 - Monkey Brains

For those of you who have been keeping up with the Cooking Goal I set for myself this year, last week marked the end of the journey. I set out at the beginning of this year to wean myself off of the convenience of frozen, pre-packaged and “just add boiling water” foods. College was behind me, and it was time to grow into a mature culinary expert. I figured that with 52 weeks in a year, I could find time each week to make a new recipe and add to my repertoire. After adjusting the goal to make 52 recipes this year, I pushed onward to the finish line.

When I started cooking, I quickly realized that I was under-equipped for the task. And yet, it was a little bit fun trying to “MacGuyver” together solutions in the middle of preparing a recipe. Needless to say, the bi-weekly “20% off one item” coupon from Bed, Bath & Beyond that arrived in the mail was used almost immediately each time it arrived. But as I progressed, I found that I reached a point where I was anticipating what I would need. Or, in the case of the KitchenAid standing mixer, something that I thought would be really cool to have.

An unintended benefit of cooking ended up being the dinner parties. When I found that most recipes made 8 servings, and I really didn’t want to eat something for 8 straight days, the solution became obvious. I’ve always felt that food is the great uniting medium. There’s nothing better than gathering around the kitchen table with some home cooked meal and just talking. Talking without our mouths full of food, that is. Through inviting people over to my apartment for dinner, I really got a chance to know them better than I already did. I’m OK at large social functions, but I find that the intimate, small group get-togethers are far more meaningful when everyone isn’t trying to socialize with everyone else.

New York Cheesecake

Week 13 - New York Cheesecake

Then it happened. I started getting really ambitious. About 13 weeks in, I found a spring-form pan at a local thrift store. I thought to myself, “Hey, a spring-form pan! I know what I can make with that!” And that’s when the New York Cheesecake appeared. By that time, I had figured out that cooking wasn’t anything more difficult than civil engineering. I mean, you start with your raw building materials; process them through cutting, heating and mixing; form the materials together; and bake for 30 minutes at 350°. Voila! Instant building . . . I mean dinner. I figured that with some of the recipes, I wouldn’t know how difficult they were until I tried making them for myself. Surprisingly enough, I think every complicated recipe I made ended up turning out. The irony is that some of the simplest recipes (like cookies and Jell-O) were complete failures. Now that I have found myself capable of these complex culinary creations, they’ve lost some of their mysticism. I always thought, “Oh, that’s such a difficult recipe, I could never make something like that.” And then I did. Of course, one wonders if the difficult recipes are worth it, but when you take the first bite and your only reaction is to sigh in ecstasy, you know it was all worth it.

Of the 52 things that I made this year (well . . . 53, but those chocolate chip cookies were after I made the final recipe), I found that they fell into two distinct categories: main dishes and desserts. There were a few that didn’t fit in those categories, but they were in the minority. I think the reason for this dichotomy of recipes was due to the fact that I usually had small groups of people eating the finished product. If I was cooking for a bigger crowd, or making more elaborate, multi-course meals, I probably would have delved into the side dishes and vegetables, but as it was, I stuck to the important stuff. I also found that I ended up making more recipes from the family cookbook, than from the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook. I figured that if I had eaten it before, I knew how it should turn out, and thus would be able to tell if I succeeded or failed with a recipe. And yet, the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook was useful to learn some of the tricks and techniques to make recipes better.

Week 33 - Baked Italian

Probably my proudest moments of the year, with the exceptions of successfully pulling off recipes like New York Cheesecake, Harvest Pie, and Chicken Cordon Bleu, was the fact that I started making my own recipes. Well, more accurately, my own variations on recipes. About 2/3 of my way through the goal, I realized something. Some of the recipes I made ended up being very similar to each other. These ended up contributing to the two “fusion recipes” which were recipes that I had combined from two similar recipes. The greatest success of the fusion recipes was my Baked Italian. It took the greatest attributes of both recipes and fused them together in one ultimate dish. Now, Pork Chops and Texas Potatoes still needs a little work, but I think that I have a good baseline to develop from.

OK, now it’s time for the mushy, gooey part. No, not the undercooked chocolate cake. With as much time as I spent in the kitchen this year, and the chances I had to create social gatherings, as well as participate in them with my food, I began to do some thinking. What makes a meal “home cooked”? Is it merely a meal that isn’t store-bought? Is it a meal that could be classified as “comfort food”? Is it a warm meal? I felt that none of those questions gave a good sense of what “home cooked” really meant. I think this is one of those transitions that silently take place as we grow older.

When you’re growing up, you’ve always got mom’s cooking, and it’s that cooking that you would classify as “home cooking”. And yet, when does your own cooking become “home cooking”? Does it reach that stage when you’re married? When you have kids of your own? When they deem your cooking as “home cooking?” After much thought on the subject, I think I may have arrived at an answer: “home cooking” is food that is lovingly prepared that you share with those whom you love. With the rushed society that we live in today, wouldn’t an occasional home cooked meal help relieve the stress of our lives? How often do we go about the process of living, without letting those who we really care about know how we feel about them? The dinner may be burnt, or the dessert a sloppy mess, but with love, the true meaning of the meal gets across.

Week 52 - Chicken Cordon Bleu

All right, that’s enough philosophizing for now. Below is a list of the recipes that I made this year. After the name of each recipe, there are two markings. Within the brackets [], is which cookbook I made the recipe from: W = The Weilert Family Cookbook, 2nd Edition / A = The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook / F= Fusion recipe / X = No cookbook was used. In parentheses () is the type of the recipe that I cooked: M = Main Dish / D = Dessert / B= Breakfast / O = Other (these are the side dishes, and other recipes I couldn’t easily categorize).

1.       Quick Tomato Sauce [A] (M)
2.       Bavarian Potato Chowder [W] (M)
3.       Zucchini Garden Chowder [W] (M)
4.       Creamy Stovetop Mac ‘n’ Cheese [A] (M)
5.       Cheese Omelet [A] (B)
6.       Italian Sausage Soup [W] (M)
7.       Chicken Pizzaiola [A] (M)
8.       Banana Bread [A] (O)
9.       Scrambled Eggs [A] (B)
10.   Chocolate Dream Dessert [W] (D)
11.   Sugar Cookies [A] (D)
12.   Casserole Italian [W] (M)
13.   New York Cheesecake [A] (D)
14.   Crispy Chicken Parmesan [A] (M)
15.   Bavarian Apple Torte [W] (D)
16.   Pork Chops & Potatoes [W] (M)
17.   Kuchen [W] (B)
18.   Chicken Enchiladas [W] (M)
19.   Potluck Pan Rolls [W] (O)
20.   Lasagna Casserole [W] (M)
21.   Texas Potatoes [W] (O)
22.   Hungarian Goulash [W] (M)
23.   Emergency Chocolate Cake [A] (D)
24.   Lemonade Drop Cookies [W] (D)
25.   Fiesta Casserole [A] (M)
26.   Fried Eggs [A] (B)
27.   Baked Ziti with Tomatoes and Mozzarella [A] (M)
28.   Cherry Cheese Packet [W] (B)
29.   Deviled Steak Cubes [X] (M)
30.   Country Apple Cranberry Dessert [W] (D)
31.   Chocolate Sheet Cake [W] (D)
32.   Strawberry and Cream Squares [W] (D)
33.   Baked Italian [F] (M)
34.   Baked Macaroni and Cheese [A] (M)
35.   French Toast Casserole [W] (B)
36.   Lemon Bars [W] (D)
37.   Beef Tortilla Casserole [A] (M)
38.   Chicken and Rice Casserole [X] (M)
39.   Monkey Brains [W] (D)
40.   All American Meatloaf [A] (M)
41.   One Dish Breakfast [W] (B)
42.   Pork Chops & Texas Potatoes [F] (M)
43.   Rhubarb Cobbler [W] (D)
44.   Chili [X] (M)
45.   Tenderloin Parmigana [W] (M)
46.   Easy Day Casserole [X] (M)
47.   Taco Soup [X] (M)
48.   Cranberry Cake [W] (D)
49.   Harvest Pie [W] (D)
50.   “Great Pumpkin” Cookies [W] (D)
51.   Cinnamon Apple Salad [W] (O)
52.   Chicken Cordon Bleu [A] (M)

So, after a year’s worth of cooking, I’ve met my goal. A reasonable goal with a reasonable challenge. I’ve learned a lot, not only about cooking and baking, but about myself as well. I’ve found a few recipes that I’ve already come to love and have made multiple times (Fiesta Casserole, Taco Soup, Easy Day Casserole, etc.). There’s nothing more to say at this point but, Bon Apetit!

WritinGauntlet

I realize that this blog has been quiet for the last month, so here’s an explanation as to why. This November, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short). During the course of the year, I pulled out my previous works of writing, dusted them off, touched them up a bit and put them up on this blog. Some of them were terrible, but others had some merit that I started to work into my outline for the novel I would write. When I started outlining in February, I never knew that by November I would have 35 pages of notes to go by. This made the challenge of writing 50,000 words a little less daunting. However, even with all the preparation, it takes a certain level of dedication to actually sit down every day and write. I came across multiple distractions, not the least of which was the Thanksgiving holiday. And yet, I powered through and made it to the 50,000 words, and then some.

When the month started, I had a lot of things to deal with. I had just moved into my new apartment a few days before, and to top everything off, my computer pretty much up and died on me. So on top of writing nearly 2,000 words a day, I had to get unpacked and settled, buy a new computer (which is pretty great, by the way), plus go to work and complete any other daily tasks that I needed to do. As the month progressed, I noticed that a lot of my routine did not change, and that writing took up a lot of the free time that I was doing other, non-essential activities. Still, I did have to give up a few things in order to keep focused.

The end of the month was a bittersweet time, because I had risen to the occasion, but also because the work was still unfinished. This novel, First Name Basis, met the challenge of the word-count and the time restriction, but it is far from complete. By December 1st, I still had two chapters of plot left to complete, not to mention that a lot of the writing was rushed and of poor quality. I’m keeping the momentum I had at the end of November to finish writing out the plot of the novel, but even with the completion of the story, the novel will need many edits to get it to my liking.

During the month, I kept track of a lot of what I was feeling while writing the novel. I had never done anything like this before, so I wanted to chart how I would progress through the 30 days. The following section is a compilation of all the thoughts I had while writing. Looking back through them, I could see the endless optimism of the first week, the wall and distractions of the second week, the second wind of the third week and the final push of the fourth week. So, for your reading pleasure, I present you with my NaNoWriMo experience:

Stats of my writing

 

Day 1 ‎(1,765) – Midnight. I opened up a blank Word document, put the title in the header and immediately came across the first problem. Blank page. 50,000 words to go. Now what?

Day 2 (3,444) – A little ahead of the pace, but was glad to have found a natural stopping place between scenes. Almost done with the first chapter and is finally getting into the groove of giving birth to this baby.

Day 3 (5,307) – Finding that re-burning my music is giving me something to listen to while I write. Classical Masterpieces of the Millennium was definitely a good place to start. Now I’m 3 days in and done with Chapter 1. On to Chapter 2 tomorrow!

Day 4 ‎(7,062) – Glad for a three day weekend to make some serious headway on the novel, finish unpacking, and take care of all the stuff that goes with settling into a new apartment. At least it’ll be easier than my character’s adventure on the moon.

Day 5 (9,152) – A very productive day today. Almost entirely unpacked and re-organized. Also loving how natural it is to write this novel. It’s almost as if I’ve known the characters for years and am merely watching in on their adventure. Chapter 2 almost complete.

Day 6 ‎(11,337) – I’m certainly glad for an extra hour of sleep, considering I put off my writing all day. At least now I have salvaged the files I needed from the old computer, arrived at a mere 5 recipes left until my cooking goal is reached, finished organizing my apartment and started on the arduous task of re-ripping all my music.

Day 7 ‎(13,497) – Encountered my first day of “distractions”. I meant to do a lot more writing today than I did. Or at least earlier in the day than I did. I think I should have stayed up and finished Chapter 2 last night, because that transition to a new chapter after having to wrap one up is a killer. Chapter 2 is now finished, and Chapter 3 is well on its merry little way.

Day 8 (15,212) – I should really write my quota for the day before going to the Monday write-ins. I end up spending more time socializing than writing, and the writing I do happen to accomplish is lacking in quality.

Day 9 ‎(17,180) – An excellent night of writing. Killed off a minor character in a very emotional scene. Didn’t know I could write like that. Writing the novel is still fun, because it’s like I’m reading it for the first time . . . which is true, I guess. I just hope it keeps my interest like it has.

Day 10 ‎(19,012) – Definitely glad that I get Veteran’s Day off tomorrow. Time to buckle down and crank out another chapter . . . after I finish the current one that is. The parallel storylines yesterday definitely turned out well, but it turned my characters deeply emotional and serious, which was appropriate for the events that transpired, but I need to pull it up into a happy ending soon before it gets too gloomy.

Day 11 ‎(20,705) – Ugh. Thursday was like a teaser trailer for the weekend. Now it’s time for a Monday, Wednesday and Friday all rolled into one.

Day 12 ‎(22,753) – At first I thought I wouldn’t have enough material to fill the 50,000 words, but now seeing that it took 6 days to finish chapter 3 (that’s about 12,000 words – almost a quarter of the novel) and that chapter 4 has even more plot involved, I may be looking at two 50,000 word novels by the end of November. Luckily, I have the perfect spot to split the book into two novels, so I just hope I get to 50,000 words by that splitting point. I have about 9 months worth of thoughts for this novel, the question now is whether or not I can stay un-distracted for the rest of the month and actually pull off the 100,000 words.

Day 13 (24,290) – Started chapter 4 today, but the distractions are worse than ever. Time to embrace them for the afternoon and go out hiking with friends.

Day 14 (26,074) – Somehow made it past the half-way point, but am still struggling with writing this thing. I know what needs to happen, and I know how I want it to happen, but I still have that editor in the back of my head telling me that it’s tripe. I just need to power through long enough to finish, because it’s all downhill from here.

Day 15 ‎(27,833) – The problem with being a little bit ahead of the writing curve is that I have the temptation to slack off for a night. I know that if I do that, I am doomed to never finish the novel. Better to stay ahead than to ever get behind. At the very least, I have figured out a very clever way to name some important items . . . which unfortunately meant that I inadvertently made a reference to the University of Alabama . . .

Day 16 ‎(29,779) – I found that I was easily able to hit my word-count goal today due to the fact that I had large sections of description, instead of that pesky dialogue that has been constantly cropping up from time to time. Or maybe I was just more inspired today . . .

Day 17 ‎(32,300) – My best writing day to date. Most words written and a very obvious chain of events to flesh out in the next few days. All that and I managed to make enough food so that the leftovers might actually last me until I leave for Thanksgiving. I’m really pushing to complete the entirety of my plot by the end of November, which at this point is going to be well over 50,000 words. Thank goodness I’ve got a three day weekend coming up.

Day 18 ‎(34,423) – I delight in the irony that one of the distractions I have recently picked up is reading through PHD Comics from the very beginning. Ironic because not only is it about procrastination, but because this novel will be the longest piece of literature I have ever written, comparable in size to a Doctoral Thesis (currently at 67 pages). At the very least, I have managed to work in the following words into my novel, all in correct context: “surreptitiously”, “accoutrement”, “triumvirate” and “Pythagorean”. Another web comic that I picked up recently and read through in its entirety was Cyanide and Happiness. Just one more distraction.

Day 19 (38,070) – Powered through and finished Chapter 4. Was pleased to find some humorous bits find their way into the chapter. The day is still young, time to start Chapter 5.

Day 20 ‎(41,629) – Wrote the entirety of Chapter 5 today. I knew from the start that it was going to be one of the shorter chapters. Actually, I was kind of thinking that it would be the split between the two books, but now it looks like it’s merely the gateway to the final chapters and the epic climax. Next up, Chapter 6.

Day 21 (41,986) – I really want to finish this story and not just hit the (now) easily attainable 50K word-count.

Day 22 ‎(42,769) – Whoever thought it would be a great idea to write a novel during November obviously did not have any family or friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with. After the day with no writing done because I was at church almost the entire day, I just hope that I can find some brief respites to get in some words before the end of the month arrives. Won’t finish the plot, but will finish the wordcount. I mean, come on! October would have been much better . . .

Day 23 ‎(43,156) – So it seems that OpenOffice is a lot more generous on its wordcount than Microsoft Word is. On the order of about 1,000 words. *sigh* I’d probably better go with the lower value just to be safe.

Day 24 ‎(45,003) – No longer ahead of schedule, just -on- schedule. At any rate, [Thanksgiving] was worth it.

Day 27 ‎(47,407) – Finally finished Chapter 6 which was the most serious of all the chapters. Now it’s time for bed. Chapter 7 will just have to wait until tomorrow.

Day 29 (50,018) – Done! Complete! Finished! Well . . . with the required wordcount that is. About half-way through the plot for Chapter 7. Another week or so of writing and I might actually be finished with my first draft of First Name Basis. At the very least, I can enjoy writing the novel again, now that the deadline / goal of 50,000 words has been accomplished.

Day 30 (54,000) – Weighing in at an impressive 89 pages and 7 complete chapters, I am now officially done with NaNoWriMo 2010. The purple champagne definitely tasted like victory.